Political Violence: Jihad or McWorld?

A series of apparently unrelated bombings hit a number of countries over the weekend: 

  • In India, two separate explosions in Ahmedabad killed 45 people and injured more than 300.  A group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen claimed responsibility.  Ten unexploded bombs were found by police in Surat, a city in the same Indian state, today. 
  • An explosion in Istanbul, the capital of Turkey, killed 17 and injured some 150 people.  Although no one has claimed responsibility, speculation is that Kurdish nationalist—possibly linked to the Kurdish Peoples Party, or PKK—are responsible.  On Tuesday, the Turkish government launched an airstrike against suspected PKK strongholds in Iraq, killing 40 according to the Turkish government. 
  • Female suicide bombers in Iraq were responsible for at least two attacks over the weekend.  The first involved three separate explosions targeting Shia pilgrims in Baghdad, killing 24 and injuring 79.  The second centered in the Kurdish political capital of Kirkuk, killed 12 and injured dozens.  No claim of responsibility has been made, but observers are pointing to the history of al-Qaeda in Iraq’s use of female bombers in the past. 
  • Finally, tensions between rival Hamas and Fatah parties in Gaza sparked a new round of violence over the weekend.  In one incident, a car bomb exploded in the Gaza Strip, killing several bystanders.  Hamas claims that the attack was orchestrated by Fatah in an attempt to kill some of its supporters; Fatah contends the explosions was likely part of an internal power struggle within Hamas.

Are all these attacks related?  Not in the sense that they were coordinated by a single group.  The groups involved—the Indian Mujahideen, the PKK, al-Qaeda in Iraq, Hamas, and Fatah all have their own objectives and are not likely to want to work together.  But in the broader sense, I think there are some common threads.  In his class work Jihad vs. McWorld, Benjamin Barber argues that there are two driving trends in the world today.  He writes,

Just beyond the horizon of current events lie two possible political futures—both bleak, neither democratic. The first is a retribalization of large swaths of humankind by war and bloodshed: a threatened Lebanonization of nationalstates in which culture is pitted against culture, people against people, tribe against tribe—a Jihad in the name of a hundred narrowly conceived faiths against every kind of interdependence, every kind of artificial social cooperation and civic mutuality. The second is being borne in on us by the onrush of economic and ecological forces that demand integration and uniformity and that mesmerize the world with fast music, fast computers, and fast food—with MTV, Macintosh, and McDonald’s, pressing nations into one commercially homogenous global network: one McWorld tied together by technology, ecology, communications, and commerce. The planet is falling precipitantly apart AND coming reluctantly together at the very same moment.

Perhaps Barber is right.  Perhaps we are seeing the world fall apart and come together at the same time.  It’s a bleak notion, but one for which Barber, I think, finds a comforting solution: strong democracy.

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