Jihad And Other Essays On Global Warming

On 13th November 2015, Paris suffered a number of coordinated deadly attacks which killed at least 130 people and left more than 300 injured. The so called ‘Islamic State’, or ‘Isis’ claimed responsibility for these atrocities. Senior politicians as well as the media around the world described the attackers consistently as ‘jihadists’, some sources went as far as to suggest these killings are part of a wider process of ‘global jihad’, which also included recent attacks in Sinai, Ankara and Beirut, between others, ‘in the name of Islam’ (BBC, 2015; Gaffney, 2015; Korwin, 2015; Penketh, 2015 Wright, 2015). This essay will discuss the concepts of jihad and terrorism as well as their complex relationship. In addition, this paper will explore the nature of political Islam, identify its historical roots, key theorists and link them with contemporary examples of ‘jihad’. Finally, this paper will refer to a number of verses in the Qur’an related to the use of force as defence and the strict limits placed on the use of such force. Is Jihad a Muslim duty only related to warfare or is it a noble religious practice which has been distorted to pursue political aims? Under which circumstances and by whom can jihad be declared as defensive or even offensive warfare? Is there a religious justification in Islam for the wholesale slaughter of innocent civilians and destruction of property? Is there such a thing as a ‘global jihad’ at all? In answering all these questions, this paper will assess the phenomenon of global jihad. This short essay will argue that for ‘global jihad’ to exist specifically as a violent practice, the following three premises would have to hold true: first, ‘jihad’ would have to be a practice aimed primarily at warfare, second, there would have to be a unified global Muslim community or Umma, and third, this Umma would have to be inherently violent. This paper will show that on a close inspection, the three premises above are actually false and as long as jihad is defined as a violent practice with the purpose of expanding the Islamic world, there is not such a phenomenon that could be truthfully described as ‘global jihad’.

Jihad has become a synonym of terrorism (Ahmad, 1996; Ahmed, 2004) but what is terrorism? It is important to acknowledge that one of the most difficult aspects of dealing with this slippery concept is actually defining it (Ruby, 2002). Laqueur famously claimed ‘‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’’(1987:302). Nevertheless, Ganor (2002) argues that it is not only possible but also desirable to reach an objective definition of terrorism. For the purpose of this essay, terrorism will be defined as “the deliberate use or the threat to use violence against civilians in order to attain political, ideological and religious aims” (Ganor, 2002: 288). Having defined terrorism, what is jihad? Jihad means ‘struggle’ or ‘striving’ (Heywood, 2011; Ruthven, 2000; Shah, 2013). Therefore the common translation into English, especially by political commentators in the media, as ‘holy war’ is misleading (Ahmad, 1996; Knapp, 2003). Broadly speaking, there are two types of jihad: greater jihad, which is an internal, individual and spiritual struggle towards self-improvement, and lesser jihad, an external physical struggle against evil, when the faith is under assault (Barber, 1992; Knapp, 2003; Ruthven, 2000).

It has been argued that “one of the most dramatic forms of globalization has been what is often referred to as ‘global jihad’” (Shepard, 2014:324). One questions whether there a phenomenon that can truly be called ‘global jihad’? Turner argues that “contemporary factors do not explain the phenomenon [of global jihad] in totality” (Turner, 2014: 5). In order to evaluate this concept, it is essential to briefly explore who its key theorists were, as well as the contexts in which these thinkers developed their ideologies. It is essential to trace the historical roots of the so-called ‘global jihad’ and bode the question: Could today’s use of ‘jihad’ by Islamist organizations be a result of an interaction of factors external to Islam? In current times, ‘jihad’, as a process of violent confrontation, is closely related to political Islam, defined by Heywood as a “militant and uncompromising form of Islam that sought political and spiritual regeneration though the construction of an Islamic state” (Heywood, 2011:48). Heywood (2011), Knapp (2003), and Ruthven (1997) trace the roots of political Islam back to the period of European colonialist domination suffered by Muslim regions in the 19th century, as well as the fall and dissolution of the Ottoman Empire towards the end of the First World War. This was followed by the establishment of British and French ‘mandates’ over Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and what later became Iraq. European colonialism “resulted in political borders that reflected the interests of western powers and showed no regard for the facts of history, culture and ethnicity; authoritarian and corrupt government was installed with pro-western ‘puppet’ rulers” (Heywood, 2011: 47).

