Globalisation and the Fears of the Islamic World
The fierce debate which globalization has raised in recent years has in the Arabic and Islamic world mainly been confined to a group of intellectuals and some of the political powers. Points of view and opinions on globalization have been and are still varied and they range from stubborn opposition, through concerned uncertainty, to enthusiastic support. The debating parties have so far failed in their efforts to stimulate interest among the various social groups and have them join the debate, in spite of its close relevance to people’s lives, job opportunities, services and wages.
Both opponents and supporters of globalization belong to parties and lobbies of different ideologies, politics and interests, combining various classes and sections of society, which have their own reasons for opposing, rejecting or accepting the ideas of globalization. The opposition includes leftist, nationalist, and Islamic groups and unions, with various and diverse reasons for rejecting globalization, despite obvious similarities in ideology shared by nationalists and Islamic political groups, though this tends to be more limited than is sometimes thought.
The ideological differences between these two groups, on the one hand, and the groups of the left, Arabs and non-Arabs, including Marxists, on the other hand, are still too great in many respects.
Support for the policies of globalization is still very limited, restricted to a group of liberal intellectuals and politicians, who practically adopt the standpoints of their governments, or to groups which exert a certain pressure on their governments to embrace the policies and practices of globalization, as is the case in Egypt, Tunis, Lebanon and Morocco. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Sudan and many of the Persian Gulf Arab countries fear the approach of globalization, specially its cultural influences, but they do not openly resist them due to their dependency on the developed, capitalist countries.
The prospect of globalization is laden with fear for many people in the Arabic countries as they often do not differentiate between globalization as an objective process and as a policy and associate it, therefore, with previous bad memories of unfair imperialistic experiences inflicted upon the Arabs and Muslims by the capitalist West. What are these fears, which globalization raises? How have they been dealt with so far in the Arabic and Islamic World? And what is the truth about such anxiety in relation to the ongoing process of globalization?
This in-depth article is an attempt to provide answers to some of these questions, from a perspective that differs significantly from the standpoints prevailing in the developed, capitalist countries. Standpoints, that can be identified without denying the contradictions and conflicts, which also take place in those countries, on the role of globalization and the role of the national state and culture.
Most of the political left in the Arabic countries, as well as the other countries of the region, considers globalization as an objective process and as an advanced stage of the international capitalist system. Such a process is being led by the advanced, capitalist countries, which are applying new liberal policies to invest in the outcome of the third industrial revolution, i.e. the revolution in telecommunications and information.
This aims at a further exploitation of their own people, at gaining more use from the peoples and resources of the developing countries and at marginalising them internationally. This leftist group proposes that the Arabic countries and their peoples should refuse to join the capitalist globalization in order to avoid becoming yet more dependent and marginalised. They should instead exert efforts to achieve a self-sufficient economic and social development.
This point of view enjoys a noticeable support in social circles, though the Arab and non-Arab left, including the Marxists, does not oppose globalization with respect to secularism, rationalism and the call for cultural and technical modernisation and renovation. Furthermore, some of them do not consider globalization as a danger threatening their cultural identity but they do emphasise the side effects of exploitation, marginalisation and dependency which are harmful to their societies and economies.
This will result in international disputes and conflicts, which they objectively consider to be the inevitable outcome and related to the development of production powers internationally, as well as to the laws of capitalism at this stage of its development.
There are members of both the Arab and non-Arab left who consider the process of globalization as an appropriate chance to accelerate social and economic development and to change its present status, especially because globalization has the prerequisites to face that modern challenge.
The necessary preconditions are co-operation, co-ordination and integration of efforts, and the application of the principles of freedom, democracy and human rights in ruling these countries. In this regard, they refer to the Asian tigers as an example of potential development within the frame of capitalism.
The majority of nationalists in the region, however, share the same degree of deep anxiety about globalization as the Islamic political groups, i.e. the fundamentalists. Both consider globalization a danger that threatens a number of national and religious fundaments that should never be questioned.
On the other hand, they have similar points of view to the left with regard to the question of exploitation and marginalisation of developing societies by globalization. In this view, globalization affects such countries by changing them into satellites subject to the politics and interests of the developed and capitalist centres. A secular approach, however, distinguishes some groups of nationalists.
In opposing globalization, Islamic political groups and some nationalists rely on arguments based on conflicts which took place a very long time ago. Starting from the crusades, they follow a line through the direct and non-direct colonial dominance over the Arabic and Islamic countries in the 19th and 20th centuries to the present policies of the advanced capitalist countries with regard to Arabic and Islamic issues, mainly those affecting Palestine, and the embargo against Iraq.
Possessed with such suspicion, a great proportion of the Arabic and Islamic population does not look at globalization as an objective process but as an innovation made in the West, an American one in particular, which aims at dictating a total dominance over the Arabic and Islamic world and claiming to do so in the name of objectivity and historical inevitability.
The Arabic World consists of 22 countries (excluding Palestine), scattered throughout Asia and Africa, with a population of approximately 285 million inhabitants, the majority of them Moslems. All of the Arabic countries were subject, in one way or another, to European colonial dominance before or after World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The modern Arabic countries were then formed in the period between the two World Wars and after Word War II, when they achieved their political independence after a long, hard and in many senses, costly struggle.
The Arabic countries suffered then, as they still do, different forms of exploitation due to the workings of international capitalism. This has left its mark on the psyche of the Arab peoples and coloured their relations to the capitalist West.
