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1. Alice Paul, suffragette and activist, in 10 facts

Ninety-four years ago today, the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States took effect, enshrining American women’s right to vote. Fifty years later, in the midst of a new wave of feminist activism, Congress designated 26 August as Women’s Equality Day in the United States. The 1971 Joint Resolution read, in part, “the women of the United States have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled the full rights and privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens of the United States” and women “have united to assure that these rights and privileges are available to all citizens equally regardless of sex.” For that reason, Congress was prevailed upon to declare 26 August a day to commemorate the the Nineteenth Amendment as a “symbol of the continued fight for equal rights.”

Alice Paul was a pivotal and controversial figure in the last years of the American battle to win the vote for women. Her first national action was to organize a grand suffrage procession in Washington, DC on 3 March 1913. She organized the parade on behalf of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), the only group working to win women the vote on a national scale. She later founded her own organization, the National Woman’s Party, and charted a surprisingly aggressive course of social protests to convince Congress to pass a woman suffrage amendment to the Constitution.

Alice Paul lived long enough to see Women’s Equality Day established; she died in 1977. She did not live to see the project which consumed the remaining years of her life ratified — an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. In 2014, a renewed effort emerged to pass the ERA.

As Women’s Equality Day is celebrated around the country today, here are a few things you may not know about suffrage leader and ERA author Alice Paul:

Alice Paul. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Alice Paul. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

1.  Alice Paul was proudly a birthright Quaker, but as she became interested in politics, she became frustrated with her faith’s reluctance to actively work for woman suffrage. We often associate Quakers with political activism, but in the late nineteenth century, the vast majority of Quakers disapproved of such efforts.

2.  Paul loved dancing and sports. Indeed, her love for physical activity was a factor in drawing her into social protest, first in England, then in America. In her high school and college years, she played softball, basketball, hockey, and tennis, and also ice skated when she could. She learned to dance while attending Swarthmore College near Philadelphia and regretted her few opportunities to attend dances in her later years.

3.  Paul was arrested seven times in England for her suffrage activism, but only once in America. The longest sentence she served in Britain was one month. In the United States, she was sentenced to seven months, but only served one.

4.  Paul endured forced feeding fifty-five times in London’s Holloway Prison in 1909 and perhaps another twenty-five times while at the District of Columbia’s Jail in 1917. Authorities used forced feeding to break the hunger strikes initiated by suffrage prisoners. Some women suffered health problems as a result. Alice Paul struggled with digestive issues for years after and may have lost her sense of smell.

5.  Paul is often portrayed as eager to leave NAWSA to found her own militant suffrage group. In fact, she did so only when her hand was forced. Divisions over strategy or tactics are nothing new to any political group and NAWSA itself came about only in 1890 after two long-estranged suffrage organizations compromised in order to present a united front. The 1914 effort to oust the controversial Alice Paul from NAWSA arose from multiple sources, including the current NAWSA president, Anna Howard Shaw and once-and-future president, Carrie Chapman Catt.

6.  Paul’s persona as a leader combined stereotypically feminine and masculine traits in a way that invited fervent loyalty or deep-seated antipathy. Her dislike of the spotlight and ingrained modesty lent her a vulnerability which undercut concerns about her militant past and her powerful drive. Others found her charismatic authority threatening.

7.  Though the protests of Paul’s National Woman’s Party are often described as “civil disobedience,” Paul believed all of her actions were completely within the law. Before Paul initiated picketing to protest the lack of a suffrage amendment in 1917, picketing was largely the province of labor organizations. After consulting with attorneys about the legality of the practice, Paul adapted the silent vigil of two earlier protests and sent “silent sentinels” to picket the White House. While labor picketing often prompted violence on both sides, Paul gave her troops strict instructions to remain non-violent. Violence was, however, visited upon them by bystanders outraged by the women’s insistence on pressing for suffrage while the country was engaged in World War I.

8.  Paul’s most colorful protests occurred after the House of Representatives passed the suffrage amendment bill. It took another eighteen months to convince the Senate to pass the amendment. To maintain pressure on Congress, Alice Paul crafted watchfire protests across from the White House in Lafayette Square, during which suffragists burned President Wilson’s words about his much-celebrated belief in democracy. They even burned Wilson in effigy to urge him to use his political power to sway the Senate.

9.  Alice Paul was not present during the frenzied effort to make Tennessee the ratifying state for the suffrage amendment. She longed to be at the Tennessee statehouse, but NWP lobbying required a constant input of cash. Her ability to raise funds surpassed anyone else’s, so she chose to stay in Washington to keep the money flowing. Paul’s ability to raise funds was a key factor in the success of the NWP.

10.  Alice Paul bequeathed us the iconic images of the battle for the ballot: photographs of the 1913 procession, the 1917 White House pickets, the 1918 watchfire protests. These images speak to the courage, the persistence and the fortitude of all the women who fought to gain the most fundamental right of citizenship: the right to consent.

Featured image: Alice Paul. Public Domain via Library of Congress.

The post Alice Paul, suffragette and activist, in 10 facts appeared first on OUPblog.

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2. Alice Paul, suffragist and activist, in 10 facts

Ninety-four years ago today, the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States took effect, enshrining American women’s right to vote. Fifty years later, in the midst of a new wave of feminist activism, Congress designated 26 August as Women’s Equality Day in the United States. The 1971 Joint Resolution read, in part, “the women of the United States have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled the full rights and privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens of the United States” and women “have united to assure that these rights and privileges are available to all citizens equally regardless of sex.” For that reason, Congress was prevailed upon to declare 26 August a day to commemorate the the Nineteenth Amendment as a “symbol of the continued fight for equal rights.”

Alice Paul was a pivotal and controversial figure in the last years of the American battle to win the vote for women. Her first national action was to organize a grand suffrage procession in Washington, DC on 3 March 1913. She organized the parade on behalf of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), the only group working to win women the vote on a national scale. She later founded her own organization, the National Woman’s Party, and charted a surprisingly aggressive course of social protests to convince Congress to pass a woman suffrage amendment to the Constitution.

Alice Paul lived long enough to see Women’s Equality Day established; she died in 1977. She did not live to see the project which consumed the remaining years of her life ratified — an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. In 2014, a renewed effort emerged to pass the ERA.

As Women’s Equality Day is celebrated around the country today, here are a few things you may not know about suffrage leader and ERA author Alice Paul:

Alice Paul. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Alice Paul. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

1.  Alice Paul was proudly a birthright Quaker, but as she became interested in politics, she became frustrated with her faith’s reluctance to actively work for woman suffrage. We often associate Quakers with political activism, but in the late nineteenth century, the vast majority of Quakers disapproved of such efforts.

2.  Paul loved dancing and sports. Indeed, her love for physical activity was a factor in drawing her into social protest, first in England, then in America. In her high school and college years, she played softball, basketball, hockey, and tennis, and also ice skated when she could. She learned to dance while attending Swarthmore College near Philadelphia and regretted her few opportunities to attend dances in her later years.

3.  Paul was arrested seven times in England for her suffrage activism, but only once in America. The longest sentence she served in Britain was one month. In the United States, she was sentenced to seven months, but only served one.

4.  Paul endured forced feeding fifty-five times in London’s Holloway Prison in 1909 and perhaps another twenty-five times while at the District of Columbia’s Jail in 1917. Authorities used forced feeding to break the hunger strikes initiated by suffrage prisoners. Some women suffered health problems as a result. Alice Paul struggled with digestive issues for years after and may have lost her sense of smell.

5.  Paul is often portrayed as eager to leave NAWSA to found her own militant suffrage group. In fact, she did so only when her hand was forced. Divisions over strategy or tactics are nothing new to any political group and NAWSA itself came about only in 1890 after two long-estranged suffrage organizations compromised in order to present a united front. The 1914 effort to oust the controversial Alice Paul from NAWSA arose from multiple sources, including the current NAWSA president, Anna Howard Shaw and once-and-future president, Carrie Chapman Catt.

6.  Paul’s persona as a leader combined stereotypically feminine and masculine traits in a way that invited fervent loyalty or deep-seated antipathy. Her dislike of the spotlight and ingrained modesty lent her a vulnerability which undercut concerns about her militant past and her powerful drive. Others found her charismatic authority threatening.

7.  Though the protests of Paul’s National Woman’s Party are often described as “civil disobedience,” Paul believed all of her actions were completely within the law. Before Paul initiated picketing to protest the lack of a suffrage amendment in 1917, picketing was largely the province of labor organizations. After consulting with attorneys about the legality of the practice, Paul adapted the silent vigil of two earlier protests and sent “silent sentinels” to picket the White House. While labor picketing often prompted violence on both sides, Paul gave her troops strict instructions to remain non-violent. Violence was, however, visited upon them by bystanders outraged by the women’s insistence on pressing for suffrage while the country was engaged in World War I.

8.  Paul’s most colorful protests occurred after the House of Representatives passed the suffrage amendment bill. It took another eighteen months to convince the Senate to pass the amendment. To maintain pressure on Congress, Alice Paul crafted watchfire protests across from the White House in Lafayette Square, during which suffragists burned President Wilson’s words about his much-celebrated belief in democracy. They even burned Wilson in effigy to urge him to use his political power to sway the Senate.

9.  Alice Paul was not present during the frenzied effort to make Tennessee the ratifying state for the suffrage amendment. She longed to be at the Tennessee statehouse, but NWP lobbying required a constant input of cash. Her ability to raise funds surpassed anyone else’s, so she chose to stay in Washington to keep the money flowing. Paul’s ability to raise funds was a key factor in the success of the NWP.

10.  Alice Paul bequeathed us the iconic images of the battle for the ballot: photographs of the 1913 procession, the 1917 White House pickets, the 1918 watchfire protests. These images speak to the courage, the persistence and the fortitude of all the women who fought to gain the most fundamental right of citizenship: the right to consent.

Featured image: Alice Paul. Public Domain via Library of Congress.

The post Alice Paul, suffragist and activist, in 10 facts appeared first on OUPblog.

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3. Research replication in social science: reflections from Nathaniel Beck

Introduction from Michael Alvarez, co-editor of Political Analysis:

Questions about data access, research transparency and study replication have recently become heated in the social sciences. Professional societies and research journals have been scrambling to respond; for example, the American Political Science Association established the Data Access and Research Transparency committee to study these issues and to issue guidelines and recommendations for political science. At Political Analysis, the journal that I co-edit with Jonathan N. Katz, we require that all of the papers we publish provide replication data, typically before we send the paper to production. These replication materials get archived at the journal’s Dataverse, which provides permanent and easy access to these materials. Currently we have over 200 sets of replication materials archived there (more arriving weekly), and our Dataverse has seen more than 13,000 downloads of replication materials.

Due to the interest in replication, data access, and research transparency in political science and other social sciences, I’ve asked a number of methodologists who have been front-and-center in political science with respect to these issues to provide their thoughts and comments about what we do in political science, how well it has worked so far, and what the future might hold for replication, data access, and research transparency. I’ll also be writing more about what we have done at Political Analysis.

The first of these discussions are reflections from Nathaniel Beck, Professor of Politics at NYU, who is primarily interested in political methodology as applied to comparative politics and international relations. Neal is a former editor of Political Analysis, chairs our journal’s Advisory Board, and is now heading up the Society for Political Methodology’s own committee on data access and research transparency. Neal’s reflections provide some interesting perspectives on the importance of replication for his research and teaching efforts, and shed some light more generally on what professional societies and journals might consider for their policies on these issues.

Research replication in social science: reflections from Nathaniel Beck

Replication and data access has become a hot topic throughout the sciences. As a former editor of Political Analysis and the chair of the Society for Political Methodology‘s Data Access and Research Transparency (DA-RT) committee, I have been thinking about these issues a lot lately. But here I simply want to share a few recent experiences (two happy, one at this moment less so) which have helped shape my thinking on some of these issues. I note that in none of these cases was I concerned that the authors had done anything wrong, though of course I was concerned about the sensitivity of results to key assumptions.

The first happy experience relates to an interesting paper on the impact of having an Islamic mayor on educational outcomes in Turkey by Meyerson published recently in Econometrica. I first heard about the piece from some students, who wanted my opinion on the methodology. Since I am teaching a new (for me) course on causality, I wanted to dive more deeply into the regression discontinuity design (RDD) as used in this article. Coincidentally, a new method for doing RDD was presented at the recent (2014) meetings of the Society for Political Methodology by Rocio Titiunik. I want to see how her R code worked with interesting comparative data. All recent Econometrica articles are linked to both replication and supplementary materials on the Econometrica web site. It took perhaps 15 minutes to make sure that I could run Stata on my desktop and get the same results as in the article. So thanks to both Meyerson and Econometrica for making things so easy.

I gained from this process, getting a much better feel for real RDD data analysis so I can say more to my students than “the math is correct.” My students gain by seeing a first rate application that interests them (not a toy, and not yet another piece on American elections). And Meyerson gains a few readers who would not normally peruse Econometrica, and perhaps more cites in the ethnicity literature. And thanks to Titiunik for making her R code easily accessible.

The second happy experience was similar to the first, but also opened my eyes to my own inferior practice. At the same Society meetings, I was the discussant on a paper by Grant and Lebo on using fractional integration methods. I had not thought about such methods in a very long time, and believed (based on intuition and no evidence to the contrary) that using fractional integration methods led to no changes in substantive findings. But clearly one should base arguments on evidence and not intuition. I decided to compare the results of a fractional integration study by Box-Steffensmeier and Smith with the results of a simpler analysis. Their piece had a footnote saying the data were available through the ICPSR (excellent by the standards of 1998). Alas, on going to the ICPSR web site I could not find the data (noting that the lots of things have happened since 1998 and who knows if my search was adequate). Fortunately I know Jan so I wrote to her, and she kindly replied that the data were on her Dataverse at Harvard. A minute later I had the data and was ready to try to see if my intuitions might indeed be supported by evidence.

Feel free to use this image just link to www.rentvine.com
Typing on Keyboard – Male Hand by Dave Dugdale. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr.

This experience made me think: could someone find my replication data sets? For as long as I can remember (at least back to 1995), I always posted my replication data sets somewhere. Articles written until 2003 sent readers my public ftp site at UCSD. But UCSD has changed the name and file structure of that server several times since 2003, and for some reason they did not feel obligated to keep my public ftp site going (and I was not worried enough about replication to think of moving that ftp site to NYU). Fortunately I can usually find the replication files if anyone writes me, and if I cannot, my various more careful co-authors can find the data. But I am sure that I am not the only person to have replication data on obsolete servers. Thankfully Political Analysis has required me to put my data on the Political Analysis Dataverse so I no longer have to remember to be a good citizen. And my resolution is to get as many replication data sets from old pieces on my own Harvard Dataverse. I will feel less hypocritical once that is done. It would be very nice if other authors emulated Jan!

The possibly less happy outcome relates to the recent article in PNAS on a Facebook experiment on social contagion. The authors, in a footnote, said that replication data was available by writing to the authors. I wrote twice, giving them a full month, but heard nothing. I then wrote to the editor of PNAS who informed me that the lead author had both been on vacation and was overwhelmed with responses to the article. I am promised that the check is in the mail.

What editor wants to be bothered by fielding inquiries about replication data sets? What author wants to worry about going on vacation (and forgetting to set a vacation message)? How much simpler the world would have been for the authors, editor, and me, if PNAS simply followed the good practice of Political Analysis, the American Journal of Political Science, the Quarterly Journal of Political Science, Econometrica, and (if rumors are correct) soon the American Political Science Review of demanding that authors post, either on the journal web site or the journal Dataverse, all replication materials before an article is actually published? Why does not every journal do this?

A distant second best is to require authors to post their replication on their personal website. As we have seen from my experience, this often leads to lost or non-working URLs. While the simple solution here is the Dataverse, surely at a minimum authors should provide a standard Document Object Identifier (DOI) which should persist even as machine names change. But the Dataverse solution does this, and so much more, that it seems odd in this day and age for all journals not to use this solution. And we can all be good citizens and put our own pre-replication standard datasets on our own Dataverses. All of this is as easy (and maybe) easier than maintaining private data web pages, and one can rest easy that one’s data will be available until either Harvard goes out of business or the sun burns out.

Featured image: BalticServers data center by Fleshas CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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4. Why referendum campaigns are crucial

As we enter the potentially crucial phase of the Scottish independence referendum campaign, it is worth remembering more broadly that political campaigns always matter, but they often matter most at referendums.

Referendums are often classified as low information elections. Research demonstrates that it can be difficult to engage voters on the specific information and arguments involved (Lupia 1994, McDermott 1997) and consequently they can be decided on issues other than the matter at hand. Referendums also vary from traditional political contests, in that they are usually focused on a single issue; the dynamics of political party interaction can diverge from national and local elections; non-political actors may often have a prominent role in the campaign; and voters may or may not have strong, clear views on the issue being decided. Furthermore, there is great variation in the information environment at referendums. As a result the campaign itself can be vital.

We can understand campaigns through the lens of LeDuc’s framework which seeks to capture some of the underlying elements which can lead to stability or volatility in voter behaviour at referendums. The essential proposition of this model is that referendums ask different types of questions of voters, and that the type of question posed conditions the behaviour of voters. Referendums that ask questions related to the core fundamental values and attitudes held by voters should be stable. Voters’ opinions that draw on cleavages, ideology, and central beliefs are unlikely to change in the course of a campaign. Consequently, opinion polls should show very little movement over the campaign. At the other end of the spectrum, volatile referendums are those which ask questions on which voters do not have pre-conceived fixed views or opinions. The referendum may ask questions on new areas of policy, previously un-discussed items, or items of generally low salience such as political architecture or institutions.

Another essential component determining the importance of the campaign are undecided voters. When voter political knowledge emanates from a low base, the campaign contributes greatly to increasing political knowledge. This point is particularly clear from Farrell and Schmitt-Beck (2002) where they demonstrated that voter ignorance is widespread and levels of political knowledge among voters are often overestimated. As Ian McAllister argues, partisan de-alignment has created a more volatile electoral environment and the number of voters who make their decisions during campaigns has risen. In particular, there has been a sharp rise in the number of voters who decide quite late in a campaign. In this case, the campaign learning is vital and the campaign may change voters’ initial disposition. Opinions may only form during the campaign when voters acquire information and these opinions may be changeable, leading to volatility.

The experience of referendums in Ireland is worth examining as Ireland is one of a small but growing number of countries which makes frequent use of referendums. It is also worth noting that Ireland has a highly regulated campaign environment. In the Oireachtas Inquiries Referendum 2011, Irish voters were asked to decide on a parliamentary reform proposal (Oireachtas Inquiries – OI) in October 2011. The issue was of limited interest to voters and co-scheduled with a second referendum on reducing the pay of members of the judiciary along with a lively presidential election.

The OI referendum was defeated by a narrow margin and the campaign period witnessed a sharp fall in support for the proposal. Only a small number of polls were taken but the sharp decline is clear from the figure below.

Figure One – The Campaign Matters (OI Referendum)
The Campaign Matters (OI Referendum)

Few voters had any existing opinion on the proposal and the post-referendum research indicated that voters relied significantly on heuristics or shortcuts emanating from the campaign and to a lesser extent on either media campaigns or rational knowledge. The evidence showed that just a few weeks after the referendum, many voters were unable to recall the reasons for their voting decision. An interesting result was that while there was underlying support for the reform with 74% of all voters in support of Oireachtas Inquiries in principle, it failed to pass. There was a very high level of ignorance of the issues where some 44% of voters could not give cogent reasons for why they voted ‘no’, underlining the common practice of ‘if you don’t know, vote no’.

So are there any lessons we can draw for Scottish Independence campaign? Scottish independence would likely be placed on the stable end of the Le Duc spectrum in that some voters could be expected to have an ideological predisposition on this question. Campaigns matter less at these types of referendums. However, they are by no means a foregone conclusion. We would expect that the number of undecided voters will be key and these voters may use shortcuts to make their decision. In other words the positions of the parties, of celebrities of unions and businesses and others will likely matter. In addition, the extent to which voters feel fully informed on the issues will also possibly be a determining factor. It may be instructive to look at another Irish referendum, on the introduction of divorce in the 1980s, during which voters’ opinions moved sharply during the campaign, even though the referendum question drew largely from the deep rooted conservative-liberal cleavage in Irish politics (Darcy and Laver 1990). The Scottish campaign might thus still conceivably see some shifts in opinion.

Headline image: Scottish Parliament Building via iStockphoto.

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5. The French burqa ban

On 1 July 2014, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) announced its latest judgment affirming France’s ban on full-face veil (burqa law) in public (SAS v. France). Almost a decade after the 2005 controversial decision by the Grand Chamber to uphold Turkey’s headscarf ban in Universities (Leyla Sahin v. Turkey), the ECHR made it clear that Muslim women’s individual rights of religious freedom (Article 9) will not be protected. Although the Court’s main arguments were not the same in each case, both judgments are equally questionable from the point of view of protecting religious freedom and of the exclusion of Muslim women from public space.

The recent judgment was brought to the ECHR by an unnamed French woman known only as “SAS” against the law introduced in 2011 that makes it illegal for anyone to cover their face in a public place. Although the legislation includes hoods, face-masks, and helmets, it is understood to be the first legislation against the full-face veil in Europe. A similar ban was also passed in Belgium after the French law. France was also the first country to ban the wearing of “conspicuous religious symbols” – directed at the wearing of the headscarf in public high schools — in 2004. Since then several European countries have established policies restricting Muslim religious dress.

The French law targeted all public places, defined as anywhere not the home. Penalties for violating the law include fines and citizenship lessons designed to remind the offender of the “republican values of tolerance and respect for human dignity, and to raise awareness of her penal and civil responsibility and duties imposed life in society.”

SAS argued the ban on the full-face veil violated several articles of the European Convention and was “inhumane and degrading, against the right of respect for family and private life, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of speech and discriminatory.” She did not challenge the requirement to remove scarves, veils and turbans for security checks, also upheld by the ECHR. The ECHR rejected her argument and accepted the main argument made by the government: that the state has a legitimate interest in promoting a certain idea of “living together.”

By now, it is clear that Article 9 of the European Convention does not protect freedom of religion when the subject is a woman and the religion is Islam. While this may seem harsh, consider the ECHR’s 2011 judgment in Lautsi v. Italy, which found the display of the crucifix in Italian state schools compatible with secularism.

In Lautsi case, the Court argued that the symbol did not significantly impact the denominational neutrality of Italian schools because the crucifix is part of Italian culture. Human rights scholars have not missed the contrast between the Italian case and the earlier 2005 decision in Leyla Sahin v Turkey where the Court found that the wearing of the headscarf by students was not compatible with the principle of laicité or secularism.

The Court did not make a value judgment in SAS case about Islam, women’ rights in Islamic societies, or gender equality, as it did in earlier cases where they upheld bans on the wearing of the headscarf by teachers and students in France, Turkey and Switzerland. In all cases involving Islamic dress codes, the ECHR emphasized the “margin of appreciation” rule, which permits the court to defer to national laws.

The ECHR acted politically and opportunistically not to challenge France’s strong Republicanism and principles of laicité, sacrificing the rights of the small minority of Muslims who wear the full-face veil. Rather than protecting the individual freedom of the 2000 women, the ECHR protected the majority view of France.

The ECHR is the most powerful supra national human rights court and its decisions have widespread impact. Several countries in Europe, such as Denmark, Norway, Spain, Austria, and even the UK, have already started to discuss whether to create similar laws banning the burqa in public places. This raises concerns that cases related to the cultural behavior and religious practices of minorities could shift public opinion dangerously away from the principles of multiculturalism, democracy, human rights and religious tolerance.

Libyan girl wearing a niqab, by ليبي صح. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Libyan girl wearing a niqab, by ليبي صح. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The most recent law bans the full-face veil, but tomorrow, the prohibitions may be against halal food, circumcision, the location of a mosque or the visibility of a minaret; even religious education might be banned for reasons of public health, security or cultural integration. Muslims, Roma, and to some extent Jews and Sikhs, are already struggling to be accepted as equal citizens in Europe, where right wing extremism is rising, in a situation of economic crisis.

The ECHR should be extremely careful in its decisions, given the growth of nationalism, xenophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe.Considering this context, the EHCR’s main argument in this latest judgment is worrisome, since it accepted France’s view that covering the face in public runs counter to the society’s notion of “living together,” even though this is not one of the principles of the European Convention.

The Court recognized that the concept of “living together” was problematic (Para 122). And, even in using the “wide margin of appreciation” rule, the Court acknowledged that it should “engage in a careful examination” to avoid majority’s subordination of minorities. Considering the Court’s own rules, the main reasoning for the full face veil ban—“living together” seems to be inconsistent with the Court’s own jurisprudence.

Further concerns were raised about Islamophobic remarks during the adoption debate of the French Burqa Law, and evidence that prejudice and intolerance against Muslims in French society influenced the adoption of the law. Such concerns were more strongly raised by the two dissenting opinions. The dissent found the Court’s insensitivity to what’s needed to ensure tolerance between the vast majority and a small minority could increase tensions (Para 14). The dissenting opinion was especially critical of prioritizing “living together,” not even a Convention principle, over “concrete individual rights” guaranteed by the Convention.

While the integration of Muslims and other immigrants across Europe is a legitimate concern, it is vitally important the ECHR’s constructive role. The decision in SAS v France is a dangerous jurisprudential opening for future cases involving the religious and cultural practices of minorities. The French burqa law has created discomfort among Muslims. By upholding the law, the European court deepens the mistrust between the majority of citizens and religious minorities.

Headline image credit: Arabic woman in Muslim religious dress, © Vadmary, via iStock Photo..

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6. A Ramble: Ferguson, President Obama, Diverse Books, Time and Space

Earlier in this week of awful news out of Ferguson, in my home state of Missouri, my friend and colleague Rebecca Sherman commented on Twitter:


I do too. That speech remains the best speech I've ever heard a politician give in my lifetime, both honest and inspiring, both personal and national in its implications. It acknowledged the complexities of Mr. Obama's candidacy, of his relationship with the Reverend Wright, and indeed of the whole history of race in America after slavery. Rereading it now, I was astonished to see these lines:
We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.  
Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students. Legalized discrimination — where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments — meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.  
A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families — a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods — parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement — all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.  
. . . What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them. But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it — those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations — those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways.
This anticipates nearly everything in Ta-Nehisi Coates's brilliant article "The Case for Reparations" in The Atlantic earlier this summer -- except, of course, Mr. Coates's conclusion, which is that Congress should investigate the idea of reparations for African-Americans. Rather, Mr. Obama describes this legacy of pain as an opportunity for all Americans to come together, first to listen to and acknowledge each other's sufferings across racial lines, and then to work to address that suffering:  the lost jobs, the lack of health care, the poverty and poor education that afflicts the 99% (to draw on another political metaphor). The speech received near-universal acclaim, and while politics, being politics, quickly reverted to the usual game of sound bites and wins and losses, it did create a quiet moment in the hullaballoo of that 2008 campaign, a moment when most people heard what Mr. Obama said, and glimpsed that opportunity, even if we did not take it . . .

Like Rebecca, I wish very much that Mr. Obama had the time and courage and clarity and political daring to make another speech like this in the wake of events in Ferguson -- to be our storyteller-in-chief of sorts, to help one part of America listen to and understand the anger and fear of another, and to point the way toward dialogue among and a shared mission for all our citizens. I am sorry that he doesn't make this a priority, because I think perhaps he could do some good. But in his absence, we have to do that work.

I am moderating a panel this Tuesday for Scholastic's Teacher Week -- a conversation with Varian Johnson (The Great Greene Heist), Lisa Yee (Millicent Min, Girl Genius), Sonia Manzano (The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano), and Sharon Robinson (Under the Same Sun) about diversity in children's literature and the need for all children to see themselves in books. There are a lot of dimensions to the diversity conversation, but the moral use of such books (and the moral necessity of publishing them) is fairly straightforward:  More than any other media, a book allows a creator to control and tell their own story, to reveal the world they see in all its joys and sorrows, complexities and nuances, and to have that story be heard. For readers, books provide that opportunity to step into someone else's story and hear it -- to be affirmed by the story if some part of it speaks to your own experiences, emotionally or racially or religiously or emotionally, to know that you are not the first to go through this; to learn from it, both intellectually and emotionally, if it does not match your experience; to be challenged by and grow from it all around. (I wrote more about this, and the moral and sociological necessity for diverse books, in the opening of this talk.)

And I can't help thinking:  How different might Ferguson have been if all the policemen had read Walter Dean Myers's Monster? Or Fallen Angels or Sunrise Over Fallujah, for something closer to their own quasi-military experience? Or Ta-Nehisi Coates's article, or The Beautiful Struggle? Or even listened to the "This American Life" stories on Harper High School -- about a very different place than suburban St. Louis, certainly, but unforgettable in showing some of the pressures on young black men? Or best of all, if the policemen had heard the stories of the people of Ferguson as individuals? If they had shared their own?

Perhaps nothing would be different. These can be seen as highly naive and facile questions, given the money and history and societal factors that went into the making of this as-yet-ongoing tragedy, and I acknowledge my highly privileged role in asking them. But I also believe that books, stories, do what not-yet-President Obama did with his "More Perfect Union" speech:  They reveal the complexities, allow us to see things as both individual and universal, make other people real, open up space for dialogue -- if we'll take the time to listen and talk and learn. I wish we could find more of that time and space.


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7. Defining intransigence and recognizing its merits

On any given day, a Google search finds the word “intransigent” deployed as though it automatically destroyed an opponent’s position. Charles Blow of the New York Times and Jacob Weisberg (no relation to the present writer) of Slate are only two of many, especially on the political left, who label Republicans “intransigent” and thereby assume they have won the argument against them.

The first intransigents, however, were on the extreme left. The Oxford English Dictionary dates the usage “intransigent” to 1873, when an extreme left party in the Spanish Cortes called themselves “los intransigentes.” Interestingly, the Spaniards did not think their self-description worked any harm to their political positions, which they felt deserved to be stated forthrightly, without compromise, and passionately.

By the early 1880s, Democrats in the United States reversed the political origins of the word when they pinned “intransigence” (as a noun) on “an uncompromising republican”. Since then, the left more than the right has mapped “intransigence” onto “extremism,” often assuming without substantive analysis that an unwillingness to compromise a position makes it not only untenable but also bizarre.

Of course, we live in a world that unhesitatingly accepts flexibility and compromise as basically good and even as a goal unto itself. However, a willingness – too often made into a norm – to compromise strongly held viewpoints has repetitively brought on destruction and death. Wouldn’t the outcome have been better if Neville Chamberlain at Munich in 1938 had dealt obstinately and inflexibly with Adolf Hitler? Shouldn’t post 9/11 Americans have been less elastic in their willingness to negotiate away our country’s prior taboo on torture?

So it turns out that intransigence is not always bad and should not be used as a pejorative until the writer defines substantively the position he is attacking. Holding firm is sometimes good and sometimes bad, exactly as being flexible can be terribly wrong if what we give away to prove we are flexible is actually something that was good.

I define intransigence as “a resistance to the urge to shift malleably from positions thought to be sound.” This definition is neutral as to the merits or demerits of the deeply held viewpoint. That part is up to all of us, who should think through what is vitally important to us individually, stick to it, fight for it, and abandon the fallacy that even those whose positions we detest are clearly wrong because they, too, are intransigent. If we are right and they are wrong, the matter will be decided because of the position we take and not our inflexibility in propounding it.

President Obama has just publicly recognized that we should not have collectively caved in on the practice of torture. Those few people who adamantly refused from 9/12 onwards to compromise that taboo deserve to be called both correct and intransigent.

Headline image: Fist. Photo by George Hodan. Public domain via PublicDomainPictures.net.

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8. The terror metanarrative and the Rabaa massacre

Just after dawn prayers on the morning of 14 August 2013, Egyptian security forces raided a large sit-in based at Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiyya Square and another at al-Nahda Square. Six weeks earlier, military leader and Minister of Defense Abdel Fattah al-Sisi staged a coup to remove Egypt’s first democratically elected president, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, from office. In response, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians across the country congregated in public spaces to protest the coup and the perceived reversal of the revolutionary moment that began in early 2011 with the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade long authoritarian rule.

As they opened fire on the encampment, security forces killed over one thousand Egyptians. The exact figure has been difficult to ascertain, in part because officials reportedly burned the bodies of those killed during the course of the twelve-hour operation. Graphic images of the charred interior of the Rabaa al-Adawiyya Mosque began making the rounds on social media within hours of the raid. A recently published investigative report by Human Rights Watch contends that “police and army forces systematically and intentionally used excessive lethal force in their policing, resulting in killings of protesters on a scale unprecedented in Egypt.” The report also asserts that no Egyptian officials have been held accountable for the Rabba massacre, while all state inquiries have essentially justified the army’s actions.

Just as shocking as the new military regime’s repressive clampdown on the Islamist opposition has been the widespread support for such measures across broad swaths of Egyptian society. In addition to the hundreds of thousands who supported Morsi’s overthrow by taking to the streets on 30 June, a month later Sisi called upon Egyptians to rally in Tahrir Square in support of the military’s aim to “fight terrorism”—code for the continued clampdown on Morsi’s supporters. It is under the shroud of this popular support that the state could commit the horrors at Rabaa without batting an eye.

Photo of unrest in Egypt
AFP PHOTO /MOHAMMED ABDEL MONEIM, CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr.

One year later, there is little moral outrage in Egypt over the appalling course of events at Rabaa. Rather than offer up a moment of collective introspection, the passage of time and the newfound political stability under Sisi have only more deeply entrenched the dominant narrative that the protesters got what they deserved. In Egypt’s “new normal,” popular culture has internalized the necessity of extreme state violence against a perceived minority of violent political agitators.

To be sure, the critiques of the Muslim Brotherhood spanned a wide array of issue areas, from the group’s vision for an Islamic government to its contentious interactions with state institutions and revolutionary forces. However, the emphasis on the group’s supposed inclinations toward organized violence is singled out here for its propensity to validate egregious human rights violations by state authorities in the name of security.

The dehumanization of thousands of ordinary men, women, and children, many of whom are not even members of the Muslim Brotherhood, occurred as state officials and media personalities continually utilized the imagery of terrorism and violent extremism to depict the protestors. Footage of police raids was set to the soundtracks of Hollywood action films and televised with large captions reading “Egypt Fights Terrorism” in Arabic as well as English.

Given its enduring quality, however, it would be a mistake to assume that this incitement campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood is a recent incarnation. Far from being a makeshift construct that aided in Sisi’s alarmingly rapid political ascent, the recent application of the “war on terror” motif stems from a historic struggle over the Egyptian national narrative that pits the state against one of the country’s oldest social movement organizations.

In their attempt to overturn a popular mass movement that had made limited revolutionary gains, counter-revolutionary forces constructed a broad narrative that placed the historical trajectory of the Muslim Brotherhood within the state’s struggle to combat terrorism that dated back to the mid-twentieth century. To press its case to a public that is largely ignorant of the historical nuances involved, the anti-Muslim Brotherhood movement made exceptionally anachronistic use of various flashpoints in modern Egyptian history.

Shortly after Morsi’s election in 2012, during a commemorative event for the sixtieth anniversary of the 23 July 1952 revolution, self-declared Nasserists lamented that Egyptians had not learned the lessons of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s experience with the Muslim Brotherhood. “They were never to be trusted,” said one prominent spokesperson for the group. In successive weeks, other writers and commentators referred to the campaign of political violence that dated back to the 1940s, placing the blame squarely on the Muslim Brotherhood and its brand of Islamic activism.

Elsewhere, the chorus of critics recalled the turbulent 1970s and the rise of underground militant groups that they attributed to the Muslim Brotherhood and in particular the writings of Sayyid Qutb, the organization’s leading ideologue until his execution by the Nasser regime in 1966. The rise of an Islamic insurgency culminated with the assassination of Anwar al-Sadat in 1981. The chronology continues well into the Mubarak era, as prominent media personalities impugned the Muslim Brotherhood for its supposed role in the outbreak of anti-state violence in the mid-1990s.

If one follows this chronology to its logical conclusion, one could reasonably believe that the Muslim Brotherhood was founded with an ideological bent toward violent, anti-state contention, which it pursued through the active development of a military wing and then sustained through successive waves of terrorist acts over the course of eighty-six years.

The problem with the terror metanarrative is that it represents a gross misreading of history and a transparent effort by the state to paint its opposition with the broad brush of extremism. In reality, the Muslim Brotherhood confronted the question of political violence at various stages in the development of its activist mission. The appearance of its militia during the 1940s is well documented and has been examined at length by numerous scholars. Many of the recent references to this research, however, fail to mention that the Muslim Brotherhood’s armed wing existed within the chaotic field of post-war Egyptian politics in which every major political party and social actor was as likely to fight its battles in the streets as much as in the parliament or the newspapers.

The Secret Apparatus, responsible for covert attacks against public officials in the late 1940s, was dismantled following Nasser’s repression of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1954. As it reorganized itself in later years, the remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood’s core leadership internalized many of the elements of this nebulous section of the organization—its strict hierarchical structure, discipline across the ranks, emphasis on secrecy and indoctrination—but notably not its inclinations toward violence. In other words, the proponents of the Secret Apparatus, figures like Mustafa Mashhur and Kamal al-Sananiri, believed in its tenets as a means of enduring state repression, not actively resisting it.

When the Muslim Brotherhood resumed its activism in the mid-1970s after a two-decade absence, it was in the shadow of major developments within the Islamic movement that covered both the ideological and the organizational realms. The pressures of a repressive political climate and the widespread use of torture in Nasser’s prisons threatened to fracture the Islamic movement, leading a small minority of former Muslim Brotherhood members and impressionable young Islamic activists to adopt a militant outlook that found inspiration in Qutb’s impassioned and uncompromising view of the Nasserist state. Qutb’s most fervent supporters believed Egyptian society to have become so corrupted by a secular dictatorship that the gradual reformist mission of the Muslim Brotherhood would simply not suffice. Instead, they argued for the path of violent revolution led by a vanguard of true believers.

For all the attention it has received in recent years, this view never prevailed among the mainstream Muslim Brotherhood leaders, most of whom worked actively to discredit it. In 1969, the group’s imprisoned leader, Hasan al-Hudaybi, authored a tract entitled Preachers, Not Judges, which argued forcefully in favor of a reformist approach to political empowerment that hinged upon popular preaching and mobilization across all segments of Egyptian society. Hudaybi directly repudiated the practice of “takfir,” or declaring fellow Muslims to be unbelievers, limiting the role of Islamic activists to one of “du‘a” or callers to the faith.

In spite of the alarming rise of a number of Islamic militant groups that committed notorious crimes throughout the late 1970s, the more important (and certainly more enduring) story of the decade was the ability of the Muslim Brotherhood to reconstitute itself as the chief representative of the mainstream Islamic movement. Hudaybi’s successor, a lawyer named ‘Umar al-Tilmisani, oversaw the group’s reemergence by constructing an Islamic call, or “da‘wa” that found widespread appeal within a new generation of Islamic activists across Egypt’s colleges and universities. By the end of the Sadat era, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians had found in the Muslim Brotherhood a forum for oppositional politics premised on building a strong social base and gradual engagement with state institutions. In fact, as several student leaders from the era have since argued, were it not for the moderate and gradualist Islamism packaged and distributed by Tilmisani’s Muslim Brotherhood, the spread of militancy among the nation’s disaffected youth would have been far more pervasive.

That sentiment is worth recalling as one unpacks the implications of the coup government’s efforts to eradicate one of the country’s oldest social movements from Egyptian society. In the past year, the organization was declared illegal by judicial decree as well as a cabinet decision. As the state’s campaign of intimidation, indefinite detentions, torture, and mass executions continues to descend upon the nation’s independent activists, Sisi’s pledge to destroy the opposition presents a haunting prospect. “There will be nothing called the Muslim Brotherhood during my tenure,” he told an interviewer last May. Sisi’s aggressive social engineering project is bound to hold grave consequences for a country that is already reeling from several years of social and economic volatility and a regional insurgency that become more potent after the military’s takeover.

Despite its desperate attempts to do so, the Sisi regime has yet to demonstrate that the Muslim Brotherhood has had a hand in any of the militant bombings that have occurred since Morsi’s overthrow. For all of its faults—and they are many—the organization has maintained a consistent record of non-violent contention against successive authoritarian rulers, having reasserted its ideological as well as institutional mission in the 1970s.

As recent events in neighboring states have demonstrated, when the avenues for the legitimate expression of an Islamically oriented political program are closed, extremism prevails. The alarming rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is just one such example. In a recent online video, an ISIS spokesman commenting on events in Egypt reserved the bulk of his condemnation for Morsi, not Sisi. He declared the imprisoned Muslim Brotherhood leader “an apostate” and relished at the prospect of serving as his executioner. The greatest threat to religious militancy is not an equally violent state-sponsored secularism, but rather an open political climate that accommodates competing modes of activism irrespective of their religious, sectarian, or ideological leanings.

By conflating the Muslim Brotherhood’s legacy of oppositional politics with violent incarnations of anti-state contention, the terror metanarrative attempts to establish on a false basis the state’s ability to respond to perceived threats with all means at its disposal. The memory of the massacre at Rabaa will live on as a reminder of the painfully high cost of the abuse of history.

Headline image credit: AFP PHOTO / MOSAAB EL-SHAMY, CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr.

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9. Ferguson, Missouri, USA

Faith Rally
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)


Tactical officers fire tear gas in Ferguson
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
Media preview
(It never was America to me.)
Embedded image permalink
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
Media preview
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
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Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
Embedded image permalink
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
Media preview
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Violence again in Ferguson
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”
Tear gas Fired in Ferguson
The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
Tear gas shot at protesters
O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
Police Fire Tear Gas, Clear Streets in Ferguson
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

(The words above are from "Let America Be America Again" by Langston Hughes, born in Joplin, Missouri. The pictures  are ones I saw last night on Twitter that particularly stuck with me; a few I discovered this morning. Most were uncredited on Twitter. The ones I do know come from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and are by J.B. Forbes, David Carson, and Robert Cohen.)

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10. Amsterdam

Many Americans have a specific idea of the city of Amsterdam: they think of its front-and-center red light district or legal drugs or, for those less interested in vice, the Anne Frank House. But Russell Shorto's interests go deeper — in Amsterdam he traces the history of the place and its liberalism, from the inception [...]

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11. Why study trust?

By Geoffrey Hosking


In many countries, including Britain, the Euro-elections in May showed that a substantial minority of voters are disillusioned with mainstream parties of both government and opposition. This result was widely anticipated, and all over Europe media commentators have been proclaiming that the public is losing trust in established politicians. Opinion polls certainly support this view, but what are they measuring when they ask questions about trust? It is a slippery concept which suggests very different things to different people. Social scientists cannot reach any kind of consensus on what it means, let alone on what might be undermining it. Yet most people would agree that some kind of trust in the political process is essential to a stable and prosperous society.

Social scientists have had trouble with the concept of trust because most of them attempt to reach an unambiguous definition of it, distinguishing it from all other concepts, and then apply it to all societies at different times and in different parts of the world. The results are unsatisfactory, and some are tempted to ditch the term altogether. Yet there self-evidently is such a thing as trust, and it plays a major role in our everyday life. Even if the word is often misused, we should not abandon it. My approach is different: I use the word as the focus of a semantic milieu which includes related concepts such as confidence, reliance, faith and belief, and then see how they work in practice in different historical settings.

The original impulse for Trust came from a specific historical setting: Russia during the 1990s. There I observed, at first hand, the impact on ordinary Russians of economic and political reforms inspired by Western example and in some cases directly imposed by the West. Those reforms rested on economic and political precepts derived from Western institutions and practices which dated back decades or even centuries – generating habits of mutual trust which had become so ingrained that we did not notice them anymore. In Russia those institutions and practices instead aroused wariness at first, then distrust, then resentment and even hatred of the West and its policies.

I learnt from that experience that much social solidarity derives from forms of mutual trust which are so unreflective that we are no longer aware of them. Trust does not always spring from conscious choice, as some social scientists affirm. On the contrary, some of its most important manifestations are unconscious. They are nevertheless definitely learned, not an instinctive part of human nature. It follows that forms of trust which we take for granted are not appropriate for all societies.

Despite these differences, human beings are by nature predisposed towards trust. Our ability to participate in society depends on trusting those around us unless there is strong evidence that we should not do so. We all seek to trust someone, even – perhaps especially – in what seem desperate situations. To live without trusting anyone or anything is intolerable; those who seek to mobilise trust are therefore working with the grain of human nature.

800px-David_Cameron_(cropped)

We also all need trust as a cognitive tool, to learn about the world around us. In childhood we take what our parents tell us on trust, whereas during adolescence we may well learn that some of it is untrue or inadequate. Learning to discriminate and to moderate both trust and distrust is extraordinarily difficult. The same applies in the natural sciences: we cannot replicate all experiments carried out in the past in order to check whether they are valid. We have trust most of what scientists tell us and integrate it into our world picture.

Because we all need trust so much, it tends to create a kind of herd instinct. We have a strong tendency to place our trust where those around us do so. As a senior figure in the Royal Bank of Scotland commented on the widespread profligacy which generated the 2008 financial crisis: “The problem is that in banks you have this kind of mentality, this kind of group-think, and people just keep going with what they know, and they don’t want to listen to bad news.”

Trust, then, is necessary both to avoid despair and to navigate our way through life, and it cannot always be based on what we know for certain. When we encounter unfamiliar people – and in the modern world this is a frequent experience – we usually begin by exercising an ‘advance’ of trust. If it is reciprocated, we can go on to form a fruitful relationship. But a lot depends on the nature and context of this first encounter. Does the other person speak in a familiar language, look reassuring and make gestures we can easily ‘read’? Trust is closely linked to identity – our sense of our own identity and of that of those around us.

On the whole the reason we tend to trust persons around us is because they are using symbolic systems similar to our own. To trust those whose systems are very different we have to make a conscious effort, and probably to make a tentative ‘advance’ of trust. This is the familiar problem of the ‘other’. Overcoming that initial distrust requires something close to a leap in the dark.

Whether we know it or not, we spend much of our social life as part of a trust network. Such networks can be very strong and supportive, but they also tend to erect around themselves rigid boundaries, across which distrust is projected. When two or more trust networks are in enmity with one another, an ‘advance’ of trust can only work satisfactorily if it proves possible to transform negative-sum games into positive-sum games. However, an outside threat helps two mutually distrusting networks to find common ground, settle at least some of their differences and work together to ward off the threat. When the threat is withdrawn, they may well resume their mutual enmity.

During the twentieth century the social sciences – and following them history – were mostly dominated by theories derived from the study of power and/or rational choice. We still talk glibly of the struggle between democracy and authoritarianism, without considering the kinds of social solidarity which underlie both forms of government. I believe we need to supplement political science with a kind of ‘trust science’, which studies people’s mutual sympathy, their lively and apparently ineradicable tendency to seek reciprocal relationships with one another, and also what happens when that tendency breaks down. It is supremely important to analyse forms of social solidarity which do not derive directly from power structures and/or rational choice. Among other things, such an analysis might help us to understand why certain forms of trust have become generally accepted in Western society, and why they are in crisis right now.

Geoffrey Hosking is Emeritus Professor of Russian History at University College London. A Fellow of the British Academy and an Honorary Doctor of the Russian Academy of Sciences, he was BBC Reith Lecturer in 1988. He has written numerous books on Russian history and culture, including Russian History: A Very Short Introduction and Trust: A History.

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Image credit: David Cameron, by Valsts kanceleja. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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12. Improving survey methodology: a Q&A with Lonna Atkeson

By R. Michael Alvarez


I recently had the opportunity to talk with Lonna Atkeson, Professor of Political Science and Regents’ Lecturer at the University of New Mexico. We discussed her opinions about improving survey methodology and her thoughts about how surveys are being used to study important applied questions. Lonna has written extensively about survey methodology, and has developed innovative ways to use surveys to improve election administration (her 2012 study of election administration is a wonderful example).

In the current issue of Political Analysis is the Symposium on Advances in Survey Methodology, which Lonna and I co-edited; in addition to the five research articles in the Symposium, we wrote an introduction that puts each of the research articles in context and talks about the current state of research in survey methodology. Also, Lonna and I are co-editing the Oxford Handbook on Polling and Polling Methods, which is in initial stages of development.

It’s well-known that response rates for traditional telephone surveying have declined dramatically. What’s the solution? ow can survey researchers produce quality data given low response rates with traditional telephone survey approaches?

What we’ve learned about response rates is they are not the be all or end all as an evaluative tool for the quality of the survey, which is a good thing because response rates are ubiquitously low! There is mounting evidence that response rates per se are not necessarily reflective of problems in nonresponse. Nonresponse error appears to be more related to the response rate interacting with the characteristic of the nonrespondent. Thus, if survey topic salience leads to response bias then nonresponse error becomes a problem, but in and of itself response rate is only indirect evidence of a potential problem. One potential solution to falling response rates is to use mixed mode surveys and find the best contact and response option for the respondent. As polling becomes more and more sophisticated, we need to consider best contact and response methods for different types of sample members. Survey researchers need to be able to predict the most likely response option for the individual and pursue that strategy.

Close up of a man smiling  on the line through a headset. © cenix via iStockphoto.

Close up of a man smiling on the line through a headset. © cenix via iStockphoto.

Much of your recent work uses “mixed-mode” survey methods. What’s a “mixed-mode” survey? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this approach?

Mixed mode surveys use multiple methods to contact or receive information from respondents. Thus, mixed mode surveys involve both mixtures of data collection and communications with the respondent. For example, a mixed mode survey might contact sample members by phone or mail and then have them respond to a questionnaire over the Internet. Alternatively a mixed mode survey might allow for multiple forms of response. For example, sample frame members may be able to complete the interview over the phone, by mail, or on the web. Thus a respondent who does not respond over the Internet may in subsequent contact receive a phone call or a FTF visit or may be offered a choice of response mode on the initial contact.

When you see a poll or survey reported online or in the news media, how do you determine if the poll was conducted in a way that has produced reliable data? What indicates a high-quality poll?

This is a difficult question because all polls are not created equally and many reported polls might have problems with sampling, nonresponse bias, question wording, etc. The point being that there are many places where error creeps into your survey not just one and to evaluate a poll researchers like to think in terms of total survey error, but the tools for that evaluation are still in the development stage and is an area of opportunity for survey researchers and political methodologists. We also need to consider a total survey error approach in how survey context, which now varies tremendously, influences respondents and what that means for our models and inferences. This is an area for continued research. Nevertheless, the first criteria for examining a poll ought to be its transparency. Polling data should include information on who funded the poll, a copy of the instrument, a description of the sampling frame, and sampling design (e.g. probability, non-probability, the study size, estimates of sampling error for probability designs, information on any weighting of the data, and how and when the data were collected). These are basic criteria that are necessary to evaluate the quality of the poll.

Clearly, as our symposium on survey methodology in the current issue of Political Analysis discusses, survey methodology is at an important juncture. What’s the future of public opinion polling?

Survey research is a rapidly changing environment with new methods for respondent contacting and responding. Perhaps the biggest change in the most recent decade is the move away from predominantly interviewer driven data collection methods (e.g. phone, FTF) to respondent driven data collection methods (e.g. mail, Internet, CASI), the greater use of mixed mode surveys, and the introduction of professional respondents who participate over long periods of time in discontinuous panels. We are just beginning to figure out how all these pieces fit together and we need to come up with better tools to assess the quality of data we are obtaining. The future of polling and its importance in the discipline, in marketing, and in campaigns will continue, and as academics we need to be at the forefront of evaluating these changes and their impact on our data. We tend to brush over the quality of data in favor of massaging the data statistically or ignoring issues of quality and measurement altogether. I’m hoping the changing survey environment will bring more political scientists into an important interdisciplinary debate about public opinion as a methodology as opposed to the study of the frequencies of opinions. To this end, I have a new Oxford Handbook, along with my co-editor Mike Alvarez, on polling and polling methods that will take a closer look at many of these issues and be a helpful guide for current and future projects.

