About David Held

David Held is Master of University College, and Professor of Politics and International Relations, at Durham University. Among his most recent publications are Gridlock: Why Global Cooperation is Failing (2013), Cosmopolitanism: Ideals and Realities (2010), Globalisation/Anti-Globalisation (2007), Models of Democracy (2006), Global Transformations (1999). He is a Director of Polity Press, and General Editor of Global Policy.

Articles by David Held

This week's editor

Jeremy Noble, editor

Jeremy Noble and the oDR team edit the front page this week.

The Arab Spring and the changing balance of global power

From an empirical-analytical point of view, what has happened in the Middle East and North Africa since Mohammed Bouazizi died? This is not an opinion piece, but an assessment of underlying factors which have put pressure on the aspiration for justice and political reform launched by the Arab Spring. (5,000 words) 

Europe, the EU and European identity

European identity was the negative construct of a Europe torn apart by world war. It was a negative outcome of an attempt to forge a European identity in the Cold War, squeezed, as Europe was, by the rivalry of the USA and USSR. But negative cultural formation cannot carry the day.

Is the WTO deal good news for multilateralism?

Resolving gridlock involves the search for a new kind of politics that builds on the many and various partial solutions to global challenges that can be found today. The only alternative is collective drift.

Climate leadership in the developing world

There is a level of political dynamism at the national level that seems all but absent from global negotiations. But what is particularly interesting about this growing trend is that it appears to be strongest in the developing world.

Democracy, Syria and the western way of war

The manner in which the Syrian crisis has been addressed by western polities signals a shift, at least for now, in how acts of war are deliberated by those governments considering military intervention. But how significant is this? There is both some good and bad news in this regard.

Red lines and dangerous incoherence: Syria and the international community

While the region slips further into instability, the rejection of military action over Syria by the US Congress would be a huge stepping stone to undoing the US and western way of war since 9/11.

Gridlock: the growing breakdown of global cooperation

Economic and political shifts in large part attributable to the successes of the post-war multilateral order are now amongst the factors grinding that system into gridlock.

Wars of Decline: Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya

This article assesses the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya in terms of their legality, their consequences - local, regional and global - and their impact. It describes the growing impotence of western powers in reshaping global politics by force. Rather, it argues, the flawed application of organised violence as a tool in the defence and projection of western power has dissolved the grandiose project of the ‘American century.’

From the American Century to a cosmopolitan order

The universal constitutional stepping stones of the twentieth century give clues as to what the form and shape of organizations and institutions should be, globally, but they offer no simple blueprints. These can only be worked out in the process of travel, with fellow travel companions, in dialogue and activities shaped by and consistent with cosmopolitan principles.

The Arab 1989 revisited

The establishment and deepening of a democratic culture is a long-term project and is intergenerational. As divisions open up between the elites and the street as well as within the elites, the events of 2011 across the Middle East and North Africa represent a powerful first step in a larger process of transformation.

9/11, and the end of the American century

The “war on terror” launched in response to the crime of 9/11 signalled the decline of American and western power and marked the emergence of a multipolar global landscape. The challenge now is to work out a politics of mutual recognition that meets the permanent reality of intertwined human fate, says David Held.

Dealing with Saif Gaddafi: naivety, complicity or cautious engagement?

How should the London School of Economics have handled its Libyan connections? Fred Halliday strongly opposed engagement, while David Held, Co-Director of LSE Global Governance, has been a major supporter. Is this shown to have been naïve or complicit? No - a risk worth taking, argues the author

The Arab 1989?

The uprisings sweeping across the Middle East portend a political transformation as significant as those of 1989. The economic stagnation of the region, the failures of corrupt and repressive autocratic regimes, conjoined with a disenchanted youthful population wired together as never before, have triggered a political struggle few anticipated. Yet 1989 is not an entirely clear point of reference - the emergence of peaceful mass movements of change is a parallel, but the pull of the West, so marked in 1989, is weaker and more complex. Accordingly, the path ahead for these brave, inspiring, challenging movements is more uncertain.

Global challenges: accountability and effectiveness

The paradox of our times can be stated simply: the collective issues we must grapple with are of growing extensity and intensity, yet the means for addressing these are weak and incomplete. Three pressing global issues highlight the urgency of finding a way forward.

David Held's article is based on a lecture to be delivered in Paris, at a meeting convened by the French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, on 19 January 2008First, insufficient progress has been made in creating a sustainable framework for the management of climate change, illustrating the serious problems facing the multilateral order.

