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Jihad vs. McWorld: Terrorism's Challenge to Democracy Paperback – July 30, 1996
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As soon as you hear the conceit of this book--that there are two great opposing forces at work in the world today, border-crossing capitalism and splintering factionalism, and that they are the two biggest threats to democracy--you know it rings true enough to be worth reading. Although capitalism could have only grown to current levels in the soil of democracies, Benjamin Barber argues that global capitalism now tends to work against the very concept of citizenship, of people thinking for themselves and with their neighbors. Too often now, how we think is the product of a transnational corporation (increasingly, a media corporation) with headquarters elsewhere. And although self-determination is one of the most fundamental of democratic principles, unchecked it has lead to a tribalism (think Bosnia, think Rwanda) in which virtually no one besides the local power elite gets a fair shake. The antidote, Barber concludes, is to work everywhere to resuscitate the non-governmental, non-business spaces in life--he calls them "civic spaces" (such as the village green, voluntary associations of every sort, churches, community schools)--where true citizenship thrives. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Political scientist Barber examines the rise of both intolerant tribal identities and international consumerism.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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The book begins with a study of the way in which, since the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe in 1989, there has been a major advance by large corporations into these and other countries as a result of policies in the imperialist nations of privatisation and deregulation of essential services. The book also shows how even in the few remaining Stalinist regimes (supposedly opposed to the kind of globalisation represented by McWorld) there has been this kind of spread. Even the most traditional groups are turning to Western technology as the super-rich banks aim to gain larger and larger profits through more efficient businesses after the end of the long postwar capitalist boom.
This "turbo-capitalism" is shown up in the next part of the book to be merely a revival of classical laissez-faire capitalism which views everything from the perspective of the market. The book then focuses on the problems created today by the vast demand for profits by super-rich corporations in terms of dependence by imperialist nations on other countries for their ruling classes' key resources: oil, aluminium, copper, lead etc. Here it is stated that autarky as promoted in the US has never been an option for mineral-poor nations - and that many nations in sub-Saharan Africa will remain terminally poor due to lack of good soils or mineral wealth. With oil, the story is worse because of the threat of Islamic fundamentalism.
Barber then discusses superficially - with no opinions made - the way in which the manufacturing sector has been globalised to increase profits, and then he discusses how the imperialist nations have used the mystique of popular performers and brands used by leading international sportsmen in the US to spread American culture (sometimes modified) all over the globe. However, it is impossible for the working classes to actually achieve the status of the performers super-rich corporations are marketing - Barber does a good job here of explaining the way advertisers attract ingnorant consumers and reap obscene profits. Barbers then turns to the service sector, where he explains clearly how globalised services deliver to the ruling classes of the world, through a globalised media in one language. This is extended with satellite TV and literature.
Barber then turns to the frenzy of media mergers and monopoly - which he rightfully points out as leading effectively to a censored media as most independent newspapers developed during the long capitalist boom become swallowed up by highly monopolised presses. Here Barber shows the increased extent of mergers to produce a vast international capitalist media.
The part dealing with the sectarian "Jihad" that has emerged in recent years is, however, not very well done because it does not explain the way in which the sectarian groups now prominent in America evolved - in part, though their support for capitalist policies. The description of separatist movements in Canda is also superficial, but in China Barber is more effective at explaining how the Stalinist regime has not dealt with Westernisation. The chapter on islamic fundamentalism can also be described as a failure because it does not seriously look at the historical aspects of Islamic extremeism - nor at their acts in recent years.
In the last part of the book Barber discusses how a parochial opposition to the capitalist system (like that of guerillas in the developing countries) can offer no real opposition. He does logically see laissez-fair capitalism as opposed to genuine democracy, and he sees little hope in traditional state institutions, but he cannot see ordinary people's struggles to smash capitalism in the imperialist countries as a solution - rather, Barber tries to rely on civil society to provide regulations. However, there is ample evidence from history that to challenge environmental degradation and the concentration of wealth a movement to abolish capitalism and the free market and through the mass struggle of ordinary people in every country - leading in the end to social ownership of all means of production - is the only real challenge to McWorld and Jihad.
On the whole, well thought-out but fails to look at every aspect of the situation. Barber does not grasp the possibilities explored by radical internationalist politics, nor the history of the movements in vogue today.
"...Jihad stands not so much in stark opposition as in subtle counterpoint to McWorld and is itself a dialectical response to modernity whose features both reflect and reinforce the modern world's virtues and vices --Jihad via McWorld rather than Jihad vs. McWorld."
Barber also reveals that Jihad is very much active in modern Western democracies. In America, for example, armed militias and groups such as Aryan Nations are attempts to overthrow the moral corruption of modern capitalism. Less extreme but in the same vein are fundamentalist Christians who believe Judgment Day is imminent, and perhaps welcome it. Many will recall the reaction of Pat Robertson and other fundamentalists after the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attack --it was, they said, God punishing an immoral, Godless society. Overall, Jihad vs. McWorld is an important book because it puts the chaotic world situation into meaningful perspective. His analysis shows the dangers of oversimplifying things and invites us to look at the complexities of this rather tragic modern dialectic. As Barber tells us, if either Jihad or McWorld is allowed to triumph, the world of the future will not be very free, sane or pleasant.