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Archive for the 'Middle East' Category

Monday, August 27th, 2012

Book Giveaway: Parting Ways by Judith Butler

“In many ways the culmination of [Judith Butler's] thinking to date, Parting Ways will confirm Butler’s place at the forefront of debate about one of the most anguished political crises of our times.” — Jacqueline Rose, Queen Mary, University of London

Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism

This week our featured book is Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism by Judith Butler.

Throughout the week we will highlight aspects of Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism and we are offering a FREE copy of the book to one winner. And, as per public request, the contest is now available to any entrant worldwide, rather than simply in the US and Canada.

To enter our book giveaway, simply e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu with your name and address. We will randomly select one winner on Friday at 1:00 pm. Good luck and spread the word!

For more on the book, you can browse Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism in Google Preview or read the full introduction Self-Departure, Exile, and the Critique of Zionism.

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Stephen Starr on the Revolt in Syria

There are many dark days ahead in the short term, but sometime down the line, Syria will be much brighter than it was in 2010.”—Stephen Starr
Stephen Starr, Syria in Revolt
In a recent interview with Syria Today, Stephen Starr, author of Revolt in Syria: Eye-witness to the Uprising discussed the current situation in the country and the many challenges that lay ahead. While there will continue to be bloodshed and turbulence, he believes that ultimately the uprising will succeed and that over time, Syria will be the better for it.

Starr has spent much time on the ground in Syria and has witnessed the devastation in the country but has also been impressed by the courage of Syrians. In assessing the situation in Syria, Starr focuses on the regime’s weakening control:

In my eyes, what makes Syria interesting today is that people have been governed in a very structured way for a very long time – security and political issues, for example, are realms for the regime only. In many ways, the structure of that authority is collapsing, and how Syrians are reacting to that change is fascinating.

It is a unique feeling to witness people calling for freedom in the streets when they could be gunned down at any moment. Their courage is astonishing.


Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Stephen Starr – Syria can find peace if its minorities seek common ground

“Animosity between the largely Sunni protest movement and the minorities who stood by and watched Assad’s forces slaughter them will have to be ironed out and discussed on a countrywide scale. There will be many more deaths, even after the regime is ousted. Syrians will have to partake on one key activity: to listen to each other. For the country’s minorities and for those fearing a conservative government replacing Assad they must consider themselves Syrian first, and Alawite, Christian, Kurd, second.” — Stephen Starr

On Monday, the Guardian ran “Syria can find peace if its minorities seek common ground,” an article on the dangers posed by animosity between the minority groups in Syria written by Stephen Starr. Starr is a freelance journalist who has lived in and reported from Syria since 2007, and the author of the forthcoming Revolt in Syria: Eye-witness to the Uprising. Starr has written about the Syrian uprising for the Washington Post, Financial Times, the London Times and the London Sunday Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Irish Times.

Starr begins his article by explaining how well-to-do Syrians avoided discussing politics before the recent uprising:

“You can write about anything you want,” friends and acquaintances regularly told me during my five-year stay in Syria. “But do not touch politics or religion.” For Syrians, the open discussion of politics was something on few people’s minds. Before the current revolt took hold, managing to secure a good job in spite of crippling graft and sparse opportunities was a far more pressing concern.

Pre-March 2011, the vast majority of Syrians I know kept their heads down and enjoyed life as they could. In wealthy areas of the country, politics and open discussion were gladly sacrificed for economic security and streets where their children could play in peace.


Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Stephen Starr on the complicated situation in Syria

“[I]t is activists’ videos appearing on television stations around the world that have shaped our thinking and opinions on Syria. The conflict becomes black and white when viewed through such a lens: Assad’s regime is wrong and the rebels are right. The truth, of course, is more complicated than that.”
–Stephen Starr

Monday, Foreign Policy posted “The Fog of Civil War,” an article on the complex and frequently misrepresented civil war in Syria by Stephen Starr. Starr is a freelance journalist who has lived in and reported from Syria since 2007, and the author of the forthcoming Revolt in Syria: Eye-witness to the Uprising. Starr has written about the Syrian uprising for the Washington Post, Financial Times, the London Times and the London Sunday Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Irish Times.

Starr begins his article with the story of protests in Jdaydieh Artouz, a story that he believes has been distorted in the public imagination:

In Jdaydieh Artouz, a town 11 miles southwest of Damascus that is home to a mix of Sunnis, Christians, and Alawites, protests have been taking place almost daily for well over a year. Yet the security forces, centered at a police station a few hundred yards up the street from where the protesters regularly gather, have largely ignored them. One wet, cold January night while out to pick up some sharwama sandwiches, I watched cars with Bashar al-Assad’s face emblazoned across the rear window pass within inches of the indomitable demonstrators. Neither side appeared perturbed. With the exception of isolated incidents in which several protesters were killed, the town remained peaceful throughout the uprising — that is until Thursday, July 19, when rebel fighters fired RPGs at the police station, killing five officers.

Living in this town for the first 11 months of the uprising, I tried, and failed, to get articles published questioning why the regime tolerated protests or allowed free assembly in some areas, but not others. These incidents didn’t fit the narrative that all protests were being violently quashed. The majority, of course, were — and often brutally — but the full picture was unnervingly complex.

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Stephen Tankel — Afghan War Is Not Over Yet

Storming the World StageYesterday, CNN.com published “Afghan War Is Not Over Yet,” by Stephen Tankel, an assistant professor at American University, a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the author of Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba. In this article, Tankel takes a detailed look at the unsettled political situation in Central Asia after President Obama’s announcement of the “irreversible” plan to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan. Tankel sees a great deal of uncertainty that must be resolved and a wide variety of challenges that must be be met before any successful withdrawal can be effected.

He first questions the efficacy of the Afghan National Army in maintaining stability:

The Afghan National Army is already taking the lead in regions with roughly 75% of the population, with U.S. and other NATO troops acting as support. However, this does not include the most contested areas in the south and east, where Afghan forces are slated to assume responsibility by next summer. Serious doubts persist about their readiness to do so.

Despite significant training efforts, the army’s level of competence remains in question. It lacks many of the support functions needed for war fighting. The army will remain dependent on international forces for these capabilities and on the international community for financial assistance, expected to cost at least $4 billion a year.


Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed in the Gaza Strip

Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed

In a chapter from Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed: The MSF Experience, Caroline Abu-Sada recounts and analyzes some of the complications Doctors Without Borders//Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has grappled with in Palestine. Specifically, Doctors Without Borders has had to navigate a perilous political situation between Hamas and Fatah as well as the tensions between Palestine and Israel. In this excerpt from the chapter “Gaza Strip: A Perilous Transition,” Abu-Sada describes the pressure put upon Doctors Without Borders by Hamas as well their dealings with the Israelis.

MSF saw the Hamas government as wishing to impose both health policy choices and its own vision of society and did not want to be dictated to on how it should behave and how it should run its activities. This stance was due partly to a political desire to limit its collaboration with Hamas and partly to its difficulty in understanding the deep mutations underway in Gaza. The organisation gave the ruling authorities the impression that it had put itself beyond their reach at a time when there was a real need to organise services for the population and consolidate their legitimacy.

Hamas finally left MSF no choice but to negotiate the scope of the organisation’s operations in the Gaza Strip. These negotiations focused on both medical and administrative issues. However, after the political and military defeat of Fatah, its long-standing interlocutor in the Gaza Strip, MSF’s relations with Israel were to be determined by matters of a completely different nature.

Israel and the Humanitarian Management of the Gaza Strip

Israel had evacuated its settlers and the military from the Gaza Strip in August 2005 as part of a non-negotiated withdrawal. However, it continued to control all entries and exits. For MSF, maintaining its activities therefore depended to a large extent on its relations with the Israeli authorities. This was all the more true after the Gaza blockade had been set up which, in theory, allowed through certain essential goods and humanitarian aid. In reality, however, orders of medical supplies and medicines sometimes remained stranded for days or even weeks if all the necessary permits hadn’t been obtained, or if the contents of the crates contravened some aspect of the relatively vague rules governing the embargo—or even for no apparent reason.


Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Roger Hardy — Islamism and the Arab Spring

Roger Hardy, The Muslim RevoltThe following is a post by Roger Hardy, author of The Muslim Revolt: A Journey Through Political Islam. The essay was originally posted on the Hurst Blog.

The recent success of Islamist parties in elections in Tunisia and Egypt has led many to conclude, a little hastily, that political Islam has hijacked the Arab Spring. In the current context of turbulence and uncertainty in the Middle East, it is more important than ever to understand what Islamism is, what drives it, and what its future role is likely to be.

I wrote The Muslim Revolt: A Journey through Political Islam in an attempt to explain and demystify Islamism, drawing on my experiences as a journalist who had been lucky enough to travel through large parts of the Muslim world. The book argues that, in its origins, Islamism represented a double revolt—against foreign dominion and against local autocracy. Like other anti-colonial movements, its driving force was opposition to European rule; but unlike its secular counterparts, it rallied the faithful under the banner of a ‘return to Islam.’ This was, in Robert Leiken’s terse phrase, ‘anti-imperialism exalted by revivalism.’

But even if these two elements, the external and the internal, remain its defining characteristics, we should not conclude that Islamism is monolithic and unchanging. In the light of the Arab Spring, we can now see Islamism as having passed through three crucial, and very different, phases:

* Its birth and early expansion from the late 1920s to the early 1950s.
* Its revival in the 1970s (especially following the Iranian revolution).
* Its emergence as an actor with new-found importance in the Arab uprisings of today.


Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Jonathan Lyons on Islam, Women, and the West

“The expropriation of the rhetoric of women’s rights under Islam in order to unleash deadly violence on Muslim nations shows just how much the struggle for women’s equality has become a discursive one rather than a material one.”—Jonathan Lyons

Jonathan Lyons, Islam Through Western Eyes

In a recent guest post for Juan Cole’s Informed Comment, Jonathan Lyons, author of Islam Through Western Eyes: From the Crusades to the War on Terrorism, argues that Western perceptions of the Islamic world have often been dominated by the male-female dynamic, or its misunderstanding of this dynamic.

The harem, which once dominated Western perceptions/fantasies of the Muslim world, has been replaced by the harem, which has come to be a symbol of the sexist and anti-modern nature of Islamic society. Lyons writes:

By the early twentieth century, the institution of veiling had for the most part supplanted the more exotic harem as the focal point of Western attention. Still, the underlying logic of the discourse of Islam and women remains firmly in place today. The end result has been a “sexualization” of the Western view of Islam, one in which the totality of Muslim beliefs and practices and even the entire Islamic civilization are too often reduced to Western perceptions and assessment of the male–female dynamic.

Exhibit A may be found in our obsession with the hijab, or veil, as a barometer of social progress and overall well-being within Islamic societies, to such a degree that it has become a commonplace of Western mass-media coverage, social activism, and political discussion alike. For years, the veil has been a staple of endless news articles, books, and documentaries, and it is captured in magazine and television images – all as shorthand for a society, a civilization, or a system that is backward, alien, immobile, and inherently antithetical to human rights and dignity.


Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Olivier Roy: The cold choice — jobs or jihad

Olivier Roy

“In the final analysis, the victory of the Islamists is part of the normalisation of the Arab world.”—Olivier Roy

In the most recent issue of the New Statesman , Olivier Roy, author of Holy Ignorance: When Religion and Culture Part Ways, examines the “Arab Winter” and the possible impact of Islamist victories in the Egyptian election.

