Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Washington and State in the Spring

The end of this semester marks a new page in my Dickinson career; I am going to study in Washington D.C. for the semester under The Washington Center program. While in D.C. I work an internship full time as well as take one class a week. I am going to be interning at the Department of State in the IO Bureau and I am more than pumped. I finally get to (hopefully) handle diplomacy and see how the process works first hand. I've been in far too many classes which explain the structure of diplomacy; now I get to help implement it.

I don't actually know what Ill be doing at my position just yet. Though I'll probably not going to be the guy who gets Sec. Clinton coffee, I will definitely not be exposed to any top-secret stuff. However I am really excited about looking over documents, sitting in on meetings, and just getting to know the people who work on multilateral diplomacy. I have a strong feeling that these "bureaucrats" are not as evil as some politicians make them out to be...

Another thing I am excited about is getting to know the city. I know wherever I need to in New York, so I assume D.C. may not be as difficult. That's just an assumption, however. I'll have to learn train and shuttle schedules as well as shops and places in the area. Not to mention restaurants and entertainment too. Essentially, I am starting over.

But that's the best part.

Being a city where I eventually want to make a career, learning my way around is definitely one of the things I am looking forward to. Its an empowering experience to know that you're in control of what you want to do and where you want to take your life. Being at TWC and State is just the first step, and an important  one, to my life goals.

Will I learn a lot? Yes. Will I have while doing it? Definitely. These are the times we never forget.

Harry S. Truman Building aka The State Department

Thursday, December 8, 2011


This was the last day of Religion: Conflict, Violence, and Peacemaking. I honestly have to say that this was probably the best course I have taken at Dickinson to date. Not only did a learn a lot, I also have valuable insight an tools to start further pursuing conflict studies; and this goes well with my focus on international politics.

I have learned so much from this course whether its the nature of religion, how religion interacts with conflict, how it can further conflict, how it ties into psychology and identity, and concrete ways to bring people back together. I have also have in-depth knowledge of the Breivik bombings in Norway, and it is a far more complex conflict than meets the eye. It is important for anyone who's looking at Europe to understand the Breivik case, as it is sure to be a recurring theme in the coming years due to globalization.

Though this course is just an introduction, I intend on further pursuing this. Wanting to go into international relations and national security, I think this fits well. It also has opened my eyes to the deeper nature of some of the world's most complex problems, and has effectively shown me the errors in analyzing conflicts in a purely secular lens.

Though religion is often not the causes of the conflict, it plays a defining role in them. In order to solve the problem, one has to understand every dimension of it. Often, and I was guilty of it, we overlook an important and defining factor in reason's behind why people chose to do certain actions; the role of their spirituality.

This course has opened new lanes for me, including potentially going to grad school for conflict management. Who knows, maybe this is what I'll end up doing. Politics and International relations don't stop at the state level, as I have been shown.

Thank you Prof. Staub, Ill be taking another course with you next year.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Full Circle: Back to the Individual

From the beginning of the course to now, I believe we've come full circle.

What I mean by this is that we started by defining religion, religious concepts, how the individual internalizes religion from society and more. We then turned to community, identity, demonization and how religion works with societal conditions to produce violence.

Now, for peacemaking, we're back to emphasis on the individual in respects to the peacemaker and the person(s) who have changed. As shown through the video on the duo in Nigeria and the reading by Smock; individuals are a powerful potential. I wrote a blog post on the nature of the individual for my class last year, and I stand by everything I said.

However some concepts in that post don't overtly apply to religious peacemaking. As evident, the pastor and the imam have developed techniques which spurred the creation of new peaace accords in ravaged rreligious communities. Though we have looked at numerous groups that do peacemaking, individuals are at the heart of this. The case study of Guatemala in the USIP reading seemed to focus heavily on the actions of a few people which led to the formation of the peace treaty. In the Smock reading, personal tradegy, or experiences lead individuals to challenge their own beliefs and help spread peace instead of people part of the violence.

In essence, it is about taking the indiviudal out of a community, making them question their long-held assumptions, then putting them back in the community to focus on unobtrusive mobilization (from my social movements class). Unobtrustive mobilization is the concept that people work within the system of insitution in order to change the system itself. Though not a social movement, I feel this term has some revelvance when describing how changed individuals work within their religious communities to bring about peace.

After all, change has to come from within before it could spread throughout.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Reflections about The Pastor and The Imam

The movie about the Pastor James Wuye and  and the Imam Muhammad Ashafa in Nigeria was powerful.

Not only did it provide us with a concrete example of religious peacemaking, it also served to show us their methodology. One of the most important things I gathered from the movie (and there were a lot) was that effective religious peacemaking has to come from from the grassroots: local leaders and citizens coming together and spreading the idea. Though peace can be made by politicos or larger religious leaders, those pacts do nothing to bring together ordinary people who see another as an enemy.

Almost everyone in class saw the movie, but here a simplification of the process (how I saw it): bring community together -> separate different groups -> have each group explain their claims on why the "other" is bad -> have each group produce a list of "likes" and "dislikes" of the other group -> bring groups together and go over "likes" and "dislikes" -> do more community building through rituals and prayer. Prayer and ritual are used throughout this initial process along with scriptural readings of peace from the religions in conflict..

As I said, I am simplifying what I saw. However, demonstrated throughout the video, this process is extremely effective. It gives participants time to "vent" in order to get the anger out, and become educated on the other group's viewpoints. It also serve to re-humanize a marginalized group, which is important on many different levels; especially a moral one. In effect, the strategies used by the duo knock down physical as well as psychological barriers.

It was truly amazing to see individuals who once hated each-other, including the pastor and the imam, become changed and become committed to improving their communities. With so many cultures in the world being focused on community rather than the individual, re-humanizing the "others" puts the focus back on solving problems in a community rather than on hate.

I remember the pastor using the simile that him and the imam are like a married couple; if they divorce, their children will suffer. Case in point, the world needs more couples like this.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Implications of Globalization: The Breivik Case

Something I left out of my paper, that I thought I'd expand on briefly...

What implications does the Breivik case have on the globalization theory?

Mass migrations of peoples across the globe have damaged the very notion of the nation-state identity in the international system. Nation-states, states for a certain ethnicity, have been the dominant force in international politics since its inception in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia. One belonged to a state which for their ethnicity - Norway for Norwegians, France for the French, Mongolia for the Mongols etc. etc.

However, with people, ideas, and business moving around the globe in an unprecedented rate the idea of a nation-state becomes a blur. An Iraqi now lives in Norway. An American now lives in Portugal. Nation-states are losing the purpose of why they were created. Thus we come to a point, is the notion of a nation-state outdated? Supra-National organizations as the EU, AU, and the UN all serve to diminish the power of the nation-state and instead foster a collective identity. With collective identity, it means that some identity is being lessened or put on the back-burner. National heritage now becomes a shared regional heritage among a very diverse group of people. Is there anymore national heritage, in this case?

Furthermore, globalization goes to show that populations of developed countries are just as, or more, venerable as developing nations. Though developing nations have very serve problems, developed nations are now in a struggle for identity. Breivik is a perfect example. Breivik is from Norway, the West. Norway frequently takes high places in development, freedom, and living indexes as well as is known internationally for its peace initiatives. However, Breivik perceived immigrants from the MENA region as a threat to the very essence of who he was, and he framed this fear into a religious perspective. With additional prodding from far-right politicians, scholars, and bloggers, Breivik choose to commit the heinous massacres on July 22. Does religion supersede national identity in globalization cases? Is religious violence the new protest to globalization, as national identity is no longer a safe haven for those who feel threatened?

