Over the past week Jordanian bloggers have written several posts on boycotts, which is something common whenever a crisis like what is happening in Gaza and Lebanon right now emerges. Who can forget the many many many boycotts of Israeli or American products just in the past few years since the second intifada? Or even a few months ago when people tried boycotting Danish products.
Everyone has their viewpoint, some are right and some are wrong and it all depends where you stand.
The argument really narrows down to the following:
1. Boycotts don’t work because you only hurt local companies and the local economy i.e. Jordanian or Arab investors and employees working and operating under the banner of a foreign company. In other words we are attempting to hurt the wrong people
2. Boycotts do work because these companies do lose money and it does affect them financially.
3. Boycotts don’t work because there is a lack of unity in the Arab world and people will always be inclined to purchase the products regardless of politics or level of awareness.
My opinion on boycotting has changed over the years. During my undergraduate years I attended many protests all over North America and the one thing I discovered was that half the people there didn’t know what they were protesting. Whether it was teenage angst or a side effect of steroid use, knowledge is key and when it comes to boycotting the economics behind it is so complex that one cannot expect everyone to be fully aware of it all. To say nothing of the misinformation that spreads during highly emotional times which leads to a simplistic worldview, such was the case with the boycott of Danish products and people assuming that all of Denmark should be held responsible for the error of a single newspaper.
Therein lies our problem, the complexity of the situation. Haunted by fundamental economic theory from the 14th century where country X gave country Y bread and country Y gave country X cheese, and when they declared war on one another the bread and cheese exports and imports came to a grinding halt. Today however in the 21st century with the level of complex global economies it just doesn’t work that way. So in a way all those arguments for and against boycotting are partially correct.
I can spend the day arguing the economics, you know just for fun, but here are my conclusions based on what I know, what I’ve experienced, what I’ve witnessed, and what I have come to believe…
If people are boycotting Starbucks or Coca Cola or what have you while under the impression that they will inflict a significant amount of economic damage to these companies, stopping them from funding the Israeli war machine or the building of illegal settlements on Palestinian land, then they are mistaken in my opinion. This is again based on the economics, factoring in self-sufficiency, resources, international trade and the way this global village now operates. To put it in another way, if someone is under the impression that by not buying that daily cafe latte they will be bringing a multi-national multi-billion dollar industry to its knees, well…
I’ve also come to believe that boycotts do work without hurting local industry. If millionaire investors have the capability to profit off of international brand names they also have the financial resources to create their own. In other words, shutting down a Starbucks is not going to alter the Jordanian labor market, the mug producers, the Styrofoam cup producers and/or the consumers to the degree that we imagine they will be. These investors can open their own chain of restaurants and cafes and products that utilize those same resources and consumers will consume. This works especially well in Arab nations where demand tends to never decrease despite the entrance or exit of companies. Investors need only to meet that demand with a more Arabian supply.
But here’s the biggest conclusion that I’ve come to believe…
It’s not about the economics; it’s about the symbol.
People have died and lived for symbols because symbols matter. We struggle, we represent and we defend symbols, be they embedded in flags or in corporations. Behind ever Nike swoosh is a symbol, a representation of something much greater: an ideal, perhaps slave shops in their case. Companies use symbols to mobilize market forces the same way nations use symbols to mobilize their citizenry, the same way we use symbols to teach our children the world.
Symbols matter and we should, when we can, fight the symbols and defend these symbols. Flags are not just meaningless pieces of cloth; they represent a history of a land that people have died defending. They wrap flagpoles over the soil where people have bled to defend an idea that only poets could hope to describe, what Abraham Lincoln called the last full measure of devotion. And so corporate logos are not merely for brand recognition; they represent the ideals that a business believes in.
We may not stop industries, we may not bring corporations to their knees, or stop armies or part the seas but surely we can fight and defend symbols when a greater cause calls upon us as citizens, as a people, to do so. Surely the code of our humanity of our civic duty commands that we do this one thing. The irony is that these lands are where our fathers and forefathers died defending with rifles, where they were forced to die defending because there was no other way. How do we betray that sacrifice with an unwillingness to fight a symbol? Or to honor one for that matter?
If symbols didn’t matter people would not care when their flags are burnt. If symbols didn’t matter Muslims would have no reason to become angry when their Prophet pbuh is vilified. If symbols didn’t matter Jews would have no reason to express anger over a Swastika or Mel Gibson. If symbols didn’t matter there would be no treason and no treachery against a people and what they represent. If symbols didnÃ¢??t matter France wouldnÃ¢??t order high school Muslim girls to not wear their Hijab, and those girls would not fight for their right to wear it.
How we choose to fight or honor symbols is a different story. But in the context of all things being equal, surely boycotts are the healthiest form of fighting a symbol?
Like I said, itÃ¢??s not the equivalent of being forced to take up arms to fight and defend, but itÃ¢??s a gesture, it is an instrument of protest.
If nothing else, you’ll sleep easier at night.
(youÃ¢??ll also save a lot of money and decrease unnecessary caffeine consumption: IÃ¢??m just giving you youÃ¢??re motivation if the above didnÃ¢??t inspire you)