28 February 2010

marit, multilateralism, international organisations, new decade,

“A new decade…”, observed my colleague, who misses nothing! Reviewing the past ten years, one could state that the most unforgettable event was perhaps September 11, 2001. Whether we like it or not, this incident has had a tremendous impact at the international level. It created an atmosphere of fear that we have been living with now for almost ten years. The war on terrorism that resulted from this incident has led to increased xenophobia, racism and extremism of all kinds. Some people have even gone so far as to talk about before and after 9/11. “Are they wrong?”, my observant colleague asked.

Right-wing political parties all over Europe are now currently using fear of the foreigner to turn the “white” population against the “others”, something that in the long run will only reinforce the feeling of “us” and “them”. Some people are even prepared to argue that “we” are different from “them”, because we have different perceptions. But when you look at it, is this really the case?

Multilateralism has also been suffering because of this. In times when you need good leadership from international organizations to handle world affairs, we have seen the opposite, leaving the field open to those with strong opinions to impose their views, like: “You are either with us or against us!” “Keep the foreigners out!” Mutual trust has been affected and one could even say that nobody trusts anybody any more. And yet our whole global society is based on trust to some extent. What is happening and where are we going?

The world is becoming — or has become — a “global village”. But one form of globalization is conducted through dialogue with a view to equity and preserving cultural identity, and the other form of globalization threatens to bring about the hegemony of the powerful with cultural homogeneity. Somewhere in the middle there are a group of individuals crying with all their might: “The preservation of our cultural diversity is an immense wealth for humankind”. It may already be too late for those cultures feeling themselves under threat and fighting for survival. Unfortunately, dogged resistance may only increase isolation and exclusion.

Thomas J. Watson, the founder of IBM, once said: “The toughest thing about the power of trust is that it’s very difficult to build and very easy to destroy. The essence of trust building is to emphasize the similarities between you and the customer.” So in the beginning of the new decade, let us only hope that the fear of the foreigner can be overcome, and that a whole new decade based upon trust and dialogue will emerge.