It was during this period of intense Muslim humiliation that the Indo-Pakistani scholar Abul A’la Maududi (1903-1979) wrote al-jihad fil-Islam in 1926, at the time the Indian subcontinent was starting to slowly challenge the domination of the British Empire (Shah, 2013). According to Jacobsen (2008) and Turner (2014) it was during that period that two different interpretations of sovereignty developed in parallel, on the one hand there was the idea that “the government of a nation-state constitutes the final and absolute authority in a society, and that no outside power has the right to intervene in the exercise of this authority” (Castles and Miller, 2009:3). On the other hand, Maududi saw the sovereign state system as a direct threat to Islam and God’s sovereignty, and argued that the absolute authority in any society can only rest on God, not on men (Benhenda, 2010).

Influenced by Maududi’s beliefs, Hasan al-Banna (1906-1949), founded The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, established as a non-violent movement (Heywood, 2011; Ruthven, 2000). This preceded yet another key political development that had an enormous impact on the rise of political Islam: the creation of the state of Israel on what used to be Palestine territories. As a result of the establishment of Israel in 1947, and the 1948 Israeli-Arab war, more than 700,000 thousand Palestinians were displaced and as of 2015, there are some 5 million Palestinian refugees worldwide (UNRWA, 2015). Heywood (2011) and Ruthven (2000) argue that it was precisely during the Palestinian crisis, that the Muslim Brotherhood became radicalized and it “increasingly advocated violence in order to resist all ‘foreign’ ideologies and construct a pure Islamic state” (Heywood, 2011:48). The case of ‘jihad’ in relation to Palestine can perfectly be described as a genuine case of defensive jihad since the main purpose of it is not to expand Muslim territory but to restore it (Knapp, 2003). It was at the beginning of the Palestinian crisis, described by some as “the Muslim grievance par excellence” (Ayoob, 2004: 11).

On the contrary, Ruthven (2000) argues that Maududi and Qutb became the two most important theorists of political Islam. These thinkers did not suggest Muslims should attempt to return to an ideal past, instead believed, Muslims should practice a defensive jihad in order to restore God’s sovereignty (Ruthven, 2000). Shah (2013) suggests that for Maududi and Qutb there is a moral obligation for all Muslims to ‘remove’ from the Earth all that can be perceived as ‘evil and mischief.’ For both theorists an un-Islamic way of life can be described as ‘evil and mischief.’ Therefore this interpretation perceives ‘jihad’ as a moral duty; “Muslims have an obligation to propagate Islam to the rest of mankind” (Shah, 2013: 351). It is essential to highlight that this idea goes against the teachings of the Qur’an: “let there be no compulsory in religion” (verse 2:256, p.102).

If the end of the First World War marked the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and set the scene for the rise of Political Islam (Heywood, 2011), then the conclusion of the Second Wold War certainly triggered the next important chapter on this matter. During the Cold War, Camus (1946, cited in Tribune de Paris, 1946) argued there was a ‘clash of civilizations’ between America and the Soviet Union, ironically, it was during this period that the first signs of what is now referred to as ‘global jihad’ started appearing. In 1979, there were twin ‘political eruptions’ in the Muslim world: political Islam was substantially strengthened by the Iranian Revolution that gave birth of the first Islamic republic (Heywood, 2011) and in the same year, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and ‘jihad’ was redefined (Wright, 2015). A number of Afghan groups called Mujahidin, influenced by the ideologies of Maududi and Qutb, and with volunteers from outside Afghanistan, mounted a ‘defensive jihad’ against the invaders (Shah, 2013). Eventually, in 1989, the Soviets had to withdraw (Shepard, 2014). Between the Mujahidin, there were two particular ‘freedom fighters’ worth mentioning, Osama bin Laden (1957-2011), who eventually founded the Islamist group al-Qaeda and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (1966-2006), who left al-Qaeda to establish the radical group Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, eventually known as ‘Isis’. It must be said that the ethnically diverse groups of Mujahidin received financial and military assistance from outside Afghanistan, including, Iran, Pakistan and the USA (Heywood, 2011; Shepard, 2014). After the end of the Cold War, Huntington (2003) borrowed Camus’ (1946) thesis and in 1996 suggested there was a new ‘clash of civilisations’, this time “between Muslims and non-Muslims” (Huntington, 2003: 208). Just over a decade after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, events in America seemed to suggest that Huntington (2003) was correct: on September 11th 2001 Osama bin Laden declared ‘jihad’ against the USA in a number of coordinated attacks on American soil. Ayoob (2004: 11) argues that “by promoting terrorism under a perverted definition of ‘jihad’, extremists succeed in making political Islam appear monolithic and supremely dangerous in the eyes of the West”. Bin Laden succeeded in this, America and its allies responded accordingly. This paper will briefly return to this particular armed response in due course.

