Globalisation and terrorism
Comment to Globalization, Alive and Well, column by Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, 22 September 2002
Thomas Friedman's "Globalization, Alive and Well" (New York Times, September 22, 2002) is full of false representations and flawed arguments. He claims as results of currently practiced corporate globalization the gifts of pluralism, diversity, democracy that societies like India have evolved over millennia and have brought to the world's cultures. He transforms into intrinsic perversions the violence and exclusions that result from imperialism and undemocratic, ruthless, irresponsible, economic globalization, trade liberalization and resource appropriation.
Thomas Friedman is misrepresenting my country, claiming as results of economic globalization of the nineties, the economic and political legacy of our freedom movement and our post-colonial policies of economic and technological self-reliance. He is also offering a flawed and misplaced analysis on the roots of terrorism when he says Globalization is an antidote to terrorism and it is alive and well in the world, especially in India, in spite of 9/11.
One of the fallouts of the insecurities and polarizations created by both 9/11 and globalization is the increased communalization of politics in India and heightened tensions between India and Pakistan. Even the land of Gandhi, Gujarat has been transformed into a hot bed of violence. Thousands of Muslims died in communal violence in Gujarat, the state most integrated into the global economy. The killers were economically globalized but culturally parochial. They drove fancy cars and had mobile phones, their targets were Muslim business establishments.
The Gujarat genocide has made it clear that economic integration and economic "openness" on terms that generate economic inequality and insecurity can go hand in hand with social disintegration and economic and political "closure" and exclusion. In fact, undemocratic, unequitable, unjust integration through global markets is precisely what is fueling fundamentalism, intolerance, xenophobia and violence across the world. It is creating the Le Pens and Haiders. It is inaccurate and intellectually sloppy to equate globalization with open societies. Economic "openness" for MNCs under the rules of corporate globalization implies "economic closure" for domestic producers. India's small scale industry is closing down, destroying millions of jobs. Open markets for agribusiness like Cargill transform into market closure for Indian farmers whose markets and incomes are destroyed by dumping and removal of import restrictions (Quantitative Restrictions or QRs in W.T.O. jargon). Market openness for Monsanto's costly hybrid and GM seeds is economic closure for indebted farmers who are committing suicides and market closure for small scale organic producers whose crops get contaminated by the genetically engineered seeds For the large majority in India, globalization has created new poverty and destitution.
Not only does market "openness" for global corporations not translate into openness for domestic economies, the destruction of jobs, livelihoods and economic security by reckless globalization creates inflammable societies which become vulnerable to the terrorism and fundamentalism. Terrorism is a child of exclusion and insecurity. And insecurity and exclusion is an unavoidable outcome of globalization.
Thomas Friedman is totally wrong when he states "If one thing stands out from 9/11, it's the fact that the terrorists originated from the least globalized, least open, least integrated corners of the world, namely Saudi Arabia's Yemen, Afghanistan and North West, Pakistan. Countries that don't trade in goods and services also tend not to trade in ideas, pluralism and tolerance."
Friedman is wrong at every level of his argument. Firstly, Saudi Arabia is totally integrated into the global economy. Its oil makes the U.S. economy run. Its trade is oil is at the heart of U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. military presence for defense of oil interests is at the root of the transformation of Osama Bin Laden into a terrorist. Global terrorism emerged from the global oil economy and global militarism.
The violence in Afghanistan and the rise of terrorism did not emerge from Afghanistan being isolated from the world but Afghanistan being made the ground for global conflict and super power rivalry over control of central Asian oil. Afghanistan is an ancient trading nation. Long before U.S.A. was born, Afghans traded across Asia. As children we bought dried fruits from traders who came from Kabul and sold goods door to door. A lovely film "Kabuliwala" which I saw many times was based on the beautiful relationship between a Kabul trader and a little Indian girl.
