Eclectic Grounds

conflicts and conversation

Archive for the ‘Ideology’ Category

Some ideas never get old…

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I know I am way late with a post on Avatar but this is just too good not to share it…


Iranian propaganda move gone wrong

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(Notes on) Politics, Theory and Photography sums up a propaganda battle that is underway in Iran between the government news agency and government critics. It’s a brilliant piece about the power of images, symbolic resistance and gender roles.

The government fired the opening salvo when the state news agency Farspublished photos of a student leader – Majid Tavakoli – who has been arrested and remains in custody. In the photographs Tavakoli, who is highly critical of the regime, was forced to wear Islamic chador andmaghnaeh, the female headscarf.

What the authorities apparently intended as a means of humiliating a critic had a surprising effect – it generated Internet solidarity, as scores of Iranian men posted pictures of themselves on various social networking sites wearing headscarves.

[…] the veiled men in the photos make clear that the images are intended as a rebuke to the official practice of compelling Iranian women to wear the chador. Perhaps the regime has made a massive mis-step here.

Full story here

Written by henrik

December 15, 2009 at 5:04 pm

Global affairs and the failure of liberal common sense

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The latest Theory Talk features an interesting interview with James Ferguson, Stanford political anthropologist and outspoken critic of the “development” doctrine. In the talk, he offers insights to his work and vita, but he also talks more generally about social science approaches to global studies:

One of the things that bothers me about a lot of what I read the in social sciences that’s, as you say, ‘globally oriented’, is that it seems to start with a bunch of certainties, a bunch of assumptions – a kind of Western liberal common sense – that we know how countries ought to be organized. They ought to be democracies; they ought to respect human rights; they ought to guarantee the rule of law; they ought to be at peace with their neighbors. And then you look at, say, a country in Africa and all you’re able to see is a series of lacks – of things that should be there but aren’t. And you end up constructing huge parts of the world as just sort of empty spaces where things ought to be there but aren’t. And it leads to a kind of impoverished understanding, I think, because you don’t really understand what is going on here. How do people conduct their affairs? How is legitimate authority exercised? How are rules made and enforced? You know, all the kinds of questions that ought to be the starting place tend to disappear or recede into the background. So, I think the real challenge is to approach this whole question with a sense of openness, a willingness to be surprised and learn something new and not to be so deductive.

This is pretty much the criticism of “development” and the subsequent category of “development countries”, which was discussed here before. From this angle the analysis of social relations — using the analytical unit of the state — focuses on an abstract ideal that reality is supposed to be molded into. The strategy can be likened to a literature critic who trashes a novel because its is different from what the critic had expected. Such linear concepts often blur one’s vision on what’s crucial.

Written by henrik

November 25, 2009 at 11:08 am

There is no “Global War” on Terror

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The notion of a “global war on terror” has always been nonsense. It has manufactured a threatening picture of an alleged global ideology of hatred for the western world. But the “global war” image obscures the fact that every crisis zone has its unique context and that most people who join or support insurgent groups do so for their very personal reasons which are far from ideological.

This still seems to be a perspective shared by but few officials in the US military:

Matthew Hoh, a senior US state department official and former marine who was based until recently in Zabul province [of Afghanistan], explained his resignation on 10 September 2009 by referring to his experiences in the Korengal valley and elsewhere. These, he is reported as saying:

“taught him ‘how localised the insurgency was. I didn’t realize that a group in this valley here has no connection with an insurgent group two kilometres away.’ Hundreds, maybe thousands, of groups across Afghanistan, he decided, had few ideological ties to the Taliban but took its money to fight the foreign intruders and maintain their own local power bases. ‘That’s really what shook me,’ he said. ‘I thought it was more nationalistic. But it’s localism. I would call it valley-ism'” (see Karen De Young, “U.S. official resigns over Afghan war“,Washington Post, 27 October 2009).

Found here.

Can Germany ‘afford’ a gay foreign minister? Or will it hurt relations with Muslim countries?

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– two often-debated questions in Germany after the recent federal elections. Following the victory of the conservative-liberal coalition, it is customary for the head of the smaller coalition party (the liberals) to become vice chancellor and foreign minister.

The head of the liberals is Guido Westerwelle. Now, in my opionion, there is a lot that is wrong with Westerwelle becoming FM: Be it his inexperience and previous indifference to international affairs, his political stance and style, as well as his apparent gaucheness on the international stage.

The more central question for many commentators, however, seems to be whether Westerwelle as an openly homosexual political can represent Germany as a Foreign Minister in Muslim countries.

Why wouldn’t he?

Diplomacy is probably the most pragmatic policy field. Quite regularly, countries or groups who are in the midst of the fiercest political conflicts, still maintain diplomatic relations. Just think of the close political contact of the US and the USSR throughout the Cold War, despite their existential ideological battle. You see the point: diplomacy is about interests and therefore mostly blind to ideology.

Why would that be any different with two countries that maintain friendly relations like, say, Germany and Saudi Arabia? Simply because of the sexual orientation of one country’s representative? Should the Saudi foreign minister be criticised at home for shaking the hand of a homosexual, his answer would simply be: do you want to jeopardize trade relations with one of our most important partners?

A statement from an official of the Turkish foreign ministry seems to confirm this. He told the Turkish paper Milliyet that, while there is no rule of protocol in case Westerwelle as German FM would bring his partner, “a middle way will be found”.

As much as I disagree with Westerwelle representing my country from a political point of view, I would love to see his appointment create some cracks the foundation of the alleged Gay/Muslim faultline.

I know my team is better than yours because…

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You might say that that in-group bias isn’t necessarily a bad thing – after all, it’s what keeps us together with the ones that are closest to us. Except, it makes us think that all our problems are despite out efforts, while all their problems are because of their inability, which is a real problem once we try to talk to a person outside our in-group.

That’s why it is good to be reminded sometimes of how random group identities are anyway.


Cartoon by xkcd.
Thanks to lisa.

Update: You can find a good social psychological overview of “the rules that govern groups” here.

Lazy Bosnians?!

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A Bosnian was applying for a job.

“Weren’t you, Bosnians, too lazy?” asked the employer.

“Oh, no” said the Bosnian, “It is the Montenegrins who are lazy. We are the stupid ones.”


by Ivalyo Ditchev. I wanted to leave the quote stand alone at first … but of course, I don’t want to withhold the context. Ditchev writes:

In the Balkans, a very high level of solidarity is expected of the national in front of foreigners when questions of symbolic importance to the imagined community are approached. Under communism and the different Balkan dictatorships the act of “presenting a bad image of the country” was often considered to be a crime and could be punished by prison or reeducation camp. After the change in the 80-s the pressure on the individual was obviously diminished, but did not disappear. It could be best observed in the cases of the sacred taboos, that each Balkan national culture has imposed upon itself and that produce the linguistic rituals of belonging or not-belonging. The name “Republic of Macedonia” should not be pronounced by a real Greek, a Bulgarian should deny the existence of a Macedonian language, a Turk should never admit the occurrence of the Armenian genocide, etc.

At my workplace we had to learn this the hard way during an international seminar: when auomatically copy-pasting the country of origin as stated by the participants in the application forms onto the name badges, a Greek person was infuriated when she saw “Macedonia” written on the badge of another participant.

Written by henrik

April 10, 2009 at 12:11 pm