What does the Qur’an specifically say about the use of force as defence? First of all, even though there are verses in the Qur’an that can be used to endorse force as self-defence, these verses are ‘context specific’ and were revealed to the 7th century Arab society, not to 21st century Muslims (Shah, 2013). The Qur’an states that “to those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged”(verse XXII: 39 p.861). However, while there is permission to fight in the name of God, there are also clear restrictions on war: “fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits: for God loveth not transgressors” (verse II:190, p.75), the Qur’an goes even further and it shows the mercy of God towards an enemy who ceases to be a threat: “if they cease (to fight you), God is forgiving and merciful”(verse II:192, p.76). Maududi, Qutb and bin Laden, between many others, consistently referred to the Qur’an in order to obtain popular support and establish their basis for ‘jihad’ but all of them were highly selective on the Qur’anic verses which seemed to support their arguments (Knapp, 2003; Ruthven, 2000; Shah, 2013). Neither of them had the appropriate authority to declare jihad since only legitimate Muslim rulers or Imams can legitimately do so (Shah, 2013).

It is essential to highlight the distinction between examples of defensive jihad, like in the case of Palestine or Afghanistan and offensive jihad as a practice used in the case of terrorist attacks in 2001 in America or 2015 in Paris. Yes, “Islamic fundamentalists wish to establish the primacy of religion over politics” (Heywood, 2011: 198) but it must be recognized that not all Islam is political and not all political Islam perceives the modern sovereign state as a threat to Islam. First of all, there is no single cohesive and monolithic global Muslim community or Ummah (Shepard, 2014). Second, there is no single Islamist ideology, with a “single creed or political manifestation” (Heywood, 2011:199). Additionally, from an individualistic point of view, there are large amounts of Muslims peacefully living in the so called West, around 2.75 million Muslims in America alone (Lipka, 2015) and 13 million in the European Union (Hackett, 2015). Furyhermore, there are precedents of peaceful Muslim political parties, although this is not usually mentioned in the Western media. Two clear examples are the PJD (Party of Justice and Development) in Morocco which “does not call for struggle to bring about the Islamization of the state and society” (Bouyahya, 2015:150) and the Turkish Justice and Development Party, also originally based on Islamic ideals and currently in government in Turkey (Duran, 2008). “Transnational extremist activities, including acts of terrorism, are the exception, not the rule, when it comes to political action undertaken in the name of Islam” (Ayoob, 2004:12). Perhaps the strongest example of the high potential for cooperation between Muslim majority countries and the West is the fact that Muslim nations are part of the United Nations (Shah, 2013).

Let us finally and briefly turn our attention to the West’s response to so called ‘jihadi’ attacks. It is too early to assess the military response to the 2015 Paris shootings but there is plenty of data available in order to evaluate the response to the 9/11 ‘jihadi’ attacks in America. In total, the 2001 terrorist attacks in America killed nearly 3.000 people, many of them were Muslims (Kobeisi, 2011; Prince, 2014). America and its allies responded with the ‘war on terror’ in the Middle East. A recent “conservative estimate” suggests that around 1.3 million people were killed between Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan (PSR, 2015: 15). It is important to note this figure does not account the numbers of people who were displaced. Any commentator suggesting that Islam is a violent religion should really clarify which exceptional criteria has been used to support this argument, asking he pertinent question; Does Islam appear violent, when compared against the West?