The implications of globalization is the changing paradigms of international relations and international identity. Supra-national institutions, identities, and ideas (religion) will become more prevalent than belonging to a state. Religion will be brought up to the forefront of a conflict that may be entirely secular. The role religion will play in the future may increase; an irony to the secular way of thought the world operates now.  By no means is this going to happen quickly, but it could certainly be a theme to look out for. Those who are skilled in religious peace may quickly become the newest hot commodity of globalization.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Is the Cure to Religious Violence a Global Mindset? An Irony

Teehan does it again. Though our first reading of his work (about evolutionary violence) opened my eyes, his conclusion certainly got me thinking. In his conclusion, it seems he is arguing for a "common faith that must be nurtured" in "terms of understanding the human condition" (219).

To me this sounds like in order to solve the problems of ingroup/outgroup, ethnic boundaries, and other divisions which promote violence; he argues for a new thought which bonds the global community together. His idea, is to bring a bigger picture to everyone so that boundaries are so small they won't matter. I could be wrong, but this sounds like he is advocating for a global identity.

The reason this is so interesting to me is that, through my research on the Breivik case and our study of many others, is that this global thought (globalization) is a main theory of religious conflict. How could one advocate for a global mindset when it is this thought that spurs violence in the first place?

I understand that with increasing globalization, a global mindset will develop. However, I fell like before this global identity develops (can there be an identity if you identify with everyone?), there will be more violence due to the backlash of the effects globalization has on society. the Norway bombing are is just an example of this backlash. Though I agree that we as society must "zoom-out" to a larger picture, I am also not a religious actor. I just thought it exposed an irony for me - can an idea both support and curb violence?

Maybe I was misreading this concept as argued by Teehan. While I agree that people need to see past divisions, it are these divisions which produce violence in the first place. I feel that this idea can be a component in peace theory, however, I am convinced there are stronger ideas in preventing religious violence.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Intro to Peace Theory: "Think Globally, Act Locally"?

As from our discussion today, Juergensmeyer stood all of us up. He had terrific cases and theories, but at the end let us down. Though his idea of promoting an environment which religious moderates can prosper is a good idea, there was little concrete concepts to promote peace. Sometimes one man doesnt have all the answers, and you have to synthesize ideas to get a clearer picture.

Mark Juergensmeyer

Being a student of political science and security studies, I can't wait to tackle peace theories and strategies. After being exposed to concepts of violence, religion, identity, and root causes of extremism, it will be refreshing to see what policymakers can do in order to make this world more peaceful.

A few good ideas were brought up in class - cross-cultural interaction to decrease total identity, and economic incentives - but I am excited to find out more. I understand that violence is part of human nature and it will never go away.

In addition after our class, cosmic violence is not something that one can "destroy". As much as we fight in Afghanistan, one cannot "kill" an idea. The only way to do that is to kill all who know and/or believe it; that's just validating violence in the first place. Ideas don't necessarily have to be "destroyed" in order to have them be unappealing. Bonding others together, by economics, socially or politically, can make violence unappealing. Moreover, creating a good status quo in society can deter violence. If everyone is benefiting, why disrupt it? Just like the Palestinian boy at the end of the book who wouldn't bomb a soccer field because he loves soccer, it is imperative to build off these common connections.

I am guessing we will see national strategies being employed on local levels. Tip O'Neill's  phrase that "all politics is local" is true, and doesn't just have to apply to politics. It certainly applies to combating violence and misconceptions in society. The Dickinson motto of "Think Globally, Act Locally" is exactly what I think we'll be seeing, or at least its I think what we need to see.

Knowing the in-depth concepts about religion and violence, we are already done with half the process. Now its time to learn how to provide effective policy to these concepts in order to reduce violence. There is light at the end of this tunnel, and I'm excited to see it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Defense of Identity; A Common Cause

Sneek peek at thoughts from my second paper...

I am going to start off this post with the comments my good friend Matt wrote on my previous post on Identity in India: "Think about your high school football games. It is a rare time when all the students, parents, and teachers come together from their separate cliches and groups to cheer for their collective high school team and against the rival school. The students are part of their individual groups (seniors, juniors, jocks, nerds, etc) primarily but in battle (at the football stadium) the groups are united. This is another situation where Religion parallels sports in the US."

I really liked this comment and between this and the Hindu chapter we read, it got me thinking on identity. How do people of diverse backgrounds come together under a common identity?

Globalization has played a big part in increasing identity awareness. Just has Hindus have been able to rally around a national identity based upon religion, people rally around their own when they feel threatened. As Rithambra said in Kakar, the Hindu's are "fighting for the preservation of a civilization, for his Indianness, for national consciousness, for the recognition of his true nature" (157). A somewhat familiar theme here. The notion of defense has come up with our class before. It is in defense of a religion that people find it easier to validate violent actions.

However, it is also an important  idea to talk about. When people feel threatened by an out-groups entrance into their sphere of power - by a foreign force, foreign ideas, foreign competition, or perhaps a rival high school - the "dimensions of ethnicity stand out in sharp relief and the individual becomes painfully or exhilaratingly aware of certain aspects of one's cultural identity" (150). The defense of one's culture, convictions, and inner-self is certainly enough to encourage community with others who feel the same way. It is the inherent attack on someone's sovereignty as an individual which goes down to the basic level of human survival.

If you are no longer yourself, are you yourself anymore?

Thus to defend against a common enemy helps one keep who they are. Though in sport this individual sovereignty is not under threat as in other cases, it serves to highlight how being in a community can define your identity thus create the conditions for intense communal defense against "the others".

Globalization has been bringing up these intense battles over identity. All around the globe, people fear of their own connection to land, and culture will be diminished by foreign entities. As in the case of Anders Breivik, he identified with a Christian Europe, and to not act, would be failing himself.

...End paper preview

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Layers upon Layers of Identity in India

While reading Kaker and about the violence in Pardiwada, I came across this passage:

"It was strikingly apparent that the Pardis' self-identification as Hindus occurs only when the talk of the Muslim; otherwise the conversation is of Pardis, Lodhas, Brahmins, Marwadis, and other castes. It seems a Hindu is bron only when the Muslim enters. Hindus cannot think of themselves as such without a simultaneous awareness of the Muslim's presence." (107)

Now, as a student of history and political science, I found this observation pretty significant. India, since its settlement in the Vedic Age has been cut across different caste lines. There was little sense of an 'ethnic' or 'national' identity that we are familiar with in the West. One was identified, and thus tied to, whatever class they were born in. However when talking about religion, the Pardis felt they were part of a larger, national identity.

I think the Pardis are a microcosm of the bigger effects of religion in relation to ethnic identity. Oftentimes spirituality erases ethnic borders. As shown by this example religion has the power to unite a whole sub-continent of people. For India, that's about 1 billion people are connected by a single similar theme.

This is not a new idea. Religion has been shown to unite many people across the world together. However, my point is that for a deeply stratified society as India, religion has a very powerful role in bonding 1 billion diverse peoples, cultures, and customs under a single banner.

Does this case translate to other religions and cultures in stratified societies, or is this only because of a religious conflict?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My Impressions of Naming 'Earth'

Yesterday, Matt and I finished 'Earth'. Man, I all I can say is what a surprise ending. As an aside, I am not sure why Lenny-baby was allowed to into protests and riots. If I were a parent, my kid would be no where near a city in strife.


Why is the movie called 'Earth'? This is a question that has a good chance being asked by Prof. Staub tomorrow, and I want to have some idea on how to answer it.

For me, there are a few reasons why the movie was named 'Earth'. For one, after going on wikipeida, the movie is part of Deepa Metha's 3-part trilogy. The other two movies are named 'Fire' (1996) and Water (2005). Other than this fact, one of the reasons I think Metha chose earth was because he is portraying the human element. Throughout the movie, we saw a group of friends torn apart by ethnic and religious violence. Communities were shattered.

