Today's date:
Winter 2008

From Soft Islam to Postmodern Populism

Winter 2003

Aside from the obvious detonators of sweeping turmoil—Iraq, the Palestinian-Israeli fight, new terror attacks, North Korean nukes and the global AIDS epidemic—there are several movements or tendencies likely to shape world events for good or ill in the coming year.

Soft Islam | The election of the Justice and Development Party led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey introduces a new experiment of modernizing Islam within the tolerant parameters of a secular state. The failure or success of this endeavor has enormous implications for both the composition of Europe and for the fate of Islam in the 21st century.

Will Europe accept modern Muslims as part of a multicultural and multireligious superstate, or will it remain a Christian club? Will the Turkish example prove to be the midwife of modernization for other Muslims, or will the Arab world become more deeply isolated as Asian Islam and Turkey integrate with the world? Will Turkey's Muslims form the key basis of a "deep coalition" with the West against Islamist terrorism, a role far more significant than being a formal member of the outmoded NATO alliance?

Soft Antiglobalization | The landslide election of Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, head of the Workers' Party in Brazil, marks a departure for Latin America from the wholesale embrace of free markets and free trade—the so-called "Washington consensus"—toward a primarily social agenda aimed at the welfare of the poor and working class.

Since the need for IMF approval and foreign investment is understood as the inescapable condition of growth, Lula does not represent a break from globalization, but rather an effort to tame it under a different set of priorities. While globalization has opened up closed societies and economies, making the rich even richer, it has more often demoted the middle class in Latin America more than advanced their standard of living. Globalization's benefits have not so far penetrated for the majority of the impoverished.

Already, others are following Lula's example, such as Lucio Gutierrez, the leftist former coup leader in Ecuador who recently won elections there. In Mexico, a backlash against United States-led globalization embraced by President Vicente Fox and his foreign minister Jorge Castañeda is stirring. And, of course, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has long talked about "globalization from below" as an alternative to US dominance in the region—even though (and this is the soft part) he continues to be the third largest foreign oil supplier to the US.

The great question for Latin America in the coming years is whether, indeed, it can find a middle way without succumbing to the backdraft of corruption and protectionism.

Postmodern Populism | A new anti-Islamic movement has grown in Europe out of an entirely different mold from the old Jean Marie Le Pen/Jorg Haider type of anti-immigrant racism. This new postmodern populism—exemplified by such people as the late (assassinated), gay Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands to Oriana Fallaci in Italy to the French writer Michel Houellebecq in France—sees liberal tolerance of homosexuality and women's equality threatened by the large presence of unintegrated immigrants from Islamic countries who openly practice and promote the repressive values of their homelands. Any major terror attack by Islamists in Europe will stoke the flames of this movement.

Anti-Chinese Japanese Nationalism | As the Japanese economy continues to decline while China's rises, widespread nationalist sentiment has arisen that blames China for Japan's ills. Perhaps the leading nationalist is the popular governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, who warns, like the American populist Ross Perot opposing NAFTA, of that "giant sucking sound" as China's "slave labor economy" saps investment, industry and jobs from Japan. Ishihara also favors Japan's own missile shield and revived military because he doesn't trust the US to defend Japan's interests in deference to China.

To a large extent this view of China as the economic enemy is shared elsewhere in Asia. Prominent business analysts, such as the Japanese management guru Kenichi Ohmae, warn that " China is mauling Asia's Tigers."

Globalized Anti-Americanism | The Bush Administration's in-your-face practice of American hegemony—its rejection of the Kyoto treaty and the International Criminal Court, and its campaign for regime change in Iraq and the other "axis of evil" states—has spread anti-American sentiment far and wide. Nelson Mandela, the world's most respected living statesman, says baldly that " America is a threat to world peace." Close allies like South Korea are up in arms over the high-handed hardline of the Americans. And in Europe the Germans, have supplanted the chronically annoying French as the premier anti-American political culture.

Certainly, other new developments will take place in 2003. One can easily imagine the emergence, however feeble at first, of an independent labor and peasant movement in China to challenge the bourgeoisification of the Communist Party and its technocratic leaders. And, across East Asia, what might happen as the 7-8 percent growth that once cemented the "social contract" of opportunity continues to sputter downward?

But, for now, there is plenty on the global plate even if there is not war in Iraq or new terror attacks against the US.