Globalization and Terrorism

Globalization and Terrorism

Coming to grips with the new shape of the world.
Iraqi children scramble for water at a collection point in the southern city of Basra. REUTERS PHOTO
Terrorism is connected to the principles of globalization and the principles of anti-globalization. Coming to grips with what those connections are and what they mean is crucial for people on both sides of the globalization debate.

Globalization has many definitions, but at its root it is about the planet getting smaller and the free flow of people, goods, capital, and ideas across borders. Globalization has been sped up by technology (computers, jets, etc.) and it makes traditional notions of sovereign nation-state powers more and more irrelevant.

Hendrik Hertzberg wrote in The New Yorker (9/24/01) that globalization ". . . relies increasingly on a kind of trust -- the unsentimental expectation that people, individually and collectively, will behave more or less in their rational self-interest. . . . The terrorists made use of that trust. They rode the flow of the world's aerial circulatory system like lethal viruses."

The terrorist network at work today uses the technological tools of globalization, and they ignore (or attempt to transcend) the normal definitions of the nation-state. Furthermore, the extreme Muslim fundamentalists (and others) worry that unbridled globalization can exploit workers and replace ancient cultures with McDonald's and Mickey Mouse.

". . . leading thinkers have begun to discuss one of the ironies laid bare by the terror attack -- the same technologies that empower our lives turn into double- edged swords in the wrong hands," according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Given all this, globalization cheerleaders need to answer some questions:

  • How can the tools of globalization be kept out of destructive hands?

  • Are you willing to accept more controls on the flow of goods and capital if it will prevent criminal acts?

  • Can globalization go forward while also protecting the integrity of local cultures and communities?

Globalization has many definitions, but at its root it is about the planet getting smaller.
According to a report in The International Herald Tribune, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi drew a direct connection between the terrorists and anti-globalization protestors:

"The terrorists were trying 'to stop the corrupting effect of Western civilization on the Islamic world,' [Berlusconi] said, while 'the anti-globalization movement criticizes, from within Western civilization, the Western way of life, trying to make Western civilization feel guilty. 'That's why I see a singular coincidence between this action and the anti-globalization movement.'

In Washington, DC, an anti-globalization protest which was planned for the canceled World Bank meeting morphed easily into an anti-war protest (which some interpreted as sympathetic to the terrorist forces). Sloppy thinkers might even say that since anti-globalization forces are opposed to world trade, taking out the World Trade Center could be seen as a victory for them.

The vast majority of the anti-globalizers have denounced all forms of violence (both before and after September 11). But they still have some hard questions to answer as well:

  • Could the more inflammatory rhetoric of the anti-globalization movement inspire some people to violence, even terrorism?

  • Since anti-globalizers themselves use the tools of globalization to organize, shouldn't they be more specific about what they dislike in globalization?

  • Should anti-globalizers give up on street protests as a form of action?

The attacks of September 11 have changed many things, but globalization will continue, even if the pace or direction is altered. And when the debate over the pros and cons of globalization begins again it must be more focused, and it must take place in a more civil atmosphere.

Contributed by Keith Porter. Reprinted with permission from

To read another Global Envision article about globalization and terror, see Are the Iraq War and Globalization Really Connected?

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