One quote really stood out for me. When Dil Navaz (Ice Candy Man) was talking to Shanta after witnessing a Muslim literally torn to parts, he said that if she wouldn't be with him, he would turn into a beast the Lenny was so afraid of. In fighting for his religion, his identity, Navaz alludes that humans are capable of very primal things. Men can become animals; breaking friendships and killing others for religious reasons. Evolutionary violence at its finest. These instincts of humanity are part of the human element on Earth. It is coded in our history. By naming the movie 'Earth', Metha is furthering that allusion.

Another reason why I think Metha chose that name, in the three part series, is because she wanted to expose the profound nightmare that splitting India and Pakistan caused. Though Muslims and Hindus lived on one planet, splitting up territory which had been inhabited under one rule (more or less) for centuries made some feel like the very planet was split. Ground that was shared  is now marked up for others. For Lenny and her older friends, the very essence of their lives were in chaos. The old world was ending, and a dangerous new one beginning. This fact highlights the deep religious divisions on Earth itself. To some, it may not even feel like we live on the same planet.

Earth is something tangible and familiar to us; we live on it. Whether Metha was referring to the planet, or the ground itself,  I think she was making a point about the larger human condition due to religion. Though water is indeed a tangible thing too, its always some foreign and mysterious aspect; we can never conquer it. Humans can, and have, conquered land. Metha is, in my view, trying to expose this abstract fact.

Dil Navaz (Aamir Kan) and Carlton Lassiter (Timothy Omundson) of Pysch look awfully similar. Its almost uncanny.

Aamir Khan
Timothy Omundson

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Enemy with No Face

I was reading Juergensmeyer and I came to the bit he was talking about primary and secondary enemies. His portrayal of the secondary and collective enemies is really what caught my attention; maybe because it helped me understand religious violence towards government and innocent people. The concept is that the secondary enemy can be a moderate force, something which disrupts the dichotomy of good an evil in the view of a religious actor. The secondary enemy belittles the notion of cosmic war, in the view of the actor. People whom abide by the system (in the outgroup) are part of the collective identity of the system itself. Willing or unwillingly, they support the system and the immoralities that religious actors disdain.

Juergensmeyer states that "it is relatively easy to kill someone who is unknown" (178). I believe this notion is extremely true. There are no individual faces to these victims; only association that they are the enemy. This factor can, at times, exacerbate violence. If one does not know a person in another group, it is very easy to make judgements and even perform acts of violence. There is no bond or association with these groups of people. Thus if one performs an act of violence, they may feel less regret. They are known as the collective enemy.

Collective enemies are just another aspect of the way actors dehumanize other human beings. Grouping all into the same group as the enemy deprives them of human features. They are not seen as singular beings, but a force of evil that must be destroyed. They lack emotion, passion, intelligence and other human qualities. In essence, one can deem them as not human of non-existent.

This reminds me of the phrase: "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" If another human dies in the opposite side of the world, does it matter to you? An even bigger meta-physical question: how do you know if they even existed? This absolute disconnect provides an easier moral justification for violence. If you didn't know them, how can it affect you? Aren't they all apart of the greater evil?

There are around 7 billion people on this planet. It would be impossible to learn every other human being. However, this is why exchange programs are so crucial. It exposes people to others. If one has a personal connection with someone in another outgroup, it may be harder for one to perform violence against the said group.

Ready for this? Putting a face on a person can make all the difference. Secondary enemies now have an individual quality to them. No longer are they some evil force, but another human being. I am not saying this will stop violence, but increased inter-group interaction forms relationships that can hinder group-on-group violence. If it is how we act and form relationships with other humans that guide all our interactions, I think it would be pretty important to establish the best relationships you can with others.

Put a face to another group, and it may make all the difference in how you view them.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Rentier State and Religious Extremism

In class the other day, Monday, we talked about Islamic extremism. I brought up a point that I would like to discuss further; that since some secular states of the Islamic world have failed the populace by not providing a better standard of living and quality of society (in their view), the Salafist view of a caliphate becomes appealing to many. Since the modern, inherently Western, world has corrupted their leaders and caused conflict, some Islamic populations want to go back to a time when they were "in charge". The great caliphates of the medieval times produced breakthroughs in every part of society; the Muslim world was prospering. With the advance of globalization and "Western greed", some think that going back to this structure of government will produce prosperity again since the caliph is holy and a descendant of Muhammad.

But what is a rentier state, and what does this have to do with anything? A rentier state is a nation which generates most of its revenue from the rent of a natural resource to an external client. I was first exposed, and enlightened, to this concept by Professor Webb in his International Politics of the Middle East last fall. I subsequently wrote a blog post for his class on how the rentier state makes the Middle East an 'exceptional' region.

But now I am here to write about it again, in a different lens.

Many Islamic states are rentier states: the Gulf states in the Middle East, Iraq (used to be), Egypt, Saudi Arabia to name a few. The elite in these countries generate enormous wealth, and in some cases use this wealth to enhance their countries. In Kuwait, the people there pay very little, if at all, taxes. In response, it is a monarchy with no representation. No representation without taxation. In Egypt, the Suez Canal generates a hefty amount of income. Thus, Egypt has less incentive to diversify its economic portfolio; which translates into less jobs and industry. The same goes for oil producing states. Why diversify if you're making a killing on natural resources? These resources are used to enhance the power of elites, political parties, and autocrats in the region.

What does this have to do with religious violence? I go back to the point I made in my first paragraph. These rentier states, often highly autocratic in some way, often don't provide a better quality of life and security to their citizens. While secular, their populaces view them to be "puppets" of the West; in it for money, not for the population. By the Salafist vision of a pan-Islamic caliphate, it is more likely to focus on Muslim well-being as well as be a religious (thus moral in some's views) state. Some Salafists have chosen to used Jihad in three ways in order to accomplish a pan-Islamic state: increased individual piety, non-violent actions, and violent actions. Obviously, we can see where Al-Queda and religious violence fits in. But it is important to note that to be a Salafist, doesn't make you violent. Neither is it the case where if one is violent, it means that their a Salafist. My bottom line is because rentier states in the region have not provided for their population, Muslims feel like they haven't gotten a "fair shake" from the West or the international system. Thus some turn to violence in order to achieve a pan-religious-state which will not "embarrass" their pride in the international system while being religious in the same context.

What can we do to solve this? It all comes down to good governance. Now, I am not saying that good governance will end religious violence, because it won't. However, with better governance, prosperous people, a system where change can occur, and less corruption; religious violence may be less appealing and even opposed by many because it will disrupt a good status quo. The Arab Spring is a promising start in some cases, but much needs to be changed in the region. If rentier states devoted more resources to helping people, and developing quality governance, we just may see less religious violence with Salafist motives. If we could curb a cause of one motive of religious violence, isn't it all worth it in the end?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Government is a Means to an End for Religious Extremists

After reading the sections on the 3 major monolithic religions in Mark Jurgensmeyer's Terror in the Mind of God and learning about the theological concepts which fuel conflicts, it became very apparent to me that religious extremists (in our view, not theirs) view government as means to their ultimate goal (which varies). Government and politics don't matter; legislative processes, and international affairs can mean very little in some cases. Religious extremists participate in government (at times) to achieve their cosmic goals, which can mean having a messiah come, establishing religious rule in order for a messiah to come, or for the world to get salvation.

What I mean by these statements is that actions such as Goldstein massacring innocent Muslims, McVeigh blowing up a federal building, or young Muslims blowing up bombs in Israel do not regard political repercussions as consequences. Do you think Goldstein cared about the political deterioration between Israel and Palestine? Do you think it mattered to McVeigh how U.S. internal security would react to an act of domestic terrorism? I think not. These extreme ideologies have to deal with government in order to achieve goals, but in the long scheme of things, government is ether an obstacle or inconsequential.

