Home Political science Cosmopolitanism in Twenty-First Century Fiction
Global Terrorism and Anti-Cosmopolitan Connectivities
The everyday experience of cosmopolitan interdependence is not a mutual love affair. It arises in a climate of heightened global threats, which create an avoidable pressure to co-operate (Beck and Sznaider 2010: 392).
The opening chapter of Ghostwritten establishes a counter-argument to progressive notions of global interconnection by parodying the real-life 1995 sarin-gas terrorist attack in Tokyo by the Aum Shinrikyo cult. Keisuke, a young cult member codenamed Quasar, is charged with the task of conducting the attack on the Tokyo Underground. The terrorist atrocity occurs as a form of ethno-political resistance to cultural Westernisation engendered by the homogenising force of neoliberal globalisation. Terrorism, as Anthony Giddens identifies, is ‘the dark side of globalisation’, operating in response to the imposition of conflicting cultures and ideologies (2002: xvi). As a disempowered Japanese male, Keisuke feels ‘betrayed by a society evolving into markets for Disney and McDonalds’, perceiving Okinawa to have become ‘a squalid apology for a fiefdom, squabbled over by masters far beyond its curved horizons’ (Mitchell 1999: 8, 28). Immediately, Mitchell forces an acknowledgement of the dislocating power of globalisation, destabilising rather than fostering forms of cultural connectivity. Globalising processes in the narrative not only result in a new awareness and consciousness of interconnection, but increasing levels of cultural homogenisation. Throughout the novel as a whole, Mitchell employs intertextual repetition to establish how globalisation is responsible for cities becoming architecturally identical and homogenised: ‘[t]he same shops are anywhere else.. .Burger King, Benetton, Nike ... High streets are becoming the same all over the world’; Keisuke is effectively relegated to wandering the ‘backstreets’ of his own city, marginalised in his own home (12).
To combat the imposition of Western forces, the Aum Shinrikyo terrorists utilise globalising processes for their own means and instigate a conflict of civilisations between East and West. The opening chapter echoes Giddens’s assertion that contemporary globalisation is resulting in a ‘clash between a cosmopolitan outlook and fundamentalism’, predicting that the ‘battleground of the twenty-first century will pit fundamentalism against cosmopolitan tolerance’ (2002: 48,4). Fundamentalists such as Keisuke are the manifestation of anti-cosmopolitan tendencies, considering those who embrace other cultures to be unclean, betraying nationalist loyalties and rejecting parochial identities. According to Stan van Hooft, radical fundamentalism ‘condemns what it disapproves of out of moralistic indignation rather than out of compassion for the victims of the condemned practices’, leading fundamentalists to assume ‘an absolute view of moral [... ] matters and find it impossible to accept practices and beliefs that are different from their own’ (2009: 167, 166-7). Fundamentalism therefore acts in direct opposition to cosmopolitanism’s empathetic identification with the lives of others. By believing his attacks will create a borderless utopia, Keisuke mistakenly identifies the cult’s terrorism to be the ethical means ofreversing the encroachment ofWestern power: ‘[w]e are finding fertile soil in foreign lands [... ] This is inevitable, future reality. How do you feel, newest child of our nation without borders, without suffering?’ (9). And yet, by introducing events in the narrative from the subjectivity of a terrorist, the novel simultaneously attempts to cultivate an understanding of differing cosmo- political opinions and commit to a sense of cultural pluralism. Further, such multi-perspectival narration reveals how anti-cosmopolitan tendencies, practised by global terrorist organisations, function through the same transnational connectivities that foster progressive cosmopolitan engagement. After committing the atrocity, Keisuke flees to an outlying island, Kumejima, and is provided with sanctuary. Yet despite being subject to the cosmopolitan values of hospitality and openness, Keisuke maintains that the world has become sick beyond repair and retreats into a personal and increasingly paranoid isolation while the Japanese authorities track his location. Keisuke’s cult leaders take advantage of his gullible nature, providing him with a fake number to call in case of such emergencies. Unbeknown to Keisuke, the number belongs to a record store in Tokyo, allowing Keisuke’s narrative to seep into the second chapter of the novel. The phone call functions as a narrative catalyst (distracting a store employee, Satoru, from leaving work at the end of the day, enabling him to meet his future girlfriend Tomoyo, a student from Hong Kong), and sets in motion a chain of interrelated events for each successive narrator: ‘if that phone hadn’t rung at that moment, and if I hadn’t taken the decision to go back and answer it, then everything that happened afterwards wouldn’t have happened’ (54).3
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