Tag Archives: International Relations

Sayyid, “Recalling the Caliphate”

Next month, Oxford University Press releases Recalling the Caliphate: Decolonisation and World Order, by S. Sayyid (University of Leeds). The publisher’s description follows:

As late as the last quarter of the twentieth century, there were expectations that Islam’s political and cultural influence would dissipate as the advance of westernization brought modernization and secularization in its wake. Not only has Islam failed to follow the trajectory pursued by variants of Christianity, namely confinement to the private sphere and depoliticisation, but it has also forcefully re-asserted itself as mobilizations in its name challenge the global order in a series of geopolitical, cultural and philosophical struggles. The continuing (if not growing) relevance of Islam suggests that global history cannot simply be presented as a scaled up version of that of the West. Quests for Muslim autonomy present themselves in several forms – local and global, extremist and moderate, conservative and revisionist – in the light of which the recycling of conventional narratives about Islam becomes increasingly problematic. Not only are these accounts inadequate for understanding Muslim experiences, but by relying on them many Western governments pursue policies that are counter-productive and ultimately hazardous for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. “Recalling the Caliphate” engages critically with the interaction between Islam and the political in context of a post colonial world that continues to resist profound decolonization. In the first part of this book, Sayyid focuses on how demands for Muslim autonomy are debated in terms such as democracy, cultural relativism, secularism, and liberalism. Each chapter analyzes the displacements and evasions by which the decolonization of the Muslim world continues to be deflected and deferred, while the latter part of the book builds on this critique, exploring, and attempts to accelerate the decolonization of the Muslim Ummah.

Misunderstanding Putin

biophoto_150_1Last Friday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”–the breakfast salon of the bien pensant–Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Rick Stengel (left) took on Vladimir Putin. Stengel attempted to explain how Putin’s conduct in Ukraine damages Putin’s own interests. Putin, Stengel told his interlocutor Steven Rattner with an air of frustration, “is making fundamental errors” that would get him in trouble with the Russian people. “He’s moving further away from the West,” Stengel said, at a time when “people want to be closer to the West.” Rattner agreed that Putin is being “irrational.” Isn’t it obvious?

In fact, it isn’t at all obvious that Putin is being irrational or that people around the world want to be closer to the West, at least not in the way Stengel seems to think. It is very difficult for Americans to understand this, but on many issues we are cultural outliers. America, especially its professional class, has what psychologists call a WEIRD culture—Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. WEIRDs are very secular. They place great emphasis on personal autonomy; indeed, autonomy may be their most important value. That’s one reason why America works so hard to support movements like feminism and gay rights abroad.

By contrast, most of the world’s cultures are not WEIRD. They are not secular and do not see personal autonomy as the most important value. Jonathan Haidt explains this very well in his recent book, The Righteous Mind. Many world cultures, Haidt writes, have an“ethic of community” that sees people principally as members of collectives—families, tribes, and nations—with strong claims to loyalty. Many have an “ethic of divinity,” which holds that people’s principal duty is to God, not themselves. “In such societies,” Haidt writes, “the personal liberty of secular Western nations looks like libertinism, hedonism, and a celebration of humanity’s baser instincts.”

Putin is many things, but he is not a WEIRD. He has been making clear for years that he does not aspire for Russia to become a WEIRD society. The values he promotes are nationalism, authority, loyalty, and religion. Especially religion. As a perceptive post by national security expert John Schindler explains, Putin’s worldview contains a large element of Holy Russia/Third Rome ideology, “a powerful admixture of Orthodoxy, ethnic mysticism, and Slavophile tendencies that has deep resonance in Russian history.” Of course, Putin may be insincere. Like many dictators, he may simply be using religion to his advantage. But, even if his convictions are phony, the challenge he poses to the West is fundamentally a cultural and ideological one.

And many Russians support him. Putin has been extremely good at exploiting the suspicion that many Russians feel about the West and its values–especially America and its values. Notwithstanding Stengel’s assertion, Putin is not acting against the wishes of his own people. Indeed, his popularity at home has been growing since the start of the Ukraine crisis. And, as Schindler explains, it’s not only Russians who think they way Putin does. “There are plenty of people in the world who don’t like Putin or Russia, yet who are happy that someone, somewhere is standing up to American hegemony.” The thuggery in Ukraine will cost him some of this support. But many people will be inclined to dismiss Putin’s conduct as a reassertion of Russia’s traditional interest in its near-abroad.

