- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2001

As momentous events swept across a troubled planet this past month, a few unexceptional things unfolded at the margins.
David Phillips of Albany, N.Y., checked his e-mail at the Surf & Sushi Internet Cafe in Berlin. Simone Williams of Australia, backpacking across Europe with her boyfriend, flew from Malta to Rome. Amanita Lucido, a Hong Kong maid, sent $98 home to Manila using an electronic fund transfer.
Open communications networks, easy access to international travel, the movement of money between nations with the push of a button these are the routines of a world united by technology and economics, and these are some of the apparatus used in the plot to terrorize America.
The tools of progress were wielded against the toolmakers. Since Sept. 11, the realization that the global village has dark, unsavory alleys is producing an unnerving question: Have the very pathways that energized economies and drew millions together in an information age also made the earth more vulnerable?
"It's the dark side of globalization," said Shaul M. Gabbay, a University of Denver scholar who examines how humans interact around the world. "It used to be that people had to be together to develop these fringe ideas. Today, with technology, they don't have to be together anymore."
Globalization's role in the terror attacks is everywhere. Clues stretch from the mountain passes of Central Asia to apartments in Hamburg to remote Philippine islands to an Oklahoma flight school. Suspects hid in plain sight in Muslim communities around the Western world. The government is investigating whether terrorists have tried to profit from stock and options trading timed to the Sept. 11 attack.
In March 2000, CIA director George J. Tenet told the Senate that Osama bin Laden's group was "embracing the opportunities offered by recent leaps in information technology," including e-mail and file encryption. Even the global corporate model has been invoked: Last week, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell called bin Laden's al Qaeda network a "holding company of terrorism."
Although investigations indicate the terrorists also used many low-tech methods, their operation across international borders has come as a shock to many.
"More than ever, what we've realized with this event is how connected we really are," said Lisbeth Claus, a globalization analyst at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. "Whether we like it or not, we are globalized."
The question, as many who study globalization see it, is not whether it will continue unabated. Of course it will, they say; it's a cultural and economic force too powerful, too organic to be stopped by public fears or the most stringent counterterrorism efforts.
"We are just too interdependent. The idea that we can only look to our own nation for economics, for information technology that's gone," said William Brustein, director of the University Center for International Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.
No longer will the march toward a united world be quite as starry-eyed. No longer will the untempered optimism of technology-oriented TV commercials monks checking e-mail, executives in high-rises teleconferencing with colleagues on distant beaches be globalization's dominant image.
Instead, images of the burning, collapsing World Trade Center and, to a lesser extent, violent anti-globalization protests in Seattle and Genoa, Italy now will surface in discussions of whether a stitched-together world makes humanity stronger.
"A strategy of jujitsu has been used against us. People attacked us using our strengths," said Chalmers Johnson, author of "Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire."
The immediate backlash to globalization could include anything from the obvious air travel problems caused by fear, increased security and poor airline economics to broader effects like corporations scaling back business in countries suspected of sponsoring terrorism. Bank transfers, President Bush says, will be watched; personal e-mail could be monitored.
"I think that we're going to have to grow accustomed to things in everyday life not being so easy. Because of this comfort level, people have been taking advantage," said Jeff Holland, 28, of Virginia Beach, sitting in the Berlin Internet cafe.
The United States grew increasingly isolationist after World War I and even more so when it tumbled into the Depression and individual states erected protective economic barriers. But after World War II, a reinvigorated economy embraced free trade, and barriers fell once again.
The inseparable relationship between technology and open, connected societies that emerged during the past generation makes isolationism more unlikely than ever. Most people, after all, want to be connected.
Two indications of that: According to the research firm IDC, the number of e-mail addresses in the world 505 million last year is expected to rise to 1.2 billion by 2005, and the business statistics firm EMarketer says the world will have 1 billion mobile-phone users by the end of this year.
"You don't find a lot of occasions in history of people pulling back from technology. It just seems impossible to back off," said Carroll Pursell, a historian of technology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
So while the globalization debate will be framed differently, many see few indications that the connectedness most of the world has embraced will change dramatically.
"I wouldn't hold any blame against the system," said Simone Williams, the Australian backpacker. "You make a choice."
If things do change for a while? For some, it will be difficult.
In Hong Kong, where many of the 233,000 foreign maids use remittance services to wire cash home, Maria Corozon would face major problems if she couldn't zap money home to her husband and four children.
"It's amazing that I deposit the money now and in 15 minutes, they can get it in the Philippines," she said. "If the service were to be scrapped, we don't know what we'll do."
Odds are it won't. But if barriers do go up, initial complaints may be scattered, given how skittish much of the "globalized" public feels. The world still is immersed in the backlash to Sept. 11. People are scared, and fear tends to make humans turn inward.
However that inwardness is expressed globally through personal spending habits, corporate policy or increased regulations and security the connected world will endure simply because so many still stand to benefit from it.
As historian Clayton Brown, author of the upcoming book "The Globalization of Contemporary America Since 1945," put it: "You can't stop growing your wheat just because you've got insects."
"Is the honeymoon over? No, not at all. I don't think globalization has started yet," said Kitti Limskul, an economist and policy adviser to Thailand's prime minister. "Now, it is only capitalists moving across borders. Only when the whole world begins to benefit will you have real globalization."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide