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1. Their blood cries out to God

Not long after the beginning, Genesis tells us that there were two brothers. One killed the other. “And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground’” (Gen. 4:10). This is the Lord’s response when the murderer denies knowing where his brother is and asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” We humans are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers; and yet we have been disowning and killing each other since the beginning.

On this day seventy years ago, the last prisoners were liberated from Auschwitz. On this day today, we commit to remembering the more than six million Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and others who were rejected and murdered by their fellow humans. Their blood still cries out to God from the ground.

When we remember the Shoah, always but especially on this day, we must focus our energies on remembering those who we have lost. Those who murdered them dehumanized them. Let us defy that curse and celebrate their thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and experiences – the fullness of their humanity.

Let us sit in the memory of those who we have lost. Those of us without memories of our own must humbly seek welcome in the memories of others, to the extent that they are knowable. When we cannot know what the people who perished were like, let us grow in our awareness of our ignorance. We can never fully understand what we have lost. Let us mourn both what we know and what we know we cannot know.

The words of the victims themselves offer the clearest hope of seeing and remembering through their eyes, of knowing what the Shoah was and what it destroyed, even as it defies human comprehension. In 1947, writing from Sweden, poet, refugee, and future Nobel laureate Nelly Sachs offered words of caution to her fellow humans: “We the rescued beg you: Show us your sun slowly. Lead us step by step from star to star. Let us quietly learn to live again. Otherwise the song of a bird or the filling of a bucket at a well could unleash our ill-sealed ache and wash us away.”

There is beauty in the world. There is hope. There is joy to be found in the midst of the ordinary. But there is also great darkness within those around us and even, at times, within ourselves. We have killed our brothers and sisters since the beginning of humanity, it seems. We are each other’s keepers. We learn to keep each other in the present, in part, by keeping the memories alive of  those who have gone before, especially of those who were the victims of immeasurable evil.

This remembering can be no mere intellectual exercise of memorizing facts and figures. As heirs of the memories of the victims, we must take their legacy personally. Some felt anger and indignation, a few even hate, but for many the overwhelming response was one of sorrow. Entire communities, villages, towns, families, clans, cultures, and sub-cultures that once thrived are now gone.

The Talmud teaches that “anyone who destroys a life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed an entire world” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:9). In the Shoah, more than six million worlds were wiped out. Let us mourn their loss. Let us seek to remember. Their blood still cries out to God. Let us listen.

Image Credit: Holocaust Remembrance Day. Photo by Brittney Bush Bollay. CC by NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr

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2. Have we become what we hate?

In 1971, William Irvin Thompson, a professor at York University in Toronto, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times entitled, “We Become What We Hate,” describing the way in which “thoughts can become inverted when they are reflected in actions.”

He cited several scientific, sociocultural, economic, and political situations where the maxim appeared to be true. The physician who believed he was inventing a pill to help women become pregnant had actually invented the oral contraceptive. Germany and Japan, having lost World War II, had become peaceful consumer societies. The People’s Republic of China had become, at least back in 1971, a puritanical nation.

Today, many of the values that we, as a nation, profess — protection of civil rights and human rights, assistance for the needy, support for international cooperation, and promotion of peace — have become inverted in our actions. As a nation, we say one thing, but often do the opposite.

As a nation, we profess protection of civil rights. But our criminal justice system and our systems for federal, state, and local elections discriminate against people of color and other minorities.

As a nation, we profess protection of human rights. But we have imprisoned “enemy combatants” without charges, stripped them of their rights as prisoners of war, and tortured many of them in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

As a nation, we profess adherence to the late Senator Hubert H. Humphrey’s dictum that the true measure of a government is how it cares for the young, the old, the sick, and the needy. But we set the minimum wage at a level at which working people cannot survive. We inadequately fund human services for those who need them most. And, even after implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, we continue to be the only industrialized country that does not ensure health care for all its citizens.

As a nation, we profess support for international cooperation. But we fail to sign treaties to ban antipersonnel landmines and prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. And we, as a nation, contribute much less than our fair share of foreign assistance to low-income countries.

As a nation, we profess commitment to world peace. But we lead all other countries, by far, in both arms sales and military expenditures.

In many ways, we, as a nation, have become what we hate.

Image Credit: Dispersed, Occupy Oakland Move In Day. Photo by Glenn Halog. CC by NC 2.0 via Flickr.

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3. Four reasons for ISIS’s success

The editors of Oxford Islamic Studies Online asked several experts the following question:

The world has watched as ISIS (ISIL, the “Islamic State”) has moved from being a small but extreme section of the Syrian opposition to a powerful organization in control of a large swath of Iraq and Syria. Even President Obama recently admitted that the US was surprised by the success of ISIS in that region. Why have they been so successful, and why now?

Political Scientist Robert A. Pape and undergraduate research associate Sarah Morell, both from the University of Chicago, share their thoughts.

ISIS has been successful for four primary reasons. First, the group has tapped into the marginalization of the Sunni population in Iraq to gain territory and local support. Second, ISIS fighters are battle-hardened strategists fighting against an unmotivated Iraqi army. Third, the group exploits natural resources to fund their operations. And fourth, ISIS has utilized a brilliant social media strategy to recruit fighters and increase their international recognition. One of the important aspects cutting across these four elements is the unification of anti-American populations across Iraq and Syria — remnants of the Saddam regime, Iraqi civilians driven to militant behavior during the US occupation, transnational jihadists, and the tribes who were hung out to dry following the withdrawal of US forces in 2011.

The Sunni population’s hatred of the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad has allowed ISIS to quickly overtake huge swaths of Iraqi Sunni territory. The Iraq parliamentary elections in 2010 were a critical moment in this story. The Iraqiyya coalition, led by Ayad Allawi, won support of the Sunni population to win the plurality of seats in Iraq’s parliament. Maliki’s party came second by a slim two-seat margin. Despite Allawi’s electoral victory, Maliki and his Shia coalition — backed by the United States — succeeded in forming a government with Maliki as Prime Minister.

Inside of the Baghdad Convention Center, where the Council of Representatives of Iraq meets. By James (Jim) Gordon. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Inside of the Baghdad Convention Center, where the Council of Representatives of Iraq meets. By James (Jim) Gordon. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In the months following the election, Maliki targeted Sunni leaders in an effort to consolidate Shia domination of Baghdad. Many of these were the same Sunni leaders successfully mobilized by US forces during the occupation — in an operation that became known as the Anbar Awakening — to cripple al-Qa’ida in Iraq strongholds within the Sunni population. When the US withdrew, they directed the aid to the Maliki government with the expectation that Maliki would distribute it fairly. Instead, the day after the US forces withdrew in December 2011, Iraq’s Judicial Council issued an arrest warrant for Iraqi Vice President Hashimi, a key Sunni leader. Arrests of Sunni leaders and their staffs continued, sparking widespread Sunni protests in Anbar province. When ISIS — a Sunni extremist group — rolled into Iraq, many in the Sunni population cooperated, viewing the group as the lesser of two evils.

The second element in the ISIS success story is their military strategy. Their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, spent four years as a prisoner in the Bucca Camp before assuming control of AQI (ISIS’s predecessor) in 2010. He seized upon the opportunity of the Syrian civil war to fuel a resurgence of the group. As a result, today’s ISIS militants are battle-hardened through their Syrian experience fighting moderate rebels. The Washington Post has described Baghdadi as “a shrewd strategist, a prolific fundraiser, and a ruthless killer.”

In Iraq, ISIS has adopted “an operational form that allows decentralized commanders to use their experienced fighters against the weakest points of its foes,” writes Robert Farley in The National Interest. “At the same time, the center retains enough operational control to conduct medium-to-long term planning on how to allocate forces, logistics, and reinforcements.” Their strategy — hitting their adversaries at their weakest points while avoiding fights they cannot win — has created a narrative of momentum that increases the group’s morale and prestige.

ISIS has also carved out a territory in Iraq that Shia and Kurdish forces will not fight and die to retake, an argument articulated by Kenneth Pollack at Brookings. ISIS has not tried to take Baghdad because they know they would lose; Shia forces would be motivated to expend blood and treasure to defeat ISIS on their home turf. Some experts believe the Kurds, likewise, are unlikely to commit forces to retake Sunni territory. This mentality also plays into the catastrophic performance of the Iraqi Security Forces at Mosul, forces composed disproportionately of Kurds and Sunni Arabs; when confronted with Sunni militants, these soldiers “were never going to fight to the death for Maliki and against Sunni militants looking to stop him,” writes Pollack.

Third, ISIS has also been able to seize key natural resources in Syria to fund their operations, probably making them one of the wealthiest terror groups in history. ISIS is in control of 60% of Syria’s oil assets, including the Al Omar, Tanak, and Shadadi oil fields. According to the US Treasury, the group’s oil sales are pulling in about $1 million a day. This enables ISIS to increasingly become “a hybrid organization, on the model of Hezbollah,” writes Steve Coll in The New Yorker — “part terrorist network, part guerrilla army, part proto-state.”

Finally, ISIS has developed a sophisticated social media campaign to “recruit, radicalize, and raise funds,” according to J. M. Berger in The Atlantic. The piece details ISIS’s Arabic-language Twitter app called The Dawn of Glad Tidings, advertised as a way to keep up on the latest news about the group. On the day ISIS marched into Mosul, the app sent almost 40,000 tweets. The group has displayed a lighter side to the militants, such as videos showing young children breaking their Ramadan fast with ISIS fighters. These strategies “project strength and promote engagement online” while also romanticizing their fight, attracting new recruits from around the world and inspiring lone wolf attacks.

Since June 2014, the United Sates has pursued a policy of offshore balancing — over-the-horizon air and naval power, Special Forces, and empowerment of local allies — to contain and undermine ISIS. The crucial local groups are the Sunni tribes. These leaders were responsible for the near-collapse of AQI during the Anbar Awakening, and could well be able to defeat ISIS in the future.

This is part two of a series of articles discussing ISIS. Part one is by Hanin Ghaddar, Lebanese journalist and editor. Part two is by Shadi Hamid, fellow at the Brookings Institution. Part three is by Charles Kurzman, Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Headline image credit: Coalition airstrike on ISIL position in Kobane on 22 October 2014. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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4. Immigration in the American west

The headline reads: “Border State Governor Issues Dire Warning about Flood of Undocumented Immigrants.” And here’s the gist of the story: In a letter to national officials, the governor of a border state sounded another alarm about unchecked immigration across a porous boundary with a neighboring country. In the message, one of several from border state officials, the governor acknowledged that his/her nation had once welcomed immigrants from its neighbor, but recent events taught how unwise that policy was. He/she insisted that many of the newcomers to his/her state were armed and dangerous criminals. Even those who came to work threatened to overwhelm the state’s resources and destabilize the social order.

Indeed, unlike earlier immigrants from the neighboring nation who had adapted to their new homeland and its traditions, more recent arrivals resisted assimilation. Instead, they continued to speak in their native tongue and maintain attachments to their former nation, sometimes carrying their old flag in public demonstrations. Worse still, the governor admitted that his/her nation seemed unwilling to “arrest” the flow of these undocumented aliens. Yet, unless the “incursions” were halted, the “daring strangers,” who are “gradually outnumbering and displacing us,” would turn us into “strangers in our own land.”

Today’s headline? It could be. The governor’s fears certainly ring familiar. Indeed, the warning sounds a lot like ones issued by Governor Rick Perry of Texas or Jan Brewer of Arizona. But this particular alarm emanated from California. That might make Pete Wilson the author of this message. Back in the 1990s, he was very vocal about the dangers that illegal immigration posed to his state and the United States. As governor, Wilson championed the “Save Our State” ballot initiative that cut illegal aliens from access to state benefits such as subsidized health care and public education. He campaigned on behalf of the initiative (Proposition 187) and made it a centerpiece of his 1994 re-election campaign.

Wilson, however, was not the source of the letter cited above. In fact, this warning dates back to 1845, almost 150 years before Proposition 187 appeared on the scene. Its author was Pio Pico, governor of the still Mexican state of California.

The unsanctioned immigrants about whom Pico worried were from the United States. Pico had reason to be concerned, especially as he reflected on events in Texas. There, the Mexican government had opted to encourage immigration from the United States. Beginning in the 1820s and continuing into the 1830s, Americans, primarily from the southern United States, poured into Texas.

Map of  CA, NV, UT and western AZ when they were part of Mexico"California1838" by DigbyDalton - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Map of CA, NV, UT and western AZ when they were part of Mexico, “California1838″, by DigbyDalton. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

By the mid-1830s, they outnumbered Tejanos (people with Mexican roots) by almost ten to one. Demanding provincial autonomy, the Americans clashed with Mexican authorities determined to enforce the rule of the national government. In 1836, a rebellion commenced, and Texans won their war of secession. Nine years later, the United States annexed Texas. And now, claimed Pico, many officials of the United States government openly coveted California, their expansionist designs abetted by American immigrants to California.

In retrospect, the policy of promoting American immigration into northern Mexico looks as dangerous as Pico deemed it and as counterintuitive as it has seemed to subsequent generations. Why invite Americans in if a chief goal was to keep the United States out? Still, the policy did not appear so paradoxical at the time. There were, in fact, encouraging precedents. Spain had attempted something similar in the Louisiana Territory in the 1790s, though the territory’s transfer back to France and then to the United States had aborted that experiment. More enduring was what the British had done in Upper Canada (now Ontario). Americans who crossed that border proved themselves amenable to a shift in loyalties, which showed how tenuous national attachments remained in these years. From this, others could draw lessons: the keys to gaining and holding the affection of American transplants was to protect them from Indians, provide them with land on generous terms, require little from them in the way of taxes, and interfere minimally in their private pursuits.

For a variety of reasons, Mexico had trouble abiding by these guidelines, and, in response, Americans did not abide by Mexican rules. In Texas, American immigrants destabilized Mexican rule. In California, as Pico feared, the “daring strangers” overwhelmed the Mexican population, though the brunt of the American rush did not commence until after the discovery of gold in 1848. By then, Mexico had already lost its war with the United States and ceded California. Very soon, men like Pio Pico found themselves strangers in their own land.

Featured image credit: “Map of USA highlighting West”. CC-BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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5. Replication redux and Facebook data

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

Recently I asked Nathaniel Beck to write about his experiences with research replication. His essay, published on 24 August 2014 on the OUPblog, concluded with a brief discussion of a recent experience of his when he tried to obtain replication data from the authors of a recent study published in PNAS, on an experiment run on Facebook regarding social contagion. Since then the story of Neal’s efforts to obtain this replication material have taken a few interesting twists and turns, so I asked Neal to provide an update — because the lessons from his efforts to get the replication data from this PNAS study are useful for the continued discussion of research transparency in the social sciences.

Replication redux, by Nathaniel Beck

When I last wrote about replication for the OUPblog in August (“Research Replication in Social Science”), there was one smallish open question (about my own work) and one biggish question (on whether I would ever see the Kramer et al., “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks”, replication file, which was “in the mail”). The Facebook story is interesting, so I start with that.

After not hearing from Adam Kramer of Facebook, even after contacting PNAS, I persisted with both the editor of PNAS (Inder Verma, who was most kind) and with the NAS through “well connected” friends. (Getting replication data should not depend on knowing NAS members!). I was finally contacted by Adam Kramer, who offered that I could come out to Palo Alto to look at the replication data. Since Facebook did not offer to fly me out, I said no. I was then offered a chance to look at the replication files in the Facebook office 4 blocks from NYU, so I accepted. Let me stress that all dealings with Adam Kramer were highly cordial, and I assume that delays were due to Facebook higher ups who were dealing with the human subjects firestorm related to the Kramer piece.

When I got to the Facebook office I was asked to sign a standard non-disclosure agreement, which I dec. To my surprise this was not a problem, with the only consequence being that a security officer would have had to escort me to the bathroom. I then was put in a room with a Facebook secure notebook with the data and R-studio loaded; Adam Kramer was there to answer questions, and I was also joined by a security person and an external relations person. All were quite pleasant, and the security person and I could even discuss the disastrous season being suffered by Liverpool.

I was given a replication file which was a data frame which had approximately 700,000 rows (one for each respondent) and 7 columns containing the number of positive and negative words used by each respondent as well as the total word count of each respondent, percentages based on these numbers, experimental condition. and a variable which omitted some respondents for producing the tables. This is exactly the data frame that would have been put in an archive since it contained all the data needed to replicate the article. I also was given the R-code that produced every item in the article. I was allowed to do anything I wanted with that data, and I could copy the results into a file. That file was then checked by Facebook people and about two weeks later I received the entire file I created. All good, or at least as good as it is going to get.

Intel team inside Facebook data center. Intel Free Press. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Intel team inside Facebook data center. Intel Free Press. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The data frame I played with was based on aggregating user posts so each user had one row of data, regardless of the number of posts (and the data frame did not contain anything more than the total number of words posted). I can understand why Facebook did not want to give me the data frame, innocuous as it seemed; those who specialize in de-de-identifying private data and reverse engineering code are quite good these days, and I can surely understand Facebook’s reluctance to have this raw data out there. And I understand why they could not give me all the actual raw data, which included how feeds were changed and so forth; this is the secret sauce that they would not like reverse engineered.

I got what I wanted. I could see their code, could play with density plots to get a sense of words used, I could change the number of extreme points dropped, and I could have moved to a negative binomial instead of a Poisson. Satisfied, I left after about an hour; there are only so many things one can do with one experiment on two outcomes. I felt bad that Adam Kramer had to fly to New York, but I guess this is not so horrible. Had the data been more complicated I might have felt that I could not do everything I wanted, and running a replication with 3 other people in a room is not ideal (especially given my typing!).

My belief is that that PNAS and the authors could simply have had a different replication footnote. This would have said that the code used (about 5 lines of R, basically a call to a Poisson regression using GLM) is available at a dataverse. In addition, they could have noted that the GLM called used the data frame I described, with the summary statistics for that data frame. Readers could then see what was done, and I can see no reason for such a procedure to bother Facebook (though I do not speak for them). I also note a clear statement on a dataverse would have obviated the need for some discussion. Since bytes are cheap, the dataverse could also contain whatever policy statement Facebook has on replication data. This (IMHO) is much better than the “contact the authors for replication data” footnote that was published. It is obviously up to individual editors as to whether this is enough to satisfy replication standards, but at least it is better than the status quo.

What if I didn’t work four blocks from Astor Place? Fortunately I did not have to confront this horror. How many other offices does Facebook have? Would Adam Kramer have flown to Peoria? I batted this around, but I did most of the batting and the Facebook people mostly did no comment. So someone else will have to test this issue. But for me, the procedure worked. Obviously I am analyzing lots more proprietary data, and (IMHO) this is a good thing. So Facebook, et al., and journal editors and societies have many details to work out. But, based on this one experience, this can be done. So I close this with thanks to Adam Kramer (but do remind him that I have had auto-responders to email for quite while now).

On the more trivial issue of my own dataverse, I am happy to report that almost everything that was once on an a private ftp site is now on my Harvard dataverse. Some of this was already up because of various co-authors who always cared about replication. And on stuff that was not up, I was lucky to have a co-author like Jonathan Katz, who has many skills I do not possess (and is a bug on RCS and the like, which beats my “I have a few TB and the stuff is probably hidden there somewhere”). So everything is now on the dataverse, except for one data set that we were given for our 1995 APSR piece (and which Katz never had). Interestingly, I checked the original authors’ web sites (one no longer exists, one did not go back nearly that far) and failed to make contact with either author. Twenty years is a long time! So everyone should do both themselves and all of us a favor, and build the appropriate dataverse files contemporaneously with the work. Editors will demand this, but even with this coercion, this is just good practice. I was shocked (shocked) at how bad my own practice was.

Heading image: Wikimedia Foundation Servers-8055 24 by Victorgrigas. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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6. ISIS’s unpredictable revolution

The editors of Oxford Islamic Studies Online asked several experts the following question:

The world has watched as ISIS (ISIL, the “Islamic State”) has moved from being a small but extreme section of the Syrian opposition to a powerful organization in control of a large swath of Iraq and Syria. Even President Obama recently admitted that the US was surprised by the success of ISIS in that region. Why have they been so successful, and why now?

Sociologist Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina shares his thoughts.

Revolutions have been surprising experts for generations. After the Iranian Revolution of 1979, for example, the CIA commissioned a report into why it had predicted, 100 days before the fall of the monarchy, that the Shah‘s regime would ride out the protests. During the “Arab Spring” uprisings in 2011, President Obama reportedly chastized the intelligence community for not having warned him in advance. Academics have a similarly checkered track record.

The reason is that revolutions are inherently unpredictable. They depend on the interactions and perceptions of large numbers of people at moments of confusion when normal routines and institutions are breaking down.

After a revolution, though, it is common to demand explanations that make the unexpected seem inevitable. Many experts are happy to satisfy our desire for a causal narrative, selecting evidence from the run-up to revolution that might serve as a sort of retroactive prediction.

So why did a revolutionary group calling itself al-Daula al-Islamiyya fi’l-’Iraq wa’l-Sham (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) manage to occupy territory in Syria and Iraq in 2013 and 2014? I might point to its extreme violence (though the Iraqi and Syrian governments were capable of extreme violence as well), or its ideology of self-sacrifice (also visible among other Syrian revolutionary groups), or the support it received from foreign governments (no greater than the support that the governments received), or its leaders’ strategic brilliance (knowable only post hoc), or any number of other factors. These are stories we tell to make ourselves feel that the world is an orderly place, where even the events we find most outrageous or troubling can be tamed through the causal logic of social science.

The real story of the revolution is that one group with weapons persuaded other groups with weapons to surrender or retreat, instead of shooting back. It persuaded large numbers of unarmed civilians to obey them or flee, instead of mobbing the revolutionaries and handing them over to other groups with guns. Those moments of conquest, enacted in confusion and panic with lives on the line—that is how this revolution occurred.

This is part two of a series of articles discussing ISIS. Part one is by Hanin Ghaddar, Lebanese journalist and editor. Part two is by Shadi Hamid, fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Headline image: Yemeni Protests 4-Apr-2011 by Email4mobile. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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7. The Ku Klux Klan in history and today

American Experience asked sociologist and Ku Klux Klan scholar David Cunningham to provide responses to the five questions he is most frequently asked about the Klan. The author of Klansville, U.S.A.: The Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights-Era KKK, Cunningham is Professor and Chair of Sociology at Brandeis University.

Before discussing the most pressing questions people tend to have about the KKK, let me add some background for basic context. The Ku Klux Klan was first formed in 1866, through the efforts of a small band of Confederate veterans in Tennessee. Quickly expanding from a localized membership, the KKK has become perhaps the most resonant representation of white supremacy and racial terror in the United States. Part of the KKK’s enduring draw is that it refers not to a single organization, but rather to a collection of groups bound by use of now-iconic racist symbols — white hoods, flowing sheets, fiery crosses — and a predilection for vigilante violence. The Klan’s following has tended to rise and fall in cycles often referred to as “waves.” The original KKK incarnation was largely halted following federal legislation targeting Klan-perpetrated violence in the early 1870s. The Klan’s second — and largest — wave peaked in the 1920s, with KKK membership numbering in the millions. Following the second-wave Klan’s dissolution in the early 1940s, self-identified KKK groups also built sizable followings during the 1960s, in reaction to the rising Civil Rights Movement. Various incarnations have continued to mobilize since — often through blended affiliations with neo-Nazi, neo-Confederate, and Christian Identity organizations — but in small numbers and without significant impact on mainstream politics.

The American Experience documentary Klansville, U.S.A. focuses on the civil rights-era KKK and tells the story of Bob Jones, the most successful Klan organizer since World War II. Beginning in 1963, Jones took over the North Carolina leadership of the South’s preeminent KKK organization, the United Klans of America, and by 1965 his “Carolina Klan” boasted more than 10,000 members across the state, more than the rest of the South combined. Jones’ story illuminates our understanding of the KKK’s long history generally, and in particular provides a lens to consider the questions that follow.

How big a threat is the KKK in the United States today?

In an important sense, this may be the key question about the KKK and whether we should still worry, or care, about the Klan today. Likely for that reason, literally every discussion I’ve had about the Klan — whether in classrooms, community events, radio interviews, or cocktail parties — comes around to some version of this concern. I typically respond, in short, that a greater number of KKK organizations exist today than at any other point in the group’s long history, but that nearly all of these groups are small, marginal, and lacking in meaningful political or social influence.

KKK preparing a cross to be burned in Jackson County, in SE Ohio, in the fall of 1987. By Paul M. Walsh. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
KKK preparing a cross to be burned in Jackson County, in SE Ohio, in the fall of 1987. By Paul M. Walsh. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I might add two caveats to that reassuring portrait, however. The first is that marginal, isolated extremist cells themselves can become breeding grounds for unpredictable violence. At the peak of his 1960s influence, Bob Jones would often tell reporters that, if they were truly concerned about violence perpetrated by Klan members, their greatest fear should be that he would disband the KKK, leaving individual members to commit mayhem free from the structure imposed by the group. As Jones’ followers committed hundreds of terrorist acts authorized by KKK leadership, his claim was of course disingenuous, but it also contained a grain of truth: Jones and his fellow leaders did dissuade members — many of whom combined rabid racism with unstable aggression — from engaging in violence not approved by the KKK hierarchy. In the absence of a broader organization with much to lose from a crack-down by authorities, racist violence can be much more difficult to prevent or police.

The second caveat stems from KKK’s history of emerging and receding in pronounced “waves.” Between the group’s periods of peak influence — say, during the 1880s, or in the 1940s, or the 1980s — the Klan’s fortunes have always appeared moribund. But in each case, some “reborn” version of the KKK has managed to rebound and survive. So, while today the KKK appears an anachronism and, perhaps, less of a threat than other brands of racist hate, we still should vigilantly oppose racist entrepreneurs who seek to exploit the historical cachet of the KKK to organize new campaigns advancing white supremacist ends. To me, this is one primary lesson from the KKK’s past, and a compelling reason not to forget or dismiss the enduring relevance of that history.

Has the KKK had any lasting political impact?

By most straightforward measures, the KKK appears a failed social movement. Despite the Klan’s political inroads during the 1920s, when millions of its members succeeded in electing hundreds of KKK-backed candidates to local, state, and even federal office, the group proved unable to preserve its influence at the ballot box beyond that decade. Later KKK waves have never been able to deliver on promises to rebuild this influential Klan voting bloc. Bob Jones’ Carolina Klan came the closest to winning such influence, with mainstream candidates currying favor (sometimes publicly, and more often covertly at Klan rallies and other events) with Jones and other leaders in 1964 and 1968. But that effort appeared short-lived, with both Jones and the Carolina Klan all but disappearing by the early 1970s.

More generally, the KKK’s commitment to white supremacy, most clearly realized through Jim Crow-style segregation that endured for decades in the South, has by any formal measure receded as a real possibility in the United States. However, in less overt ways, the KKK’s impact can still be felt. Recent studies that I’ve undertaken with fellow sociologists Rory McVeigh and Justin Farrell have demonstrated how counties in which the KKK was active during the 1960s differ from those in which the Klan never gained a foothold in two important ways.

