ISIL, Al-Queda, and Islamic MilitarismEdit
Destroying ISIL and Islamic terrorist organizations ultimately proved impossible for western nations and their middle-eastern allies. Without strong military and, importantly, political commitment from Arab states and growing apathy in the west (especially as successful large-scale terrorist attacks on the US or western Europe were highly limited in the face of relatively effective western intelligence and counter-terrorist efforts), Islamic militarism and associated terrorism was never rooted out and destroyed. Indeed, over the decade it proved increasingly obvious that elements of the Saudi oil oligarchy (and perhaps monarchy) were actively reinforcing these subsects of these militants, as a sort of counter-balance to Iranian support for Hezbollah and Hamas.
Successes and intermittent highly publicized military victories by IS and its successors, as well as their growing focus on governance and public support (they opened clinics and welfare programs modeled after those of Hezbollah) proved attractive to many Sunnis Muslims and reinforced their gains and numbers.
Despite aerial and missile bombardment, occasional special op insertions to recover kidnapped individuals or perform high-profile assassinations, progress against the fundamental military and organizational infrastructure of these groups was next to nothing. By the end of the decade, the west and its allies were bemoaning the divergence between the Arab states’ public (occasionally staged?) outrage at the violence perpetrated by IS and its successors and the lack of political, and military, willpower by these states to act against them. Without them, they moaned, successful tactical operations could not be turned into political and cultural victories.
At the same time, Hezbollah and Hamas were gaining influence, partially as Syrian, Iranian, and often, indirectly, Russian money poured into these organizations in an effort to counterbalance growing Sunni militarism in the middle east.
Unheard, and unnoticed by many however, was a growing organization and structure amongst modern, progressive Muslims who had had enough of their faith and their culture serving as the west’s boogey-man and the brunt of racist and xenophobic ‘humor’. The newer generation, often raised and educated in the west would soon find its voice and finally serve as the public political counterpoint many were so desperate to hear.
Optical computing was finally considered ‘market-ready’ in the late and mid 2020s. Early costumers were primarily research and academic organization. As the technology was further developed, prices dropped, and operating systems and software caught up to the new hardware, optical computing became increasingly widespread in homes and businesses.
The new computers proved vastly more powerful than previous digital computers but were still unable to develop their full potential due to the limits of networks (including the internet) designed for digital systems. As some companies and organizations developed their own optics-based intranet, the demand for widespread optical computing networks grew exponentially.
Rise of Modernist Islam
The early 2020s saw the death of Fethullah Gülen, leader of the Cemaat ("Community/Assembly" in Turkish)(1). The Cemaat, by this point, had grown its membership to tens of millions and held significant influence both within Turkey and Central Asia and further abroad including Germany, the USA, France and much of the Arab world though its many community support and welfare programs, schools, banks, media outlets, and for-profit health clinics and hospitals. After a brief period without a strong leader, the Cemaat adopted a group of five (relatively-younger) men and one woman to serve as the new leadership. Two of these were first generation Canadians of Turkish origins, one Sunni, one Shia. One was a German-educated Turk. One was an Egyptian. The last was, quite unexpectedly, a Kurd.
The council of six was purposefully chosen to represent the progressive, moderate,and inclusive face of the organization. Perhaps unexpectedly for some within the organization who had perhaps sought to manipulate the new leaders from behind the scenes, they proved to be very capable in their own rights, idealistic, and very ambitious. For decades the Cemaat had been plagued with accusations of cult-like secrecy and nefarious intentions, as well as secret anti-modern conservatism hiding behind a modern, progressive, and inclusive rhetoric. The six choose first to deal directly with those accusations head-on, instituting programs of transparency and goodwill while at the same time continuing their focus on interfaith dialogue. They expanded their focus on women’s education, which some in the west complained did not go far enough, but which were, by most Islamic standards, highly progressive. The six even met with the pope and influential rabbis.
The real break-through came, however, when the Cemaat met with members of the Muslim Brotherhood (2). As the governments of first Syria, and later Iraq and Egypt engaged in increasingly oppressive and violent measures to combat the growing influence of the Islamic State (and its successor organizations), and the later were able to increase both their direct control (at least intermittently) and indirect influence (through both charity organization and fundamentalist madrassas), the Muslim Brotherhood was slowly losing influence, and even members, to their militant rivals.
