Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Lessons Connected: Afghanistan to the Middle East

I was going through old files on my computer, and I found this very powerful (at least to me) video report from CNN about Afghanistan civilians fleeing their homes in the face of the U.S.-NATO Kandahar offensive. This video is about 8 months old, and I also do know that Afghanistan is not per-say in the Middle East region. However I think it ties in well with our talk with Islamic politics and terrorism. Just so I am not misunderstood, I am not saying anyone in the video is a terrorist or anything else; they are innocent families just wanting a peaceful life and whats best for their children.

In the video, you can see the refugee camp is poorly built, the small children are sleeping on barren floors. The video is dated February, so it is still winter. The conditions seem horrible, and I sure there is poor sanitation and food hardships. In America this would be more than unacceptable. Where is the UNHCR? Hopefully the situation has changed.

In class and through the primary source readings we have seen that Islamic parties in government often provide more social welfare and are connected to the civilians through grassroots efforts. Not saying Pres. Karzai isn't, but from the video, it doesn't seem much was done for refugees. Thus, people may be swayed to support a candidate in Afghanistan who provides support for the people. The inability of a government to provide for its people, and it looks like Karzai's government is one of them, spur the formation of parties which are closer to the people (i.e. Islamic groups) .

These families have left their homes, and their lives have been shaken because of the war against terrorism. If the Afghan government or/and the U.S. government focused on improving and modernizing the country's infrastructure, economy, and health care; maybe there would be less terrorist. If the United States does more to raise the living conditions of Afghan civilians, by providing a safe environment, building society, and creating jobs, terrorism may seem less appealing. This notion applies especially to the youth, who have been more prone to join radical organization due to the lack of jobs and a secure future in the country.

Both these notions can certainly can apply to Middle Eastern states in understanding Islamism and why some join radical organizations.

I'm just throwing my opinion out there about these ideas. Even though Afghanistan is not the focus of our class, I think the lessons in the video are. I encourage you to watch if you have 2-3 minutes free.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Is Terrorism a result of globalization? Of the 'clash of civilizations'?

For this post I am going to respond to the question in the sliderocket (as pointed out by Professor Webb) : "Is Terrorism a result of globalization? Of the 'clash of civilization'?". This is two-sided question, so I am going to attempt to answer each part.

1) "Is terrorism a result of globalization?"

Is terrorism as a concept a result of globalization? Certainly not. Terrorism goes back thousands of years and is present through many different societies. Terrorism is not something new to the human experience.

However, terrorism has become more dangerous and more effective through globalization.

With the development of new technologies and more advanced weaponry, the ability to conduct terrorist activities, at least in my view, has become easier. In addition, through the new global media and through the internet, terrorists are able to communicate to infinite more people and secure more resources than ever before. For instance, Al-Qaeda has been able to spread their message across the world through viral videos and other material. In addition, the Al Qaeda leadership was (and still) able to recruit, train, fund, and communicate with operatives abroad. Without the internet or global media, it would be much more difficult to do this. The fact that the world is more interconnected also makes terrorism more potent. A bomb in New York or London affects the markets and policies in China, India and Europe. An attack in one part of the world sends ripples across the globe; making the message and intent even clearer. Actions are no longer localized; they're globalized. The ease at recruiting, training, funding, and communicating has eased and perhaps spurred terrorist activities across the globe. Terrorism is not the result of globalization, but it is certainly aided and received more potency due to the results of globalization and an increasing interconnected world.

2) "Is terrorism a result of the clash of civilizations?"

