Pandaemonium

PLUCKED FROM THE WEB #28

web 28

The latest (somewhat random) collection of recent essays and stories from around the web that have caught my eye and are worth plucking out to be re-read.


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Catalonia and European democracy
Richard Youngs, Carnegie Europe, 6 October 2017

The EU clearly prioritizes the rule of law over participative democracy. The union ostensibly aspires to transcend traditional concepts of national sovereignty, yet it is a club of national governments. This helps account for the EU’s tepid response to the brutality of the Spanish police during the events of October 1. In pointing to the unconstitutional nature of the Catalan referendum, the Spanish and other EU governments have legality on their side. But just when leaders are searching for ways of relegitimizing the EU in the eyes of its jaded citizens, the EU’s apparent ambivalence over the violence can only add to popular disappointment with the union.

Rule of law is not simply about obeying rules. The democratic rule of law is also a matter of how rules are made, how judiciaries are held accountable, and how norms and values gain legitimacy. During the last decade of crisis, the EU and national leaders have tended too far toward a minimalistic definition of the rule of law: rules are sacrosanct and must be obeyed.

For example, think of how economic rules were enforced in relation to Greece and other debtor states expressly against the dynamics of democratic accountability. Indeed, Spain’s potential fragmentation is, at least in part, the legacy of how the eurozone crisis was mismanaged – to the extent that disputes over austerity added fuel to the secessionist fire. Ironically, as EU leaders now meet and declare that crisis over, one key member state is struggling to hold itself together at least in some measure due to the tensions unleashed by it.

If citizens do not have the ability to influence rules and ensure their fair and equal application, there cannot be a fully democratic notion of ‘rule of law’ – the risk is that the latter is no longer legality in the service of democratic rule, but rather cloak for a narrowed understanding of political legitimacy.

Read the full article in Carnegie Europe.


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An open letter to the Hannah Arendt Center 
Andrew Arato et al, Chronicle of Higher Education,
23 October 2017

We are writing to make clear our objections to the invited talk given by the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) politician Marc Jongen during the 2017 Annual Conference of the Hannah Arendt Center, ‘Crises of Democracy: Thinking in Dark Times’ (October 12-13, 2017)  as well as your subsequent defense of that invitation. We believe that Jongen’s participation in the conference, regardless of the organizers’ intentions, enabled him to leverage Hannah Arendt’s legacy to legitimize and normalize the AfD’s far-right ideology. The leadership of the Hannah Arendt Center and of Bard College has so far disregarded pressing questions of personal and institutional responsibility arising from this legitimation and normalization. This disregard is particularly troubling given that Hannah Arendt was a German-Jewish refugee who fled National Socialism and wrote powerfully about the plight of the stateless and the special dangers posed by race-based ideologies.

Jongen, known as the AfD’s ‘party philosopher’, rose to prominence only after joining the party in 2013. The AfD subscribes to a nationalist far-right agenda and is closely allied with the violent street movement ‘Pegida’ (‘Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West’ ) that attacks refugees, immigrants, and Muslims. Jongen is devoted to providing intellectual legitimacy to the AfD’s extreme rhetoric and actions. His philosophical jargon seeks to justify the incitement and violence carried out by Pegida, including the physical blockade of refugee buses, as the expression of a laudable ‘thymos,’ or rage, that has been suppressed by liberalism and multiculturalism. During his talk at the Hannah Arendt Center, Jongen repeated the racist and xenophobic statements that make the AfD such a dangerous phenomenon in contemporary German politics.

We agree with Professor Berkowitz that there is a need to engage with a wide range of political views, including illiberal and even neofascist ones. We also believe, however, that organizers of highly publicized events have crucial responsibilities when the speaker makes statements that vilify already vulnerable groups. Given Jongen’s and the AfD’s well-known positions, it could not have come as a surprise to the conference organizers that Jongen’s talk would target refugees, immigrants, and Muslims, as illustrated by tweets sent by the Hannah Arendt Center quoting Jongen during the event: ‘We have experienced a tremendous loss of inner security & a new form of terrorism & a rise of crimes caused by immigrants.’ ‘Mass immigration was traumatic … & an act of violence in my opinion.’ ‘The Jews are leaving France, not because of populists, but because they are being attacked by Muslims.’ Jongen and the AfD have significant institutional representation in the Bundestag. They have no difficulty finding public outlets to express their opinions. But the underprivileged and terrorized groups whom Jongen and the AfD regularly attack have no such power or privilege.

Questions of responsibility have been further compounded in the aftermath of the event, especially because of the fact that the Hannah Arendt Center livestreamed the conference, posted videos of all the sessions, and broadcast statements of conference participants on its official Facebook and Twitter accounts. Accordingly, the center lent its institutional legitimacy and communicative power to Jongen’s statements.

Read the full article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.


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An open letter on the Hannah Arendt Center’s
inclusion of a talk by Marc Jongen 

Roger Berkowitz, Medium, 19 October 2017

I thought it essential that at the conference we include at least one person who represents the idea of an illiberal democracy. Majorities of people in Hungary, Russia, Turkey, and Austria and that large pluralities of people in France, Germany, and the United States (amongst other countries) are embracing ideas of democratic nationalism and democratic authoritarianism. These movements seek the closing of borders to refugees and immigrants as well as the strengthening of ethnic and racially based national cultures. The effort to resist the rise of illiberal democracy demands that we understand why liberal democracy is failing as well as the attraction of illiberal democracy.

The person I chose to make the argument for illiberal democracy was Marc Jongen, a former philosophy professor at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design (Hochschule für Gestaltung) and longtime assistant to Peter Sloterdijk. Jongen has long written about the importance of passions and collective identities in public life. More recently  – and after I had invited him  – he was elected to the German Bundestag as a member of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, in English Alternative for Germany). In popular press accounts, the AfD is regularly called a far-right party and sometimes a neo-Nazi party. There are people in the AfD who clearly make arguments that are illiberal, offensive, and highly prejudiced against Muslims and other immigrant minorities. In this embrace of illiberal democracy, the AfD is part of a world-wide movement against an increasingly unpopular and weakened liberal democracy. That the AfD is popular and democratically successful and that it received 13% of the vote in the recent German elections is only one of many signs that liberal democracy is in crisis. Mr. Jongen, as a philosopher, has made it his task to seek to articulate the intellectual and ethical arguments for the rise of German populism and the justification for the importance of ethnically-based national cultures. I invited him because he struck me as one of the few people involved in the rising illiberal democratic movements who could participate in an intellectual effort to understand the crises currently plaguing liberal democracies. I am grateful for his enthusiastic and respectful participation in the entire conference over two full days.

I knew then, and have seen confirmed, that the decision to invite Mr. Jongen was controversial. I asked my Bard colleague and NY Review of Books Editor Ian Buruma to respond to Mr. Jongen because I felt it important that Mr. Jongen’s remarks be formally answered. And in fact, while Mr. Jongen had a full opportunity to speak and articulate his argument, he was answered by Mr. Buruma, myself as moderator, and numerous questioners who challenged him directly and forcefully. The event — singly and more importantly within the context of the full two-day conference — was a rare opportunity to argue at length with someone who makes an articulate case for one version of illiberal democracy. It is essential that we understand and argue against illiberal ideas and not simply condemn them out of hand. I am heartened that the students and participants at our conference rose to the occasion.

I have heard that some in the small community of Arendt scholars are angry that the Arendt Center invited Mr. Jongen. I have been told that by bringing Mr. Jongen to speak, the Arendt Center was somehow endorsing the AfD. I want to belabor the obvious and say this is not the case. There is no political endorsement of the AfD or Mr. Jongen by our having him speak.

I think it worthwhile to explain why it is important that the Hannah Arendt Center exist as a place where we can listen and respond to people like Mr. Jongen, people with whom we strongly disagree.

Read the full article on Medium.


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The ignominious end of the ISIS Caliphate
Robin Wright, New Yorker, 17 October 2017

‘When we use an organization as our unit of analysis, we can conclude that there is an end to the threat,’ Braniff said. ‘But if we look at movements that have thrived over time – despite the fact that numerous organizations have come into and out of a movement – we can come todifferent conclusions. If we look at isis, it’s the end of [the] caliphate. But, if you look at the movement, have any of underlying drivers that produced isis been mitigated? The answer is no.’

In other words, the current caliphate may have collapsed, but serious dangers lie ahead, because the tensions and drivers that produced isis loom even larger today than when it emerged.

‘Only a fool would call this a victory’, Hassan Hassan, a co-author of the best-selling book Isis: Inside the Army of Terror, told me. ‘It’s only the expulsion of isis fighters from a wasteland. It’s not a victory, not only because of the destruction. It’s also not a victory because there’s a shameless lack of a political track to supplement the military track. That’s the Achilles heel of Operation Inherent Resolve. They don’t have a political vision about what will happen after Isis.’

Operation Inherent Resolve is the US-led coalition of sixty-nine nations and four partner organizations that has orchestrated the military campaign against isis and provided air power in both Syria and Iraq. Since 2014, its lone goal has been to end the caliphate, not to solve the broader problems that gave rise to isis, especially in Syria. The United States, under both Democratic and Republican Presidents, has resisted getting militarily involved in Syria’s grisly six-year civil war.

The US air strikes in Raqqa have taken a devastating toll on the city’s civilian population and physical infrastructure as well as on isis. The civilian death toll from air strikes is more than a thousand, according to Syrian activists and international monitors, while much of the northern part of the city has been destroyed. More than two hundred thousand Raqqa residents have fled; many now have little to return to.

Ironically, Raqqa was a place where the United States provided early aid to help build political opposition to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad after the Arab Uprising, in 2011. The U.S. provided fire trucks, ambulances, garbage trucks, generators, and other infrastructure for the local council that emerged to provide alternative rule. When isis swept in, in 2014, it commandeered the American-funded equipment. Much of it is believed to have been destroyed by U.S. air strikes. Raqqa will be starting almost from scratch in rebuilding, politically and physically, at a time when Syria is still engulfed in a civil war.

‘You need to turn these areas into something better than isis, better than what people have seen over the past three years. That’s on the micro level,’ Hassan told me. ‘On the macro level, regardless of what the U.S. says, there’s no appetite to do something to resolve the Syrian conflict, with Assad – the core problem.’

Read the full article in the New Yorker.


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No way

How Europe’s far right fell in love
with Australia’s immigration policy

Sasha Polakow-Suransky, Guardian, 12 October 2017

The politicians who demand what Bolkestein calls ‘nasty measures’ invariably justify them by invoking the spectre of an imminent civilisational threat. What is actually a legal and logistical problem has been transformed into a kulturkampf by politicians who know that fomenting fear wins votes. After all, the refugee issue would not resonate so powerfully without the manufactured alarm that European civilisation itself might be destroyed by Muslim usurpers.

