Old adversaries make a new bid for power.
The war that bin Laden wants.
Behind the Burka
Afghan women who fight the Taliban.
Humanitarian aid has become a weapon of war.
The terrorist money trail leads back to Midland, Texas.
Congress is making the economy worse.
Why the Democrats will get trounced in 2002.
A New Peace Movement?
Should the government be allowed to hold immigrants on "classified" charges?
Citibank attacks money-laundering regulations.
Immigration reform is derailed by attacks.
Coal Miners' Slaughter
Could an Alabama disaster have been prevented?
Time Is Tight
The cutoff is starting for welfare recipients.
FILM: Take a left turn at Mulholland Drive.
Shakespeare at the Barricades
BOOKS: Insurrections in the mind.
Trading on Terrorism.
Give War A Chance
TRADING ON TERRORISM
There are many contenders for Biggest Political Opportunist since the September 11 atrocities. Politicians ramming through life-changing laws while voters are still mourning; corporations diving for public cash; pundits accusing their opponents of treason.
Yet amid the chorus of Draconian proposals and McCarthyite threats, one voice of opportunism still stands out. That voice belongs to Robyn A. Mazer. Mazer is using September 11 to call for an international crackdown on counterfeit T-shirts.
Not surprisingly, Mazer is a trade lawyer in Washington. Even less surprising, she specializes in trade laws that protect the single largest U.S. export: copyright. Thats music, movies, logos, seed patents, software and much more. Trade Related Intellectual Property rights (TRIPs) is one of the most controversial side-agreements in the runup to Novembers World Trade Organization meeting in Qatar. It is the battleground for disputes ranging from Chinas thriving market in knockoff Britney Spears CDs to Brazils right to disseminate free generic AIDS drugs.
American multinationals are desperate to gain access to these large markets for their productsbut they want protection. Many poor countries, meanwhile, say TRIPs cost millions to police, while strangleholds on intellectual property drive up costs for local industries and consumers.
What does any of this trade wrangling have to do with terrorism? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Unless, of course, you ask Mazer, who published an article September 30 in the Washington Post headlined, From T-Shirts to Terrorism: That Fake Nike Swoosh May Be Helping Fund bin Ladens Network.
She writes: Recent developments suggest that many of the governments suspected of supporting al-Qaeda are also promoting, being corrupted by, or at the very least ignoring highly lucrative trafficking in counterfeit and pirated products capable of generating huge money flows to terrorists.
Suggest, suspected of, at the very least, capable ofthats a lot of hedging for one sentence, especially from someone who used to work in the Justice Department. But the conclusion is unambiguous: You either enforce TRIPs, or you are with the terrorists. Welcome to the brave new world of trade negotiations, where every arcane clause is infused with the self-righteousness of a holy war.
Mazers political opportunism raises some interesting contradictions. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick has been using September 11 for another opportunistic goal: to secure fast track trade negotiating power for President Bush. According to Zoellick, trade promotes the values at the heart of this protracted struggle.
What do new trade deals have to do with fighting terrorism? Well, the terrorists, we are told again and again, hate America precisely because they hate consumerism: McDonalds and Nike and capitalismyou know, freedom. To trade is therefore to defy their ascetic crusade, to spread the very products they loathe.
But wait a minute: What about all those fakes Mazer says are bankrolling terror? In Afghanistan, she claims, you can buy T-shirts bearing counterfeit Nike logos and glorifying bin Laden as The great mujahid of Islam. It seems we are facing a much more complicated scenario than the facile dichotomy of a consumerist McWorld versus an anti-consumer jihad. In fact, if Mazer is correct, not only are the two worlds thoroughly enmeshed, the imagery of McWorld is being used to finance jihad.
Maybe a little complexity isnt so bad. Part of the disorientation many Americans now face has to do with the inflated and oversimplified role consumerism plays in the American narrative. To buy is to be. To buy is to love. To buy is to vote. People outside the United States who want Nikeseven counterfeit Nikesmust want to be American, must love America, must in some way be voting for everything America stands for.
This has been the fairy tale since 1989, when the same media companies now bringing us Americas War on Terrorism proclaimed that their television satellites would topple dictatorships the world over. Consumers would lead, inevitably, to freedom. But all these easy narratives are breaking down: Authoritarianism co-exists with consumerism, desire for American products is mixed with rage at inequality.
Nothing exposes these contradictions more clearly than the trade wars raging over fake goods. Pirating thrives in the deep craters of global inequality, when demand for consumer goods is decades ahead of purchasing power. It thrives in China, where goods made in export-only sweatshops are sold for more than factory workers make in a month. It thrives in Africa, where the price of AIDS drugs is a cruel joke. It thrives in Brazil, where CD pirates are feted as musical Robin Hoods.
Complexity is lousy for opportunism. But it does help us get closer to the truth, even if it means sorting through a lot of fakes.