In conclusion, the phenomenon often referred to as ‘global jihad’ is not ‘jihad’ and it is not global either. First and foremost, jihad is a peaceful religious practice, an individual and internal struggle for self-improvement and that is the way most Muslims perceive it (Knapp, 2003). There is also a lesser jihad, which is external and confrontational but with clear restrictions set in the Qur’an. It cannot be simply declared by anyone who feels that Islam is under threat and it certainly cannot be used against non-combatants. “The overwhelming majority of Islamic scholars have for centuries rejected indiscriminate killing and the terrorizing of civilian populations as a legitimate form of jihad” (Knapp, 2003:92). Shah argues that the offensive theory of jihad has “no foundation in the primary sources of Islamic law” (Shah, 2013:357). Moreover, there is no single cohesive global Umma, Islamic traditions are “not monolithic and static but diverse” (Shepard, 2014:234).

This paper also demonstrates how the historical roots of political Islam as well as ‘jihad’ itself as offensive warfare are deeply related to political developments external to Islam. Even in circumstances when a minority but highly violent group of ‘Muslims’ conducted attacks against the West, jihad has not been declared following the traditional religious procedures of Islam and the purposes of these activities are always by far more political than religious. Any suggestions that there is an inevitable ‘clash of civilizations’ between Islam and the West ignores the “complex and fragmented nature of civilizations and the extent to which different cultures have coexisted peacefully and harmoniously” (Heywood, 2011:208). In assessment of the title question, is there a phenomenon that can truly be called ‘global jihad’? Perhaps there is, but not in the perverted form hijacked by political Islam as a kind of collective aggression against the West. Instead, there may be a ‘global greater jihad’ in which the vast majority of Muslims, individually struggle for self-improvement, following the teachings of the noble Qur’an: “Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord, and for a Garden (paradise) whose width is that of the heavens and of the earth, prepared for the righteous. Those who spend (freely), whether in prosperity or in adversity, who restrain (their) anger and pardon (all) men – for God loves those who do good” (The noble Qur’an, verse III: 133-134: p.157).



Ahmad, S. (1996). The True Spirit of Jihad. [Online] Available: http://www.muslim.org/islam/jihad.htm. Last accessed 26/11/2015.

Ahmed, A. (2004). Post modernism and Islam. London: Routledge.

Ayoob, M. (2004). Political Islam: Image and Reality. World Policy Journal. 21 (3), 1-14.

Barber. B (1992), Jihad Vs McWorld, The Atlantic Monthly, [Online] Availabe:http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1992/03/jihad-vs-mcworld/3882/ Last accessed 16/11/2015

BBC (2015). Paris attacks: Many arrested in raids across France. [Online] Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-34830233. Last accessed 16/11/2015.

Bouyahya, D. (2015). Is Islam used as a political ideology? PJD Morocco as a case study. European Scientific Journal (ESJ). 1 (1), 150-157.

Castles, S. and Miller, M. J. (2009). The Age of Migration. International population movements in the modern world. 4th ed. Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan.

Duran, B. (2008). The Justice and development Party’s new politics. In: Cizre, Ü. Secular and Islamic Politics in Turkey. Oxon: Routledge. 80-106.

Gaffney, F.J. (2015). Russia plane takedown: A strategic two-for for global jihad movement [Online] Available: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/nov/5/frank-gaffney-russia-plane-takedown-strategic-two-/. Last accessed 19/11/2015.

Ganor, B. (2002). Defining terrorism: is one man’s terrorist another man’s freedom fighter?. Police Practice and Research. 3 (4), 287–304.

Heywood, A. (2011). Global politics. Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan.

Hackett, C. (2015). 5 facts about the Muslim population in Europe. [Online] Available: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/17/5-facts-about-the-muslim-population-in-europe/. Last accessed 07/12/2015.

Huntington, S. (2003). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Jacobsen, T. (2008). Re-envisioning Sovereignty. The End of Westphalia? Surrey: Ashgate.