Many of those promoting the idea that the arrival of refugees from the Middle East and Africa presages the ‘suicide of Europe’ have been inspired by the apocalyptic vision of a 1973 novel, The Camp of the Saints, which depicts the shores of France being overrun by boats full of ‘scraggy branches, brown and black’ and ‘fleshless Gandhi-arms’  (‘The Third World had started to overflow its banks … and the west was its sewer.’) The new right’s leading lights, from Marine Le Pen to Steve Bannon, hail the book’s author, Jean Raspail, as a prophet. At the peak of the refugee crisis in September 2015, Le Pen warned of the ‘hundreds of thousands of migrants who will come tomorrow’ and urged the French to read Raspail’s work.

In the novel, the arrival by sea of 800,000 people causes a clash between the self-appointed defenders of French civilisation and the radicals, intellectuals and hippies who welcome the newcomers. Although Raspail’s imagined invaders were Hindus fleeing India, the image of the brown masses descending upon the west has been conveniently taken up by the anti-Muslim right to satisfy current political tastes. When the boats finally reach France, Raspail describes the landing as a ‘peaceful assault on the western world’. One of the book’s heroes is the captain of a Greek ship who rams flailing refugees in the water. A naval captain advises the French president: ‘We have to make a choice. Either we open our doors to these people and take them in. Or we torpedo every one of their boats, at night, when it’s too dark to see their faces as we kill them.’

Apart from the former leader of Germany’s anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party, Frauke Petry, who has openly called for German police to shoot asylum seekers illegally crossing the border, few western politicians have advocated violence to force migrants away. But the appeal of the Australian model for the European far right is the absolute commitment to keeping refugees out at all costs – it is not about ‘managing’ migrants, but defending the nation from them. The policy prescription that Abbott brought to London was a simple one: turn boats back, deny entry at borders and build camps abroad. Some force would be necessary, he admitted – and a lot of money.

Read the full article in the Guardian.


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Nearly there, but never further away
Peter Tinti, Foreign Policy, 5 October 2017

Soon after the beatings began, other guards at the facility noticed my presence and quickly ushered me into a waiting area outside the well-appointed office of Col. Mohamed Beshr, the urbane head of Libya’s anti-illegal immigration police. Beshr is a key player in recent joint EU-Libyan efforts to halt migration to Europe, including intercepting migrants at sea and detaining them on land. He has welcomed high-level European diplomats and U.N. representatives to the Triq al-Sikka facility, and his office is filled with certificates from workshops run by IOM, the European Union, and Britain’s development agency.

Yet Beshr seemed frustrated by my questions about the abuses openly taking place at the detention center he oversaw. To hear him tell it, his European partners cared about only one thing, even if they wouldn’t say it: preventing migrants from showing up on Italy’s shores. ‘Are they looking for a real solution to this humanitarian crisis?’ Beshr asked, smirking and raising his eyebrows. ‘Or do they just want us to be the place where migrants are stopped?’

Eighteen months after the EU unveiled its controversial plan to curb illegal migration through Libya – now the primary point of departure for sub-Saharan Africans crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe – migrants have become a commodity to be captured, sold, traded, and leveraged. Regardless of their immigration status, they are hunted down by militias loyal to Libya’s U.N.-backed government, caged in overcrowded prisons, and sold on open markets that human rights advocates have likened to slave auctions. They have been tortured, raped, and killed – abuses that are sometimes broadcast online by the abusers themselves as they attempt to extract ransoms from migrants’ families.

The European Union has so far pledged roughly $160 million for new detention facilities to warehouse migrants before they can be deported back to their home countries and to train and equip the Libyan coast guard so that it can intercept migrant boats at sea. Individual EU member states have earmarked tens of millions of dollars more as they consider a recent request, reportedly in the range of $900 million, by Libya’s UN-backed government in Tripoli for a list of equipment needed to combat migrant smuggling.

EU efforts in Libya are part of a broader plan to stem migration from Africa to Europe, which includes a multibillion-dollar EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa that aims to address the ‘root causes’ of migration and displacement. In the so-called ‘source’ countries that large numbers of migrants are leaving, the EU is rolling out new development projects designed to persuade would-be migrants not to leave home in the first place. But in transit countries like Libya and its neighbors to the south, Niger and Sudan, the EU has focused on forcibly preventing migrants from reaching the Mediterranean by providing money for anti-smuggling operations, border patrols, and detention facilities.

In Libya, these policies have empowered militias and criminal syndicates that have allied themselves with the UN-backed government and lined up for European largesse. Some have rebranded themselves as official coast guard units in the expectation that they will receive training and equipment. Others are running detention centers where migrants are systematically mistreated but where the European Union and member states still offer support – including IOM funding to provide health care, psychosocial counseling, and essential items like hygiene kits to migrants. IOM, which is the main implementing partner for EU-funded projects related to migration in Libya, has also helped renovate detention facilities and trained guards to staff them.

Read the full article in Foreign Policy.


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Political Islam after the Arab Spring
Olivier Roy, Foreign Affairs,
November/December 2017

But if a party such as Ennahda stops trying to shape civil law along sharia lines, in what sense is it Islamic at all? The answer – still controversial for many members—is that although the movement (harakat) and the party (hizb) are now formally separate, the goal of the party’s participation in politics is to protect the movement from politics. By becoming a normal political actor in a normal political system, the Ennahda Party will help the Ennahda movement carry out its mission of fostering a society in which religion, although not enshrined in state institutions, nonetheless lies at the core of daily life. The approach is akin to the Western liberal concept of the separation of church and state – although closer to the American conception of shielding religion from state interference than to the French idea of protecting the state from religion. And in the Islamic context, the separation must be enforced not only by state institutions and the constitution but also at the grass-roots level, by Islamist parties themselves.

That represents a profound change, no less than the redefining of religion to refer more narrowly to a set of beliefs and practices that exist in the framework of a secular society. Ennahda has recognized that although Tunisian society may be culturally Muslim, it is not destined to become ideologically Islamic. Ghannouchi glossed this move by declaring that Ennahda had become ‘a party of Muslim democrats’, intentionally inviting comparisons to the Christian democratic parties of Europe.

But the comparison only goes so far. From the mid-1940s until the mid-1970s, Christian democratic parties found ways to secularize what had been primarily religious values in order to better reach out to an ever more secular electorate. In predominantly Protestant and Catholic countries alike, such parties promoted values drawn from the social doctrine of the church on issues related to the family, cooperation between workers and businesses, and social security. But even though these parties still survive (and even thrive in Germany), there is no Christian democratic social movement equivalent to the ones that Ennahda and other Islamist groups see as crucial to their missions. In countries such as Germany, Christian democrats have a hizb but no harakat. And although Catholic social movements operate in European countries such as Italy, they do not identify with political parties. In Europe, secularism triumphed not only in the political realm but also in the social one: after World War II, Western countries drifted further and further away from traditional Christian views, especially on matters relating to sexuality, gender, and the family. In this sense, it’s striking that Ghannouchi and other mainstream Islamists would encourage comparisons to Christian democrats, who hardly seem to present a model of success by Islamist standards.

It seems unlikely that the secularization of Islamic politics will be accompanied by a drift away from traditional values in Muslim countries, at least in the foreseeable future. (Tunisia is not likely to legalize gay marriage anytime soon.) But separating mosque and state poses a more acute short-term risk for Islamist parties such as Ennahda: it could provide an opening for jihadist extremists, who often refer to themselves as ‘foreigners in this world’. That phrase comes from a well-known chant, or nashid, popularized during the trials of members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the 1960s. It is an expression of the idea that, in their ideological purity and refusal to accommodate secular norms and institutions, jihadists represent the only true Islamists – and, perhaps, the only true Muslims. The danger is that if mainstream Islamists purchase inclusion in the secular state at the price of separating their political goals from their religious and social ones (as in Tunisia), or suffer exclusion from the state owing to their own overreach and a repressive backlash against it (as in Egypt), young Muslims seeking ‘authentic’ religious and political identities might look elsewhere. And the jihadists will be waiting for them.

Read the full article in Foreign Affairs.


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‘News you don’t believe’:
Audience perspectives on fake news

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen & Lucas Graves, RISJ Factsheet, October 2017

In this RISJ Factsheet, we analyse data from 8 focus groups and a survey of online news users to understand audience perspectives on fake news. On the basis of focus group discussions and survey data from the rst half of 2017 from the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Finland, we nd that:

  • People see the di erence between fake news and news as one of degree rather than a clear distinction
  • When asked to provide examples of fake news, people identify poor journalism, propaganda (including both lying politicians and hyperpartisan content), and some kinds of advertising more frequently than false information designed to masquerade as news reports
  • Fake news is experienced as a problem driven by a combination of some news media who publish it, some politicians who contribute to it, and some platforms that help distribute it
  • People are aware of the fake news discussion and see ‘fake news’ in part as a politicized buzzword used by politicians and others to criticize news media and platform companies
  • The fake news discussion plays out against a backdrop of low trust in news media, politicians, and platforms alike – a generalized scepticism toward most of the actors that dominate the contemporary information environment
  • Most people identify individual news media that they consider consistently reliable sources and would turn to for veri ed information, but the disagree as to which and very few sources are seen as reliable by all

Our ndings suggest that, from an audience perspective, fake news is only in part about fabricated news reports narrowly de ned, and much more about a wider discontent with the information landscape – including news media and politicians as well as platform companies. Tackling false news narrowly speaking is important, but it will not address the broader issue that people feel much of the information they come across, especially online, consists of poor journalism, political propaganda, and misleading forms of advertising and sponsored content.

Read the full article in the RISJ Factsheet.


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Gulls in flight

Is the modern mass extinction overrated?
Chris Thomas & Kevin Berger, Nautilus, 26 October 2017

You write, ‘It is entirely possible that the long-term consequence of the evolution of Homo sapiens will be to increase the number of species on the Earth’s land surface.’ That sure goes against the grain of what we have been hearing for generations.

Yes, it does.

What first caused you to you come to that conclusion?

I knew there was a new hybrid plant living in my hometown of York, England, and nowhere else in the world, and I had also heard about a new kind of fly evolving on introduced apple trees in North America. I started to reflect on the fact that so many of our crop plants started out as hybrids between different species. So I privately asked myself: How many new species might come into existence because of humans? All I needed was a pencil and the back of an envelope for my first calculation. I was gobsmacked, and eventually pleased with my preliminary answer. I reckoned that we might, very roughly, double the number of species on Earth over the next million years. Brought up on stories of extinction and environmental doom, it took me several years to believe my own answer.

Give us a convincing example of how humans boost the number of species.

The Italian sparrow is a really good example of a rapid evolution of a new species. It began when the house sparrow colonized out of Asia, following the development of agriculture. In the Mediterranean Basin, it met the Spanish sparrow. At some point, probably about 6,000 years ago, the house sparrow and the Spanish sparrow hybridized, and their offspring became sufficiently genetically distinct. Although they can interbreed with both of their parents, they basically don’t. So a new species came into existence by hybridization. I really like this example because the Italian sparrow has probably already survived for several thousand years. It’s not one of these species that come into existence and suddenly disappear.