Second, progress towards achieving the millennium development goals has been slow and in many places lamentably so. Underlying this fact, is, of course, the material vulnerability of over half the world's population. Each year, some 18 million die prematurely from poverty-related causes. This is one third of all human deaths - 50,000 every day, including 29,000 children under the age of 5. And, yet, the gap between rich and poor countries continues to rise and there is evidence that the bottom 10% of the world's population has become even poorer since the beginning of the 1990s.

Third, the threat of nuclear catastrophe may seem to have diminished, as a result of the end of the cold war, but it is only in abeyance. Huge nuclear stockpiles remain, nuclear proliferation among states is continuing, new generations of tactical and nuclear weapons are being built and nuclear terrorism is a serious threat.

openDemocracy writers seek to make sense of long-term shifts in global politics, economics and the environment:

Avinash D Persaud, "The dollar standard: (only the) beginning of the end" (5 December 2007)

Tom Burke, "The world and climate change: all together now" (7 December 2007)

Ann Pettifor, "Globalisation: sleepwalking to disaster" (11 December 2007)

openDemocracy, "The world in 2008: a year and an era" (21 December 2007) - reflections from twenty authors, including Rajeev Bhargava, Mary Kaldor, Ivan Krastev, and Michel Thieren

Paul Rogers, "A century on the edge: 1945-2045" (29 December 2007)

David Hayes, "A world in contraflow" (3 January 2008)

Saskia Sassen, "The world's third spaces" (8 January 2008)

Simon Zadek, "Accountability's global thread" (14 January 2008)
These global challenges are indicative of three core sets of problems we face - those concerned with sharing our planet (global warming, biodiversity and ecosystem losses, water deficits); sustaining our life-chances (poverty, conflict prevention, global infectious diseases); and managing our rulebooks (nuclear proliferation, toxic waste disposal, intellectual property rights, genetic research rules, trade rules, finance and tax rules) (cf. Jean-Francois Rischard, High Noon: Twenty Global Problems, Twenty Years to Solve Them, Basic Books, 2002). In our increasingly interconnected world, these global problems cannot be solved by any one nation-state. They call for collective and collaborative action - something that the nations of the world have not been good at, and which they need to be better at if these pressing issues are to be adequately tackled.

The roots of dysfunction

While complex global processes, from the financial to the ecological, connect the fate of communities to each other across the world, global governance capacity is under pressure. Significant governance innovations have been made in recent decades, but the global-governance system remains too often weak and/or fragmented. Moreover, there has been a complex "unbundling" of sovereignty, territoriality and political forces. This unbundling involves a plurality of actors, a variety of political processes, and diverse levels of co-ordination and operation. Specifically, it includes:

▪ Different forms of intergovernmental arrangements embodying various levels of legalisation, types of instruments utilised and responsiveness to stakeholders

▪ An increasing number of public agencies - e.g . central bankers - maintaining links with similar agencies in other countries and, thus, forming transgovernmental networks for the management of various global issues

▪ Diverse business actors - i.e. firms, their associations and organisations such as international chambers of commerce - establishing their own transnational regulatory mechanisms to manage issues of common concern.

▪ Non-governmental organisations and transnational advocacy networks - i.e. leading actors in global civil society - playing a role in various domains of global governance and at various stages of the global public policy-making process

▪ Public bodies, business actors and NGOs collaborating in many areas in order to provide novel approaches to social problems through multi-stakeholder networks.

There is evidence that the politicisation, bureaucratisation and capacity limits of multilateral institutions have been important factors in driving the expansion of new forms of global governance, since powerful governments have sought to avoid either expanding the remit of existing multilateral agencies or creating new ones. Another factor that has been significant has been the socio-political shift towards "self-regulation", as the private sector has sought to pre-empt or prevent international public regulation while governments have sought to share the regulatory burden with non-state actors.


David Held's analyses have appeared in openDemocracy since 2001:

"Violence and justice in a global age" (13 September 2001)

"New war, new justice" (27 September 2001) - with Mary Kaldor"9/11: What should we do now?" (10 October 2001) - with Scilla Elworthy, Tim Garden, Mary Kaldor and S Sayyid

"Globalisation: the argument of our time" (21 January 2002) - a major debate with Paul Hirst

"Davos: a view from the summit" (13 February 2002)"Return to the state of nature" (20 March 2003)

"Globalisation: the dangers and the answers" (26 May 2004)

"What are the dangers and the answers? Clashes over globalisation" (10 October 2004)

"Building bridges: a reply to Anne-Marie Slaughter & Thomas N Hale" (23 December 2005)

"Gordon Brown's foreign-policy challenges" (10 August 2007) - with David Mepham
Problem-solving capacities at the global and regional level are weak because of a number of structural difficulties, which compound the problems of generating and implementing urgent policy with respect to global goods and bads. These difficulties are rooted in the post-war settlement and the subsequent development of the multilateral order itself. Four deep-rooted problems need mentioning.

A first set of problems emerges as a result of the development of globalisation itself, which generates public policy problems which span the "domestic" and the "foreign", and the interstate order with its clear political boundaries and lines of responsibility. These policy problems are often insufficiently understood or acted upon. There is a fundamental lack of ownership of many of them at the global level.

A second set of difficulties relates to the inertia found in the system of international agencies, or the inability of these agencies to mount collective problem-solving solutions faced with uncertainty about lines of responsibility and frequent disagreement over objectives, means and costs. This often leads to the situation where the cost of inaction is greater than the cost of taking action.

A third set of problems arises because there is no clear division of labour among the myriad of international governmental agencies; functions often overlap, mandates frequently conflict, and aims and objectives too often get blurred.

A fourth set of difficulties relates to an accountability deficit, itself linked to two interrelated problems: the power imbalances among states and those between state and non-state actors in the shaping and making of global public policy. Multilateral bodies need to be fully representative of the states involved in them, and they rarely are.

Underlying these four difficulties is the breakdown of symmetry and congruence between decision-makers and decision-takers. The point has been well articulated recently by Inge Kaul and her associates in their work on global public goods. They speak about the "forgotten equivalence principle" (see Inge Kaul, et al., Providing Global Public Goods: Managing Globalization, Oxford University Press, 2003). At its simplest, the principle suggests that those who are significantly affected by a global good or bad should have a say in its provision or regulation, i.e ., the span of a good's benefits and costs should be matched with the span of the jurisdiction in which decisions are taken about that good. Yet, all too often, there is a breakdown of "equivalence" between decision-makers and decision-takers, between decision-makers and stakeholders, and between the inputs and outputs of the decision-making process. Among pressing examples are climate change, the impact of trade subsidies, HIV/Aids management and the question of intellectual property rights.

The ingredients of change

Thus, the challenge is to find ways to align the circles of those to be involved in decision-making with the spillover range of the good under negotiation, i.e. to address the issue of accountability gaps; to create new organisational mechanisms for policy innovation across borders; and to find new ways of financing urgent global public goods. Legitimate political authority at the global level cannot be entrenched adequately without addressing the representative, organisational and financial gaps in governance arrangements.

Surprisingly perhaps, it is an opportune moment to rethink the nature and form of global governance and the dominant policies of the last decade or so. The policy packages that have largely set the global agenda - in economics and security - are failing. The so-called Washington consensus and Washington security doctrines (otherwise market fundamentalism and unilateralism) have dug their own graves. The most successful developing countries in the world (China, India, Vietnam, Uganda, among them) are successful because they have not followed the Washington consensus agenda, and the conflicts that have most successfully been defused (the Balkans, Sierra Leone, Liberia, among others) are ones that have benefited from concentrated multilateral support and a human-security agenda. Here are clear clues as to how to proceed in the future. We need to follow these clues and learn from the mistakes of the past if the rule of law, accountability and the effectiveness of the multilateral order are to be advanced.

David Held is professor in the Centre for the Study of Global Governance, London School of Economics, and one of the most prolific and innovative thinkers in the study of globalisation. Among his books are Global Covenant: The Social Democratic Alternative to the Washington Consensus (Polity, 2004) and Models of Democracy (Polity, third edition, 2006) In addition, the political tectonic plates appear to be shifting. With the faltering of unilateralism in United States foreign policy, uncertainty over the role of the European Union in global affairs, the crisis of global trade talks, the emergence of powerful authoritarian capitalist states (Russia, China), the growing confidence of leading emerging countries in world economic forums (China, India and Brazil), and the unsettled relations between elements of Islam and the west, business as usual seems unlikely at the global level in the decades ahead. It is highly improbable that the multilateral order can survive for very much longer in its current form.

The post-1945 multilateral order is in trouble. Clear, effective and accountable decision-making is needed across a range of urgent global challenges; and, yet, the collective capacity for addressing these matters is in doubt. The dominant policy packages of the last several years have not delivered the goods and a learning opportunity beckons. There are, of course, many ways that have been proposed to deepen the accountability and effectiveness of global governance mechanisms - from proposals for global issue networks, the expansion of key "G" clusters (G8, G22, and the like), coalitions of particular nation-states acting in clubs, to the reform of the United Nations and cosmopolitan democracy.