Roy challenges the Western prejudice which sees Islam as incompatible with democracy and the Islamist victory as necessarily being a threat to the ideals of democracy, pluralism, and good governance that characterized the Arab Spring. Ultimately, as Roy suggests, the Islamists will have to respond to the current situation in Egypt and the fact that the Arab Spring did not have the kind of Islamic ideological component of the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Roy writes:

The Islamists are certainly neither secularists nor liberals, but they can be democrats. It is not the convictions of political actors that shape their policies but the constraints to which they are subject. The Islamists are entering an entirely new political space: this was not a revolution in which a dictatorship was replaced by a regime that resembled its predecessor. There have been elections and there will be a parliament. Political parties have been formed and, whatever the disappointments and fears of the secular left, it will be difficult simply to close down this new space, because what brought it into being in the first place – a savvy, connected young generation, a spirit of protest – is still there. Islamist movements throughout the region are constrained to operate in a democratic arena that they didn’t create and which has legitimacy in the eyes of the people.


Friday, January 20th, 2012

Jonathan Lyons: A New Model for Understanding the World of Islam

Islam Through Western Eyes, by Jonathan Lyons

“This model, then, calls for the compilation of a new, hidden history of Islam that fills in those areas declared off limits by the anti-Islam discourse. But, first, we must radically rephrase the West’s favorite polemical question—What’s wrong with Islam?—to a less comfortable query: What’s wrong with us?”—Jonathan Lyons

We conclude our week-long feature on Islam Through Western Eyes: From the Crusades to the War on Terrorism by Jonathan Lyons by excerpting, fittingly enough, from the conclusion. In the final chapter Lyons offers a new way for the West to approach the Muslim world:

I propose a new model for approaching the world of Islam—a “hidden history,” as it were, of its practices, beliefs, and culture. To begin with, we must acknowledge that the established Western discourse of Islam does not—or, at the very least, does not necessarily—reflect the reality of Islam itself, what I have referred to earlier as “Islam qua Islam.” Rather, this discourse is the product of a process that has embedded a particular discursive formation in Western thought. Here, then, are the roots of what Sutton and Vertigans have identified as the prevailing “caricature of Islam” (2005:31). Chapters 4, 5, and 6 established ample grounds for such an assertion, and many more examples beyond the scope of this inquiry might likewise be marshaled in support.

Next we must deliberately remove the central pillars of the thousand-year-old anti-Islam discourse and examine what remains behind. Or, to return to the question posed at the outset, we must ask, When we open this particular window, what is it that we see that has not been seen before? Were we to set aside these central notions—that Islam is inherently violent and spread by the sword; that Muslims are irrational, antiscience, and thus antimodern; and that they are sexually perverse and hate women—as flawed representations of the nondiscursive reality of Islam, then whole new vistas of possible relationships between East and West will begin to open up before our eyes.


Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Jonathan Lyons on Islam and Women

Jonathan Lyons, Islam Through Western Eyes

The Bush administration adopted and perpetuated the established discourse of Islam and women for the benefit of specific Western interests—in this case, the military occupation and political and economic domination of Muslim societies…. Bush and his fellow social conservatives were able to obscure their own opposition to women’s advancement at home by contrasting the freedoms of Western women with those of women suffering under Islam.”—Jonathan Lyons, Islam Through Western Eyes

In his book Islam Through Western Eyes: From the Crusades to the War on Terrorism, Jonthan Lyons examines Western, frequently misguided views on Islam. In the chapter on Islam and women, Lyons “traces the emergence of th[e] discourse of Islam and women from within the greater anti-Islam narrative, commencing with the Enlightenment and progressing to the war on terrorism.” This discourse, Lyons argues, has been used to further various political and ideological agendas.

Lyons concludes the chapter by examining how in recent years, the West, particularly the media, has looked to the veil and women’s sexuality as a kind of barometer of progress and modernity. Here is an excerpt from the chapter:

This narrative of the veil, sexuality, and Western notions of modernity and progress reaches its height, however, whenever the subject is postrevolutionary Iran. Since the victory over the U.S.-backed shah in 1979 and the creation of the Islamic Republic, Iranian women have been required to veil in public. In the early years, dress requirements were extremely strict—no hair showing, no makeup or nail polish, no open-toe shoes, and so on—and at times brutally enforced by religious vigilantes. These practices have been relaxed significantly in recent years, and some middle-class and upper-class urban women now adopt colorful and personal expressions of the hijab that do little to disguise the figure or fully cover the hair.

