"You're either with us or against
us." With these words, issued in the aftermath of the September 11
atrocities, President George W. Bush launched his "war on terrorism".
The message was clear. In this open-ended "war", Bush instructed the
world to take sides: either with Bush's "coalition of the willing" or
with the terrorists. A third option, according to Bush, did not exist.
It seemed as if the worst nightmare in
Benjamin Barber's 1996 book, "Jihad versus McWorld", had come true. Barber used the word
"Jihad" to describe religious fundamentalism and nationalism of all
kinds, leading to criticism that he had singled out Muslim fundamentalists. In
later editions, Barber added an apology for doing this. However, after
September 11, many people must have thought that such an apology was
unnecessary. Jihad in the Islamic sense of the term was quite clearly a major
component of what President Bush described as "against us".
In any case, what does it mean to be
"for" President Bush and his "coalition of the willing"?
Does this mean automatically accepting "McWorld"
- a global culture in which multinationals call the shots, reducing part of the
world's citizens to passive consumers while others slave away in sweatshops?
For Barber, writing five years before
the "war on terrorism", the answer was a clear "no". Both
Jihad and McWorld represent threats to democracy:
Jihad with its God-given leaders demanding total loyalty from fanatical
foot-soldiers, and McWorld where the market is
everything and ideology is replaced by the "videology"
of the mass media (or "infotainment telesector",
as Barber calls it).
To counter both these threats to
democracy, Barber insisted that we must re-build active citizenship and civic
society. In short, there is a third way: neither Jihad nor McWorld,
but democracy. After September 11 and the "War on Terrorism",
Barber's call for democracy is more important than ever.
At the same time, it calls a lie to
what British MP John Battle once
described as "the worst statement that Mrs. Thatcher ever made":
"There is no alternative." This statement has since been repeated so
often all over the world by corporate spokespeople and politicians that it is
has become abbreviated to "TINA".
Indeed, despite what President Bush or
his sworn enemies might claim, alternatives are springing up faster than
politicians and business leaders can deny their existence. And, thanks to the
Internet, these alternatives are able to link up internationally just as Barber
predicted, mobilising people on an unprecedented scale, as the protests against
the war in
In such a situation, the crucial issue
cease to be whether or not an alternative exists. There are so many alternatives
that it can be difficult to choose between them. The purpose of this book is to
help people do just that - to help readers find their way through the maze of
organisations and projects offering a "third way" to President Bush's
"with us or against us".
Some people might argue along the lines
of, "Now is not the time to talk about alternatives. Let's support
President Bush for the time being, since there will be plenty of opportunities
to develop alternatives if he wins. After all, if he loses, and totalitarian
fundamentalism wins, all alternatives will be banned".
If the "war on terrorism" was
as clear-cut as President Bush would have us believe, this might be the case.
But it isn't. For one thing, it is not like a conventional war that can be won
or lost, so there can be no clear "victory" after which alternatives
can be developed.
Neither, as Benjamin Barber showed, is
"Jihad vs. McWorld" a clear-cut battle,
since both sides use elements of each other's strategies. Osama
Bin Laden, for example, uses money from his family's construction business with
its high-rise, McWorld-style buildings to fight and
promote his religious extremism. Yet there are also market fundamentalists who
consider free-market and free-trade principles virtually on a par with Holy
Scripture. And, as Naomi Klein showed in her bestseller "No Logo",
the logos of brand-based businesses such as Nike have virtually become objects
of worship for gangs of fanatic followers.
Digging a little deeper, we find more
connections between Jihad and McWorld. We find
President Bush's father, the first President Bush, working as a consultant for
the Carlyle Group, a large chunk of which is (or was) owned by the Bin Laden
family. With Osama as the "black sheep" of
the family, the whole situation becomes reminiscent of mediaeval
Like mediaeval monarchs, the new elite seems
to think that they, or at least the politicians they fund, can make laws to
suit their purposes. The "War on Terrorism" provides a convenient
excuse to roll back hard-won constitutional rights by passing legislation such
as the USA Patriot Act. How far this can go is seen in the arrogance with which
President Bush (the son this time) started dishing out contracts to re-build
If even this fails, some of the elite
seem to think can bend or break laws as they see fit, rather like Britain's
King Henry VIII with his six wives. The scandals of Enron, WorldCom and others
showed that corporate crime was not just a case of a few "black
sheep" or "rotten apples": it goes right to the heart of the
financial and corporate establishment. And once more, the victims are by and
large ordinary people losing their jobs and their pension funds.
Incidents such as these suggest that
behind Jihad vs. McWorld and the open-ended "war
on terrorism", there is another battle going on. This second, almost
secret battle is between oligarchy and democratic civil society. And the true
choice is not between allegiance to those in charge of the "coalition of
the willing" and the leaders of what they label the "axis of
evil"; it is a choice between playing follow-the-leader in a battle
without end, orchoosing an alternative.