Both yes and no. Cultures have blended and mixed for thousands of years. Look at Hellenism. It is a  hybrid of classical  cultures. Was there terrorism back then? Maybe, but nothing historically huge that I can see. If terrorism was directly because of the clash of cultures, then wouldn't American have many, many terrorist organizations? Of course there have been terrorist groups that have sprang up in all parts of the globe through time, and there has been much animosity between different nationalities. In my view, terrorism is a product in of 'the clash of civilizations' in the new way globalization has opened cultures up to each other. Let me clarify. Now, more than ever before, people of different cultures, nationalities, and beliefs are interacting with each other. Each has their own views on how the world works, what's right and wrong, etc. etc. In addition, companies, products and beliefs from every part of the world are entering regions where there was ether minimal contact, or weren't exposed before. Some people and groups, see this new, large influx of ideas as a threat to their traditional values and ways of living. Some groups go through the proper channels in government and sometimes get their voices heard. Others (ether because of government, lack of education or other) resort to violence to get their point across.

The feeling that one's culture is being imposed upon is not something new, but the way it is happening with technology is. Thus, through the use of global technology and interconnection we see a rise in terrorist activties by the 'clash of civilizations'.

Globalization is new to the world, and no one has quite figured out all its implications, and how to adequately deal with it. However, a rise and ease of terrorism is certainly a factor and result of a globalizing world. In an age where a World War III scenario would destroy all life on earth, conventional wars between sovereign powers are substantially declining, and the intense mixture of culture; terrorism has filled the gap for violence quite nicely.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A "Gesture" of Good Will, Redemptive Terrorism, or Quid Pro Quo?

This past Sunday Sarah Shroud, one of the three U.S. hikers detained by Iran for over a year, returned to the United States. Shroud was held in Tehran's Evin prison for 410 days after Iran claimed she and two other Americans crossed the border into Iran. Iran then claimed they were U.S. spies. The two other Americans are still in Evin prison, waiting to be tried in Iranian court. In her press conference in New York, Shroud said it was her "deepest hope that the world will not let this humanitarian gesture...go unrecognized". President Ahmadinejad now urges the U.S. to "make a humanitarian gesture to release eight Iranians 'illegally detained' in the United States" according to the BBC.

Is the release of one hiker, truly humanitarian gesture from Iran? Is Iran finally started to bow to the new sanctions imposed this summer? Personally, I don't think that's the main reason. I think Iran is playing a hostage game of their own. Its sort of like two children having an argument; "I'll give yours back if you give mine". This may be stretching it far, but in the Gary Gambill reading (which I thought was really interesting) he talks about redemptive terrorism. Redemptive terrorism "usually involves the seizure of civilian hostages as a 'bargaining chip' to be exchanged for a specific concession." In this case, Iran is holding the U.S. hikers hostage in exchange for the U.S. holding eight Iranians "illegally detained".  I think Iran is definitely making a hostage situation, and judging by the speech by Shroud, they let her go back home only to have their message revealed loud and clear to the U.S.

They want a quid pro quo.

Iran has employed terrorism in order to get that quid pro quo from the United States. Now I don't have the information to say the hikers never crossed the Iranian border by mistake, but I do clearly see that Iran took a glimpse at North Korea's playbook. The U.S. has twice sent former Presidents to North Korea to broker the release of Americans. In turn, it gives North Korea an ego boost seeing that the world's dominant nation has to kowtow (you get what I am saying) for their kindness to have them released. Iran, however, has adapted this redemptive terrorist strategy and is now publicly using it on the United States. A concession or diplomatic kowtow from the U.S. would be huge to Iran and to Ahmadinejad. I don't suggest doing that as of now. But it goes to show that any state can play the terrorism game, and its just not exclusive to non-state actors.

Hopefully the other two hikers will be released soon, just as Shroud. However, it seems like Iran is going to be playing this game longer. The real question is, will redemptive terrorism work for Iran? The United States has been dealt the cards, its now their turn act.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A New Turkish Constitution: Looking Towards the Future or Clever Revenge?

On Sunday, September 12, Turkey voted on a referendum package of constitutional amendments. It passed with about 58% of the vote. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the package "a milestone for democracy."  The constitutional package is indeed a step forward for Turkey. The package has new amendments which bring Turkey closer to European style governments. The new amendments "allow collective bargaining for public sector workers and affirmative action measures for women." The new amendments also"guarantee gender equality and put in place measures to protect children, the elderly and the disabled", according to CNN. In what seemed like a foreign policy shifting away from Europe and the United States, Turkey has ratified new changes which make it seem more like a European state. The vote was important for Turkey in a few ways: 1) It was a step forward for workers and women's rights 2) It illustrated the stability of the Turkish Republic 3) It was a vote of confidante and approval for PM Erdogan's government and AKP party, and lastly 4) It now altered the nature of the secular courts.

