Archive for February, 2006

Freedom of Speech in the eyes of the West Our wor…

Freedom of Speech in the eyes of the West

Our world in 21st century is a place of swift communication; where news travels many times around the world within a day’s time. This communication bridge has made it possible for people of all cultures to reach others at a pace that was unheard of before. And through this fast channel of technology views can be exchanged, expressed as freely as all other emotions like that of fear, anger, etc. This communication revolution has also made the world a global village realizing the centuries-old desire of humans to be close to each other. And, like all other revolutions this one also comes with certain responsibility on the shoulders of participants; to be cognizant of each other’s feelings and place limits on the infringement on each other’s privacy. Recent incidents related to the publishing of Prophet Mohammad’s (PBUH) cartoons in an obscure Danish newspaper and subsequent riots in the Muslim world to express their anger is a clear indication of the responsibilities imposed on societies by this communication age. It also shows how a single incident can fuel a chain reaction perpetrated by people with ulterior motive on each side. Before we give our view on this situation let us first narrate how all this came to pass.

On September 30th, 2005 Jyllands-Posten, a small Danish newspaper, published 12 cartoons of Prophet Mohammad, one of which portrayed him as a terrorist while the other came with a caption that the heavens are running out of virgins for suicide bombers. Head of the local Muslim organization promptly protested about these cartoons but received no attention. He then approached ambassadors of some Muslim countries including Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The ambassadors requested government to seek an apology from the newspaper but government refused to act citing the Freedom of the Speech/Press as a policy. When the local organization failed to muster support for an apology they traveled to Egypt to show the pictures to the Muslim clergy there to increase the sphere of the support. From there the issue became a political one and people saw elements that could be exploited. Rest is history. We all saw the whole Muslim world gripped by demonstrations by agitated crowds; banning of Danish product in some countries as protest; and subsequently Saudi Arabia and UAE broke their diplomatic ties with Denmark and called their ambassadors back. Europe, in a show of solidarity, stood behind Denmark and went so far that French and German newspapers published the cartoons. The ensuing debate from these incidents is revolving around two main ideologies, namely, Freedom of Speech and state of Muslim societies.

Let us first address the first one. Freedom of individuals and rights of an individual in a society are two conflicting philosophies. In dealings between individuals it is easy to create an understanding but when it comes to societies the issue becomes more complicated. For instance, a person may decide to be nude inside his home, which might be acceptable to his/her companion or friends. But as soon as the person steps out on the street, the sphere of the rights awarded by the society now governs his individual rights. In a utopian society a person can claim to have right on his body and his freedom to choose how to adorn it. But in real world there has to be a delicate balance between individual’s rights of expression and the rights awarded by a society on its members. The issue becomes even more complex when the interests of different cultures and religion are intertwined in a global village.

According to famous western philosopher Kant, the knowledge and reason fail when it comes to acceptance of faith. Faith transcends all logic and reason offered by science. We can argue about the validity of one faith as compared to the other. But as long as there are followers of a faith in a society we are bound to respect that faith for peaceful co-existence and communal harmony. During a meeting with Dutch journalist in Houston, in October 2005, one of the points discussed was why western media call a terrorist as “Islamic terrorist” and become an ally of that handful of people who has kidnapped a peaceful religion for furthering their political agenda. The broad consensus in the meeting was that it is a valid point and should be considered while preparing news about terrorist events. Now the appearance of Prophet Mohammad’s cartoon shows that the image of Muslims at large as terrorists is deep rooted in the psyche of the western mind. Though the literacy level of western countries, as compared to Muslim countries, is much high yet they decided to reprint the cartoons in solidarity with the Danish newspaper without giving due thought to a large section of the world population of Islamic faith. We should praise the role of US news media who has shown greater respect for the sentiments of Muslims and conducted open debates on the issue all the while understanding the delicate issue by not showing those cartoons.

The other side of the coin is the state of Muslim societies around the world. The attitude and behavior of the orthodox Muslim clergy is of double standard. At one hand they are intolerant of point of views of other religions and on the other they do not openly condemn the killing of innocent people by terrorists in the name of religion. These orthodox religious leaders have no real understanding of Prophet Mohammad’s life, who on many occasions showed deep respect for other religions. Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) did try to convey the message of God to followers of other religions but never used any violent means to seek their conversion. Even when Mecca was conquered, he pardoned all those who conspired to assassin him. During many centuries of Muslim rule, especially during the Moghul and Ottomon rule in South Asia and Europe, people of various faiths lived in total harmony with equal rights to all. This shows that the anger demonstrated by Muslims is not a religious matter rather depicts the social decline of societies with a large population of young people that are devoid of proper Islamic education and hence fall easy prey to the manipulative clergy.

It goes without saying that Muslims around the world have the right to protest against the indignant representation of our beloved Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). But there are many peaceful means available to protest instead of resorting to violence. Muslim societies should ponder as to why they feel exploited by the western civilization even though the former represent almost 30% of the world population. Instead of pointing a finger outside, we need to look inward.The positive effect of this incident is the initiation of debate on both sides of the spectrum to find a common ground. We need to continue this debate to find out where we differ and where we agree. Once we understand each other better we can expect the differences to disappear. If we fail this could be another in a series of events fueling the clash of civilizations.