In spite of efforts to achieve development in recent decades, all of the Arabic countries are still perceived as belonging to the countries of the Third World, with undeveloped economies which suffer from being subordinated to foreign trade. A residual patriarchal dominance and semi-feudal relationships within the societies are still obstructing the development of productive capitalistic relationships and the development of a modern civil society.
They also obstruct the process of enlightenment, experienced in Europe centuries ago, which is necessary for the further development of society. While the West is now undergoing the third phase of the industrial revolution, the Arabic world has not yet achieved its first industrial revolution. This shows the wide cultural and technical gap, which separates the two worlds right now. The Arab national economies, whether agriculture-based or oil-based, are still one-sided and suffering deformed earnings.
The Arab industries, even the most advanced ones, are still underdeveloped and have malformed structures. This can be clearly seen from the fact that they are widely dependent on the import of production-related raw materials. In addition to this, the deformed social structures, the very low social awareness of the population, and the low development rate of the civil society, politically and culturally must be considered. Besides the deformed social structures, illiteracy is widely spread particularly in rural areas and among women.
These Arab societies are governed in general by totalitarian regimes or formal democratic ones, where severe violations of individual and democratic freedom as well as of human rights are being practised. The most advanced among such countries, like Egypt, Morocco and Jordan rationalise democracy and impose a strangling state-control on people.
Democracy and human rights are being inhibited and wilfully transgressed, with no exceptions in the rest of the Arabic countries, such as Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Tunis and Algeria. The reliance of the West on the support of the old-fashioned, highly conservative, powerful and fanatical Arabic religious groups during its previous struggles against the socialist countries, communist parties, the streams of the left and various democratic movements has contributed to the rise of such groups.
Whereas the rates of economical development in the Arabic countries are still very low, the growth rates of the populations, 2.5 to 3.2 % per year, are considered high. There is a rapid process of population movement from rural areas to towns, not because employment opportunities are available there, but just in an attempt to avoid misery, poverty, and unemployment.
This situation in towns leads to population expansion and the enlargement of a semi-proletariat or marginal group that lives in a surrounding poverty belt due to the vast unemployment. As a result of the growing differences between social classes, the middle class has begun to shrink, being replaced by the growing poor and marginal sections in society.
Consequently, the problem of conflict between the rich - who are low in number but steadily getting richer and the ever-growing number of poor people, whose miserable circumstances are deteriorating day by day - is getting worse. The peoples of such countries do not only hold their own governments, but also the capitalist West responsible for their misery. The West, they believe, exploits them and the raw materials of their countries, supports the regimes and follows a policy which is harmful to the rights of the peoples.
Under such circumstances, it is difficult for the Arab peoples to expect any good from the capitalist West. That is why they regard globalization, with its capitalistic nature, content and approach, as a new way to increase the exploitation of people, to plunder the resources of the countries and to impose on them subordination and surrender to the West.
That is the point where fears of globalization arise. The ongoing globalization practices make aggressive interference in the affairs of others inevitable in order to impose the "total freedom" - which serves in fact only one party - of capital movement, mutual trade, abolishment of customs restrictions, achievement of reform, and compatibility of various local economies with the structure and economy of the multinational capitalist companies – on the rest of the countries regardless of their local circumstances, problems or needs.
At the same time, globalization practices prevent the movement and immigration of manpower (except immigration of brains, which they support) and build barriers around the developing countries for this purpose. In addition, the countries of the West obstruct, by all means and restrictions, the exportation of the products of Third World countries into their markets.
Globalization tries to change the role of the state, but does not, however, attempt to abolish or dismantle it, i.e. turn the state into a simple administrative body, whose duty is limited to the organisation and collection of taxes as well as their distribution for the purpose of developing the projects of the private sector and for securing its interests and profits. Globalization foresees that the state also keeps its military and security roles and the monopoly in applying force, violence and suppression to guarantee "security and stability" and the prerequisite of development: continuity of capitalism.
In this way, the state provides for a peaceful public life, that does not threaten the capitalist order, i.e. a public life, which is free of disputes or political and social conflicts, despite the exploitation of the manual and other working classes; and despite depriving them of the rights won on all levels in the previous decades as a result of the struggle between labour and capital, i.e. between workers and capitalists. By doing so, globalization violates even the principles of democracy, which it calls for as a necessity.
Although globalization - due to its comprehensive and international nature and the tremendously increasing social nature of the powers of production - allows for a comprehensive and a general perspective of nature, resources, environment, humanity and human rights as well as the available capabilities and needs required, it is difficult to rationally invest the practically available capabilities and do so in the interests of all human society.
The experiences of different peoples show that advanced capitalist countries start using the issue of human rights as a tool to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, when this serves the capitalist country's own interests.
There is no doubt that globalization is introducing a modern and vital cultural change, which is appropriate for the level of new technologies and will provide something very different from the experiences of the past or those available at present, there is, however, a long way to go yet.
This New, with all of its modernity and appropriateness to the times is able to eliminate the old and outdated values, customs and traditions, which can no longer cope with the high intensity of this age of change, not only in the Arabic and Islamic societies, but also in all other societies. This modern and general-approach culture, with its great gaps between rich and poor will gain its tangible and individual characteristics from the actual state of affairs and the ratio of development in each country.
© Qantara.de 2003
Translation from Arabic: Mona Naggar