As a consequence of these meetings, and in the face of the increasing influence of militant transnational Islamic fundamentalism, the two organizations agreed to pool their resources and join their efforts, creating the Ummah Al Salaam. Perhaps because it needed to distinguish itself so thoroughly from the Islamic State and its various successors, the Ummah Al Salaam was much more progressive than the Muslim Brotherhood. Indeed, in terms of western and Israeli diplomacy, educational opportunities, and roles for women, the ideologies of the Cemaat came to effectively dominate the new organization.
Despite domestic fears of increasing influence, Europe, the USA, and their allies saw the Ummah Al Salaam, much as Muslims everwhere did, as a strong practical counterbalance to Sunni fundamentalism and supported the new organization over the protests of the Turkish and Egyptian states who feared in them their unapologetically political agenda and transnational reach and influence.
For political reasons, the Ummah sought to develop relations with other transnational organizations rather than states, at least in the Middle East, coordinating with organizations such as the Red Crescent and the chapters of Médecins Sans Frontières operating amongst Islamic populations. In 2028, the Umma absorbed the Hizb ut-Tahrir (3), though some of its members refused to compromise vis-a-vis Israel and left to form their own organization or to join the Islamic State and its successors. In 2029, it absorbed the Tablighi Jama‘at (4), though the later was able to substantially influence the economic and cultural agenda of the Umma Al Salaam, moving their focus towards popularism and grass-roots activism in many areas as well as blunting some of the more modernists and progressive programs of the Ummah. Now with membership of nearly a hundred million, with significant chapters in Pakistan, Burma, and Indonesia, the Umma was a power onto itself, an actor with influence and resources to rival nations.
Embolded by their sucsseses amongst Sunnis, the ruling council (now eleven) sought to heal the rift between Sunni and Shia (seeing in the Shia a strong counterbalance to the fundamentalists movements) and focused extensively on marketing an inclusive vision for their organization with slogans like “One Koran, One People.” Although Hezbollah never joined the Ummah Al Salaam, relations were good, with many highly public joint charity operations launched by the organizations to help forge links between a previously divided people.
For many who had been caught up in the Islamic State (and its successors) or the various militant organizations, the Ummah Al Salaam was the first true alternative. Islamic, powerful, operationally and financially influential, modern and media savy with wide-spread grass-roots support, its appeal was enough to draw substantial members from the previously militant organizations and for the first time in nearly two decades significantly slow Islamic fundamentalism.
Very soon the Ummah Al Salaam was the voice of Islam, not only in Turkey and Egypt, but throughout the world, with substantial membership in northern Africa, Indonesia, Pakistan, Central Asia, eastern China, and even in Europe and North America. The council met with the leaders of the European Union, the United Nation, and even Israel. The international news media, so tired of reporting on violence between Muslims in the middle east and the growing influence of militancy and fundamentalism, was happy to report on the ‘New Face of Islam’. As the decade closed Muslims and non-Muslims alike were optimistic for a future unmarred by fundamentalism, violence, and terrorism.
Chinese Capital, Mercenaries, and Africa
Chinese capital and African resource development is not a new story for the 2020s, and neither is the exponential growth of private military companies (PMC) in Africa. The change came in the scale of the partnership.
Nationalized and private Chinese companies were making big-budget investments in African resources and seeking means to secure those investments in an area that had traditionally not always been very stable. To get around the political difficulties of sending Chinese soldiers directly, many of these operations opened local fronts, mouthpieces trained by savy Chinese media-relations firms, who would in turn contract Chinese PMCs for protection, all paid for by the original investing companies of course. The process was subtle but between the years 2015 and 2029, the number of Chinese nationals employed in developing African natural resources ballooned from 850,000 to over three million.
While Chinese money helped develop African resources, and their soldiers helped ensure some stability, the governments of some governments, notably Angola, Zambia, Chad, CAR, DR Congo, Sudan, and Somalia, were growing increasingly reliant, and in many cases corrupted, by foreign Yuan. This led in some cases to governments increasingly ignoring the vast majority of their nations- the non-profitable portions the foreign investors had no interest in, and substantial increases in the effectively ungoverned and desperately poor portions of these nations.