In other words, our conflict with Russia is not simply about politics, or economics, or even national security. It’s about culture and values. It’s not that Putin insufficiently appreciates what WEIRDness requires. He’s not a WEIRD at all. He doesn’t want to be. The people who run our foreign policy should understand this. If Stengel’s appearance on Friday is any indication, they don’t.

President Obama and Pope Francis on Mideast Christians

In the Boston Globe, the always worthwhile John Allen analyzes today’s meeting between President Obama and Pope Francis. Although the two men will agree on issues like economic inequality, Allen says, they will likely differ on others, including, notably, Mideast policy.

Pope Francis often highlights the crisis Mideast Christians face; President Obama, not so much. “Few on the Catholic side are inclined to see the Obama administration as a great defender of those Christians at risk,” Allen writes, “while standing up against violent anti-Christian persecution is emerging as a cornerstone of Francis’ social and political agenda”:

On Egypt, Obama took a “pox on both your houses” stance last summer with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood and the army after a military council declared controversial President Mohamed Morsi deposed. The Vatican was more favorable to the military intervention, inclined to see it less as a coup and more as a reflection of popular will.

In Syria, the Obama administration has made the removal of President Bashar al-Assad a precondition for any negotiated end to that country’s civil war, while the Vatican is more skeptical about regime change, in part out of concern that whatever follows Assad might actually be worse.

Underlying these contrasts is that the Vatican’s reading of the Middle East is heavily conditioned by the perceptions of the Christian minorities in these countries, who generally see either a powerful military or strong-arm rulers as a buffer between themselves and Islamic radicalism. They often point to Iraq, where a once-thriving Christian community has been gutted in the chaos that followed the collapse of Saddam Hussein.

You can read the full article here.

Shogimen & Spencer (eds.), “Visions of Peace: Asia and the West”

9781409428701This month, Ashgate published Visions of Peace: Asia and the West edited by Takashi Shogimen (University of Otago) and Vicki A. Spencer (University of Otago). The publisher’s description follows.

Visions of Peace: Asia and the West explores the diversity of past conceptualizations as well as the remarkable continuity in the hope for peace across global intellectual traditions. Current literature, prompted by September 11, predominantly focuses on the laws and ethics of just wars or modern ideals of peace. Asian and Western ideals of peace before the modern era have largely escaped scholarly attention. This book examines Western and Asian visions of peace that existed prior to c.1800 by bringing together experts from a variety of intellectual traditions.

The historical survey ranges from ancient Greek thought, early Christianity and medieval scholasticism to Hinduism, classical Confucianism and Tokuguwa Japanese learning, before illuminating unfamiliar aspects of peace visions in the European Enlightenment. Each chapter offers a particular case study and attempts to rehabilitate a ‘forgotten’ conception of peace and reclaim its contemporary relevance. Collectively they provide the conceptual resources to inspire more creative thinking towards a new vision of peace in the present. Students and specialists in international relations, peace studies, history, political theory, philosophy, and religious studies will find this book a valuable resource on diverse conceptions of peace.

Alizadeh & Hakimian (eds.), “Iran and the Global Economy: Petro Populism, Islam and Economic Sanctions”

Last month, Routledge published Iran and the Global Economy: Petro Populism, Islam and Economic Sanctions edited by Parvin Alizadeh (Boston Iran and the Global EconomyUniversity) and Hassan Hakimian (University of London).  The publisher’s description follows.

The relationship between religion and the state has entered a new phase ever since the Iranian Revolution more than three decades ago. The recent mass uprisings against autocratic rulers in the Arab world have highlighted the potency of Islamist forces in post-revolutionary societies in the region, a force arguably unlocked first by Iran’s version of the ‘spring’ three decades ago. The economic ramifications of these uprisings are of special interest at a time when the possibility of the creation of Islamic states can have implications for their economic policy and performance again. A study of the Iranian experience in itself can offer rare insights whether for its own features and characteristics or for its possible lessons and implications for recent events in the region. This book is concerned with the economic aspects and consequences of the Iranian Revolution in general and its interaction with the international economy in particular. Many studies have to date dealt with Iran’s economic challenges, policies and performance in the post-revolutionary period but its interaction with the international economy – although of growing importance – has not received sufficient attention. The contributions in this volume by experts in the field address ways in which in the span of three decades, Iran’s economy has evolved from a strong aspiration to develop an ‘independent economy’ to grappling with debilitating international economic sanctions.

