Behind the rising tide of extremist violence is a new world power structure

Most world news this week continued to be made by people wanting, and willing, to use violence to achieve a larger share of space and goods. In India, Sikh extremists who want full independence from Indian rule killed the most prominent moderate Sikh, Harchand Singh Longowal, who had signed a settlement agreement July 24 with Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

In Egypt, an employee of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo was killed, presumably by Muslim radicals who wish to expel Israel from Arabia.

In Lebanon, car bombs killed 29 in the Shiite-controlled part of Beirut in presumed reprisals for car bombs which devastated two Christian-controlled areas last week. It is part of a continuing war between Christians and Shiites over tribal boundaries. And a car bomb killed 44 in the north Lebanon port city of Tripoli, another incident in Christian vs. Muslim warfare.

In South Africa there were more arrests of alleged black militants by white police, but for the most part, for a change, there was more violent rhetoric than violent action, with American politicians getting into the act.

Democrats in Washington were pushing various legislative proposals for sanctions against the white South African government on the theory that Republican reluctance will be helpful to the Democrats in next year's midterm elections. The Rev. Jerry Falwell, the most prominent fundamentalist leader in the United States, took the administration's side against sanctions.

In a different category of world news, the week also brought an announcement that the US would test a new antisatellite weapon. This came a day after White House national-security adviser Robert McFarlane forecast little progress in US-Soviet relations unless there are major changes in Soviet positions.

A US antisatellite-weapon test could mean one more bargaining chip for the US in the meeting between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in November. But it could also put a chill on those talks. It was certainly a deliberate step on the climb to the summit.

When one notices acts of violence in as many places as this week, one is tempted to be pessimistic about the state of civilization. But if one stops to reflect on the tremendous changes taking place in the location of power in the world, the matter falls into a different perspective.

The world into which I was born before World War I seemed stable. There had been many small wars between the vast upheaval of the Napoleonic era and the beginning of this century. But for the better part of 100 years the world was largely stabilized under European control.

Consider Africa. By 1900 all of it, except for Ethiopia and Liberia, was part of some European empire or another. Tribal conflict was kept to a minimum by European overlords. Even white ladies from the most cultivated circles of Europe and North America could, and did, travel safely all over Africa. Order prevailed.

But in recent times the rise of black nationalism has shoved the European overlords aside, except for South Africa where a long and deeply established and economically successful white-dominated society is finally on the defensive and trying to find a formula whereby it can adapt without violent or decisive change.

As recently as two years ago the South African government seemed to be still on the offensive. It controlled sparsely populated black Namibia (South-West Africa) to its west. Its armed forces operated in southern Angola to the northwest and played an increasing role in the politics of that country. Its forces intruded at will into Mozambique to the northeast.

Within the past two years, South Africa has been pushed over from the offensive to the defensive. The black nationalist tide that Pretoria seemed to be successfully pushing back, with an agreement with Mozambique and a growing dialogue with Angola, now is pushing into the central white bastions.

The question is no longer whether white South Africa can control Angola and Mozambique. It is whether and for how long it can continue to control Cape Town and Durban, Pretoria and Johannesburg.

Europe's great outthrust over the world took place in the 18th and 19th centuries. Where Europeans came upon empty land, as in Australia, or almost empty land, as in North America, they founded permanent societies and strong governments. Where the land was heavily populated, as in India, they learned that they could stay for a while but not indefinitely.

And now, in the spaces they have vacated, the local groups and societies and tribes have to settle their differences with each other without European overlords to impose settlements on them. The wonder is that there is not more violence. The new order has to work its way gradually through a thousand local conflicts.

We are not yet at the end of the issues of Sikh vs. India, of Arab against Israeli, of black vs. white in Africa, even of Celtic Irish vs. Anglo-Saxon in Northern Ireland. It is still a restless world.

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