Of particular note, the Sudanese navy and the Somali coast guard both signed contracts with African companies
Note: While companies outside China were just as culpable of these sorts of arrangements, during this time-period the Chinese were particularly notorious for it.
Two technologies matured simultaneously in the early 2030s to accelerate globalization. The first was in materials, with significant knock-on effects in international transport. The second was in computing.
Material scientists, by the 2030s, were fairly adept at creating nanoscale materials such as advanced aerogels, carbene alloys, and other materials. These materials possessed unprecedented mechanical properties allowing the exploration of new and exciting avenues of engineering not previously available.
These advances, in conjunction with continuing pressure from environmentalists and soaring fuel prices led to a major shift in international cargo transport as shippers increasingly moved towards cheaper, more energy efficient, vacuum-lift airships. The modern airships of the 2030s were made up of a honeycomb of superstrong carbon aerogel reinforced with an outer carbene-alloy frame. The void within the honeycomb structure provided much greater lift then hydrogen or helium. Combined with advances in photo-solar power, these new vehicles quickly revolutionized global transport due to relatively low operational costs, reduced need for infrastructure (taking off from warehouse parking lots instead of airports), and impressive carrying capacities. And while they weren't able to compete with airplanes for speed, and thus lost out on executive personal travel and epeditiated cargo delivery, they came to dominate much of the remaining market.
Like the steamship of the early 20th century, the vacuum airship helped to connect the world to an unprecedented level, removing many of the obsticles to globalization that had begun to arrise due to soaring fuel and energy prices and making international, even transcontinental, transport accessible to vast swathes of the population not preveiously able to enjoy such freedoms.
The second technology to accelerate globalization was what was to become known as the Internet 2.0. The adoption of optical computers in the 2020s led to a revolution in computing power but unfortunately also required a vast overhaul of the physical computing infrastructure that made up the internet. There was some resistance to the change, especially from some of the computing giants who were afraid to lose their dominance and near-monopolies, but ultimately the explosive computing power of the new machines won over and the internet was effectively rebuilt. The fall of the old physical infrastructure allowed innumerable globe-spanning businesses to enter the market, all competing on a much more level playing-field to provide network access locally and globally. In the absence of corporate juggernauts like Google, Comcast, or Huawei, the cost of connectivity soon plummeted.
In the Internet 2.0’s 2030s incarnation, large mega-servers (called meta-nodes) would service a particular area and connect with other meta-nodes via fiber-optic networks. From there connections were primarily wireless, with personal nodes (such as wearable goggles) or the increasingly ubiquitous minor home or commercial nodes connecting primarily via a technology comparable conceptually to early 21st century blue-tooth or direct node to node cellular access.
This had the effect of linking physical space and virtual- internet- space to a much greater degree as most nodes were associated with a very real physical presence. People had already been experiencing the internet via ‘wearables’, with virtual reality superimposed over their vision for some time. The ‘node-to-node’ component of the internet 2.0 reinforced this. Now when an individual met another, they might also see their social media presence as a scrollable semi-transparent graphics display floating beside them. A restaurant might have a virtual menu hanging outside its doors. And while the internet became more tied to physical space, it lost none of its geography-defying reach. The change was subtle but could not be ignored. It was a change not only in the computational process of the internal, but also in the way we interacted with it, and with each other- a change in culture similar to the introduction of the cell phone at the end of the 20th century. ‘Areas’ of the internet began to take on a cultural signature based on their physical location. Nodes operating out of Vancouver-meta might begin to take on an increasingly local flavor- a unique mix of Hong Kong and Western Canadian, of environmentalist and hyper-capitalist. Nodes operation out of San Antonio-meta might take on a uniquely Texan-Mexican flavor. The internet 2.0 was just as global, but much more linked to regional culture than its predecessor. Users expanded their awareness not only into the internet’s purely virtual world, but also to a virtual reality intimately tied to territory and geography all over the world.
The combination of being able to experience a distant physical reality via the internet instantaneously and at will, along with greatly increased access and reduced transportation cost had a hugely accelerative effect on globalization- financially and culturally.
