Saturday, February 16, 2008

Why they don’t Hate us

BOOK REVIEW: An indictment of the United States by Khaled Ahmed, DT, Feb 18, 2008
Why they don’t Hate us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil By Mark LeVine;
Oneworld Oxford 2007

Pakistan cannot afford to oppose the ‘monoculture’ of globalisation with culture since it got rid of its own culture long ago through Islamisation. What is passing for culture in Pakistan is India’s video entertainment, a target for Talibanisation

Prof LeVine teaches Middle East and Islam at the University of California, Irvine, and has lived for long years in the Middle East and knows what he is talking about. He is critical of America’s policy in the Middle East and is angry at what George Bush and his neocons have done in recent years in the region. He rejects the ‘what-went-wrong-with-Islam’ thesis of Bernard Lewis and Irshad Manji, and seeks culpability in the world economic system, as led by the United States and its cultural domination of globalisation. He disagrees with Chomsky when he says that America’s latest crime in the Middle East, and the Muslim response to it, have nothing to do with globalisation. The book takes on the task of relating terrorism to globalisation.

LeVine impales Francis Fukuyama for saying after the defeat and dispersal of the Soviet Union that history is over, ‘we have won’, and that ‘they’ must catch up, get out of the way or end up as ‘road-kill of the globalisation express’. He then proceeds to attack Thomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree as the opiate that dulls the mind to globalisation and focuses on Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations as the textbook of America’s assault on Islam, attesting that it was in What went Wrong by Bernard Lewis — ‘the Sheikh of Islamic studies’ — where Huntington dug up America’s battle cry of clash of civilisations. All this lore was based on the Darwinist slogan of Josiah Strong that the Americans would conquer the world in the 20th Century.

He is greatly put off by the popularity of Fukuyama’s End of History which looks at the triumph of the neoliberal model as the fulfilment of history’s long-standing conflict, and looks at Islam’s incapacity to adapt to the ‘modern’ world as a flaw. He is particularly incensed by this thesis as it contributed America’s definition of the Axis of Evil, which LeVine in turn thinks is actually the rise of American paradigm of the Axis of Arrogance and Ignorance. He is greatly put off by the bestselling The Lexus by Friedman because it presents globalisation as the only way to go for the rest of the world victimised by global capitalism. He questions Manji on her project of internal reform in Islam as he finds it divorced from a parallel reform of the American attitude towards the Islamic world.

He takes the baseline of his thesis from Arab Human Development Report (AHDR) where it says that, of thirty Muslim nations that were colonised, 22 Arab states have per capita incomes placed together with those of sub-Saharan Africa, and that it will take 140 years for Arab citizen to double his income while the same income will be doubled in ten years in the rest of the world. Colonisation has left 65 million out of the 280 million Arabs illiterate. He buttresses the argument by looking at pre-colonial India as possessor of one-fourth of the world’s manufacturing output, which went down after colonisation and was still languishing at 2.3 percent in 1980.

The author then summarises the process of globalisation as a system which shapes the agenda of the ‘global south’ where ‘poor people are told that they should be consuming services or other essentially cultural products they don’t necessarily need, and can’t really afford, in order for their economies to grow’. He detests the American newspapers for letting people like Friedman announce to the world how ‘the anti-globalisation movement is losing steam’ while he thinks that the gathering of a hundred thousand people at Mumbai under the protest rubric of World Social Forum in 2004 was not to be ignored. He equally gives importance to the transformation of this Forum into a protest movement against the invasion of Iraq because it feeds into his thesis that 9/11 happened because of globalisation.

LeVine finds fault with Benjamin Barber’s thesis in Jihad versus McWorld, that the commodifying logic of globalisation brings together a historically unprecedented number of sites and spectacles into a single vast enterprise that maximises profits while culturally transforming the people it acts upon. His objection is based on the binary of jihad and globalisation in the book. He seeks to prove that opposition to globalisation comes even more powerfully from the anti-globalisation movement represented by organisations that support the World Social Forum and many others who don’t even know the Forum. And these organisations stand for open and free systems unlike the proponents of jihad who wish to impose an authoritarian model of governance.

Globalisation is increasingly identified as a hostile force in the third world states but it is not connected to the 9/11 calamity. Even the ‘monoculture’ of globalisation has been identified as a negative factor in states such as Pakistan. When the Planning Commission of Pakistan and the Staff College think tank in Lahore begin thinking of culture, alarm bells must start ringing, and writers like LeVine must be read carefully and not merely as an intellectual American’s critique of America. Pakistan cannot afford to oppose the ‘monoculture’ of globalisation with culture since it got rid of its own culture long ago through Islamisation. What is passing for culture in Pakistan is India’s video entertainment, a target for Talibanisation.

It means that what Al Qaeda is rolling back in Pakistan is Indian entertainment culture as expressed through the music shops of the Tribal Areas. But what Al Qaeda spreads through Talibanisation is a ‘monoculture’ of its own. Called upon to choose between the monoculture of globalisation and the monoculture of Al Qaeda’s Islam, any sane person would choose the former. America may have wronged the Muslims, and Al Qaeda may be the Muslim response to the US, but it is killing the Muslims and rendering their lives meaningless in the name of Islam. *

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