Knapp, M.G. (2003). The Concept and Practice of Jihad in Islam. Parameters: U.S. Army War College. 33 (1), 82-94.

Kobeisi, K. (2011). Remembering the Muslims who were killed in the 9/11 attacks. [Online] Available: http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2011/09/11/166286.html. Last accessed 04/12/2015.

Korwin, A. (2015).  Global Jihad Resistance Class 101.[Online] Available: http://dailycaller.com/2015/11/16/korwin-global-jihad-resistance-class-101/. Last accessed 19/11/2015.

Laqueur, W. (1987). The Age of Terrorism. Little, Brown and Company, Boston, Toronto.

Lipka, M. (2015). Muslims and Islam: Key findings in the U.S. and around the world. [Online] Available: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/12/07/muslims-and-islam-key-findings-in-the-u-s-and-around-the-world/. Last accessed 07/12/2015.

Penketh, A. (2015). Paris attacks: the Muslim victims of terrorist bullets. [Online] Available: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/18/paris-attacks-muslim-victims-terrorist-france-isis. Last accessed 19/11/2015.

Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) (2015). Body count: casualty figures after 10 years of the ‘war on terror’. [Online] Available: http://www.psr.org/assets/pdfs/body-count.pdf. Last accessed 08/12/2015.

Prince, R. (2014). 9/11 death toll rises as cancer cases soar among emergency workers. [Online] Available: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/10994227/911-death-toll-rises-as-cancer-cases-soar-among-emergency-workers.html. Last accessed 04/12/2015.

Ruby, C.L. (2002). The definition of terrorism. Analyses of Social Issues and Policy. 2 (1), 9-14.

Ruthven, M. (2000). Islam, a very short introduction. Hants: Oxford University Press.

Shah, N.A. (2013). The use of force under Islamic Law. The European Journal of International Law. 24 (1), 343-365.

Shepard, W. E. (2014). Introducing Islam. Oxon: Routledge.

Tribune de Paris. (1946). Le problème algérien. [Online] Available: http://www.fabriquedesens.net/Tribune-de-Paris-01-juillet-1946. Last accessed 30/11/2015.

Turner, J.A. (2014). Religious ideology and the roots of the Global Jihad. Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan.

UNRWA. (2015). Palestine refugees. [Online] Available: http://www.unrwa.org/. Last accessed 08/12/2015.

Wright, R. (2015). The Genesis and Growth of Global Jihad. [Online] Available: http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-genesis-and-growth-of-global-jihad. Last accessed 16/11/15

Yusuf Ali, A. (1975). The Holy Qur’an. Leicester: The Islamic Foundation.



Written by: Carlos Rodriguez
Written at: University of the West of Scotland
Written for: Fiona Veitch
Date Written: December 2015

In Toronto, the city where I live, anti-poverty protesters defied the logic that anti-corporate and anti-capitalist protests died on September 11. They did it by "shutting down" the business district last week. This was no polite rally: the posters advertising the event had a picture of skyscrapers outlined in red - the perimeters of the designated direct-action zone. It was almost as if September 11 never happened. Sure, the organisers knew that targeting office buildings and stock exchanges isn't very popular right now, especially just an hour's plane journey from New York. But then again, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), the group that staged the demo, wasn't very popular before September 11. It is one of the few political groups that has managed to organise the most notoriously difficult constituency to organise in the world: the homeless. Its last action involved "symbolically evicting" the local minister of housing from his office (his furniture was moved into the street) - so you can imagine how much support it has from the press.

In other ways, too, September 11 changed little for OCAP: the nights are still getting colder and a recession is still looming. It didn't change the fact that, in a city that used to be described as "safe" and, well, "maybe a little boring", many will die on the streets this winter, as they did last winter, and the one before that, unless more beds are found immediately.

For other groups, those perhaps more interested in public opinion, September 11 changes a great deal. In North America at least, campaigns that rely on attacking - even peacefully - powerful symbols of capitalism find themselves in an utterly transformed semiotic landscape. After all, the attacks were acts of real and horrifying terror, but they were also acts of symbolic warfare, and instantly understood as such. As many commentators have put it, the towers were not just any buildings, they were "symbols of American capitalism".