Most of the new hybrids exist because we humans have either deliberately or accidentally brought the parents – which used to live in different parts of the world – into contact with one another. This is an extraordinary feature of the modern world. There has been no time in the history of life when species have been mixed up within and between continents at the rate that’s going on at the moment. The consequence of this human-caused transport is that hybrids must be coming into existence faster than ever before.

Is there a mammal that fits your scenario? Mammals have not fared well with humans.

You are quite right. The heavyweight, large body-sized mammals are where we have most systematically exterminated other species over the last 60,000 years. There’s no doubt about that whatsoever. But hybridization is taking place in mammals too, when they’ve been introduced to new locations. In Britain, the native red deer has been mating with the sika deer. There’s some hybridization among the wapiti, or elk, and red deer. Presumably, these new populations will start to diverge with a new mixture of genes that they didn’t have previously.

Read the full article in Nautilus.


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Pakistan, land of the intolerant
Mohammed Hanif, New York Times, 19 October 2017

It is always prudent not to ask what blasphemous act is said to have been committed, because under the law, repeating something blasphemous can itself constitute blasphemy. According to one newspaper report, the men were on trial for attempting to remove from a wall religious posters that incited hatred against Ahmadis. That’s right, they were sentenced to death for taking down posters that incited people to kill them. (The prosecution argued that since the posters were religious, removing them was an insult to the Prophet Muhammad.)

In 1974, Pakistan’s elected Parliament declared Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. Religious parties had held street protests demanding this, and even though Parliament back then was full of liberals and socialists, there was hardly a dissenting voice when the time came to pass the law.

Our Parliament today is still at it. Last week Muhammad Safdar, a son-in-law of the recently deposed prime minister, thundered against Ahmadis, demanding they be banned from joining the armed forces. He also demanded that a physics department of a university in Islamabad be renamed because in 2016 it was named after Abdus Salam, the only Pakistani scientist to become a Nobel laureate. The Pakistani government had already taken close to four decades to name anything after Mr. Salam, a theoretical physicist, because he was Ahmadi. It appears that not a single parliamentarian spoke up against Mr. Safdar’s diatribe.

Earlier this month, Parliament also changed the oath that Pakistanis are required to take to get a passport or run in an election. A standard version of the statement goes: ‘I hereby solemnly declare that I consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani to be an impostor nabi and also consider his followers, whether belonging to the Lahori or Qadiani group, to be non-Muslims.’ (Nabi means prophet.) Language in the election law was changed from ‘I solemnly declare’ to ‘I believe’.

It’s not clear why this happened. The government claims it was a clerical error. But there was a public uproar over the change, including accusations that the government was going soft on Ahmadis. Parliament promptly backtracked, and we all resumed solemnly declaring rather than just believing.

Read the full article in the New York Times.


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Trump is the new _
Zachary Jonathan Jacobson,
Chronicle of Higher Education, 24 October 2017

We use the past to understand the present (and vice versa). The analogy is not only of importance but inescapable in the analytic process. As Bloch charged, ‘No period and no topic can be understood except in relation to other periods or topics.’ John Lewis Gaddis, the dean of Cold War history, concurred: ‘We’re bound to learn from the past whether or not we make the effort, since it’s the only data base we have.’ The much-esteemed scholarly pair of Richard Neustadt and Ernest May upheld that historical analogizing was unavoidable, especially for decision makers. So, the scholars concluded, their aims were ‘akin to those of junior high school sex education. Since [decision makers] are bound to do what we talk about, later if not sooner, they ought to profit from a bit of forethought about ways and means.’

The historical method is a dialectic of continuity and change, analogy and disruption. A one-dimensional rejection of historical analogy would be – to borrow a contemporary simile – like urging computer programmers to pepper their source code with 0s but steer clear of 1s. Analogy is necessary, even inevitable. And so we remain vigilant and evaluate our presentist biases best we can, bending back the warp of our lenses. For as Richard Fontaine and Vance Serchuk of the Center for a New American Security, mused, ‘It seems that those who remember history are condemned to invoke it.’

Read the full article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.


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Rohingya crisis:
Finding out the truth about Arsa militants

Jonathan Head, BBC News, 11 October 2017

His and other accounts describe a movement with a small core of several hundred full-time militants, with perhaps a handful of foreigners among them, and many thousands of untrained and unarmed followers who joined the attacks only at the last minute.

On 25 August Ata Ullah, the Pakistan-born Rohingya man who started Arsa after an earlier wave of communal violence in Rakhine state in 2012, issued a video, flanked by hooded armed fighters.

He described the attacks that day as a defensive action, against what he called a genocide against the Rohingya. He said his fighters had no choice but to launch the attacks against a Burmese army which had ‘surrounded and besieged us’. He appealed for international support. He described Arakan, another name for Rakhine state, as rightfully Rohingya land. But he has insisted in subsequent statements that Arsa has no quarrel with other ethnic groups in Rakhine state.

There was no call for solidarity from other Muslims. He did not frame his struggle in terms of jihad, or as part of a global Islamist struggle.

Read the full article on BBC News.


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Global distribution of skin color

Genes for skin color rebut dated notions of race, researchers say
Carl Zimmer, New York Times, 12 October 2017

The idea is that people who live with intense ultraviolet light benefited from dark color, pigments that shielded important molecules in their skin. In places with less sunlight, people needed lighter skin, because they were able to absorb more sunlight to make vitamin D.

The new genetic evidence supports this explanation, but adds unexpected complexity. The dark-skinned people of southern India, Australia and New Guinea, for example, did not independently evolve their color simply because evolution favored it. They inherited the ancestral dark variants Dr. Tishkoff’s team found in Africans. ‘They had to be introduced from an African population,’ said Dr. Tishkoff.

Yet the same is true for some genes that produce light skin in Asia and Europe. They also originated in Africa and were carried from the continent by migrants. As Africans moved into Europe and Asia, they interbred with Neanderthals on several occasions. Last week, Michael Dannemann and Janet Kelso of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany reported that people in Britain still carry a number of Neanderthal variants that color skin.

Some of the newly discovered genes appeared relatively recently in our evolution. The pale-skin variant of SLC24A5 that’s overwhelmingly common in Europe, for example, is a recent addition to the genome, arising just 29,000 years ago, according to the new study. It became widespread only in the past few thousand years.

Dr. Tishkoff and her colleagues found it frequently not just in Europe, but also in some populations of lighter-skinned Africans in East Africa and Tanzania. Studies of ancient DNA recently discovered in Africa point to an explanation. Several thousand years ago, it seems, a migration of early Near Eastern farmers swept into East Africa. Over many generations of interbreeding, the pale variant of SLC24A5 became common in some African populations.

Read the full article in the New York Times.


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What America taught the Nazis
Ira Katznelson, The Atlantic, November 2017

How to understand the relationship between race and democracy has been a pressing question ever since the United States was founded. The deep tension between the two—summed up in the irony of a plantation named Equality in Port Tobacco, Maryland, filled with slaves and owned by Michael Jenifer Stone, one of the six members of that state’s delegation to the House of Representatives in the First Federal Congress—puzzled the great student of American equality Alexis de Tocqueville. In Democracy in America, published precisely a century before the Nuremberg Laws, he began a discussion of ‘the three races that inhabit the territory of the United States’ by announcing that these topics ‘are like tangents to my subject, being American, but not democratic, and my main business has been to describe democracy.’

Whitman invokes the work of political scientists who, in the separate-spheres spirit of Tocqueville, distinguish what they call a white-supremacist order from a liberal and egalitarian order. But his own book shows that such a division is too clear-cut. We must come to terms with race in America in tandem with considerations of democracy. Whitman’s history does not expose the liberal tradition in the United States as merely a sham, as many of the Third Reich’s legal theorists intimated when they highlighted patterns of black and American Indian subordination. Rather, he implicitly challenges readers to consider when and how, under what conditions and in which domains, the ugly features of racism have come most saliently to the fore in America’s liberal democracy. Conversely, we might ask, when and why have those features been repressed, leading to more-equal access for racial minorities to physical space, cultural regard, material life, and civic membership?

Liberal-democratic ideas and institutions in America, unlike in Hitler’s regime, have always been both vulnerable and resistant to racist exclusions. Although the United States entered the 1930s as the globe’s most established racialized order, the pathways from Nuremberg and Jim Crow unfolded very differently, one culminating in mass genocide, the other, after much struggle, in civil-rights achievements. Yet none of these gains, not even the presidency of an African American, has taken issues of race and citizenship off the political agenda. Current debates over both sharply remind us that positive outcomes are not guaranteed. The very rules of the democratic game – elections, open media, and political representation—create persisting possibilities for racial demagoguery, fear, and exclusion. As Freisler and other Third Reich jurists understood all too well, racial ideas and racist policies are profound products of political decisions.

Read the full article in the Atlantic.


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Mapping where Europe’s population is moving, aging, and finding work
Feargus O’Sullivan, City Lab, 27 September 2017

Europe’s population is on the move, and a new report suggests exactly where and why. Released last week by Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU, this blockbuster annual yearbook offers a dizzying number of insights into the state of a changing Europe.

Among the sheer volume of detail, some clear trends emerge: younger people are leaving Europe’s south, especially its rural areas, in search of work in urban areas of the continent’s job-rich northwest. That’s creating a demographic hole that might presage extended, continuing decline.

The chart below provides some clues to this movement. Looking at median ages, it shows what might be expected: Europe’s rural areas tend to have older populations, while capital cities (marked by blue dots) are more likely to be younger than a country as a whole. Greece’s Evrytania region posted the oldest population; it’s a rural area where outward migration of young people has pushed the median age up to 53.6 years. While rural regions are seeing the sharpest rises in median age, this phenomenon is both national and local.

Between 2006 and 2016, Romania, Lithuania, Greece, and Portugal all saw their median ages increase by more than four years. That rise can’t simply be accounted for by an overnight spike in life expectancy; this is clearly because people – especially young people – have been leaving in large numbers.

Median age rises can stem from two things: young people leaving [and] a low birth rate, which of course can be combined,’ says Pernd Parusel, a migration expert at the European Migration Networks. ‘I know that some Central and Eastern European countries, such as the Baltic States, for example, have a significant out-migration, especially young people at the beginning of their careers.’

So between a falling birth rate and a high rate of youth migration, which one is the primary cause of these countries’ rapid aging?

Read the full article in City Lab.


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Why are prosecutors putting innocent witnesses in jail?
Sarah Stillman, New Yorker, 17 October 2017

Singleton was crying when she arrived at the Orleans Parish Prison. Officials ordered her to strip, and handed her an orange jumpsuit, white underwear, and a sports bra. In her cell, Singleton found an empty top bunk. ‘I couldn’t sleep,’ she said. ‘A million things were going through my mind.’ She found the food in the jail ‘inedible.’ She feared that the other inmates might attack her, until she noticed that many of the women received steady doses of medication and slept almost constantly. A cellmate eventually explained, ‘You’re in the psych ward.’

One anxiety supplanted another. ‘The fear that someone was going to hurt me got replaced by my worries about my kids and my job,’ Singleton said. She was afraid that she’d be fired for missing work. She called home. ‘I could hear my daughter on the phone,’ Singleton recalled. ‘She just held the phone and cried, never said a word.’ When Singleton finally saw a judge, she entered the courtroom in handcuffs and chains. She spotted her mom, a tax accountant, in the audience, crying. ‘I just felt so embarrassed’, Singleton said. As a victim, Singleton was not entitled to a public defender, so her mother had hired a private attorney.

Singleton’s bond was set at a hundred thousand dollars. She was shocked; there was no way her family could afford such a sum, and it was more than ten times higher than the bond of her ex-boyfriend, the alleged perpetrator. Her private lawyer wrote, ‘Defendant has three small kids, ties to the community, and a job that she is in danger of losing.’ The judge agreed to let Singleton out, provided that she wear an electronic ankle monitor, abide by an 8 p.m. curfew, and come to court the next day to testify. Singleton had already been locked up for nearly a week.

Read the full article in the New Yorker.


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Act of Killing

US stood by as Indonesia killed a haf-million people, papers show
Hannah Beech, New York Times, 18 October 2017

‘We knew about these things more generally, but it’s great to have this information in black and white so it’s not just based on oral interviews with victims,’ said John Roosa, an associate professor of history at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and author of a book on the events of 1965. ‘The U.S. was following what was happening very closely, and if it weren’t for its support, you could argue that the army would never have felt the confidence to take power.’

The Indonesian slaughter took place at a time when Southeast Asia, still emerging from colonialism, was energized by socialist ideology. The United States already had boots on the ground in Vietnam. Indonesia, then led by President Sukarno and home to one of the world’s largest Communist parties, was seen by Washington as the next domino that could fall. When a group of hard-line generals blamed Communist Party operatives for a failed coup attempt in 1965, with China accused as a mastermind, Washington did little to challenge that narrative.

The United States government largely stayed silent as the death toll mounted at the hands of the Indonesian Army, paramilitaries and religious mobs. The extrajudicial killings spread beyond suspected Communists to target ethnic Chinese, students, union members and anyone who might have personal feuds with the hit men. Tens of thousands of others were thrown into tropical gulags.

Eventually, President Sukarno, with his anti-American talk and socialist sympathies, was replaced by Suharto, a general who held power for 32 years, instituting a policy he called the New Order to reinvigorate the economy through foreign aid and investment. Another of the newly released cables shows how the American Embassy in Jakarta made clear that any aid from the United States was contingent on Sukarno’s being removed from power. Upon Suharto’s ascension in March 1966, that American aid began to flow.

Read the full article in the New York Times.


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Behind Indonesia’s illiberal turn
Vedi Hadiz, New Mandala, 20 October 2017

If this sort of interpretation has any merit, Ahok’s defeat in the face of FPI-led mobilisations was less an indication of the inexorable rise of Islamic radicalism in Indonesian politics than of the ability of oligarchic elites to deploy the social agents of Islamic politics for their own interests. The broader implication is that radical expressions of Islamic identity—which go together with rigidly conservative interpretations of Islamic morality championed by the FPI and similarly hard line groups – are being increasingly nurtured and refashioned within the present requirements of oligarchic politics.

In fact, by facilitating expressions of frustration by many ordinary citizens through the use of a predominantly religious-tinged political lexicon, Indonesian oligarchic elites have all but ensured that Indonesian Islamic politics would move increasingly toward a conservative direction. Moreover, it is instructive that the resultant social and political conservatism is being mainstreamed with the aid of oligarchic elites who would not be normally considered the social agents of Islamic politics.

In the aftermath of the Jakarta election, many took to warning that it signalled the rise of such religious extremism, which presents an immediate threat to Indonesia’s pluralist social fabric and to its internationally praised democracy. In a way, such fears represent a revisit of older concerns, expressed during the early years of reformasi, that democracy would result in the political ascendancy of Islamic radicalism, which had supposedly been suppressed only because of the iron-fisted rule of Soeharto. Indeed, Indonesians who tend towards secular forms of democratic politics should be aware, now more so than ever, of the historical and contemporary weakness of politically liberal (or social democratic) streams within Indonesian politics.

Given the long absence of Leftist traditions as well from the scene—since the violent destruction of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in the 1960s—it has become increasingly clear that the most durable bulwarks against hard line Islamic politics are to be found within strains of nationalist politics. The problem for Indonesian democracy is that these strains are typically entwined with social interests embedded within the apparatus of the state, including the military, that have been more historically concerned with social control than social representation.

Read the full article in New Mandala.


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How our government segregated America
Richard Rothstein & Erik Moshe,
History News Network, 22 October 2017

The long term consequences of these policies, in terms of economic prosperity and equality, are enormous. Consider the example that you mentioned before of a development called Levittown, east of New York City, which was duplicated in hundreds and hundreds of cases in metropolitan areas all over the country. These suburbs were financed with guarantees by the Federal Housing Administration on condition – on explicit condition – that no homes could be sold to African Americans. In the case of Levittown and many others, the Federal Housing Administration even required that Levitt include in every house deed in the development a clause prohibiting resale to African Americans or rental to African Americans. This is explicit segregation.