The 2030s saw the continuance and acceleration of the previous decades’ trend towards greater corporate amalgamation and consolidation. With the obvious exception of many of the new players in optical telecommunications and computing industries (at least in the earlier part of the decade), most companies saw themselves acquired by a variety of transnational conglomerate holding companies. These were often spun out from various financial institutions, illustrating the enormous and unprecedented wealth and purchasing power of the banks and financial companies in the 2030s.
While previously acquisitions were often of companies with similar business products in an effort to acquire market-share and create monopolies, the accelerating consolidations of the 2030s saw an increasing number of multi-industry businesses forming networks of highly varied elements with interests as divergent as automotive and air transport production, agribusiness, banking, and pharmaceuticals all under one name.
JP Morgan Chase & Co, over the course of the decade rapidly acquired several major American industries including Ford, Boeing, Johnson and Johnson, Cargill, and Scoular, becoming the single largest conglomerate worldwide.
Mitsubishi, already a major holding company, leveraged its assets aggressively and wholly acquired two major conglomerates headquartered in Korea: the Shinhan Financial group and Hyundai family of companies. In 2038, they acquired Samsung who, while nimbly positioning themselves to dominate the east-Asian optical computing market, had left themselves vulnerable to hostile takeover.
Axa-Allianz was the product of a French-German corporate merger and would go on to acquire significant corporate profiles in Europe, the middle east and across the globe.
Berkshire Hathaway would expand its operations, primarily in Latin America, with the acquisition of Larraìn family operations in Chile and Alfa and its own greatly expanded subsidiaries in Mexico and Peru.
Similar supra-conglomerations were taking place all over the globe. consolidation and amalgamation- and these transnationals would come to dominate world corporate commerce.
Chinese/US Trade War of 2040-2041Edit
The USA in 2040 was not the economic juggernaut it had once been. The last three decades had seen a steady decline in the number of middle-class American families and increasingly the burden of maintaining tax income had shifted to the top 1% of the population and the multinational conglomerated corporations. At the same time, these were the same powers who had become most adept at avoiding taxation, with many companies moving their headquarters and even their intellectual property to ‘nations of convenience’ with reduced rates of taxation (in particular the Caribbean states, Malaysia, Chile, Switzerland, and Ireland). Debt was at an all-time high.
And the dollar was steadily falling. The Chinese had been quietly and steadily selling its US debt since 2038- increasing their gold holdings by 3000% in the process- much to the satisfaction of their African gold mining operations. Initially this had provided an opportunity to buy relatively secure US debt at relatively good prices (and ensuring a good return for Chinese investors), but as the Chinese (both public and private) continued to sell their American debt, the US dollar continued to fall. The stated goal of the Chinese government, as revealed by documents declassified in the 60s, was to flex economic muscle, to show the US that they would not be bullied out of their own backyard, and to hedge against economic ramification of full-scale military conflict with the western superpower.
But once the process was initiated, it was hard to stop. A falling US dollar, and increasingly, very real worries of a major world war between the world’s two premier powers initiated new rounds of sell-offs. Investors fled the dollar and bought up the euro, gold, or diversified holdings as fast as they could. Those holding US foreign debt were increasingly looking for a rapid sale, even at a substantial loss, just to avoid holding useless paper.
The US treasury, commerce department, and federal reserves did all they could to blunt the impact upon the US population and its companies but the impact was felt nationwide.
The economic depression did not affect the US alone. Despite their sell off, the Chinese were very adversely affected the movement in world markets. Their carefully measured warning shot had turned world money and debt markets into a gun-happy free-for-all, and anyone holding American debt, dollars, or dependent upon their markets (and the Chinese did all three) was feeling the pain.
And the Americans weren’t making things any easier, as the legal case before the World Trade Organization expanded and became increasingly politicized (and increasingly unlikely to reach any real or significant conclusions), public rhetoric heated to new unprecedented levels amid military posturing. Carrier groups were positioned offshore of Japan and the Philippines. US military bases in Afghanistan imported a whole series of new medium and long-range missiles and an increasingly frequent number of fly-overs stopped just out of range of Chinese airspace. Cyber-attacks upon both countries, which some conspiracy theorists suggest were initiated by third party actors, resulted in new rounds of trade sanctions and as predicted, the freezing of bank assets by both parties.
