Monday, February 21, 2011

Globalization and its discontents: a new paradigm

I have an "impossibility theorem" for the global economy (...). It says that democracy, national sovereignty and global economic integration are mutually incompatible: we can combine any two of the three, but never have all three simultaneously and in full.  Dani Rodrik - Kennedy School Harvard
David Seaton's News Links
In the Middle East -- and who knows where else next -- the masses are on the march and the mystery and the mystique of revolution unfolds once again.

There is a mixture of things, like a chemical formula, that leads to revolutions, here is a sample of  the mixture that is brewing up in the Middle East right now:
  • Generally people are tired of being intimidated and resentful at being tortured and oppressed. 
  • Then, thanks to modern medical advances and the lowering of infant mortality, there are huge numbers of young people and very few jobs for them.
  • Thanks to advances in education, many of these young people are vastly overqualified for any jobs they might ever manage to get: the revolutionary leaven of dissatisfied intellectuals is well known. 
  •  Add food inflation, which brings the sans culotte into the street.
  • Remember that the rising price of oil brought on by these disturbances adds exponentially to that food inflation.
      Everybody has their own spin on Egypt's revolution and the word "freedom" is being thrown about a lot as if it were an end in itself instead of simply being a means, a precondition of action. Who is free? Free to do what? Free from whom? The question might be better expressed as: now that they are free, what are they going to express with that freedom?

      Of course the American media inventively associates "freedom" with "free market capitalism" and as we saw in the previous post on the BBC video, "The Century of Self", this was an idea that cost American business a huge amount of money and time to sell to its first victims, the American people, and is not that deeply rooted in countries that were heavily exploited former colonies at the mercy for centuries of foreign interests and not their own..  I think that many commentators are neglecting the anti-imperialist angle in all of this: once free from the local "foreign client" dictator, the desire all these countries have for national independence and sovereignty and how that contradicts with America's brand of multinational corporate globalization.

      Again, most commentators read the role of Islam in this struggle for freedom from foreign tutelage in a shallow manner. If American dominated globalization is seen as a dissolvent of this new freedom to "be themselves", then what ideology is robust enough to be indigestible by globalization. What set of ideas and customs can bullet proof these newly free societies from what the Chinese call "America's candy bullets"? Obviously Islam is well suited for that role, both nationally and internationally.
      Sheik Qaradawi, a popular television cleric whose program reaches an audience of tens of millions worldwide, addressed a rapt audience of more than a million Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square to celebrate the uprising and honor those who died. On Friday, he struck themes of democracy and pluralism, long hallmarks of his writing and preaching. He began his sermon by saying that he was discarding the customary opening “Oh Muslims,” in favor of “Oh Muslims and Copts,” referring to Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority. He praised Muslims and Christians for standing together in Egypt’s revolution and even lauded the Coptic Christian “martyrs” who once fought the Romans and Byzantines. “I invite you to bow down in prayer together,” he said. He urged the military officers governing Egypt to deliver on their promises of turning over power to “a civil government” founded on principles of pluralism, democracy and freedom. And he called on the army to immediately release all political prisoners and rid the cabinet of its dominance by officials of the old Mubarak government.“We demand from the Egyptian Army to free us from the government that was appointed by Mubarak,” Sheik Qaradawi declared. “We want a new government without any of these faces whom people can no longer stand.” And he urged the young people who led the uprising to continue their revolution. “Protect it,” he said. “Don’t you dare let anyone steal it from you.”(...)  Scholars who have studied his work say Sheik Qaradawi has long argued that Islamic law supports the idea of a pluralistic, multiparty, civil democracy. But he has made exceptions for violence against Israel or the American forces in Iraq. “You call it violence; I call it resistance,” said Prof. Emad Shahin of the University of Notre Dame, an Egyptian scholar who has studied Sheik Qaradawi’s work and was in Tahrir Square for his speech Friday. New York Times
      And speaking of the Chinese and what  they call, "America's candy bullets". Quite a few people seem to think that China is a loser in all this business because it isn't a liberal democracy on the western model.  They miss a very important point: China does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries and does not lecture them on "values" or export revolution. America is guilty of all these sins and is an inveterate and unrepentant sinner. For any former colony of the west, be it a democracy or a dictatorship, China is a more comfortable business partner than the USA. I think China is finally going to be one of the biggest winners of the upheaval in the Middle East.

      The United States has two principal objectives in the Middle East: to control the world's access to its oil reserves and to give political and military cover to the state of Israel, for reasons of purely domestic, American politics.

      As to the role of the Israel Lobby in Washington, truly the joker in the deck, they have their work cut out for them, Americans may soon find themselves in the dilemma of being forced to choose between their undying love for Israel and their legendary addiction to cheap gasoline. Israel is a wonderful country, but you can't fill your gas tank with it and drive to a minimum wage job over American distances. This is a dilemma that could leave America's strained domestic peace in tatters. Oil at $200+ a barrel could bring America's sans culottes into the streets... Running, walking, but not driving.  DS

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