First, counties in which the Klan was present during the civil rights era continue to exhibit higher rates of violent crime. This difference endures even 40 years after the movement itself disappeared, and certainly isn’t explained by the fact that former Klansmen themselves commit more crimes. Instead, the Klan’s impact operates more broadly, through the corrosive effect that organized vigilantism has on the overall community. By flouting law and order, a culture of vigilantism calls into question the legitimacy of established authorities and weakens bonds that normally serve to maintain respect and order among community members. Once fractured, such bonds are difficult to repair, which explains why even today we see elevated rates of violent crime in former KKK strongholds.

Second, past Klan presence also helps to explain the most significant shift in regional voting patterns since 1950: the South’s pronounced move toward the Republican Party. While support for Republican candidates has grown region-wide since the 1960s, we find that such shifts have been significantly more pronounced in areas in which the KKK was active. The Klan helped to produce this effect by encouraging voters to move away from Democratic candidates who were increasingly supporting civil rights reforms, and also by pushing racial conflicts to the fore and more clearly aligning those issues with party platforms. As a result, by the 1990s, racially-conservative attitudes among southerners strongly correlates with Republican support, but only in areas where the KKK had been active.

Is the KKK a movement mostly in the rural South?

While many of the Klan’s most infamous acts of deadly violence — including the 1964 Freedom Summer killings, the 1965 murder of civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo, and the 1981 lynching of Michael Donald that led to the 1987 lawsuit that ultimately put the United Klans of America out of business for good — occurred in the Deep South, during the 1920s the KKK was truly a national movement, with urban centers like Detroit, Portland, Denver, and Indianapolis boasting tens of thousands of members and significant political influence.

Even in the 1960s, when the KKK’s public persona seemed synonymous with Mississippi and Alabama, more dues-paying Klan members resided in North Carolina than the rest of the South combined. KKK leaders found the Tar Heel State fertile recruiting ground, despite — or perhaps because of — the state’s progressive image, which enabled the Klan to claim that they were the only group that would defend white North Carolinians against rising civil rights pressures. While this message resonated in rural areas across the state’s eastern coastal plain, the KKK built a significant following in cities like Greensboro and Raleigh as well.

Today, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports active KKK groups in 41 states, though nearly all of those groups remain marginal with tiny memberships. So, while the KKK originated after the Civil War as a distinctly southern effort to preserve the antebellum racial order, its presence has extended well beyond that region throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

Why do KKK members wear white hoods and burn crosses?

Some of the most recognizable Klan symbols date back to the group’s origins following the Civil War. The KKK’s white hoods and robes evolved from early efforts to pose as ghosts or “spectral” figures, drawing on then-resonant symbols in folklore to play “pranks” against African-Americans and others. Such tricks quickly took on more politically sinister overtones, as sheeted Klansmen would commonly terrorize their targets, using hoods and masks to disguise their identities when carrying out acts of violence under the cover of darkness.

Birth of a Nation theatrical poster. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Birth of a Nation theatrical poster. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Fiery crosses, perhaps the Klan’s most resonant symbol, have a more surprising history. No documented cross burnings occurred during the first Klan wave in the 19th century. However, D.W. Griffith’s epic 1915 film The Birth of a Nation, which adapted Thomas F. Dixon, Jr.’s novels The Clansman and The Leopard’s Spots to portray the KKK as heroic defenders of the Old South and white womanhood generally, drew on material from The Clansman to depict a cross-burning scene. The symbol was quickly appropriated by opportunistic KKK leaders to help spur the group’s subsequent “rebirth.”

Through the 1960s, Klan leaders regularly depicted the cross as embodying the KKK’s Christian roots — a means to spread the light of Jesus into the countryside. A bestselling 45rpm record put out by United Klans of America included the Carolina Klan’s Bob Jones reciting how the fiery cross served as a “symbol of sacrifice and service, and a sign of the Christian Religion sanctified and made holy nearly 19 centuries ago, by the suffering and blood of 50 million martyrs who died in the most holy faith.” He emphasized cross burnings as “driv[ing] away darkness and gloom… by the fire of the Cross we mean to purify and cleanse our virtues by the fire on His Sword.” Such grandiose rhetoric, of course, could not dispel the reality that the KKK frequently deployed burning crosses as a means of terror and intimidation, and also as a spectacle to draw supporters and curious onlookers to their nightly rallies, which always climaxed with the ritualized burning of a cross that often extended 60 or 70 feet into the sky.

Has the KKK always functioned as a violent terrorist group?

The KKK’s emphasis on violence and intimidation as a means to defend its white supremacist ends has been the primary constant across its various “waves.” Given the group’s brutal history, validating Klan apologists who minimize the group’s terroristic legacy makes little sense. However, during the periods of peak KKK successes in both the 1920s and 1960s, when Klan organizations were often significant presences in many communities, their appeal was predicated on connecting the KKK to varied aspects of members’ and supporters’ lives.

Such efforts meant that, in the 1920s, alongside the KKK’s political campaigns, members also marched in parades with Klan floats, pursued civic campaigns to support temperance, public education, and child welfare, and hosted a range of social events alongside women’s and youth Klan auxiliary groups. Similarly, during the civil rights era, many were drawn to the KKK’s militance, but also to leaders’ promises to offer members “racially pure” weekend fish frys, turkey shoots, dances, and life insurance plans. In this sense, the Klan served as an “authentically white” social and civic outlet, seeking to insulate members from a changing broader world.

The Klan’s undoing in both of these eras related in part to Klan leaders’ inability to maintain the delicate balancing act between such civic and social initiatives and the group’s association with violence and racial terror. Indeed, in the absence of the latter, the Klan’s emphasis on secrecy and ritual would have lost much of its nefarious mystique, but KKK-style lawlessness frequently went hand-in-hand with corruption among its own leaders. More importantly, Klan violence also often resulted in a backlash against the group, both from authorities and among the broader public.

This article first appeared on PBS American Experience.

Heading image: Altar with K eagle in black robe at a meeting of nearly 30,000 Ku Klux Klan members from Chicago and northern Illinois. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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8. The Civil Rights era and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan

In the 1960s, the South, was rife with racial tension. The Supreme Court had just declared, in its landmark case Brown vs. Board of Education, that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, and the country was in the midst of a growing Civil Rights Movement. In response to these events, Ku Klux Klan activity boomed, reaching an intensity not seen since the 20s, when they boasted over four million members. Surprisingly, North Carolina, which had been one of the more progressive Southern states, had the largest and most active Klan membership — greater than the rest of the South combined — earning it the nickname “Klansville, USA”. This slideshow features images from the time of the Civil Rights-era Klan.

Be sure to check out the American Experience documentary Klansville U.S.A. airing Tuesday, 13 January on PBS.

Heading image: The Ku Klux Klan on parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, 1928. U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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9. Charlie Hebdo: News and Notes

The Charlie Hebdo murders, and the subsequent shoot outs and man hunts, have led to an unprecedented discussion over the role of satire, art and cartooning. It is also, of course, a horrific event that will change tactics against terrorism within France and elsewhere. Much has been written, and while it has often seemed the occasion for airing out whatever personal feelings many commenters already had, there also been much that is thoughtful and worth examining. The “Je suis Charlie” show of solidarity remains controversial and widespread—at the Golden Globes Jared Leto gave a clumsy reading while George Clooney gave it a more nuanced shout out, if that’s possible.

People are struggling to deal with this, and as they struggle they show their work on the internet. And here’s some of it.

§ in France, more than a million people marched to protest terrorism.

Responding to terrorist strikes that killed 17 people in France and riveted worldwide attention, Jews, Muslims, Christians, atheists and people of all races, ages and political stripes swarmed central Paris beneath a bright blue sky, calling for peace and an end to violent extremism.The Interior Ministry described the demonstration as the largest in modern French history, with as many as 1.6 million people. Many waved the tricolor French flag and brandished pens in raised fists to commemorate those killed Wednesday in an attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, as well as four others killed at a Jewish supermarket on Friday. Thousands hoisted black and white signs bearing three words that have ricocheted through social media as a slogan of unity and defiance: “Je suis Charlie.”


crumb hebdo 680 Charlie Hebdo: News and Notes

 Charlie Hebdo: News and Notes

§ Probably the most seen cartoonist reaction was R. Crumb’s, above, (followed by Aline Kominsky-Crumb’s).

And, in a perfect example of the long-simmering axe grinding I alluded to above, Crumb used his cartoon as the chance to rag on animator Ralph Bakshi, whose cartoon adaptation of Fritz the Cat back in the day did not please Crumb. Anyway, this was followed by a long interview with Crumb in the Observer. MUST READ!

We don’t have a context for this tradition here, merciless, political satire. One thing I keep noticing is commentators here are pointing out that the cartoons were very offensive and insulting. It’s as if we don’t understand that was by design. Very intentionally offensive, and very clear about why that couldn’t be compromised. That’s the part we don’t get, as Americans. It’s like, “Why did they have to be so mean?” It’s a French thing, yeah, and they value that very highly here, which is why there’s like a huge amount of sympathy for the killing of those guys, you know, huge demonstrations and crowds in Paris – people holding up signs that say, “Je suis Charlie.” Even here in the village where I live, we had a demonstration yesterday out in front of the town hall. About 30 people showed up and held up “Je suis Charlie” signs. Were you there? Yeah, I went to it, sure. Since I’m the village cartoonist, I had to go. [Laughs.]


Related, Crumb’s old publisher Ron Turner, stands up for satire’s right to be offensive.


d0756ef456b8b79ffd867cb549a4a32b0e2e5fea Charlie Hebdo: News and Notes

§ For a reaction even closer to the scene, sometime Hebdo contributor Dutch cartoonist Willem came out with a very colorful reaction, namely “We vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends.”

“We have a lot of new friends, like the pope, Queen Elizabeth and (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. It really makes me laugh,” Bernard Holtrop, whose pen name is Willem, told the Dutch centre-left daily Volkskrant in an interview published Saturday. France’s far-right National Front leader “Marine Le Pen is delighted when the Islamists start shooting all over the place,” said Willem, 73, a longtime Paris resident who also draws for the French leftist daily Liberation.

The 72 year old Willem added “I never come to the editorial meetings because I don’t like them. I guess that saved my life.”

Personal note: It’s encouraging to see an old guy like Willem defiant and subversive down the wire. He was the Grand Prix winner for the Angouleme festival I attended last year, and, he’s quite a character.

§ Current Charlie Hebdo staffer Luz was late to the editorial meeting that day and that saved his life. He was interviewed by a French paper.

When I started drawing, I always thought we were safe, as we were drawing pseudo Mickey Mouse. Now, after the deaths, the shoot outs, the violence, everything has changed. All eyes are on us, we’ve become a symbol, just like our cartoons. Humanité headlined “Liberty has been assassinated” above the cover I did on Houellebecq that, even if there’s some substance there, is a quip at Houellebecq. A huge symbolic weight, that doesn’t exist in our cartoons and is somewhat beyond us, has been put on our shoulders. I’m one amongst many who’s finding that difficult.


§ Cynthia Rose was visiting Paris last week and has a moving account of her experiences.

joesaccoonsatire1200 Charlie Hebdo: News and Notes

§ Joe Sacco’s cartoon in the Guardian warning against the dangers of reinforcing bigotry through satire has been widely seen and quoted. It’s a powerful argument against the anything goes attitude that Charlie Hebdo engaged in—an attitude which make many uncomfortable with the “Je suis Charlie” line.

§ Ruben Bolling responded with a call for context:

But I was especially disappointed in the final three panels, in which he asks us to consider why Muslims can’t “laugh off a mere image.”  Well, just as it’s hard for us to know the full editorial intent of Charlie Hebdo from a few re-published out-of-context cartoons, it’s even more difficult to know whether or not Muslims are unable to laugh off these mere images.  

It was not the Muslim community that killed those twelve people, it was two gunmen.  I don’t know how outraged Muslims were at Charlie Hebdo, but I would imagine their responses would be as greatly varied as they are irrelevant to the murders.

One thing that has emerged as more views have been aired is that it is difficult for mere bystanders to understand the place that Charlie Hebdo held in French society. Arab satirist Karl Sharro works his way through this at The Atlantic:

The culture-clash interpretation of the horror in Paris transcends political divides in the West. On the right, some claim that Muslims’ beliefs are incompatible with modernity and Western values. On the left, some construe the attack as a retaliation for severe offenses, essentially suggesting that Muslims are incapable of responding rationally to such offenses and that it is therefore best not to provoke them. The latter explanation is dressed up in the language of social justice and marginalization, but is, at its core, a patronizing view of ordinary Muslims and their capacity to advocate for their rights without resorting to nihilistic violence. This outlook also promotes the idea that Muslims and other people of Middle Eastern origin are defined primarily by their religion, which in turn devalues and demeans the attempts of Arab and Middle Eastern secularists to define themselves through varying interpretations of religion or even by challenging religion and its role in public life. By seeking to present religion as a form of cultural identity that should be protected from offense and critique, Western liberals are consequently undermining the very struggles against the authority of inherited institutions through which much of the Western world’s social and political progress was achieved.

§ French satirist Oliver Tourneau has written On Charlie Hebdo: A letter to my British friends which attempts to contextualise Charlie Hebdo for those of us who don’t quite get now it fits in to the very active place of intellectualism in French life and politics. Charlie Hebdo was considered very leftist and PRO diversity…some of its most shocking images were apparently Stephen Colbert-like exaggerations of other trains of thought:

Firstly, a few words on Charlie Hebdo, which was often “analyzed” in the British press on the sole basis, apparently, of a few selected cartoons. It might be worth knowing that the main target of Charlie Hebdo was the Front National and the Le Pen family. Next came crooks of all sorts, including bosses and politicians (incidentally, one of the victims of the shooting was an economist who ran a weekly column on the disasters caused by austerity policies in Greece).  Finally, Charlie Hebdo was an opponent of all forms of organized religions, in the old-school anarchist sense: Ni Dieu, ni maître! They ridiculed the pope, orthodox Jews and Muslims in equal measure and with the same biting tone. They took ferocious stances against the bombings of Gaza. Even if their sense of humour was apparently inacceptable to English minds, please take my word for it: it fell well within the French tradition of satire – and after all was only intended for a French audience. It is only by reading or seeing it out of context that some cartoons appear as racist or islamophobic. Charlie Hebdo also continuously denounced the pledge of minorities and campaigned relentlessly for all illegal immigrants to be given permanent right of stay. I hope this helps you understand that if you belong to the radical left, you have lost precious friends and allies.

§ Finally, splitting the difference, here’s an overview called The Problem With #JeSuisCharlie by Chad Parkhill.

§ And Asterix co-creator Albert  Uderzu came out of retirement to show his solidarity with eh slain cartoonists:

Asterix2 Charlie Hebdo: News and Notes

Asterix1 Charlie Hebdo: News and Notes

§ Now, shifting gears into a very alarming direction, it seems that there has been an increase in threats against cartoonists since the murders. Cartoonists Rights has a frightening round-0up:

A newspaper in Germany which had reprinted several of the controversial Charlie Hebdo cartoons was firebombed Sunday January 11 in possible retaliation.

And in Turkey, journalist Pinar Tremblay of Al-Monitor reports of threats referencing the Hebdo killings targeting that country’s cartoonists and satirical magazines. One satirist reports being told to watch the news coverage of Charlie Hebdo’s slain cartoonists “to take a sneak peak at my own future.”

The Istanbul-based satirical magazine Leman, which is planning a tribute issue commemorating its Charlie Hebdo colleagues, received a tweet saying “The number of heads to be taken out in Leman magazine is more than 12.”


§ And there was an ugly incident involving the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris last week Haaretz published a daring cartoon juxtaposing journalists* killed in Gaza by Israel during the brutal summer slaughter with the journalists killed at the office of the satirical magazine in Paris. This set off a chain reaction which ultimately led to calls for murdering Haaretz journalists after Ronen Shoval, founder of the neo-Zionist and proto-fascist  Im Tirtzu movement, called for an investigation of the newspaper’s editors.

§ While everyone is now a defender of free speech, many calling for it have spotty track records in their own countries.

§ Wrapping this up, Tom Spurgeonhas a round-up of videos related to the killings.

§ And finally, on Tuesday, the New York Comics Symposium will represent a discussion of Charlie Hebdo.

Eddy Portnoy will revisit his 2012 presentation on “Cartoon Provocateurs: the non-existent red lines of Charlie Hebdo,” in light of this week’s deadly attack on the offices of the French satirical weekly. Also, a screening of documentary clips concerning the events surrounding the reprinting a set of 12 cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that had originally appeared in the Danish newspaper, Jyllands Posten in 2006, in addition to some of their own. Sued in 2007 for defamation of a religious community by the Great Mosque of Paris, the Union of Islamic Organizations of France and the World Muslim League, Charlie Hebdo mounted a vigorous defense and was ultimately absolved of any wrongdoing. A discussion will follow.

Be there and lets all learn more together.

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10. Charlie Hebdo and the end of the French exception

Today many are asking why Parisians have been attacked in their own city, and by their own people. But for many years the question for those following the issues of foreign policy and religion was why France had suffered so little terrorism in comparison to other European states. After the bombs on the Paris Metro and a TGV line in 1995, there were no significant Islamist attacks until the fire-bombing of the Charlie Hebdo office in November 2011, and the killings of three French soldiers (all of North African origin) and three Jewish children (and one teacher) by Mohamed Merah in Toulouse four months later. These attacks turn out to have been a warning of things to come.

But why was France free of such attacks for over fifteen years, when Madrid and London suffered endless plots and some major atrocities? Given the restrictions placed by successive governments on the foulard (headscarf) and the burka, together with the large French Muslim population (around 10% of the 64 million total), the country would seem to have been fertile ground for fundamentalist anger and terrorist outrages.

One view is that the French authorities were tougher and more effective than, say, the British who allowed Algerian extremists fleeing France after 1995 to find shelter in the Finsbury Park Mosque — to the fury of French officials. Another line is that the French secular model of integration, with no recognition of minorities or enthusiasm for multiculturalism, did actually work. Thus when riots took place in 2005 the alienated youth of the banlieues demanded jobs, fairness, and decent housing — not respect for Islam or Palestinian rights.

A third possible explanation of the long lull before this week’s storm is that French foreign policy had not provoked the kind of anger felt in Spain and Britain by their countries’ roles in the Iraq war, which France, Germany, and some other European states had clearly opposed. Although France had an important role in the allied operations in Afghanistan, its profile was not especially high. Given the slow-changing nature of international reputations the image of France as a friend of Arab states and of the Palestinians endured, while Britain drew hostile attention as the leading ally of the United States in the ‘war against terror’. France, again unlike Britain and the United States, has tended to be pragmatic in negotiations with those who have taken its citizens hostage abroad, facilitating the payment of ransoms and getting them home safely. Its policy was that payments, and the risk of encouraging further captures, were preferable to providing the Islamists with global publicity.

Naturally no single explanation can account for the French exception, which has now come to such a dramatic end. It was a combination of factors that kept the domestic peace. Strong security measures put many jihadists in gaol, or forced them abroad. Civic nationalism emphasising Frenchness and discouraging the overt celebration of different languages and ways of life meant that unrest over deprivation never morphed into what Olivier Roy called an intifada. An adroit foreign policy emphasising distance from the United States despite quiet cooperation on many issues kept France out of the front line of Islamist anger. If any one of these three factors had been absent, things could have been very different.

So what has changed now? It may be that the security services simply got complacent. This seems unlikely given that when French counter-terror sources have always talked of an attack they have said ‘it is not a question of if, but when’. They are aware that the nature of jihadism is to plant operators wherever they can be hidden, without discriminating between good and bad societies – although it is notable that there have been relatively few attacks in Scandinavia, or in countries like Ireland, Italy, or Portugal.

Arrivée de la marche dans le quartier place de la Nation, à Paris, 11 January 2015. Photo by JJ Georges. CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Arrivée de la marche dans le quartier place de la Nation, à Paris, 11 January 2015. Photo by JJ Georges. CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

France must expect more plots, of which some will probably come to fruition. The threats may be increasing because of the lagged effects of alienation among those second and third generation young people, French by nationality but North African by family origin, who feel that the country has not lived up to the ideals of fraternity and equality, thus depriving them of the opportunity to get jobs, decent housing – and respect. A significant proportion of these youngsters, living well away from the stylish ‘centre villes’ admired by foreign tourists, have come to find their identity not in French secularism, as the official theory runs, but in Islam. And some, especially those with few personal or family strengths to hold on to, have found self-validation in radical, even violent, fundamentalism. It requires very few to take this path, in a Muslim community of around six million, to represent a serious threat.

But whom would they wish to attack, and why? It is to be doubted that they are like the Red Army Faction in Germany forty years ago, aiming to overthrow a whole decadent society and replace it with something radically different – even if they probably would like to live under Sharia law. However horrifying they seem they are not, with isolated exceptions, mad or merely criminal. To be sure they are capable of acts of violence against unarmed people, which most regard as psychotic, and they have to be dealt with under the criminal law – unless killing them is the only way to save other lives. But they are, in their own terms, rational actors. The Kouachi brothers said during their flight from the police that ‘we do not kill civilians’, despite having murdered twelve people working in the Charlie Hebdo offices, among them a maintenance man and a visitor. This was disingenuous and self-serving, but it revealed not only the familiar trope of the disaffected young that the police are their enemy, but also a consistent world view in which Charlie Hebdo had declared war on Muslims, and had to be ‘neutralisé’, in the euphemism employed by French ministers during the crisis.

This is where foreign policy comes in. Many Muslim citizens of European states are deeply offended, not only by what they see as the insulting blasphemy of Salman Rushdie or Charlie Hebdo, but also by the actions of Western governments in the Middle East. It is bad enough (in this view) that they effectively take Israel’s side against the Palestinians, but the launch of military attacks in Muslim countries that inevitably kill civilians, often in large numbers and with powerful images disseminated rapidly around the world, requires a response.

Most people, of course, of any religion and none, do nothing about the foreign policy events they see on television. A minority will engage in passionate but legal protest. A very small minority takes matters into its own hands, travelling to battlefields, receiving training in the use of arms or terrorism, and sometimes acting as sleepers in Western societies until they or some controller judges the moment to be right. By this point the values behind their view are beside the point; they see themselves as at war.

For some years France did not attract this kind of hostility, or if it did, the reactions took time to mature, and have only come to light since 2011. But in recent years both Sarkozy and Hollande have pursued a more ‘forward’ foreign policy, intervening first in Libya, then against Jihadists in Mali (after which one Malian jihadist said that ‘blood will run on the streets of Paris’), and in 2014 becoming involved in the bloody conflict which has engulfed Syria and parts of Iraq. This, perhaps together with the way the Arab Spring exposed France’s ties to autocratic Arab regimes, has predictably attracted attention from those whose targets had previously been other western states. France was the first US ally to join in air strikes against ISIL in September 2014, when Interior Minister Cazeneuve responded to threats to kill French citizens in retaliation by saying that the government was ‘not afraid’ and would protect its citizens.

Unfortunately no government can protect all its citizens all of the time. Furthermore the existence of a diverse, mobile, and fragmented society, containing groups sufficiently alienated to find identity in religion and a global movement of resistance rather than in the culture of their land of birth, represents a major source of vulnerability for France, as it does for Britain and others. When we add to the mix the seemingly endless wars in Muslim countries in which our governments are intervening, it becomes less strange that turbulence should boil over into tragedy.

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11. Ominous synergies: Iran’s nuclear weapons and a Palestinian state

“Defensive warfare does not consist of waiting idly for things to happen. We must wait only if it brings us visible and decisive advantages. That calm before the storm, when the aggressor is gathering new forces for a great blow, is most dangerous for the defender.”
–Carl von Clausewitz, Principles of War (1812)

For Israel, long beleaguered on many fronts, Iranian nuclear weapons and Palestinian statehood are progressing at approximately the same pace. Although this simultaneous emergence is proceeding without any coordinated intent, the combined security impact on Israel will still be considerable. Indeed, this synergistic impact could quickly become intolerable, but only if the Jewish State insists upon maintaining its current form of “defensive warfare.”

Iran and Palestine are not separate or unrelated hazards to Israel. Rather, they represent intersecting, mutually reinforcing, and potentially existential perils. It follows that Jerusalem must do whatever it can to reduce the expected dangers, synergistically, on both fronts. Operationally, defense must still have its proper place. Among other things, Israel will need to continually enhance its multilayered active defenses. Once facing Iranian nuclear missiles, a core component of the synergistic threat, Israel’s “Arrow” ballistic missile defense system would require a fully 100% reliability of interception.

There is an obvious problem. Any such needed level of reliability would be unattainable. Now, Israeli defense planners must look instead toward conceptualizing and managing long-term deterrence.

Even in the best of all possible strategic environments, establishing stable deterrence will present considerable policy challenges. The intellectual and doctrinal hurdles are substantially numerous and complex; they could quite possibly become rapidly overwhelming. Nonetheless, because of the expectedly synergistic interactions between Iranian nuclear weapons and Palestinian independence, Israel will soon need to update and further refine its overall strategy of deterrence.

Following the defined meaning of synergy, intersecting risks from two seemingly discrete “battle fronts,” or separate theatres of conflict, would actually be greater than the simple sum of their respective parts.

One reason for better understanding this audacious calculation has to do with expected enemy rationality. More precisely, Israel’s leaders will have to accept that certain more-or-less identifiable leaders of prospectively overlapping enemies might not always be able to satisfy usual standards of rational behavior.

With such complex considerations in mind, Israel must plan a deliberate and systematic move beyond the country’s traditionally defensive posture of deliberate nuclear ambiguity. By preparing to shift toward more prudentially selective and partial kinds of nuclear disclosure, Israel might better ensure that its still-rational enemies would remain subject to Israeli nuclear deterrence. Over time, such careful preparations could even prove indispensable.

Israeli planners will also need to understand that the efficacy or credibility of the country’s nuclear deterrence posture could vary inversely with enemy judgments of Israeli nuclear destructiveness. In these circumstances, however ironic, enemy perceptions of a too-large or too-destructive Israeli nuclear deterrent force, or of an Israeli force that is plainly vulnerable to first-strike attacks, could undermine this posture.

Israel’s adversaries, Iran especially, must consistently recognize the Jewish State’s nuclear retaliatory forces as penetration capable. A new state of Palestine would be non-nuclear itself, but could still present an indirect nuclear danger to Israel.

Israel does need to strengthen its assorted active defenses, but Jerusalem must also do everything possible to improve its core deterrence posture. In part, the Israeli task will require a steadily expanding role for advanced cyber-defense and cyber-war.

Above all, Israeli strategic planners should only approach the impending enemy threats from Iran and Palestine as emergently synergistic. Thereafter, it would become apparent that any combined threat from these two sources will be more substantial than the mere arithmetic addition of its two components. Nuanced and inter-penetrating, this prospectively combined threat needs to be assessed more holistically as a complex adversarial unity. Only then could Jerusalem truly understand the full range of existential harms now lying latent in Iran and Palestine.

Armed with such a suitably enhanced understanding, Israel could meaningfully hope to grapple with these unprecedented perils. Operationally, inter alia, this would mean taking much more seriously Carl von Clausewitz’s early warnings on “waiting idly for things to happen.” Interestingly, long before the Prussian military theorist, ancient Chinese strategist Sun-Tzu had observed in The Art of War, “Those who excel at defense bury themselves away below the lowest depths of the earth. Those who excel at offense move from above the greatest heights of Heaven. Thus, they are able to preserve themselves and attain complete victory.”

Unwittingly, Clausewitz and Sun-Tzu have left timely messages for Israel. Facing complex and potentially synergistic enemies in Iran and Palestine, Jerusalem will ultimately need to take appropriate military initiatives toward these foes. More or less audacious, depending upon what area strategic developments should dictate, these progressive initiatives may not propel Israel “above the greatest heights of Heaven,” but they could still represent Israel’s very best remaining path to long-term survival.

Headline image credit: Iranian Missile Found in Hands of Hezbollah by Israel Defense Forces (IDF). CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr.

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12. Ideology and a conducive political environment

The editors of Oxford Islamic Studies Online asked several experts the following question:

The world has watched as ISIS (ISIL, the “Islamic State”) has moved from being a small but extreme section of the Syrian opposition to a powerful organization in control of a large swath of Iraq and Syria. Even President Obama recently admitted that the US was surprised by the success of ISIS in that region. Why have they been so successful, and why now?

Shadi Hamid, fellow at the Brookings Institution, shares his thoughts.

ISIS is a “revolutionary” organization in a way that al-Qaeda and other like-minded extremist groups never were, and never really wanted to be. The “caliphate” — the historical political entity governed by Islamic law and tradition — might have been an inspiration as well as an aspiration, but it wasn’t actually going to happen in real life. The historical weight of the caliphate, and its symbolic power among even less Islamically-minded Muslims, was simply too much (and not only that, you needed a large enough swath of territory to establish one). ISIS, even if it was destroyed tomorrow morning, will have succeeded in removing the mental block of the “caliphate.” Now, anytime there’s an ungoverned, or ungovernable, space, a militant group will think to itself: should we try to capture a piece of territory and announce our own little emirate? And, well beyond the rarefied realm of extremist groups, ISIS has succeeded in injecting the word “caliphate” back into the public discourse. In Turkey, for example, various writers, while opposing ISIS’s particular version of the caliphate, have been willing to discuss the idea of a caliphate.

In this sense, the question of whether ISIS enjoys much popular support in the Muslim world — it doesn’t — is almost beside the point. ISIS doesn’t need to be popular to be successful. In June, around 800 militants were able to defeat an Iraqi force of 30,000 in Mosul, the country’s second largest city. Ideology, morale, and, crucially, the willingness to die are force multipliers. But ideology can only take you so far without a conducive political environment. ISIS itself was perhaps inevitable, but its rise to prominence was not. It has benefited considerably from the manifest failures of Arab governance, of an outdated regional order, and of an international community that was unwilling to act as Syria descended into savage repression and civil war.

Graeme Wood made an important point in one of the only pieces I’ve read that takes ISIS’s religious inspirations seriously: “ISIS’s meticulous use of language, and its almost pedantic adherence to its own interpretation of Islamic law, have made it a strange enemy, fierce and unyielding but also scholarly and predictable.” This is where ISIS’s aspirations to governance become critical, and where Obama’s description of the group as a “terrorist organization, pure and simple” seems both problematic and detached. Emphasizing the distinctive nature of ISIS — and getting it across — becomes difficult in a public discourse that is very focused on us and dealing with our Iraq demons.

This is part two of a series of articles discussing ISIS. Part one is by Hanin Ghaddar, Lebanese journalist and editor.

Headline image: Iraqi Army on patrol in Mosul, Iraq, February 2008. By Staff Sgt. Jason Robertson. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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13. Sacred and Sequential group releases statement on the Charlie Hebdo attack

 Sacred and Sequential group releases statement on the Charlie Hebdo attack

Art by Sarah McIntyre

Sacred and Sequential, a group of scholars who study the intersection of religion and comics has released a statement on Wednesday’s still reverberating attack on the officer of Charlie Hebo that left 12 dead. The statement was posted by A. David Lewis, author of The Superhero Afterlife.

Nothing can justify the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on January 7, 2015. Some of the cartoons published by the magazine were offensive and at times deemed Islamophobic, but that in no way legitimates violence. Charlie Hebdo had the right to publish what it did under the protection of free speech. Just as freedom of speech did not guarantee the victims of the attack immunity to criticism, the right to dissent does not include murder.

In the aftermath of yesterday’s killings, the response has been varied. New Yorkers took to Union Square to offer their support in an impromptu vigil. Cartoonists such as Sarah McIntyre and Carlos Latuff, politicians such as Barack Obama and David Cameron, and pundits across the planet have offered their support and condolences to the victims’ loved ones. Among those who have voiced their sadness and outrage are Muslim individuals and organizations from all over the world, such as the Union of Islamic Organizations of France, the Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR), and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA.

Others’ responses have been of a more combative tenor. Internationally, and on a far too familiar pattern, an imaginary “Islam,” simplistically conceived as a monolithic, murderous, West-hating, and terrorist ideology, has been blamed for the attacks. In some places, the response has not been limited to words but has spilled over into violent acts perpetrated against a number of sacred spaces and places of worship. Several French mosques and Muslim prayer halls have been subject to attacks, placing many innocent worshipers in the line of retaliatory fire for the actions of a select few.

“Islam” did not do this; adherents to a particular, marginal, and extreme interpretation of what Islam is and what it means to be a Muslim did. They do not represent the planet’s more than one billion self-identifying Muslims. Neither the Qur’an nor the traditions attributed to the Prophet of Islam uniformly oppose illustrations nor modern comics and cartooning. Moreover, wherever and however they are published, comics as a medium has no innate aversion to religion but, instead, is a fertile site of opportunity and engagement with all faiths and beliefs. We must conclude that these events cannot be attributed to Islam as a religion nor to comics as a medium. Protecting this art and its artists is just as necessary as protecting Islam and Muslims from reduction to ideological extremism.

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14. The cartooning world—and the rest of the world—reacts to the Charlie Hebdo attack

January 7th, 2015 will always be a grim date in for free speech, tolerance and French cartooning. As we all know, 12 people, including 10 staffers and four cartoonists were killed in a terrorist attack on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo yesterday morning. The attack—which some called the 9/11 for France—left grieving and reeling for those lost and for a world in which such a senseless act could occur. The four cartoonists killed—Georges Wolinski, Charb, Tignous, and Cabu—included one Angouleme Grand Prize winner, Wolinski, who won in 2005. It was a grievous toll.

Some developments: The two gunmen were quickly identified when they left their ID in a vehicle they abandoned. As I write this there are conflicting reports about whether they have been apprehended, but nothing definite enough to link to.

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• Rallies were held around the world last night, with thousands showing up at various vigils in France. (Below The cartooning world—and the rest of the world—reacts to the Charlie Hebdo attack is from Lyon.) A rally was also held at Union Square in NYC, with Art Spiegelman photographed there.


• The world of editorial cartoonists quickly reacted with many drawing showing their solidarity with those slain in the name of free speech. The Washington Post has a fine round up.

• This cartoon by James Walmesley found a lot of support.

Screen Shot 2015 01 07 at 7.37.21 PM The cartooning world—and the rest of the world—reacts to the Charlie Hebdo attack

• Craig Yoe sent me this one.

• Comics scholar, and French comics expert Bart Beaty wrote an excellent piece explaining the role that the editorial cartoonist has in France:

Unlike in the United States, where comic strips, comic books, and editorial cartoons are generally regarded as only distantly related wings of the same art form, in France the integration of the three is much closer. Each of the four cartoonists killed today worked not only for Charlie Hebdo, but for other newspapers, and for French comic book publishers. The publishing industry in France is both smaller and more central than it is in the United States. With so many cartoonists living in and around Paris, the overlap between different media are quickly eroded in a context where it can sometimes seem that every working cartoonist knows every other one and works across publishing platforms.

• Controversial editorial cartoonist Ted Rall wrote a fine piece for the LA Times where he recalled meeting the Hebdo staff on a trip to Angouleme, and reiterating the power of editorial cartoons to inflame passions…and even thought:

Not to denigrate writing (especially since I do a lot of it myself), but cartoons elicit far more response from readers, both positive and negative, than prose. Websites that run cartoons, especially political cartoons, are consistently amazed at how much more traffic they generate than words. I have twice been fired by newspapers because my cartoons were too widely read — editors worried that they were overshadowing their other content.

Scholars and analysts of the form have tried to articulate exactly what it is about comics that make them so effective at drawing an emotional response, but I think it’s the fact that such a deceptively simple art form can pack such a wallop. Particularly in the political cartoon format, nothing more than workaday artistic chops and a few snide sentences can be enough to cause a reader to question his long-held political beliefs, national loyalties, even his faith in God.

That drives some people nuts.

• Showing caution, many news outlets did not show the controversial Hebdo covers which led to threats against the magazine.

• For something of an alternative take, Jacob Canfield at The Hooded Utilitarian suggests that Free Speech Does Not Mean Freedom From Criticism and that Hebdo’s cartoons were deliberately provocative, Islamophobic and racist.

• Although Canfield certainly doesn’t suggest this, I did see a bunch of places suggesting that the “Je suis Charlie” show of solidarity around the world should not be used because it supports racist cartoons. I would gently suggest that racism is a horrible and bad thing, but it is not punishable by death, and showing solidarity for people who were murdered for expressing their views in a non violent way is probably not a terrible thing. Just because you supported “Boston Strong” after the Marathon bombing doesn’t make you a Red Sox fan.

• I doubt anything I just wrote will settle this issue.

• Probably the smartest thing I read all day yesterday was by Middle East analyst Juan Cole. (Yes I know he is controversial himself.) Cole writes that the killings were not really about the cartoons at all but rather a recruiting tool for extremism: by ginning up anti-Muslim sentiment in France and around the world, currently non-secular Muslims will be more receptive to recruitment.

The operatives who carried out this attack exhibit signs of professional training. They spoke unaccented French, and so certainly know that they are playing into the hands of Marine LePen and the Islamophobic French Right wing. They may have been French, but they appear to have been battle hardened. This horrific murder was not a pious protest against the defamation of a religious icon. It was an attempt to provoke European society into pogroms against French Muslims, at which point al-Qaeda recruitment would suddenly exhibit some successes instead of faltering in the face of lively Beur youth culture (French Arabs playfully call themselves by this anagram). Ironically, there are reports that one of the two policemen they killed was a Muslim.

Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, then led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, deployed this sort of polarization strategy successfully in Iraq, constantly attacking Shiites and their holy symbols, and provoking the ethnic cleansing of a million Sunnis from Baghdad. The polarization proceeded, with the help of various incarnations of Daesh (Arabic for ISIL or ISIS, which descends from al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia). And in the end, the brutal and genocidal strategy worked, such that Daesh was able to encompass all of Sunni Arab Iraq, which had suffered so many Shiite reprisals that they sought the umbrella of the very group that had deliberately and systematically provoked the Shiites.

The goal of 9/11 was not to knock down the World Trade Center, or even to shut down state fairs because of terrorist fears. Its well documented goal was to throw the West into such a foment that the entire world economy and established political alliances were destabilized. The plan worked perfectly and bin Laden won. It would be horrible if the Hebdo murder were another triumph for extremist propaganda.

• All that said, cartoonists around the world showed solidarity for their slain colleagues with this “Weapon of Choice” meme. I’ve culled a few from my FB and Instagram feeds…there are dozens more. Here’s a small gallery. Ultimately, art outlives death.


10906500 10152708537758789 7199873493703352943 n The cartooning world—and the rest of the world—reacts to the Charlie Hebdo attack

Mark Chiarello

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Janice Chiang

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Lauren Panepinto

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Dave Dorman

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Dan Panosian

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Cully Hamner

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J. Scott Campbell

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Denys Cowan

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Laura Martin

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Bill Sienkiewicz

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Dean Haspiel

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15. Je suis Charlie by Keren David

Cartoon by Sarah Macintyre, saying it better than I can in words
How can we, as children's writers, respond to the horrific massacre  in Paris yesterday? As I watched people gather in Paris and London, holding pens in the air as a protest against those who seek to silence, I asked myself how can I use my pen, my ability to write, my privileged position as an author, to oppose and prevent future atrocities?

These are the inadequate answers that I came up with:

 -  Oppose extremism in every guise. Stress shared humanity and values. Never glorify violence, warfare or death.

 -  Give children the idea that conflicts can be  addressed and even solved through talking. 

 - Feed and encourage their sense of humour.

 - Support the education of children all over the world. The extremists of ISIS and Boko Harem are waging a war on children, slaughtering them in their schools, because they fear the power of  reading, writing, thinking.

 - Celebrate cartoonists and writers who poke fun at authority. 

- Write about the real Islam, the moderate peace-loving Muslims, who are horrified by acts of violence carried out in their name and against many of their community.  Do not allow the extremists to become the face of Islam. 
 - Champion freedom of speech, even if that freedom leads to offence. This is a difficult one, because there's a natural and correct strong urge to avoid giving offence, and so many words can be exceptionally hurtful.  I've just written a book set in Amsterdam, where I lived for many years, and I was often surprised by Dutch bluntness -  a by product of a deeply held belief in the freedom of speech, whatever offence that may cause.
 The assassination of  film-maker Theo Van Gogh in Amsterdam by an Islamic extremist just over ten years ago was very similar to yesterday's attack. Van Gogh, like the Charlie Hebdo magazine, made a point of laughing at everyone,insulting everyone, including Muslims. Getting children to understand the appropriate responses to insults and teasing, to understand the difference between personal attacks and criticism of beliefs and ideas is a difficult conundrum - but completely essential. Ultimately the right to offend is an important freedom, even if it's not a very comfortable one

 Je suis Charlie, say the placards in the Place de la Republique and Trafalgar Square; in Berlin, Montreal, New York, all over the world. Je suis Charlie. Nous sommes Charlie. But what are we going to do? 

