I did once visit Iran when I was 21 years old, during the time of the shah. It was wonderful. I had just graduated from university, and such was the world at that time, 1968, that I was able to drive with a friend from London to South Asia across the world. I mean, try driving across Iran and Afghanistan now! I remember it being a very cosmopolitan, very cultured society. And it always seemed to me that the arrival of Islamic radicalism in that country, of all countries, was particularly tragic because it was so sophisticated a culture — which is not to defend the shah’s regime, which was appalling. But it was one of the tragedies of history that an appalling regime was replaced by a worse one.
At first I found his praise for the Obama administration to be typical of Left-wing establishment figures, but then I remembered that Rushdie is an Indian and had probably had to deal with racist legislation in one form or another while growing up. While the period of colonialism (roughly coinciding with the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the beginning of World War I) did indeed open up more places to markets, the Jim Crow-like legal barriers that European states erected no doubt helped to foster part of the suspicious climate that now pervades most globalization skeptics worldwide.
This is a shame for two reasons:
- Globalization is great for humanity. Just look at the continual rise in standards of living everywhere where trade is opened up to international markets.
- The European states didn’t really create the Jim Crow-esque barriers so much as graft them onto existing ones already instituted by indigenous polities throughout the world. This fact has been intentionally distorted, I think, but it does give the anti-freedom message a huge boost in regards to rhetoric: free trade and globalization are just catch-phrases for white domination and red/black/brown/yellow/purple subjugation. In reality, the Jim Crow-esque legislation created by European states probably broke the backs of certain factions in their colonial dominions, but Europeans were not powerful enough to rule outright their provinces so local “help” was needed and new factions were given power to use at their discretion. Targeted oppression of rival factions followed.
As the world continues to (thankfully) grow more interconnected economically, it would be wise for all of us to remember the mistakes of the past as well as the triumphs. Property rights need to be held sacrosanct by policymakers on all sides this time around. While many states, such as Iran, have descended into totalitarian ones, it is also important to remember that institutions like the World Bank and IMF have played a role in violating property rights in the name of economic growth, free trade and globalization.
I, for one, would love to live in a world where people can drive from London to Madras without fear or suspicion of any kind holding them back. Such is the world envisioned by the classical liberal.