Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Globalization, Harmonization and Religious Politics

A recent set of events provides a window into the way in which  the technologies on which globalization is advanced has become an important component of the harmonization of the techniques of religious politics across religious boundaries, even as it sharpens divisions between religions.  
 Buddhist fundamentalists have succeeded in banning American R&B star Akon from entering Sri Lanka after attacking a TV station sponsoring the singer's upcoming concert. What started out as a Facebook campaign against the juxtaposition of bikini-clad women and a Buddha statue, entered mainstream politics on Wednesday when the Colombo authorities announced that Akon had been denied a visa to the country. 
Akon banned from Sri Lanka for “Buddha abuse” video, France 24, March 26, 2010.

Though Sri Lanka is said to be a secular country, I have argued that it has, for some time, been  moving between secular and theocratic constitutional foundations.  See, Larry Catá Backer,Theocratic Constitutionalism: Buddhist Constitutionalism in Sri Lanka, Law at the End of the Day,June 1, 2008.  That movement between the secular and the theocratic has put religion center stage within Sri Lankan politics.  Within that battlefield, the techniques of media exploitation, mass movement tactics, the politics of targeted violence, invocation of post colonial and anti foreign rhetoric, and utilization of  private networks of mobilization have proven quite effective.   
The private Maharaja TV station (MTV), located in Colombo, had planned to sponsor Super Fest 2010, which Akon was set to headline on 24 April. But on Monday afternoon, two bus loads of protesters turned up outside the channel's office in Union Place and began throwing stones at the building, injuring four people. The demonstrators carried home-made posters reading "Don't bring Akon to Sri Lanka" and "Chase away Sirasa FM [MTV's radio station] who are trying to disrupt the Sangha Saasana" (Buddhist message).
The outrage had been brewing since January, when a Facebooker launched the group "We Hate AKON (Abuse Music Video Against Lord Buddha)". Today it has almost 15,000 fans.
On Wednesday the government announced that Akon had been denied a visa to visit the country because his music was "insensitive to Sri Lanka's cultural heritage". Akon immediately made a statement apologising to Buddhists, saying he didn't realise the statue was in the video. On Thursday the Sri Lankan tourism minister, Achala Jagoda, said that the country had lost a "priceless" promotional opportunity in denying the star entry.
Akon banned from Sri Lanka for “Buddha abuse” video, France 24, March 26, 2010. 

It seems that globalization has brought a certain harmonization to the political techniques available to religion when it seeks to participate in the global political arena.  Religious outrage as a predicate to mobilization, and mobilization as a condition to the targeted use of violence appears to have spread from its parochial origins to become more accepted--and effective.  In the Sri Lankan case, the  mass mobilization was effected through the medium of Facebook, which was meant to project both the message and the possibility of countermeasures not merely inwards into Sri Lanka but outwards to global media outlets.   The irony here, of course, that that the techniques that made American culture such a powerful force--wide dissemination through internet based outlets has been proving as useful for others.  In this case, the cause was internal to Sri Lanka--the renegotiation of authority between secular and religious forces within Sri Lanka (as well  as the control of the interpretation and deployment of religious outrage among the faithful). "Sri Lanka has put itself in a position of what may be termed soft theocratic constitutionalism. Theocracy remains a potent but contested substantive basis of constitutional values. Until there is a bit more clarity, Sri Lanka will continue to reap the worst of both worlds--as a failed theocratic and a failed secular transnational constitution." Larry Catá Backer, Theocratic Constitutionalism: Buddhist Constitutionalism in Sri Lanka, Law at the End of the Day,June 1, 2008.

But it was external to it as well--advancing the construction of a global Buddhist movement whose power could be projected within states across the globe. The effect is to cement the power of another set of non state global actors with substantial political power.  Yet it must be understood that this power is neither sourced in law and rule of law notions on which state power is constructed and regulated.  Rather it is sourced within its own set of legitimating power constructs.  Economic organizations have their authority grounded int he consent of the community of actors among which it operates and whose rules become an autonomous basis of governance.  Religion is a governance entity is sourced within its foundational books,legitimated in an acceptance of the connection between its "higher law" and a Divinity whose will and directions must be obeyed, coupled with the construciton of a community of believers who vest legitimacy in a set of agents who direct the implementation and organization of belief.  The effect is governance, that may merge with the state, but which is nebver entirely contained by the state, law or rule of law, but rather is constrained by its own legitimating normative framework.  See, e.g., Larry Catá Backer, Theocratic Constitutionalism: An Introduction to a New Global Legal Ordering (July 28, 2008). Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, Vol. 16, No. 1, 2008.  Religion joins multinational corporations as another set of important governance stakeholders.  Their power and importance for constructing frameworks of governance--from human rights to migration to the parameters of economic and cultural activity across borders of territorial states--require a greater recognition.  


Anonymous said...

Hi all,, thought I would finally sign up to forum although I have been following Ric for a long time on the boards. Well anyway it is nice to now offically be a part of the team and I look forward to participating on the forum.

Regards. William.

Anonymous said...

Very nice to read such "old" posts!

This topic, like the little that you can see, they feel accompanied us at the beginning