Both the official line and public opinion toward this dress code have a complex and nuanced history (Abdo and Lyons 2003), but the Western media have universally seen and shown it as a reliable barometer of progress or lack thereof by secular civil society at the expense of the ruling religious establishment. In this schema, then, the more lipstick and hair visible to visiting foreign correspondents, the less secure the conservatives’ grip on power and the better the chances of popular revolt against the Islamic system.


Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Udi Aloni on Israeli Apartheid

Udi Aloni, What Does a Jew Want?“A couple of years ago I approached my ardently Zionist mom, a woman who carried a weapon for the Jewish community of Jerusalem in 1948, and asked her a simple question: ‘Mom, is all this apartheid?’

With the sigh of a betrayed lover she indicated that, yes, this is apartheid. My heart broke.”—Udi Aloni

In an essay for Salon, Udi Aloni, author of What Does a Jew Want?: On Binationalism and Other Specters , challenged a recent New York Times op-ed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone denying the practice of apartheid in Israel.

Aloni, who grew up in Israel and whose parents adhered to a humanistic Zionist ideology, ultimately came to the realization that Israel practiced a form of apartheid in its treatment of Palestinians. Apartheid in Israel however, is different than it was in South Africa as Aloni explains:

The two states embody different sets of interests and power structures, and while in some ways it has been crueler in Israel, in others it is more liberal. The main difference between the two is that in South Africa apartheid was an explicit tenet of the judicial system, while in Israel the entire judicial system conceals and cleanses the praxis of government-led apartheid.


Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Udi Aloni Directs an Arab Adaptation of “Waiting for Godot”

Udi Aloni

Last night, The Freedom Theater a troupe in the Jenin refugee camp, performed “Waiting for Godot at Columbia University’s Miller Theater. The play was directed by Udi Aloni, author of What Does a Jew Want?: On Binationalism and Other Specters. As described in a recent New York Times article, Aloni became the director after the founder of the The Freedom Theater, Juliano Mer Khamis was murdered outside the troupe’s building.

Udi Aloni, who had been Mer Khamis’s friend, decided to step in as director after learning of the murder. The production breaks with several conventions relating to “Waiting for Godot,” including the casting of women in the roles of Vladimir and Estragon. As BatoolTaleb, who plays Estragon, explains, “Waiting for Godot” has special resonance for Palestinians and The Freedom Theater: “Everyone in life is waiting, with his own goals to reach. For us in our situation in Palestine, we are waiting for freedom, and for us in the Freedom Theater, we are working for the future, waiting for something to happen that will change something.”

The article describes Mer Khamis’s reputation for putting on plays that were controversial among both Palestinians and Israelis. His productions challenged Arab patriarchal conventions as well as the Palestinian authority. Mr Aloni describe Mer Khamis as ““loved and hated in Tel Aviv and loved and hated in Jenin…. some people said he was a Palestinian in Israel and an Israeli in Palestine, and then somebody else said, no, he was a Palestinian in Palestine and an Israeli in Israel. But I say he was a Palestinian Jew in Israel and a Palestinian Jew in Palestine.”

Friday, October 7th, 2011

Udi Aloni and Judith Butler

Udi Aloni

Udi Aloni’s What Does a Jew Want?: On Binationalism and Other Specters includes interventions and conversations with Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, and Judith Butler. All three figures have been commentators of Aloni’s work and have joined him in conversation about Israel and Palestine. The following is an excerpt from a conversation between Aloni and Butler, originally published Haaretz:

Udi Aloni: Why Israel-Palestine? Is this directly connected to your Jewishness?

Judith Butler: As a Jew, I was taught that it was ethically imperative to speak up and to speak out against arbitrary state violence. That was part of what I learned when I learned about the Second World War and the concentration camps. There were those who would and could speak out against state racism and state violence, and it was imperative that we be able to speak out. Not just for Jews, but for any number of people. There was an entire idea of social justice that emerged for me from the consideration of the Nazi genocide.

