Monday, February 16, 2009

Globalization - some questions

First off, let me say that I am not against globalization. I believe that all human beings are connected (or “interconnected,” as Buddhists say), so how could I be against a connected world? I am not.

On the contrary, I think globalization doesn’t go far enough. It is restricted to global corporations, global production and global trade. It does not apply half so well to human values or the hearts and minds of people.

While global corporations employ people all over the world, they do not employ them on the basis of “equal pay for equal work.” In fact, one impetus for globalization came from the fact that production costs are lower in countries where workers can be more easily exploited. Even at middle and senior levels, nationality and race is certainly a factor – though not the only one – in compensation packages. At the highest levels, ability and experience appear to be the deciding factors – but probably not the only ones.

Moving on to the second part of my question: why does the concept of globalization leave our hearts cold?

Recently, desperate men from Myanmar’s much-abused Rohingya minority were picked up by the Thai navy attempting to land illegally in Thailand. The Thai navy beat them up, then threw them onto rudimentary boats (little more than rafts) in their injured state, and pushed them out to sea without food or drinking water.

Three boatloads of Rohingya men are still missing, but 6 have been picked up in other Asian countries. One of these countries is Indonesia, where the men have been given medical treatment and temporary shelter. But the Indonesian government said it would send them back to the hell that is their life in Myanmar, where they are not allowed to own property and have no civil or human rights. (The government has now softened this stance in response to pressure from within the country – see below.) Read about the plight of the Rohingyas in a recent reports by the Associated Press and in the International Herald Tribune.

In other words, as a global community, we are happy to exploit low-paid workers for our ends wherever we find them; but we will not extend a helping hand to desperate people if we don’t stand to gain anything from that. Nice.

How can the plight of such desperate men – not to mention the women and children they left behind – not touch our hearts? How many of us have protested in any way against Thailand’s treatment or Indonesia’s (initial) decision to send them back? Or tried to find out how we might be able to help the Rohingya, if not in Myanmar itself, then in neighbouring Bangladesh, where many of them find minimal shelter in very harsh conditions.

So much for hearts. Now for minds. How does the idea of globalization gel with the “us and them” attitude that is so common today throughout the world? Going back to the Rohingya refugees, Muslim organizations – and many ordinary citizens -- in Indonesia have appealed to their government to let the Rohingya men stay.

In response to this and other pressure, the Indonesian government has finally softened its stand and agreed to allow representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to meet the Rohingyas. Still unwilling to allow them to stay in Indonesia, the authorities now appear more willing to discuss resettlement in a third country.

One reason that has been cited for the attitudes both of the Thai authorities and Indonesia’s Muslim organizations is that the Rohingyas are Muslims. This is also cited as a reason for their ill-treatment in their native Myanmar. Thailand and Myanmar are predominantly Buddhist countries; Indonesia is predominantly Muslim.

I think this explanation may be somewhat uncharitable to the Indonesian people, but at least one of the Muslim organizations has pleaded for them because they are “our Muslim brothers.” This is a positive sense of community – but it is nowhere near a global sense of community. One has to wonder how this organization might respond to Buddhist or Christian refugees facing a similar plight?

And what about the Thai authorities? Do they see the superficial differences of race and religion, but not the underlying common humanity that Buddha, Jesus and Mohammad spoke about?

Can we be truly “globalized” if we can’t see that underlying common humanity?


  1. Great Blog! Check out this new Christian band that just released their first album. From what I heard on the samples site, they sound really good.

    Introducing the new Christian National Anthem: Guns & Jesus.

    Please pass on this info to all.


  3. Unfortunately it's easy to fear people that are different. I was in Thailand years ago and still have a picture of the muslims in southern Thailand who lived in houses out over the water. They had to take a boat to shore for their fresh water. I always thought of the Thai's as very kind and generous but with the tension in the southern part of their country, I can understand why they're fearful.