Islam Rejecting Globalization - and Jews and Israel

Three weeks after the Twin Towers attack on September 11, the prestigious Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram published an article in which the writer hoped that "with the collapse of the city of globalization, it's possible to dare to predict that the whole theory of globalization will be buried with it."

Yair Sheleg
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Yair Sheleg

Three weeks after the Twin Towers attack on September 11, the prestigious Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram published an article in which the writer hoped that "with the collapse of the city of globalization, it's possible to dare to predict that the whole theory of globalization will be buried with it."

Dr. Esther Webman, from Tel Aviv University's Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies and Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism says: "Globalization is viewed in the Arab world as an economic threat, and as the continuation of the Western colonialist enterprise of exploiting the Arab world. But more than anything else, it is viewed as a social-cultural threat, of imposing Western culture on the Muslim world, and the undermining of the family values of Muslim society."

Just as radical Islamic thinkers identify globalization with the United States, so too Israel and Jews generally are thought to pose the danger of regional domination. Israel is seen as the lever by which the loathed Western values are disseminated in the Middle East.

Hezbollah's spiritual leader, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, has warned in the past that "the world Jewish movement has labored to expropriate from Israel its present positions of strength. Jews want to control the Muslim world's economic potential and resources, and they want to weaken it spiritually with respect to the Jerusalem question, and geographically, as regards the question of Palestine."

As Sheikh Fadlallah sees it, the struggle against Israel is a wide cultural battle, and is not limited to the political or military contest for pieces of turf in Palestine.

Ibrahim Ghosheh, formerly the spokesman for the Hamas movement, claimed in the early 1990s that if compromise were to be forged between Israel and the Arabs, "Israel would rule in the region just as Japan dominates south-east Asia, and all the Arabs will turn into the Jews' workers."

Regional conspiracy

Hence the array of arguments used to substantiate radical Islamic contempt for Israel has added a new component - and it could be that this point is the most potent anti-Israel barb of them all. The Islamic extremists berate Israel as an agent of Western globalization seeking regional domination.

Dr. Webman says that the extremist Islamic wing of the Arab world views the peace process in this context. "A'adal Hussein, the editor of the pro-Islamic Egyptian newspaper Al-Shanb, who is himself a vehement critic of globalization, published in 1999 a series of articles in his newspaper in which he depicted the normalization process with Israel as a new conspiracy hatched by the `Zionist-American' alliance, and designed to penetrate and wrest control of Arab economies," she says.

Arab intellectuals also express the concern that the Israeli-Arab conflict loses its centrality on the world stage due to the impact of the globalization process. Due to this loss of centrality, Arab political demands lose their potency.

The widespread idea in the west, by which world politics today is depicted as a "clash of civilizations" (according to a theory devised by the American researcher Samuel Huntington long before September 11), is taken by Arab intellectuals as a ploy devised to view Islam as an inexorable foe of Christianity.

The clash of civilizations model is attacked in Arab discourse as an idea fabricated under the influence of the "Zionist lobby," even though Huntington himself is not Jewish.

"In Israel, many thought that once we brought up the idea of a `new Middle East,' and proposed the idea of economic and technological progress to the Arab world, the whole region would embrace us," says Prof. Dina Porat, head of Tel Aviv University's Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism. "In reality, the Arab world actually views this idea as a threat."

Maligned trend

Islamic Fundamentalism today represents one of the most prominent elements in resistance to globalization; and the Jews, not only Israelis, are seen by Muslim Fundamentalists as the vanguard of the detested globalization process. This association of the Jew with a maligned global trend invariably leads to propaganda and discourse that is laden with anti-Semitism. Dr. Avi Becker, Secretary-General of the World Jewish Congress, explains that such propaganda exploits and distorts the fact that many Jews hold key position in the world economy. Such critics of globalization, he says, "use names such as Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, whose decisions on interest questions effect interest rates all over the world, and World Bank President James Wolfensohn, as well as senior officials from the International Monetary Fund, such as Stanley Fischer."

An example of these dynamics occurred a few years ago in Muslim Malyasia. The involvement of Jewish businessman George Soros in currency speculation contributed toward an economic slide in the country. Malyasia's Prime Minister Mohammed Mahathir did not limit his criticism to Soros; instead he spoke about "Jews who determine our currency levels, and bring about the collapse of our economy."

The association between globalization and the Jew rests, of course, on the familiar image of the Jew as the ruler of the world's economy. "This is an image which is familiar from the `Protocols of the Elders of Zion," explains Webman, "and so it is easy [for anti-Semites] to connect the current process to the old Jewish-Zionist scheme to dominate the world's economy."

It bears mention that not just Islamic extremists, but also leftist movements' activities in the west against globalization rely on a strident anti-Israeli ideology which periodically lapses into outright demonstrations of anti-Semitism. For instance, Becker reports that in many anti-globalization rallies protesters carry placards that compare Israel to Nazi Germany.

