Humanizing Globalization


It is with great pleasure and pride that I have been afforded this opportunity to share with you some preliminary thoughts on issues that resonate well beyond my humble corner in little Palestine. This invitation itself is perhaps a demonstration of the topic at hand. Global issues and human responsibility are questions that have to be collectively addressed irrespective of geography and power. Having been on the receiving end of different expressions of injustice and exclusion as a Palestinian, I feel individually and collectively empowered by this occasion. The view from this perspective (or the underbelly of power politics and coercive domination, so to speak) has to be one that is liberated from the confines of narrow self- interest or conventional wisdom. As Palestinians, we have traditionally been viewed as the other, the alien, the non-existent, or victims of the Aristotelian tragic stereotype of pity and fear (the refugee or the terrorist). My being here this evening is not only another violation of the oppressive stereotype, but is primarily an expression of inclusion and human commonality. For this act of affirmation, I am deeply grateful. And in response, I will permit myself the luxury of refraining from turning this occasion into yet another public assessment of Palestinian politics, peace, and nation building. Instead, I shall engage in a rare exercise of a joint exploration of global issues that are of relevance to what makes us all human.

The contemporary discourse on Globalization and its impact on the human condition seems to indicate that the world has been taken by surprise at the imperatives imposed by the “revolution” in technology and knowledge and the ramifications of such a paradigm shift on the individual and collective quality of life. With the rapid acceleration and compression of time, it appears that a global intellect has been breathlessly mobilizing to devise new norms and codes to grapple with emergent sets of relationships and to formulate “relevant” systems of values as behavioral guidelines and stabilizing factors in an increasingly ambiguous and ambivalent universe. Nowhere is this more evident than in the rapid advances in the field of science and technology where vital ethical questions are in need of urgent solutions. The quality of life is at stake, for example, in the medical advances that have succeeded in prolonging human life. Genetic engineering has also generated grave moral concerns particularly on biological intervention and manipulation. Scientific power, as a neutral force, can be harnessed for enhancing human life or can unleash tremendous forces of distortion and destruction (as in the nuclear debate).

With the collective panic that somehow reality seems to have superseded extant principles and institutions, creative minds have been attempting to shape new constructs that would check “globalization on the rampage” and to enable humanity to cope with its uncharted future. Thus along with the systems of ethics and values, we are witnessing an attempt to shape the instruments and build the institutions that can sustain a human reality deprived of its traditional safety nets and in need of appropriate codification and organization, or at least of drastic reform and reformulation of existing ones.

While in itself globalization is not a phenomenon that embodies intrinsic value or inherent threat, a state of polarization seems to be in the making-a simplistic for/against equation that could derail both the discourse and the agenda of our constant passage into the future. It could also circumvent the substantive issues that require genuine assessment and handling to ensure the integrity of this passage on the basis of a comprehensive human empowerment agenda. The debate is perhaps reminiscent of the fears and uncertainties that accompanied the industrial revolution in the 19th century. The response should also be based on a thorough understanding of the forces at work, the implications for human existence as a whole, and the requirements of engagement and intervention that would maximize the benefits and neutralize or minimize any negative repercussions on the desired human agenda.

Among the most discernable features of the age is the compression and acceleration of time that require, by necessity, the adoption of a multi-tiered, simultaneous approach to a human-based comprehensive development program. The post-industrial era of the Western (or developed) world is one in which both the pace and scope of progress have introduced a timeframe and mechanisms that have rendered obsolete traditional concepts of development in the rest of the world. The conventional, incremental, and economy-driven phased approach to development is not tolerated by contemporary realities in which natural progression (or the organic analogy) has become comparable to a steam engine in competition with nuclear power. Thus work on infrastructure has to proceed along with specialized human resource training; designing lifelong educational mobile systems; facilitating economic diversity and participation; preserving the integrity of the environment and natural resources; establishing democratic systems of inclusive governance with emphasis on the rule of law and human rights; building professional, adaptable, transparent and accountable institutions; promulgating required legislation; adopting affirmative action and intervention on behalf of the excluded and disenfranchised (with emphasis on women and children); and devising anticipatory programs to meet projected needs and avoid social distortions-to mention a few.

