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« China‚Äôs naval shenanigans: the young and reckless | Main | Globalization and American intervention spread peace »
Sunday
Mar082009

Here's how globalization meets Pakistan

In my latest book, "Great Powers," I advance the controversial notion that America's success in spreading our model of globalization around the planet will force us into many compromises with local extremists seeking cultural sanctuary from its revolutionary norms of individual emancipation. My argument is that - as a rule - most such compromises will be generational, for what is "radical" to elders soon becomes "normal" to youth.

But then I'm confronted by the recent political agreement between Pakistan's faltering government and the ascending Taliban in Swat Valley, whereby the latter is granted judicial emancipation from Pakistan's laws to enforce Islamic sharia.

Is not such accommodation a form of national suicide?

Do you realize there are 562 tribes recognized by our federal government as possessing some degree of judicial independence from our country's laws - in effect constituting sovereign nations within our lands?

So no, Pakistan isn't the only modern nation-state with "federally administered tribal areas" in which spiritually infused social traditions constitute an alternative legal code.

The key attribute of our system is one of voluntary association. Native Americans cannot be trapped inside these enclave systems against their will, even as these sovereign tribes decide who can be members. So while there is a right to separate civilizations on the basis of ethnicity/religion, there is no enforceable apartheid - exclusivity that does not deny larger inclusivity.

Inside America's tribal nations, Native-on-Native crime may fall to tribal courts, but state or federal judiciaries address combinations involving non-Natives. And there are limits on tribal purview, with more leeway granted on civil than criminal cases.

So what does the resumption of sharia in Swat Valley tell us about Pakistan?

Pakistan has clearly failed at civil governance there, so local extremists reach for sharia as a stern alternative to existing government corruption.

But as Fareed Zakaria eloquently argues in a Newsweek cover story, the Pakistan government's compromise obscures an essential truth: the need "to divide the camps of the Islamists between those who are violent and those who are merely extreme." The purpose of giving into Taliban extremists on sharia is to induce them to surrender - from among their ranks - those who seek to export violence transnationally.

Given the extremity of the Taliban's social agenda, to include the banning of education for females, this is a most difficult compromise. And yet, so long as those exposed to sharia are free to leave its stultifying grasp, we shall witness such compromise time and again as globalization rapidly extends its networks into regions long exempt from its deep embrace - so many fundamentalists, so little time to adapt.

The key, as in the case of sovereign tribal nations within America, will be distinguishing between the rights of cultural separatists and the logical requirements for collective security among increasingly interconnected nations: civil sanctuary to preserve cultural identity cannot be extended to criminal actors, no matter what justifying cause they claim.

But have no doubt: As globalization's gender-neutral networks inevitably empower women in traditional societies disproportionally to men, there will be fierce blowback, cast in religious garb, that demands cultural separatism from a world that seems - to them at least - to demand social change approaching complete debauchery.

Looking farther ahead, I expect to see exclusionary "bedroom communities" of all sorts springing up across globalization's vast landscape, or places where the "faithful" - however defined - can practice their preferred codes of self-denial. Indeed, as globalization technologizes our lives more and more, expect the perceived virtues of off-grid living to spawn all manner of secular faiths and accompanying migrations.

Upshot?

Globalization results in neither cultural homogenization nor complete Balkanization of existing nation-states, even as many fake colonial creations such as Pakistan are inevitably remapped substantially. In this unprecedented historical process, expect the global community to cut many Swat-like deals with local extremists.

And expect many of them to actually last.

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