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Facing Globalization: Setting the Muslim Mindset, Malaysia

The phenomenon of globalization has transformed not only world trade, communications and economic relations in the latter part of the last century but is having a profound impact on education at the beginning of this third millennium. Higher education is now part of the ‘global market place.’ The advancement in IT is creating a revolution in higher education through completely new forms of learning and teaching. A market-driven higher education curriculum premised up the idea of education as a product or commodity and students as clients or customers demands new ways of delivering knowledge and skills and evaluating the quality of courses and programs in public universities.

As Malaysia strives to attract foreign students to study in her institutions of higher learning, teachers and lecturers have to be prepared to face a more diverse set of students and be subjected to the evaluation by international students who want to be assured of getting the quality of education they are paying for. The commodification of higher education would no doubt affect the way teachers/instructors perceive their role. Tension or conflict is bound to arise between the humanistic goals of education and the materialistic ethos involved in the new educational enterprise.


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Some Definitions of Globalization

The end of the Cold War and the emergence of a new unipolar global system led by the United States of America saw the rise of the processes of globalization involving global economic, technological, political and cultural standardization dictated by the triumphant Western powers.' The integration of information technology in trade, banking, media and the telecommunications has accelerated the process of globalization at an incredible pace and speed. Some definitions and perspectives of globalization arc given below:

  1. A coalescence of various transnational processes and domestic structures, allowing the economy, politics, culture and ideology of the one country to penetrate another. The chain of causality runs from the spatial reorganization of production to international trade and to the integration of financial market.
  2. The inexorable integration of markets, nation-states and technologies to a degree never witnessed before - in a way that is enabling individuals, corporations and nation-states to reach around the world faster, deeper and cheaper than ever before the spread of free-market capitalism to virtually every country in the world.
  3. The process of globalization has produced much that is new in the world’s economy and politics, but it has not changed the basic ways in which capitalism operates, furthermore, it has done little to aid the cause of either peace or prosperity.
  4. Although it can be argued that [the process of globalization] is not new, as human beings have always been engaged in a process of interaction throughout history, today’s 'globalization’ is different, primarily because of the speed with which it is taking place. It is driven by new forms of connectivity, such as the internet, and is governed by different rules, or in many cases, by no rules at all.
  5. As Ilobsbawm (1999) suggests "globalization means wider, but not necessarily equal, access for all and will lead to an increase in disparity between 'the haves and have-nots’. "However, millions of people around the world experience globalization not as an agent of progress ... but as a disruptive force, almost hurricane-like in its ability to destroy lives, jobs and traditions.”

Consequences of Globalization

The proponents of globalization highlight the following positive aspects of globalization:

  1. Foreign direct investment (FDI) has helped to reduce poverty by creating jobs and improving incomes.
  2. The expansion of trade and foreign investment has accelerated social mobility and strengthened the middle class.
  3. New communications and information technology have helped disseminate knowledge in many fields of study and disciplines.
  4. Communication is cheaper and easier. Costs of telephone call as well as travel have fallen.
  5. This makes it easier to understand one another. Communities, although heterogeneous, can be more cooperative now that there are more means of understanding each other.
  6. Globalization makes it possible for humanity to have compassion for each other when calamities - natural or man-made - affect others.
  7. Issues such as human rights, public accountability and problems faced by women are brought to the fore and addressed.

The negative consequences and implications of globalization, especially for the poor and weak nations in the Third World, far outweigh the positive impact. Below are some of them:

  1. Environmental degradation due to unrestrained logging activities of transnational corporations whose sole aim is to multiply profits.
  2. Although poverty has been reduced to a certain extent, new economic disparities have been created. There are stark regional disparities in poverty.
  3. Basic necessities in life are set aside in favor of profits. Many countries in the South have been occupied with facilitating foreign investment in industries that are lucrative to foreign markets and forsaking the most fundamental needs of the people.
  4. Globalization aids the removal of national controls over cross-border financial flows. Dramatic outflows of capital from one country to another have caused havoc in some currencies, particularly in Southeast Asia.
  5. Advances in technology aggravated by the outflow of capital to low cost production sites in the South has caused growing unemployment in the North, which is an affront to human dignity.
  6. Globalization has popularized the consumer culture. Consumerism has given birth to materialism where people are more interested in what they have rather than the essential aspects of humanity.
  7. Global consumerism is now forming a homogeneous global culture where indigenous cultures of the South are being replaced by Western cultures.
  8. The global entertainment industry is propagating a superficial American pop culture, which titillates the senses and deadens the spirit.
  9. Formal education systems are emphasizing technical and managerial skills responding to market demands and leaving aside traditional academic subjects. This means that education is nothing more than acquiring specific skills and techniques and less emphasis on moral education.
  10. Although the IT boom has given rise to an expanse of information, there is a lot of information that is useless and meaningless causing people to be pre-occupied with trivia.
  11. Double standards are present in the human rights aspect of the present world where they are used as part of Western governments’ foreign policy but only when it suits them.
  12. Globalization has internationalized crime of all kinds.
  13. Like crime, disease is more rampant throughout the world, making the spread difficult to control.

It is obvious that globalization is a powerful vehicle for economic expansion of the haves, but it also constitutes an assault on national sovereignty, local cultures and sociopolitical stability. To Ali Mohammadi and Muhammad Ahsan, both from The Nottingham Trent University, contemporary global-ization is another agenda of Western recolonization and the Muslim world has to wake up to this fact.0 A strong case against the ‘global economy’ which highlights the perils of corporate and capitalist globalization is represented in a single volume edited by Jerry Mander and Edward Goldsmith in which Mander says:

“Economic globalization involves arguably the most fundamental redesign of the planet’s political and economic arrangements since at least the Industrial Revolution...”

“We are being asked to believe that the development processes that have further impoverished people and devastated the planet will lead to diametrically different and highly beneficial outcomes, if only they can be accelerated and applied everywhere, freely, without restriction; that is, when they are globalized.”

“That’s the bad news. The good news is that it is not too late to stop this from happening.”

David C. Korten, author of When Corporations Rule the World (1995), explained that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which were founded by the Brctton Woods conference in 1944 have held faithful to their mandate to promote economic growth and globalization. Prior to that the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, driven by members’ unified ‘vision of a global economy dominated by U.S. corporate interests' had called for the setting up of worldwide financial institutions for “constructive undertakings in backward and underdeveloped regions’. Korten concluded that, ‘tragically, while these institutions have met their goals [economic growth, expansion of international trade and foreign direct investment], they have failed in their purpose.’ He said:

“The world has more poor people today than ever before. We have an accelerating gap between the rich and the poor. Widespread violence is tearing families and communities apart nearly everywhere. And the planet’s ecosystem are deteriorating at an alanning rate.”

Alan Duming divided the world into three consumption classes: ‘overconsumers’, ‘sustainers’ and ‘marginals’. The 20 per cent of the world population that consume roughly 80 per cent of the world’s resources arc the ovcrconsumcrs while the other 20 per cent who live in absolute deprivation are the marginals. It is noteworthy that the 1992 Human Development Report of UNDP introduced the ‘champagne glass' as a graphic metaphor for a world of extreme economic injustice. Korten explained:

“The bowl of the champagne glass represents the abundance enjoyed by the 20 per cent of people who live in the world’s richest countries and receive 82.7 per cent of the world’s income. At the bottom of the stem, where the sediment settles, we find the poorest, who barely survive on 1.4 per cent of the total income. The combined incomes of the top 20 per cent arc nearly sixty times larger than those of the bottom 20 per cent. Furthermore, this gap has doubled since 1950, when the top 20 per cent enjoyed only thirty times the incomes of the bottom 20 per cent. And the gap continues to grow.”

The highly disturbing trends of the economic inequalities have been reported by UNCTAD’s Trade and Development Report of1997 which pointed out that the trends were ‘rooted in a set of forces unleashed by rapid liberalization that make for greater inequality by favouring certain income groups over others’, and the Human Development Report of 1999 which stated that ‘economic integration is thus dividing developing and transition economics into those that are benefiting from global opportunities and those that are not’. Even the World Bank admits in its World Development Report 2000/2001 that ‘the world has deep poverty amid plenty’.

“Of the world’s 6 billion people, 2.8 billion - almost half - live on less than $2 a day and 1.2 billion - a fifth - live in absolute poverty, that is less than $1 a day. In 1998 the income share of the richest 20% was 135 times the income share of the poorest 20%. The current income disparity between the top and bottom 20% is estimated to be around 150 to 1 ”.

Bearing in mind that current globalization emerged from the transnational aspect of capitalist ‘developmcnt-moder-nization’ agenda and therefore is ‘another phase of capitalist development’, the widening inequalities can easily be comprehended. Samir Amin (1997) identified five foundations of the grossly unjust world system:

  1. Technological monopoly of a few wealthy Western nations.
  2. The stock markets of New York, London, Frankfurt and Tokyo which control the global market.
  3. Monopolistic access and control of the planet’s natural resources by a global elite.
  4. Media and communication monopoly as part of the market economy and global capitalism.
  5. Monopoly over weapons of mass destruction.

The sixth factor that facilitated the rapid global shift and transformation of the world economy, not mentioned by Samir Amin, is the extraordinary innovations in ICT. If capitalist globalization is unstoppable, as claimed by its ardent advocates, then it can be assumed that the plight of the poor and the weak nations of the earth is going to be worse off. We can, therefore, share the ethical concerns of Pope John Paul when he said:

“New realities, which arc forcefully affecting the productive process, such as the globalization of finance, of the economy, of commerce and of work, should never be allowed to violate the dignity and centrality of human beings. 1 feel very close in spirit to people who are forced to live in a poverty which offends their dignity and blocks them from sharing the goods of the earth and forcing them to feed themselves with what falls from the table of the rich.”

The Muslim intellectual’s apprehension regarding globalization is not only on account of its adverse economic or ecological repercussions: it has to do also with its swiftness, totality and irreligious mission. This concern is expressed by Dr. Murad Wilfried Hofmann (a German diplomat who converted to Islam) thus:

“[Globalization] is total because it also transports Western Weltanschauung: the positivistic Occidental philosophy of life, its materialist paradigm and secular ideology ... Today’s globalization happens in a situation in which material progress is in the hands of a de facto atheistic civilization. As a consequence, atheism is being exported as well ...

Globalization seems to recreate colonization, not militarily or politically but culturally.”

Former Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has been one of the most vocal, frank and consistent critics of globalization among the leaders of the world, for in his view it stands for Western neo-imperialism, super-power unilateralism, destruction of national sovereignty, enslavement to the IMF and the World Bank, predatory currency speculators, merging of giant banks and corporations to gobble up local businesses, a threat against the Muslim countries and Islam, ‘a religion that tolerates no heresy’ and an ideology that seeks to deceive the Third World. He sees globalization as presently interpreted as “the brainchild of absolute capitalism. Its objective is to enlarge the sphere of capitalist activities to the whole world.” In his view,

“The market fundamentalists and the globalization theologians have elevated what they call ‘survival of the fittest’ and ‘economic efficiency’, the maximisation of profits, the making of money as the most important moral basis of their religion.”

He calls for ‘a new globalization that works less in the service of the very wealthy and much harder in the service of the very poor.’ To him ‘a globalised world would be meaningless unless it is an enriched and an equitable world’. He advocates the need for smart partnerships, ‘prosper thy neighbour’ approach and allowing the Third World countries to develop at their own pace and in accordance with their own formula. The uncontrolled and unfettered globalization ‘must be questioned and should not be left to the rich countries to determine. And developing countries must act together to demand a say in making decisions that, shape globalization. Globalization must be governed by rules and practices that protect countries from repeated economic turmoil.”

M. Kamal Hassan

 

Source: Essays on Muslims and the Challenges of Globalisation, Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad. Republished with permission.