The term 'perfect storm' is used to describe one of those rare occurrences, when a combination of calamitous forces come together and create a devastation on a scale that was unheard of. Singly taken, each of those forces isn't much to reckon with, but the timing, the context and the combination create such a chain reaction, that one feeds off the best of (or, the worst of) the other, gaining strength to strength along the way. The events in the past few months in the social, economic and political arenas all over the world warrant the use of that term 'perfect storm'. Election races are quite common, stock market upheavals are dime a dozen, political uncertainties and wars of all kinds - political, territorial and religious - are not new to the mankind. But never, in the memory of history, have these 'acts of man' brought about such a consternation among all classes of people, affecting each and everyone in all far corners of the globe. Perhaps for the first time, the world is witnessing what is a true global event (even if it is a turmoil), and the recent collapse of the stock markets is only a footnote to what has been brewing up over the last few years and finally boiled over. The talk about the hundred years war between England and France, the facts about the plagues that had wiped out millions of people, the pogroms and genocides that erased civilizations and cultures without a trace, if viewed on the actual time line, happened over a protracted period, leaving enough time for humanity to recover from one cataclysmic event and brace for the next. Some of those events of the past, even the World wars included, left a few countries and continents completely untouched, unlike how it is right now, and the distinct divide between the two is the concept of globalization.
What was once thought about as just an innovative economic principle, globalization has reshaped social, economic, cultural and political landscapes in every corner of the globe, a fallout that even the most intelligent minds couldn't have foreseen. A butterfly flaps its wings in Taiwan which would bring about a hurricane off the United States sea coast isn't just a theoretical assumption anymore. It is, fortunately and unfortunately, a tangible reality. Just to demonstrate the power of that perception, consider this. Oil jumped to record high prices a year ago, driven entirely by speculators, predicting that the demand for oil in US, would only go in one direction, up, with China and India close on the heels steaming up their red hot economies. This speculation brought about untold billions of dollars of fresh funds, for the same quantity of oil being pumped out of the ground, to countries like Iran, which has been testing the political waters with its nuclear overtures. The extra funds in its coffers bolstered its confidence of taking on the world single-handedly, which then threatened to play with the oil production and supply numbers to the market, creating enough uncertainty to further drive the prices. The US, no longer in a position to dictate terms in the Middle East, played its bluff and threatened with economic sanctions and military action, doing nothing more than inch up the prices even more. The spiraling prices raised the costs on practically every commodity that required shipment, which included food. This, coupled with the global shortage of food items because of the loss of key crops in the producing countries due to droughts, caused a global scramble, something that no one would have imagined of in this day and age. In India, the oil prices took a different route of increasing the prices of the construction material - cement and steel, the brick and mortar of real estate development, which pushed an already inflated market out of the stratosphere. The perception became pronounced that real estate is the way to go for foreign investment in the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) economies, making it even lucrative than the traditional investment in gold. Forex reserves flowed in from all the prominent brokerage firms in US, building up the a pack of cards to unprecedented heights. The degrees of separation from oil in Iran to real estate in India have become fewer and fewer, and all that it needed for the pack of cards in India to come crashing down, is a little sneeze somewhere in the Middle East. 'May you live in the interesting times' goes a Chinese saying. Little do people know, that it is in fact meant as a curse. Another Sanskrit saying comes to mind, "prusTa taaDanaath danta bhangaha" (A swift kick in the behind would let loose a few teeth)
This intertwining of fates of every breathing entity in the world is the first of its kind. This interactivity and correlation didn't come about just with bilateral relations, trade agreements or even military aggressions, as all these have been happening from time immemorial, but not with this kind of global impact. Though it is never accorded its due credit, the one singular entity that brought about this global revolution is the advancements in communications. Back in the 15th century when Gutenberg invented the first printing press and spread the word around with relative ease, no one, including Nostradamus, could have predicted how much the world would come closer by the mere sharing of ideas, much more than trading goods. The open skies have opened up infinite possibilities for people to come together, in real and virtual ways alike, exchange and get better off (and worse off, too) because of the facilities. The influence that this seamless exchange casts on the cultures and mindsets of peoples is unimaginable. Back during the days of the Second World war, when the only eyes and ears on the evil Nazi regime, were of the journalists belonging to the print kind, the world reacted at leisure to the barbarity perpetrated on the human kind. Move a few years down to the 90s, the world caught a glimpse of that brave student activist, in Tiananmen Square, first hand, who stood up to a tank and dared to mow him down. This time the printed word was no match to the television signal. In this day and age, political battles are not waged on the turfs of the fourth estates, or in the television realms. Cyber world is the new battle ground and electrons are the new weapons of mass destruction. It is never more evident that in the propaganda launched by the Islamic extremists in the cyber world, to counter the conventional warfare and convert and recruit new followers.
