Jihad vs. McWorld

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Benjamin Barber diligently and thoroughly examines a crucial paradox that has been noted by many: the planet is being torn apart by the vestiges of race and ideology which are reasserting themselves in areas such as Bosnia and Rwanda, while at the same time it is becoming unified by economic, technological, and ecological forces that mesmerize and homogenize: MTV, McDonald’s, and movies.

Barber gives this tendency toward balkanization of nation-states the name “Jihad,” a retribalization that attacks interdependence, social cooperation, and mutuality. He names “McWorld” the homogenous, global theme park being created by the mass media and mass culture fostered by worldwide communications, information, entertainment, and commerce.

Ironically, both tendencies of this paradox, the simultaneous fragmentation and unification, are often at work in the same country at the same time, such as in Iran, where “Iranian zealots keep one ear tuned to the mullahs urging holy war and the other to Rupert Murdoch’s Star television beaming in DYNASTY, DONAHUE, and THE SIMPSONS from hovering satellites.”

Barber focuses on the relationship between Jihad and McWorld, and suggests that the world, as it is being squeezed between these opposing forces, is moving away from conscious and collective human control and toward anarchy. Jihad is driven by parochial hatreds and aims to re-create subnational and ethnic borders from within the nation-state. McWorld universalizes markets and effectively makes borders porous from without. Both, therefore, “make war on the sovereign nation-state and thus undermine the nation-state’s democratic institutions.”

The first section of the book covers the new world of McWorld, and the increasing hegemony of Hollywood and MTV, theme parks and teleliterature. The second details Jihad, including discussion of China, the Pacific Rim, and Islam. The third section describes the “New World Disorder” and the threat to democracy, with specific discussion of Russia and East Germany, and concludes with a chapter on securing global democracy.