Sunday, 6 May 2012

It’s true: the tail does wag the dog (and Greece really does run Europe)!


Remember the 1997 movie "Wag the Dog" starring Robert de Niro and Dustin Hoffman? Well, I don't remember the story exactly but the idiom of the 'tail wagging the dog' really does have a lot of truth behind it. As, I guess do many such sarcasms.

Take the European debt crisis. At the heart of the Euro zone dent crisis is the powerful nation of Greece.

Well, most of us don't actually think of Greece in terms of power. Although they do have an air force that stages 'mock dogfights' with Turkish fighter jets from time to time. However, I somehow doubt Greek jets do much of that these days as jet fuel might just be in short supply due to budgetary reasons – unless the Germans can send across a few tankers full now and again!
Greece: the home of olive oil and democracy; the proverbial birthplace of democracy; the origin of western philosophical traditions. But did anyone realize that Greece is also a financial powerhouse.

The Greek economy is less than one tenth the size of Germany's economy. Include two of Europe's other larger economies (France and the UK) and Greece's economy is about 3.5 percent of their combined total. In other words, France, Germany and the UK together are about thirty times as big as Greece.

Yet, somehow Europe's financial condition hinges on how vehemently Greeks shout about the latest austerity package. No wait, let me correct myself. It's actually the global economy which skips a heartbeat each time something happens in Athens.

Even the world's financial behemoths like the US, Japan and China watch Greek monthly tax collection data. (Is Japan still a 'behemoth' and has China joined the club of economic 'behemoths?' It's my word against yours, I guess.)

But it's not just the European debt crisis. Numbers also just don't make sense to me as far as Islam's extremist fringe is concerned.

According to a 2010 study by Pew Research, there are approximately 1.6 billion Muslims in the world today. It is hard for me to believe that more than a few percent of Islam's adherents are extreme – at least to the extent that their entire purpose in life is to kill non-Muslims and impose Islamic law on the entire world. Like most other humans, most Muslims probably just want a better life for themselves and their kids – in this world. Granted, I have no hard statistics but I am sure I can find some if I 'data mine' hard enough.

Yet, as a Muslim, there is no getting away from the idea that the religion Islam is somehow to blame for an extremist periphery nurtured on hatred and ignorance.

Surely, Islam's extremists cannot number 500 million people or one third of the world's Muslims? And if they do number 500 million, well, that would put Islam on par with a 'civilized European' country such as France where the extreme right wing presidential candidate recently obtained about 30 percent of votes in the first round.

Can we start calling these Gaulic right wingers the French Taliban? Just to help put things in perspective.

Look around the world and it's clear, hard power is meaningless in the face of reality. Reality conforms to mass perceptions.

The real tussle for power lies in the minds of ordinary people. That notion also helps explains the disproportionate importance of the media in disseminating power.  

I am not sure but I think there might just be one more example of the tail wagging the dog: the Singapore government's persistent worrying about social media sites. These 'amateur' sites touch a miniscule segment of the country's  population compared to the government owned print and broadcast media.

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Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors, Imran improves the profitability of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com.

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