Of course, there is little evidence that America's most wanted Saudi-born millionaire has a grudge against capitalism (if Osama bin Laden's rather impressive global export network stretching from cash-crop agriculture to oil pipelines is any indication, it seems unlikely). And yet for the movement some people call "anti-globalisation" others call "anti-capitalism" (and I tend to just sloppily call "the movement"), it's difficult to avoid discussions about symbolism: about all the anti-corporate signs and signifiers - the culture-jammed logos, the guerrilla-warfare stylings, the choices of brand name and political targets - that make up the movement's dominant metaphors. Many political opponents of anti-corporate activism are using the symbolism of the World Trade Centre and Pentagon attacks to argue that young activists, playing at guerrilla war, have now been caught out by a real war. The obituaries are already appearing in newspapers around the world: "Anti-Globalisation Is So Yesterday" reads a typical headline. It is, according to the Boston Globe, "in tatters". Is it true?

Our activism has been declared dead before. Indeed, it is declared dead with ritualistic regularity before and after every mass demonstration: our strategies apparently discredited, our coalitions divided, our arguments misguided. And yet those demonstrations have kept growing larger, from 50,000 in Seattle to 300,000, by some estimates, in Genoa.

At the same time, it would be foolish to pretend nothing has changed since September 11. This struck me recently, looking at a slide show I had been pulling together before the attacks. It is about how anti-corporate imagery is increasingly being absorbed by corporate marketing. One slide shows a group of activists spray-painting the window of a Gap outlet during the anti-WTO protests in Seattle. The next shows Gap's recent window displays featuring its own prefab graffiti - the word "Independence" sprayed in black. And the next is a frame from Sony PlayStation's State Of Emergency game featuring cool-haired anarchists throwing rocks at evil riot cops protecting the fictitious American Trade Organisation. Now all I can see is how these snapshots from the image wars have been instantly overshadowed, blown away by September 11 like so many toy cars and action figures on a disaster movie set.

Despite the altered landscape - or because of it -it bears remembering why this movement chose to wage symbolic struggles in the first place. OCAP's decision to "shut down" the business district came from a set of very specific circumstances. Like so many others trying to get issues of economic inequality on the political agenda, the people the group represents felt that they had been discarded, left outside the paradigm, disappeared and reconstituted as a panhandling or squeegee problem requiring tough new legislation. They realised that what they had to confront was just not a local political enemy or even a particular trade law but an economic system - the broken promise of deregulated, trickle-down capitalism.

Thus the modern activist challenge: how do you organise against an ideology so vast, it has no edges; so everywhere, it seems nowhere? Where is the site of resistance for those with no workplaces to shut down, whose communities are constantly being uprooted? What do we hold on to when so much that is powerful is virtual - currency trades, stock prices, intellectual property and arcane trade agreements?

The short answer, at least before September 11, was that you grab anything you can get your hands on: the brand image of a famous multinational, a stock exchange, a meeting of world leaders, a single trade agreement or, in the case of the Toronto group, the banks and corporate headquarters that are the engines that power this agenda. Anything that, even fleetingly, makes the intangible actual, the vastness somehow human-scale. In short, you find symbols and you hope they become metaphors for change.

For instance, when the United States launched a trade war against France for daring to ban hormone-laced beef, José Bové and the French Farmers' Confederation didn't get the world's attention by screaming about import duties on Roquefort cheese. They did it by "strategically dismantling" a McDonald's. Nike, ExxonMobil, Monsanto, Shell, Chevron, Pfizer, Sodexho Marriott, Kellogg's, Starbucks, Gap, Rio Tinto, British Petroleum, General Electric, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Citigroup, Taco Bell - all have found their gleaming brands used to shine light on everything from bovine growth hormone in milk to human rights in the Niger Delta; from labour abuses of Mexican tomato farmworkers in Florida to war-financing of oil pipelines in Chad and Cameroon; from global warming to sweatshops.

Many activists have learned over the past decade that the blind spot many have concerning international affairs can be overcome by linking campaigns to famous brands - an effective, if often problematic, weapon against parochialism. These corporate campaigns have, in turn, opened back doors into the arcane world of international trade and finance, to the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank and, for some, to a questioning of capitalism itself.

