January 3, 2013 § 4 Comments
If 2011 brought the promise of democracy to the Arab world, in 2012 democratic change appeared to founder on political reality. In Egypt, democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi has tried to gather into his own hands powers far greater that that held previously by Hosni Mubarak, and is railroading through a constitution that many fear will undermine the gains of the revolution. In Libya and Tunisia Islamist-influenced governments are promoting laws restricting rights, constraining speech, and maintaining social inequality. In Bahrain a movement for democratic change has been brutally suppressed by the government. In Syria, the struggle for democracy has degenerated into a bloodbath, and one to which there appears to be no end.
From the beginnings of the so-called Arab Spring many people worried that democratic change would bring about the ‘wrong’ kind of governments to power, and would create social instability and entrench political reaction, fears that in many ways have materialized. So, how do those who advocate democracy respond?
September 14, 2012 § 11 Comments
One thing should be clear. The violence across the Muslim world in response to an American anti-Islamic film has nothing to do with that film. Yes, The Innocence of Muslims is a risibly crude diatribe against Islam. But this obscure film that barely anyone had seen till last week is no more the source of the current violence than God is the source of the Qur’an.
The details of the rioting in Benghazi that killed the US ambassador and sparked the current crisis still remain unclear. What is clear, however, is that the violence is being driven less by religious fury than by political calculation. In Libya, Egypt and elsewhere, the crisis is being fostered by hardline Islamists in an attempt to seize the political initiative in a period of transition and turmoil. The film is almost incidental to this process. The real struggle is not between Muslims and non-Muslims, but between different shades of Islamists, between hardline factions and more mainstream ones. The insurrections that transformed much the Arab world over the past year have created a new terrain for the battle between Muslim factions for political supremacy. But the struggle itself is nothing new. The same tensions fuelled the confrontations over The Satanic Verses and the Danish cartoons. I have long argued that both were primarily political rather than religious conflicts. I am publishing here two edited extracts from my book From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and its Legacy which describes the development of both conflicts. « Read the rest of this entry »
September 3, 2012 § 33 Comments
Judith Butler is a queen, perhaps the queen, of poststructuralist philosophy. A pioneer of queer theory and one of the world’s leading feminist philosophers, she made her name with her 1990 book, Gender Trouble, which dismisses the idea of sex and gender as fixed categories, viewing them instead as forms of social artifice. Butler introduced in the book the concept of gender as ‘performativity’: by behaving as if there were male and female ‘natures’ we create the social fiction that these natures exist.
Next week Butler is due to receive the prestigious Adorno Prize. Awarded by the city of Frankfurt to honour its most celebrated philosophical son, Theodor Adorno, the triennial award is given for ‘outstanding work in the fields of philosophy, music, theatre and film’. Previous winners have included such luminaries as Jurgen Habermas, Zygmunt Bauman, Norbert Elias, Pierre Boulez, Jean-Luc Goddard and György Ligeti.
This year’s award has caused a major controversy. Critics have described the award of the prize to Butler as ‘monstrous’, a ‘scandal’, and ‘morally corrupt’. « Read the rest of this entry »
January 16, 2012 § 3 Comments
When is a terrorist not a terrorist? When, apparently, he is ‘our’ terrorist.
Last week Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a professor at Tehran’s technical university, and deputy director of commerce at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, was blown up by a bomb attached to his car. He was the fourth Iranian nuclear scientist to be killed in the past two years, part of what appears to be a concerted assassination campaign against people deemed key to Teheran’s nuclear ambitions.
It is still unclear who carried out the attacks. Israel is high on the list of most informed observers. A number of well-connected journalists, including Ron Ben-Yishai and Richard Silverstein, claim that their sources in the Israeli military confirm it as a Mossad operation, though none has so far provided any proof. Silverstein and others, including Juan Cole, speculate that it may have been a joint operation between Mossad and MEK, or Mujahedin-e Khalq, a Marxist Islamist group that has been fighting the Teheran regime and which in the past has claimed to have provided Washington with information about Iran’s nuclear programme. Last week the journal Foreign Policy carried a report about Mossad operatives posing as CIA agents to recruit fighters from the Pakistani jihadi group Jundallah for terrorist operations in Iran. Twenty-four hours before the assassination, Israel’s military chief of staff Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz told a parliamentary meeting that Iran should expect ‘continuing and growing pressure from the international community and things which take place in an unnatural manner.’
The identity of perpetrators may still be uncertain. What is without doubt, however, is the international response to the assassinations – or, rather, the lack of it. « Read the rest of this entry »
February 21, 2011 § 9 Comments
The brutal, blood-soaked response of Arab rulers, especially those in Bahrain and Libya, to the revolts engulfing their nations exposes the desperation of old tyrants clinging to the past. But the revolts themselves reveal the extent to which the Arab political landscape has irrevocably changed.
The ‘strong man’ model of rule that has held sway over much of the Arab world for the past half century has rested primarily on two props: the ability to constrain opposition at home, and willingness of a Great Power, America in particular, to shore up dictatorship. Both the internal and external props of autocracy have become fatally weakened. « Read the rest of this entry »
February 7, 2011 § 4 Comments
How can Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak be eased out of office without causing too much turmoil, or without providing a political opportunity for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood? That’s the question with which many Western leaders are now grappling. The growing consensus seems to be that what Egypt needs is, in the words of Hillary Clinton, an ‘ordered transition’ to a post-Mubarak Egypt and that vice-president Omar Suleiman is the man to manage this.
The idea of an ‘ordered transition’ that could depose Mubarak without unnecessary violence and turmoil would seem to be something to be unreservedly welcomed. Yet we should be skeptical about the proposals being drawn up in Washington, London and Brussels - not least because they are being drawn up in Washington, London and Brussels and not in Cairo.
The question that the idea of ‘ordered transition’ raises is this: for whose benefit is the revolt now taking on the streets of Cairo? For the benefit of Western nations? Or for that of the people of Egypt? « Read the rest of this entry »
February 5, 2011 § 11 Comments
MICHAEL PORTILLO: ‘I want to put a moral issue to you. If you feel what might come instead of Mubarak might be worse, for them, for Israel, for us, would it be the right thing to crush [the democracy movement in Egypt]?’
DAVID CESARANI: ‘That is certainly a moral dilemma… If you were to take the wholly pragmatic view, the expedient view of those sitting in the White House and possibly here in Whitehall, stability, the outcome of a Tiananmen Square-style crackdown is desirable and is predictable. If you allow this popular, democratic movement to run unchecked you cannot predict what’s going to happen. But you can predict probably that after a short, sharp massive clampdown, at huge human cost, there will be a sullen stability.’ « Read the rest of this entry »