Not to Mention Universities and the News Media

Here’s an odd story, from The Independent:

Christianity dominates the United Nations and a more inclusive system must be introduced at the world peace-making organisation, according to a new study.

The report Religious NGOs and The United Nations found that Christian NGOs are overrepresented at the UN in comparison to other religious groups.

Overall, more than 70 per cent of religious NGOs at the UN are Christian, where the Vatican enjoys a special observer status, as a state and religion, according to research undertaken by Professor Jeremy Carrette from the University of Kent’s Department of Religious Studies.

The study questions claims by the Christian right that cults are running the UN given the scale of Christian NGOs, and calls for greater awareness, transparency and equality, while putting a strong emphasis on religious tolerance.

See, we told you the secularization theory was wrong. Just so you know, according to the article, religious NGOs make up only 7.3% of the total number of NGOs at the UN. So it’s hard to see how Christian NGOs, which amount to even a smaller percentage, could really “dominate” the organization. And the UN doesn’t appear to promote particularly Christian worldviews in its programs. Anyway, maybe there’s more to the study than the Independent suggests. You can follow the links in the article to read more.

Bosco, “Securing the Sacred: Religion, National Security, and the Western State”

Next month, the University of Michigan Press will publish Securing the Sacred: Religion, National Security, and the Western State by Robert Bosco (Centre College). The publisher’s description follows.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Western nations have increasingly recognized religion as a consideration in domestic and foreign policy. In this empirical comparison of the securitization of Islam in Britain, France, and the United States, Robert M. Bosco argues that religion is a category of phenomena defined by the discourses and politics of both religious and state elites.

Despite significant theoretical distinctions between securitization on the domestic and the international levels, he finds that the outcome of addressing religion within the context of security hinges upon partnerships. Whereas states may harness the power of international allies, they cannot often find analogous domestic allies; therefore, states that attempt to securitize religion at home are more vulnerable to counterattack and more likely to abandon their efforts. This book makes a significant contribution to the fields of political theory, international relations, Islamic studies, and security/military studies.

Helping Mideast Christians

Last week, Robert George and Katrina Lantos Swett, the chair and vice-chair, respectively, of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, published an important op-ed on the persecution of Mideast Christians. This topic receives far too little attention, for reasons I’ve explained, and George and Swett deserve praise for writing about it.

The situation is truly dire. For example, George and Swett discuss the plight of Egypt’s Copts, who celebrate Christmas today, as well as Christians in Iraq:

In Egypt, persecution against Coptic Christians, the region’s largest non-Muslim religious minority, numbering 8 million, has reached critical proportions. While Hosni Mubarak’s military-backed regime failed to punish attacks against Copts and other religious minorities, Mohammed Morsi’s election to the presidency in 2012 was followed by rhetoric leading to more violence before and since his ouster this July. Since mid-August, following a military crackdown on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters, Brotherhood sympathizers have assaulted more than 200 Christian religious structures, homes, and businesses.

In Iraq, violence against Christians rose after Saddam Hussein’s fall. Christians have endured increasing levels of rape, torture, and murder, driving many away. On Christmas Day, at least 37 people died in bombings in Christian areas, including a car bombing outside of a church. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government has failed repeatedly to bring perpetrators to justice. Once home to about one million Christians, Iraq has half that number today.

The situation in Iraq, in particular, should embarrass the United States. America toppled Saddam Hussein and occupied Iraq for almost a decade. The result for Christians and some other religious minorities has been disaster. And security continues to deteriorate. Just last week, Fallujah fell to militants linked to Al Qaeda.

But I digress. At the end of their op-ed, George and Swett suggest some things that the US can do to help persecuted Mideast Christians now:

First, the United States must press governments to bring to justice those who assault religious minorities – not only Christians but Shi’a Muslims in Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, Sunni Muslims and Baha’is in Iran, and Shi’a and Ahmadis in Pakistan.

Second, Washington must urge these governments to cease punishing the innocent. In countries like Egypt and Pakistan, Christians and others face not only violence from extremists who rarely are imprisoned for their misdeeds, but prison at the hands of these same governments, thanks to blasphemy laws which violate freedom of expression as well as religion.