In your recent research on election administration, you use polling techniques as tools to evaluate elections. What have you learned from these studies, and based on your research what do you see are issues that we might want to pay close attention to in this fall’s midterm elections in the United States?

We’ve learned so much from our election administration work about designing polling places, training poll workers, mixed mode surveys and more generally evaluating the election process. In New Mexico, for example, we have been interviewing both poll workers and voters since 2006, giving us five election cycles, including 2014, that provide an overall picture of the current state of election administration and how it’s doing relative to past election cycles. Our multi-method approach provides continuous evaluation, review, and improvement to New Mexico elections. This fall I think there are many interesting questions. We are interested in some election reform questions about purging voter registration files, open primaries, the straight party ballot options and felon re-enfranchisement. We are also especially interested in how voters decide whether to vote early or on Election Day and on Election Day where they decide to vote if they are using voting convenience centers instead of precincts. This is an important policy question, but where we place vote centers might impact turnout or voter satisfaction or confidence. We are also very interested in election lines and their impact on voters. In 2012 we found that voters on average can fairly easily tolerate lines of about ½ an hour, but feel there are administrative problems when lines grow longer. We want to continue to drill down on this question and examine when lines deter voters or create poor experiences that reduce the quality of their vote experience.

Lonna Rae Atkeson is Professor of Political Science and Regents’ Lecturer at the University of New Mexico. She is a nationally recognized expert in the area of campaigns, elections, election administration, survey methodology, public opinion and political behavior and has written numerous articles, book chapters, monographs and technical reports on these topics. Her work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the JEHT Foundation, the Galisano Foundation, the Bernalillo County Clerk, and the New Mexico Secretary of State. She holds a BA in political science from the University of California, Riverside and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Colorado, Boulder.

R. Michael Alvarez is a professor of Political Science at Caltech. His research and teaching focuses on elections, voting behavior, and election technologies. He is editor-in-chief of Political Analysis with Jonathan N. Katz.

Political Analysis chronicles the exciting developments in the field of political methodology, with contributions to empirical and methodological scholarship outside the diffuse borders of political science. It is published on behalf of The Society for Political Methodology and the Political Methodology Section of the American Political Science Association. Political Analysis is ranked #5 out of 157 journals in Political Science by 5-year impact factor, according to the 2012 ISI Journal Citation Reports. Like Political Analysis on Facebook and follow @PolAnalysis on Twitter.

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13. Supporting and educating unaccompanied students from Central America

By Robert Hull and Eric Rossen


Since 1 October 2013, the United States has detained over 57,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America crossing the border from in an attempt to escape severe violence. Makeshift immigration shelters emerged, with emergency responders providing medical attention and care. Meanwhile, the government must now identify a response to what is now considered a humanitarian crisis, with an estimated 90,000 unaccompanied minors expected to cross the border in 2014.

Do we have a moral obligation to offer asylum or refugee status to people escaping violence or political persecution? What if they are children?

Should the children be deported to their families? If not, where will they go? Who will care for them?

Who bears the financial responsibility for meeting their needs?

The country seems split in its views. While most do not outright say these children should be returned to a country where their lives and well-being are in danger, concern remains about the country’s ability to sustain support for them physically, socially, emotionally, academically, and occupationally. In polls, some Americans say displaced families place a burden on housing, health care, and other public service industries, whereas as the majority believes they should be allowed to stay if it is unsafe for them to return home. As the debate continues, many of these children have arrived at the doors of our local schools hoping to enroll with minimal information or supports, with more anticipated to arrive as the new school year begins. Meeting their educational needs will be difficult, and according to the Department of Education, mandatory.

International school lunch

In May, the Federal Department of Education published Guidance on enrolling students regardless of immigration status. This guidance outlined the legal requirements concerning school districts’ responsibilities to enroll all students, regardless of immigration status. They did not include guidance in reference to provision of essential services that would lead to a successful education experience for these students. What is clear from this guidance, however, is that local school systems will be responsible for enrolling and educating the surge of students using local resources.

Immigrant and refugee students who arrive at the school house door after leaving their homes have typically experienced multiple adverse events prior to leaving and multiple adverse events during their travels. These adverse events can be traumatizing to students, not to mention navigating an unfamiliar country, sometimes with a completely unfamiliar language and low literacy, without parents or immediate family support available (resettlement stress). This often leads to serious disruptions in their access to education and their mental status upon arrival. Educators and school support personnel can mitigate some of the issues associated with these adverse events, and perhaps are among the most equipped and qualified to do so.

Many school districts and agencies have wide ranging experiences with displaced children. While the majority of children of immigrants are US-born citizens, over 15% are first generation immigrants, among which over one-third cross the border as victims of trafficking or seeking asylum. It’s safe to assume that many school districts have enrolled these students at some point. Even beyond immigration, following Hurricane Katrina, schools absorbed a high number of displaced students amidst extremely stressful conditions. Schools provide stable educational opportunities, exposure to trusting adults, an opportunity to interact with peers, and access to school employed mental health professionals. Many districts have partnered with communities to develop comprehensive supports and services to ease transitions and mitigate the effects of potentially traumatic experiences.

No matter what the circumstances that led displaced students to classrooms, there are a few strategies that can be implemented that will help in providing support to help these students learn and adapt positively to their new environment. As with many traumatized students, school personnel have to reframe the presenting problems as a result of their experiences rather than an indication of something being wrong with the child. For example, they must:

  • develop a structured daily routine as a foundation for support
  • connect students with other children of immigrants enrolled in schools (it is reasonable to expect that most schools in the country have displaced or immigrant families already in the community)
  • recognize and build on strengths, such as strong family ties, optimism, strong socio-centric values, resilience, and cultural diversity
  • acknowledge potential stigma associated with mental health supports
  • engage family or extended family as much as possible.

Providing these supports and other strategies require a coordinated effort between all school staff, including teachers, administrators, and specialized instructional support personnel. Doing so goes beyond a legal mandate from the Department of Education; it’s a moral and ethical obligation to provide the best available supports to all children, especially those with the greatest needs.

Robert Hull ED.S., MHS. is a school psychologist in Prince Georges County Maryland, He has worked for over 30 years in schools addressing trauma concerns. In addition to his degrees in School Psychology he also holds a graduate degree in Public Health from Johns Hopkins University. Eric Rossen, Ph.D., is a nationally certified school psychologist and licensed psychologist in Maryland. He currently serves as Director of Professional Development and Standards at the National Association of School Psychologists.


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Image: International School Meals Day at Harmony Hills Elementary School in Silver Spring, MD by USDA. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

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14. Sharks, asylum seekers, and Australian politics

OUP-Blogger-Header-V2 Flinders

By Matthew Flinders


We all know that the sea is a dangerous place and should be treated with respect but it seems that Australian politicians have taken things a step (possibly even a leap) further. From sharks to asylum seekers the political response appears way out of line with the scale of the risk.

In the United Kingdom the name Matthew Flinders will rarely generate even a glint of recognition, whereas in Australia Captain Matthew Flinders (1774-1814) is (almost) a household name. My namesake was not only the intrepid explorer who first circumnavigated and mapped the continent of Australia but he is also a distant relative whose name I carry with great pride. But having spent the past month acquainting myself with Australian politics I can’t help wonder how my ancestor would have felt about what has become of the country he did so much to put on the map.

The media feeding frenzy and the political response surrounding shark attacks in Western Australia provides a case in point. You are more likely to be killed by a bee sting than to be killed by a shark attack while swimming in the sea off Perth or any of Western Australia’s wonderful beaches. Hundreds of thousands of people enjoy the sea and coastline every weekend but what the media defined as ‘a spate’ of fatal shark attacks (seven to be exact) in between 2010-2013 led the state government to implement no less than 72 baited drum lines along the coast. Australia’s Federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, granted the Western Australian Government a temporary exemption from national environment laws protecting great white sharks, to allow the otherwise illegal acts of harming or killing the species. The result of the media feeding frenzy has been the slow death of a large number of sharks. The problem is that of the 173 sharks caught in the first four months none were Great Whites and the vast majority were Tiger Sharks – a species that has not been responsible for a fatal shark attack for decades.

The public continues to surf and swim, huge protests have been held against the shark cull and yet the Premier of Western Australia, Colin Barnett, insists that it is the public reaction against the cull that is ‘ludicrous and extreme’ and that it will remain in place for two years.

800px-Whiteshark-TGoss1

If the political approach to sharks appears somewhat harsh then the approach to asylum seekers appears equally unforgiving. At one level the Abbott government’s ‘Stop the Boats’ policy has been a success. The end of July witnessed the first group of asylum seekers to reach the Australian mainland for seven months. In the same period last year over 17,000 people in around 200 boats made the treacherous journey across the ocean in order to claim asylum in Australia. ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’ has therefore ‘solved’ a political problem that many people believe simply never existed. The solution – as far as one exists – is actually a policy of ‘offshore processing’ that uses naval intervention to direct boats to bureaucratic processing plants on Manus, Nauru, or Christmas Island. Like modern day Robinson Crusoe, thousands of asylum seekers find themselves marooned on the most remote outposts of civilization. But then again – out of sight is out of mind.

The 157 people (including around fifty children) who made it to the mainland last week exemplify the harsh treatment that forms the cornerstone of the current approach. After spending nearly a month at sea on an Australian customs vessel they were briefly flown to the remote Curtin Detention Centre but when the asylum seekers refused to be interviewed by Indian officials they were promptly dispatched to the island of Nauru and its troubled detention centre (riots, suicides, self-mutilation, etc.). Those granted asylum will be resettled permanently on Nauru while those refused will be sent back to Sri Lanka (the country that most of the asylum seekers were originally fleeing via India). Why does the government insist on this approach? Could it be the media rather than the public that are driving political decision-making? A recent report by the Australian Institute of Family Studies found that the vast majority of refugees feel welcomed by the Australian public but rejected by the Australian political institutions. How can this mismatch be explained? The economy is booming and urgently requires flexible labor, the asylum seekers want to work and embed themselves in communities; the country is vast and can hardly highlight over-population as the root of the problem.

There is an almost palpable fear of a certain type of ‘foreigner’ within the Australian political culture. Under this worldview the ocean is a human playground that foreign species (i.e. sharks) should not be allowed to visit. The world is changing as human flows become more fluid and fast-paced – no borders are really sovereign any more. And yet in Australia the political system remains wedded to ‘keeping the migration floodgates closed’, apparently unaware of just how cruel and unforgiving this makes Australia look to the rest of the world. What would Captain Matthew Flinders think about this state of affairs almost exactly 200 years after his death?

From sharks to asylum seekers Australian politics seems ‘all at sea’.

Matthew Flinders is Founding Director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics at the University of Sheffield and alsoFlinders author pic Visiting Distinguished Professor in Governance and Public Policy at Murdoch University, Western Australia. He is also Chair of the Political Studies Association of the United Kingdom and the author of Defending Politics (2012). Matthew is giving a public lecture entitled ‘The DisUnited Kingdom: The Scottish Independence Referendum and the Future of the United Kingdom’ on Monday 25 August. The lecture takes place at the Constitutional Centre of Western Australia at 6pm BST.

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Image credit: Great white shark, by Terry Goss. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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15. Is Islamic history in danger of becoming irrelevant?

By Paul Cobb


Recently the jihadist insurgent group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) underwent a re-branding of sorts when one of its leaders, known by the sobriquet Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was proclaimed caliph by the group’s members. In keeping with the horizonless pretentions that such a title theoretically conveys, the group dropped their geographical focus and embraced a more universalist outlook, settling for the name of the ‘Islamic State’.

As a few observers have noted, the title of caliph comes freighted with a long and complicated history. That history begins in the seventh century AD, when the title was adopted to denote those leaders of the Muslim community who were recognized as the Prophet Muhammad’s “successors”— not prophets themselves of course, but men who were expected, in the Prophet’s absence, to know how to guide the community spiritually as well as politically. Later in the medieval period, classical Islamic political theory sought to carefully define the pool from which caliphs might be drawn and to stipulate specific criteria that a caliph must possess, such as lineage, probity, moral standing and so on. Save for his most ardent followers, Muslims have found al-Baghdadi — with his penchant for Rolex watches and theatrical career reinventions — sorely wanting in such caliphal credentials.

He’s not the only one of course. Over the span of Islamic history, the title of caliph has been adopted by numerous (and sometimes competing) dynasties, rebels, and pretenders. The last ruler to bear the title in any significant way was the Ottoman Abdülmecid II, who lost the title when he was exiled in 1924. And even then it was an honorific supported only by myths of Ottoman legitimacy. But it’s doubtful that al-Baghdadi gives the Ottomans much thought. For he is really tapping into a much more recent dream of reviving the caliphate embraced by various Islamist groups since the early 20th century, who saw it as a precondition for reviving the Muslim community or to combat Western imperialism. Al-Baghdadi’s caliphate is thus a modern confection, despite its medieval trappings.

