The Futility of Resistance
The most conspicuous loser in discussions of global consciousness is the nation-state, which many consider outmoded as a framework for experiencing modernity. In both the popular media and academia the demise of the nation-state is thought by some to be an uncompleted process, but the general trajectory toward its dissolution is an article of faith. This is true across a wide spectrum of writing. For example, popular publications such as Wired, a trade magazine that shills for the computer industry, regularly extol the virtues of globalization: “Ultimately the migration of culture is not monolithic but mosaic, flowing over and around borders, washing away strict definitions, surging into new social spaces created by the tools of the age” (Couch 1997, 214). More thoughtful (and less obviously business oriented) voices often concur. The anthropologist Michael Kearney puts the matter in terms that readers of Wired would find familiar: “Globalization entails a shift from two-dimensional Euclidean space with its centers and peripheries and sharp boundaries, to a multidimensional global space with unbounded, often discontinuous and interpenetrating sub-spaces” (1995, 549).
There is much evidence close at hand to support such observations. Our own media generate globalization discourse relentlessly; our universities echo it, albeit with an avowedly alternative agenda. However, the ready availability of globalization discourse to metropolitan consumers in particular should also be a reason to be cautious about such pronouncements. Much globalization rhetoric is prescriptive. To adopt globalization as an analytic framework may be to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. It has become difficult to separate globalization as an agenda of economic determinism (Ferguson 1992) from globalization as a practice of modern identity (Friedman 1995), or globalization as a postmodern culture of media consumption (Baudrillard 1995). The totality of these agendas is like flypaper: even if one rejects them, one is still forced to argue against them. Cultural practice not done in consciousness of globalization becomes an affirmation of the local in response to the pressure of the global.
An example of how globalization discourse treats attempts at resistance can be found in the relative lack of attention in metropolitan circles to Sharaf, a novel by the Egyptian writer Sonallah Ibrahim (1997). In this novel Ibrahim explicitly criticizes globalization. Sharaf is a prison narrative centering on Sharaf, an unemployed Egyptian youth, and an older Egyptian man named Dr. Ramzi. Sharaf is the ultimate commodity fetishist; much of his speech in the novel takes the form of lists of “global” products, all of which come to Egypt from the industrialized metropole—the West or newly industrialized Asia. He has been culturally deprogrammed by commoditization and thereby turned into a passive consumer. When a British tourist lures the boy into a movie theater, later into his apartment, and then tries to rape him, Sharaf resists (his name means “honor”) and accidentally kills the man.
Sharaf contrasts explicitly with Dr. Ramzi, who is the ultimate global pirate, an Egyptian who left the country when the nationalist Nasser regime imposed state control on the economy. Dr. Ramzi spends his life dismantling the industrial capacities of Third World nations so that “global” (metropolitan-based) companies can take their place. When sent to Egypt to dismember the nationalized pharmaceuticals industry, Dr. Ramzi rebels. His company, in league with corrupt Egyptian officials eager to cash in on the sell-off to multinational corporations, frames Dr. Ramzi, who ends up in prison next to Sharaf. In this way Ibrahim’s narrative engineers a meeting between Dr. Ramzi, the agent of globalization, and Sharaf, the human product of global processes.
In the course of the novel the warden allows the prisoners to watch the national soccer team compete in the World Cup. Islamic fundamentalists—a large component of the prison’s population—cannot stand this open worship of secular nationalism. They start a riot. A new warden comes to the prison and imposes harsh discipline. The new prison master knows Dr. Ramzi from long ago, before Ramzi left the country to work as a global raider. One of the things the warden knows is that the young Dr. Ramzi had a love for the theater. The warden agrees to relax his grip on the prison only if Ramzi writes a play and entertains him and the guards. Ramzi’s play, in which Sharaf performs, is a bitter criticism of globalization. The prisoners’ performance of Ramzi’s play causes another riot, after which Ramzi gets tortured to the point of insanity. By the end of Sharaf, Dr. Ramzi roams the prison reciting long lists of multinational atrocities, a counterpoint to Sharaf’s recitations of consumer brand names. Nobody listens to the “insane” Dr. Ramzi. Sharaf ends the novel precisely where he began: with a man, an older and stronger prisoner, trying to rape him. This time Sharaf submits, abandoning the honor suggested by his name, the defense of which landed him in prison in the first place. In the final scene we find Sharaf shaving his legs in preparation for becoming his rapist’s “wife.”
