Mutual Aid Society on a Grand Scale

Benjamin R. Barber, Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland, is the author of "Jihad vs. McWorld." He will be speaking at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

Osama bin Laden, it appears, is back. Which means even after Iraq is disarmed, which it will certainly be one way or another, Al Qaeda will continue its campaign of destruction and terror. As the United States impatiently waits for weapons inspections to fail so it can open a second front in the war on terrorism, it has nowhere near closed out the first front. The Taliban has been run out, but Afghanistan is by no means stable. Pakistan has become a principal U.S. ally, but tens of thousands of Wahabi fundamentalist religious schools (madrasas) continue preparing the next generation of zealots for their jihad.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when President Bush declared that any state harboring terrorists would be a potential target of U.S. military force, America has crafted anti-terrorist policies as if we still lived in a 19th century world where the only enemies of states were other states.

But in the 21st century world of globalization and interdependence, malevolent nongovernmental operations like Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, hiding in the creases of the new global disorder, are the real enemies. Destroying the regimes that harbor them will be ineffective, because such states include not only a handful of rogues, but also allies like Pakistan and Egypt, European friends like Germany and Britain and even states within the continental U.S. Remember, Florida and New Jersey inadvertently harbored terrorists.


America has lived for two centuries with the myth of its independence, sure that its sovereignty would protect it from outside aggression. After all, before Sept. 11, the last major assault by foreigners on mainland American soil was the British attack on the White House and the Capitol in 1814. But our sovereign independence, already under siege from new forms of global disease, global technology, global crime, global ecology and global markets, came under direct assault on Sept. 11.

The moment has come for a new “declaration of interdependence” that will embrace America’s fully joining the world to which it is ever more seamlessly bound. For interdependence means no nation, however powerful, can impose its will on others. It means that as long as a child in Cairo lives in poverty, no U.S. child can live in safety. It means that the wealthiest nation cannot flourish unless those in the most impoverished have opportunities to grow.

War (or its threat) can take out a coterie of terrorists and bring this or that rogue state to heel and thereby help eliminate that malevolent interdependence that terrorism has both created and exploited. But to construct a benevolent interdependence is another matter: It entails strengthening international law, reinforcing multilateralism and spreading equality.

For these tasks, military might is not only ineffective but sometimes counterproductive. It was no accident that after two devastating world wars into which the United States was drawn, America became the chief architect of an international framework for law, cooperation and economic development. Its effort put the first positive face on a benevolent interdependence that not only paid tribute to America’s best democratic instincts and altruistic generosity but that also reflected its best interests.

Why, then, as terrorism puts its exclamation point on the new age where interdependence is more real than ever, is the Bush administration insisting on a traditional sovereignty that it has already lost and a unilateralist strategy of preventive war that cannot succeed?

Not only has it withdrawn from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and turned its back on the international criminal court (an ideal instrument to prosecute international terrorists), it has weakened the monitoring provisions of the chemical weapons convention and defunded programs aimed at dealing with the “loose nukes” left behind by the breakup of the Soviet Union. It has insisted on unilateralism and force in a world demanding more cooperation and multitrack strategies that focus on education as well as arms, and on economic opportunity no less than inspections compliance.

The globalized world will remain a dangerous place for Americans until ways are found either to democratize globalization or globalize democracy. In a world defined by doctors without frontiers and banks without borders, there must also be democracy without frontiers and citizens without borders.

To create such a world is the work of governments, as well as of civil associations and the private sector, and it cannot be accomplished by states alone or exclusively by force of arms. It means finding ways to make not only smart bombs but smart kids; a dollar spent on education today may save $100 on weapons 10 years from now because a potential terrorist has become an educated citizen. It means transnational NGOs, responsible multinational companies and innovative forms of global governance. It means genuine diversity -- not only our own familiar tolerance for religious pluralism, but a tolerance for religion itself; not only religions that are tolerant of secularism, but a secularist materialism that reins itself in enough to be respectful of religion.

At this moment in history, Islamic and Hindu parents in the Third World (and some Christian parents in the First World) have two fears about the future. The first is the fear that their children will be left out of modernity, deprived of the opportunity to join the global marketplace and share in its products and prosperity. The second is that their children will be included in modernity, join the global marketplace and, as a consequence, lose their religious roots and cultural morals. They would be saved from poverty only to be plunged into corruption.

A civil and civilized world -- call it CivWorld -- must be one where liberty is not secured at the price of equality and pluralism does not demand the corruption of morals; where no nation, however powerful, can force the world to join it unless it first acknowledges it is part of the world; where strong nations are willing not only to make war on terrorists but to share the sources of their strength with the weak; and where warriors against the axis of evil are also willing to become soldiers against the axis of inequality and tutors to the axis of despair -- the invisible twins of the axis of evil.

Killing Bin Laden and disarming Iraqi President Saddam Hussein will mean little if, as we bring down the “evil ones,” we fail to raise up a democratic architecture of interdependence in its place.