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Marty Weybret Why is Islam so threatened by globalization?

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Posted: Tuesday, September 25, 2001 10:00 pm

We are headed to war against Islamic terrorism, but we have little knowledge of the enemy.

Nearly all our news focuses on us - on the death and destruction, on American's reaction and on the rhetoric of our leaders. Few reports tell us about who we're fighting. I'm not talking about the specific identities of the perpetrators; that was intentionally hidden and is being ferreted out by the FBI and the CIA. What I'm referring to is the enemy's culture and motivation, the cause for which holy warriors commit suicide.

Much of it has to do with Israel, of course. That's a well-known subject and there's little I could say that would be new. But a book I started in July and a radio interview I heard just after the airliners were crashed have focused me on a rare topic: The threat Islam feels from globalization.Marty Weybret

The book is Thomas Friedman's "The Lexus and the Olive Tree." The name came to Friedman at the end of a day's news reporting in Japan. He had just finished a tour of a car factory near Toyota City.

"At that time, the factory was producing 300 Lexus sedans each day, made by 66 human beings and 310 robots ."

After the tour, he boarded the bullet train back to Tokyo. As he sped along at 180 miles per hour, he read a newspaper story about the latest confrontation in Israel.

"Half the world seems to be intent on building a better Lexus streamlining and privatizing their economies to thrive in the system of globalization. And half of the world - sometimes half the same country, sometimes half the same person - (is) caught up in the fight over who owns which olive tree."

The olive tree stands for family, culture and home - the things in our world we don't want to change. The Lexus, in Friedman's view of the world today, stands for what we want from the global economy. Globalization is what is profoundly new and revolutionary in the world.

Friedman is a New York Times reporter whose "beat" is the intersection of foreign policy and economics. In this book, he explains that the personal computer and the Internet "democratized" three important areas: technology, finance and information.

And he shows how global markets and international finance have lured many of the world's governments into remaking themselves to be more honest, frugal and efficient. However, they often pay a price in doing this. Often much of the citizenry feels their government has been stolen by anonymous, foreign money managers.

As technical as his subject is, Friedman is a surprisingly accessible writer who makes international news understandable. And although he is an unabashed fan of globalization, the book contains criticism and suggestions for change.

That's the part we need to read most carefully because globalization must change if the West is to win the new war.

This thought was brought home while listening to NPR's Scott Simon interview an expert on Islamic terrorism. Yusef Bodansky is director of the Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare for the U.S. House of Representatives and the author of a book on Osama bin Laden, the man we presume leads the enemy.

Why, asked Simon, does Osama bin Laden hate us?

Bodansky: "He believes we penetrate and subvert the Moslem world with our alien values, and we prevent (it) from unifying and gaining the glory that it once had ." bin Laden also believes we are "defiling the sacred land of Arabia" by using bases in Saudi Arabia against Iraq.

Bodansky goes on to offer his opinion about how bin Laden leads without using electronic communications and how difficult will be our efforts to find him.

Simon: How do Muslims perceive bin Laden?

Bodansky: "The two most popular names for baby boys in the Moslem world today are Mohammed, the name of the Prophet, and Osama." Bin Laden is "the most popular individual throughout the Moslem world." ("Moslem" is the word I think he used; newspapers prefer "Muslim.")

Simon: Why does he have such a following?

Bodansky: "Islam has justified and unjustified grievances with the West. There is a sense of alienation. The bulk of Moslems want to find a way to coexist they are not terrorists by any stretch. But right now there's no leadership that gives an idea how to get over the friction

On the other hand, "The West just insists that 'you guys' integrate into the global economy … and adopt (Western) value systems bin Laden is a brilliant individual who elucidates in the most logical and thoughtful ways the grievances of his fellow Moslems but then he provides his extremist ideas (of) perpetual confrontation In the absence of competition, his ideas are becoming more and more popular."

Simon closed the interview with a great question: "Mr. Bodansky, is there anything the West could do to satisfy Osama bin Laden?"

Bodansky: "Pack up and move to another planet."

Well we're not going to do that. But if it's important in war to know the enemy, it's also important to know yourself. What do we need to achieve, assuming our aim is not to force Muslims to move to another planet?

In an article titled "The Problem with Retaliation," author and psychologist Robert Wright offers the most thoughtful answer I've run across.

The retaliation problem, says Wright, "is that it will make terrorist attacks on the United States more likely in the future If death in a holy war is a ticket to heaven, then the people we kill become not just martyrs but role models."

Wright doesn't want to be misunderstood.

"If bin Laden is indeed behind this, then he should be either killed or put on trial."

Wright goes on to say not many people can fill bin Laden's role as financier of terrorism and he doubts many of them welcome death.

How we go about bringing bin Laden and other leaders to justice, said Wright, will "influence how safe Americans are in the decades to come."

He commends President Bush for including NATO and Islamic nations in his call to arms. He also speculates that our response might evolve "into a principle of international law that is truly enforceable."

He concludes by conceding that military action is warranted but hurtful to our cause since it will tend to strengthen the cause of fundamentalist terrorism. So we should go into this seeking three offsetting goals:

"1. Deter the future financing of these radicals; 2. deter (their hosting by) governments; 3. give the mechanism of deterrence the broadest possible base " of support by other world governments.

This sounds good enough, I guess. But if these goals don't work out any better than the ones we set for ourselves in Vietnam, the test of this nation is only just beginning.

Here is more complete information on the three sources for this column:

"The Lexus and the Olive Tree" is written by Thomas L. Friedman and published by Anchor Books; 490 pages, $15.

A digital recording of Yusef Bodansky's interview can be downloaded from the NPR Web site. Click on "archives" and choose the show of Sept. 15. The story is titled "Osama bin Laden Bio." Be sure to download a free soundplayer such as RealPlayer Basic 8 or Microsoft MusicPlayer.

"The Problem with Retaliation" is one of an irregular series of articles by Robert Wright published on Slate.

Contact publisher Marty Weybret at

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