I would also say that what became really hard for me is that if one wanted to criticize Israeli state violence – precisely because that as a Jew one is under obligation to criticize excessive state violence and state racism – then one is in a bind, because one is told that one is either self-hating as a Jew or engaging anti-Semitism. And yet for me, it comes out of a certain Jewish value of social justice. So how can I fulfill my obligation as a Jew to speak out against an injustice when, in speaking out against Israeli state and military injustice, I am accused of not being a good enough Jew or of being a self-hating Jew? This is the bind of my current situation.

Let me say one other thing about Jewish values. There are two things I took from Jewish philosophy and my Jewish formation that were really important for me… well there are many. There are many. Sitting shiva, for instance, explicit grieving. I thought it was the one of the most beautiful rituals of my youth. There were several people who died in my youth, and there were several moments when whole communities gathered in order to make sure that those who had suffered terrible losses were taken up and brought back into the community and given a way to affirm life again. The other idea was that life is transient, and because of that, because there is no after world, because we don’t have any hopes in a final redemption, we have to take especially good care of life in the here and now. Life has to be protected. It is precarious. I would even go so far as to say that precarious life is, in a way, a Jewish value for me.


Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Udi Aloni — A Manifesto for the Jewish-Palestinian Arabic Hebrew State

Udi Aloni, What Does a Jew Want?The following is an excerpt from What Does a Jew Want? On Binationalism and Other Specters, by Udi Aloni with Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, and Judith Butler. We have also posted the book’s epilogue in its entirety.

A specter haunts the Middle East, the daunting specter of Palestinian-Jewish binationalism. All the world’s powers have joined hands to conduct a holy war to the bitter end, until that specter is defeated. One can read the entire modern history of the region as the history of a violent lasting conflict instigated to deny and expel that specter.

Now, after one hundred years of conflict, with no solution in sight, the time has come to present binationalism in all its glory.


We are already a decade into the twenty-first century, and still the only visible change in the Middle East is deterioration. The everyday relation between the Jewish and Palestinian nations, the two nations living in this shared land, is a clear and deteriorating relationship of occupier to occupied, dominance to weakness, manifesting exploitation, racism, humiliation, landgrab, and violence. It is true that on the symbolic level relations are much more complex, but the bottom line is that the Jewish nation is sovereign inside territorial contiguity, enjoying democratic, economic, and cultural freedom.

In contrast, the Palestinian nation is divided between five different physical, economic, and cultural provinces that are hermetically separated in a way that does not allow the existence of a political community. The silence of the Western world, and its massive support for Israel, perpetuate this flagrantly illegal situation. The West is better off letting the Jewish nation guard, in an immoral manner, the immoral wall in the immoral frontier state so as to keep the conflict away from the heart of the empire, where there is still a semblance of the rule of law. Leaders in the Arab world (or the Muslim world, depending on one’s point of view) are better off placing the Palestinian people as a human bulwark against the West, while they are free to both conduct commercial relations with the West and maintain an apparent ideological arena through which they criticize the West in the symbolic realm.

In the symbolic realm relations are much more complex: they are not about the balance of power, financial profit, or control of land, water, and natural resources. In this realm one also has to consider overt and covert theological structures. It is about relations of longing, jealousy, and passion, the simultaneous desire for sameness and separateness. Thus, this small piece of land containing the names Israel and Palestine has become an intense critical mass containing all the tensions between East and West, between North and South, between religions, and between religions and secular thought. The Middle East has become the place where the world brings together all the ideological oppositions, like a testing ground for various ideological explosions. Therefore, one moment before this ancient mythology-infested place implodes into a black hole powerful enough to swallow the whole world, we propose binationalism as the only living alternative.

Binationalism is perhaps the only possibility for a new place, a new beginning and a new language, the only possibility for Israel-Palestine, for the Middle East, and maybe for the entire world.


Friday, September 16th, 2011

Paul Pillar on Iran

Paul Pillar

Paul Pillar’s recently published Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform explores some of the missteps in reorganizing intelligence in the wake of al-Qaeda attacks. One of the most crucial challenges facing U.S. intelligence and foreign policy today is, of course, Iran and its nuclear program.

