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The shadow world we barely know

  • Published at 09:17 pm October 31st, 2017
  • Last updated at 01:26 pm July 19th, 2018
The shadow world we barely know

With global arms trade reaching the highest point since the Cold War, it is gratifying to encounter an investigative writer, Andrew Feinstein, at the Dhaka Lit Fest this year. He lays bare a formidable account of the global arms trade and the corruption surrounding it in his book, The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade. He reveals to us a shadow world consisted of politicians, arms dealers and the military – a world full of myths and conspiracy theories that serve to hide them behind the violence and war they manufacture in the world. 

Long ago Aristophanes satirised this shadow world and revealed how the weapon-makers of ancient Athens were militant and pro-war. In a similar vein, Feinstein claims that this phenomenon has not changed much. The world’s biggest corporations such as Lockhead Martin, Merex and BAE Systems are now the makers of weapons; they need to sell their products competitively. The best time to do this is when weapons are consumed in armed conflict and insurgency. Sometimes the key salespeople are their own government. 

Virtually every country in the world is involved with the multi-billion dollars business of the international arms trade. In Africa, the less a government functions with its jurisdiction and border failing, the more arms dealers run amuck. Sometimes these deals can be barter for oil or diamonds or minerals like coltan and bauxite. Feinstein digs through the ties between the military and the industrial circles that create this multi-billion dollars industry, and most unfortunately, he points out, it continues to grow almost unhindered. 

From his experience as an ANC member of parliament in South Africa, Feinstein details how in the early days of democracy in South Africa, the country spent $6 billion on weapons while brushing aside the purchase of antiretroviral drugs for HIV patients. The money-making spree of the arms industry in the Iraq war that continues in Afghanistan and the Middle East has also been sufficiently dealt with. The share prices of manufactures like BAE system and Northrop Grumman reached a record level in 2009. The war is always propitious for the weapon manufacturers. 

Feinstein’s impressive book touches upon Margaret Thatcher’s ideology of “fundamentalist free market.” He goes on to reveal the underhand dealings of a number of other politicians who have, for the most part, managed to appear neat and clean to the public. For Feinstein arms trading has little to do with the growth of a healthy economy. He shows how the alarming growth of the arms industry accounts for over 40% of corruption in all world trade.

Despite living in the shadow world, Feinstein has a commitment to making the world a safer place for future generations. It resonates in the conclusion of his book: A basic commitment to universal human rights, equality and justice, to the belief that it is better to save a life by feeding a hungry stomach than to take a life by producing another deadly weapon, and that this trade, one of the most destructive and corrupt in human history, cannot be allowed to continue in its largely unregulated, unscrutinised current form.


Mir Arif is a fiction writer. He works with Arts & Letters, Dhaka Tribune.

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