This is no nationalist allegory of the type analyzed by Fredric Jameson (1986). Ibrahim’s message is direct and angry: We—the Third World, but in this case particularly Egypt—are being screwed by metropolitan nations in the name of the new global economy. Although the novel openly discusses globalism, in globalist discourse Sharaf would most often make the most sense as an expression of localism. But Ibrahim’s localism is of a particular kind: it argues for the defense of national institutions, scathingly criticizing the privatization policies of the post-Nasser era that facilitate the penetration of global capital. The novel argues for a national project rooted in the Nasser era, which is remarkable for a writer who was among the many intellectuals imprisoned in the period. Ibrahim’s invocation of the Nasser period as a comparatively healthy counterpoint to the current rush to liquidate state-supported institutions in favor of global capitalist enterprises finds a receptive audience.
However, in globalization discourse forthright advocacy of national institutions is frowned on. More often nationalism is portrayed as an anachronistic urge rather than as an intellectual position: “Maimed bodies and barbed wire in Eastern Europe, xenophobic violence in France, flag waving in the political rituals of the election year here in the United States—all seem to suggest that the willingness to die for one’s country is still a global fashion” (Appadurai 1996, 159–60). Obviously, when put this way, nationalism is not a fashion many would be eager to buy into. Consequently, a novel like Sharaf fares poorly in the realm of “world” literature. Sharaf’s entry into the discourse of “world” literature is also hindered by Ibrahim’s habit of writing in Arabic, unlike more prominent Third World authors who write in English or in other metropolitan languages that, compared to Arabic, translate relatively easily into English. Arabic is a “weak language” in global terms. The volume of material translated into Arabic far exceeds the volume of material moving the other way (Asad 1993, 191). The languages of globalization are English first, followed by other European languages. All else is “local.” Even works advanced in globalization discourse as “counterhegemonic” in various senses are overwhelmingly works in English or other European languages. Consequently, a novel such as Ahdaf Soueif’s In the Eye of the Sun (1992), which depicts the lives of Egyptians living in England, has a better chance of being considered important than Ibrahim’s Sharaf precisely because Soueif lives outside of Egypt and writes in English. Postcolonial literary theorists—close allies of academic globalists—consider the appropriation of English by non-Europeans to be a salutary and necessary antidote to an alleged European silencing of non-European vernacular languages. The “empire writes back” (Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin 1989) in order to subvert European power. Karin Barber, in the context of African literature, calls for a reconsideration of the assumption that postcolonial writing must first subvert colonial languages to effectively challenge metropolitan power. An emphasis on European-language works by metropolitan scholars amounts to a “definitive theoretical lockout” of indigenous-language expression in colonized countries by postcolonial theorists (Barber 1995, 4).
The “will to ignorance” to which Barber refers is not irrelevant to the Jajouka or “Gypsy” phenomenon described here by Schuyler and Zirbel. And Barber’s criticism applies equally to Middle Eastern literature and media. Sophisticated modern works not easily pigeonholed into the “exotic” or “folkloric” categories are not as celebrated in the United States as are authors who write in metropolitan languages. This includes works by authors such as Ibrahim, who writes in Arabic and, so far, is not often translated into English. The same is true of cinema.