But rather than end by making the case for any one of these, I want to finish by stressing a methodological point. It can be misleading and dangerous to over-generalise about politics or policy from the present, or from a single time period, or from the point of view of one culture, country or region. Instead, the test of deliberative generalisability needs to be built into reflections on "ways forward" in order to help ensure a focus on global solutions to global challenges - not just American, French, British, German, European Union, Chinese solutions. In other words, we require a multi-perspectival mode of forming, defending and defining political preferences - a mode that is in fact, other- and future-regarding.

Gordon Brown’s foreign-policy challenges

The opening weeks of Gordon Brown's premiership have brought a marked change of tone to the conduct of British foreign policy. The misconceived and counterproductive notion of a "war on terror" has been discarded, replaced by a new focus on winning "hearts and minds". While Tony Blair's rhetoric on international affairs was often strident and evangelical, Brown's public statements since he became prime minister on 27 June 2007 have so far been much more measured. At his meeting with President Bush at Camp David, for example, Gordon Brown stressed the importance he attached to the transatlantic relationship, but without any of the gushing praise for the president that became such a feature of Blair/Bush meetings over recent years.

Building bridges: a reply to Anne-Marie Slaughter & Thomas N Hale

Globalisation needs a new politics and set of institutions. What should they look like? David Held assesses the issues of language and substance underlying Anne-Marie Slaughter & Thomas Hale’s critique of his ideas.

What are the dangers and the answers? Clashes over globalisation

David Held’s argument on openDemocracy that the challenge of globalisation requires a new “global covenant” informed by social democratic political values provoked lively debate and strong disagreement. Here, he responds to his critics, clarifies his vision, and looks ahead.

Globalisation: the dangers and the answers

Washington-led neo-liberalism and unilateralism has failed the world. It is urgent that we find a way beyond its legacy. This calls for a new model of globalisation, that works for humans everywhere. In a brilliant, extended essay, David Held provides a unified critique of the present global order and sketches his alternative.

Return to the state of nature

The US-led war on Iraq is more than a failure of American strategy, diplomacy and thinking; in its heedless rejection of international institutions and their norms of co-operation, it represents a dangerous retreat to the law of the jungle.

Davos: a view from the summit

The annual World Economic Forum was moved this year from its regular location of Davos, in Switzerland, to New York. A key participant in openDemocracy’s globalisation dialogue, present at the five-day event, is impressed by its quality of exchange and commitment. But what kind of action will follow?

Globalisation: the argument of our time

Everyone is now arguing about globalisation. But who really understands its landscape, from protest to the WTO? David Held and Paul Hirst, authorities on the subject, engage in a lively and informed argument.

9/11: What should we do now?

The purpose of terrorism is to frighten you.

Tim Garden writes:

In most counter-terrorist operations, the military are always subservient to the forces of law and order and the intelligence activities, even when it’s overseas. The international community now have started building up the most extraordinary coalition across the world, which means that intelligence can be shared in a way that was unthinkable even a fortnight ago. We’ve focused and personalized this around one individual which is always slightly difficult, - Osima bin Laden. There would perhaps be great satisfaction in bringing him to justice, and I would prefer that we captured him and took him to a court and tried him. But however it is done, the elimination of one man will not end terrorism. The campaign – and I don’t go much for the use of the word ‘war’ in all this – it is a long-drawn-out counter-terrrorist campaign that we are talking about – will have to continue even if we are successful in the very difficult task of finding one man in a remote region of the world. Nevertheless, the infrastructure that he has can be removed by military means, and I think we will see that done in the near term.

There is then the question of the support. Whenever you look at counter-terrorist operations, you look at ways to remove the support that comes from the community within which the terrorist organisation thrives. There are two aspects to that. If he is getting government support, you need to change the government or change its mind. The other is the local population, where you need to remove the causes of that support. If we see an operation designed to remove the Taliban government, it needs to be coupled at the same time with an operation to feed and return Afghanistan to a viable state. There is a humanitarian crisis emerging there – I would say it is already there - that is on a scale far exceeding that in Kosovo. Removal of the Taliban government has to be replaced by an infrastructure that can provide the UN and other NGO aid organizations with a way into Afghanistan.

