Anti-globalizers Adrift After Sept. 11

Violence Put on Back Burner as a New Strategy Is Considered

LONDON, NOV. 17, 2001 ( What a difference a few months can make. Last July the Italian city of Genoa was racked by violence sparked by anti-globalization protests and the harsh police response. In contrast, the World Trade Organization meeting this week in Doha, Qatar, was a model of tranquility.

The remoteness of Doha, tucked away in a corner of the Arabian Peninsula, and the restrictions placed on protesters prevented any kind of mass protest. Anti-globalization protests in European and U.S. cities on the eve of the WTO gathering attracted few participants and scarce media attention.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the United States, the anti-globalization movement has faced a crisis. For a start, many people are now more worried about extremist violence, bioterrorism and the conflict in Afghanistan than over the terms of trade with the Third World.

Then there are also many who, while still highly critical of free trade and globalization, do not want their objections to be interpreted as anti-Americanism or hate-mongering.

As the Washington Post observed Nov. 12, the plans to sail six protest boats into the port of Doha to protest the WTO meeting were canceled after Sept. 11. “Given the unbelievable atmosphere of patriotism, being critical of government is touchy for people,” said Jamie Love, the head of a Ralph Nader-affiliated group.

Walden Bello, a prominent Filipino critic of globalization and executive director of the group Focus on the Global South, said, “We felt we needed to respect the mood after Sept. 11” by refraining from major protests.

Instead of mass marches, some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are opting for behind-the-scenes work with governments of developing countries, the Financial Times reported Nov. 12.

Duncan Green, of the British Catholic aid agency CAFOD, noted how his organization has been closely involved in framing a proposal by developing countries that would allow them to protect small farmers from WTO trade-liberalization obligations.

NGOs are well placed for this type of activity. Some have more resources than the governments of poor countries. WWF, the conservation group, spends $60 million a year on policy research. NGOs also have well-oiled public relations departments and highly developed international contact networks.

After Sept. 11

As the Financial Times noted Oct. 10, the attack on the World Trade Center put an end to plans by activists to organize a march on Wall Street. They were preparing for a global day of action Nov. 9 to coincide with the WTO meeting in Doha.

Mass demonstrations were also planned in Washington for the last weekend in September to coincide with the annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. The authorities were so worried by the prospect of huge numbers of protesters that they had asked for the capital´s universities to be shut down. After Sept. 11, the meetings were canceled. The small protest that was held, hardly rated a mention in the news.

As John Sellers, director of the Ruckus Society, a group that teaches confrontation techniques to would-be demonstrators, put it: “There´s a strong concern about marches since Sept. 11. What would happen if 10,000 people turned out for a peaceful march and then four of them burned a flag?” Sellers told the New York Times, October 28, that he didn´t think the anti-globalization groups will be as much in the forefront of public attention as before.

Stephen Kretzmann, an analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies, an advocacy group in Washington, affirmed that his organization´s activity will not diminish. But he added: “We have to be very Ghandian in our approach.”

For John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, who write for The Economist magazine, the events of Sept. 11 confirm that there are plenty of people who hate globalization and consider it as a means to propagate American hegemony.

Yet, writing in the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 9, the two Economist reporters noted that for “every young Pakistani fanatic queuing up at the Afghan border to fight the great Satan, there are probably 10 more worldly types trying to get green cards to pursue the American dream.”

As for the First World protesters, the anti-American part of the movement, principally in Europe, has switched its main attention to opposing the war. Within America, note Micklethwait and Wooldridge, there has been a fragmentation. Trade unionists support the war, and feminists are inclined to oppose the Taliban owing to its repression of women.

Not all negative

Alex Wilks, coordinator of the NGO Bretton Woods Project, which works with campaigners and researchers to monitor the World Bank and IMF, argued in the Observer on Nov. 4 that “anti-globalization campaigners should not bow to pressure to remain silent, but should continue to set out a positive agenda for global governance.”

Wilks noted some positive results of Sept. 11 for his movement. The event has canceled any shift toward isolationism, brought about payment of the United States´ fees to the United Nations, stimulated promises of additional foreign aid, and in general opened up the country to cooperation with other countries, affirmed Wilks.

Madeleine Bunting, writing in the Guardian newspaper of London on Nov. 5, admitted that the anti-globalization faces a challenge in reshaping its message. She noted how many of the protests have been characterized by anti-Americanism and violence, both of which are now less welcome than before Sept. 11.

But, Bunting insisted, Sept. 11 has “underlined the urgency of its critique of globalization.” The last decade saw a dramatic increase in inequality between rich and poor countries. “We ignore the rage of the dispossessed at our own peril,” she argued.

Michael Jacobs, general secretary of the Fabian Society, warned that protesters need to more careful in their analysis of the economic and political factors at work in globalization. Writing in the Observer on Nov. 11, Jacobs called for the NGOs to “break with the rhetoric of ´anti-globalization,´ focusing attention instead on a constructive agenda for ´global justice.´”

It is useless to oppose changes in finance, investment and trade, because it is impossible to stop them, argued Jacobs. Moreover, he pointed out, “To ´oppose´ globalization is to deny people in poorer countries the benefits of knowledge, technological advance, cultural diversity, travel and international contact which we in the rich world enjoy.”

A part of the anti-globalization movement argues that what they really oppose is the neoliberal free trade position, together with its institutions of the World Bank, World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund.

But this argument is also wrong, according to Jacobs. While governments and corporations speak about free trade, in reality they are busy looking after their own interests. This explains how the rich countries maintain tariffs against Third World imports and protect their agricultural sectors.

Anti-globalizers are right in characterizing this as unjust says Jacobs, but it is not free trade. What is needed is a campaign in favor of greater justice, concluded Jacobs.

If Sept. 11 spurs the anti-globalization movement to leave behind its extreme elements and promote the cause of political and economic justice, it will indeed be a positive move.

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