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Globalization, Death, and the Fearful Extremist
by Dr. Gerry Coulter
2011-01-21 09:28:31
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In early January one of Pakistan’s most senior liberal politicians, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, was shot 27 times by one of his own bodyguards. The murderer then calmly placed his gun on the ground and waited for the police to arrive. The reason given for the shooting by Taseer’s assassin was that the politician had spoken out against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws: “I have killed a blasphemer” (BBC News, January 8, 2011).

Specifically, Taseer had called for the release of a Christian woman (Asia Bibi) who has been sentenced to death for insulting the prophet Mohammed (a charge which she denies). Taseer was also a vocal critic of the Taliban. Like many liberals he believed the blasphemy laws were being used to persecute minorities in Pakistan. Whatever their use it is the existence of these laws that separate Pakistan from the West as much as anything else. If globalization is to fully succeed in making Pakistan a “Western” country, these laws are among the things which will have to go. Thousands of Pakistani’s have demonstrated against government efforts to remove the application of the death penalty for violation of these laws.

While many in Pakistan criticized the murder there were others who supported it. When the killer was led into court some people showered him with rose petals while several young lawyers lined up to offer him their services free of charge. Many conservative clerics sang the killer’s praises and 500 Sunni Muslim scholars called for a boycott of the governor’s funeral.

In the West the media response was unsurprising with due amounts of shock and outrage being expressed at the murder of a politician simply for his beliefs. Criticisms were levelled against radical-extremists and concerns were expressed about the possible silencing effect the killing might have on other liberal voices. No one in the Western media, it seems, is probing more deeply into what motivates such killings. As in the recent shootings in Arizona which received far wider coverage, the handy “madman with a gun” explanation did not seem to apply here. The silent media consensus which can write off killings such as Taseer’s as being due to “religious extremism” was instead trotted out once again.

Let us for a moment try to place ourselves in the killer’s shoes for the purpose of understanding his actions. Certainly to do what he did one would have to hold very sincere beliefs and be so confident in them as to sacrifice one’s future. I also think one would have to feel very desperate to do such a thing – the kind of desperation that comes from being so afraid of something that you simply feel you must act out against it. Like many Islamic men he may well have felt that the Westernization of Pakistan was a humiliation on his country perpetrated by both outsiders and insiders. The Western media never seem to plumb this angle but it is very likely that the murderer was motivated by fear of Westernization as much as by anything else.

Radical Muslims, whatever else they are, and whatever other motivations they may feel or express, are probably quite fearful of globalization (which some equate with Westernization generally and others simply call “Americanization”). Western globalization has set itself against all other ways of doing and knowing to the point of being a kind of fundamentalism in its own right. For many inhabitants of Islamic nations it is has become the most fearsome and disrespectful entity on the face of the earth. They perceive globalization as hell-bent on destroying the fabric of traditional Islamic societies.

Like most Western journalists I do not agree with the murder of people with whom I disagree. Unlike most Western journalists I think we need to explore the way Western globalization by its very existence plays a role in creating the conditions for such a response to it.  Seeking such alternative accounts is not an attempt to excuse the actions of those like Mr. Taseer’s body guard, but an effort to better understand them. Whatever else it does, and for all the support it receives around the world, Western globalization (which is not a simple one way flow of ideas), makes some people so afraid of the future that they see violence as their only recourse. Mr. Taseer’s killer, like the 9/11 terrorists, was so afraid of the West that he would sacrifice his future to act out against it. As globalization continues on down its path in the 21st century at some point it is going to have to come to grips with the fact that much of the resistance to it is steeped in fear and a feeling of being shamed by not resisting more forcefully.

Probing “fear” and its relation to extreme actions may lead us to some difficult questions that are not being widely asked today. Among these: Does contemporary Western globalization (the latest wave since the 1980s), possess the subtlety to understand the fear it creates? Globalization has never, in its several hundred year history, been known for subtlety. This may indeed be its greatest weakness along with a complacent assumption among Westerners that eventually everyone will come around to our way of seeing and doing. While it was only one act by one man the murder of Salmon Taseer points to the kind of action that the fear of Westernization can produce. This action, like all extremist reactions to Westernization, point to the possibility that Western globalization is not guaranteed to win out, everywhere, in the end.

If we do find that fear is motivating extreme responses to Western globalization we might then ask: What has the West been doing in recent years that might allay such fears?

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jsv2011-01-21 23:59:19
Re your final ? -- not very much.

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