Communication's impact over a culture and its consumption plays a very direct and important role in the economic and political say of a country. No longer does one country need to wage a war on another to usurp power, dictate terms, and ultimately benefit economically (which ultimately, is the purpose of any war). The Americanization of the world that has happened in a little over just a decade and half is primarily brought about, not by politicians or policy makers, but by simple minded media barons, who beamed their mindless programs all over the world in thoughtless fashion. Satellite TV and internet have become probably the most potent mouthpieces of anyone with an agenda, more than battle tanks or nuclear heads. No other country has wielded (and still does) this much of a cultural impact in this short a time, and the tide doesn't seem to be ebbing anytime sooner. The surprising aspect is, the only resistance to this quiet cultural takeover comes in the form of radicalization reforms proposed by extremists, like the Talibans or other culture zealots, automatically turning off a majority of moderates, helping the cause of consumerism implicitly. If a clap/slap at one end of the world is heard immediately at the other end with sound traveling at the speed of light, as the entire world is tethered to the same string, causing it to rise and fall with the same wave, it is enough to say that the world has become a much smaller place, a lot smaller than everyone thinks it is. And the units of distances aren't miles or kilometers anymore. It is micro- and nanoseconds.
Once the ground is fertile enough for the global activity, even before economics started laying down the ground rules, political decisions pitched up the tents and began affecting the world around in a profound way. No longer are problems in the Middle East its alone, no longer is Russian aggression on its sister republics an internal security matter, no longer are political speeches delivered during rallies and campaigns just election rhetoric. Every move is observed, every tactic is watched, and every word is dissected more than ever. More than the financial pundits assessments and assertions on the state of the economy that set the markets on wild swings, political speeches (often inflammatory) started to play on and stay in the public minds to affect their judgments and sentiments indirectly affecting the markets. In 2000, the then leader of the right wing Likud party in Israel, Ariel Sharon undertook the controversial trip to the Temple of Mount, a disputed site for all the three religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity), to shore up his base in the upcoming elections. (mirroring Advani's Radh Yatra to Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya before the country's parliamentary elections). Nobody, including himself, would have predicted the violent repercussions of that politically motivated move in a volatile region that was just beginning to get on the road of reconciliation. All the ground work done by leaders like Clinton, Arafat and Yitzak Rabin in trying to solve the Palestinian problem through amicable means was destroyed in one swoop and the embers of the Second Intifadah (uprising) are still raging even to this day, the reverberations of which are felt in the Muslim community from as far as Indonesia to practically every Muslim nation in North Africa. The term universal brotherhood took a different meaning in an entirely different dimension. Just as it has become a standard protocol for suicide bombers with releasing taped messages in their last hours alive, which will then be used as recruitment material by the extremist organizations, it has become a standard practice with the extremist muslims to heed to those messages, cross the countries' boundaries and fight for what they feel is a common cause in lands that are not theirs to being with. Several reports suggest that most of the fighters warring against the American forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and other vulnerable points the world over, are seldom the sons of the soil themselves. The forces have become multi-ethnic and multi-racial.
Countries specifically in the European continent are bearing the brunt of the forcible fusion of the cultures. Till a few decades ago, Europeans, predominantly white, mingled within their own race and religion, to such an extent that it was hypocritical of them when they talked about the cultural imbalances in the African and Asian societies, and how far behind they were, in social progress and economic advancement. Now, when Europe is overrun with major influxes from the same Asian and African populations, the chickens have come home to roost. How would advanced societies come to terms when coming face to face with what they consider an uncouth bunch - fiercely protect their own turf and force their way of life on the immigrants or allow the visitors with open arms and embrace the idea of having their culture amalgamated with the others? India went through this painful process a few hundred years ago with the Muslim invasions, and is going through a different culture war with the Christian missionaries currently. Now it is Europe's turn and in a few more years, the Americas'. The concept of globalization turned out to be not as romantic in reality as it started out to be. Which culture would willingly allow to be taken over by a foreign one, remains at the center of clash of cultures. And taking major part in it, are activists from all over the world, and not just from one place alone. If at the end of it all, there emerges just one victor, remember that you were here in these last few years, and the trigger that set off the change is in the invisible airwaves in the sky.