Not the Third World, but the Independent World

Words matter, they really do. A tweet has got me thinking. The message in question was sent by Sham al-Ghazali, or @bitterarab, a couple of evenings ago, and it stated that “The term Third World is just so outdated and has absolutely no relevance in today’s society.”

The “Third World” is an interesting phrase. We never studied the Cold War in that much depth at school, so it’s something which went unexamined. I grew up thinking that, if our civilisation was a set of leagues, the Third World was akin to some sort of third tier of humanity, where mostly poor and mostly dark-skinned people lived. I didn’t know for many years that the Third World, as a concept, was actually far more empowering than I perceived it, if not the opposite altogether: a group of nations, many of whom were scarred by the ongoing process of colonialism, refusing to align themselves politically with either NATO or the Communist Bloc. This, I thought, was a particularly bold stance in the circumstances, and deserved a better than a title which has come to imply that they are merely a third-class category of economically dependent countries.

From now on, I will therefore try to think of and refer to these countries not as Third World countries but as Independent World countries, a title which more clearly reflects the political stance – in some cases pragmatic, in many other cases brave – that they took during the Cold War.  Hopefully, this will help me to iron out a few more of the wrinkles in my understanding of history.

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