The point I am trying to develop here is that we (by "we" I mean modern society) are ruled by a government, representatives, monarchs etc. In order to accomplish our goals in life, we have to play with the system (and work it if you're good enough) in order to succeed in our aims. Its a paradigm that we're all familiar with. Religious extremist don't have to play with the system to get what they want. Mass cosmic salvation, or the coming of a messiah, isn't something you can get by going through with the system. Extremists can use the system for their advantage, but ultimately it is another thing that is minor in their larger aims.

This was just a thought, maybe controversial. Feel free to disagree with me. My statements don't reflect all extreme parts of religions, but primarily extreme Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Let me know your thoughts!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ethnic and Religious Identities; Further Separating an Increasingly Connected World

Some people reading this post may get the wrong idea when they first read this title. I would like to preface this post by recognizing that religion has many wonderful and positive qualities which bring people together by extraordinary means. What I plan to talk about is in no way trying to undermine these positive qualities.

After reading Eller and Teehan, and adding some Avalos in there, it has become even more apparent how divisive religion and ethnicity can be. This observation is nothing new and perhaps, too simple. It is human nature to form and be identified with groups, cliques, and organizations. Everyone, including myself, is guilty of this. In our struggle to form an identity, we use groups to define who we are. It comes with our competitive nature; which group is the best? This group mentality is magnified when it comes to ethnicity and religion.

Eller states that ethnicity is a conscious culture which mobilizes itself to compete with others. Ethnic groups afford some of the same benefits as religion; community, practice, institution, group privileges and an identity. It separates humanity into groups, with each coming into competition with others. Ethnic groups, are distinguished from each other by "the ethnic boundary that defines the group, not the cultural stuff that encloses it." (210) These boundaries could vary from geographical to physiological. Ethnicity provide another way for humans to group themselves. The same could be said of religion. Though it gets more complex with the metaphysical and cosmic aspect, humans are further separating, and subsequently defining themselves.

Now where does the conflict come into play? Conflict can start from different ethnic groups, or different religions, fighting over sacred space, resources, or physiological reasons. Teehan goes into detail on how one group can physiologically demonize another group by "characterizing foreign people as "abominations" and as "unclean"" to trigger "our evolved contagion-avoidance systems" (152). The fact that humans can possibly see others as "unclean" is the point I am trying to make. Ethnic and religious differences can separate us to the ends that we see others are things to be exterminated is horrifying. Our perceived differences are so powerful, that we have to the potential to dehumanize other as unfit for life. Our boundaries are stronger than our sense of humanity, at times. Religion and ethnicity are not the only factors to this, but each lie at the core foundation of one's values, perceptions and what one thinks and see's as truth. As a result, it has to be a starting point to see the origins of group-on-group violence.

In an increasingly interconnected world where people from different cultures and views are interacting, these ethnic and religious barriers are simultaneously being knocked down and fortified at the same time. Its part of who we are. We, as humanity, will never give up our groups. Bringing out the inner idealist in me, if we didn't separate ourselves into groups and malign others, would we have so much conflict? Even if we just stopped judging those with different than us (that don't actively harm others), would we have so much conflict? What I am trying to say is, are all political/religious conflicts based on the premise of group competition? (On a side note, another entire argument can be made that groups are the only reason we have politics and the essence of conflict itself)

Groups and identities define who we are and help create who we become. The group mentality fosters competitiveness and conflict. Compounded with different politics, religious views and senses of truths; humans have a lot of differences. Some people in this world fail to remember no matter what defines you, we're all the same in the end.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Why the Sociology Theory of Religion helps give an Insight to Politics

After reading Chapter 1 of Peter Berger's The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion, I was pretty impressed. As a political science major and working towards a security studies certificate, I haven't been exposed to much sociological theory. However Berger's piece made complete sense in my mind, and it served to do more than just tell me about the creation of society.

Society gives mankind three things; externalization, objectivation, and internalization. I am not going to go over them since we talked about them in class today, but they do provide a common basis on which to start the analysis of how someone formulates their views, and consequently, lives their lives by them. I took these three pillars as being the key to understanding the lens the individual uses to make religion their own. The personalization of religion, morals, and truths; the cornerstone to understanding why a person does a specific thing. Pretty powerful if you're looking for reasons of a decision...or trying to manipulate them.

I also took these three pillars as the process of the transfer of ideas. Essentially how ideas are developed and transmitted to another person. Each generation has a different way of transferring ideas, but it all goes through these three processes. It almost reminds me of the movie "Inception".

These three processes are relevant for politics. If one is analyzing leaders of certain states, non-state actors, or movements, learning their truths - how they perceive the world to be - is an immensely important factor. There is an age old saying of "put yourself in their shoes." That's entirely true. However, you also have to walk around in those shoes. To understand the decision-making process of certain people, you need to understand their truths and how they were brought up. You need to understand how they underwent the transfer of ideas. Why are they acting like this? Why do they support something different than I do? How can I understand their point of view in order to have a sustained dialogue?

One can try to look into a person's upbringing, but sometimes its just not possible. The broader picture that I am trying to pitch is that, in politics, leaders are guided by using their worldview in a specific context. This is the constructivist concept of international relations, in a sense. But what this process shows is the root of ideas. If one can successfully understand the other side, they could potentially communicate more efficiently to advance policy goals...or solve religious conflicts.

Monday, August 29, 2011

New Blog Direction

For anyone following this blog, its going to take a new direction. Now back at school one of my courses, Conflict, Violence and Peacemaking, requires me to blog at least twice a week on something pertaining to what we're doing.

Now I'll probably still be able to write about the Middle East and I will certainly write an post non-related to the course if something comes up, but my posts from now until December will predominantly focus on work from the course.

That's not to say I won't be producing some interesting stuff; a majority of my past posts are from a course I took last fall. Stay tuned, as you'll get to see the topics I am learning and exploring about from a more foreign policy point of view. At least that's the plan.

This is gonna be a good ride.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Turkey's Military Resignations: A Hidden Asset for the Future

Last friday, top officers of the Turkish military "resigned" en mass (they technically didn't resign, because then they would lose their benefits). Many were shocked, and forecasting the instability of the Turkish military. However I think many who don't know what's really going on in Turkey, are vastly misjudging the turn of events. By no means I am saying I am a Turkish expert but after intensive research and a 30 pg paper, I'd like to think I know more about the internal dynamics and foreign policy of the country than the average joe.

Since 2002, when the AKP came to power, Turkey has undergone a period of change. Being historically an Islamic party, the AK made prudent economic decisions as well has a moderate approach to governance. Turkey, from the modern state's founding with Mustafa Kemal, has rested on the principles of secularism and loyalty to the state. The military became, essentially, the enforcer and 'protectors' of these ideals and would kick out any government they suspected of trying to undermine those ideas.

Now I am not saying Kemalism is bad, but the rise of the vastly popular AKP changed that dynamic. The AKP has brought more pious Turks into government and have been continuously elected to power since 2002; something that hasn't happen ever in Turkish history. Many in America, and the West, see the recent foreign policy changes of Turkey as turning its back on its former allies; this cannot be farther from the truth. The AKP has used its soft power, and pragmatics relationships, in order to bolster its influence in the region. and on the international stage.

The generals resigning is the beginning of a new era, in my opinion. Civilian subordination of the military is one of the four common factors political scientists use to determine the degree of democratic governance in a state. These resignations show that disagreements between the AKP and the military have came to a head, and instead of trying to overthrow the largely popular ruling party, they resigned. Though they may have disagreed on policy, Turkey as a state and democracy has never been stronger. These resignations are a testament to how far Turkey's democracy has come; only 12 years ago there was a coup d'etat.