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16. 12 killed including four cartoonists in attack on Charlie Hebdo offices

80118290 jesuischarlie 12 killed including four cartoonists in attack on Charlie Hebdo offices

In an act of unspeakable horror, three gunman are at large in France after a brief deadly attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French magazine. The attackers shouted “Allahu Akbar” during the attack, and it’s believed to be part of a long running controversy over various depictions of the prophet Mohammed going back to the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons in 2007.

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Slain in the attack were Charlie d editor/cartoonist Stephane Charbonnier, 47, CabuTignous and Georges Wolinski, shown above. Two police officers and six other staffers were killed. The attack took place during an editorial meeting; cartoonists Luz and Cathering Meurisse were late to the meeting and unharmed according to this tweet from Dargaud’s Thomas Ragon. Charbonnier had been under police protection for years following earlier threats against his life by extremists, and the office was firebombed in 2011.

Just moments earlier, the Charlie Hebo twitter account had sent out the above image of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

The attack has been condemned by French president Francois Hollande, President Obama and other world leaders.

I’m told Cabu was a  much-loved veteran political cartoonist. Charlie Hebdo—named Charlie for running Peanuts strips in its early days—was a satirical institution in France and the attack is simply devastating to the magazine and the cause of free speech.

The BBC has a thorough report on events; here’s ongoing coverage at the Guardian. Gawker has an account of Charlie Hebdo’s lengthy history of controversy going back to former French President Charles DeGaul. Comics Reporter is running a list of resources and news accounts.

Charlie Hebdo’s website was taken down earlier in the day but has replaced by the words “Je sui Charlie” which has become the hashtag #jesuischarlie to show solidarity for free speech and regard for human life.

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17. Rip it up and start again

‘London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down; London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady’. ‘Oh no it’s not!’ I hear you all scream with oodles of post-Christmas pantomime cheer but Parliament is apparently falling down. A number of restoration and renewal studies of the Palace of Westminster have provided the evidence with increasingly urgency. The cost of rebuilding the House? A mere two billion pounds! If it was any other building in the world its owners would be advised to demolish and rebuild.

The Georgian Parliament Building might be a rather odd place to begin this New Year blog about British politics but the visionary architecture behind the stunning new building in Kutaisi offers important insights for those who care about British politics.

Put very simply, the architecture and design of a building says a lot about the values, principles and priorities of those working within it. The old parliament building in Tblisi was a stone pillared fortress that reflected the politics of the soviet era whereas the new parliament is intended to offer a very public statement about a new form of politics. Its style and design may not be too everyone’s taste – a forty-meter high glass dome that looks like a cross between an alien spaceship and a frog’s eye – but the use of curved glass maximises transparency and openness. It represents the antithesis of the stone pillared fortress that went before it.

New Parliament building of Georgia in Kutaisi, by Spartaky. CC-B-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
New Parliament building of Georgia in Kutaisi, by Spartaky. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I’m not suggesting that the London Eye is suddenly upstaged by the creation of a new frog-eye dome on the other side of the Thames but I am arguing in favour of a little creative destruction. Or to make the same point slightly differently, if we are to spend two billion pounds in an age of austerity – and probably far more once the whole refurbishment is complete – then surely we need to spend a little time designing for democracy. Designing for democracy is something that imbued the architecture of the new Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly of Wales, it also underpinned the light and space of the Portcullis House addition to the Palace of Westminster.

The importance of Portcullis House is important. The underground corridor that connects the ‘old’ Palace of Westminster with the ‘new’ Portcullis House is far more than a convenient pathway: it is a time warp that takes the tired MP or the thrusting new intern back and forward between the centuries. The light, modern and spacious atmosphere of Portcullis House creates an environment in which visitors can relax, committees can operate and politicians can – dare I say – smile. The atmosphere in the Palace of Westminster is quite different. It is dark and dank. It is as if it has been designed to be off-putting and impenetrable. It is ‘Hogwarts on Thames’ which is great if you have been brought up in an elite public school environment but bad if you did not. It has that smell – you know the one I mean – the smell of private privilege, of a very male environment, of money and assumptions of ‘class’. It is not ‘fit for purpose’ and everyone knows it. And yet we are about to spend billions of pounds rebuilding and reinforcing this structure.

Old Parliament building of Georgia in Tbilisi. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Old Parliament building of Georgia in Tbilisi. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

There is, however, a deeper dimension to this plea to take designing for democracy seriously: architecture matters. The structure of Parliament, in terms of the seating and the corridors, the lack of visitor amenities, the lack of windows, and the dominance of dark wood, represents the physical manifestation of that ‘traditional’ mode of British politics that is now so publicly derided. The structure delivers the adversarial ‘yaa boo’ politics that now turns so many people off.

The Palace of Westminster should be a museum, not the institutional heart of British politics.

In recent years the Speakers of both Houses of Parliament have made great strides in terms of ‘opening up’ Parliament but modernisation in any meaningful sense is fundamentally prevented by the listed status if the building. A window of opportunity for radical reform did open-up when an incendiary bomb hit the chamber of the House of Commons on 11 May 1941. The issue of designing for democracy was debated by MPs with many favouring a transition to a horseshoe or semi-circular design. But in the end, and with the strong encouragement of Winston Churchill, a decision was taken to rebuild the chamber as it had been before in order to reinforce the traditional two-party system. ‘We shape our buildings’ Churchill argued ‘and afterwards our buildings shape us.’ Maybe this is the problem.

The refurbishment of Parliament has so far escaped major public debate and engagement. And yet if we really want to breathe new life into British democracy then the dilapidation of the Palace of Westminster offers huge opportunities. The 2015 General Election is therefore something of a distraction from the more basic issue of how we design for democracy in the twenty-first century. Fewer MPs but with more resources? Less shouting and more listening? A chamber that can actually seat all of its members? Why not base Parliament outside of London and in one of the new ‘Northern powerhouses’ (Sheffield, Manchester, Newcastle) that politicians seem suddenly so keen on? Two billion pounds is a major investment in the social and political infrastructure of the country so let’s be very un-British in our approach, let’s design for democracy. Let’s do it! Let’s rip it up and start again!

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18. Cold War air hijackers and US-Cuban relations

In 1968, as the world convulsed in an era of social upheaval, Cuba unexpectedly became a destination for airplane hijackers. The hijackers were primarily United States citizens or residents. Commandeering aircraft from the United States to Cuba over ninety times between 1968 and 1973, Americans committed more air hijackings during this period than all other global incidents combined. Some sought refuge from petty criminal charges. A majority, however, identified with the era’s protest movements. The “skyjackers,” as they were called, included young draft dodgers seeking to make a statement against the Vietnam War, and Black radical activists seeking political asylum. Others were self-styled revolutionaries, drawn by the allure of Cuban socialism and the nation’s bold defiance of US domination. Havana and Washington, diplomatically estranged since 1961, maintained no extradition treaty.

But Cuba was an imperfect site for the realization of American skyjacker dreams. Although the surge in hijackings paralleled the warm relations between the Cuban government and US organizations such as the Black Panther Party and Students for a Democratic Society, leftwing skyjackers were not always welcome in Cuba. Many were imprisoned as common criminals or suspected CIA agents. The mutual discomfort of the United States and Cuban governments over the hijacking outbreak resulted in a rare diplomatic collaboration. Amidst the Cold War stalemate of the Nixon-Ford era, skyjackers inadvertently forced Havana and Washington to negotiate. In 1973, the two governments broke their decade-old impasse to produce a bilateral anti-hijacking accord. The hijacking episode of 1968-’73 marks the unlikely meeting point where political protest, the African American freedom struggle, and US-Cuba relations collided amid the tumult of the sixties.

For a generation of Americans radicalized by the Civil Rights era and the Vietnam War, Cuba’s social gains in universal healthcare, education, and wealth redistribution — campaigns disproportionately supported by Afro-Cubans — had made the Cuban Revolution a beacon of inspiration for the United States. Left. By 1970, several thousand Americans, traveling independently or with organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, had visited Cuba to witness its transformation up-close. But skyjackers sometimes perceived Cuba in terms that echoed age-old paternalistic tropes about the island, as admiration blurred into entitlement. Cuba, they insisted, should welcome them as revolutionary comrades instead of locking them in jail. Nonetheless, some US skyjackers had fled from circumstances that suggested genuine political repression. Black radical activists, in particular, were often successful in appealing to Cuban officials for political asylum after arriving as skyjackers. The Cuban government allowed these asylees to make lives for themselves in Havana, paying for their living expenses as they transitioned to Cuban society or attended college. Several members of the Black Panther Party, such as William Lee Brent, and members of the Republic of New Afrika, such as Charlie Hill, became long-term residents of Havana.

Henry Kissinger, 1976. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Henry Kissinger, 1976. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Hijackers inadvertently forced Washington to face the consequences of American exceptionalism. Cuban émigrés reaching US soil with “dry feet” had been granted sanctuary and accorded a fast-track to citizenship since 1966, when the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act created a powerful incentive for Cubans to immigrate by any available means, including violence and hijacking, an enticement that Havana had repeatedly protested. Now, Cuba was granting sanctuary to Americans committing similar crimes. The irony was not missed by the State Department. As Henry Kissinger admitted, the United States was now seeking to negotiate with Havana what Washington had earlier refused to negotiate in the aftermath of the Cuban revolution, when Cubans were hijacking planes and boats to the United States and Havana had appealed unsuccessfully to US officials for the return of the vessels. The island’s attractiveness as a legal sanctuary for Americans was in large part a consequence of Washington’s policy of unrelenting hostility, which had severed the normal ties through which the two nations might collaborate, as diplomatic equals, to resolve an issue such as air piracy.

Air hijackings to Cuba declined dramatically after the accord of 1973. A shallow crack appeared in the diplomatic stalemate between Washington and Havana, setting the stage for the mild warming of US-Cuba relations during the coming Carter era. But while mutual cooperation to respond to the hijacking outbreak preceded the brief détente of the late 1970s, air piracy did not itself cause the Cold War thaw. Rather, the significance of hijacking to US-Cuba relations lies in the way in which skyjackers, as radical non-state actors driven by idealism and politics, influenced the terrain of state relations in ways that no one could have anticipated. So too, by granting formal political asylum to Americans, especially African American activists charging racist repression, Havana defied US claims to moral and legal authority in the arena of human rights. As US-Cuba relations now make a historic move toward normalization, it is likely that non-state actors will continue to play unforeseen roles, defying both US and Cuban state power.

Headline image credit: Map of Cuba. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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19. The other torture report

At long last – despite the attempts at sabotage by and over the protests of the CIA, and notwithstanding the dilatory efforts of the State Department – the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has finally issued the executive summary of its 6,300-page report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. We should celebrate its publication as a genuine victory for opponents of torture. We should thank Senator Dianne Feinstein (whom some of us have been known to call “the senator from the National Security Agency”) for her courage in making it happen.

Like many people, I’ve got my criticisms of the Senate report. Suffice it to say that we’ve still got work to do if we want to end US torture.

We now know something about the Senate report, but many folks may not have heard about the other torture report, the one that came out a couple of weeks ago, and was barely mentioned in the US media. In some ways, this one is even more damning. For one thing, it comes from the international body responsible for overseeing compliance with the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment – the UN Committee Against Torture. For another, unlike the Senate report, the UN report does not treat US torture as something practiced by a single agency, or that ended with the Bush administration. The UN Committee Against Torture reports on US practices that continue to this day.

Here are some key points:

Guards from Camp 5 at Joint Task Force Guantanamo escort a detainee from his cell to a recreational facility within the camp.
Guards from Camp 5 at Joint Task Force Guantanamo escort a detainee from his cell to a recreational facility within the camp. Photo by US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kilho Park. Public domain via Joint Task Force Guantanamo.
  • The United States still refuses to pass a law making torture a federal crime. It also refuses to withdraw some of the “reservations” it put in place when it signed the Convention. These include the insistence that only treatment resulting in “prolonged mental harm,” counts as the kind of severe mental suffering outlawed in the Convention.
  • Many high civilian officials and some military personnel have not been prosecuted for acts of torture they are alleged to have committed. It would be nice, too, says the Committee, if the United States were to join the International Criminal Court, where other torturers have already been successfully tried. If we can’t prosecute them at home, maybe the international community can do it.
  • The remaining 142 detainees at Guantánamo must be released or tried in civilian courts, and the prison there must be shut down.
  • Evidence of US torture must be declassified, especially the torture of anyone still being held at Guantánamo.
  • While the US Army Field Manual on Human Intelligence Collector Operations prohibits many forms of torture, a classified “annex” still permits sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation. These are both forms of cruel treatment which must end.
  • People held in US jails and prisons must be protected from long-term solitary confinement and rape. “Supermax” facilities and “Secure Housing Units,” where inmates spend years and even decades in complete isolation must be shut down. As many as 80,000 prisoners are believed to be in solitary confinement in US prisons today – a form of treatment we now understand can cause lasting psychosis in as short a time as two weeks.
  • The United States should end the death penalty, or at the very least declare a moratorium until it can find a quick and painless method of execution.
  • The United States must address out-of-control police brutality, especially “against persons belonging to certain racial and ethnic groups, immigrants and LGBTI individuals.” This finding is especially poignant in a period when we have just witnessed the failure to indict two white policemen who killed unarmed Black men: Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City. Like many who have been demonstrating during the last few weeks against racially selective police violence, the Committee was also concerned about “racial profiling by police and immigration offices and growing militarization of policing activities.”