Such an integrated approach is essential if the ever-increasing gap between the new “haves” and “have-nots” is to be bridged or minimized. Inter-state, intra-state, and transcultural disparities and inequities are bound to intensify and expand in the absence of positive intervention and global cooperation. The sharing of knowledge and transfer of technology are indispensable for the restoration of a viable equilibrium and the elimination of causes of potential conflict in all spheres that maintain deprivation, subjugation, exclusion, monopoly-control, and negative dependence rather than mutuality and interdependence.

Given that the technology-based information revolution has made available enormous quantities of facts and instant exposure of ongoing events and developments, it is simple to say that such availability is an automatic force for global democratization. Access to information and the ability to influence its dissemination and contribute to its accumulation and interpretation are on the one hand a leveling force of tremendous magnitude and a source of empowerment/power on the other. India, perhaps, is the most visible embodiment of a success story in utilizing the new technology as a means of economic empowerment, although its impact on domestic disparities remains to be assessed.

The picture elsewhere, however, is less than rosy. Along with the widening gap between rich and poor at the societal, national, and global levels, the emergence of a new global elite is increasingly apparent. Utilizing available training and special skills, the new elite rely on non-traditional sources of power (tribe, family, political affiliation, etc.) and are engaging in a dialogue and in enterprises well above the heads of the global hoi polloi. This phenomenon is not only creating new rifts and disparities and bypassing traditional power alliances, but is also taking place at the expense of the developing world and deprived cultures. Poorer states, in their rush to join the new “haves,” are investing heavily in training their human resources to be able to rectify their disadvantages. Having done so, however, they find themselves unable to maintain such a resource in the face of lucrative global inducements and highly competetive skills markets that place these “brains” well beyond local affordability. A creaming off the top is contributing to a new form of “brain drain” in which the badly needed skills of the third world are being educated out of their usefulness to their own societies. It is precisely these societies that are in desperate need of their elite in order to utilize global opportunities and to catch up with the speed of economic and technological developments.

On the positive side of the equation, traditional sources of power and authority are being challenged, particularly those that are based on the perpetuation of ignorance among the victims or on maintaining external ignorance of the fact of the victimization itself. Thus oppressive regimes can no longer exploit their peoples through the exercise of censorship, thought control, and crude propaganda, nor can they count on escaping global notice, hence accountability, for their domestic policies and actions. The Palestinian “nakba” (catastrophe) of 1948 that dispossessed and uprooted more than 700,000 Palestinians from their ancestral homeland would not have been carried out as a form of ethnic cleansing in the dark had it been attempted under current exposure capabilities. Similar cases are not only being monitored first hand, but also calls for intervention and the exercising of global responsibility have become more vocal and effective.

The wielding of power through military means, including weapons of mass destruction, is bound to diminish in this context, to be gradually replaced with power through the possession and application of tools of mass construction and information. Such a power transfer is redefining relationships and systems of traditional state-government control and challenging the hold of both political and military elites.

Consequently, an unprecedented formation of non-traditional leadership and non-political claims to power and power sharing are emerging from different sectors within one society as well as from supra national institutions and networks. The private sector and economic forces are rapidly claiming their space in the decision-making arena both as local and global energies that shape and drive policy while creating facts on the ground that often bypass national agendas. Profit-driven decisions, having become “legitimate,” have also in some cases undermined the drive for social justice and consequently led to protective or defensive measures with adverse effects on fundamental liberties and rights. The most glaring example is that of the “tiger” economies of South East Asia that underwent national instability as a consequence of global market volatility, then turned inward for protectionism while consolidating defensive (hence repressive) cultural and social norms.

Conversely, economic forces have also succeeded in generating an expansive space for decentralization and interaction. Awareness of the potentially disruptive impact of an “amoral” marketplace has produced a related body of literature attempting to redefine and articulate a code of values and conduct associated with the responsibility of economic power. Inasmuch as political power carries within it a responsibility and a moral imperative (though more honored by the breach), economic power has embarked on a self-conscious pursuit of an ethical component to legitimize and regulate its pursuits. This has become a matter of tremendous urgency for global economic fora and organizations (including the IMF, the WTO, and the World Bank), particularly following persistent protests and criticism levied against them by networks of global NGOs, activists, and civil society institutions. The distortions and inequities of superimposing a Western economic model on developing countries and non-Western cultures, the predominance of a subjective economic culture of patronage and self-interest, and the built-in discriminatory practices of global economic institutions are producing a potent counter culture seeking rectification and challenging prevailing norms.