So there is a way forward in all this, and it seems to me that so many disparate nations working together is a real opportunity. It is very difficult to keep them all together.
There is one other area which seems to me important, and that is what you and I do as individual citizens. The purpose of any terrorist organisation is to frighten the life out of you. It is to make your life impossible by the restrictions which are put on your freedom. It is to undermine the economy and the way of life that we have. We don’t need to give them that victory. We lived for fifty years against the background of a threat that was far worse: nuclear war. We lived through that. We raised families. We had happy lives. We can do that again, even with the increased risk from international terrorism. It is a wonderful war to fight because the way to do it is to go out to the shops, buy your new car early, go to the theatre this week-end, accepting that one of the penalties is that you will have a slightly increased risk from international terrorism, until we get it more under control.


Learning to hate each other

Mary Kaldor writes:

When Timothy Garden was talking about how the terrorists want to destroy our way of life and our economy, I wanted to say - actually, that isn’t what they want. If we think that the events were instrumental, that there was a politics behind it, then what was intended was to create a spiral of fear and hate because that is the way that you mobilise more people to your cause. What is intended is to create a kind of response from the United States of light bombing, in order that they can then say: ‘We told you so. Now more people should join al-Qaida’ – or whatever it is that is this extremist network. And that is exactly the logic that operated in Yugoslavia. People didn’t hate each other before the war in Bosnia. Indeed, I remember one of my friends saying to me: ‘The reason this war had to be so bloody is because we had to learn to hate each other….’

If the whole purpose of this is political mobilisation on the basis of fear and hate – maybe in technical terms, what you do have to do to catch terrorists includes removing the Taliban regime - but the point is that what has to be said publicly is a political alternative that aims at building a global political legitimacy - that is what is crucial. Why can’t, for example, the UN Security Council do what was done over Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and create an ad-hoc court for this purpose?


Who, exactly, is it who hates whom? Response to David Held.

Bobby Sayyid writes:

So soon afterwards, anything you say pales into insignificance compared to the human suffering that we saw, very clearly and very directly on television. But still: to reply to your call for international peace with justice

History does not begin on September 11, and it didn’t end on September 11. That’s a commonplace observation, but important nevertheless. After the tragedy, we were offered an attempt to describe these events in a way that made sense: a very human instinct. If you were at all like me, you will remember a sense of unbelief. Is it really happening? What is the scale of all this? And it wasn’t just a personal experience on that day. The American government seemed paralysed. Nobody knew what was happening. Planes had gone missing. Air spaces were being closed. There was a huge sense of panic, and within that panic, the need to make sense of what had completely interrupted a normal day…

So what do we do when we attempt to recover from the unexpected and to normalise a turn of events? My general remark concerns this, the story we tell ourselves about who we are, and how we cope. We are all, if you like, our own personal film directors. We make a film of our own life, our being, who we are and our values. Of course, we tend to edit out the boring bits, the bad bits. These edited out bits get left behind. What happens quite often is that these bad bits left on the cutting floor end up being put into a movie about somebody else. Quite often who we are ends up being, ‘Well, actually, I’m quite nice and charming. It’s the other guy who’s boring.’

The challenge we face is how to prevent what is left on the cutting floor ending up turning into the killing fields. We demonise the other so that we can end up saying, ‘Well actually, these people aren’t really even people, and as such, we don’t have to worry about them.’ It was alarming and frightening how quickly this conflict suddenly became inexplicably about everything: it was about civilization, democracy, motherhood, apple pie. Whatever we were not, it was about. Because it was completely insane. Why would a sane person bring about so much damage, kill so many people, cause so much suffering? How could this happen?

The man behind it, we said, was Osama bin Laden. This was the Evil Genius who made all these things possible. After the war, we tried to make sense of Nazi Germany. The demonisation of Hitler allowed everyone to avoid admitting that this is actually quite a complicated process; that a lot of people were involved; that, perhaps, that kind of evil is possible within us at certain points. These questions can be dismissed if you think we were simply following this evil genius who tricked us into all this.

We can’t be so affected because the people dying here – as opposed to in Chechnya, Rwanda, Bosnia – were Americans. It can’t be just because it was on television. It is true that if you do have the pictures – we don’t get the pictures from Kashmir from example – you can’t pretend it didn’t happen. Part of it must be some sort of proximity. New York is a city that we all know, either directly or indirectly, even vicariously through the movies, and so on. So there is some sort of attachment there that needs to be explained.

