Has the World Gone Mad?
Jul 20 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh) – Has the world gone mad? No. Violence is a part of our history, as mankind – we’ve known it all our lives. But, never before have we been exposed to violence in the manner that we are now, because of cable news coverage and social media. Before this age of rapid transfer of information, it took us much longer to learn about acts of violence in far away lands.
[One example is Cambodia – its people experienced genocide while the world had no clue. It wasn’t until much later that people started to learn about what was happening, about Pol Pot’s Red Army of children, the plan to start from “zero.” There is genocide going on today as well – but we are clued in much earlier than used to be the case (for example, the Rohingyas in Myanmar), because they make headlines and because “civilians” report from the ground.]
So, while we are experiencing huge exposure to violence, there is little understanding of the reasons for the production of violence.
To understand the violent world in which we live today, it is important to understand that with neoliberal policies came rapid globalisation (that fostered international trade, privatisation of national institutions, deregulation, and competition) and that includes, as we can see, globalisation of terror and acts of terror. An excellent example is ISIS. Their “franchise system” that allows group membership to anyone willing to commit an act of terror in any part of the world – which ISIS can then claim responsibility for – has been a successful model because of social media and networking capabilities that are enhanced via the internet, the mascot, if you will, of the globalised world.
The UN had declared in 2011 that internet-access is also a human right (for reasons such as freedom of expression). And countries have responded well – but, for many under-developed and developing nations of the world, the internet has been an easier “upgrading” of infrastructure in the absence of real ones: roads, railways, institutions. This nod from the UN has allowed neoliberal policymakers, hand in hand with the Facebooks and the Googles of the world, to aggressively push last mile internet connectivity for deeper reach to the “Bottom of the Pyramid” to garner more consumers. So, we have a situation in which we have populations that do not have decent healthcare facilities or schools, but have internet-enabled smartphones.
In some ways, this can be seen as “development” (indeed, some pluses include mobile banking services for the poor that fosters financial inclusion). But, this also highlights the old concept of uneven and combined development that doesn’t keep par with economic growth, that in turn makes way for a class-based structure, in which many are left behind, disenfranchised.
It is, thus, fairly easy and profitable to recruit foot soldiers in a system that has produced enough disenfranchised individuals, primarily youth, looking for meaning. Indeed, meaning-making for young people has become a challenge in a system where even universities are in the business of producing skilled labour for the neoliberal regimes of the world, which isolates them as they strive to take personal responsibility for structural problems that they did not create; fighting in a system that’s rigged against them.
So, if neoliberalism and its neoliberal education systems have created isolation among youth across social and cultural barriers, youth who find “brotherhood” in a “cause” that they can get behind, it has also created inequality and injustice. Together, isolation, disenfranchisement, inequality, and injustice form a potent pill that breaks people. So much so that they have nothing left to lose. Such spaces can easily become hotbeds for terrorist recruitment, given the high supply of broken people to cash-in on. That some private universities in countries like Bangladesh have become such hotbeds is not a coincidence.
We must realise that the violence that we see around us is not about the moral compasses of those who commit such acts. Nor is it about parenting. It’s about the system that has let them down.
Unless we fix the system that creates disenfranchisement and inequality, we will continue to see violence erupt in all corners of the world. And because of the way media works, we will hear the most nitty-gritty details of it all. And those acts of violence will be “co-opted” by groups like ISIS who will claim responsibility for them – and that will feed more hate – and in this case Islamophobia, and that will create more hate towards the West, and the cycle will continue.
We need to create a class-neutral world for its citizens. We need to really undo this Empire that enables certain groups to have all privileges, while marginalising all other peoples.
There are declared and undeclared wars going on around the world that are being televised and hash-tagged for consumption. Some people make money and gain power in war economies.
Surely, we know who they are?
The writer is Assistant Professor at the School of Social Work, University at Buffalo.
This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh