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 The Challenges of Globalization and the Muslim World    by Professor A. R. Momin

A balance sheet of globalization

There is no denying that, whether one likes it or not, globalization is here to stay and is in fact poised to gather further momentum in the years to come. At the same time, there is a growing realization that globalization is a paradoxical phenomenon, a mixed bag of the good and the bad. Anthony Giddens, one of the most celebrated sociologists of today, points out that globalization is not a single process but a complex mixture of processes, which often act in contradictory ways, producing conflicts, disjunctions and new forms of inequality. Consequently, globalization is being perceived and experienced differently by different people in different parts of the world. Therefore, in order to assess the benefits, prospects and challenges of globalization it is necessary to contextualize it to specific groups, communities and regions.

Globalization has opened vast and hitherto unforeseen opportunities for millions of people around the world in terms of new technologies, economic growth, better job prospects and occupational mobility, increased trade and commerce, and foreign investments. Modern information and communication technologies have made an incredibly vast range of information open and accessible to all and sundry, with positive consequences for efficiency, productivity and competitiveness. Technological innovations (which are now globally accessible) have greatly facilitated a far more efficient harnessing of natural resources, such as oil, natural gas and hydraulic and mineral resources. The global sourcing of goods-fruits, vegetables, meat, sea food, consumer items-through large retailing outlets (such as Wal-Mart) provides incredibly large, global markets for an enormous variety of local products, with substantial benefits to large numbers of consumers and farmers. Global processes, such as the reduction of tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade, have greatly facilitated the global flow of goods and services and have a positive effect on competitiveness. Online trading sites, such as e-Bay, provide not only information and access to a wide range of products from across the world but also an outlet for the sale of traditional handicrafts from different regions of the world. One of the most remarkable achievements of globalization is the increasing worldwide network of medical consultations and the global diffusion of medical technology.

While the benefits of globalization are evident and undeniable, one should not lose sight of its dark side. The most scathing critique of globalization is that it has brought about wide and glaring asymmetries of power, resources and opportunities in large parts of the world. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has remarked that "even though the world is incomparably richer than ever before, ours is also a world of extraordinary deprivation and staggering inequality." Much of the world-most regions of Africa and Latin America, Russia, nearly all of the Middle East (except Israel), large parts of Asia-has been left out of the process of globalization.

The richest 10% of the world (living in Western countries and in Japan) consume 58% of the world's total energy, 84% of all paper, 45% of all meat and fish, and own 87% of all vehicles. Nearly 80% of the world stock of foreign direct investment is located in the industrialized countries of the North. The bulk of global trade occurs within three regions, namely Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific.

The 1999 Human Development Report revealed that the average income of the fifth of the world's population living in the richest countries was 74 times greater than the average income of the fifth living in the poorest countries. In the late 1990s, 20% of the world's population living in the industrialized countries accounted for 86% of the world's overall consumption, 82% of export markets, 74% of all telephone lines, and 97% of all patents worldwide. The digital divide-the technological gap between the North and the South-is too glaring. Nearly 80% of the world's population living in the poorer countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America still lacks access to the most basic communication technologies. In sub-Saharan Africa less than one per cent of households have a landline phone. There are more telephone lines in Manhattan than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. In the industrialized countries one person out of three owns a computer as compared to one out of 130 in Africa. The information superhighway seems to have passed by most of the world's population.

One of the paradoxical features of globalization is the contradiction between inclusion and exclusion. While some countries have reaped a rich harvest of globalization, others have been marginalized and excluded. All the international agencies-such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization-are dominated by the world's richest nations, particularly the United States. Nineteen of the forty two African states that are members of the WTO have little or no representation at its headquarters in Geneva. In many countries of Africa and Asia real incomes are falling, with disturbing consequences for people's health, life expectancy and education. The World Bank Report 2000 says that there is a danger that many of the developing countries most in need of economic growth will be left even further behind as globalization progresses.

The disjunction between the global and the local is becoming increasingly evident. What appears rational at the global level-such as the various international trade agreements related to natural resources, biodiversity and intellectual property rights-can have devastating consequences for the environment, indigenous resources and local communities. This is reflected in the massive protests against globalization by ethnic minorities in Philippines, indigenous communities in Ecuador, peasants in Burkina Faso, Indian fisherfolk and environmental activists in the United States and other countries.

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