Whatever it is, perhaps we require it to be an absolute evil which cannot be found. We give that evil the name of terror – terrorism. Somehow that explains everything. The difficulty is that the category is mobile. Most governments around the world have their own terrorists. Say ‘terrorist’ to Putin, and he will think of Chechens. Say it to the BJP Government in India, and they will think about Kashmiri liberation organizations. But whoever they are, they are outside the pale of global democracy, and world civilisation.

The difficulty, I would suggest, with this, is that democracy as we have known it has had two features. There is no democracy that I know of which doesn’t have the idea of a ‘foreigner’ who is not a citizen and therefore who is not allowed democratic rights. So when you have a globalised world where people move in such a way that the distinction between ‘citizen’ and ‘foreigner’ becomes quite blurred, it is hard for our notion of democracy to function. Secondly, in the form that we recognise it now, this liberal social democracy, although it has an ancient pedigree, is actually very young. Maybe fifty years old. Thirty years old in the United States. As such, it is also fragile, constructed by editing out certain elements we associated with the Soviet Union in the Cold War: it was totalitarian, mass society and so on.

Now, to some extent, that kind of editing out is being done in the face of ‘terrorism’/ Islam. Constant remarks from some government sectors that ‘this is not really about Islam’ do not sit well with the list of ‘global reach terrorist organisations’. They all happen to be Muslim organisations. The people killed in the wake of the events of September 11 are mainly Muslims or people who look like Muslims. A Sikh guy got shot in Arizona because he was wearing a turban. Somehow these people are outside the pale because others feel they harbour extremists and terrorists within them.

So how is it that Islam has come to play this kind of prominent role? Because in many ways, as Air Marshall Sir Timothy Garden said, it is not a comparable threat to that played by the Soviet Union. I suggest two reasons. Islam is actually transnational in the way that again blurs the divide between ‘citizen’ and ‘foreigner’. There are Muslims inside these countries who were born and bred inside Britain or America. But there are also Muslims outside. That confuses the notion of the nation-state. It raises the spectre of an alternative globalisation which is based around the world of Islam.

Secondly, we are at the turning-point an African-American philosopher describes as ‘the passing of the Age of Europe’. For the last fifty, thirty, twenty years, depending on how it is, you suddenly have the possibility of thinking of Europe as being a normal civilisation like any other, with known limits. The history of the world cannot simply be a replay of European history. Islam is implicated in this, because many Islamicists have started to say: ‘Well look, yes, there are these universal values, but they can be approached through many different kinds of tradition. There is no reason to follow that particular sequence of European events as a role model. We have our own resources, and they need to be recovered.’

The idea that Europe bequeathed to the world the only royal road to wisdom is fading. These two developments explain some of the anxieties underpinning the details of what is happening after September 11. What I would like to suggest is that what we are seeing here is an attempt to rearticulate and redefine democracy after the Cold War. In any struggle between a liberation organisation or a terrorist organisation and the state, we should, it seems to me, always be very cautious of the way in which the power of the state to inflict harm has always been greater. In the end perhaps the real danger lies with the response of those states to this terrorism which will actually transform what we consider to be democratic, before we have even noticed it.


Where you draw the line.

David Held writes:


David Held: I’ve spent some time just recently asking LSE students who have worked on this area, and who have a lot of familiarity with these groups across the world – asking them how they thought the justification for these acts would run. I have also spent some time looking at Bin Laden’s own documents and some of the relevant documents of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

He would start with an extremely poignant point. He would start with his disillusionment with the effects of American foreign policy in the Middle East. He would go on to talk about the way the Americans have supported monarchical and despotic regimes in the Middle East. He would talk about way in which these regimes had distorted the message of Islam in the Middle East, and the impact of the Iraqi war on the Middle East. He would produce a lot of very good arguments. To the extent that he said this, he is not a fanatic.

Secondly, he would argue as others have gone on to say – the pursuit of America for theser injustices is dictated by God an we must unconditionally surrender to God in this struggle. To the extent that it is an unconditional surrender – that might begin to sound fanatical. Not necessarily though. Max Weber talked years ago about the ‘many warring Gods we all submit to’: not only Christian, Jewish, Islamic – but the gods of consumerism and so forth…

What makes it a fanaticism, and what cannot be justified by the first two points and that is a third element: the relentless pursuit of violence against innocent people. That in my view justifies the concept of fanaticism. The massacre of the innocents: of diverse people of all religions and nationalities. To the extent that he stuck to the first two points – we could have a rational dialogue. To the extent that he argues that the rest follows – that is where I think we draw lines.