This sector has assumed the role of guardian, watchdog, and conscience of both political and economic powers, providing a collective corrective force in challenging their assumptions and practices. Utilizing the same tools made available by the IT revolution, they are forming a loose global network of popular oversight and accountability whether in Davos, Seattle, or Washington, D.C. In many cases, these NGOs, grassroots movements, and institutions of civil society are funded by economic organizations, corporations, and individuals from the private sector who, for various reasons, have recognized the compelling need for both legitimacy and reform. From scholarly research and intellectual treatises, to protest rallies and petitions, think tanks and activists are attempting to redefine globalization in human and moral terms. Ironically, the outcome has been in the formation of new, fluid partnerships with a healthy propensity for checking whichever power is in the ascendancy.

It is important to point out here that the first attempts at globalization had taken place early in the 20th century with the advocacy of the universality of human rights. Collective accountability emerged in the aftermath of devastating world wars and the conventions that emerged therefrom (the Hague and the Fourth Geneva Conventions). International organizations (the League of Nations, the United Nations) were set up as precursors of global organizations to legislate and regulate relations among nation states. In addition, an international judiciary was set up (the International Court of Justice in the Hague) to give nation states recourse to a universal system of justice. Equality before the law and indivisibility of human rights were the rallying calls of all international human rights bodies and advocates.

With the technology and other means of globalization, significant modifications have occurred to accommodate new realities. The scope of human rights work has expanded to encompass a network of organizations and individuals unhampered by constraints of national boundaries (and coercion), which consequently are empowering local voices and organizations and ending their isolation and containment, hence reducing their vulnerability. Dissemination of information, swift intervention, and concrete alleviation of suffering have altered the plight of victims and the role of the relevant bodies. Such networks and partnerships for human rights have resulted in a qualitative shift in both concepts and means of intervention, and have increased the capacity and capability of global accountability systems. Issues such as gender, social justice, rule of law, good governance as a whole, and the responsibility of all types of power (including scientific and economic as well as political authority) have become subject to public scrutiny. The tools for assessment, disclosure, and judgment are in themselves expressions of an evolving value system. Its ethical component provides both the framework and the gauge that determine the acceptance or rejection of the relevant authority or endeavor.

Thus a new mainstream legitimacy for extragovernmental organizations has forged a new balance and partnership of power among different players and agencies. The mobility of non-static alliances has drastically modified the mandate and the terrain of human intervention and cooperation. Their domain includes excesses by all authority systems, including governments, military organizations, economic forces, and special interest and ethnic groups. As legitimate partners for the alleviation of human suffering, they are no longer solely advocacy and lobbying voices, but direct actors and agents for change. The establishment of the international criminal court and the adoption of global legislation in this regard would be a crowning achievement for recourse to global justice. Organizations like Transparency International and Amnesty International have become significant vehicles for an intrusive strategy of accountability.

Such a development should also be accompanied by the establishment of other appropriate global institutions and carrying out genuine reform in existing ones to enable them to cope with current and future challenges rather than reflecting power systems of the past. Discarding the exclusive military denotation of the term “security” requires also the adoption of a comprehensive “human security” conceptual framework and program of action. Instruments of justice must also be available globally to hold states accountable and to ensure human parity. The issue of “sovereignty” as a license for domestic oppression and injustice has to be addressed and framed within a moral imperative that allows for external responsibility and intervention.

It is clear that the concepts of the nation state, boundaries, and territoriality are being challenged along with the principles of sovereignty and even self-determination. Cyberspace and information highways have redefined not only time and motion, but also place and limits, defying imposed boundaries and physical/structural organizing principles. Thus the “waning of the state” is now expressed in the loosening of the grip of centralized government and power control in favor of inclusive governance and power sharing internally, and accountability and intervention externally.

