Lessons from Asean for the West

When America pulls out its troops from Syria, events in Syria are expected to be a replay of those in Iraq as ISIS rushes forth to fill the vacuum (Syria exit will come back to haunt the US; Dec 21).

For years, it seems the Western powers have careened their way through the Middle East without a clear understanding of the people and cultures.

Combined with an entrenched fear of a religion so vastly different from theirs, a perfect storm has brewed in their politics and among their people to take the entire world with them onto a whole new level of danger.

While Western intelligence communities now boast rising numbers of Arabic linguists, it takes more than learning the language of others to fully understand their mode of living and way of thinking.

The sooner the West realises that Western democracy does not work for every land and gives up on imposing its ideals on the Middle East, the likelier the return of peace to the region.

The West needs to urgently examine a new alternative before more lives are lost amid its haphazard foreign policy for the Middle East.

Perhaps it could consider taking a close look at South-east Asia to see how this region, one of the most diverse in the world, has managed to come together despite its differences in languages, cultures, religions and ethnicities.

Notwithstanding minor bumps, Asean has successfully engaged in multilateral cooperation to bring about long-lasting regional peace and economic prosperity.

Asean does so by furnishing a ready and non-political platform where critical dialogues can take place. More importantly, it is principled upon "mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and national identity of all nations".

This is something the West could take heed of if it elects to go for peaceful coexistence with the Middle East.

Lily Ong (Madam)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2018, with the headline 'Lessons from Asean for the West'. Subscribe