15 Questions About Teaching About Globalization and Terrorism

In the first edition of Globalization: a Very Short Introduction (2003), Manfred Steger uses a photograph of Osama bin Laden to help define globalization itself. In the photo, bin Laden holds a microphone and, visible below the hem of his shirtsleeve, is a digital wristwatch. The terrorist’s watch, Steger points out, and his use of video equipment, the Internet, and the global media, demonstrate the extent to which even the anti-modern al-Qaeda is part of the hyper-modern, globalized world it otherwise critiques.

Ten years ago, the fact that al-Qaeda had attacked the World Trade Center seemed to make the connection between globalization and terrorism pretty darn clear. And now?

I have been thinking about the link between the terrible violence in Kenya, Lebanon, France, and Belgium and wondering how the study of globalization might help students make some sense of it. Honestly, I have more questions than answers.

The other night, my family watched “Lawrence of Arabia,” which is sprinkled with references to Damascus. Most media references to the Paris attacks begin history with the 2003 invasion of Iraq (where Emir Faisal, played by Alec Guinness, became king in 1921). 2003 is the point at which MSNBC begins its narrative in its article, “ Everything You Need to Know About Isis.”  Is this the best place to start?

Another way to think about ISIS might be to broaden the scope historically and think about the relationship between globalization and nationalism. There are a couple ways of looking at this. One would be to think about the Pan-Arabism of Nasser and its similarity to (or coincidence with) the emergence of the Common Market in Europe. Now we see the potential break-up of the EU and the rise of stateless Islamism. Is the era of post-nationalist integration over? Because of the history of imperialism in the Middle East and Africa, is there an indirect variation between nationalism in European and in its now-emerging ex-colonies? Or should we note that it seems that as globalization has advanced, so has tribalism. How can students make sense of this?

Would it be wiser to focus on the new imperialisms that arose after the end of the Cold War? Should we even see ISIS as primarily anti-Western? Or is it chiefly “talking” to other Islamist groups, specifically al-Qaeda?

Or is ISIS in fact nationalist? In the West, the media focuses little on its desire for a Caliphate. Writing in the Atlantic, Graeme Wood argues that, “In fact, much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.” Perhaps we need to know the historical and political context in which ISIS arose and the ideology that motivates it. Wood also makes me wonder if it’s useful to argue that use of the Internet reveals a lack of sincerity about hatred of the West.

I find myself drawn toward thinking about nationalism. Will anti-Western, anti-democratic violence revive hyper-nationalism in Europe and the US? Are both nationalism and internationalism everywhere then enemies of ISIS? I also think about the relationship between digital technology and peace. Will Anonymous try to come to the aid of Western governments? Will this work, if it continues, become another argument for openness or secrecy?

What is the relationship between terrorism and globalization? Is ISIS significantly different than al Shabaab, and Boko Haram in this respect? I would love to hear how other teachers of globalization are thinking about teaching these topics to their students.


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