However, the question of identity particularly as an affirmation and validation of cultural and historical authenticity has been surfacing as the other side of the coin of globalization. Concomitant with the artificial uniformity of available tools, attempts at denying diversity, pluralism, and identity specifics have emerged. The denial of uniqueness has had a devastating impact on the rich fabric of human cultural heritage and on the process of identification through belonging. This is particularly evident in situations where democracy was abused by the majority to suppress minority rights and self-identification. The prevalence of ethnic-driven, often intra-state, conflicts is in part due to the suppression of identity as well as to racist or xenophobic exclusivity and control. Principles of group identification and the security of recognition must by necessity be respected without fear of fragmentation, disintegration, or chain cessation. The politics of inclusion and historical redemption require flexible and tolerant systems that can sustain a harmonious and interactive diversity. To the Palestinians, for example, self-determination has been a goal and an anchor, a right that vindicates our history, culture and aspirations for freedom, dignity, and genuine recognition. The selective withholding of the exercise of this right only compounds the injustice of denial. To engage as a partner in forging new regional and global realities, we need to be secure in our identity and equality of rights. Denial of the past and distortion of the present lead to inevitable conflict in the future.

On the other hand, the rationalization of cultural subjectivity and purism to justify human rights violations and abuses and to prevent democratic reform must be exposed and rejected. The charges of neocolonialism or foreignization or transplantation and imposition of Western norms and values that are “alien” to the indigenous culture are a convenient tool of oppressive regimes seeking to evade accountability. Culture bias is a reverse form of racism that seeks to exclude whole groups, and often nations, from the protection of international instruments and means that should be equally accessible to all. Resorting to cultural, national, social, or religious taboos seems to indicate that certain cultures are either undeserving of universal rights or are inconsistent with their value systems. Such a fallacy is also a prejudicial distortion and manipulation of the relevant culture and its values, often resulting in the re-enforcement of simplistic stereotyping and labeling. Such a bias ultimately results in undermining the integrity of the culture it is supposedly seeking to “protect.”

Granted that a culture of democracy needs to be nurtured as a process and in all spheres of life, and granted that the process of democratization is a potential source of tremendous instability, particularly in periods of rapid transition, the inherent value of the principle itself, however, cannot be negated as a consequence. Dislodging deeply embedded power patterns and control systems requires a gradual and sustained effort with readily available support systems and alternative courses of action. Reeducation for empowerment requires also a “naturalization” process entirely “owned” by the people concerned and carried out by credible and legitimate forces from within. The drive for integration must seek to legitimize a shared vision with common values and terms of reference, guided entirely by the focal human imperative. For integration to succeed, it has to provide sufficient space for the affirmation and free interaction of identities rather than imposing a reductive and monolithic model or “melting pot.”

The integrated approach is also applicable to the fallacy of misplaced priorities. Economic depression and threats to national security are often used as excuses for deferring issues of social justice and reform. Internal dissent and criticism are suppressed as divisive and harmful to national unity and cohesiveness in the face of external threats. They are presented as secondary issues subject to postponement as opposed to primary challenges that require urgent attention. A counter formulation with the necessary linkage of internal empowerment and democracy to economic and human development and security is the appropriate strategy.

Historically, states of conflict and the threat of war have been the greatest allies of dictatorships and despotic regimes. Maintaining the status quo and the survival of the regime have led to the suspension and even eradication of the democratic agenda at the expense of the population as a whole. The interdependence of the drive for peace and the democratic agenda is therefore a requisite mutuality of domestic and global import. Strategies for conflict resolution must rely on a peace constituency that has evolved through democratic participation and genuine engagement, otherwise no peace can lay claim to legitimacy or permanence. Similarly, the elimination of the threat of conflict and violence releases democratic forces and redirects their energies towards the realization of their agenda. The peaceful resolution of conflicts is a global imperative. The dual processes of nation building and peace making as simultaneous and mutually dependent endeavors are nowhere as compelling and urgent as they are in the case of Palestine and the resolution of the Palestinian- (and Arab-) Israeli conflict.

Historical conflicts can be resolved only by removing the causes and eliminating long-standing grievances and collective injustices. Each conflict produces the means of its own solution, although it must abide by uniform international legalities and precedents. Nevertheless, it is still in need of third-party intervention to redress inequities and rectify the power disequilibrium. The responsibility of power renders intervention an indispensable requirement for conflict resolution and elimination of injustice. Many questions in this regard, however, remain unanswered. Who decides, in what capacity, when, what is the nature of intervention, from where does it derive its mandate, and who defines the scope are questions that must be determined at an early stage. The Kosovo precedent has opened a Pandora’s box of problematics and accelerated the debate on the role of international organizations, on the military intervention itself as well as on its consequences and implications for the future. The ongoing crisis in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process stems from its incorporation of the asymmetry of power, the bias of the third-party sponsor, attempts at divorcing the solution from international law, and failure to address the historical causes of the conflict with all their implications of culpability and redress. Such distortions in the process have distorted internal Palestinian realities and are liable to prepare the ground for future instability and conflict.

Subjectivity, selectivity, and double standards have also been denounced as expressions of the exercise of power by the West, even in instances where the explicit motivation may have been laudable. Comparisons with Iraq have cast doubts on decisions that are not only politically motivated but also result in the double victimization of the innocent. Military interventions and sanctions have been questioned, particularly when their punitive impact is as lethal as the initial injustice, as is often the case with reactive or delayed diplomacy. No conflict should take the world by surprise, and no conflict should be written off as inevitable since all the symptoms and warning signals are usually visible long before the outbreak of violence and hostilities.

It follows then that the most desirable, effective, and moral engagement is in the form of preventive and constructive intervention. A pro-active and preemptive policy of human empowerment needs to be initiated as a form of global partnership well beyond the confines of political or sovereign control. The most desirable approach is the cooperative one that harnesses local and global capabilities in a joint effort at not only defusing potential conflicts but also at building a culture of democracy and justice. Being our “brothers’/sisters’ keepers” in such cases is an issue of collective responsibility, particularly if it is motivated and conducted in the spirit of shared humanity rather than patronage and imposition.

The inevitable network of global interdependence is increasingly becoming a factor of and an agent in the redefinition of the concept of “enemy” and “friend.” Poverty, illiteracy, oppression, discrimination, violence, and degradation of the environment, to name a few, are the global enemies of humanity and nature regardless of the territorial or historical divide. Such enemies require the concerted effort of positive alliances-armed with such tools as democracy and the rule of law, universal education, and integrated accountability and reform systems-in all spheres of human activity. As governments are compelled to become increasingly self-effacing (and often self-defensive), non-governmental actors are required to step in with a more intrusive stance.

Ultimately, parity of rights-particularly in the face of disparity of objective power-has to be maintained through a global rule of law maintained by universal instruments and institutions. The emerging system of ethics and values is the essential humanizing factor and impetus for empowerment. Claims of exclusivity whether through ideological absolutism and divine right (or negative fundamentalism), or through ethnic/racial/religious purism, require a counter agenda of inclusive tolerance and active engagement. The formulation of operative solutions to injustice is the appropriate response to polarization and entrenchment that automatically position the “self” in confrontation with the “other.”

Both overt didacticism and transference of the norms of the dominant culture have demonstrably failed in addressing the issue of shared values. Nor are we in the process of regurgitating the classical debate on the universal and the particular, or the general and the specific. Human values are becoming the active principles of collective responsibility, inclusive governance, and constructive engagement seeking to eliminate suffering and injustice in an integrated and applicable manner. They evolve from specific conditions and contribute to a global process of redress. Hence the most humble experience is capable of contributing solutions to some of the most pervasive problems. The component of cultural interaction and validation has become indispensable at the same time as claims to superiority and cultural subjectivism in values have rendered themselves invalid. Ultimately, the decision is a human responsibility. Consensus building requires a public debate and a transparency of issues which are determining the future of humanity as a whole. In this, as in all other questions of value and power, the human imperative remains at once the means and the end.

It is my hope that our encounter this evening has contributed, however modestly, to a shared vision of genuine human empowerment in a global context.

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