Babbling Bove

Three days of demonstrations last April in Washington timed in sync with World Bank and IMF conferences turned into large pro-Palestinian rallies. One of the symbols of the anti-globalization crusade, the French farmer Jose Bove, known for his attack against a McDonald's branch in France, has gone as far as to accuse Israel of orchestrating acts of vandalism against synagogues in France.

It would appear that despite obvious differences between the left in Europe and radical Islamic thinkers, anti-globalization displays by both groups are animated by hostility to the United States and its growing domination around the globe.

Porat identifies another context which helps account for the left's hostility to globalization and Israel. "During the last decade, the question of immigration has erupted in the west," Porat explains, "and this was after a period of many years in which the issue almost ceased to exist. The collapse of the Communist bloc brought a new wave of immigrants from the former Communist states to the west, and these joined a large wave of newcomers from Africa. As a result, countries in the west had to deal with tough questions about immigration; and left organizations in these countries focused their activity on legislation, and anti-racism campaigns. In this context, Israel was perceived as a racist state."

Whether there are viable, ongoing links between these two seemingly disparate flanks in the anti-globalization crusade, the new left and Islamic Fundamentalism, is an interesting question. At first, it would appear that there is no such connection, and the two protests have different intents and motives. Large rallies staged by the left against globalization are held mainly in conjunction with events perceived as emblems of the process - the demonstrations take place against the background of G-8 meetings, or World Bank and IMF gatherings. Muslim protesters are hard to find in such protest rallies. On the other hand, European leftists are hardly major contributors to radical Islamic journals.

Left and leftist

Nevertheless, there are some connections linking the Islamic and leftist critics of globalization. Becker explains: "Palestinians, for example, have in recent years identified the sensitivity felt in parts of the world toward American domination, and they have created an association between their struggle and the general question of globalization." This explanation accounts for the appearance of pro-Palestinian placards at anti-globalization rallies staged in the west.

Porat argues that the Durban conference was a symbol of this connection. "Durban," she says, "was a clear emblem of this connection between the left and Islam, [and the alliance] suddenly found that the subject of racism, to which the conference was devoted, served as a convenient arena for cooperative attacks against Israel. For the Arabs, this was an extraordinary opportunity to raise the question of Palestinians in an international forum."

In this connection, Becker refers to an "unholy alliance between, on the one hand, some of the most dubious regimes in the world, belonging to Arab and Muslim states, and, on the other hand, some of the most enlightened organizations, in the name of the joint struggle against globalization."

Mira Assau has been active for several years in "Green Action," an Israeli organization which is active in the campaign against globalization. She makes an effort to take part in international anti-globalization events; when such participation isn't feasible, she sponsors activity in Israel undertaken concurrently with large demonstrations overseas. She insists that anti-globalization activity conveys no anti-Semitic messages. "On the contrary: our activity, and activity undertaken by parallel organizations around the world derives from a world view that opposes any form of racism and hatred of others. True, there are neo-Nazi groups which are trying to `ride the bandwagon' and exploit our activity, claiming that globalization is driven by Jewish aspirations to rule the world. But such groups are not partners in the general activity against globalization; and our organizations denounce them, and demonstrate against them," explains Assau.

Sharon's best

Assau doesn't believe that placards which compare the Star of David and swastikas constitute anti-Semitic agitation. "On the contrary," she declares. "This is an act of defiance against racism, and against the racist policies of the government of Israel. In no way is it against the Jewish people."

Naomi Klein, a Jewish journalist from Canada, has become a symbol of the anti-globalization campaign thanks to the publication of her book "No Logo." Among other claims, Klein argues that advertisement-based western commercial culture is propped by multi-national companies which attain the brunt of their power thanks to the exploitation of cheap labor in Third World countries. In an article entitled "Sharon's Best Weapon," published after the anti-globalization rallies held in Washington in April, which became a platform for pro-Palestinian agitation, she warned her comrades against staying silent in the face of trends of rising anti-Semitism.

She demanded that anti-globalization activists combat anti-Semitism with the same energy and determination they display in the fight against any form of racism. Klein wrote: "I couldn't help thinking about all the recent events I've been to where anti-Muslim violence was rightly condemned, but no mention was made of attacks on Jewish synagogues, cemeteries and community centers ... The anti-globalization movement isn't anti-Semitic, it just hasn't fully confronted the implications of diving into the Middle East conflict... But it is possible to criticize Israel while forcefully condemning the rise of anti-Semitism. And it is equally possible to be pro-Palestinian independence without adopting a simplistic `pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel' dichotomy."

Assau doesn't agree with this analysis. "Movements which battle globalization are not silent about anti-Semitism," she says. "In September 2000, when we demonstrated in Prague in front of IMF and World Bank meetings, there was also a rally held by neo-Nazis, and our people held a special demonstration against them [the neo-Nazis]. A day is devoted at our conferences to the struggle against all forms of prejudice in the world, including anti-Semitism, though as we see it anti-Semitism is directed not only against Jews, but also against Muslims. The problem is that the media rarely report on our activity in this connection, and that's what causes the mistaken impression that we are apathetic about this question" of anti-Semitism."