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New world order: Nationalism vs. Globalization Fo…

New world order: Nationalism vs. Globalization

For almost 50 years of the last century globalization was the international cry for saving the world from a disaster like the Second World War. Philosophers, economists and politicians all believed that world is a global village and the interests of mankind are intertwined. Globalization, as an economic philosophy meant that flow of capital, both human and intellectual, should move freely between political boundaries of countries. Transcontinental corporations were encouraged to promote their own unique culture instead of adjusting to local traditions and cultures. But all this changed after 911 when a group of terrorists struck a blow in the heart of American dream.

American leaders spearheaded the globalization efforts with capitalism used as a weapon against communism. After the fall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) in 1989, American leadership got a boost of confidence in their beliefs and values. They considered it a global message of equality, peace and prosperity. Throughout 1990s American economy lifted the whole world with unprecedented growth in jobs, introduction of the Internet, and unmatched performance of stock market creating millions of young millionaires. Clinton administration focused more inward than outward to impose their values on the world by force. Many American intellectuals with global ambitions did not agree with Clinton’s restraint in exerting unnecessary American influence in world affairs. After 911 these intellectuals found a motive to promote their global agenda and found a willing leader to accept this mandate and implement it.

The American rallying cry to either be with us or against us once again brought forward the nationalism as a strong force against globalization. Besides enforcing the American will on Iraq and Afghanistan, the intellectuals wanted internal policies that could guarantee an American identity. Immigration reforms, Patriot Act and infusion of religion in government are all moving in a direction opposite to the American dream- a dream that worked wonders for the country in the last 200 years.

This imposition of American will is becoming an impetus for nationalism to re-emerge as a stronger counter force to globalization. This is also evident from the recent blow to the European constitution turned down by most of the member countries. It has also prompted old powers like France and Germany to break away from the American influence and become independent in their foreign policy with the support from popular public opinion. It has also prompted Iran to defy world pressure and pursue its nuclear program by igniting nationalist sentiment among its people. Success of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Morales in Bolivia is emergence of nationalist forces in South America. Hamas success in Palestinian elections is also energized by the nationalist sentiments in the region.

Proponents of globalization have to come up with a new approach to curb this emerging nationalistic tide. The first step in this direction is freeing global economy from regional influences by creating international organizations. In the aftermath of US involvement in Iraq it is obvious that United Nations is much more relevant in the world affairs than it was ever before. It is about time that the charter of the UN is expanded to include global economic monitoring. A UN securities commission (UNSC) should be formed, and a UN electronic stock exchange (UNSE) should be initiated and regulated by this body.

Companies with transcontinental business interests should be allowed to list on this stock exchange and given the ability to raise capital worldwide. UNSC can formulate the listing requirements for this stock exchange. Listing on UNSE will make financial sense for these corporations who spent millions of dollars to conform to domestic accounting standards of the country they are operating in. It will also help mutual funds to save expenses in maintaining local trading desks in different countries as well as create a central investment team. It will also assist individual investors to participate in the global economy by investing in these UNSE listed securities.

The Bank for International Settlement (BIS), based in Basel, Switzerland, has been operating since 1930 to provide coordination between 55 central banks of the world. The role of BIS should be extended further to eliminate single country currency used as a trading unit. In the current economic environment the US dollar is considered a default trading currency around the world. In recent times, Euro, Japanese Yen and Chinese Yuan have tried to extend their international influence but have not succeeded in replacing dollar’s domination as trading unit. This economic influence of a national currency sometimes becomes a counter to the spread of globalization. BIS should come up with an international currency unit and set the conversion rates for each member currency.

The third most important element of spreading globalization is curbing the recent tide of immigration controls around the world. For centuries mankind has migrated to greener pastures in search of opportunity and survival. It was only in the 20th century that countries, to safeguard their political and economic interests, introduced passport and visa regime. These controls have created population imbalances, which are creating an ecological time bomb waiting to explode. The proponent of immigration controls is using nationalistic and national security reasons to further their agenda. With the advent of computer technologies, data mining and storage, it is not difficult for countries to prevent criminals from entering their borders. UN should work with International Labor Organization (ILO) to coordinate immigration of people between countries. Each country needing immigrants can put forward their need to the international organization along with requirements for immigrants. While the people interested in immigration can submit their applications to this international body using Internet and other technologies. Similarly, countries listed on UNSE should be given special permission to hire globally with no travel restriction on their employees. ILO or UN citizen commission can issue special travel documents to these employees. Member countries can be allowed access to this data to prevent any unwanted people entering their borders. A country can submit an objection to travel with reasonable proof to prevent the entry of any of these people in their borders.

All these ideas may seem utopian or unrealistic but without global economic institutions the forces of nationalism will continue gaining strength and dividing the world in different civilizations constantly in war with each other. The creation of a truly global village, providing equal opportunity for all citizens, will eliminate the appeal of terrorist organizations and make the world a safer place.

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