Every nation makes its own laws in its own way, and it's often difficult even to know what those laws are. The result is enormous misunderstanding that often leads to conflict and sometimes to wars.
Take for example the current tensions between Western nations and the Middle East: Islamic scholars have characterized our world as being split into a "Western Information Society," where church and state clearly stand apart, and an "Islamic Community," where religion, culture, and politics are considered a whole.
"The Islamic notion of community, or ummah, has no equivalent in either Western thought or historical experience," explains Hamid Mowlana, an international relations professor at American University in Washington, D.C. "The concept of ummah is conceived in a universal context and is not subject to territorial, linguistic, racial, and nationalistic limitations."
Community allegiance within the ummah is to God and not the nation-state. The whole idea of Arabic law on one hand and Western parliamentary or common law on the other is therefore quite different, starting at the most basic linguistic level.
The first step to spanning this gap, according to Mowlana, is to understand the need to accommodate diversity rather than insisting on uniformity of thought and action. The Internet, global trade, and modern information systems have made the accommodation of diversity increasingly urgent.
One step forward would be a system where all the countries of the world--as well as all of our international organizations such as the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of American States, and the Arab League, among others--could quickly have access to the laws of other nations in order to understand the differences in the rule of law as practiced in all parts of the world.
Happily, such a system has been initiated and now is expanding rapidly to include all countries. This system is an electronic network, already searchable in 15 different languages. This freely available network allows legal scholars, jurists, Supreme Court justices, representatives of international organizations, regional banks, parliaments, law schools, multinational corporations, nongovernmental aid organizations, and everyone else to find out what the law of the land is in nations across the globe by simply going to the Global Legal Information Network (GLIN), www.glin.loc.gov, a remarkable new tool that operates out of the Law Library of the Library of Congress, the world's largest library.
The hallmark of GLIN is not to seek to create all laws of the world the same, but rather to allow everyone to see and understand the diversity of legal systems and laws that exist around the world--and to be able to do so at the click of a mouse.
THE GROWTH OF INTELLECTUAL INFRASTRUCTURE
The twentieth century left us with a legacy of two World Wars and hundreds of armed encounters that included strife among and between nations, numerous civil wars, ethnic conflicts, tribal uprisings, and in several cases even genocide. Surely we can leave our descendants a better heritage than the one we inherited from the twentieth century. Those who will inhabit the twenty-second century will thank us if we do and curse us if we don't.
Since the seventeenth century, the world has been changed by the growth and development of new physical infrastructure and the emergence of "intellectual" infrastructure. Both of these developments have powerfully reshaped the world in which we live, but in quite different ways.
On one hand, the growth of physical infrastructure continues to be fueled by increasing invention. We humans are builders, and we seem driven to build more and more modern physical assets and labor-saving devices. Around the world, more and more effort has been devoted at an ever increasing pace to building roads, waterways, dams, piers, fortifications, weaponry, textile plants, and other physical objects. …