Bobby Sayyid: I’m very troubled when people start talking about fanaticism. I don’t know many people who would call themselves fanatics, even though they have determined views about certain things. We don’t call people fanatics on the whole if we agree with them – ‘He’s fanatically a liberal’ or something like that…

Then, it’s true that innocent people have been killed. But we need to be slightly more knowing in the third Christian millennium about the expansion of war increasingly to include innocent people. Every time you raise a counter-example, you will get accused of condoning what happened – this is one of the difficulties. But we need to understand some of the things that happened in this history which did not begin or end on September 11. Without having some idea of these events which were never called ‘fanatical’, which were not dismissed in this way, it will be hard for us to grasp why it is problematic for us to use ‘fanatic’ in this way.

I’m referring, for example, to the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima in a time of war. Bin Laden would say, I think, that his country is occupied by American troops and an American-supported regime. Therefore he is fighting a ‘liberation struggle’ to get rid of them. His argument would be that the enemy he sees makes no distinction between innocents and non-civilians because the Saudi regime’s main oppression, for example, is against women – women who want to drive for example!

So, we may disagree with the political logic of these people, but it may be better to engage with it as a political logic, engage with it politically, rather than denounce the other as ‘fanatical’. It might make us feel good about ourselves, but it probably doesn’t help us in the long run.


Question from the floor: Looking at the concepts we’ve used – On the one hand, we try to criminalise and depoliticise this act. We talk about how this is a criminal, not a political act. But Mary Kaldor then asks how we frame a ‘political response’. So it seems to me that the cosmopolitan model that David Held is outlining is a normative desire that we have. But I’m not sure how useful a model it is here. At one and the same time, we are saying, ‘This is political, according to a process of rational discussion over human rights.’ But at the same time, the attempt to criminalise it takes it away from being an act within a wider movement in history. It stops it from being political. And that doesn’t help. As desirable as it may be, does criminalising it actually explain anything?

Bobby Sayyid.
Legality requires two things. The first condition is that the law must be seen as legitimate. Without that belief, the law becomes just another instrument of oppression. Secondly, law without justice will always lead to violence. It seems to me in the absence of having that justice, recognising that something is political gives us more chance of transforming the situation. If we simply criminalise these acts, we have already given up on trying to change them. Let’s not wait for the emergence of a Utopian law. The political is what we have to hang onto. From that, everything flows.

David Held.
The political by itself is just an empty space. It depends what kind of politics – what kind of conception of the person, what kind of notion of rights, responsibilities, obligations and so forth – you put in it. To call for politics is to call for an empty box. The question is what kind of politics.

Mary is right to call for political process. The three points I set out of our jointly agreed position, were precisely an attempt to set out what this political process could be like, something other than a military process, an alternative to war and interstate militarism which is the dominant rhetoric of our time.

To call for this doesn’t necessarily disempower us from making moral statements. You might say – and it would be a great danger – that to understand these acts sacrifices our capacity to make the most elementary moral judgment about this massive violation of the sanctity of human life. If we can’t agree on a moral judgment about that – I don’t know what we can ever agree on. Understanding something politically does not preclude our making a moral judgment.

I take many of your points on globalisation, of course. Most of my work is precisely rethinking globalisation around a tougher concept of social justice. The anti-globalisers – many of them students and my closest friends – make a lot of distinctive points. But they are a motley and diverse crew. And what I do know is that they are unclear about what this project of democratising and locking justice into the globalisation process actually means. To call for that is right and sound. For globalisation has been unlocked from fundamental principles, moral concerns and social justice. If we take that seriously, of course we must broaden the concerns that have been expressed here this evening around a specific set of events. Of course we have to place at the center of our attention, not just acts of violence like those on 11 September, but routine everyday acts which no-one pays attention to except those working at the front line. For instance, the 17 million children who die of diarrhoea each year. But that is beyond the scope of this discussion…


What are my certainties?

Dr Scilla Elworthy writes:

I would like to take the opportunity to address these issues in personal terms, because there is an opportunity here for us to strip down to the bone what we believe and who we are. We are faced with questions such as: do I believe in revenge ? How do I cope with this world turned upside down ? What are my certainties ?

Is there order in the world? What if it happens here ? We need to remind ourselves that though we whole-heartedly condemn the atrocities that took place in New York and Washington, the kind of questions I have been talking about are ones that hundreds of millions of refugees and those overwhelmed by natural disasters have to cope with daily.

The fundamental issue that underpins all these is fear and dealing with fear, an whether we want to continue with an international relations system based on fear. Now, everybody deals with fear in their own way. But it is essential to deal with it.

