A Rant On Boycotts & Fighting Symbols

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 didnâ??t matter France wouldnâ??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, itâ??s not the equivalent of being forced to take up arms to fight and defend, but itâ??s a gesture, it is an instrument of protest.

If nothing else, you’ll sleep easier at night.

(youâ??ll also save a lot of money and decrease unnecessary caffeine consumption: Iâ??m just giving you youâ??re motivation if the above didnâ??t inspire you)


  • I liked the post and glad you visited my blog and also didn’t attack me and took it more like not personal. I like your attitude

  • If nothing else, youâ??ll sleep easier at night.

    Exactly! and like I said before if you get personal satisfaction knowing that you did not contribute as little as $2 to a company (that definitely wont go bankrupt without your $2 anyway)that supports something that goes against your beliefs then that’s all that matters… at the end of the day, it all comes down to your personal choices and what makes you – as an individual – feel good!

  • Honestly, I just think it’s a waste of energy. If one person wants to stop buying products from one place, why does she/he have to impose such a fashion on everybody else? I’m happy with globalization, in fact, I love it. Nobody’s God damn business. But I think it has become part of our culture to just impose our way of thinking on everybody else. And that’s what I have against boycotts, we live in a world, where seeing millions of people fighting for a same cause, makes you doubt their cause in the first place. Boycotts in my opinion, are just another form of brainwashing, it has become so boring, it’s like whenever we’re pissed off, yallah let’s all boycott. I had a bad day today, I wanna boycott Toys R Us, or better yet, I’m bored, I feel like doing something, why not boycott Domino’s? certainly the best way to provide myself with entertainment.

    I think boycotts reflect immaturity, and weakness. It’s the last resort people seek after realizing that they can’t change anything, plus, I seriously think it has something to do with being a cheap skate. I don’t know why, but how come nobody ever tried to boycott Jordanian products when Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel. Something to ponder about. But again, Jordanian products are just cheaper than the American ones, no?

    I wanna boycott taxis in Amman, anybody wanna take a stand?

  • I have also reached the same conclusion as Nas and it is about symbols and taking a position. Unlike Pheras is saying this is not an issue to be imposed but rather to be practised by people who are focusing on a civil campaign against symbols of oppression instead of military options. In the end it is a personal choice. I happen to boycot, Pheras does not…but no one of use has the right to claim that his position is the right one.

  • pheras, either you didnt read the post or perhaps the point of it passed you by. suffice to say i think one reflect a level of immaturity when they attempt to ridicule the actions and/or beliefs of others.

    something to ponder

  • But again, that’s what you think. My opinion might be immature, but still it’s mine, I only provided my take on the subject, and didn’t drop any judgments, therefore by extension, I didn’t attempt to ridicule any beliefs of anybody, do I have a right to, in the first place? I think not.

  • Pheras by saying that boycotts reflect a level of immaturity and weakness what does that say about the people who choose to partake in them? are they immature, weak and cheap skates?

    you’re right…you dont have the right to ridicule the beliefs of others as you just did

  • “I THINK boycotts reflect immaturity, and weakness.”

    I think, that when somebody says “I think”, that would conclude expressing a personal opinion. Not a judgment. What I think is what I think, it’s my own opinion and I’m free with it, when I pass a judgment or a general assumption, that would be wrong. There’s a big difference.

  • Pheras i’m sorry that doesnt make sense, ya3ni you’re just avoiding the obvious…it’s like me saying “I THINK Mr. P is an idiot”…but thats my own opinion to which im entitled to and it’s not me passing judgement or making assumptions.

    suffice to say, you may disagree with boycotts because that’s your opinion, but calling participants of boycotts weak, immature and/or cheap skates is called passing judgement, an insulting one at that.

    that’s the difference 🙂

  • Just as an innocent bystander in the argument…when a person precludes a statement with ‘I Think’ then they should understand that 1. Others will take it as personal opinion 2. It does not absolve him of responsibility or ridicule of his/ her ‘thought’. just because you have a thought does not give you the automatic right to voice it without the clear understanding that others will hold you responsible for it, otherwise the endeavor to live within a harmonic democracy is futile.

    thought i would share

Your Two Piasters: