On Incivility and Transnationality : Towards Alliances of Critical Hope - IIBy: Jai Sen, CACIM , July 2005 on: Tue 06 of Mar, 2007 00:31 IST (13727 Reads)
On Incivility and Transnationality :
Towards Alliances of Critical Hope
Steps towards critically engaging with Muto Ichiyo’s concept of transborder participatory democracy
Equally, and despite some change during the Mumbai edition in 2004, this is also startlingly true of the World Social Forum, despite the fact that Brazil (where the Forum was born) is such a mixed society, and also, for example, of the European Social Forum that was held in London in October 2004, despite the rich intercultural character of that city and country now. In Mumbai too, a city with an important Muslim population, they were few present at the Forum, and – in a country where Muslims constitute the largest ‘minority’ and one of the largest such populations in the world – there were none in the WSF India Organising Committee, and it was openly accused of discrimination and domination. We need to ask ourselves : Why does this singular pattern persist ?
Even as I say this, I accept completely that there are many within civil society, and perhaps especially within the emerging global movement, who are struggling to break out of these confines, and that the boundaries are not always so clear. (The turtles were, for instance, very much a part of what happened at Seattle, as also in all the other demos, and they can hardly be called ‘civil’ !) I also accept, and am grateful for, John Brown Childs’ contribution to this question. But I nevertheless believe that the question and deep dialectic of ‘civility’ is a issue those in alliance building need to engage with, and that in order to grasp its meaning, we need to search still more deeply and look at the question of civility in more structural terms.
In short, whereas I have no problems with agreeing that ‘global cooperation and alliance’ among social and political actors is an important indication of the emergence of what is called ‘global civil society’, and through this of the democratisation of global society, I suggest to you these terms are in fact at the same time both far more accurate and revealing than we sometimes realise. They are also hugely deceptive insofar as that they mask the true nature of what is happening within such processes, and also, crucially, the terms on which these alliances take shape; because these processes are in fact still tending to be, perhaps sometimes subconsciously but sometimes also consciously and strategically, processes for the spread of the control of ‘civil society’ over the world – and therefore, if we agree that emancipation – not ‘inclusion’ - is fundamental to democracy and equality, they have the potential to be profoundly anti-democratic and anti-egalitarian in character.
Please note that this is of course not just a factor of what is more commonly pointed out, of the domination of alliances by NGOs, or of global alliances by NGOs of the North and especially by big corporate NGOs. These are certainly important manifestations of the process I am trying to highlight, but it goes far deeper than this.
And that there are therefore also good reasons why peoples of colour, and incivil society more generally, tend to keep away from such alliances, or at best, to also see and use them only instrumentally.
Even if all this rings only partly true, I believe that we need to look seriously and critically at the possibility that this is what is happening, and at our own roles in helping this to happen – and in helping to challenge and overcome it.
At least three further points come out of all this, for our discussion here. One, it is in these terms that I feel we therefore need to take a deeper look at some of Muto san’s propositions regarding the roles of NGOs – the vast majority of which belong to civil society – in the Alliance of Hope that he has proposed. While it is quite clear from his writings that he is by no means unqualifiedly celebrating them, as some authors do, and to the contrary he is challenging them to review their role in society, on the other hand we need, I believe, to look more critically at the proposition that NGOs can and will play the role of helping ‘the people’ come forward, towards a “steady but systematic replacement of NGOs with people’s organisations as the representation in the global arena”[xli].
While I would like to share this hope, my experience and research into transnational civil politics suggest that in practice, the reverse of this happens, and that we need to be more aware of the structural dynamics involved in such situations – and to be sceptical about the possibilities of this happening without much greater mobilisation on the ground, among ‘the people’ – and by the people themselves[xlii].
In particular, we need to recognise that NGOs – as a sector; there are always exceptions - are not disinterested actors but agency for the introduction and installation of certain values; and we need to develop a vocabulary that can help us analyse their interests, so that we can critically support popular movement in realising its own emancipation.
Secondly, I believe we need to also shift our gaze and bring into focus the realities that myriad globalisations are today taking place, and have taken place in history - and crucially, that both incivil and uncivil societies all over the world are also taking part in this drama, independently and interdependently with yet other actors such as institutions of faith.
And finally, I think we must look hard at the possibility that the incivil – and the uncivil – are today, more than ever before, themselves independently and insurgently building transnational coalitions and alliances, some progressive and some regressive (just as civil society is doing), and that it is this world, rather than those who are part of the much more visible global alliances and actions that are taking place that constitute the real globalisation from below.
And that what has come to be known as ‘globalisation from below’ refers more accurately to a globalisation from the middle.
In making this assertion, I openly acknowledge my admiration for the idea of a GfB, as first put forward by Richard Falk[xliii] and then developed and elaborated very substantially by Jeremy Brecher and his colleagues in their landmark book on the subjectxliv. I also put on record the fact that I asked almost precisely these questions to Jeremy and others back in 2000, while commenting in a spirit of solidarity on the manuscript for their book. Notwithstanding this however, I strongly believe it is essential we focus on this issue.
Rather than attempting to paraphrase, it seems best to quote from my comments (though please note that these comments were on the draft manuscript, after which Jeremy and his colleagues made some adjustments to their text),
One very strong impression that I have been left with however, is that your book is about, and aimed only at, one very specific form (and skein) of ‘globalisation from below’– that which is made up of the actions of activist civil groups and organisations; and not about the ‘other’ GfB that is taking place as the result of the myriad ordinary everyday actions and struggles of ordinary peoples all around the world, both voluntarily and involuntarily. (One of the most important forms of this of course, is through labour migration and the struggle of migrant labour against marginalisation and exclusion, and the extraordinary networks that have been developed by peoples to enable them to sustain their struggles. But these networks are surely equally transnational – if indeed, not more so -, and playing their own role in globalisation from below.) To be frank, this absence has been a little surprising for me, given where I think your concerns lie. I kept thinking that this would emerge, somewhere somehow, and kept noting that ‘it hasn’t, till here’, but it wasn’t to be. For instance, I do certainly think that the work of BAYAN in the Philippines is interesting and important, and I respect their militancy in demonstrations, but I do also feel that the less-known, probably anonymous networks of brokers and others - in the Philippines and elsewhere - who ship people around is probably having a far greater impact on the world. What is the nature of these changes ? Of this globalisation – of this other globalisation ? This is not a subject that I have studied, but I do think that in a book about GfB, and which is taking a look at the quite remarkable things that are happening in the world today, ideally this should be there. Otherwise it becomes a civil-led GfB – just as much as GfA is corporate-led. It would seem to me that there are also important other dimensions, and/or forms, of this which are also equally relevant, and even though they are not exactly ‘liberatory’ (though I suppose that this depends strongly on where you are standing). I am referring to transnational ethnic networks (‘TENs’ ?!) and also, for that matter, transnational religious networks – which nowadays (or always ?) are increasingly fundamentalist. The work and effects of these too, surely also contribute to the overall GfB that is taking place in the world today[xlv].