These resignations are also a testament to righting the wrongs of the military. Part of the reasons the officers have resigned is because they disliked the investigations into the 1997 coup. I also did a detailed research paper on the status of democratization in Uruguay. A country with a former dictatorship, the military was unwilling to let the government put former officers on trial. However, with the success of Tabare Vazquez, Jose Mujica and their leftist coalition, the military has been more subordinate in putting former officers on trial for crimes. The case is almost identical to Turkey. A successful party in government, which are sometimes at odds with the military in terms of policy, have become subordinate to the cilivan government through successful policies. Its all in the process of further democratization.

The cool headed-ness in this crisis also bolstered Turkey's soft power. By showing that the government can function, and ultimately has the upper hand, in a military crisis is important to Arab democracies. These resignations have vividly shown the stability in the Turkish system.

Though it is a problem when top military leaders resign en mass, it is by no means a devastating blow to NATO's #2 largest army. Turkey's officers are capable, and by no means should the resignation of the armed forces leaders be translated into the strength of the forces.

Those who have not studied Turkey are prone to look at this event in the wrong lens. The first article above is a fantastic piece which hits the proverbial nail on its head. My blog has other posts on the rise of Turkey, so if you're looking for more info on its current state and history, I suggest looking through.

Keeps your eyes on Turkey. The country that was once the crossroads of the world, is about to claim that title again in a whole new way.

PM Erdogan and Turkish military chiefs

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bruce Bawer and the Norway Terrorist Attacks; Islamophobia takes a Deadly Turn

For those who are counting, this will be my 4th post about Islamophobia. I think this is an important issue that is not being addressed by our leaders, and some are even exacerbating it. I was originally going to solely focus on the Norway bombings however, in light of a recent op-ed by Bruce Bawer, I am going to talk about both. Strap your seat belts folks, this is going to be one long and bumpy ride.

Over the past weekend of July 22, deadly and tragic attacks took place in Oslo, and Utoya Island in Norway. An estimated 92 people were killed, with a majority being teenagers massacred on Utoya Island. Police have arrested Anders Breivik, the man who confessed to be responsible for the bombings and right-wing Christian extremest. While searching his belongings, police uncovered a 'manifesto', in which Breivik calls for a war against multicultural society, hateful rants against Muslims, and mass killings of "marxists." He writes "The time for dialogue is over. We gave peace a chance. The time for armed resistance has come." Breivik writes he was a delegate to a secret meeting to reinstate the Knights Templar in 2002, and he also describes chilling events when he tests the bombs he has made.

The will of a monster, to say the least.

Brevik, in his call for 'resistance', was calling for a resistance in what he thought was a Muslim 'takeover' of Europe. A confessed white supremacist, he disliked the high level of cultural integration going on in Europe and the even higher immigration rate into Europe. He thought that the only way to preserve, what I can speculate, white European identity was through violence. It is no surprise to us now that he chose to bomb central government buildings and massacre youths at a Labour party- the liberal and dominant party - youth retreat. He wanted to kill off all the old and young leaders of the Labour party who did not share his vision.

This leads us to another unsettling fact, the rise of hard-right, jingoistic political parties in Europe in the past year. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders' Freedom Party has routinely been hostile to Islam as well as anything that isn't "Dutch". In Sweden, Norway's neighbor, he Sweden Democrats have won seats in parliament. The Sweden Democrats have adopted a hard-line stance against Sweden's liberal immigration policy. It is evident through the resurgence of the far-right that Europe, as a whole, have not taken enough steps in order to integrate new immigrants into European communities. It is also evident that Europeans are taking frustrations/anti-immigrant sentiment out at the ballot box.

But it goes farther than that.

There has been a failure on the part of integration-ists and leaders in Europe to effectively stand up to these leaders in their often intolerant positions. In Europe, the world's beacon for progressive government, there has been a growing anti-immigrant (most immigrants being Muslims) growing on the continent.

How does this tie into the terrorist attacks?

Well heated rhetoric and irresponsible use of the right of free speech persuaded Brevik to perform the acts he did in order to 'save' Europe from Islam. Just think about it, a man hated a group of people based upon their religion so much, that he was willing to massacre youths and government officials. The fear-mongering of a Muslim-takeover is extremely foolish and irresponsible. Those who espouse these racist and fear tactics fail to think that they're comments can be taken to such a level. On this such occasion, it did.

Now on to Bruce Bawer. Why is he in this post?

Bawer, the author of Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom, recently wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal. I ask that you read his piece before you continue reading this post.

Did your jaw drop yet? It is also astonishingly disconnected emotionally, almost like an apologoy a 5th grader gives you that they really don't mean.

Lets begin with the subtitle "In his 1,500-page manifesto, Anders Behring Breivik slides alarmingly from a legitimate concern about the rise of Islam in Europe to propose 'terror as a method for waking up the masses." Apparently to Bawer, Islam in Europe is a legitimate concern. He uses this "legitimate concern" later in the piece too. What about Jews in Europe, Christians in Europe? Oh course they're not concerns for him. No, he solely focuses on Islam. In his piece, he goes on to give examples of the strict patrichial nature of Muslim families, and numerous other things which do raise some concern no matter which religion. However, Bawer has skewed his facts, and his views, into focusing only on the small misgivings of a group of people who Bawer defines by their religion and not their individual character.

What really stunned me was the first sentence: "When bombs exploded on Friday in a compound of government office buildings in the heart of Oslo, I assumed, as did pretty much everyone, that the perpetrators were Islamic terrorists." Sir, are you too jaded and Islamophobic that you automatically assume it was a Muslim? There is historical precedent in all religions of terrorism in Europe. Bawer is terribly out of touch in his own world when he says "as pretty much everyone." Religious stereotyping  and prejudice at its finest; and it serves to diminish the authority of an opinion.

Bawer is "stunned" it wasn't a Muslim terrorist. I mean with such a narrow viewpoint and author of the book mentioned above, who wouldn't be stunned. I cannot even begin to describe the atrocious stereotyping and false view he has of the European-Muslim population. To make things worse for Bawer, he mentions that Brevik mentioned Bawer's name/works 22 times (so unfortunate because that is one of my two lucky numbers.) I don't know about you, but if anyone used any of my writings or work to legitimize violence or killings, I'd be ashamed of myself for not being responsible enough in the use of my freedom of speech. And that is what it really comes down to; being responsible in what you say and write. It is obvious that Bawer is to naive to see this point.

His cause, he writes, has been "seriously damaged" by Brevik. Well I am not sure what your cause is Bawer, but judging by your book title antithesis you make, it has to do with the '"threats" of Muslim-Europeans and their rights as individuals. I am sure I have to be close to it.

At the last paragraph, he tries to protect himself by saying that many will falsely accuse him of being Islamophobic, which I am currently doing. However this being my first time hearing about him ever in my life, its pretty clear he is Islamophobic. I can accuse religions and minorities too, but oh no, don't dare say I am racist; its not like that. But that's exactly what it is. Take responsibility for what you write Bawer, because its unmistakeably Islamophobic.

A parody piece was done on Bawers op-ed, essentially using extremely minor diction changes to make a point on how poor (in my opinion, to put it nicely) Bawer's op-ed actually was. When you can use so minor diction changes have it relate to another terrorist attack, you know something has to be wrong with an op-ed.

In conclusion, it is deeply saddening and my heart goes out to the victim's families in Norway. However, we see that a larger problem of extreme rhetoric, extreme fear-mongering, and extremely prejudice views. Brevik was motivated out of insane fear of a cultural takeover, no doubt exacerbated by the irresponsible works of Bawer and many others. Be responsible in your use of freedom of speech. Looking towards the future, more must be done in order to address these problems which caused Brevik to do what he did, and singling out the Muslim population is not the right place to start. We must come together and spread tolerance among each other because in the end,  "Why can't we see/ That when we bleed we bleed the same?"

P.S. A fantastic piece on what I have stated in past posts about tolerance and to look on the bigger problem of radicalization, and not just Muslims (*cough* Rep. Peter King).

Update: A 9 part piece on the attacks came out on Spiegal Online. This 9 part piece is amazingly detailed and takes the ideas presented in this post to form a fuller, more professional argument.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Response to Mr. Weigel; in what Logic can you Compare Gay Rights and Equality to Totalitarianism?

Instead of talking about the the debt limit debate happening (which I have choice words), I am instead going to respond to Mr. George Weigel's article posted on the National Review's website. Before reading my post, I encourage you to read his article, or you may not know what I am referring to.

In an article titled "No Homophobia", Mr. Weigel goes on to argue that the state changing the nature of marriage in order to include gay couples, since marriage existed before the state, is a characteristic of totalitarian government. He uses examples to demonstrate that couples in the Soviet Union had to have two ceremonies (one civil and one religious) in order to be married in the eyes of the state; thus giving the state leverage in one's personal life. He goes on to say that the state is redefining reality in order to accommodate new communist principles into social life. Lastly, he states that since the state has the power to change marriage, it can change other personal relationships as well; bringing totalitarianism into everyday life. The only reason his title was"No Homophobia" was to shield himself from being called homophobic. He wanted to show that he was making an argument on opposition to gay marriage on the basis of being homophobic (then why write an article in the first place?), but to show the state has too much power to change personal relationships and the meaning of marriage.

Mr. Weigel, in what bizarre logic can you compare the quest for equal rights under the law to totalitarianism? This is not a subject where relativity rules, its plain objective fact. The United States is a country of laws, where everyone should have equal rights under the law; regardless of who they are. This principle, folks, is in the Constitution and other founding documents. By not allowing citizens to get married based upon moral preference, not law, you have actully increasing the size of government in daily life; something conservatives and libertarians rally against. Rather, Mr. Weigel bypasses that fact and views states legalizing gay marriage as changing the essence of marriage itself. Ill get back to this point.

First of all, Weigel asserts that "a reality that existed before the state, for marriage as the union of a man and a woman ordered to mutual love and procreation is a human reality that existed before the state." Isn't that technically false? The Christian tradition of being married didn't start until the CE (common era). Marriage, of alternate kinds, were around in the BCE (before common era), where guess what - states - existed. Marriage happened pagan empires, and if we're going to go further, basic civilization - a state - needed to exist to create this union. If you count nomadic hunter-gatherers as deeming woman to be their property as marriage, then ok, have fun with that. If we're continuing on this point, if marriage really existed pre-state, then so did men loving men (and it most certainly did)! Thus, depending on the nature of state; they are allowed to deem what legitimate marriage is; for good or for bad. The United States, founded on equality and laws, does not have this same privilege. Therefore, the state does not have to "just" recognize a union between a man and a woman; they are free to define it between same sex couples too. Essentially, Mr. Weigel, your point has been proven false. With this point proven false, the logic of the state changing an institution that was pre-state (essentially the growing power of the state)  and having to recognize as pre-state, is null.

Moreover, I am still not completely sure what bringing in Soviet Union communism does to the validity or seriousness of his argument. He uses the examples of the Soviet state to show how the they stifled individual action and used totalitarianism to change the nature of marriage. However, with his previous point of marriage being a pre-state institution being false, these comparisons are just a reflection of Weigel's old view of the world. Mr. Weigel, as evident of using his comparisons to Soviet Union, still lives in a world where it is us vs. them. The bipolar world he grew up with is still in his head, and he has carried that over to draw a sharp line with same sex marriage. It begs the question, why would he bring up Soviet references at all? Does relating the Soviet Union with the state allowing same sex marriage (in his eyes totalitarianism) make gay marriage un-American? One can only guess using the old and outdated United States-is-opposite-and-morally-correcter-than-the-Soviet-Union anthesis is his way of saying gay marriage is un-American. If the Soviets did it a certain way, no way are we! Or rather, does he use the Soviet Union to illustrate to unfounded-in-fact possible dangers that go along with leftward ideology? Anything to scare people, right?? That view is not appropriate for the globalized world, and more importantly gay marriage. Obviously, these have no place in his article and just serves to further diminish the legitimacy of his argument.

Weigel states "moreover, marriage and the families that are built around marriage constitute one of the basic elements of civil society, that free space of free associations whose boundaries the just state must respect." So if a same sex couple wants to be marriage, then the state shouldn't be prohibiting it, right? Though Weigel is only seeing his view of pre-state-man-and-woman-only marriage, he consequentially argues against himself due to his narrow minded thinking. I can't really say more, he does it for me!

I would just like to point out, before my final points, that you can replace many of his examples and words and make it an argument against civil rights of all kinds. Just replace his title with "No Racism" and his examples illustrate things against inter-racial marriage, or civil rights for minorities. I am not calling Mr. Weigel a racist so please do not take my comments the wrong way, however, there is a major problem when your argument and logic pattern, with minor diction switches, mirror racist remarks used to go against inter-racial marriages and greater civil rights for minorities. I am just calling it how I see it.

In a concession, I do see his viewpoint in that states artificially making all reality equal is inherently more state intrusiveness in daily life and more totalitarian. However, we aren't talking about making the world "equal". We are talking about a right that should be entitled to a segment of the population but haven't because they have been discriminated against. I am not arguing to make the world equal, I am saying that gay marriage is a right gays should already have due to our legal system and founding documents.

My final points against Mr. Weigel is that he seems to forget that the United States is a nation of laws, where citizens get equality under the law no matter who they are. It is as simple as that. The further where I think his real argument lies is the state legitimizing marriage in general. In the modern world, one gets certain benefits from being recognized as 'married' by the state. Due to the United States recognizing marriage, we also must give all the same civil benefits and equality chance for everyone to get married to achieve those benefits. Thus, since the state gives these benefits to married couples, the cannot discriminate who can get marriages and thus this is where we get into the whole "totalitarian" view. Mr. Weigel, if you don't want the state 'changing' marriage at all then your real argument is that the United States shouldn't give benefits to married couples of any kind. Simple as that.

Mr. Weigel's article hints at a point he doesn't make. The arugement he does make is filled with inconsistencies and irrelevant support. The only way to get the state out of marriage is to stop entwining marriage and benefits together. Even then what you stop same sex marriage? Nothing. The claims of totalitarianism are vastly unfounded as with you examples of the Soviet Union.  I would really like to know if Mr. Weigel has any friends or family members that are gay, maybe then he would be more clear on his real point instead of embarrassing himself as an educator. The United States is a nation of equality under the law, and marriage should not be an exception.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

"South China Sea, or me"

I came across an interesting article by Clyde Prestowiz on the U.S. economic condition and national security issues in East and South East Asia.

Prestowiz asserts that the national security establishment has taken us through a "detour" in the Middle East, and it is finally return to its attention to where it should be; East Asia (aka China).

He also states that since we have such a broad security blanket on the Pacific, our weathly companies know there is little risk in investing aborad, thus drawing money out of the U.S. economy.

Personally, it appears Prestowiz is a true realist with a Cold War tinge. While I loved this article and the way it got me thinking, it appears he is arguing that the U.S. should make the Pacific less secure in order to take the low-risk factor away from FDI in Asia. With this blanket gone, American companies would be more prone to invest back into America, while also making the American pull stronger for those Asian countries fearful of China's rise. He's also argues for more financial uniformity on free trade treaties, which I don't know much about, but it sounds more beneficial.

In essence, create an atmosphere which works for our interests; pretty realist.

If I am wrong on this, please correct me.

Its not that this whole idea doesn't make sense, if it would work, but that it kind of has the old Cold War 1 vs. 1 redux to it. Prestowiz is a veteran of Cold War, free trade, Reagan policies; he was commerce secretary during Reagan's administration. While I agree that Washington was too busy spending time in a unnecessary war in Iraq and running up the debt than paying attention to Asia, I don't think the U.S. should be actively looking for demons to fry. Instead of having another Cold War showdown with China that many speculate, we must double our diplomatic efforts in order to court China.

The world is different than in the Cold War, and we should adapt our policies accordingly. Veteran policy-makers of the Cold War do provide insight and wisdom, but it seems many have difficulties leaving behind the old "us vs. them" mentality. While Prestowitz's realist economic policies for the Pacific could work; we must be weary not to have China become even more aggressive and sense we cannot balance them out. Though some old concept apply in short term international affairs, there are many new ways to achieve long term relationships than ever before.

Monday, June 20, 2011

If you want to be President, you have to act like a President

Now I know all of the Republican candidates are going to be reading this blog for opinion because they agree with my positions on issues (don't worry, I'm kidding). However the CNN "debate" (more like an anti-Obama rally) on June 13 raised and presented a serious problem about respect and presidential behavior with a just about all the candidates on the stage that night.

Keep in mind when I tuned in, I knew many shots were going to be taken on President Obama. Politics is a messy game, and when you play prepared to get dirty. However, it got disgraceful when each of the candidates where questioned on social issues and religion. For the next few paragraphs I will be using this Poltico article for my quotes.

For instance, Hermain Cain said at an earlier interview “A reporter asked me, would I appoint a Muslim to my administration. I did say, ‘No,’” Cain said. “And here’s why. … I would have to have people totally committed to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. And many of the Muslims, they’re not totally dedicated to this country.”

Got that? OK. So at the "debate" he tried to retract that comment by saying “And I would not be comfortable because you have peaceful Muslims and then you have militant Muslims, those that are trying to kill us,” Cain said during the debate. “And so, when I said I wouldn’t be comfortable, I was thinking about the ones that are trying to kill us, No. 1."

Well, I don't think any president would want to have a militant-any-religion in their administration, so that is a pretty bad cover. What empirical evidence does Hermain Cain have that Muslim-AMERICANS aren't loyal to this country. Why would one single out Muslims also? There have been plenty of Christian terrorists in our past. To think, how could Cain get away with this outward hostility to a group of fellow Americans, judged solely by the religion they practice? If you ask me, it seems contradictory to our values to judge people based upon their religion, and it is clear Cain doesn't have the capacity to be president of ALL Americans.

Also at the debate, Newt Gingrich "tumbled over the historical cliff with the idea, announcing some kind of loyalty oath to serve in his administration, similar to that used in dealing with Nazis and Communists.” I really can't begin how offensive it is to relate Muslim-AMERICANS to Nazis, and to the now evil-stereotyped communists. But to have loyalty oaths for just Muslims? Why not everyone in your administration, Newt? If a candidate is willing to ridicule a portion of Americans based upon thier religion, they are not being presidential; rather acting like pundits.

Though the other candidates were smart enough to not stoop down at their level, it was very apparent that NONE of them called out the other. By not defending Muslim-Americans, or other groups, it was clear that the candidates couldn't muster up enough courage to act like a president, or it was that they tacitly consented. Though each are vying for the party's nomination; it is a shame that defending Muslim-Americans may hurt their chances (if you're going with that defense) and that none of them stood up above partisan politics and acted like an adult to defend their FELLOW Americans.

Noticeably absent from the "debate" was Jon Huntsman. Huntsman is the most moderate Republican running for president. Maybe I am giving him too much credit, but I have enough faith in Huntsman's ability to be a good person that he would have been the only one to defend Muslim-Americans.

The point of this post is when you're running for president, you're running for president. You're not a pundit, an ex-governor, a businessman, or whatever you are. Your not the president of one group of people ether. You are running to represent every American, no matter political view, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. The presidency is for individuals who embody a higher set of values, and ideals; for those who are tolerant; and for those who respect every American no matter who they are and what they believe.

In order to be treated as a presidential candidate, one must act like they want it.  As of now, Huntsman is the only one of the Republicans in my view whom carries these qualities. When engaging in partisan game playing, a necessity to win a party's nomination, one must keep the ideal of president in mind and have the ability to represent all Americans.

Monday, June 13, 2011

"Palestine's White September", and my Analysis

I came across a very interesting article on Foreign Policy about the prospects of Palestinian Statehood at the U.N. in September. Kudos to Prof. Carlo Strenge.

I enjoyed it, and it was interesting analysis from a psychologist. I often think a psychological look at international relations is helpful; as it tends to explain actions that political science cannot. If states act like humans, since they are run by them, then it is essential to review the psychological aspects of international affairs.

Personally, giving Palestine statehood is the first step of compromising for a two state solution and more importantly, peace. Its called a two-STATE solution.

In addition as mentioned in the piece, if the PA does not achieve statehood, it will totally delegitimize the moderate leadership of the PA. All credibility would be lost, and radical factions may take control of the PA. Peace will be even farther away if that happens.

Israel must concede on this one, and rise up to have long-term strategy of achieving peace to this issue, rather than short term bickering. One must be pragmatic and sensible, keeping in mind the higher ideals and goals to achieve for the future. If one lets theology and emotion get in the way; logic and problem-solving capabilities are lost.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Benefits of Multilateral Diplomacy: The Victorious Tortoise

I think the allusion I use in the title of this post is appropriate to describe multilateral diplomacy. The moral of the famous tale about the tortoise and the hair is slow but steady wins the race. I think that is exactly how to portray the benefits of multilateral diplomacy over unilateral diplomacy in the current age. Multilateral diplomacy may be cumbersome, but it facilitates partnerships, brings many voices into the decision making process, and forms a consensus so precious when needing to enforce international agreements. In an increasingly fragmented world order increasingly connected through technology and globalization; it is imperative to embrace multilateral diplomacy as the means  of solving global issues and furthering U.S. interests.

In a time whether it is the rise of the BRICS or the relative decline of American power; the U.S. must use the its power as a global hedgemon to its advantage in the international system in procuring interests. Let me use an another allusion to illustrate me point. If a candidate is running for office, they must persuade voters and convince them that their plans are the best for their own interests. If not, the candidate will lose. The same concept applies to the international system. In order to advance our interests and have countries respond in support of these interests; we must use broad diplomacy to engage and persuade other states. If we convince them that  the U.S.'s interests will be their interests, then those actors will support the U.S. agenda. Essentially, the U.S. must fully and proactive work within the system in order to steer it into the right direction. Instead of commanding the world as we used to, we must adapt to changing times and work with others to guide it.

Unilateral critics may point that that we don't need the system to get what we want. That is true in minor cases. However, they are wrong in that the U.S. operates on Earth, so we are in the system whether we like it or not. We exist on this planet, so our actions affect other states, and due in part to globalization, their actions have an impact on use. It is irresponsible to act alone and destructively on certain issues without having it legitimized by a majority of the world community. The U.N., the essence of multilateral diplomacy is viewed as a legitimate institution by many states. There are some who see it as obstructive and useless; but these critics fail to see this accepted institution creates accepted policy. The fact that many are involved in the process, even small countries, is viewed by a majority as something that came out of consensus and thus acceptable to the world. The U.S. must continue to use the U.N. as a means of rallying policy. If the U.S. steers states in the direction it wants, and especially if done through the U.N., then our interests can turn into the world's interests. A very powerful thing.

I would like to expand on some things I touched on before: compromise, consensus, and inclusion. Multilateral diplomacy is a makeup of these three ideals. One must be willing to compromise on issue, make a consensus with others, and make sure others are included in the decision making process. The policies that come out of these three ideals are stronger in the long run. Why is that? When actors compromise, they create an agreement acceptable to multiple parties. When actors build consensus, they make sure others are OK with this compromise and are willing to enforce and defend it. When actors include others in compromise and consensus, it makes those included feel like that have a stake in the outcome, and thus builds a strong base of support. The EU's European Council needs everything to be unanimously approved. They do things, among other reasons, so that the final decision is acceptable to all and that each state can provide a defense and reasoning for support a certain policy. Thus, multilateral diplomacy creates solid supporters. In order to advance policy; you need friends that support it.

A common criticism of multilateral diplomacy is that it is slow, and ineffective. These are both true at times. The 6 party talks have failed (for reasons that may not have to deal with multilateral diplomacy but just China's interests. I think if we built an international coalition pressuring China, they would have made North Korea act differently). The G-20 doesn't seem to have produced all that much, and the U.N. is routinely stalemated. I am not denying these points. However, if the U.S. uses its influence and skillfully navigates international forums/organizations, or just builds a coalition on its own, I am confidant these disadvantages would become irrelevant. For the U.S. to maintain is power in the global order, we must become the master of diplomacy.

Another allusion for you. Lets say the world is congress, and each state is a representative. Being unilateral is playing to ones specific interests, thus I think its safe to say this can be likened to being partisan. Being multilateral, negotiating, compromising and including many others, is similar to being bipartisan. If we want to get things done, and I thinks its a safe generalization that  people like it when things get "done", then wouldn't it be a no-brain-er to be multilateral? If working with others creates a finished product everyone (or the majority) likes, then shouldn't the U.S. be even more  involved so that the outcome is favorable to U.S. policies/interests? Yes, we should.

Though a slower process, in the end it has the potential to create results for U.S. foreign and economic policy. I would rather have something that benefits me long term, and may take a little longer than something that is short term but is faster. The U.S. must be a skilled diplomatic negotiator to maintain relevance, favorable world policies, and power. The way to change/make the system to your liking is to be a part of it; in order to shape it. We must mold the world; it take great skill to do that. The tortoise is famous for beating the hair, now lets apply this important moral for transforming our diplomacy for the 21st century.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The case for Legalizing Gay Marriage: Common Sense

       One of the most hot-button social issues in domestic politics is legalizing gay marriage. But, in my view, this shouldn't even be an issue at all. We are a nation of rights, and of freedom. Realistically, legalizing marriage is a religious issue, in which others feel they have the right to decide the actions of others. Yes, we are a democratic society. However, why shouldn't the rights of the minority be protected from being infringed on by the majority? (yes, right out of the federalist papers, for those who want to go back to the founders)

An argument against gay marriage is that its sinful. Look, I am not a religious guy, and I don't mean to tell you that your religious beliefs are false or don't matter. However, just because SOME believe it is sinful according to THEIR religion, why does that have to be the case for ALL of society? If one thinks its sinful, that''s fine. But don't try to tell others they cannot perform an action because you deem immoral. It is not your life their impacting, so in layman terms, mind your own business. Moral are subjective, whether for good or for bad. But that's the truth. There were many in the past that thought it was immoral to have interracial marriage. That is not an issue now, and gay marriage shouldn't be an issue ether. Also, it is hypocritical for some to stress less government and more freedom as part of their morals, when they don't even allow a segment of the population their deserved right to have their love validated in society. Contradiction at its finest.

Another common argument is that if gay marriage is legal, it leads down a slippery slope.


This goes back to the morals issue, which should be anyone's issue except the couple involved. That is true libertarianism coming from a liberal (go figure). Second, if one thinks that legalizing gay marriage, having the state validating love between two individuals, is a slippery slope, then I think you may need to rethink your logic. Legalizing gay marriage isn't criminal, it doesn't spur violence, and it makes society stronger. How could more marriage rip apart society? If one has an argument on how more love and marriage in society leads to failure, and that's exactly what it is - love and marriage, then let me see it.

Another argument against legalizing gay marriage is that some believe that "marriage" is defined as between a man and a woman. Marriage is a religious institution, and there can be passages in the bible which both support and are against gay marriage. However, in the modern day, the state has institutionalized marriage as well; with benefits going to married couples. Though states go as far as giving gay couples the same benefits in a civil union, just why not call it marriage? When the state gets involved, so does the concept of equality under the law. Would having a gay couple marry de-sanctify your marriage? Would having a gay couple in Massachusetts de-legitimize a marriage in Nebraska? It won't. Marriage is a way to show one's commitment to each other. Though most organized religions may oppose gay marriage for reasons, I hardly think Jesus, or whoever/whatever you believe in, would want you to discriminate against other individuals because of who they love.

I am not pettyfogging the issue. Having a long due right be established is a human right. If you couldn't marry the one you loved, man or woman, because others "disapproved" because of their morals, how would you feel? Take a minute to think about this issue through the shoes of those discriminated against.

Also, many countries have legalized gay marriage. Argentina, a very catholic country, legalized it in 2002. They have no problems threatening to bring down their country except their own politics (doesn't everyone have that problem?).

It is time for the United States to legalize gay marriage. There is no way around it. Some states have done it, its time for all 50 to have the common sense to do it too.

Love is love. There should be no discrimination for "the pursuit of happiness" and the recognition of love.

* UPDATE: new Gallup poll says that Americans think 25% are ether gay or lesbian. Of course this is not the real statistic of Americans who are actually gay or lesbian. However, if Americans think that a quarter of the population is homosexual, then why deny them the right to have their love recognized by the state? Its a religion and moral issue that should not be involved in policy making. Gay marriage is a right, and it is a great injustice as a country to deny them of that right.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Compromise: The Tool of Leaders

1. a settlement of differences by mutual concessions; an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims, principles, etc., by reciprocal modification of demands.
2. the result of such a settlement. 
I think politicians, from both sides of the aisle, have forgotten this word. Americans do care about partisan issues, but they like it better we things get done. In a 24 hour media cycle, where talking heads, pundits, and everyone judges politicians moves; its been hard for compromise to happen.
However, for America to progress, on the budget, entitlements, and everything else, we have to compromise. Politicians have to see above their agenda's and recognize that the greatest generation of Americans made this country what it is by compromising and making laws that advance and empower America. Compromise is not sacrificing what you stand for, but rather the practical way of advancing interests when working with those whom have opposing views. It is, in fact, being practical and wise.
Compromise is not just for the U.S. congress, it serves for all hot-button issues. The peace process in the Middle East is one of them. A peace agreement will cannot be pro-Israel neither pro-Palestine. each has to give more than it wants in order to achieve sustainable peace. 
True leadership is shown in hard compromises which leads to a greater solution for generations. As I stated before, one does not have to give up for what they stand for in order to achieve solutions. However, one must be flexible and see the long-term opportunities that they can fulfill their goals at a later date.

Many people are just not capable of compromise, as shown. Those individuals of this flexibility, this long-term vision, this leadership, and this practically must now step up and be the ones to solve world and domestic issues. We must not be distracted from vocal but extreme sides.

Compromise is a tough thing, but it is essential to solve the issues of today. We live in interesting times, and we need strong leaders willing to stand up and compromise for the greater good of society.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

An interview with Uribe and trouble for Ahmadinejad

If you haven't noticed, I love Foreign Policy magazine (just check the archives). They have great, insightful, and well written articles. This time isn't an exception.

There's two interesting articles up. One is an interview with former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe on his current role and ideas in Colombian political life and long-term goals. The other is an analysis on a recent blunder by Ahmadinejad in Iran.

I really liked the Uribe interview, I thought his answers were spot on, and his ideals are just what Colombia needs in order to develop its democracy. Whenever you can change an entire country's mood from pessimistic to optimistic, you know you've done something right.

Monday, May 16, 2011

War Dogs; how could anything get cooler?

So when our SEALS went in to get Osama Bin Laden, they brought a war dog with them. Foreign Policy did two stories/photo essays on war dogs. War Dogs are amazingly awesome. Maybe its because I love dogs, or I am done with finals, but I thought its something I would share.

Here's the first one (look at the subtitle).

Here's the second one.