The white families which bought homes in Levittown or in Daly City, south of San Francisco, or San Lorenzo, south of Oakland, or hundreds of developments in between that similarly benefited from FHA financing guarantees on a racially-exclusive basis – those white families bought those homes in the mid-20th century for, in today’s dollars, roughly $100,000. Today those homes sell for 300, 400, $500,000. The white families who bought homes in those developments over the next couple of generations gained 200, 300, $400,000 in equity, in wealth. That’s the main way that middle-class families get wealth in this country, by the acquisition of equity in their homes. African Americans who were prohibited from moving into those developments, although many were equally financially capable of affording to do so— these were working class homes selling for modest prices—rented apartments instead and accumulated none of that wealth. But for white families who accumulated that wealth, over the next couple of generations, they have used it to finance their children’s college educations, they used it to finance their own retirements, they used it for medical emergencies, and primarily, they used it to bequeath wealth to their children, who could then use that wealth as down payments for their own homes.

So, much of the economic inequality that we see today between African Americans and whites is directly attributable to unconstitutional federal housing policy practiced by the Federal Housing Administration in the 20th century. Today, African American incomes on average are about 60% of white incomes but African American wealth is only about 7% of white wealth, and that enormous disparity between a 60% income ratio and a 7% wealth ratio is almost entirely attributable to unconstitutional federal housing policy.

Read the full article on History News Network.


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A modern mosque without minarets
stirs controversy in Tehran

Saeed Kamali Dehghan, Guardian, 23 October 2017

When the Tehran authorities commissioned the construction of a mosque near the City theatre – one of Iranian capital’s most distinctive buildings – it was always going to be a tricky balancing act for the architects to design something unique that did not eclipse the adjacent structure.

The theatre, which was built before the 1979 revolution, has a spectacular tiled circular structure with external pillars and is the largest exclusive space in Iran for performing arts. The new mosque next door is a modern building that sits in harmony with it, sweeping from the ground towards the Qibla (the direction of Mecca), allowing sunlight through windows embedded in a wave-like structure.

But the Vali-e-Asr mosque, designed by the Iranian architects Reza Daneshmir and Catherine Spiridonoff, is stirring controversy in a country that hosts some of the world’s most glittering places of worship. Iranian hardliners are refusing to recognise it as a mosque, complaining that it does not have a minaret or proper dome, and that it is dwarfed by the theatre.

The conservative Mashregh News said: ‘A mosque sacrificed for the City theatre,’ adding that it had been ‘decapitated in the honour of the theatre’. It was ‘an insulting, postmodern design’ that is ‘empty of any meaning’, it said.

Read the full article in the Guardian.


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The central story of our lives
Michael Saler, Times Literary Supplement,
19 October 2017

Once upon a time science seemed destined to replace religion as the source of all explanations. Today, however, ‘story’ has become the master metaphor that we use to interpret experience, including the mysteries of God and Nature. This recourse to story-talk is everywhere, uniting the two cultures, the arts and sciences. It is thus not surprising to find the astrophysicist Sean Carroll endorsing Muriel Rukeyser’s line of poetry, ‘The universe is made of stories, not of atoms’. Carroll used it to support his own brief for the ‘poetic naturalism’ of science: ‘That is absolutely correct. There is more to the world than what happens; there are the ways we make sense of it by telling its story’.

This cultural turn from metaphysics to metafictions helps to explain why so many readers, young and older, have greeted Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage as if it were the Second Coming. A forthright atheist, Pullman has made the secular balm of stories one of his principal themes, finding in them the ‘capacity to enchant, to excite, to move, to inspire’. This holds true for ‘science stories’ as well, assuaging our fear that science repudiates wonder for analysis, prescriptive morals for descriptive accuracy. Pullman insists that scientific narratives can be as marvellous as fairy tales, and as ethical as a chivalric quest. The key is that ‘we have to behave honestly towards them and to the process of doing science in the first place’.

These are among the salutary messages conveyed in Pullman’s own tales, which combine the moral earnestness of the nineteenth century with the self-reflexivity of the twentieth. He is also conversant with postmodernism’s delight in the endless play of signifiers, but doesn’t find that approach helpful when it comes to crafting dynamic, vividly realized tales capable of appealing to all ages. Pullman modestly declares that he writes vulgar stories, not highfalutin’ literature; his faith in the elemental power of inventive plots, plausible characters and limpid prose produces page-turners pleasing to the child in us all. Yet his broad allusions to literature and science, and the larger philosophic themes that oxygenate his narratives without choking their momentum, are notably grown-up. (The ‘alethiometer’, an instrument that captures truth through symbols, is brilliant as it is – but it is even better for operating through a Keatsian ‘negative capability’.) He is unapologetically Victorian in his belief that stories should be morally engaging and socially responsible.

Pullman is also surprisingly Victorian in his residual suspicion of fantasy, even as he conjures into life talking bears and flying witches. In Daemon Voices, a collection of luminously written (if occasionally contradictory) essays on the nature, techniques and joys of fiction, he maintains that he is a realist rather than a fantasy writer. He infinitely prefers the company of George Eliot to that of JRR Tolkien, let alone ‘his thousand imitators’: ’There isn’t a character in the whole of The Lord of the Rings who has a tenth of the complexity . . . of even a fairly minor character from Middlemarch’. He concludes that fantasy is ‘a great vehicle when it serves the purposes of realism, and a lot of old cobblers when it doesn’t’.

Read the full article in the TLS.

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The images are, from top down: Australian government ‘No way’ immigration poster; Gulls in flight, photographer unknown; global map of indigenous skin colour (credit UPV/EHU); poster of Joshua Oppenheimer’s film The Act of Killing, about the mass killings of communists in Indonesia.