Jihad vs. McWorld
Terrorism: Search for measured responses
September 20, 2001
September 11, 2001 may be considered a defining moment in world history.
For a decade now pundits have been groping for a new catch phrase to identify
the main features of the post-Cold War era. End of History, Clash of Civilizations,
and Globalization have been obvious candidates. These terms catch an aspect
of the phenomenon but distort others. None of these terms seems to fit the
new reality of a global war of terrorism and counter-terrorism that seems
to lie ahead of the world. There is no catch phrase to grasp the tragedy
and complexity of this new reality. Since both state and non-state actors
are acting with willful planning, we may call our troubled times, "The
Era of Death by Design".
There is also no panacea for the crisis. The problem seems to have three
linked features. First, we have witnessed mounting terrorist acts in the
past 40 years carried out both by state and non-state actors. Second, we
are witnessing the rise of a new global system characterized by growing
gaps among and within nations. Third, we now live in a global fishbowl in
which Hollywood extravaganzas as well as starving children in Africa are
displayed for all to see on their television screens. The envy and hatred
generated by global communication seems to have outpaced the benefits.
In the past decade, Western powers have demonstrated that they can destroy
their adversaries in Iraq and Yugoslavia with high-tech weapons without
much damage to themselves. Terrorism has consequently become the weapon
of choice by the weaker states and groups. The suicide attacks in New York,
Washington, and Israel are part of that lesson. The "enemy" in
this case is not a territorial state. It is the fringe elements of a much
larger global resentment against the way the world is being run.
We have entered into a new form of politics and warfare against the commodity
fetishism of globalization, identity fetishism has become the ideological
vehicle of the marginalized groups. Benjamin Barber has called it "Jihad
vs. McWorld". Against the market fundamentalism of neo-liberalism,
religious and ethnic fundamentalism is the new battle cry. Against post-modern
cosmopolitanism of the centers, pre-modern kinship and tribal loyalties
are the cultural orientation of the peripheries. Since the advanced industrial
world is powerful but highly vulnerable to sabotage and surprise, the new
weapon of shock terrorism is deadly and effective. In future, it may include
other weapons of mass destruction. The types of weapons that could possibly
be deployed by terrorists in the future are too horrible to contemplate.
The response to terrorism cannot be divorced from its underlying causes.
Both problems are global in scope. The approach must be commensurately global.
Despite its shortcomings, the United Nations system continues to provide
us with a useful institution under which a carefully devised strategy of
war on violence and poverty can be fought. The United Nations counter-terrorism
and peacekeeping forces must be reinforced. We need a standing UN peacekeeping
force that is fully equipped with counter-terrorist intelligence and the
necessary means to prevent tragedies such as that of September 11th. That
is necessary but not sufficient.
The world community under the UN auspices must demonstrate that it cares
for the fate of some two billion people in the world today living on $2
a day. UN member-states should commit themselves to a war on world poverty
and injustice by tangible means. A certain portion of national defense budgets,
say 10 percent, should be allocated to the UN peacekeeping and poverty eradication
programs. The world cannot afford to continue living one-fifth rich, two-fifths
in abject poverty, and another two-fifth struggling for a decent life. As
Huxley has said, "civilization is a race between education and catastrophe".
We often learn through our pains and sufferings. Historical leaps often
result from major human tragedies. The League of Nations resulted from World
War I. United Nations emerged out of World War II. This time, global terrorism
has proved to be a scourge of humanity. Its victims have paid a high price.
For their blood not to be in vain, we must learn to come together. We must
establish a more democratic and just global governance. We must pledge to
a new rule of international law for nations large or small.
Majid Tehranian is professor of international communication at the
University of Hawaii and director of the Toda
Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research.