by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
Nov. 30, 2001
THE BATTLE BETWEEN 'JIHAD' AND 'McWORLD'
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- There are many subtexts to our current "war on terrorism." But many of them lead back to the one thing that I have long maintained would be the defining struggle of our new century - how to counter the ever-increasing corporate control of our planet.
The boosters of globalization have wasted no time in tying its foes who took to the streets in Seattle, Quebec, Stockholm, Prague and Genoa to the forces that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, in yet another example of the "with-us-or-with-the-terrorists" logic of the Bush administration, called free trade an "antidote" to the "violent rejectionism" of terrorism and maintained that the 142 nations in the World Trade Organization "can counter the revulsive destructionism of terrorism" by moving forward with the WTO's mission of completely unfettered capitalism.
Terrorism can be defeated through globalization? One can make a strong case that globalization helps to create the climate that breeds terrorism. Benjamin Barber calls this "Jihad vs. McWorld." In his like-titled book, the University of Maryland professor states that we're in the midst of a clash between two forces. On one side is "Jihad," which he defines as"degenerative tribalism and "reactionary fundamentalism." On the other is "McWorld," which he says represents "integrative modernization and aggressive economic and cultural globalization."
Democracy is caught in the crossfire of these two forces, since both Jihad and McWorld are indifferent to freedom. But Barber maintains that democracy is the only force that can respond effectively to Jihad and McWorld - both the "resentments and spiritual unease of those for whom the trivializing and homogenizing of values is an affront to cultural diversity and spiritual and moral seriousness" and the "complaints of those mired in poverty and despair as a result of unregulated global markets and of capitalism uprooted from the humanizing constraints of the democratic nation-state."
Half of this planet's inhabitants live on less than $2 a day, according to the United Nations. At the same time, the wealthiest 20percent of the planet consumes more than 80 percent of its resources. To those outside of the U.S., Europe and Japan, globalization equals exploitation and oppression.
Here at home, things aren't much better. The top 1 percent of the U.S. population has nearly as much wealth as the bottom 95 percent combined. Consumer debt is at a record high of $6.5 trillion. More than 1.5-million people have lost jobs in the past year, but only 40 percent of them even qualify for unemployment insurance (a national average of $230 a week for a maximum of 26 weeks). More than 40 million people have no health insurance and one-fifth of this nation's children live in poverty.
Economic conditions like these do not make for a peaceful world. They make a world that is filled with fear, hatred and violence. These are the conditions that breed terrorism.
To its backers, globalization is nothing less than the free market in its purest, most righteous form. The market is always right and always acts in the best interests of all, as opposed to governments, which are always wrong and never act in the best interests of all. The hegemony of the market cannot be questioned and cannot be stopped. As former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher so famously taught: "There is no alternative."
We're supposed to accept a world where corporations and capital have no loyalty to any entity but its shareholders; where jobs hopscotch the globe in search of places where the wages are lowest and health, safety and environmental safeguards are non-existent; where, as Barber puts it, we see "the privatization of all things public and the commercialization of all things private."
In other words, welcome to the New World Disorder.
We are in the midst of a global crisis where decades of social progress are being swept away. It doesn't have to be like this, and contrary to Lady Thatcher's grand pronouncement, there must be an alternative to a rapacious free market that puts profits ahead of human needs.
Here in our nation, it means an electoral system that's not controlled by corporate dollars. It means a press that lives up to its responsibility to challenge the status quo. It means a government that exists to promote the general welfare, and not merely help the rich grow richer. It means developing a sustainable economy that doesn't plunder the earth. It means investing in public infrastructure, health and safety to create more jobs, affordable housing, better schools and a health care system that all Americans can have access to.
Globally, it means insisting on real and tangible standards for the protection of human rights and the environment. It means development, rather than exploitation. It also means that our government might try being a little more humble and a little more cooperative with the rest of the world.
Despite the grand show that the Bush administration is putting on in trying to build an international coalition against terrorism, the reality is that President Bush continues to pursue a unilateral foreign policy where the U.S. does what it pleases and the rest of the world has no choice in the matter.
The latest example of this happened recently in Ottawa at a meeting of members of the World Bank. The topic for discussion was increasing annual aid to developing countries by $50 billion. Of the 183 nations represented at this meeting, guess which nation was the only one who opposed the idea?
Here's a hint: It is the same nation that gives about 0.1 percent of its gross domestic product in international aid, the stingiest of all the Group of Seven industrial nations. The second hint, it's also the nation that's the world's largest arms dealer and also dispenses the bulk of its foreign aid in the form of military assistance.
Yep, it's the good old U.S. of A.
And if $50 billion sounds like a lot of money, it's about equal to what the U.S. and its allies came up with in a matter of weeks to attack Afghanistan.
A secure world starts with citizens that are healthy, well-fed, educated and allowed to participate fully in economic and political life. And the cost for helping to achieve this goal is ultimately much cheaper than fighting wars to deal with the consequences of economic and political decisions designed to benefit the few at the expense of the many.
As the driving force behind McWorld, the U.S. must recognize that it cannot culturally and economically steamroller the world without a cost. That cost is the demise of democracy and the ascension of global anarchy, and that is a cost too high for the world to bear.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).