September 11 and Our Broader Movement
In the aftermath of September 11, many progressives, including myself, had difficulties getting a handle on the links between terrorism and the issues someof us had been working on, such as the anti corporate-led globalization movement and debt relief for the Global South. On those issues, I was mainly familiar with the Central American context. I certainly did not know enough about either the Middle East or South and Central Asia to make the connections. Consequently,I had a hard time talking with people about anything beyond the U.S. political and military role in the region.Now, thanks largely to e-mail and a talk with Marie Clark, the new National Coordinator of Jubilee USA, the pieces are falling into place. In the hopes that it may help us with our work, I am writing about what I learned.
Nicaragua’s Alejandro BendaÔa, a leader of the debt cancellation movement, Jubilee South, in “From Seattle to September 11,” makes the following argument: the anti globalization movement currently needs to develop new strategies in the light of new realities. Among other things, that means conceptualizing issues in such a way that connections are made between neo-liberal economic policies and the poverty and powerlessness that contribute to and help trigger terrorism. The World Trade Organization (WTO) and the U.S. dominated international lending agencies have increased the gap between rich and poor world-wide. “Free trade” undercuts and impoverishes producers in the South and the debt repayment guts public services for the poor majority.
In November 2001, the WTO met in the Gulf state of Qatar. The rich nations demanded and got a new round of trade liberalization. And it was the war on terorism that enabled them to do this. Even before the WTO met, the American trade representative Robert Zoelliek invoked the war on terrorism to warn the developing world that no serious opposition to the American trade agenda would be tolerated. He said, “The United States is committed to global leadership of openness and understands that the staying power of our new coalition against terrorism depends on economic growth…” The code is that economic growth (rich elite,poor majority) equals anti-terrorism. Dr. Richard Bernal, a Jamaican delegate in Qatar, said his government had come under pressure. “We feel that this WTO meeting has no connection with the war on terrorism, yet we are made to feel that we are holding up the rescue of the global economy if we don’t agree to a new round of liberalization measures.” Other delegates shared his views about the intimidation of poor countries.(John Pilger, New Statesman.)
In terms of the external debt owed by the nations of the South, Marie Clark had this to say about bridging the issues of terrorism and indebtedness: for grassroots activists newly involved with Jubilee USA, (and presumably for other Americans) generalizations about poverty and terrorism aren’t persuasive. What wins people over is highlighting the concrete ties between the two phenomena. To wit: because of the belt-tightening required to pay off the enormous debt to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Government of Pakistan had to start charging fees to students attending public schools. Poor boys were then welcomed by free and fundamentalist schools, where they came under the influence of fanatical fundamentalism, and they went on to enter the training camps of the Taliban. Clark went on to say that IMF-created austerity measures in Africa―also involving the imposition of user fees―and the rise of HIV-infection (in large part caused by poor nutrition, as noted in The Nation last summer) could fuel rage there and with similar dire consequences.
Do we need to know more? Clearly. But for me this is a start.