These tactics have also proven to be an easy target in turn. After September 11, politicians and pundits around the world instantly began spinning the terrorist attacks as part of a continuum of anti-American and anti-corporate violence: first the Starbucks window, then, presumably, the WTC. New Republic editor Peter Beinart seized on an anti-corporate internet chat room that asked if the attacks were committed by "one of us". Beinart concluded that "the anti-globalisation movement... is, in part, a movement motivated by hatred of the United States" - immoral with the US under attack. Reginald Dale, writing in the International Herald Tribune, went furthest in the protester-terrorist equation. "While they are not deliberately setting out to slaughter thousands of innocent people, the protesters who want to prevent the holding of meetings like those of the IMF or the WTO are seeking to advance their political agenda through intimidation, which is a classic goal of terrorism."

In a sane world, rather than fuelling such a backlash, the terrorist attacks would raise questions about why US intelligence agencies were spending so much time spying on Reclaim The Streets and Independent Media Centres instead of on the terrorist networks plotting mass murder. Unfortunately, it seems clear that the crackdown on activism that predated September 11 will only intensify, with heightened surveillance, infiltration and police violence. The attacks could well, I fear, also cost us our few political victories. Funds committed to the Aids crisis in Africa are disappearing, and commitments to expand debt cancellation will likely follow. Now aid is being used as payola for countries that sign up to America's war. Defending the rights of immigrants and refugees was becoming a focus for the direct-action crowd in Australia, Europe and, slowly, the US. This, too, is threatened by the rising tide of racism and xenophobia.

And free trade, long facing a public relations crisis, is fast being rebranded, like shopping and baseball, as a patriotic duty. According to US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, trade "promotes the values at the heart of this protracted struggle". We need, he says, a new campaign to "fight terror with trade". In an essay in the New York Times Magazine, Michael Lewis makes a similar conflation between freedom fighting and free trading when he explains that the traders who died were targeted as "not merely symbols but also practitioners of liberty ... They work hard, if unintentionally, to free others from constraints. This makes them, almost by default, the spiritual antithesis of the religious fundamentalist, whose business depends on a denial of personal liberty in the name of some putatively higher power."

The battle lines leading up to next month's WTO negotiations have already been drawn: trade equals freedom, anti-trade equals fascism.

Our civil liberties, our advances, our usual strategies - all are now in question. But this crisis also opens up new possibilities. As many have pointed out, the challenge for social justice movements is to demonstrate that justice and equality are the most sustainable strategies against violence and fundamentalism. What does that mean in practice? Well, Americans are finding out fast what it means to have a public health care system so overburdened it cannot handle the flu season, let alone an anthrax outbreak. Many public health departments are closed at weekends with no one on call. There are severe drug shortages and privatised labs are failing to come up with anthrax vaccines for US soldiers, let alone civilians. Despite a decade of pledges to safeguard the US water supply from bioterrorist attack, scandalously little has been done by the overburdened US Environmental Protection Agency. The food supply is even more vulnerable, with inspectors managing to check about 1% of food imports - hardly a safeguard against rising fears of "agroterrorism".

In this "new kind of war", it becomes clear that terrorists are finding their weapons in our tattered public infrastructures. This is true not only in rich countries such as the US, but also in poor countries, where fundamentalism has been spreading rapidly. Where debt and war have ravaged infrastructure, fanatical sugar daddies such as Bin Laden are able to swoop in and start providing basic services that should be the job of government: roads, schools, health clinics, even basic sanitation. In Sudan, it was Bin Laden who built the road that enabled the construction of the Talisman oil pipeline, pumping resources to the government for its brutal ethnic war. The extreme Islamic seminaries in Pakistan that indoctrinated so many Taliban leaders thrive precisely because they fill a huge social welfare gap. In a country that spends 90% of its budget on its military and debt - and a pittance on education - the madrassas offer not only free classrooms but also food and shelter for poor children.