I want to run through some suggestions, and be very pragmatic here. I’m not talking with my weapons of mass destruction researcher hat on. I’m going to talk as a person. First of all, I think we need to be clear in our own minds what works. That’s why probably a lot of people are here. We will all feel better if we can throw our weight behind a plan that we think will work. If we can make up our minds.

My take on this is that the United States must proceed on the basis of international law. We must follow the United Nations Charter, and use extradition law to bring the perpetrators to law. A trial would achieve far more than a shoot out, because it would give far more opportunity to get to grips with the roots of what is going on here. The aim should be justice rather than revenge. Bombing will only exacerbate the classic spiral of violence. Atrocity produces initially terror and horror. It produces fear and pain, grief which hardens into anger. Anger, if nothing is done about it hardens into bitterness, which hardens into revenge and retaliation and another atrocity. We’ve seen this in the Balkans. We’ve seen it in Rwanda Burundi Israel and Palestine.

In the short term, the point is, what actions can we take to intervene in that cycle of violence so that it simply doesn’t go round and produce another one? In the longer term, we have to root out the support systems for fundamentalist violent groups. Here, we have to look at the incredible success of non-violent conflict resolution in this particular instance. If we look at the number of lives that were saved by the route that Nelson Mandela chose to take while he was in jail (It cost him dear, not only in producing that point of view and teaching it to others, but also in convincing his colleagues when he came out) – he could have saved five or six million lives simply by taking that route of nonviolence, reconciliation and dare we say it – utter forgiveness. Then there were Martin Luther King, Aung San Suu Kyi, Ghandi – all people we have given the Nobel Peace Prize to because they took a powerful, non-violent route in circumstances precisely like these.

Secondly we have to review our own core certainties. Do I believe in a principle of order in the universe? It is an excellent time to do this. Instead of leading our ‘normal lives’, it builds our strength to take this moment to look at our values. Thirdly to review our own politics and to act on them. What do I believe are the causes behind these events? How can they be addressed ? What are the roots of religious fanaticism ? Write down what you believe and then take action.

If we believe that the causes are poverty – write to Clare Short at Dfid. Copy the letter to Tony Blair. Insist that budgets like those of Dfid which are doing something about the security sector and excessive military spending in developing countries – are enlarged. Join movements like the World Development Movement.

If we believe that the cause is fanaticism. Go to a mosque. Engage Muslim clerics in a rigorous debate. Read the Koran. Find out the basis of these religious beliefs and other religious beliefs, and you will find that it no more furnishes a basis for these acts than many other systems of thinking.

If we believe that the incendiary spark for these events is armaments – then voice our opposition to the CIA arming violent militarist factions such as the Taliban and the KLA in Kosovo – which always backfires. (The KLA, for example, having been armed by the CIA, produced the NLA in Macedonia – which Nato then had to go in and try and sort out.) Tell Tony Blair that our support for the US should depend on them stopping the CIA from doing this. And that the UK itself should stop subsidizing our own arms sales.

At the Oxford Research Group, we have just done an in-depth study into the degree to which the British government subsidises arms exports, and it works out that we the taxpayer are actually spending £4,600 per annum per job in the defence industry to continue exporting jobs. Fourthly, a lot of people are very frightened about this happening here. So find out the difference between the various possible chemical, and biological attacks. Find out if there are preventative measures that can be taken: gas masks will not do. Support independent groups and there are quite a few of them, like ours, which continue to work without accepting any government money – to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, and to get this message across to countries like ours, which continue to have their own weapons of mass destruction. The US and other states which have these weapons have been busy undermining treaties which have taken a painful thirty or forty years to build up. Those treaties are coming apart now. They are the main fabric on which a world without weapons of mass destruction will one day be built. So, we must insist that our government sends a message to the world: do as we say, not as we do.


New war, new justice

The attacks on the World Trade Centre and on the Pentagon were a global crime against humanity. The victims were people of all nationalities, ethnicities and religious faiths. The perpetrators were a shadowy transnational network of zealots, motivated by a potent mix of hatred and misplaced religious beliefs. As many commentators have pointed out, it was not just an attack on the 6000 or more people who died, it was an attack on cherished values – freedom, democracy, the rule of law and, above all, humanity.

Violence and justice in a global age

The greatest Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant, wrote over two hundred years ago that we are ‘unavoidably side by side’. A violent abrogation of law and justice in one place has consequences for many other places and can be experienced everywhere. While he dwelt on these matters and their implications at length, he could not have known how profound and immediate his concerns would become.

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