That an Islamic fundamentalist (to use a contested term of its own) like al-Baghdadi should make an appeal to the past to legitimate himself, and that he should do so without any thoughtful reference to Islamic history, is of course the most banal of observations to make about his activities, or about those of any fundamentalist. And perhaps that is the most interesting point about this episode. For the utterly commonplace nature of examples like al-Baghdadi’s clumsy claim to be caliph suggest that Islamic history today is in danger of becoming irrelevant.

Caliph Abdulmecid II, the last Caliph before Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Caliph Abdulmecid II, the last Caliph before Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

This is not because Islamic history has no bearing upon the present Islamic world, but because present-day agendas that make use of that history prefer to cherry-pick, deform, and obliterate the complicated bits to provide easy narratives for their own ends. Al-Baghdadi’s claim, for example, leaps over 1400 years of more nuanced Islamic history in which the institution of the caliphate shaped Muslim lives in diverse ways, and in which regional upstarts had little legitimate claim. But he is hardly alone in avoiding inconvenient truths — contemporary comment on Middle Eastern affairs routinely employs the same strategy.

We can see just such a history-shy approach in coverage of the sectarian conflicts between Shi’i and Sunni Muslims in Iraq, Syria, Bahrain, Pakistan, and elsewhere. The struggle between Sunnis and Shi’ites, we are usually told, has its origins in a contest over religious authority in the seventh century between the partisans of the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law ‘Ali and those Muslims who believed the incumbent caliphs of the day were better guides and leaders for the community. And so Shi’ites and Sunnis, we are led to believe, have been fighting ever since. It is as if the past fourteen centuries of history, with its record of coexistence, migrations, imperial designs, and nation-building have no part in the matter, to say nothing of the past century or less of authoritarian regimes, identity-politics, and colonial mischief.

We see the inconvenient truths of Islamic history also being ignored in the widespread discourse of crusading and counter-crusading that occasionally infects comment on contemporary conflicts, as if holy war is the default mode for Muslims fighting non-Muslims or vice-versa. When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi can wrap himself in black robes and proclaim himself Caliph Ibrahim of the Islamic State, when seventh-century conflicts seem like thorough explanations for twenty-first century struggles, or when a terrorist and mass-murderer like the Norwegian Anders Breivik can see himself as a latter-day Knight Templar, then we are sadly living in a world in which the medieval is allowed to seep uncritically into the contemporary as a way to provide easy answers to very complicated problems.

But we should be wary of such easy answers. Syria and Iraq will not be saved by a caliph. And crusaders would have found the motivations of today’s empire-builders sickening. History properly appreciated should instead lead us to acknowledge the specificity, and indeed oddness, of our modern contexts and the complexity of our contemporary motivations. It should, one hopes, lead to that conclusion reached famously by Mark Twain: that history doesn’t repeat itself, even if sometimes it rhymes.

Paul M. Cobb is Chair and Professor of Islamic History in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania.  He is the translator of The Book of Contemplation: Islam and the Crusades and has written a number of other works, most recently The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades.

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Image credit: Caliph Abdulmecid II, by the Library of Congress. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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16. Five myths about the “surge” of Central American immigrant minors

By Robert Brenneman


Both the President and Senate Republicans have recently weighed in on what to do about the “surge” in undocumented minors arriving at the US border. Many of these undocumented youth come from the northern countries of Central America: Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Embedded in most arguments about what ought to be done are assertions about what prompted these minors to set out in the first place and what will become of them if they stay. But many of these assumptions miss the mark and the truth is a lot more complicated than the sloganeering that characterizes much of the debate.

Border wall brownsvile

Myth #1: The increase in migrating minors came about as a result of the rise of gang violence in Central America.

Gang violence in Central America is real and it has touched the lives of far too many Central American youth and families. But the gangs have been a major feature of urban life since at least the late 1990s and there is little evidence to argue that gangs have increased in strength, size, or activity during the past three years. Meanwhile, the increase in migration of minors has been stratospheric. Undeniably, some of the youth heading north are escaping gang violence or threats from the gangs, but even the UN’s special report Children on the Run found, after conducting interviews with a scientific sample of detained youth, that just under a third of the youth mentioned the gangs as a factor contributing to their decision to leave. Most of the youth citing gangs were from El Salvador and Honduras.

Myth #2: Violence is spiraling out of control throughout Central America.

Although they share a number of important characteristics, the governments of Central America have taken different paths in how to relate to gangs, drugs, and violent crime. These divergent policies have contributed to very distinct outcomes. Notably, Nicaragua, which never took an “iron fist” approach to the gangs, has a far lower homicide rate and lower gang membership than its neighbors to the north. But even Guatemala, which has been well-known for homicidal violence ever since the state-sponsored violence of the 1980s, has shown improvement in its violent crime rate. Homicides have generally declined in recent years, probably as a partial result of Guatemala’s efforts to improve its justice system. As the chart below illustrates, Honduras has more than double the homicidal violence of its neighbors:

Graph of homicides in Central America

Myth #3: Coyotes (sometimes called “human traffickers”) are “tricking” children into migrating by telling them that they will receive citizenship upon arrival in the United States.

This myth reveals the utterly low regard in which many North Americans hold the intelligence of Central Americans. Oscar Martinez, an award-winning investigative journalist from El Salvador, recently published a fascinating account of his interview with a Salvadoran coyote who has been guiding his compatriots to El Norte since the 1970s. (Oscar knows about migrating minors — he has written a celebrated book about his trips across Mexico in the company of Central American migrants.) Among other myths effectively debunked in that interview is the notion that Central Americans hold wildly optimistic views about Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In fact, most Central American youth and their relatives living in the United States are well aware that in all likelihood, they will, at best, become undocumented immigrants. But better to be close to family than suffer years of hardship while separated from parents, many of whom cannot travel “back” to their country of origin because of their own undocumented status. Of course, some of these youth are also escaping violence and the threat of violence as well as economic hardship and the crushing humiliation of living in generational poverty in some of the most unequal societies in the hemisphere. Thus, there are multiple factors at play when Central American youth (and their parents) consider whether or not to pay the US$7,000 charged by most coyotes for “guidance” across Mexico and over the US border. But few arrive under the illusion that they will attain legal status any time soon.

Myth #4: Central American youth who manage to stay in the United States as undocumented persons are likely to become part of a permanent underclass who represent a perpetual drain on the US economy.

Political conservatives often argue that our economy simply cannot sustain the weight of more undocumented Mexicans and Central Americans. In fact, research at the Pew Hispanic Center shows that 92% of undocumented men are active in the labor force (a higher proportion than among native men) and that most undocumented immigrants see modest improvements in their household income over time. Not surprisingly, those who eventually obtain legal status show far more substantial gains in their income and in the educational attainment of their children.

Myth #5: The situation in Central America is hopeless.

While it is true that many of the children who reach the US border have grown up in difficult and even dangerous situations and ought to be granted a hearing to determine whether or not they should be granted asylum, I have Central American friends (including some from Honduras) who might bristle at the suggestion that every child migrating northward is escaping life in hell itself. The idea that all Central American minors ought to be pronounced refugees upon arrival at the border rests on the mistaken assumption that these nations are hopelessly mired in violence and chaos, and it encourages the US government to throw in the towel with regard to advocating for economic and political improvements in the region.

True, a great deal of violence and hopelessness persists in the marginal urban neighborhoods of San Salvador and Tegucigalpa, but these communities did not evolve by accident. They are the result of years of under-investment in social priorities such as public education and public security compounded by the entrance in the late 1990s of a furious scramble among the cartels to establish and maintain drug movement and distribution networks across the isthmus in order to meet unflagging US demand. At the same time as we work to ensure that all migrant minors are treated humanely and with due process, we ought to use this moment to take a hard look at US foreign policy both past and present in order to build a robust aid package aimed at strengthening institutions and promoting more progressive tax policy so that these nations can promote human development, not just economic growth. It is time we take the long view with regard to our neighbors to the south.

Robert Brenneman is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont and the author of Homies and Hermanos: God and the Gangs in Central America.

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17. REVOLUTION

REVOLUTION HAS COME which side do you choose? our world moans and groans under the weight of “progress” while our trees die from acid rain and our rivers, once teeming with wildlife, are suffocated by our excess The future of our world, our children, are abused, silenced and tossed aside like pieces of trash with…

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18. Are schools teaching British values?

By Stephanie Olsen


In June, (now former) Education Secretary Michael Gove announced that all primary and secondary schools should promote “British values”. David Cameron said that the plans for values education are likely to have the “overwhelming support” of citizens throughout the UK. Cameron defined these values as “freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions”. ‪At root, such a policy gets at the emotional conditioning of children. To adhere to a certain ideological conceptualization of “freedom,” to feel “tolerant,” or to be “respectful” (whether of parents, teachers, authorities or institutions), is to act according to implicit feelings of rightness.

Values are never just abstract ideas, but are expressed and experienced through emotions. And they are not ideologically neutral. To stress the education of British values is to put a form of emotional education on the agenda. Though many commentators have pointed out that the broad outlines of such an education already exist in schools, the fear of “extremism”, of the promotion of the “wrong” sort of values, has triggered a vigorous debate. What has largely gone unrecognized in this debate, however, is that it is emphatically not new.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, politicians and educationalists promoted a new education based on character training and the emotions, precisely to build British citizens who would respect and uphold British institutions. This brand of education was to be accomplished at school, but also at home, and in religious and youth organizations.

Herbert Fisher, the President of the Board of Education who spearheaded the Education Act of 1918, argued that the masses should be educated “to stimulate civic spirit, to promote general culture … and to diffuse a steadier judgement and a better informed opinion through the whole body of the community.” Other educational commentators broadly agreed with this mission. Frederick Gould, a former Board School teacher and author of many books on education argued that “The community cannot afford to let the young people pass out with a merely vague notion that they ought to be good; it must frame its teaching with a decisive and clear vision for family responsibilities, civic and political duties”.

Michael Gove, by Paul Clarke, CC-BY-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Michael Gove, by Paul Clarke, CC-BY-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Civic duties – the civic spirit – were to be taught to the extent that they would become ingrained, implicit, felt. This was to be primarily a moral education. Educators stressed character training, linking moral education to British imperialism or nationalism in an unashamedly patriotic spirit. Education reform was to improve future citizens’ productivity and develop national character traits.

Like Gould, educator John Haden Badley stressed the need to teach active citizenship and service. Education on these lines would provide “a deeper understanding of the human values that give to life its real worth”, cultivating and maximizing the potential of a “superior” Britishness. Meanwhile, in a speech in Manchester in 1917, Fisher argued that “the whole future of our race and of our position in the world depends upon the wisdom of the arrangements which we make for education.” He observed, in language strikingly familiar to contemporary political rhetoric, that “we are apt to find that the wrong things are being taught by the wrong people in the wrong way.”

But even in 1917 the rhetoric was clichéd. A generation of commentators before Fisher argued that the civic shortfalls in mass formal education could be fixed by informal education in youth groups and religious organizations and through improved reading matter. Much juvenile and family literature, whether motivated politically or religiously, stressed emotional socialization, especially in the building of morality and character, as critical for national cohesion.

The trouble with visions of national cohesion, as the last century and a half of educational debate bears out, is the difficulty in getting any two parties to agree what that vision looks like. At the turn of the twentieth century all agreed that children mattered. How they were to be educated was important not just to individual children and their families, but equally importantly, to the community and the nation.

Yet some reformers had patriotic aims, others religious; some civic, some imperial; some conservative, others socialist. Many combined some or all of these aims. All, whether explicitly stated or not, wanted to train, instrumentalize and harness children’s emotions. Children’s reading matter, the stories they were told, and the lessons they heard were known to be powerful forces in cultivating the emotions. Hence the high stakes, then and now, on the narratives supplied to children.

Michael Gove, in common with his Victorian forebears, turns to the “great heroes of history” to serve as models of emulation. Back in the early 1900s, Gould thought history “the most vital of all studies for inspiration to conduct.” The study of history is certainly no stranger to being manipulated for didactic ends in order to impart “British values.”

While Gove is only the latest in a long line to link British history, British values and education, there are surely lessons to be learnt from past attempts and past failures to implement this strategy. A generation of boys and young men at the turn of the twentieth century had grown up learning the positive value of patriotic service. In this memorial year, marking a century since the outbreak of the First World War, it seems appropriate to reflect on what values we might want to instil in the young. What feelings do we want them to learn?

Stephanie Olsen is based at the history department, McGill University (Montreal) and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Center for the History of Emotions (Berlin). She was previously postdoctoral fellow at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University. The co-author of Learning How to Feel: Children’s Literature and the History of Emotional Socialization, c. 1870-1970 she is currently working on children’s education and the cultivation of hope in the First World War.

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19. And So It Goes: Revisiting Iraq

Reading the newspaper these days feels a little like time traveling. After eight years of war in Iraq and (let's be honest) at least three years of societal amnesia, it's startling to wake up to headlines about sectarian violence and the president's requests for resources to fight ISIS, the radical Islamic organization conquering vast swathes [...]