The model proposed by postcolonial criticism—the model in which colonial glottophagia silences the native until he or she masters and subverts the colonizer’s language—is based on a fundamental misconception, almost a will to ignorance. By casting the indigenous as always and only outside or underneath the “mainstream” literary discourses of modern Africa, it turns a blind eye to what is in fact the actual mainstream, the cultural discourses of the majority, in most of Africa. (Barber 1995, 11)
One of the virtues of Ibrahim’s Sharaf is that it highlights this imbalance by insisting that any attempt to understand globalization is subsumed by the powerful economic forces that, while enormously complex, are in fact not global at all but rather locatable in the metropolitan core that defines such places as Egypt as a periphery. Increasingly the dominant voice in globalization rhetoric, if not analysis, is a metropolitan profit-driven business agenda—the homogenizing bogeyman in the global/local dialectic. Opponents of globalization are often dismissed in the press as dinosaurs or dangerous radicals. Wired crystallizes the dismissive attitude of the business community toward anyone who seems not to be getting with the globalized technological program. In a photo essay titled “Change Is Good” (Wired 6.01, January 1998, 182–83), the magazine juxtaposes two pictures. One is a stark black-and-white photo of a stern Muslim scholar—male, in a knitted skullcap, prayer mat hanging on the wall, Persian writing on a blackboard behind him, attention focused on a paper on which he is writing with a pen. The other photo is of a girl, probably about eight years old, sitting in front of her Macintosh computer. Her stuffed bunny sits on the machine, and her hands are on the keyboard as she looks backward at the camera. Golden sunlight streams through a window in the background of the scene. She is unbearably cute. The two photos are linked by a caption in large, bold letters that cross both pages: “The true learning revolution.” The caption sets up the comparison between the old man’s austere patriarchal Islamic learning and the girl’s gentle enlightenment. On the girl’s side the “true learning revolution” phrase is completed in smaller print. The “true revolution” (as opposed to the delusional backward Islamic one featured in large type on the opposite page) “is not just computers in the classroom—it’s networking students, teachers, and parents together.” And if the reader (or viewer in this case) is not yet fully networked, or “wired” as the magazine might put it, the publication features numerous advertisements from vendors eager to connect another customer to the global network.
Several contributions to Mass Mediations take constructions of nationalism rather more seriously than globalization rhetoric suggests is warranted. Joel Gordon’s chapter on the film Nasser 56 suggests a potent nostalgia for the nationalist project. Gordon notes that the film steers clear of Nasser’s nationalization and import-substitution policies, emphasizing instead the much less controversial Suez crisis. There is, of course, no guarantee that audiences separate one kind of nationalism from another. Although the actual policies of Nasser still mark numerous fault lines within Egyptian society—between classes, generations, and regions of the country—Gordon writes that everyone was eager to take credit for the film, “notwithstanding the obvious irony of a state-funded film glorifying nationalization in the age of privatization and championing a charismatic, idolized ruler in an era of political malaise.” The film does not occur in a vacuum. Egyptian history is in vogue in the Egyptian media; historical visions flourish alongside all the obvious signs of globalization. A visitor to Cairo could easily consider the satellite dishes sprouting like mushrooms all over the city to be a sign that Egypt has moved fully into global culture. But Ibrahim’s angry Sharaf and the popularity of Nasser 56 suggest a wide spectrum of public culture within which nationalist imagery can form an effective bulwark against metropolitan globalization.
Christa Salamandra’s “Consuming Damascus” examines a Middle Eastern state that attempts to construct the “local” as a national community that is to some extent outside the reach of global capital. Baathist Syria has had decidedly mixed results in its efforts to preserve a distinctively Syrian identity. Although Syria has been more reluctant than Egypt to pave the way for the entry of global capital by dismantling national institutions, nonetheless modes of social distinction geared to state institutions have lost prestige. “Mere consumption” takes the place of such modernist engines for constructing national identity as a university education. Many Syrians aspire to the same sort of globalized life as Ibrahim’s Dr. Ramzi—the Nasserist-turned-multinational raider. In Syria the consumption patterns in question include leisure practices that revolve around public display in restaurants and hotels, as well as representations of “Old Damascus” in literature and television serials. All of these juxtapose highly self-conscious constructions of “Damascene” and “foreign” cultures in ways that appear eclectic and cosmopolitan but which are meaningful primarily on local terms.
“Old Damascus” is a construct of nostalgia. Richard Murphy’s “The Hairbrush and the Dagger” also shows how nostalgia is deployed in national narratives. Pakistani media invoke it in quite locally (nationally) specific ways but nonetheless ways that imply a multiplicity of perspectives within nationalist discourse. The subject of Murphy’s chapter, a state-produced television serial called Muhasira (Siege), in which the author acted the part of a Western journalist, would seem at first glance a poor candidate to illustrate multiple viewpoints. In principle the program was an exercise in chauvinism, a rejection of any possibility that Muslims and Hindus could coexist peacefully. Muhasira depicts a monthlong Indian army siege of a mosque in disputed Kashmir province, the result of which, not surprisingly, is that Kashmir is shown to have been wrongly divided from Muslim Pakistan at partition. But beneath the uncompromising surface of the serial Murphy finds a highly nuanced mediated debate “about social, political, and historical registers of truth.” Such debates are the ground on which Pakistani modernity is constructed, both with regard to the definitively non-Pakistani (Indian) and with regard to the much more problematic internal terrain of class and regional difference.
In “‘Beloved Istanbul’” Martin Stokes discusses the ambiguous and troubled nature of modernity in contemporary Turkey. Stokes’s chapter makes an excellent contrast with subthemes that run through several other chapters in this volume. Like Swedenburg’s “Sa‘ida Sultan,” Stokes’s focus is a transsexual singer—Bülent Ersoy, a conservatory-trained but popular singer not highly approved in official circles. The focus of Stokes’s analysis is sonic and literary representations of a city—Istanbul—that many take to be emblematic of the entire state. In this respect the chapter belongs with those by Salamandra (Damascus) and Murphy (Lahore). The chapter also revolves around the importance of nostalgia, which occupies a large place in the contributions by Zirbel, Gordon, Shay, Murphy, and me.
Stokes is not writing about the transnational flow of culture here but about the uncoupling of modernity from nationalism in contemporary Turkey. The “classical” voice in modern Turkey is prized for clarity, whereas Ersoy deliberately distorts her singing, thereby risking the disapproval of Turkish officialdom. The Ersoy performance analyzed by Stokes is no arabesk piece marketed to new immigrants to the city; rather, it is a new version of a 1948 nationalist classic, “Beloved Istanbul.” Its text was written by a foremost republican poet; the music originally performed by a well-known musical modernizer who straddled the Ottoman and republican periods. Stokes shows how Ersoy’s rendition of the song—considered scandalous by many—articulates with the surprising popularity of a postmodern novel by Orhan Pamuk. Postmodernity in Turkey, however, requires a confrontation with history rather than the schizophrenic fragmentation of the self that Westerners sometimes associate with the idea of postmodernity (Harvey 1989, 53–54). As Stokes writes, “In a society in which the state of being modern is cast so insistently in terms of forgetting, and in which the modern is so organically connected to the institutions of the nation-state, remembering becomes both a problem and a matter of cultural elaboration.” Among all the boundaries being blurred—sexual and musical in the case of Ersoy, literary realism in the case of Pamuk’s Kara Kitab—the most significant of all is the one constructed between the present and the Ottoman past. Paradoxically the compromising of the modernist project in Turkey opens up new horizons for the development of Turkish nationalism.
