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Jihad vs. McWorld

‘Jihad vs. McWorld’

All information is taken from Jihad vs. McWorld unless otherwise noted.

In his book, Jihad vs. McWorld, Benjamin Barber takes a view of the new economic world as it relates to those cultures that are hanging on to traditional values. There is a basic conflict between these two ideologies: tribal control vs. technological and economic upward mobility. Barber describes each these two schools of thought, and how they work for and against each other.

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“Jihad” refers to the cultures that focus more on traditional values. It does not simply refer to the Islamic notion of the word, but includes anyone who is opposed to the new modern west. Jihad is slow, personal, and stagnant. However, Jihad also is less concerned about individual citizens’ rights within the system. Members within Jihad tend to have minimal civil liberties and tend to become violent when their way of life is challenged.

“McWorld” is the over-all notion of the consumeristic west. McWorld is fast-paced, information-based and ever changing. Members within McWorld are in favor of individual rights and personal advancement over the culture as a whole. McWorld leaves many behind, if members cannot keep up with the changing system, they are spit out and forgotten.

Barber is not the only person thinking along these lines. Thomas Friedman’s book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, discussed very similar topics. The “Lexus” is comparable to McWorld and the “Olive Tree” compares to Jihad (Friedman 31-34). The discussion is similar and the ideas nearly identical. The thought that multiple authors are agreeing on this tends to increase the validity of the idea in my own mind.

Barber breaks his book into three parts: “The New World of McWorld,” where he defines the advantages and risks of McWorld, “The Old World of Jihad” where he outlines the values and volatility of the Jihad, and “Jihad vs. McWorld” where he tries to describe the problems between the two and possibilities for bringing them together.

In “The New World of McWorld,” Barber describes how McWorld has moved from a “hard goods” to “soft goods” system. Further, he contends that we are moving towards a “soft service” system. Hard goods refer to the products produced out of need, such as food, clothing, etc. When a hard good becomes a soft good, the shift comes from, say, Nike or Levi’s creating a need through product development, marketing, and slapping a brand name or logo all over the product. “Soft” simply means that the product changes, as opposed to a “hard” product that is consistent over time. Soft goods also involve a large portion of the product being information-based. Because of the amount of information and technology, we are moving away from a soft goods system, to a “soft service” system where the product is the service provided (59-87).

Within the idea of soft goods, Barber coined the term “infotainment telesector.” As the words imply, the merging of information, entertainment and mass distribution through telecommunications technology are the cornerstones of this idea (60). An example might be watching a professional basketball player on the play a game internet or television while wearing a Nike logo on his jersey or running in front of a large sign that says, “Buy Gatorade.”

Lastly, Barber comments on the spread of business into global markets. Many companies, even so-called “American” companies are making large portions of their profits from sources abroad. Markets are merging into a single global economy where country of origin is either impossible to determine or inconsequential to the life or profitability of the good.

“The Old World of Jihad” argues that a global society must have some sort of cultural and nationalistic influences. Humankind relies on certain attachments to self, spirit, and other people, that McWorld leaves behind. Having some sort of culture, tribe, nation, family, etc. is imperative for people to thrive.

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A major idea that Barber presents is the concept of “Transitional Democracies.” These are countries, governments, or cultures that are headed in the direction of democracy, and eventually McWorld, but Jihad is fighting to maintain the old system of government or commerce. In these countries, China is an example; violence has surged or is on the horizon. These Jihad people are willing to fight against whatever force is trying to change their way of life. The problem for them is this: McWorld is money, money is a powerful motivator, people want money, and Jihad doesn’t stand a chance.

In the last section of the book, “Jihad vs. McWorld”, Barber presents this quote, “…laissez-faire ideology assumes an endless “battle between collectivism and individualism” in which “any expansion of government”… is “collectivist” and thus … an assault on liberty.” (237) basically, any change to a governmental system is a challenge to the rights of the member people as a whole.

Due to this, Jihad has a very important place in the world. Even though McWorld is like a “theme park” that is interested in improvement and expansion, there still needs to be a place for individual and cultural values. The two ideologies don’t have to be in opposition, they can actually compliment each other.

Can they work together? After reading the book, I am inclined to say, “They have to.” McWorld without Jihad makes me think of a world similar to Huxley’s Brave New World. No personal liberties for certain people, and an impersonal relationship with workers. But there would be a lot of advancement, and success for those people who can keep up. On the other hand, Jihad without McWorld would condemn us all to a world that does not improve or move forward. People would be controlled by large, oppressive governments or small, tribal counsels, either way, always fighting to perpetuate their own values and traditions.

It is unacceptable to live totally one way or another. A combination of the two is where we need to be. Barber seems to be coming from a purely economic standpoint on the distinction between Jihad and McWorld’s geography. America is supposed to be the peak of McWorld, maybe, but what about the strong base of American citizens who are members of a religion, civic group, or volunteer and charity organizations? These are all Jihad in nature, but these people go to work and tear into McWorld for 40 (or more) hours a week. I believe that even in America, Jihad still holds strong and lives fairly comfortably with McWorld.

Works Cited

Barber, Benjamin. Jihad vs. McWorld: Terrorism’s Challenge to Democracy (1995). Ballantine Books, New York.

Friedman, Thomas. The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization (2000). Anchor Books, New York.


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