Whether it is Afghanistan or Gujarat in India, globalization is destroying the fabric of pluralism and tolerance in our countries. As our resources are snatched by global corporations, as livelihoods and jobs are destroyed in our countries to transform our economies into markets for products from MNCs, economic insecurity is being created. Economic insecurity becomes fertile ground for fanning fundamentalism, hatred, fear and intolerance. And fundamentalism became the dominant characteristics of politics as economic sovereignty and democracy are eroded by globalization which removes economic decisions from people's lives and national democracies to undemocratic institutions like W.T.O., World Bank and IMF and corporations whose only objective is profits. Global market integration is creating social and political exclusion. "Open markets" are creating "closed minds". Open minds are products of stable, and secure conditions in society. Open global markets do not create open minds because they create massive political and economic instability. Globalization is a political and economic hurricane. When Gandhi had led India's freedom movement on the principles of Swadeshi and Economic sovereignty and he was accused of being an isolationist, Gandhi responded saying, "I want the winds of all cultures to blow freely through my doors and windows. But I do not want any storm to blow away my house."
Cultural openness comes through the doors and windows we open when societies choose the terms of integration. Cultural and political closure and shut down is the inevitable outcome of destructive, coercive undemocratic market integration over which societies have no control.
Trade liberalization and open trade do not create open societies. They create exclusion and insecurity. One indicator is violence against women. Female foeticide has emerged as a problem in the richest regions in India with highest economic cultures shrunk the mind and social spaces. Conservation cultures create pluralism, diversity and peace.
Thomas Friedman cites Jairam Ramesh of the Congress as supporting globalization, at a time when two Congress Chief Ministers, Amarender Singh in Punjab and Jogi in Chattisgarh have been arrested for protesting against the BJP's trade liberalization policies especially in agriculture, because globalization has eroded farm incomes, pushing prices below cost of production and destroying rural livelihoods. In fact the ruling party is itself split on issues of globalization with 3 ministers blocking privatization of the public sector. Globalization is not alive in India, it is hotly contested, often blocked. Its main legacy is social and political unrest and instability.
Friedman has a distorted habit of claiming as gifts of globalization legacies of pluralism and democracy that our societies have built over millennia and which globalization is currently threatening. And he assigns to non-western societies the social, cultural, economic destruction caused by the colonization by western powers.
Even our scientific technological strength, which Friedman claims as a result of globalization is an inheritance of millions of years of mathematical genius of India, and a century of building self-reliance in science and technology. Bangalore is the Silicon Valley of India because Sri C.V. Raman, a Nobel Laureate in Physics built institutes of excellence, indigenous business houses like the Tatas financed them. For half a century, India built public sector institutions like Bharat Electonics, National Aeronautical Labs, Hindustan Machine Tools. Bangalore's science and technology capacity was built through policies of self-reliance, not through globalization. Here again Friedman claims as benefits of globalization benefits that came from policies of self-determination, nation building and public investment in public goods.
India's Silicon Valley as well as the Silicon Valley in the U.S. benefitted from this indigenous technological capacity building. It has been possible for Indians from lower-middle-class and rural backgrounds to get technical training because of India's educational policies. India's technological capacities are a product of treating higher education as a public good, not a privatized marketable service. In fact, it is precisely because India's education and research systems were accessible as public services that so many youth from less privileged background could get technically trained. This is a result of India's public investment in education, not of globalization. In fact as education is privatized and globalized, less privileged youth are being denied access. And it is precisely this denial and exclusion from education and jobs which makes them prey to fundamentalist right wing forces. Under World Bank Structural Adjustment Programmes, our educational systems are being dismantled. Universities cannot run labs and libraries. And as education and research is further privatized through GATS in W.T.O., our youth will be further denied rights to education that our generation could take for granted in a
free-independent, pre-globalization India.
Thomas Friedman tries to claim as virtues of globalization aspects of India's structures and systems which are a legacy of our earlier policies of self-reliance, equity and democratic pluralism.
This includes our educational systems and economic systems. Globalization is rupturing that delicate fabric of equity, democracy and pluralism. It is sowing the seeds of inequality, exclusion, fundamentalism and violence. Economic democracy and economic sovereignty are preconditions for peace and security. Globalization destroys economic sovereignty, and economic democracy. It, therefore, creates terrorism and violence. It thus carries the seeds of its own destruction.
Thomas Friedman's false and unreliable analysis of cultures and societies he neither knows nor understands cannot rescue globalization, a failed project which belongs to the dustbin of history which is only being kept alive by lies and military force.