Return of the Tribes -- The resistance to globalization runs deep
This long but important article, by Ralph Peters, explains so much of what is going on today.
Return of the Tribes
Globalization is real, but its power to improve the lot of humankind has been madly oversold. Globalization enthralls and binds together a new aristocracy--the golden crust on the human loaf--but the remaining billions, who lack the culture and confidence to benefit from "one world," have begun to erect barricades against the internationalization of their affairs. And, from Peshawar to Paris, those manning the barricades increasingly turn violent over perceived threats to their accustomed patterns of life. If globalization represents a liberal worldview, renewed localism is a manifestation of reactionary fears, resurgent faiths, and the iron grip of tradition. Except in the commercial sphere, bet on the localists to prevail.
When the topic of resistance to globalization arises, an educated American is apt to think of a French farmer-activist trashing a McDonald's, anarchist mummers shattering windows during World Bank powwows, or just the organic farmer with a stall at the local market. But the swelling resistance to globalization is far more powerful and considerably more complex than a few squads of drop-outs aiming rocks at the police in Seattle or Berlin. We are witnessing the return of the tribes--a global phenomenon, but the antithesis of globalization as described in pop bestsellers. The twin tribal identities, ethnic and religious brotherhood, are once again armed and dangerous. [....]
Far from softening, national and other local identities are hardening again, reverting to ever-narrower blood-and-language relationships that Europe's dreamers assumed would fade away. Who now sees himself as fundamentally Belgian, rather than as a Fleming or Walloon? Catalans deny that they are Spaniards, and the Welsh imagine a national grandeur for themselves. In the last decade, the ineradicable local identities within the former Yugoslavia split apart in a bloodbath, while a mortified Europe looked away for as long as it could. The Yugoslav disaster was written off as an echo from the past--anyway, Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, and Kosovars were "not our kind"--but the Balkan wars instead signaled a much broader popular discontent with pseudo-identities concocted by political elites. The collapse of Yugoslavia hinted at the future of Europe: not necessarily the bloodshed, but the tenacity of historical identity. [....]
There is, indeed, a globalizing class, and hundreds of millions of human beings share the consumer tastes that announce their membership: Prada handbags for the striving women of Tokyo and Manhattan; the poverty-born music of Cesaria Evora for well-off fans from Frankfurt to San Francisco; the Mercedes sedan and the credit card; voyeuristic leftism for professors in Ann Arbor, Buenos Aires, and Vienna; computers for the literate and solvent from Budapest to Bangalore; wine from the region-of-the-week for London suburbanites or Shanghai's nouveaux riches; media conglomerates that eschew patriotism; and, for the platinum specks on that golden crust of humanity, private jets and $30,000-per-week vacation rentals when they weary of their own three or four homes.
Such people may well be more at home with foreigners of their own cultural stratum than with their less-fortunate countrymen. For the upper-tier of these new aristocrats of globalization, place of residence and citizenship are matters of convenience, tastes, and tax codes. This is a nobility with no sense of responsibility to the serfs, and its members are shielded as never before from life's inconveniences.
For the billions remaining, globalization and its consort, the information revolution, merely open a window into an exclusive shop they are not allowed to enter. A second-hand Pittsburgh Steelers shirt on a Congolese beggar isn't globalization, but only the hind end of global trade. The new awareness of the wealth of others is hardly pacifying. On the contrary, it excites the conviction (which local demagogues are delighted to exacerbate) that they can only be so rich because they stole what was ours. [....]
The power of local beliefs and traditions will continue to frustrate dreams of a globalized, homogenized society beyond our lifetimes. If we can recognize and exploit the power of local customs, we may find them the most potent tools we have for containing the religious counterrevolution of our Islamist enemies. If, on the other hand, we continue to deny that local traditions, beliefs, and habits constitute a power to be reckoned with, we will lose potential allies and many a well-meant assistance project will falter as soon as we remove our hand.
As for the potential for violence from insulted local beliefs, consider this statement: "They can preach holy war, and that is ever the most deadly kind, for it recks nothing of consequences."
This doesn't refer to mad mullahs and postmodern suicide bombers. It's a quotation from a historical novel by Rosemary Sutcliff, The Eagle of the Ninth. Published half a century ago for adolescents, it describes a Druid revolt against the Romans in Britain.
Globalization isn't new, but the power of local beliefs, rooted in native earth, is far older. And those local beliefs may prove to be the more powerful, just as they have so often done in the past. From Islamist terrorists fighting to perpetuate the enslavement of women to the Armenian obsession with the soil of Karabakh--from the French rejection of "Anglo-Saxon" economic models to the resistance of African Muslims to Islamist imperialism--the most complex forces at work in the world today, with the greatest potential for both violence and resistance to violence, may be the antiglobal impulses of local societies. From Liège to Lagos, the tribes are back.