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20. Donor behaviour and the future of humanitarian action

By Anne Hammerstad


After a short lull in the late 2000s, global refugee numbers have risen dramatically. In 2013, a daily average of 32,200 people (up from 14,200 in 2011) fled conflict and persecution to seek protection elsewhere, within or outside the borders of their own country. On the current trajectory, 2014 will be even worse. In Syria, targeting of civilians and large-scale destruction have led to 2.5 million (and counting) refugees fleeing the country since 2011. The vast majority shelter in neighbouring Lebanon (856,500), Jordan (641,900), and Turkey (609,300). As I write, hundreds of thousands are fleeing the advancing forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in neighbouring Iraq. And civil wars and ethnic violence have resurged in many parts of Central Africa and the African Horn.

What future for humanitarian action in this dire scenario? This question was raised on the fifth of May by the UN Secretary-General, Ban-Ki Moon, when he launched a programme of global consultations, which will culminate in the first ever World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in 2016, poised to “set a new agenda for global humanitarian action”. The UN has raised four sets of challenges, to deliver humanitarian aid more efficiently, effectively, innovatively, and robustly.

The launch of these consultations is timely, but it avoids an important challenge to the future of humanitarian action: the policies of donor governments.

United Nations Geneva

At first glance, this may seem like a strange assertion. After all, although needs continue to surpass the ability to provide, donor funding for humanitarian operations has skyrocketed. From less than US$1 billion in 1989, the global humanitarian budget stood at US$22 billion in 2013. Most of these funds come from a small number of Western donor states. But coupled with this rise in funds comes a donor agenda that risks, even if unintentionally, undermining the humanitarian ideal. This challenge is far from the only one posed to humanitarian action — much worse for the security of humanitarian workers are the terrorist groups that target them, leading to the killing of an estimated 152 aid workers in 2013. But because humanitarian action depends on a moral consensus over its meaning and worth, the current trajectory of donor policies is worrisome.

The humanitarian ideal is based on international solidarity: that outsiders can and should provide aid and protection in a principled, non-partisan, needs-based manner to civilian casualties of war and political violence. This ideal of politically disinterested solidarity with fellow human beings caught up in war and violence, regardless of who or where they are, has always been at some remove from the reality of humanitarian operations, but a consensus has nevertheless existed that it is an ideal worth aspiring to. Recently, though, donor governments have been increasingly open and unapologetic about using humanitarian aid to further their own political or security objectives.

One such objective is to keep immigration down. Since most man-made humanitarian crises have displacement as a core component, one objective of Western donor support of humanitarian aid to refugees is to contain population movement. The vast majority of refugees — people who have fled for their lives across international borders — remain within their near region, in camps or regional cities. Only a small proportion attempt the long journey to Europe, Australia, or North America in hope of jobs and a better future. Western humanitarian donors would prefer that even fewer asylum seekers make it to their own shores, while refugee host states in the Global South would like burden-sharing and solidarity to mean more than monetary charity from the well-off to the poorer.

Containment strategies seem to be working. While refugee numbers are increasing overall, including in industrialized states, the proportion of refugees hosted by developing states has grown over the past ten years from 70 percent to 86 percent. In Lebanon, there are 178 Syrian refugees for every thousand Lebanese inhabitants (in Jordan, the number is 88 per thousand). But efforts by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to resettle particularly vulnerable Syrian refugees have had lukewarm responses. This donor attitude of charity from afar coupled with hostility to asylum seekers and unwanted migrants in general, undermines the moral underpinnings of humanitarianism. After all, the Good Samaritan, often put forward as the embodiment of the humanitarian spirit, did not leave a few coins with the battered traveller he found by the wayside. He took him home and nursed him.

Another trend undermining the humanitarian ideal is the increased, and increasingly unapologetic, strategic use of aid to further donors’ own foreign and security policy objectives. There is a clear increase in the past couple of decades in the earmarking of funds and channelling of resources, not necessarily to the neediest of humanitarian victims, but to those deemed more relevant to donor interests. The ‘hearts and minds’ campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq in the 2000s are the starkest representatives of this trend. As US-led intervention forces aimed to win over local populations by disbursing aid, the overall share of US overseas aid channelled through the US Department of Defense rose from 5.6 percent in 2002 to 21.7 percent in 2005.

These donor trends of openly pursuing domestic, foreign, and security policy goals through humanitarian aid are detrimental to the long-term future of humanitarian action, since they undermine the consensus and the ethical values underpinning the humanitarian ideal. While other challenges also loom, the strategies (and strategizing) of donors should have been included as a core topic of the Global Consultations.

Dr Anne Hammerstad, University of Kent, is author of The Rise and Decline of a Global Security Actor: UNHCR, Refugee Protection and Security. She writes and tweets on refugees, humanitarianism, conflict, and security. You can follow her on Twitter at @annehammerstad.

To learn more about refugees, conflict, and how countries are responding, read the Introduction to The Rise and Decline of a Global Security Actor: UNHCR, Refugee Protection and Security, available via Oxford Scholarship Online. Oxford Scholarship Online (OSO) is a vast and rapidly-expanding research library. Launched in 2003 with four subject modules, Oxford Scholarship Online is now available in 20 subject areas and has grown to be one of the leading academic research resources in the world. Oxford Scholarship Online offers full-text access to academic monographs from key disciplines in the humanities, social sciences, science, medicine, and law, providing quick and easy access to award-winning Oxford University Press scholarship.

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Image: United Nations Flags by Tom Page. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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21. Cameron’s reshuffle

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By Simon Usherwood


Tuesday’s Cabinet reshuffle by David Cameron has been trailed for some time now, but until the last moment it was not expected to be of the scale it has assumed. As a result, it sets up the government to present a rather different complexion in the run-up to the general election.

The key factor in the scope of the reshuffle looks to have been William Hague’s decision to step down as Foreign Secretary. For some, this was the result of he’s being broken/bored by the work, but to have seen him last week pushing hard on ending sexual violence in conflict should give the lie to that. The reasons remain rather unclear for now, but the consequence is that the Foreign Office is losing one of its staunchest defenders of recent decades: Philip Hammond might be an operator, but he doesn’t have the same personal attachment to diplomacy that Hague has shown over the past four years.

If Hague walked, then Michael Gove certainly didn’t. His removal from Education to become Chief Whip isn’t a vote of confidence in either the man or his project for school reform: very little is coming through the legislative process in the next nine months that will require much arm-twisting. Cameron’s decision is very odd, given the extent to which he has backed Gove until now, when he could have cut his losses much earlier. Here the judgement might have been that things have moved far enough down the line that they can’t be reversed and that Gove is better moved out now to start building a profile in another area while Nicky Morgan picks up the metaphorical pieces.

Alongside these two big changes, a third individual was also pushed into the limelight: Lord Hill of Oareford. Jonathan Hill’s name is one which has been on the lips of almost no-one until today, when he was nominated as the British member of the European Commission. A Tory party insider, Hill has been Leader of the Lords since last year, providing with the skills of political management and coalition-building that Cameron argues will be essential in Brussels. His nomination also has the propitious consequence that there will be no need for the by-election that use of an MP would have entailed.

Beyond these three big changes, the rest of the reshuffle is mainly one of filling in the gaps created and rewarding allies (see the Institute of Government’s very useful blog for more). Thus several of the 2010 intake get into the Cabinet, such as Liz Truss, Stephen Crabb, and Priti Patel.

But what is the intent behind all of this?

There are two possible readings of this, one more optimistic than the other.

The positive interpretation is that this is part two of Cameron’s strategy, building on the radical phase needed to pull the UK up from the depths of the recession and forming a new team to create a positive shine to that work in anticipation for the general election. This is certainly Cameron’s own spin, trying to create a narrative that the worst is behind us and the strength of the economic recovery means we can afford not to think too hard about the difficulty that has passed.

Part of that strategy is to make a Cabinet that is more resistant to Labour attacks. One of the more-remarked-upon aspects has been the promotion/retention of women, an obvious rejoinder to the recent months of criticism from the Opposition. Likewise, Gove’s removal has at least some aspect of depriving Labour of one of their favourite whipping boys.

However, if we are feeling less generous, then we might look at things rather differently. Hague’s departure might seem less surprising if we consider that he might expect to be out of the Foreign Office next May in any case, on the back of a Tory defeat.

This is really the unspoken sub-text: that we give party loyalists some time in the political sun because it’s unlikely to last very long. Despite the tightening of the opinion polls in recent months (see the excellent Polling Observatory posts), the Conservatives still look like being out of power in May, even as a coalition partner. That puts a big disincentive on laying long-term plans and refocuses attention on making the most of the remainder of this Parliament.

It’s easy to forget in all of this that the Tories are still in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats and that whatever electoral nemesis they face next year, that still lies in the future. Hence Cameron still has to temper the desires and pressures of his party to fit the coalition agreement, not least in his allocation of government posts.

All of this has echoes of 1992, when John Major looked set to lose, only to scrap through for another five years. Back then, there was a distinct sense that the foot had come off the gas and that the long period of Tory government was coming to an end. It was to be the questions over the electability of Labour that finally proved more consequential in the vote.

Cameron might not have had the long period in power that Major did, but he does have an Opposition that has struggled to impress. Even with the more fractured arithmetic of a party political system with UKIP, Tory victory is not impossible. That raises the potential danger that Cameron might pull it all off next year and then have to follow through.

If that did happen, then Europe is going to be the big fight, which will take up almost all his energies until 2017. Whether Hammond in the Foreign Commonwealth Office and Hill in Brussels will still look like good choices then remains to be seen.

Simon Usherwood is Senior Lecturer in the School of Politics at the University of Surrey. He tweets from @Usherwood.

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22. Brian Stauffer: a conceptual take on social issues

Posted by Heather Ryerson

Brian Stauffer

Brian Stauffer

Brian Stauffer

Brian Stauffer

Brian Stauffer

Brian Stauffer uses a combination of sketching, painting, and digital collage to create editorial illustrations. Much of his work graces the pages of news and political publications like The New York Times, TIME, The New Yorker, The Nation, and Rolling Stone. His thought-provoking illustrations illuminate social issues and set the proper tone for their accompanying articles. Stauffer’s work would not be out of place at a vintage propaganda poster gallery, but can be found instead at notable art museums and institutes.

Discover his large body of work on his website.

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23. Hobby Lobby and the First Amendment

By Richard H. Weisberg


The recent Hobby Lobby decision, which ruled that corporations with certain religious beliefs were no longer required to provide insurance that covers contraception for their female employees — as mandated by Obamacare — hinged on a curious piece of legislation from 1993. In a law that was unanimously passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) stated that “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.” The intention of RFRA was to offer an opportunity for religious people to challenge ordinary laws, state or federal, that had some adverse impact on their faith. The RFRA was a direct response to a case three years earlier, when the Supreme Court decided that laws that applied to everybody were acceptable even if they burdened a religious community. RFRA was Congress’ scream of protest to the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence.

By passing the RFRA in 1993, Congress was trying to steal the Supreme Court’s thunder. It was not fixing physical infrastructures; it was fixing a fellow branch of government. It was not over-ruling what it considered to be a faulty judicial reading of its own statutes; it was changing an interpretation of the Constitution itself. But isn’t the Court, for better or worse, the ultimate authority on the First Amendment? Didn’t the principle of separation of powers prevent the legislative branch from amending, by mere majority vote within its own chambers, the Constitution as understood by the justices at any given time?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, US Supreme Court Justice. Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States. Photographer: Steve Petteway. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Indeed, the Supreme Court went on to strike down RFRA in 1997, but only in part. It ruled that the states were not covered by RFRA’s change, but that the federal government was. This provided the opening for the Hobby Lobby decision, where several for-profit closely held corporations sought to defeat a federal regulation about contraception that applied generally to businesses, but offended their own belief systems.

Most discussion of Hobby Lobby, including even Justice Ginsburg’s dissent, has flexibly adapted to the idea that RFRA is constitutional, despite its extraordinary usurpation of judicial power. Her dissent correctly points out that her colleagues in the majority go even further than Congress in permitting religious belief to trump democratically passed legislation. Yes: the majority went much too far in holding that a corporation can “believe” anything or that free exercise rights are violated even when the central beliefs or practices of the religious are not directly implicated; but far worse was its acceptance, without discussion, of Congress’s power grab under RFRA. And the dissents doubled down on that departure from firm and fine traditions we call separation of powers.

Two examples of flexibility, however otherwise opposed, do not add up to the uncompromising defense of our Constitution needed at all times and perhaps especially now. The Supreme Court needed intransigently to re-assert its own power as a separate branch of government. Hobby Lobby’s attempt to veto part of Obamacare that offended its “corporate faith” would and should have been shut down immediately. Our Constitutional system of checks and balances required a clear statement. The Court, on both sides of Hobby Lobby, gave us the ambiguities that muddy the waters when compromise replaces principle.

Richard H. Weisberg, professor of Constitutional Law at Cardozo Law School, is the author of In Praise of Intransigence: The Perils of Flexibility.

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24. What is the Islamic state and its prospects?