Third, the United States must firmly support religious freedom as an antidote to religious extremism in these countries. By supporting a robust marketplace of beliefs and ideas, religious freedom enables more tolerant beliefs to compete in the struggle for hearts and minds.

Here I’d like to suggest a couple of friendly amendments. First, it’s not clear whether George and Swett are suggesting public action by the US. Public pressure could do more harm than good, in my view. Given the pathologies of the Mideast, overt advocacy on the part of religious minorities could expose them to a backlash. Christians are already seen, unfairly, as intruders and Western agents. Moreover, popular opinion in America would not support serious interventions on behalf of Mideast Christians. Public statements of support, without the will to back them up with concrete actions, would only raise expectations unfairly. This sort of thing has occurred to Mideast Christians many times in the past.

So pressure by the US should be private. Even private pressure could backfire, of course, especially if regional governments decide to make Christians scapegoats. But private pressure is less likely than public admonishment to cause greater problems for already vulnerable people.

Second, in addition to trying to improve the status of Christians in the region, the US and other Western countries should fast-track asylum applications from Copts and other Mideast Christians, to provide a haven for those who wish to leave the region. This is a very imperfect solution, of course, as it would accelerate the depopulation of ancient Christian communities in the Middle East. But leaving these Christians to their fate isn’t a good option, either.

Leverett & Leverett, “Going to Tehran: Why American Must Accept the Islamic Republic of Iran”

This month, Macmillan will publish, Going to Tehran: Why America Must Accept the Islamic Republic of Iran by Flynt Leverett and Hilary Mann Leverett.  The Going to Tehranpublisher’s description follows.

Less than a decade after Washington endorsed a fraudulent case for invading Iraq, similarly misinformed and politically motivated claims are pushing America toward war with Iran. Challenging the daily clamor of U.S. saber rattling, Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett argue that America should renounce thirty years of failed strategy and engage with Iran—just as Nixon revolutionized U.S. foreign policy by going to Beijing and realigning relations with China.

In Going to Tehran, former analysts in both the Bush and Clinton administrations, the Leveretts offer a uniquely informed account of Iran as it actually is today, not as many have caricatured it or wished it to be. They show that Iran’s political order is not on the verge of collapse, that most Iranians still support the Islamic Republic, and that Iran’s regional influence makes it critical to progress in the Middle East. Drawing on years of research and access to high-level officials, the Leveretts’ indispensable work makes it clear that America must “go to Tehran” if it is to avert strategic catastrophe.

Yasukuni and Nice Distinctions

Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe fulfilled an oft-repeated wish to visit Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine while in office. In Shinto belief, the shrine houses the souls of millions who died in the service of the Japanese Empire. Abe has expressed regret that he did not visit the shrine during his last stint as prime minister, from 2006 to 2007.

You’d think a visit to such a shrine by a sitting prime minister would be entirely proper, like an American president visiting Arlington National Cemetery. Abe’s visit has caused great controversy, however, as Abe surely knew it would. Among the souls commemorated at the shrine are a thousand convicted war criminals who fought for Japan in World War II, including wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo. China and Korea, which both suffered greatly at Japan’s hands in that war, deeply resent official visits to Yasukuni and, naturally, objected to Abe’s visit. So, unusually, did the United States, which expressed disappointment “that  Japan’s leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan’s neighbors.” Walter Russell Mead does a good job explaining the diplomatic implications.

For his part, Abe said he had not intended to offend Japan’s neighbors or send a crypto-imperialist signal. He did not visit Yasukuni to honor war criminals, he insisted, but to express to the souls housed there his determination “to create an age where no one will ever suffer from tragedies of wars.” In addition, Abe’s spokesman stressed that the prime minister had visited the shrine, and made a donation, strictly as a private citizen exercising his “religious freedom.” This last part is important for purposes of Japanese law. According to the Japanese Supreme Court, the constitutional “separation of state and religion” forbids officials from making financial contributions to Yasukuni for use in Shinto ceremonies.

So, is everything clear now? It was crucially important for Abe to visit Yasukuni while in office–but strictly in an unofficial capacity. A very lawyerly distinction, but one unlikely to persuade anyone in China or Korea. Maybe not even in Japan.