Chinese currency reserves was being severely threatened and despite their bulk purchases of gold, inflation could not be ignored. As the US and its allies closed their markets, the Chinese people were suffering their highest ever-recorded rates of unemployment. Unexpected finanical relief arrived from an unexpected corner. An offer was made by the Jiangsu Shangang Group, who, in a surprisingly frightening display of the wealth and resources of the Asian multinational corporate conglomerates, offered to provide enormous financial assistance to the Chinese state in exchange for the privatization and sale of Chinese state assets including China National Petroleum, State grid, and two of its four national banks, ICBC and BoC.
As the US economy plummeted and inflation soared, not all were seeking to divorce themselves from American assets. Following the lead set by Jiangsu Shangang, US-based multinational conglomerates, led by JP Morgan and Chase and Berkshire Hathaway, carefully sculpting the narrative of their actions with intense media-savvy public relations campaigns, offered to buy up extensive US debt and invest directly in the US dollar. It was a godsend for the US government but the conglomerates weren’t acting out of charity; they sought extensive new legal powers, exclusive developmental contracts to the US and its ally’s natural resources, and the privatization and sale of several US national projects, including (barely functional at this point) NASA.
Desperate to just keep their governments afloat by this point, both nations agreed to some form of offer (after extensive negotiation). These deals moved much of the economic pain of the 2040 depression out of the hands of Chinese and US governments (though not their peoples) and onto the budgetary balance sheets of the conglomerates.
When the US seized a Chinese oil tanker near Oman/Ummah Al Salaam in February of 2041, populations on both continents began preparing for the worst, buying canned foods and building bomb shelters in their yards. Violence flared in the streets of major American cities as people raced to obtain the resources they thought they would need in case of nuclear attack. These were mirrored by similar actions, though to a lesser extent, in China and even in Australia, the Philippines, Japan, and Korea. World markets reacted with a renewed round of panicked sales and the economies of both countries shifted increasingly to wartime footing.
Just as war seemed all to obvious and inevitable, the Philippines pulled out of official negotiations with Chinese investors regarding the Palawan Island offshore oil deposits, citing funding failures by their partners. Later it became known that both Chinese and American diplomats had been hard at work trying to find a peaceful solution to the near crisis that would save face for both and this was the first point of that diplomatic settlement. The Americans withdrew their legal actions with the World Trade Organization and returned the seized Chinese oil tanker. There had never been a war, or even a single battle fought, and yet both nations were bloody and spent.
World markets slowly recovered and so too did the economies of the US and China. Both nations had been severely scarred by the conflict, losing large portions of their national economic and territorial autonomy to the corporate conglomerates and further impoverishing their populations. Europe was strengthened, the Euro becoming the de facto reserve currency of the world. India, having stayed out of the political arena, had taken advantage of the market volatilities and opportunities and also strengthened itself considerably.
With time the US and Chinese people would increasingly see themselves as victims of their governments’ stupidity and often, depending on who you read on the blogosphere, nefarious corporate manipulation. New political leaders quickly replaced those of 2040 in both nations and political scapegoating reached unprecedented levels as both nations sought to find someone, anyone, to hold accountable for the destruction.
Shaken, but still whole, the world limped on.
Continuing Corporate AmalgamationEdit
The trend towards corporate amalgamation that had really taken off in the last decade only accelerated in the twenty-fourties. The thirty one became twenty nine, then twenty seven, then seventeen, then twelve, then eleven, then nine, and finally eight. These eight, the remaining sharks of the corporate business world had swallowed or absorbed, or out-competed their rivals, though various means including price and product competition, market and media dominance, court litigation, and in some cases, shadowy paramilitary operations. They had proven themselves the equal of first-world western nations in influence and scope. They would also serve, increasingly, as targets of contention for the masses who were continuing to suffer under increasingly insurmountable personal debt, the dissolution of the middle class, and ever-accelerating wealth discrepancy.
Of particular note was the growth of the Jiangsu Shangang Group which acquired significant formerly Chinese state assets including China National Petroleum, State Grid, and two of China’s big four national banks, ICBC, and BoC during the 2041 partial privatization of Chinese state companies, and of JP Morgan and Chase who were able to force significant resources concessions in the US and in allied states (including Canada), as well as obtain access or ownership of several fomerly US government programs (including NASA).
