THE STRUGGLE FOR THE SOUL OF THE 21ST CENTURY
By William Jefferson Clinton
William Jefferson Clinton is the former president of the United
NEW YORK -- The great question of this new century is whether the
age of interdependence is going to be good or bad for humanity.
The answer depends upon whether we in the
wealthy nations spread the benefits and reduce
the burdens of the modern world, on whether the poor nations enact the
changes necessary to make progress possible, and on whether we all can
develop a level of consciousness high enough to understand our obligations
and responsibilities to each other.
We cannot make it if the poor of the world
are led by people like Osama bin Laden who believe they can find their
redemption in our destruction. And we cannot make it if the wealthy are
led by those who cater to shortsighted selfishness and advance the illusion
that we can forever claim for ourselves what we deny to others. We are
all going to have to change.
Philosophers and theologians have long talked about the interdependence
of humanity. Politicians have talked about it, quite seriously at least,
since the end of World War II, when the United Nations was established.
But now ordinary people take it as a given because it pervades every aspect
of our lives. We live in a world where we have torn down walls, collapsed
distances and spread information.
The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 were just as much a manifestation of
this globalization and interdependence as the explosion of economic growth.
We cannot claim all the benefits without also facing the dark side of
It is very important, therefore, that we see the present struggle
against terrorism in the larger context of how to manage our
A LEDGER OF INTERDEPENDENCE
If asked on Sept. 10 what are the forces most likely to shape the
beginning of the 21st century, the answers would have varied, depending
on where you live.
If you live in a wealthy country, and you are an optimist, you might
have said the global economy. It has made the rich countries richer and
lifted more people out of poverty around the world in the last 30 years
than any time in history. And poor countries that have chosen development
through openness have grown twice as fast as poor countries that have
kept their markets closed.
Second, you might have answered the explosion in information
technology, because that increases productivity which drives growth. Hard
as it is to believe today, when I became president in January 1993, there
were only 50 sites on the World Wide Web.
When I left office eight years later, there were 350 million.
Third, you might have said the current revolution in the sciences,
especially in the biological sciences, that will rival Newton's or
Einstein's discoveries. The sequencing of the human genome means that
mothers in countries with well-developed health systems will soon be bringing
babies home from the hospital with a life expectancy of 90 years. Nanotechnology
and super microtechnology are giving us the diagnostic capacity to see
tumors when they're only a few cells in size, raising the prospect that
all cancers will be curable. Research is now under way on digital chips
to replicate the highly complex nerve movements of damaged spines, raising
the prospect that people long paralyzed might get up and walk.
Fourth, from a political point of view, you might have said the
dominant factor of the 21st-century world will be the explosion of
democracy and diversity. For the first time in the history of humanity,
more than half of the world's people lived under governments of their
own choosing, and within countries with open immigration systems and successful
economies, there was a breathtaking increase in ethnic, racial and religious
diversity, proving that it is possible for people from different backgrounds
with different belief systems to live and work together.
On the other hand, if you come from a poor country, or if you are just
pessimistic, you might have said the global economy is the problem, not
the solution. Half of the world's people live on less than $2 a day. A
billion people live on less than a dollar a day. A billion people go to
bed hungry every night. A quarter of the world's people never get a clean
glass of water. Every minute one woman dies in childbirth. It is projected
that the world population will grow 50 percent over the next 50 years,
almost 100 percent of it in countries that are poorest and least able
to handle it.
Further, you might have said that, despite economic growth or perhaps
because of it, we are going to be consumed by an environmental crisis.
The oceans, which provide most of our oxygen, are rapidly deteriorating.
There is drastic water shortage already. And global warming is going to
wreak devastation. If the Earth warms for the next 50 years at the same
rate as the last 10, we will lose whole island nations in the Pacific
and 50 feet of Manhattan Island in New York. We will create tens of millions
of food refugees, leading to more violence and upheaval.
The global health crisis might have topped the list. One in four people
every year dies from AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and infections related
to diarrhea, almost all of them children who never get a clean glass of
From AIDS alone, 22 million people have died and 36 million people are
infected. One hundred million cases are projected in the next five years
if preventive action is not taken. If that happens, it will be the biggest
public health problem since the Black Death killed a quarter of Europe
in the 14th century. While two-thirds of the cases are in Africa, the
fastest growing rates are in the former Soviet Union, on Europe's back
door. The second fastest growing rates are in the Caribbean, on America's
front door. The third fastest growing rates are in India, the biggest
in the world. And the Chinese have just admitted they have twice as many
cases as they had previously thought, and only 4 percent of the adults
know how AIDS is contracted and spread.
Even on Sept. 10, you might have reasonably argued that the 21st
century will be defined by the marriage of modern weapons with terrorism
rooted in ancient hatreds of race, religion, tribe and ethnicity.
Taken together, these positive and negative forces are a stunning
reflection of the most extraordinary degree of global interdependence
in human history.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
First, we have to win the fight against terrorism. There is no excuse
ever for the deliberate killing of innocent civilians for political, religious
or economic reasons. Terror has been around a long time. The West has
not always been blameless. In the First Crusade, when Christian soldiers
seized Jerusalem, they burned a synagogue with 300 Jews and proceeded
to slaughter every Muslim woman and child on the Temple Mount. My country
is now the oldest continuous democracy in the world. Yet, it was born
with legalized slavery, and many black slaves and Native Americans were
terrorized and killed afterward.
Now America and other advanced nations face the reality of terror at home.
While we have to win the fight in Afghanistan and do more to develop defenses
against the possible use of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons, we
also must do more to figure out how, with open borders and increasingly
diverse societies, we can identify and stop people who come into our countries,
looking for somebody to kill.
This will be hard to do without violating civil liberties because, in
America and many other nations, there is somebody from everywhere. But
we will do it.
In all human conflicts, since the first person came out of a cave with
a club in his hand, offense always wins first. But then, if good people
do sensible things, defenses catch up and civilization proceeds. The more
lethal the weapons, the more urgent it is to quickly close the gap between
offense and effective defenses.
Terrorists aim to terrorize, to make us afraid
to get up in the
morning, afraid of the future and afraid of each other. But no terrorist
strategy standing on its own has ever succeeded. This frightening effort
will fail, too, and it is highly unlikely that the 21st century will claim
as many innocent lives as the 20th century.
Not everybody who is angry wants to destroy the
civilized world. A lot of people are angry because they want to be a part
of tomorrow, but they cannot find the open door.
It thus seems fundamental to me that we cannot
have a global trading system without a global economic policy, a global
health care policy, a global education policy, a global environmental
policy and a global security policy.
In effect, we have to create more opportunity for
those left behind by progress, thus reducing the pool of potential terrorists
by increasing the number of potential partners. To make new partners,
the wealthy world has to accept its obligation to promote more economic
opportunity and help reduce poverty.
To start with, there should be another round of global debt relief.
Last year the United States, the European Union and others provided debt
relief to 24 of the world's poorest countries, if, and only if, they put
all the money into education, health care and development. There have
been some stunning results. In one year, Uganda doubled primary school
enrollment and cut class size with its savings. In one year, Honduras
took its savings and went from six years of mandatory schooling to nine.
For several years the United States has funded 2 million
micro-enterprise loans every year in poor countries. We should do more
of that. That 2 million should rise to 50 million. As the Peruvian economist
Hernando de Soto has shown, economic growth can explode if the assets
of the poor are brought under the legal system, such as through gaining
titles on their homes, which in turn will enable them to collateralize
credit. Whole new markets will open up if this can be done.
Last year America and Europe opened it markets further to Africa and the
Caribbean as well as to Jordan and Vietnam. China was admitted into the
World Trade Organization. This market access should be expanded further.
We should urgently fund the $10 billion U.N. Secretary General Kofi
Annan has asked for to fight AIDS. America's share would be about $2.2
billion -- a mere tenth of a percent of the budget. And a lot cheaper
than coping later on with a potential 30 million AIDS victims in India
The same argument applies to helping fund education. A year's education
adds 10 to 20 percent to a person's income in a poor country. There are
100 million children that never go to school -- half of them in sub-Saharan
Africa. In Pakistan, the main reason that all those madrassas were
not teaching math but promoting such ludicrous notions as ''America and
Israel brought dinosaurs back to Earth to kill the
Muslims'' is that the Pakistanis ran out of money in the 1980s to support
Compared to the costs of fighting a new generation of terrorists,
putting 100 million kids in school around the world is an inexpensive
proposition. And it can be done. In Brazil, for example, 97 percent of
the children go to school because the government pays the mothers in the
bottom third of the poorest families every month if their children attend
The Afghan war costs America about a billion dollars a month. For $12
billion a year America could pay more than its fair share of every program
OBLIGATIONS OF THE POOR COUNTRIES
The poor countries also have an obligation -- to advance democracy, human
rights and good governance. Democracies don't sponsor organized terrorism,
and they're more likely to honor human rights.
To that end, we must encourage the debate now going on in the Muslim world,
one that has risen and fallen for 1,300 years, about the nature of truth,
the nature of difference, the role of reason and the possibility of positive,
The most successful modern reconciler of faith and the imperatives of
modern life, King Hussein of Jordan, lamentably died not long ago. In
1991, he galvanized all the elements of Jordanian society and offered
a real parliament with fair elections, in which everyone, including fundamentalists,
could run, as long as they agreed not to limit the rights of others.
It is no accident that Jordan, a poor country,
a young country, a
majority Palestinian country, a small country in a geographically delicate
position, is nonetheless the most politically stable country in the Middle
East today. That is because it has moved toward democracy with enforced
mutual respect and a role for human reasoning and debate. Those of us
who want to have a good relationship with the Islamic world must support
this kind of moderation and trend toward democracy.
A HARD ROAD
If interdependence is going to be good instead of bad for the 21st
century, then we must recognize that our common humanity is more important
than our differences. This is the struggle of the soul of the 21st century.
But history has shown how hard this notion is to realize.
In my lifetime, Gandhi was killed, not by an angry Muslim but by an
angry Hindu, because Gandhi wanted India for the Muslims, the Jains, the
Sikhs and the Hindus. Anwar Sadat was killed 20 years ago, not by an Israeli
commando but by an angry Egyptian who thought Sadat was not a good Muslim
because he wanted to secularize Egypt and make peace with Israel. And
my friend Yitzhak Rabin, one of the greatest men I have ever known, was
killed, not by a Palestinian terrorist but by an angry Israeli who thought
Rabin was not a good Jew or a faithful Israeli because he wanted to lay
down a lifetime of killing for a secure peace that gave the Palestinians
a homeland and recognized their interests in Jerusalem.
Those of us who have benefited most must lead the way in making this world
without walls a home for us all.
ISLAM IS NOT THE ENEMY
President George Bush has made it clear that America and the West are
not the enemies of Islam.
We need to remind Muslims around the world that the last time the United
States and the United Kingdom used military power it was to protect the
lives of poor Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo; that 18 Americans lost their
lives in Somalia trying to arrest Mohammed Farah Aidid because he had
murdered 22 U.N. peacekeepers from Pakistan. We need to tell angry Muslims
something they apparently don't know: In December 2000, the United States
proposed an agreement that, in the most sweeping terms, provided a Palestinian
state on the West Bank and Gaza as well as protected Palestinian and Muslim
interests in Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount. While
Israel accepted this plan, the PLO said no.
To prove that Islam is not our enemy, the EU and the United States have
to get back to the work of building a just and lasting peace in the Middle
(c) 2002, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate
International, a division of Tribune Media Services
For immediate release (Distributed 1/8/02)