May you live in interesting times.
May you live in an interesting age.
May you live in exciting times.

Ask anyone about these proverbs and chances are they will tell you that it originates as a Chinese curse. Yet they will be wrong. No one has been able to authenticate or confirm the saying as having originated in China. But whatever their origins, there does appear a sense of truism associated with the curse, especially if you follow the recent global, social and political trends – from Brazil, the US, Britain, Hungary, India, China, and Russia, politics has become more tribal and autocratic. More significantly, the election of the former president of the US, Donald Trump, and the politics surrounding Brexit in the UK seem to have opened the door to popular support of ‘liberal’ tyranny. In fact, these interesting times reflect a much wider postnormal epoch characterised by complexity, contradictions and chaos, ‘an in-between period where old orthodoxies are dying, new ones have yet to be born, and very few things seem to make sense’. 

The world we inhabit has fundamentally changed. The received wisdom associated with liberal utopia, which predicted the end of history, can no longer be used to navigate the complexity and contradictions, that unfold in real time. In Britain, we have seen how, during the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August 2021, Airbus A330 – a flight chartered by the UK charity Nowzad – was able to fly out from Kabul Airport with the direct intervention of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. This was not the only chartered plane to leave Afghanistan. Most Western citizens made a quick exit, fearing ‘victor’s justice’ from the Taliban. Unlike the other flights, Nowzad’s Operation Noah’s Ark was unique because it was not airlifting humans to safety – rather it was prioritising animals, especially cats and dogs from remote places in Afghanistan and bringing them to the UK for sanctuary. Whilst the British government was quick to support Operation Noah’s Ark, it refused to grant asylum to Afghans who had been employed as British Embassy security guards through a private Canadian company called GardaWorld, which offers private security ‘services’ to the global neoliberal privatisation of war. The embassy security guards were notified via telephone that they would not be eligible for asylum claims because they were employed as ‘contractors’. A war that started with liberal expansionist aims of spreading democracy, rule of law, and the empowerment of women, ended with an Airbus A330 chartered plane carrying 173 cats and dogs to sanctuary. The liberal paradox was further highlighted, in hindsight, through the European Union’s high court ruling in April 2020 on Poland and the Czech Republic for breaking EU law for refusing to host Syrian refugees. 

The rest of this article is only available to subscribers.

Access our entire archive of 350+ articles from the world's leading writers on Islam.
Only £3.30/month, cancel anytime.


Already subscribed? Log in here.

Not convinced? Read this: why should I subscribe to Critical Muslim?

Elsewhere on Critical Muslim: