Tag Archives: jihad

The Persistence of Tribalism

I think I need to go back and reread Benjamin Barber’s Jihad vs. McWorld.

The cover of that paperback illustrated the conflict Barber was addressing: a woman in a full burka drinking a diet Pepsi. That one picture showed the conflict between globalization and tribalism.

Barber was exploring the conflict between consumer capitalism in a constantly shrinking, interconnected modern world and deeply-rooted “tribes”–cultures resistant to and threatened by modernization.

In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Istanbul and Brussels, it’s easy enough to point our fingers at the jihadists who believe they are defending their tribal cultures against encroaching global norms. These extremists pose a real challenge to civilization, and the best way to meet and defeat that challenge is by no means clear–not just because of the danger and mayhem they pose, but because there are troubling signs that many of our more “civilized” citizens are responding in kind.

Whatever else accounts for the electoral successes of Donald Trump, a major element has been his blatant appeal to white American tribalism–his willingness to “go there,” to draw stark lines between (a culturally and racially-defined) “us” and “them.” Proposals from Trump and Cruz to “patrol” Muslim communities, to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, the scornful rejection of civility and inclusiveness as “political correctness” all serve to remind us that Middle East jihadis aren’t the only groups responding viscerally to what they see as assaults on their worldviews.

Communication and transportation technologies, scientific and medical discoveries, the growth, productivity and interrelationship of the global economy–all of these advances hold enormous promise, if we can enlarge our concept of our tribes to include the other humans with whom we share the planet.

But right now, the signs are anything but auspicious.