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By James Gelvin


ISIS—now just the “Islamic State” (IS)–is the latest incarnation of the jihadi movement in Iraq. The first incarnation of that movement, Tawhid wal-Jihad, was founded in 2003-4 by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Al-Zarqawi was not an Iraqi: as his name denotes, he came from Zarqa in Jordan. He was responsible for establishing a group affiliated with al-Qaeda in response to the American invasion of Iraq. Over time, this particular group began to evolve as it took on alliances with other jihadi groups, with non-jihadi groups, and as it separated from groups with which it had been aligned. Tawhid wal-Jihad thus evolved into al-Qaeda in Iraq, which had strained relations with “al-Qaeda central.” These strains were caused by the same factors that have created strains between IS and al-Qaeda central. Zarqawi had adopted the tactic of sparking a sectarian war in Iraq by blowing up the Golden Mosque in Samarra, thus instigating Shi’i retaliations against Iraq’s Sunni community, which, in turn, would get mobilized, radicalized, and strike back, joining al-Qaeda’s jihad

What this demonstrates is a long term problem al-Qaeda central has had with its affiliates. Al-Qaeda has always been extraordinarily weak on organization and extraordinarily strong on ideology, which is the glue that holds the organization together.

The ideology of al-Qaeda can be broken down into two parts: First, the Islamic world is at war with a transnational Crusader-Zionist alliance and it is that alliance–the “far enemy”–and not the individual despots who rule the Muslim world–the “near enemy”–which is Islam’s true enemy and which should be the target of al-Qaeda’s jihad. Second, al-Qaeda believes that the state system that has been imposed on the Muslim world was part of a conspiracy hatched by the Crusader-Zionist alliance to keep the Muslim world weak and divided. Therefore, state boundaries are to be ignored.

These two points, then, are the foundation for the al-Qaeda philosophy. It is the philosophy in which Zarqawi believed and it is also the philosophy in which the current head of IS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, believes as well.

Islamic states (dark green), states where Islam is the official religion (light green), secular states (blue) and other (orange), among countries with Muslim majority. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Islamic states (dark green), states where Islam is the official religion (light green), secular states (blue) and other (orange), among countries with Muslim majority. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

We don’t know much about al-Baghdadi. We know his name is a lie–he was not born in Baghdad, as his name denotes, but rather in Samarra. We know he was born in 1971 and has some sort of degree from Baghdad University. We also know he was imprisoned by the Americans in Camp Bucca in Iraq. It may have been there that he was radicalized, or perhaps upon making the acquaintance of al-Zarqawi.

Over time, al-Qaeda in Iraq evolved into the Islamic State of Iraq which, in turn, evolved into the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. This took place in 2012 when Baghdadi claimed that an already existing al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, was, in fact, part of his organization. This was unacceptable to the head of Jabhat al-Nusra, Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani. Al-Jawlani took the dispute to Ayman al-Zawahiri who ruled in his favor. Zawahiri declared Jabhat al-Nusra to be the true al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, ordered al-Baghdadi to return to Iraq, and when al-Baghdadi refused al-Zawahiri severed ties with him and his organization.

There is a certain irony in this, inasmuch as Jabhat al-Nusra does not adhere to the al-Qaeda ideology, which is the only thing that holds the organization together. On the other hand, IS, for the most part does, although al-Qaeda purists believe al-Baghdadi jumped the gun when he declared a caliphate in Syria and Iraq with himself as caliph—a move that is as likely to split the al-Qaeda/jihadi movement as it is to unify it under a single leader. Whereas al-Baghdadi believes there should be no national boundaries dividing Syria and Iraq, al-Jawlani restricts his group’s activities to Syria. Whereas the goals of al-Baghdadi (and al-Qaeda) are much broader than bringing down an individual despot, Jabhat al-Nusra’s goal is the removal of Bashar al-Assad. And whereas al-Baghdadi (and al-Qaeda) believe in a strict, salafist interpretation of Islamic law, Jabhat al-Nusra has taken a much more temperate position in the territories it controls. The enforcement of a strict interpretation of Islamic law–from the veiling of women to the prohibition of alcohol and cigarettes to the use of hudud punishments and even crucifixions—has made IS extremely unpopular wherever it has established itself in Syria.

The recent strategy of IS has been to reestablish a caliphate, starting with the (oil-rich) territory stretching from Raqqa to as far south in Iraq as they can go. This is a strategy evolved out of al-Qaeda first articulated by Abu Musab al-Suri. For al-Suri (who believed 9/11 was a mistake), al-Qaeda’s next step was to create “emirates” in un-policed frontier areas of the Muslim world from which an al-Qaeda affiliate might “vex and exhaust” the enemy. For al-Qaeda, this would be the intermediate step that will eventually lead to a unification of the entire Muslim world. What would happen next was never made clear—Al-Qaeda has always been more definitive about what it is against rather than what it is for.

IS has demonstrated in the recent period that it is capable of dramatic military moves, particularly when it is assisted by professional military officers, such as the former Baathist officers who planned the attack on Mosul. This represents a potential problem for IS: After all, the jailors are unlikely to remain in a coalition with those they jailed after they accomplish an immediate goal. But this is not the limit of IS’s problems. Mao Zedong once wrote that in order to have an effective guerrilla organization you have to “swim like the fish in the sea”–in other words, you have to make yourself popular with the local inhabitants of an area who you wish to control and who are necessary to feed and protect you. Wherever it has taken over, IS has proved itself to be extraordinarily unpopular. The only reason IS was able to move as rapidly as it did was because the Iraqi army simply melted away rather than risking their lives for the immensely unpopular government of Nouri al-Maliki.

However it scored its victory, it should be remembered that taking territory is very different from holding territory. It should also be remembered that by taking and attempting to hold territory in Iraq, ISIS has concentrated itself and set itself up as a target.

IS has other problems as well. It is fighting on multiple fronts. In Syria, it is battling most of the rest of the opposition movement. It is also a surprisingly small organization–8,000-10,000 fighters (although recent victories might enable it to attract new recruits). The Americans used 80,000 troops in its initial invasion of Iraq in 2003 and was still unable to control the country. In addition, we should not forget the ease with which the French ousted similar groups from Timbuktu and other areas in northern Mali last year. As battle-hardened as the press claims them to be, groups like IS are no match for a professional army.

Portions of this article ran in a translated interview on Tasnim News.

James L. Gelvin is a Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of The Arab Uprisings: What Everyone Needs to Know, The Modern Middle East: A History and The Israel-Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War.

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25. The downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17

By Sascha-Dominik Bachmann


The downing of the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 on 17 July 2014 sent shockwaves around the world. The airliner was on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down over Eastern Ukraine by an surface to air missile, killing all people on board, 283 passengers including 80 children, and 15 crew members. The victims were nationals of at least 10 different states, with the Netherlands losing 192 of its citizens.

With new information being released hourly strong evidence seems to indicate that the airliner was downed by a sophisticated military surface to air missile system, the SA-17 BUK missile system. This self-propelled air defence system was introduced in 1980 to the Armed Forces of the then Soviet Union and which is still in service with the Armed forces of both Russia and Ukraine. There is growing suspicion that the airliner was shot down by pro-Russian separatist forces operating in the area, with one report by AP having identified the presence of a rebel BUK unit in close proximity of the crash site. The United States and its intelligence services were quick in identifying the pro-Russian separatists as having been responsible for launching the missile. This view is supported further by the existence of incriminating communications between the rebels and their Russian handlers immediately after the aircraft hit the ground and also a now deleted announcement on social media by the self declared Rebel Commander, Igor Strelkov. This evidence points to the possibility that MH17 was mistaken for an Ukrainian military plane and therefore targeted. Given that two Ukrainian military aircraft were shot down over Eastern Ukraine in only two days preceding 17 July 2014 a not unlikely possibility.

It will be crucial to establish the extent of Russia’s involvement in the atrocity. While there seems to be evidence that the rebels may have taken possession of BUK units of the Ukrainian, it seems unlikely that they would have been able to operate these systems without assistance from Russian military experts and even radar assets.

Makeshift memorial at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport for the victims of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 which crashed in the Ukraine on 18 July 2014 killing all 298 people on board. Photo by Roman Boed. CC BY 2.0 via romanboed Flickr.

Makeshift memorial at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport for the victims of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 which crashed in the Ukraine on 18 July 2014 killing all 298 people on board. Photo by Roman Boed. CC BY 2.0 via romanboed Flickr.

Russia was quick to shift the blame on Ukraine itself, asking why civil aircraft hadn’t been barred completely from overflying the region, directly blaming Ukraine’s aviation authorities during the emergency meeting on the UN Security Council (UNSC) on 18 July 2014. Russia even went so far to blame Ukraine indirectly of shooting down MH17 by comparing the incident with the accidental shooting down of a Russian civilian airliner en route from Tel Aviv to Novosibirsk in 2001. Despite Russia’s call for an independent investigation of the incident, Moscow’s rebels reportedly blocked actively international observers from OSCE to access the site.

While any civilian airliner crash is a catastrophe, and in cases of terrorist involvement an international crime, the shooting down of passenger jets by a state are particularly shocking as they always affect non combatants and resemble acts which are always outside the parameters of the legality of any military action (such as distinction, necessity, and proportionality). Any such act would lead to global condemnation and would hurt the perpetrator state’s international reputation. Consequently, there have only been few such incidents over the last 60 years.

What could be the possible consequences? The rebels are still formally Ukrainian citizens and as such subject to Ukraine’s criminal judicial system, according to the active personality principle. Such a prosecution could extent to the Russian co-rebels as Ukraine could exercise its jurisdiction as the state where the crime was committed, under the territoriality principle. In addition prosecutions could be initiated by the states whose citizens were murdered, under the passive personality principle of international criminal law. With Netherlands as the nation with the highest numbers of victims having a particularly strong interest in swift criminal justice, memories of the Pan Am 103 bombing come to mind, where Libyan terrorists murdered 270 humans when an airliner exploded over Lockerbie in Scotland. Following international pressure, Libya agreed to surrender key suspects to a Scottish Court sitting in the Netherlands.

The establishment of an international(-ised) criminal forum for the prosecution of the perpetrators would require Russia’s cooperation, something which seems to be unlikely given Putin’s increasing defiance of the international community’s call for justice. A prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague under its Statute, the Rome Statute, is unlikely to happen as neither Russian nor Ukraine have ratified the Statute. An UNSC referral to the ICC — if one accepts that the murder of 298 civilians would amount to a crime which qualifies as a crime against humanity or even a war crime under Article 5 of the ICC Statute — would fail given that Russia and its new strategic partner China are Veto powers on the Council and would veto any resolution for a referral.

Other responses could be the imposing of unilateral and international sanctions and embargos against Moscow and high profile individuals. Related to such economic countermeasures is the possibility to hold Russia as a state responsible for its complicity in the shooting down of MH17; the International Court of Justice (ICJ) would be the forum where such a case against Russia could be brought by a state affected by the tragedy. An example for such an interstate case arising from a breach of international law can be found in the ICJ case Aerial Incident of 3 July 1988 (Islamic Republic of Iran v. United States of America), arising from the unlawful shooting down of Iran Air Flight 655 by the United States in 1988. The case ended with an out of Court settlement by the US in 1996. Again, it seems quite unlikely that Russia will accept any ruling by the ICJ on the matter and even less likely would be any compliance with an damages order by the court.

One alternative could be a true US solution for the accountability gap of Russia’s complicity in the disaster. If the US Congress was to qualify the rebel groups as terrorist organizations then this would make Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, and as such subject to US federal jurisdiction in a terrorism civil litigation case brought under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA-18 USC Sections 2331-2338) as an amendment to the Alien Torts Statute (ATS/ATCA – 28 USC Section 1350). The so-called “State Sponsors of Terrorism” exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA Exception-28 USC Section 1605(a)(7)), which allows lawsuit against so-called state sponsors of terrorism. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) Exception of 1996 limits the defense of state immunity in cases of state sponsored terrorism and can be seen as a direct judicial response to the growing threat of acts of international state sponsored terrorism directed against the United States and her citizens abroad, as exemplified in the case of Flatow v. Islamic Republic of Iran (76 F. Supp. 2d 28 (D.D.C. 1999)). Utilising US law to bring a civil litigation case against Russia as a designated state sponsor of international terrorism would certainly set a strong signal and message to Putin; it remains to be seen whether the US call for stronger unified sanctions against Russia will translate into such unilateral action.

Time will tell if the downing of MH17 will turn out to be a Lusitania moment (the sinking of the British passenger ship Lusitania with significant loss of US lives by a German U-boat led to the entry of the US in World War I) for Russia’s relations with the West, which might pave the way to a new ‘Cold War’ along new conflict lines with different allies and alliances. What has become clear already today is Russia’s potential new role as state sponsor of terrorism.

Sascha-Dominik Bachmann is an Associate Professor in International Law (Bournemouth University); State Exam in Law (Ludwig-Maximilians Universität, Munich), Assessor Jur, LL.M (Stellenbosch), LL.D (Johannesburg); Sascha-Dominik is a Lieutenant Colonel in the German Army Reserves and had multiple deployments in peacekeeping missions in operational and advisory roles as part of NATO/KFOR from 2002 to 2006. During that time he was also an exchange officer to the 23rd US Marine Regiment. He wants to thank Noach Bachmann for his input. This blog post draws from Sascha’s article “Targeted Killings: Contemporary Challenges, Risks and Opportunities” in the Journal of Conflict Security Law and available to read for free for a limited time. Read his previous blog posts.

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