I would like to talk about the last point. A few of the newly passed amendments curb the power of the military courts, lets parliament appoint judges and increases the number of judges of Turkey's Constitutional Court (their Supreme Court) from 11 to 17. One may ask, why is this important?

With the beginning of the Turkish Republic in the 1920s, Mustafa Kemal laid the foundations of what he wanted to be a secular state. The military and the courts remain a bastion of Kemal's vision. The Justice and Development (AKP)  party, formed in the late 1990s by Islam reformists, swept into power in the 2002, and 2007 elections. Between the two main Turkish political parties, the AKP and the People's Republican Party (aka CHP, Kemal's party), the AKP is more conservative and have closer ties to Islam. In 2002 and in 2008, the AKP was brought to trial in the Constitutional Court for conducting anti-secular activities. In 2002 the charge was terminated, but in 2008, the party escaped disbandment by one vote (seven votes are needed to disband a party, the verdict was 6-5).

The new amendments could change the balance of power in Turkey, and also its secular roots. The parliament, controlled by the AKP can now appoint judges to the highest court.Since the AKP party has stronger ties with religion than any other ruling party in Turkey's history, it could mean the appointment of six new judges who are less strict with religious activities. Thus, it is putting the court into the political arena. In addition, curbing the power of the military courts also presents a win for the AKP; it reduces the chances of a coup and bashes the other pillar of the secular roots.

The new constitution certainly liberalizes and gives more rights to Turkish society. However, are the courts amendments sweet vengeance in response to the AKP's two trials in 2002 and 2008? We'll see what it brings, but it is certainly a win for the AKP.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A New Perspective

After reading Bernard Lewis' "Freedom and Justice in the Modern Middle East", it put me into a new perspective in viewing the governments of the Middle East. Though I have written research papers on the Middle Eastern society before, Lewis illustrated something that I, and I think many, tend to overlook. The point which I definitely overlooked was Islamic political philosophy and sources of legitimacy.

Last year I took political philosophy, but it focused on western ideas and philosophers. Western Societies have extensive writings on political philosophy and sources of political legitimacy dating from Plato and spanning to the present day. The concepts which have caught on are the social contract and legitimacy in binding a sovereign, chosen by the people, to that contract. In essence, social contract theory. However, I haven't explored or even thought about Islamic political philosophy and sources of legitimacy. Lewis does a great job in exposing the reader (well, at least for me) in the Islamic concepts of consultation, consent, and the way Islamic rulers operated in conjunction with traditional powers like the gentry, tribes, and merchants. Its very interesting to see the delicate checks and balances that developed in Islamic societies.

However, modern technologies and weaponry have led the rulers of many Islamic societies to gain more power. By not having these traditional limitations, rulers have transitioned to authoritarian governments. Lewis  makes a case that democracy has not spread is not because of a history if authoritarianism (which was checked by the traditional powers just mentioned) but by: new censoring technology, new profits from resources like oil, entrenched parties, and the lack of the idea of citizenship. Lewis states that a "more traditional hurdle is the absence in classical Islamic political thought and practice of the notion of citizenship, in the sense of being free and participating member of a civic entity." Now, this is not to say the people of the Middle East don't know what citizenship means, but rather it is an ideal that was brought from the west. We take citizenship as a right, however, it was because of the influence of the political writings in the west throughout the centuries.

In order to understand Middle Eastern states, we must first understand political theories behind them. The west has spread its notion of contract theory, democracy and citizenship all over the globe. However societies, like the Middle East, have struggled in adapting their notions of state legitimacy to the modern era. This struggle has translated into the present day international political mess (for lack of a much better word) in he Middle East. My guess is once the world figures out the solution to the current problem of Islamic political philosophy, some of the problems in Middle Eastern authoritarianism will be solved too. Whatever the case, the Lewis reading was immensely helpful in exposing me to the other side of the story in Middle Eastern authoritarianism; the historic roots and philosophical causes of the current issue.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Islamophobia: Not the America I Know

The 9th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorists attacks are on Saturday; it is an issue that touches all of our hearts. Being from New York City, it is an event that especially has meaning to me. For long as I live, I will remember where I was, the emotion on people's faces, the screams ambulances/fire trucks/police cars outside my classroom window, and my fear. The people who committed the attacks were radicals, who's only goal was to kill innocent American citizens to feed their own hatred.

Nine years later, you think that the wounds made between the American people and the Islamic community would have healed, and the American people would have came to their senses that it wasn't the Islamic faith or community who attacked us; it was radical terrorists. Apparently not. Terry Jones, the Pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center church in Florida, plans to burn Qurans on Saturday. For a church name like Dove World Outreach Center, its totally misleading. Its a good thing many Americans have stepped up and spoke out against this act of ignorance like Gen. Petraeus and Hillary Clinton. International figures like N.A.T.O. Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has denounced the Quran burning too. The real question is: what is happening in America?

The answer is that Islamophobia has again reared its ugly head. Just a few weeks ago, a Muslim cab driver in New York City was stabbed by a 21 year old. Yes, he was drunk. But then again, being drunk doesn't make you stab innocent people because of what religion they practice. Islamophobia has made it to the national headlines again because of Park51, the Cordoba Initiative, to have an Islamic Community Center two blocks away from Ground Zero. Take Newt Gingrich's interview on Fox News. It is totally ignorant, destructive, appalling, and shows true lack of judgment and character from a man widely speculated to announce his candidacy for the presidency.

People are opposed to this project (aka the falsely named "Ground Zero Mosque") because of sensitivity issues, or a "triumph to Islam". They argue that putting a community center glorifies Islam. But by Newt Gingrich and others equating building the center (or mosque as they like to call it) as a testament to Islam, they are saying that Islam as a religion was behind the attacks. They couldn't be more wrong in every aspect. The matter of fact is that it wasn't the religion or community of Islam who attacked us on 9/11; it was radical terrorists. Muslims are law abiding, good people just like you and me. Some Americans are brainwashed into thinking Islam is a destructive religion. Putting up a community center with a prayer room two blocks away (you cant even see the Ground Zero sight from where it is going to be built, I visited downtown this summer) is ludicrous and just shows how media bigots are spreading misinformation. Park51 is a community center, not a mosque. The center will have  recreational programs, a culinary class, a child day care center, youth programs, and a prayer room. It is two blocks away from Ground Zero, and for people who don't know, there is a small mosque in a basement of a building operating since the 1970s four blocks away. The basement prayer center isn't even enough to hold 20 people! In addition, during 9/11, the center helped bring food and other supplies to the rescue workers. That sounds really radical to me (sarcasm).

Its funny, again, how the conservative right, Tea Party and Republicans, have come out against this center. Aren't the conservatives the ones who say they champion the constitution (aka freedom of religion)? Looks like their true colors are showing here, and it ain't red, white and blue.

I am New Yorker, and I am an American. I mourn all who were murdered on September 11th, and as I said, this is very close to my heart. I grew up in an America where everyone was tolerated, regardless of race, nationality, and religion. Islamophobia is totally unacceptable, especially coming from figures in government and the media. I hope, that the American people can step away from this bigotry, and once again be the nation that I remember.

Kieth Olbermann did a fantastic monologue on the Park51 controversy. Whatever your stance on Park51, I ask you take the time to watch it, because he hits the nail right on the head.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

War with Iran? Not so fast War Hawks.

After reading the Leveretts' article debunking the notion of war with Iran, it got me thinking of how short sighted these war hawks actually are. I first want to say that I do not support a nuclear Iran, and I also believe in Israeli security. That being said, the idea of having the United States or Israel make a preemptive air strike on Iran's nuclear facilities is ludicrous. As the article points out, there are "roughly 25,000-30,000 Jews continue living in Iran, with civil status equal to other Iranians and a constitutionally guaranteed parliamentary seat." In addition, according to the Reuters report used in the article, an nuclear Iran "'would blunt Israel's military autonomy'". Blunting military autonomy is very different than facing imminent destruction. Israel is already one of the most powerful military forces in the Middle East. Though their power may be "blunted" by a potential nuclear Iran, states like Saudi Arabia and others are sure not to be pleased with Iran's new power.

So lets say that America or Israel makes a preemptive air strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, whats next? I can take a neo-conservative view now, and say that America is supreme and all we need to do is just bomb, bomb, and bomb. No one can stop us, we're America, right? Instead of living in a dream world, I prefer to look at things in reality. Yes, America is the only world superpower and our military is the strongest in the world. However, we still have 50,000 troops in a recent-fragile Iraq and 90,000 troops and service members in a volatile Afghanistan. An air strike on Iran would mean 1) War with Iran 2) We are automatically going to be deemed  the aggressors 3) More money towards a 3rd Middle Eastern war 4) More troops that we don't have (draft?) and 5) The subsequent end of all the public diplomacy/prestige successes and efforts in the Middle East and around the world.

War with Iran would be a political nightmare. A third war in the Middle East would overstretch our resources, put our economy in further debt (funny how its the Republicans/Tea Party-ers aka "massive-war-spenders-turned-deficit-hawks" endorse this, isn't it? More on them later.), and ruin America across the world. Our allies in the E.U., N.A.T.O., and U.N., and others in the world would certainly not send aid without supporting resolutions. I doubt these organizations are going to be blindly led into war again, they probably will experience déjà vu like its 2003. In the largely globalized and interconnected world, we cannot afford to act unilaterally; we need a cadre of backing. We would need to procure support, like Bush did in the first Gulf War. However, it wouldn't be possible to do that for Iran as of now, especially if we are the aggressors. Arab impressions of the United States would plummet, distrust would become rampant again, the young (and liberal might I add) Iranian population would turn against us, and it would just give radical terrorist organizations more incentive to recruit. Israel would never have peace with Palestine, and most likely be at war with other Middle Eastern countries yet again. Essentially, war with Iran would start a possible World War III. Drastic, yes. But also in the realm of possibility.

War with Iran would be a fatal and extremely poor decision. I hope that these War Hawks wake up and open their eyes. America is indeed great and Israeli security is important. However we cant act unilaterally and carelessly waste the live of our brave men and women in uniform. The world is changing, and the attitude that America or Israel can act how they want, especially in attacking a power like Iran is something that should be buried in the past. Neo-conservatives and War Hawks, please, wake up and smell the new way the world works now.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Uneasy Body Language

As the Israel-Palestinian peace talks at the White House begin, most can tell the meeting between the leaders are uneasy.

Take a look at this   photo from the New York Times.

Mr. Abbas and Mr. Netanyahu are obviously uneasy. The half grin by Pres. Abbas and the stern glare of PM Netanyahu create a particularly tense and not so optimistic aurora. Now does this photo tell of what the outcome of these talks are to be? Certainly (and I hope) not. However, it is a early reminder of just how much tension and recent animosity there has been between the Palestine Authority and Israel. I hope that both parties can overcome such obvious tension and reach some sort of agreement (ideally a comprehensive one). If both leaders want their names engraved in the history books as their predecessors, Menachem Begin and Anwar El Sadat, each have to concede maybe a little more than they would like. As one of (if not the most) thorny issue in international politics in the past 70 years, it is going to require sacrifices for a lasting peace. Lets hope the awkward handshake seen in the photo is proven worng through these talks.

On a lighter note, here is another picture from the New York Times which could double like a movie poster, maybe for Reservoir Dogs.