Who would have thought that Americans -- docile, market driven, consumer oriented, easily impressionable, Americans -- had the social consciousness to confront riot police and endure tear gas, pepper spray and baton bludgeoning? As unexpected as this might seem, protestors faced just that Tuesday and Wednesday in Seattle as they rallied against the World Trade Organization and its delegates meeting there. Similar scenes of chaos took place in London as well.
Speaking before the WTO Wednesday, U.S. President Bill Clinton called the protests "some rather interesting hoopla." That ranks as the understatement of the week considering some 250 protestors were arrested Wednesday and 50 city blocks were cordoned off by police. That sounds more like a full-on riot.
Analysts and experts have suggested that it was itinerate rabble-rousers, not sanctioned protest groups, that contributed most to the melee. Some reports have also noted that protests unrelated to the WTO have also mixed, melded and merged to create a soup of raucous behavior not much unlike the Los Angeles riots of 1991 in protest of the Rodney King case.
But just as experts were wrong in L.A., they have misread Seattle as well. By the mere fact that city officials and media were caught by surprise, is evidence enough that the people "in the know" are clueless. Truth be known, these protests have been brewing for weeks, months even. On more liberal leaning email lists and websites, organizing and planning was taking place long ago. And contrary to popular belief, there are many groups of seemingly disparate focus that take issue with the WTO and what it represents. It's not just labor organizers and environmentalists. And it surely isn't masses of long-haired, pot smoking, granola eating neo-hippies, as many media outlets might suggest.
What is being missed here, is that the WTO represents the rapidly shifting paradigm of international relations. Conspiracy theorists are quick to point to it as a client organization of the "New World Order." They may be right. But on a practical level, it joins organizations such as the World Bank and the IMF in presenting formidable organizational pressures upon the way work and trade are done around the world, irrespective of sovereign statutes on these matters. And for many, this is a frightening amount of power and influence.
Therefore it is anything but a surprise to see indigenous peoples' rights activists, labor unions, farm worker advocates, college students, Communists, environmentalists, peace activists and human rights organizations all joining hands to speak out against the WTO. And in many respects, culpability lies at the feet of the WTO itself. Because it lacks transparency and, in the West, is influenced disproportionately by powerful corporate interests, common people see control of their destinies slowing slipping away.
The only thing missing from this fracas is the Muslim voice. Reporters have noted that neither in the meeting halls nor on the streets are Muslims well represented. And for the Muslim community, this should be of great concern.
Ali Asadullah is the Editor of iviews.com