“Beloved Istanbul” and Kara Kitab, unlike Murphy’s Muhasira, Salamandra’s depiction of constructions of “Old Damascus,” and the historical interpretations of Nasser 56 described by Gordon, are not straightforward nationalist texts. However, none of these texts can be understood without a nuanced explication of the social conditions surrounding their production and consumption. Though the social conditions are complex, the texts are nonetheless still nationalist, and still quite vital. All of them suggest resistance to the dominant themes of globalization, which either advocate the demise of the nation-state or predict its occurrence. Commercial interest in such a hostile depiction of nationalism is understandable. Murphy’s chapter, and Shryock’s even more so, also makes reference to the congruence of commercial, political, and academic thinking about the relationship of globalization to both nationalism and modernity. This congruence demands further comment.
Academics who see globalization as the crucial frame of reference for understanding the contemporary world—many of them self-described leftists or at least opponents of the metropolitan status quo—are well aware of the correspondence between their analytic strategies and commercial interests that openly try to make globalization a self-fulfilling prophecy. Appadurai (1996, 18 ff.), for example, distinguishes between the ethical dimension of globalization and its analytic dimension, which he sees as too strong to ignore. However, the ethical implications of a withering of the nation-state put him in “mixed company” with the political right, which also celebrates the expected demise of the nation-state. Appadurai and many others (e.g., Marcus 1996a) find hope in a postnationalist world, because for them the nation-state has been a conspicuous failure at promoting such values as “the protection of minorities, the minimal distribution of democratic rights, and the reasonable possibility of the growth of civil society” (Appadurai 1996, 19). Consequently, the long-term ethical possibilities inherent in the demise of the nation-state are thought to outweigh the immediate fact of commercial benefit from globalization as well as the fact that such benefit is quite devoid of ethical considerations.
However, putting an ethical spin on globalization substitutes one prescriptivism—an optimistic progressive one—for another openly commercial agenda. In the short term hopeful progressive globalization agendas are clearly losing ground to the amoral commercial agenda. American social activists since Abbie Hoffman (1971) have believed that in the long run the energy of decentralized communication networks can be harnessed for their own ends. A recent example can be found in Connected (Marcus 1996a), a volume of academic analyses of media—particularly the Internet—that places “strong value on the new, on left-liberal activism, on the desire for grass-roots media experimentation at the level of everyday life and commitment to change” (Marcus 1996b, 13). But the volume explicitly backs away from analysis of “the great organizational changes within corporate capitalism that are accommodating technological changes in media” (Marcus 1996b, 16). One essay in Marcus’s volume notes that the main forces behind creating the Internet are the state and the military (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1996, 24–28), but, as in the other essays, the analysis does not ultimately integrate that fact with the goal of exploring how the Internet can be used to create new types of community.
The global consciousness that actually exists in the world—as opposed to global systems that reach much farther back in history than the consciousness to which contemporary commentators refer—is highly compatible with regimes of flexible capitalist accumulation described by David Harvey (1989, 147 ff.) and now celebrated by the corporate-controlled U.S. media. Jonathan Friedman describes the outcome of this consciousness as
This is similar to Shryock’s observation (in this volume) that “the people who produce, distribute, and consume the transnationalism rhetoric most devotedly belong to the academy, the corporate elite, and government: social bodies that, in their modern forms, are designed to exceed the limits of any human community they can imagine.” Friedman notes that this globalization is not hegemonic or homogeneous, a point also vigorously made by Appadurai (1996, 17). But where Appadurai and others see disjuncture providing interstitial spaces within which new social forms can flourish, Friedman insists on a simultaneous project of global systematization that encompasses global fragmentation. In other words, the turmoil suggested by Appadurai’s (1996, 27–47) use of the term “disjuncture” is actually quite systematic and works to the advantage of elites in the cosmopolitan “global class structure” to which Friedman alludes. Friedman implies that by emphasizing processes that occur in and around the boundaries of cultural categories—processes such as hybridization or creolization—we make globalization a self-fulfilling prophecy. Practices that do not fit the model can be simply omitted from an analysis.