As Paul Pillar has argued that Western intelligence cannot detect a decision that hasn’t been made about Iran’s nuclear program and cannot be completely relied upon. He writes in a recent post for The National Interest that the United States should seriously consider Iran’s offer to allow nuclear inspectors of its activities. Pillar argues:

It would be a mistake to respond as Americans have too often responded, which is to assume the worst about the intentions on the other side and to act in a way that would make sense only if that assumption were true, even though we don’t know it to be true. It would make far more sense to act with the realization that as far as we know the Iranian statement could be anything from a major breakthrough to a phony bit of rhetoric. The only way to find out is to explore the unexplored road and talk with the Iranians about it. If the favorable possibility turns out to be true, talking could be the first step toward a comprehensive safeguards agreement. If the unfavorable possibility turns out to be true, little or nothing is lost; in fact the Western case for pressuring Iran would be strengthened by demonstrating that the West is willing to go the extra mile.

Paul Pillar also recently participated at a public briefing at the Atlantic Council, in which they discussed a recent report they issued, How Reliable is Intelligence on Iran’s Nuclear Program? You can read a summary or listen to the panel discussion here.

Friday, August 12th, 2011

Interview with Arshin Adib-Moghaddam

Arshin Adib-MoghaddamThe Public Record recently interviewed Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, author of A Metahistory of the Clash of Civilisations: Us and Them Beyond Orientalism. In the interview Adib-Moghaddam, who was born to Iranian parents in Turkey, discussed the continuing controversy over Iran’s nuclear program, the Western media’s depiction of Iran, the future of Iran-West relations, and the prospect of Iran’s Green Movement.

Adib-Moghaddam argues that no one has proven the existence of Iran’s nuclear program and it is used to punish Iran for having an independent foreign policy. More specifically, the West legitimizes sanctions in Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons when what it really wants is to contain Iran’s growing power in the region. Adib-Moghaddam contrasts this with Israel, a nation which in fact does have a nuclear program but one that does not receive the same type of scrutiny as Iran’s. He contextualizes this in light of his book:

I have argued in “A Metahistory of the Clash of Civilisations” that justice in world politics is the surface effect of a series of constellations that can be manipulated towards particular ends. So justice is a product of politics and diplomacy rather than an objective value that is universally applicable. At the same time I reject the notion that world politics has to be anarchic, that the Hobbesian idea of a war of all against all is inevitable. It was Europe and then the United States that constructed and supervised this unjust order. It is not due to some kind of natural law. So it can be changed. The Israeli nuclear programme must be seen within this larger context of an unjust world order that continues to produce hypocrisies on major issues facing human kind…. The reform of the international institutions must do away with the hierarchy inscribed in them. One way of dealing with this would be to turn the United Nations Security Council into a rather more representative body that would reflect the emerging non-western world order.


Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam on The Metahistory of the Clash of Civilizations

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, author of The Metahistory of the Clash of Civilizations: Us and Them Beyond Orientalism recently gave a fascinating interview about his book at e-IR as well as offering commentary about the situation in Bahrain for CNN.

In his interview, Adib-Moghaddam explores why the idea of a clash idea is such a part of today’s political culture and the ways in which it negates dialogue and engagement. The “clash regime” is not only a convenient tactic for politicians or limited to those on the fringe but has won wide acceptance in the West and championed by the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Martin Amis. As he explains, Adib-Moghaddam is also interested in tracking the history of the clash idea or how the “them” was constructed in the West. He charts this development beginning with the wars between Greece and Persia following it through colonialism and up to the present “war on terror.”

Despite the persistence of the us vs. them mentality, Adib-Moghaddam holds out the possibility of an alternative:

In the case of the United States, the recent wars that the country waged always also had a civilizational component; the Vietcong, the Iraqi army, the Taliban were/are presented as barbarians who have to be subdued by force. It is no coincidence that the target of imperial wars is always evil, that the ‘other’ is dehumanized. A civilizational discourse incubates an insidious form of hegemonic superiority, most of the time with racist undertones. Soldiers have to be persuaded into pulling the trigger, they have to have a great deal of animosity if not hatred of the other side. What makes matters worse, at least from an ontological perspective, is that the mainstream theories of international relations, (neo)realism at the helm of them, rationalize war as a normality of international life. There is no respite, kill or be killed, perennial anarchy; that is thought to be the inevitable and ahistorical essence of the international system. We can’t get away from conflict, or so we are told. The last chapter of the book attempts to add to the counter-cases to such pessimism. It refutes the logic of war and the calls for homogeneity, authenticity, undisturbed identity underlying the clash regime. To that end, I experiment with those fields of human endeavor – poetry and music, for instance – where dissonance does not beget conflict, where difference is mitigated, where the poetry of Omar Khayyam can be interpreted as a critical theory of the subject. So while it is necessary and prudent to acknowledge analytically that there continues to be a cultural system, a clash regime that negates dialogue and engagement, it is equally true to acknowledge that there have existed movements towards a counter-regime.


Friday, April 15th, 2011

Christopher Davidson on Political Repression in the United Arab Emirates

Christopher Davidson

In the current issue of Foreign Policy, Christopher Davidson, author of Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success: The Vulnerability of Success and Abu Dhabi: Oil and Beyond, discusses the increasingly repressive tactics in the United Arab Emirates.

In the face of increasing calls for political reform and events of the Arab Spring, the rulers of the UAE have imprisoned activists and increased censorship. Davidson looks at current conditions which is characterized not only by political repression but growing unemployment and an increasing disparity between rich and poor. In assessing the future of the UAE Davidson writes:

Overall, the UAE regime seems to be following Saudi Arabia’s direction on the Arab Spring. No protests or dissent of any kind will be tolerated, even if that means political prisoners have to be taken and the country’s international reputation damaged in the process. The arrests have broken several clauses in the UAE’s Constitution, notably Article 26, and have served to warn the entire national population that nobody is above reproach. The move is ill calculated and dangerous, and smacks of poor leadership, as any remaining space for communication and honest dialogue between the ruling elite and the population has now been closed off. As such, the UAE’s future political stability is now a little less certain than it was a week ago.

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

Judith Butler — Implicated and Enraged

Judith Butler
“I only feel implicated and enraged when Israel claims to represent the Jewish people, since there are myriad strands of diasporic Judaism and Jewishness that have never felt represented by Israel, that no longer feel represented by that state, and who dispute the legitimacy of that state to represent the Jewish people or Jewish values.”—Judith Butler

The Immanent Frame
recently posted an interview with Judith Butler in which she discussed recent events in the Arab World, Israel, and her essay from The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere, “Is Judaism Zionism?”

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

Nathan Schneider: Let’s take a specific example. Would the revolution be “betrayed,” in your view, if, say, the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt? Or if something comparable to the regime in Iran were to emerge?

JB: If the Muslim Brotherhood is elected to positions in government, and the elections are free and unconstrained, then that is a democratic outcome. Whether or not one wishes for that outcome, it cannot be contested as undemocratic if it follows from open and free elections. Democracy often means living with results that we find difficult, if not abhorrent. But I have been somewhat shocked that, in the face of this most impressive of uprisings, the “specter” of the Muslim Brotherhood is raised time and again as a way of diminishing and doubting the importance of this mass movement and revolutionary action. I think those biased against Islam will have to get used to the idea that demands for democratization can and do emerge within Muslim lexicons and practice, and that democratic polities can and must be composed of various groups, religious and not. Islam is clearly part of the mix.

NS: What do you think the Arab uprisings mean for Israel, surrounded by them on all sides as it is?

JB: We can only hope that the movement toward greater democratization will affect Israel as well, so that we can finally see widespread public demands for Israeli Palestinians to be treated on an equal basis, widespread public acknowledgment that the occupation is illegal according to every standard of international law, and a similar affirmation of the right to self-determination of Palestinians. The public acknowledgment of these obvious truths would, in fact, constitute one of the most remarkable advances in the democratic revolutions underway. I think as well that any legitimate democracy would have to provide restitution to those inhabitants whose lands were confiscated. So let us hope that democratization finally comes to Israel and Palestine.