Ummah Al Salaam, Lebanon, the UAE, and a Postnational Space ProgramEdit
By the 2040s the Ummah Al Salaam’s influence over media, finances, and even education had become dominant in middle-eastern, African, and Asian Islamic culture. Transnational or tribal organizations that simply ignored national boundaries had always flourished in these states, the success of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jama‘at, and sponsored paramilitary and political groups such as Hezbollah, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (which had ballooned dramatically in 2020s only to contract again as the Ummah Al Salaam adopted the Chechen cause and was able to negotiate successfully with Moscow), and Jaysh al-Islam (who had also grown significantly in the aftermath of the Syrian conflict after receiving significant Saudi backing) illustrating some of the strong forces at work to unite people outside of national allegiances. The Ummah Al Salaam was merely the newest, and most successful, in a long line of transnational Islamic organizations.
Following well-established local patterns of bolstering public goodwill measures with military strength, Ummah Al Salaam continued to reinforce its role as the primary caretaker of its members, even to the exclusion of national programs. Where central governments were weak (northern Iraq, eastern Syria, northern Pakistan, post-monarchist Jordon), the Ummah were, perhaps opportunistically, only too eager to assist regional development, opening privately—funded medical clinics and schools, providing security by organizing locals into branches of its militia- all occasionally in contradiction to national policies, and in some cases laws.
Despite activities that some middle-eastern nations saw as meddling, the Ummah Al Salaam was by now generally recognized by most Muslims as the champion and advocate of their interests at both the local and global levels. Their dedication to progressive and modernist Islam made them popular with a new generation of Muslims who 1) often perceived their parent’s conflicts over religion with a cynical eye (Many of the youth argued that the fighters had been manipulated by regional powerbrokers or nations and corporations with global reach jockeying for resources and strategic positioning- all who cared not at all for Islam or Muslims), 2) had moved away from conservative interpretations of the faith as a gradual cultural shift in response to hyper-globalization and resulting wider-scale exposure (and eventually acceptance) of other cultures, ideologies, and religious interpretations, and 3) witnessed the previous successes of the Ummah Al Salaam’s negotiations, mediation, and diplomacy (its soft-power victories over militant and fundamentalist Islam).
One nation that was quick to embrace the new supranational organization was Lebanon. The Lebanese people’s psyche, primed by multiculturalism, government representation by diverse groups, and long compromise and occasional cooperation with transnational Hezbollah, voted representatives of the Ummah Al Salaam national movement into office in 2042. The Ummah Al Salaam ‘party’ were able to gain these powers through an appeal to multiple and diverse religious and political agendas who were united by a desire for progress and modernism while retaining Islamic identity.
The UAE, who’s diverse emirs were by this point long-time sponsors and supporters of the Ummah Al Salaam financially and otherwise, were quick to follow the Lebanese lead. Personally there was more power to be had by adopting governorship posts in the new transnat than there was in remaining in the Federal Supreme Council. More importantly, and certainly more influential in their decision was the wide-scale embrace of the Ummah Al Salaam as a viable alternative to nationalism amongst the UAE people who were long used to the influence of distant foreigners and their investors and markets. And so, in 2042, the seven emirates, keeping their separate identities, dissolved much of the powers of their confederacy, reforming themselves as the second real territorial power of the Ummah Al Salaam.
Journalists and bloggers called it the EU of the Islamic world and futurists (and historians) called it the ‘end of the nation state’. Regardless of what it was called, the decisions to peacefully incorporate Lebanon and the UAE into the wider cultural and political identity that was the Ummah Al Salaam were wildly popular with the populations of these regions and calls for similar integration, at least at some levels, were made upon Islamic countries everywhere, with particularly vocal supporters amongst the populations of Turkey, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.
In 2048 the Ummah Al Salaam, having inherited the UAE’s well-funded space program, and with extensive financial support from private donors and their own business operations, and in collaboration with the Indonesian space agency who’s government was eager to establish good relations with the rising transnational power, put a man on the moon. They were the first of any Islamic state and in doing so. This won immense prestige amongst Muslims everywhere but also signaled to both Islamic and the wider world that the Ummah Al Salaam had the resources and reach to compete on a level with 1st world nations and the multinational corporate conglomerates.