Why should an international body focused specifically on torture care about an apparently broader issue like police behavior? In fact, torture and race- or identity-based police brutality are intimately linked by the reality that lies at the foundation of institutionalized state torture.

Every nation that uses torture must first identify one or more groups of people who are torture’s “legitimate” targets. They are legitimate targets because in the minds of the torturers and of the society that gives torture a home, these people are not entirely human. (In fact, the Chilean secret police called the people they tortured “humanoids.”) Instead, groups singled out for torture are a uniquely degraded and dangerous threat to the body politic, and therefore anything “we” must do to protect ourselves becomes licit. In the United States, with lots of encouragement from the news and entertainment media, many white people believe that African American men represent this kind of unique threat. The logic that allows police to kill unarmed Black men with impunity is not all that different from the logic that produces pogroms or underlies drone assassination programs in far-off places, or that makes it impossible to prosecute our own torturers.

At 15 pages, the whole UN report is certainly a quicker read than the Senate committee’s 500-page “summary.” And it’s a good reminder that, whatever President Obama might wish, this is not the time to close the book on torture. It’s time to re-open the discussion, to hold the torturers accountable, and to bring a real end to US torture.

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20. Scorpion Bombs: the rest of the story

The world recently learned that the Islamic State in Iraq (ISIS) has resurrected a biological weapon from the second century. Scorpion bombs are being lobbed into towns and villages to terrorize the inhabitants. As the story goes, this tactic was used almost 2,000 years ago against the desert stronghold of Hatra which was once a powerful, walled city 50 miles southwest of Mosul. But this historical interpretation might be just a bit too quick.

What we know from the writings of Herodian, who documented the ancient attacks by Hatrians on Roman invaders, is that the people crafted earthenware bombs loaded with “insects.” The favored hypothesis is that these devices were loaded with scorpions. And it’s true that these creatures (although not insects) were abundant in the desert. In fact, Persian kings offered bounties for these stinging arthropods to ensure the safe and pain-free passage of lucrative caravans through the region. But the local abundance of scorpions is not sufficient to draw a conclusion.

Scorpions tend toward cannibalism, so packing a bunch of these creatures into canisters for any period of time would have been (and presumably still is) a problem. According to an ancient writer, powdered monkshood could be used to sedate scorpions, although at high doses this plant extract is insecticidal (how ISIS solves this problem is not evident). But there’s another problem with the scorpion hypothesis.

A Syrian account of the siege of Hatra specified that the residents used “poisonous flying insects” to repulse the Romans. But, of course, scorpions don’t fly. One possibility is that the natural historians of yore were thinking of the scorpionfly (a flying insect in which the male genitalia curl over the back and resemble a scorpion’s tail), but these are small creatures are found in damp habitats, not deserts. Another possibility is that ancient reports of scorpions becoming airborne during high winds account for flying scorpions, although such a remarkable phenomenon hasn’t been reported by modern biologists. Finally, some scholars speculate that the clay bombshells were filled with assassin bugs, which can fly and deliver extremely painful bites.

Leiurus quinquestriatus, or deathstalker scorpion. Photo by  Matt Reinbold. CC BY-SA 2.0 via furryscalyman Flickr.
Leiurus quinquestriatus, or deathstalker scorpion. Photo by Matt Reinbold. CC BY-SA 2.0 via furryscalyman Flickr.

In the end, it seems likely that the Hatrian defenders and the ISIS militants latched onto the opportunities presented by the local arthropod fauna. But why would scorpions be so terrifying then or now? These creatures deliver a painful sting to be sure, but they are only rarely deadly. The responses of the Roman invaders and the Iranian townsfolk seem disproportionate to the consequences of being stung.

To understand why panic ensues when insects (or scorpions) rain down on a village, we must appreciate the evolutionary and cultural relationships between these creatures and the human mind. Our fear of insects and their relatives is rooted in six qualities of these little beasts—and scorpions score well.

  • First, our reaction arises from the capacity of these creatures to invade our homes and bodies. Scorpions, with their nocturnal activity and flattened bodies, are adept at slipping under doorsills and hiding in our shoes, closets, and furniture.
  • Second, insects and their kin have the ability to evade us through quick, unpredictable movements. While scorpions might not skitter with the panache of cockroaches, they are still reasonably nimble.
  • Third, many insects undergo rapid population growth and reach staggeringly large numbers which threaten our sense of individuality. While scorpions are not particulary prolific, having them scatter from exploding canisters (as described in the modern attacks), surely generates a sense of frightening abundance.
  • Fourth, various arthropods can harm us both directly (biting and stinging) and indirectly (transmitting disease and destroying our property). Scorpions certainly qualify in the former sense, as they are well-prepared to deliver a dose of venom that elicits intense pain, sometimes accompanied by a slowed pulse, irregular breathing, convulsions—and occasionally, death.
  • Fifth, insects and their relatives instill a disturbing sense of otherness with their alien bodies. Scorpions are hideously animalistic, even rather monstrous being like a demonic blending of a crab, spider, and a viper in terms of their form and function.
  • Sixth, these creatures defy our will and control through a kind of depraved mindlessness or radical autonomy. Scorpions can appear to be like tiny robots, with their jointed bodies and legs taking them into the world without regard to fear or decency.

Perhaps it is in this last sense that scorpions most resemble the ISIS assailants. Both seem to be predators, unconstrained by ethical constraints, maniacally and unreflectively seeking to satisfy their own bestial desires. Of course, we ought not to dehumanize our enemy—no matter how brutal his actions—by equating him with insects or their kin. (This rhetorical move has been made throughout history to justify horrible treatment of other people.) But perhaps this sense of amorality accounts for our fear of both ISIS and their unwitting, arthropod conscripts.

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21. Why do politicians break their promises on migration?

Immigration policies in the US and UK look very different right now. Barack Obama is painting immigration as part of the American dream, and forcing executive action to protect five million unauthorized immigrants from deportation. Meanwhile, David Cameron’s government is treating immigration “like a disease”, vowing to cut net migration “to the tens of thousands” and sending around posters saying “go home”. US immigration policies appear radically open while UK policies appear radically closed.

But beneath appearances there is a strikingly symmetrical gap between talk and action in both places. While courageously defying Congress to protect Mexico’s huddled masses, Obama is also presiding over a “formidable immigration enforcement machinery”, which consumes more federal dollars than all other law enforcement agencies combined, detains more unauthorized immigrants than inmates in all federal prisons, and has already deported millions.

While talking tough, the UK government remains even more open to immigration than most classic settler societies: it switched from open Imperial borders to open EU borders without evolving a modern migration management system in the interim. Net migration is beyond government control because emigration and EU migration cannot be hindered, family migrants can appeal to the courts, and foreign workers and students are economically needed.

So these debates are mirror images: the US is talking open while acting closed; the UK is talking closed but acting open. What explains this pattern? The different talk is no mystery: Obama’s Democrats lean Left while Cameron’s Conservatives lean Right. But this cannot explain the gaps between talk and action. These are related to another political division that cuts across the left-right spectrum: the division between “Open and Closed”.

Different party factions have different reasons for being open or closed to immigration. On the Left, the Liberal Intelligentsia is culturally open, valuing diversity and minority rights, while the Labour Movement is economically closed, fearing immigration will undermine wages and working conditions. On the Right, the Business Elite is economically open to cheap and pliable migrant labour, while the Nationalist Right is culturally closed to immigration, fearing it dilutes national identity. Left and Right were once the markers of class, but now your education, accent and address only indicate whether you’re Open or Closed.

Image used with permission from Adam Gamlen.
Image used with permission.

Sympathetic talk can often satisfy culturally motivated supporters, but economic interest groups demand more concrete action in the opposite direction. So, a right-leaning leader may talk tough to appease the Nationalist Right, but keep actual policies more open to please the Business Elite. A left-leaning leader may talk open to arouse the Liberal Intelligentsia, but act more closed so as to soothe the Labour Movement. These two-track strategies can unite party factions, and even appeal to “strange bedfellows” across the aisle.

US and UK immigration debates illustrate this pattern. The UK government always knew it would miss its net migration target: its own 2011 impact assessments predicted making about half the promised reductions. This must have reassured Business Elites, who monitor such signals. Meanwhile for the Nationalist Right it’s enough to have “a governing party committed to reducing net migration” as “a longer term objective”. It’s the thought that counts for these easygoing fellows.

So, the Conservatives’ net migration targets are failing rather successfully. The clearest beneficiary is UKIP – a more natural Tory sidekick than the Lib Dems, and one which, by straddling the Closed end of the spectrum, siphons substantial support from the Labour Movement. Almost half the UK electorate supports the Tories or UKIP; together they easily dominate the divided Left which, by aping the old Tory One Nation slogan, offers nothing concrete to the Labour Movement, and disappoints the Liberal Intelligentsia, who ask, ‘Why doesn’t a man with Miliband’s refugee background stand up for what’s right?’

Maybe Miliband should have followed Barack Obama instead of David Cameron. Obama knows that the thought also counts for America’s Liberal Intelligentsia. For example, Paul Krugman writes, “Today’s immigrants are the same, in aspiration and behavior, as my grandparents were — people seeking a better life, and by and large finding it. That’s why I enthusiastically support President Obama’s new immigration initiative. It’s a simple matter of human decency.”

It’s also a simple matter of political pragmatism. Hispanics will comprise 30% of all Americans by 2050; many of those protected today are their parents. Both parties know this but the Democrats are more motivated by it. They have won amongst Hispanic voters in every presidential election in living memory, often with 60-80% majorities: losing Hispanic voters would be game changing. But the Republicans just can’t bring themselves to let Obama win by passing comprehensive immigration reform. Just spite the face now: worry about sewing the nose back on later.

Obama’s actions secure the Hispanic vote, but more importantly they pacify the Labour Movement. Milton Friedman once argued that immigration benefits America’s economy as long as it’s illegal. For ‘economy’ read ‘employers’, who want workers they can hire and fire at will without paying for costly minimum wages or working conditions. In other words, Friedman liked unauthorized immigration because he thought it undermined everything the Labour Movement believes in. No wonder the unions hated him: he was a red flag to a bull.

Luckily Obama’s actions don’t protect ‘illegal immigrants’. Those protected have not migrated for over five years, long enough for someone to become a full citizen in most countries, the US included. They are not immigrants anymore, but unauthorized residents. And once they’re authorized, they’ll just be plain old workers: no longer enemies of the Labour Movement, but souls ripe for conversion to it. For the real immigrants, the velvet glove comes off, and an iron-fisted border force instills mortal dread in anyone whose dreams of being exploited in the First World might threaten US health and safety procedures. To be clear, Obama’s actions protect the resident labour force from unauthorized immigration.

So, Obama’s talk-open-act-closed strategy is working quite nicely for the Democrats, throwing a bone to the Labour Movement while massaging the conscience of the Liberal Intelligentsia – and even courting the Business Elite, who would rather not break the law just by giving jobs to people who want them. So even if they don’t revive Obama’s standing, the executive orders are a shot in the arm for the Democrats. It’s Hillary’s race to lose in 2016 (although come to think of it, that’s what The Economist said during the 2007 primaries…).

In sum: the politics of international migration reveal a new political landscape that cannot be captured by the old categories of Left and Right. Governments on both sides of the Atlantic are talking one way on immigration but acting another, so as to satisfy conflicting demands from Open and Closed party factions while wooing their opponents’ supporters.

So are Left and Right parties dinosaurs? Not necessarily. Things may look different in countries with more parties, but I suspect that the four factions outlined above will crop up even in countries led by multi-party coalitions. We need more studies to know – if this framework works in your country, I’d be interested to hear. Another interesting challenge is to understand how these patterns relate to the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment – a question touched on by a recent special issue of Migration Studies.

To commemorate International Migrants Day this year, OUP have compiled scholarly papers examining human migration in all its manifestations, from across our law and social science journals. The highly topical articles featured in this collection are freely available for a limited time.

Featured image credit: Immigration at Ellis Island, 1900. By the Brown Brothers, Department of the Treasury. Records of the Public Health Service. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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22. Reflections on the 2014 Scottish independence referendum

Scotland was selected as the Oxford Atlas Place of the Year 2014. We invited several experts to comment on the decision and Scotland’s phenomenal year.

Scotland has remained in the media spotlight throughout 2014 for one reason: the referendum on independence from the United Kingdom. This was the most significant event to have taken place in Scotland since the creation of the Union in 1707. But it hardly presented an edifying spectacle to the outside world. Nationalists constantly complained about England, describing every utterance by a Unionist politician as “cack-handed” or “an insult to the people of Scotland”. Celebrities such as Sir Paul McCartney, David Bowie, and J.K. Rowling who publicly backed the Union were subjected to appalling online abuse. Financial projections were produced which might politely be described as misleading. The proposals for an independent Scotland, in preparation since the foundation of the SNP in 1934, were marked by an astonishing lack of detail — voters were not even told what currency the new state was to have. The official Unionist campaign showed a crippling lack of passion; politicians argued for the status quo while pretending not to. Most Westminster MPs, aware of their unpopularity in Scotland, opted to say as little as possible. Three Scottish MPs from the Unionist camp stepped in to fill the vacuum: Jim Murphy, George Galloway, and, very much at the eleventh hour, Gordon Brown. Brown’s passionate speech, the finest of his career, delivered on the day before the vote, left everyone wondering why he had not become involved in the Unionist campaign sooner.

The campaign, indeed, had dragged on for three years. The SNP might have been expected to hold the referendum soon after their election to government in 2011. But the year 2014 appeared propitious: it was the year of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, which could be expected to give a boost to nationalist sentiment, and of the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, at which the Scots had destroyed an English army of invasion, leaving the way clear for retaliatory Scottish raids on England. In the event, the Games were hailed as a triumph for Scotland, but had no effect on nationalism, while the Bannockburn anniversary was greeted with widespread indifference, with thousands of tickets at the commemorative event remaining unsold. The 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, in which Scots and English had fought and died side by side, carried a more meaningful resonance.

When the referendum was finally held, independence was decisively rejected. 1,617,989 Scottish residents voted for independence, out of a voting age population of 4,436,428: that is, 36.47%. The leader of the independence campaign, Alex Salmond, had declared immediately before the vote that the result would settle the matter for a generation; immediately after it, he challenged the result and called for a second referendum to be held as soon as possible. His colleagues in the SNP, meanwhile, floated the idea of a unilateral declaration of independence: the support of a majority of the people of Scotland, not having been forthcoming, was no longer deemed necessary. In the days which followed, the losers formed themselves into a group called “the 45” (44.65 per cent of those who voted had voted for independence). The name “the 45” recalls, of course, the doomed Jacobite rebellion of 1745, in which ordinary Scots were driven by their highland lords into an ill-advised invasion of England, and were roundly defeated, with catastrophic consequences for Scotland.

Sign in Greinetobht in North Uist supporting Scottish independence by John Allan. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Geograph.org.uk.
Sign in Greinetobht in North Uist supporting Scottish independence by John Allan. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Geograph.org.uk.

How does Scotland emerge from all this? The referendum exposed Scotland’s politicians to public view, caused old resentments to be stirred up, and led to the airing of attitudes that would have been better hidden. On the other hand, there was no serious violence and no bloodshed. It is enormously to the credit of the UK government that it permitted such a referendum to be held at all. The UK is now much stronger for having given the nationalists the opportunity to demonstrate that their supporters account for barely more than one in three of the Scottish voting age population.

But what of overseas visitors who may be contemplating a trip to Scotland next year? Do come. Scotland remains a country of unsurpassed natural beauty with a rich and visible history and a warm and welcoming people. By virtue of its membership of the UK, Scotland punches far above its weight in world affairs. Its language is English and its currency remains the pound sterling. The visitor to Scotland will find that there is one particular subject on which its people are united in not wanting to talk about: the 2014 independence referendum.

Headline image: The debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament Building by Colin. CC-BY-SA-4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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23. Meet Ellen Carey, Senior Marketing Executive for Social Sciences

From time to time, we try to give you a glimpse into work in our offices around the globe, so we are excited to bring you an interview with Ellen Carey, Senior Marketing Executive for Social Sciences books. Ellen started working at Oxford University Press in February 2013 in Law Marketing, before moving to the Academic Marketing team.

What publication do you read regularly to stay up to date on industry news?

I work on the Social Sciences lists, which includes Business, Politics, and Economics, and lots of the books I work on are very relevant to current affairs. I tend to read the top news stories in The Economist, Financial Times, BBC News website, The Guardian, and The Times every morning. This especially helps with commissioning newsworthy blog posts and writing tweets for the @OUPEconomics Twitter feed. I’ve always been interested in current affairs, and this is something I really enjoy.

What is the most important lesson you learned during your first year in the job?

That everyone makes mistakes and there’s usually a way to fix them, and lots of people are willing to help. Though we obviously try to get things right the first time round!

What is your typical day like at OUP?

My day starts with a huge cup of coffee and a catch up with the team. My day is divided between author correspondence, marketing plans, events and conferences, project work, and social media.

What is the strangest thing currently on your desk?

I have a promotional penguin toy from an insurance law firm – his name is André 3000 – which was given to me by one of my friends who works for a law firm.

Ellen Carey
Ellen Carey

What will you be doing once you’ve completed this Q&A?

This afternoon I’ll be working on the Politics catalogue for 2015.

If you could trade places with any one person for a week, who would it be and why?

It would be a prima ballerina in the Royal Ballet – that would be the dream!

How would you sum up your job in three words?

Busy, challenging, diverse.

Favourite animal?

I love cats! I have a really old, grumpy, 17-year-old cat called Paddy, and my friends and I regularly send Snapchat updates of our cats. I like to be kept in the know with what’s going on in Pickles’ and Mag’s lives.

What is the most exciting project you have been a part of while working at OUP?

The Economics social media group. It’s been really exciting to be part of the team that set up and launched the Economics Twitter feed, and it was great to see us reach 1,000 followers in six months. I’ve also really enjoyed working with colleagues to commission blog posts and we’re looking forward to increasing our social media activities.

What is your favourite word?

Pandemonium. My Mum read me the Mr Men and Little Miss books when I was little, and I always remember this line from Mr Tickle because she’d put on a funny voice: “There was a terrible pandemonium.”

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24. ISIS is an outcome of a much bigger problem

The editors of Oxford Islamic Studies Online asked several experts the following question:

The world has watched as ISIS (ISIL, the “Islamic State”) has moved from being a small but extreme section of the Syrian opposition to a powerful organization in control of a large swath of Iraq and Syria. Even President Obama recently admitted that the US was surprised by the success of ISIS in that region. Why have they been so successful, and why now?

Lebanese journalist and editor Hanin Ghaddar shares his thoughts.

To answer this question, one has to go back to the roots of this organization. ISIS did not come from a vacuum, and it is not this shadowy bunch of militants that mysteriously managed to control large areas of Iraq and Syria. ISIS has been around for a very long time, and its roots go deeper than its current military achievements.

As an organization, ISIS originated from Al-Qaeda’s group in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). Abu Muhammad al-Joulani, a member of ISI, established Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria in 2011. When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi formed ISIS in Syria, differences over ideology and strategy between ISIS and al-Nusra soon led to infighting, and eventually to a public repudiation by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri after Baghdadi refused his orders to leave Syria and return to Iraq.

Due to the difference in strategy, Baghdadi sought to create the Caliphate and his main priority was to self-sustain the Islamic State by strengthening its economy. This practical side of ISIS is very significant for its quick logistical and military success. According to many news reports, ISIS’s financial assets amount to $2 billion, with money secured from oilfields in eastern Syria, banks in Iraq, in addition to military supplies captured in Mosul. In addition, ISIS’s ability to operate as a real army lies in the fact that their military council is made up of former officers from Saddam Hussein’s army.

However, the popularity of the group lies somewhere else.

The states where ISIS is expanding and flourishing are visibly Iraq and Syria — the two states where Sunnis have suffered marginalization, humiliation, and brutal killing by the pro-Iranian Shiite and Alawi regimes. In both countries, the state did not offer a safe haven for citizens; on the contrary, the sectarian rhetoric practiced by community and political leaders added to the Sunni-Shia rift.

In Iraq, former PM Nouri al-Maliki’s inability to engage in dialogue with Sunni tribes, who helped fight al-Qaeda, led to the fall of Fallujah into ISIS hands in January. Maliki alienated these tribes and refused to share power with them. After the US withdrawal in 2011, these tribes went into open revolt against Maliki.

Claim to power of ISIS by Fiver, der Hellseher. CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Claim to power of ISIS. By Fiver, der Hellseher. CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

A feeling of betrayal also boosted this revolt, as the US started talks and unstated bargains with Tehran. It is not a secret that the International Coalition’s war against ISIS Syria did not stop Assad from bombing rebels in areas where ISIS is not in control. Ignoring the brutality of Assad by the West did not help reassure the Sunnis.

When Qassem Suleimani, Iran’s Quds Force Commander, and Iranian-backed militias like Asa’ib ahl al-Haq in Iraq and Hezbollah in Syria are left to wage war against the Sunnis in both countries, and aid the regimes in killing and torturing them, many Sunnis came to see ISIS as the most powerful defense against Iran’s persecution.

But it would be too naïve to only blame regional leaders and Western powers for the rise of ISIS, and enjoy the role of the victim. We are very much responsible, as people and communities. ISIS flourished in these two countries also because of the heightened sectarian rhetoric by the people everywhere. In the streets, traditional media, social media, and inside homes and families, everyone is practicing sectarian hatred, and judging each other’s commitment to Islam.

Our governments have denounced ISIS and promised to secure all available resources to rid the world of its threats, but have we really condemned ISIS when our media, political leaders and Imams at mosques still speak the same sectarian rhetoric and call for hatred?

Both Saudi Arabia and Iran condemned ISIS and pledged to fight all terrorism. But authorities in both countries are still practicing public executions in public squares. Only recently, Saudi Shia cleric Nimr Nimr was sentenced to death. His prosecutors called for his execution by “crucifixion”, a punishment which in Saudi Arabia involves beheading followed by public display of the decapitated body. How is this really different from ISIS’s beheading practice?

Many of us condemned ISIS beheadings, and called them barbarians, yet very few objected to Hamas’s execution of the suspected informants after the recent Gaza War, or Iran’s hanging of gay teenagers from construction canes.

ISIS is a product of our culture of sectarian rhetoric, violence and hatred. ISIS thrives on the injustice and corruption razing our state institutions and communities. Therefore, any policy that aims at fighting and destroying ISIS has to take this into consideration.

To make sure another ISIS does not emerge, the roots behind ISIS’s power and popularity should be targeted. Justice needs to prioritized. Iran should not be treated as the better evil and its regional militias need to be stopped as we are trying to stop ISIS. Assad, who has caused the death of almost 200,000 people, should leave power and he and his lieutenants should be prosecuted under the auspices of the International Criminal Court (ICC) without delay. Otherwise, sectarian hatred and violence will never stop, and ISIS will only get stronger.

ISIS and Hezbollah today feed into each other’s rhetoric of violence and acts of terrorism. Without Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria, ISIS and al-Nusra wouldn’t have gained any popularity, and without ISIS’s power, causing fear among the Shia community and other minorities, Hezbollah would have suffered more pressure to leave Syria, even by its own community. They should be dealt with consistently.

In addition, our media and religious institutions should be held accountable for inciting hatred and sectarianism. Those who call for violence through TV channels and inside mosques should be punished, even if they haven’t personally spilled blood.

Our governments, regimes and leaders might not like to tone down this sectarian rhetoric, because sometimes it serves their regional political agendas. Therefore, this should come as a condition for them to join any international effort or regional initiative. International funding for governments should also come with cultural and social conditions, aimed at alleviating sectarian rhetoric and boosting citizenship.

It is a very extensive and difficult route, but it is the only way. You cannot bomb ISIS away; it will grow back. It should be eliminated from the roots.

Heading image: Ar-Raqqah Roof Tops (Ar-Raqqah is the de facto headquarters of ISIS/ISIL) by Zeledi. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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25. Congress should amend and enact the Marketplace Fairness Act

The “lame duck” session of the 113th Congress managed to avoid a shutdown of the federal government, but did not accomplish much else. Among the unfinished business left for the new, 114th Congress assembling this month is the Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA).

The MFA would permit states to require out-of-state Internet and mail order sellers to collect sales taxes if such sellers have annual gross revenues of $1,000,000 or more. The MFA would thus establish parity between such large out-of-state, online sellers and in-state sellers which must collect taxes on their sales because of their in-state physical presence.

Passage of the Marketplace Fairness Act is long overdue. It is neither fair nor efficient that a traditional brick-and-mortar store must collect sales taxes while an out-of-state Internet firm can ship the same products into the state without collecting sales tax because such Internet firm lacks an in-state physical location. While Internet and mail order purchasers are legally obligated to pay use taxes on their purchases, in practice, it is difficult for states to collect these taxes. The MFA would establish a level playing field by requiring large out-of-state sellers to collect taxes owed just as their in-state competitors must collect such taxes.

An interesting development during the 113th Congress was the growing recognition by many Republican lawmakers that the MFA implements conservative values. In the past, Internet firms have denounced the MFA as imposing a “new” tax, a label that is poison in the current political environment. However, as Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas has recently observed, the status quo permits Internet shoppers “knowingly and willfully” to flout their obligation to pay use tax when Internet sellers do not collect such tax. Such disregard for legal duties, he states, “has never, never been a conservative value.”

Another important development has been the growing recognition by free market advocates that the status quo effectively constitutes heavy-handed industrial policy as the government effectively hobbles brick-and-mortar retailers in their competition with Internet sellers who do not collect sales tax.

A third interesting development has been the convergence of the business models of many Internet sellers and traditional retailers. Internet firms, most prominently Amazon, have sprouted local distribution centers to provide same day (sometimes one hour) delivery of products ordered online. In those states where Amazon builds distribution centers, Amazon must collect sales tax because of its in-state physical presence.

To compete with same day delivery, some traditional retailers are experimenting with Internet ordering. Under these experiments, customers purchase online with traditional retailers and then pick-up their goods that day at the store or have their goods shipped to them that day from a traditional brick-and-mortar location. Thus, the once bright line is blurring between traditional retailers required to collect sales tax and Internet sellers which need not collect tax because they lack in-state physical presence.

As Amazon and other electronic sellers collect sales tax in additional states, it is all the more anomalous for other Internet and mail order companies to refuse to collect such tax because they lack in-state physical presence.

The Marketplace Fairness Act would excuse from the duty to collect sales tax truly small Internet sellers, defined as those firms selling less than $1,000,000 annually over the Internet or by mail order. The only compelling objection to the MFA is that, if the MFA became law, a single dollar sale into a particular state would compel a covered seller to collect that state’s sales tax.

Infrequent and casual sales into any particular state should not trigger the obligation to collect that state’s sales tax. Hence, Congress should amend the MFA to require that an Internet seller need not collect the taxes of any particular state until that seller’s sales have have met some minimum threshold in that state. I would recommend that an Internet (or mail order) seller with $1,000,000 in aggregate sales be required to collect taxes for each state into which it sells $10,000 or more in any year.

So amended, the 114th Congress should enact the Marketplace Fairness Act.

Headline image credit: © hjalmeida via iStock.

The post Congress should amend and enact the Marketplace Fairness Act appeared first on OUPblog.

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