In understanding the spread of terrorism - north and south - questions of infrastructure and public funding are unavoidable. This war is being fought in mailrooms, subways, airports, schools and hospitals, all at the front lines of the privatisation and deregulation battles of the past two decades. And yet what is the response from politicians so far? More of the same: tax breaks for businesses and further privatised services. On the same day that the International Herald Tribune ran the front page headline "New Terrorism Front Line: The Mailroom", it was announced that EU governments had agreed to open their postal delivery markets to private competition. And of course one of the top items on the agenda at next month's WTO meeting - the one where we fight for freedom and against terrorism -is the General Agreement of Trade in Services. This is the side agreement, drafted in 1995, that has steadily been pushing for more "market access" to public services, including health care, education and water, while restricting the ability of governments to set and enforce health and environmental standards.

The debate about what kind of globalisation we want is not "so yesterday"; it has never been more urgent. Many campaign groups are now framing their arguments in terms of "common security" - a welcome antidote to the narrow security mentality of fortress borders and B-52s that are so far doing such a spectacularly poor job of protecting anyone. Yet we cannot be naive, as if the very real threat of more slaughtering of innocents will disappear through political reform alone. There needs to be social justice, but there also needs to be justice for the victims of these attacks and practical prevention of future ones. Terrorism is indeed an international threat, and it did not begin with the attacks in the US. As Bush invites the world to join America's war, sidelining the UN and the international courts, we need to become passionate defenders of true multilateralism, rejecting once and for all the label "anti-globalisation". Bush's "coalition" does not represent a genuinely global response to terrorism but the internationalisation of one country's foreign policy objectives - the trademark of US international relations, from the WTO negotiating table to Kyoto.We can make these connections not as "anti-Americans" but as true internationalists.

Is the outpouring of mutual aid and support that this tragedy has elicited so different from the humanitarian goals to which this movement aspires? The street slogans - People Before Profit, The World Is Not For Sale - have become self-evident and viscerally felt truths for many in the wake of the attacks. There are questions about why the bailouts for airlines aren't going to the workers losing their jobs. There is growing concern about the volatilities of deregulated trade. There is a groundswell of appreciation for public-sector workers of all kinds. In short, "the commons" - the public sphere, the public good, the noncorporate - is undergoing something of a rediscovery in the US, of all places.

Those concerned with changing minds (and not simply winning arguments) should seize this moment to connect these humane reactions in the face of attack to the many other arenas in which human needs must take precedence over corporate profits, from Aids treatment to homelessness. As Paul Loeb, author of Soul Of A Citizen, puts it, despite the warmongering and coexisting with the xenophobia, "People seem careful, vulnerable, and extraordinarily kind to each other. These events just might be able to break us away from our gated communities of the heart."

This would require a dramatic change in activist strategy, one based much more on substance than on symbols. For more than a year, the largely symbolic activism outside summits and against individual corporations has already been challenged within movement circles. There is much that is unsatisfying about fighting a war of symbols: the glass shatters in the McDonald's window, the meetings are driven to ever more remote locations - but so what? It's still only symbols, facades, representations.

Before September 11, a new mood of impatience was already taking hold, an insistence on putting forward social and economic alternatives that address the roots of injustice, from land reform to slavery reparations to participatory democracy. Now seems like a good time to challenge the forces of both nihilism and nostalgia within our own ranks, while making more room for the voices - coming from Chiapas, Porto Alegre, Kerala - showing that it is possible to challenge imperialism while embracing plurality, progress and deep democracy. Our task, never more pressing, is to point out that there are more than two worlds available, to expose all the invisible worlds between the economic fundamentalism of "McWorld" and the religious fundamentalism of "Jihad".

Maybe the image wars are coming to a close. A year ago, I visited the University of Oregon to do a story on anti-sweatshop activism at the campus that is nicknamed Nike U. There I met student activist Sarah Jacobson. Nike, she told me, was not the target of her activism, but a tool, a way to access a vast and often amorphous economic system. "It's a gateway drug," she said cheerfully.

For years, we in this movement have fed off our opponents' symbols - their brands, their office towers, their photo-opportunity summits. We have used them as rallying cries, as focal points, as popular education tools. But these symbols were never the real targets; they were the levers, the handles. The symbols were only ever doorways. It's time to walk through them.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *