Jihad vs. McWorld

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the May/June 1996 issue of Ethics Report. We offer it today as another way to think about the events unfolding from Sept. 11. Benjamin Barber's book, Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism are Reshaping the World, is available in bookstores.

Our world is breaking into warring tribes and being united by consumerism, all at the same time, according to political scientist Benjamin Barber, author of Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism are Reshaping the World. It is a world trapped between Babel and Disneyland.

On one hand, our world is reforming into tribes, what Barber calls Jihad. In the world of Jihad, "culture is pitted against culture, people against people, tribe against tribe."

Barber writes, "Jihad forges communities of blood rooted in exclusion and hatred."

American Jihad is found in the words of Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, who said, "I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good ... Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a biblical duty, we are called by God, to conquer this country."

The Oklahoma City bombing, hate radio, militant racism, angry rightwing and leftwing Christianity, and intolerant multiculturalism represent Jihad.

On the other hand, our world is becoming a global market, what Barber calls McWorld. Pop culture and corporate mergers are creating an integrated and unified world, thanks to technology, commerce and communication.

Barber observes that ethnically, linguistically and religiously diverse peoples are being united by fast music, fast computers and fast food or MTV, Macintosh and McDonald's.

Global marketing is seen in advertisements. A Coca-Cola ad brags that Coke is "shared around the world" and is "the one taste the whole world shares." In other words, our common ground is consumption, not values like justice, fairness, civility and respect.

The goal of McWorld is profit through consumerism. The forces of McWorld will use Madonna with a crucifix or the Holy Spirit to secure consumption. A Mazda television ad will compare truck driving to a spiritual experience, if the comparison helps sell trucks.

Barber believes the forces of Jihad and McWorld may be seen at work in the same country at the same time. He illustrates this paradox: "Serbian assassins wear Adidas sneakers and listen to Madonna on Walkman headphones as they take aim through their gunscopes at scurrying Sarajevo civilians looking to fill family watercans."

Barber contends that Jihad and McWorld share a common ground. Both forces undermine civil society, ignore the public good and weaken democracy.

What is the Christian community to do?

Driven by consumption and profit, the people of McWorld have little care for the poor, the environment and values beyond materialism. The people of Jihad create tyranny and bloodshed. Neither advances core Christian values and community.

In the age of Jihad and McWorld, we need:
--informed and energetic Christians deeply involved in the public square;
--Christians who are able to see beyond the thin differences between, and false choices offered by, Republicans and Democrats;
--believers who understand that the historic commitment to the separation of church and state does not divorce faith from politics;
--church members who recognize the idolatry of big business as easily as they criticize the failures of big government; and
--people of faith who see the big picture and hear the divine call to transformation, not to conformation to the forces of tribalism and consumerism.

Robert Parham is BCE's executive director.

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