Title: Why They Don't Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil
Author: Mark LeVine
"They" Don't Hate "Us," But they Might Hate Neoliberal Globalization
Why They Don't Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil explains jihadist terrorism as one of the symptoms of a bigger problem, neoliberal globalization. LeVine's answer to the problem – global "culture jamming," a concept borrowed from the world of hip music-making -- may sound flaky at first.
But after 339 pages of straightforward, logical explanation of how history has produced the kind of international conflicts we see today, you're ready to buy his concrete suggestions for how to "bring together diverse and even dissonant voices to compose a truly world music."
Neoliberalism is an economic concept developed in the 1970s. Its core premise is that the key to economic growth for all is free trade across international borders, with minimal interference by governments. Beginning in the 1980s, especially, the U.S. promoted this agenda globally by rewarding countries who agreed to privatize state companies and open their markets ("liberalize") to Western trade. The effects of this have been extremely uneven, and have tended to penalize countries of the "global south," including the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. LeVine compellingly lays out how today's neoliberal globalization is an extension of the policies of imperialism of the 18th through 20th centuries.
Globalization Can Appear to Threaten Middle Eastern Muslim Cultures
One of the important lessons of LeVine's book is that we need to understand how many in the Middle East (and elsewhere) feel a sense of continuity with the past, in which both culture and resources were co-opted by foreigners, with the consent or active help of their own governments or elites, much of the time. The cultural memory of imperialism, for many in the Middle East, is a memory of exploitation and oppression. Indeed, the Middle East's experience of exposure to Western liberalism has always been laced with the threat they'll lose their own cultural ways.
This history is often unknown by people in the United States, or if it is, it goes unrecognized as a meaningful part of Middle Eastern history. Understanding the history of imperialism goes some way toward explaining the overprotective defensiveness that some Middle Easterners and Muslims express about local culture. which they stood to lose when, for example, foreigners replaced local languages or practices with their own.
A second, important, lesson of the book is that globalization is not simply an economic phenomenon, but a cultural one.
Culture is also a vehicle for economic globalization, as LeVine explains: "the more people define themselves and their sense of self-worth through what they buy and own (which is reinforced by the unprecedented number of relationships they have with other people who also define themselves this way), the easier it is for corporations and the international financial systems they work through to gain power over them."
Anti-Globalizers and Moderate Islamists Can Create Alternative Politics
Corporations and politicians can act quickly and powerfully to figure out what people want (global communications, and marketing and polling techniques make it possible), and then give it back to them in new advertising or products. These turn rebellious, new ideas, into powerless ideas.
This process makes both left-leaning Westerners questioning globalization and Islamists fairly leery. Anti-globalization activists are opposed to this process because it makes ideas that don't serve corporate interests powerless. Islamists (people who see Islam as a potential political system) don't like cultural globalization because it threatens their traditional cultural autonomy
These facts allow LeVine to redraw the West vs. Islam map that has been so prominently displayed in the last few years. His new map displays a "global peace and justice movement" that must seek alternatives both to anti-democratic political and corporate dominance and what LeVine calls "ghetto Islam," a closed-minded Islam incapable of anything but resistance to encroachment. Al Qaeda and other violent jihadist groups embody ghetto Islam.
This movement cannot be either knee-jerk anti-American or blindly lenient about the injustice and lack of democracy that characterizes Middle Eastern regimes.
A Wonderful Cacophany
LeVine takes the anti-globalization and anti-war movements to task for these (and for knee-jerk anti-Semitism too), pointing out that "however much some Muslims might complain about the "invasion" of Western culture in the Middle East and larger Muslim majority world, the main cultural threat is internal: a well-funded, ultra conservative Wahhabi movement that has been engaged in twenty year jihad against more open and tolerant forms of Islam..." LeVine is a professor of Middle Eastern History at University of California at Irvine. Mark is also a former classmate of mine, and the book is much as I remember him: exuberant and optimistic with a clear sense of right and wrong, but one that never runs on traditional fault lines (like right and left, or east and west, pro- and anti-globalization) and with a lot of love for the world both as it is, and as it could be.
It can also be messy—metaphors are mixed with abandon (the book's subtitle is Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil) and subthemes, motifs and guiding conceits can make the book seem cacophonous at times. In a sense though, this mix is its point – LeVine's message is that we all have the right to cultural difference. As he puts it, '''The focus on the right to cultural difference is crucial, because globalization is understood to create not a "multicultural" difference that is celebrated and encourages mutual respect and cooperation, but rather a forced difference that deepens poverty and inequality both within and between countries."