Savir's Corner: Globalization

War endangers both the global belonging and local interests.

Madonna 390 (photo credit: Lucy Nicholson / Reuters)
Madonna 390
(photo credit: Lucy Nicholson / Reuters)
The champions of globalization had hoped that the world becoming a global interconnected village would create a new history – the end of war, of economic crises; a united earth, where everyone consumes the same news (CNN), listens to the same music (MTV), wears the uniform of globalization (the blue denim jeans), eats the same food (McDonald’s), and even speaks the same language (English as defined by Microsoft Word).
The critics of globalization think little of this, and see in globalization an effort to erase distinct values, cultures, ways of life, political systems and identities. Both parties are partially right.
It is true that globalization is constantly gaining momentum – ours is an increasingly borderless world enabling the movement of people (tourism), trade (free trade), money (the financial markets), information (global media networks and especially the Internet) and social networking (through social media).
Through these processes, people discover similarities and possibilities to communicate, despite differences. Yet societies continue to cling to their distinct cultures, values, beliefs, faiths and patriotism.
A borderless world did not bring an end to war or to social-economic inequality.
Interests clash violently between and within societies, often with cultural and religious underpinnings, such as the American war on al-Qaida after September 11 and the tensions between the West and Islam, or the ever-growing economic gaps between Europe and Africa.
In an age of technological revolutions, globalization will continue to gain ground, yet in parallel, the local forces of our world will also be strengthened. This is a function of how people and societies define themselves – they want to be “citizens of the world” when it comes to information, travel, the financial market and communications, and at the same time are dedicated citizens of their countries and cities. They admire global icons such as Madonna, but will sing along proudly in their native language or accent. They look through the Windows of Microsoft to the world, and through the windows of their kitchen to their garden and neighborhood.
They wear jeans and and T-shirts, but will often combine them with their local garment.
They admire their local dish and local sports clubs. They are thus part of the global family of nations, but very much see themselves as belonging to their nation’s family as well.
Global forces and interests have often clashed with local ones. The 9/11 attacks were an onslaught by terrorists with a worldview harkening back to a distant and dark past, against the bastion of globalization.
America’s subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were devised as wars on terror, but were perceived by many Muslims as an attack on their beliefs, values and way of life.
With President Obama having, quite successfully thus far, put an end to these wars, the time has come to build a bridge between the forces of globalization – pursuing a global system, a “global patriotism” and pride, and the local forces – pursuing local patriotism and local sets of beliefs and values, not just in the Muslim world, but the world over.
Therefore we advance a notion of compromise – “Glocalization,” advocating a balance between the forces of globalization and local forces.
Globalization may have reduced the clout of the nation-state and strong government, as international frameworks and multinational corporations have taken over part of the decision-making process. Indeed, in general people in this era of information revolution and social networks are more difficult to govern, as we witnessed in the Arab Spring.
In the wake of this, the one entity that seems to gain in strength is the city, as it melds the trends of globalization into its local character, and takes on more power and influence.
Urbanization is on a dramatic rise, and now is the first time in history that most people live in cities, rather than in rural areas.
Take Barcelona for example – a leading “glocal” city, whose mayors even engage in city-to-city diplomacy. Barcelona offers all the fruits of globalization to its inhabitants and visitors. It is the largest metropolitan on the Mediterranean coasts, with 5 million people in its metropolitan area. Its borders are truly open – it is the fourth-most visited city in Europe. It is also the fourth-richest city in the European Union, in terms of GDP per capita.
And yet Barcelona is fundamentally local, even passionately so – with enthusiastic Catalan patriotism, a sense of belonging to a distinct culture, that fought off Franco’s assault on its very being, when the Spanish dictator abolished Cataluña, the right to speak its language or have a flag.
The famous soccer club F.C. Barcelona is a prominent expression of this “glocal” identity. The No. 1 soccer club in the world, a global phenomenon, admired the world over (with 27 million fans on Facebook alone), it is nonetheless very local in many senses – the famous Barca pride, the colors of its uniform and the Catalan flag and language that go with it. And still, it is involved in contributing to global causes, through UNICEF, the Gates Foundation and the YaLa – Young Leaders movement.
Glocalization is also very prevalent in education. With distance learning and the large numbers of “foreign” students in every university, academia has been increasingly globalized in recent decades. Yet, most universities stay true to their local environments.
Stanford can reach 100,000 students the world over, through distance learning, and yet it remains a distinctly West Coast American institution.
Communications have also been glocalized. Facebook, the global power on the rise, is an expression of this. It has 800 million users, communicating the world over, yet those same users chiefly identify themselves according to their home country and city, communicate in their own language and share their local music and films. Thomas Friedman noted in his book The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century that the Internet encourages glocalization by encouraging people to create websites in their native language.
It seems that the losers in this developing equation are national governments – they lose to global forces which have an important impact on the decision-making process.
And they lose to local forces which empower the citizen, the society and the city, at their expense. This is expressed in the global governance crisis.
This phenomenon is especially prevalent in the Middle East. The young revolutionaries in the Arab world want to belong to a free, globalized world and reap its benefits, mainly when it comes to education and employment, but they do so with a passionate patriotism and sense of local identity. It is also true for young middle class Israelis.
They too want to be citizens of the world, to travel, to earn their living at global companies and benefit from globalized education, and yet they are Israelis to their core.
For both these constituencies, it must be clear that to be part of a globalized world on the one hand, and to preserve local values, identity and interests on the other, there is one sole prerequisite which cannot be avoided – peace.
War endangers both the global belonging and local interests.
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.