a global class structure, an international elite made up of top diplomats, government ministers, aid officials and representatives of international organizations such as the United Nations, who play golf, dine, take cocktails with one another, forming a kind of cultural cohort. This grouping overlaps with an international cultural elite of art dealers, publishing and media representatives, the culture industry VIPs who are directly involved in media representations and events, producing images of the world and images for the world. The news is made by them, very much about them and communicates their visions of reality.…It is from these quarters that much of the globalization discussion has emerged, from the economic “global reach” to the cultural “global village.” (1995, 79–80)
The omission of nonconforming practices from analyses of modernity (or alternatively, the neutralization of such practices by assigning them to the category of the “local” in distinction to the global) involves a striking selectivity. For example, in summer 1997 an Egyptian television station broadcast a prerecorded “world music awards” program. Each recipient of an award—most of whom were well known in the United States and Europe (the “Macarena” figured prominently)—performed a brief rendition of his or her hit song. The categories appeared at first to be arranged by nation: “most popular song in France” during the past year, “most popular song in Germany,” “most popular song in the United States,” and so on. But some awards made it plain that the organizing principle for the event was not national popularity but market organization. The ceremony did not include “most popular song in Zaire” or “most popular song in Nigeria,” and so forth, but “most popular song in Africa.” Except for Japan and Hong Kong, it was “most popular song in Asia.” One might assume that the smaller markets were lumped together, and in some cases that may have been true. But in some cases the omitted markets were quite large and quite well acquainted with mass-mediated music.
There was no category in the program for the Middle East. This was not necessarily because the Middle Eastern market is small but more likely because it is small for those record companies. Although a few of the “world music” productions performed in the program were known in Cairo (particularly the “Macarena”), the most popular songs in Cairo the previous year had been mainly those made for an Arabic-speaking market outside the reach of the metropolitan record companies. “Ifrid” (Just Suppose), by a rising young Egyptian star known simply as Hakim, was getting a great deal of play in summer 1997. The market for these songs was not necessarily defined strictly by national borders, but there were (and have been for decades) clear demarcations between the national scope of songs and their Arabic-language scope. Technology plays a part in defining these markets. Satellite television funded by Saudi Arabia but based in Europe has become economically important in the business. But most Egyptians do not receive satellite television, and although the phenomenon of the satellite dish is spreading in Egypt, the extent of the satellite market is still far more limited than that of the state-dominated television system. By summer 1997 one could receive nine terrestrial stations in Cairo, all of them run by the state. Arabic-language music videos broadcast on these stations were crucial in defining the market for music in Egypt. National radio (very conservative in its selection of music) was another factor in shaping the availability of music. And below the broadcast level many songs are disseminated on cassettes.
Clearly there is a spectrum of scales relevant to the practice of music in Cairo. The music itself has undoubtedly changed over the years, although the direction of change is very much open to question (Danielson 1996). But the global scale is not necessarily decisive in the Egyptian musical market, and definitions of the “local” may in fact correspond to the national. One could certainly ask whether patterns of musical consumption in Cairo point toward convergence with global patterns, but such research might not inevitably lead to the conclusion that the global is becoming the “decisive framework for social life” (Featherstone and Lash 1995, 1–2). The state, an unregulated music industry rife with piracy, and live performance contexts largely geared to family events and rites of passage may lend distinctiveness to the practice of music in Cairo. To label these practices “local” in distinction to the sort of globalization manifested in the “world music awards” collapses a whole range of analytic possibilities to the point of insignificance—including the possibility that in Egypt the nation-state is still (or perhaps in some ways more than it had been in the recent past) a potent player in the construction of musical taste and musical habits. Joel Gordon’s contribution to this volume suggests that the state also remains a key player in the cinema. None of this means that the phenomenon of globalization so heavily promoted in academia is entirely misplaced; it does suggest that the “local” category posed dialectically to globalization might have a life of its own—even a life within the supposedly obsolete nation-state framework.