The Global Minute Interrupted
"Too many were lulled into a political and intellectual
slumber by Francis Fukuyama's idea that history ended on December 25,
1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed," the former Italian foreign
minister Gianni de Michelis laments. "That illusion," he contends,
"was shattered when history brutally intruded again on September
11, irreversibly ending what turns out to have been a parenthetical decade
Indeed, before the calamitous strikes on New York and Washington a kind
of isolationist somnabulism seemed the order of the day. Ironically, as
the world economy slowed and the mass media renationalized its focus,
globalization was seemingly sustained by those who, from Seattle to Genoa,
crossed borders to protest against it. While CNN once offered 24 hour
coverage of the Gulf War, before September 11 it only offered a "global
minute" on its headline network just ahead of long segments on entertainment
and sports. American newspapers reduced their coverage of foreign affairs
by 80 percent over the past decade.
Clearly, the global minute has been interrupted. America, the refuge of
history's wounded masses, has itself been wounded.
History has come ashore, turning the real estate of the free into the
soil of tribulation.
Yet, despite a horrific attack on the homeland, can a protracted, often
undramatic and slow-paced battle against terrorism keep the media's attention
and sustain the public will? Or, will Americans hunker down in fear and
localized anxiety even as the terror networks join the antiglobo protestors
in expanding their worldwide scope?
The terror strikes on America ought to be a wakeup call that the world
out there still requires attention. As the war correspondent David Rieff
says, "America may not be obsessed with the world, but the world
is obsessed with America."
America is both a beacon of hope as well as a satellite signal that inflames
the pious and mobilizes the militant. Yes, it is a geocultural therapy
for the huddled immigrants who cast off their past for an open future
full of opportunity, but it is also the homebase of the materialistic
and sensate culture behind globalization.
America is the destination of those who would risk their lives crossing
the scorching desert from Mexico or hiding for weeks in the hold of a
rusted cargo ship from China; but it is also the destination of suicide
bombers who believe America's way of life is the very essence of evil.
Nothing justifies terror, but the reasons are real for resentment against
American mass culture, the inequities of American-led globalization and
a foreign policy of support for corrupt Arab regimes- even if it was the
US that led the West in saving the Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo. Unilateral
postures, free market fundamentalism and Hollywood excess only serve to
fan legitimate gripes into violent protests and apocalyptic fatwas.
As Madeleine Albright argues, a campaign to stamp out terror calls, above
all, for a rededication to engagement with the world, not the stand alone
course on which George Bush was headed but has had to abandon.
Re-engagement, though, must be clearly focused. Gianni de Michelis again:
"What happened in New York and Washington on September 11 was not
an act of terrorism, but a declaration of war-a war aimed at blocking
the process of globalization and its logic of integration, cooperation
and peaceful coexistence; a war that seeks to divide the world again into
good and bad, between ethnic and religious identities.
"It matters less that we don't know who exactly committed this act
of war than it does to understand we are dealing with a 'virtual caliph'
who believes he can become 'real' through an audacious challenge he hopes
will stir disposessed Muslims everywhere.
"Those who are challenged cannot respond to such a declaration of
war with an FBI investigation but with a clear political strategy to isolate
the adversary so he can more readily be defeated, including by military
and economic means.
"The chief aim of that strategy must be to short- circuit the connection
between the virtual caliph and Muslim masses that would make him real.
The explosive potential of a holy war must be defused, not triggered.
For the virtual caliph to realize his dreams would be our nightmare."
The political course is clear, but it is not enough. To avoid not only
deglobalization but descent into a self-fulfilling clash of civilizations,
the media must also re-engage the world. If the age of globalization is
not to unravel, Americans must abandon their post-Cold War penchant of
not so much trying to escape history as to ignore it.
Nathan Gardels, editor, NPQ
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