Just a quick note to mention a few upcoming talks I’m giving (which is a none-too-subtle way to apologize for the slow posting these days):
Poetic Forces: Creative Change in and Beyond the Arab Spring (Tuesday, March 12, 5:30 PM, Granoff Center, Martinos Auditorium, Brown University)
Very much looking forward to this event, which will feature Egyptian rapper Deeb alongside Tricia Rose, Lara Dotson-Renta, Nancy Khalek, and myself. If you haven’t heard him yet, Deeb’s one of the most interesting artists rapping in Arabic at the moment. I’m a sucker for colloquial artistry of any stripe, and his lyrics are sharp, funny, self-deprecating, and very revealing of Egyptian political and cultural dynamics — without sounding like flat commentary. The video below is one of the few available with English subtitles, but if you’re interested in his lyrics, I’ll see if I can get permission to post the handout he sent us.
Habits of Living: Networked Affects, Glocal Effects (March 21-23, 2013, Brown University)
“An international, interdisciplinary collaboration located at Brown University and traveling through different international locations in Bangalore, Oslo and London. It is an inquiry into the networked conditions of our times, and how they produce ways, conditions and habits of life and living which need to be unpacked beyond mapping and analyzing networks as producing seamless globalizations.” I’ll be discussing epistemological problems engendered by the network and new forms of witness in the context of the Arab Spring (sort of along the lines of this post).
And on the remote chance that anyone reading this blog is based in Portland OR and is interested in hearing me talk about 14th century Arabic encyclopedism, I’ll be giving a talk at the American Oriental Society conference this weekend. Back to regular programming soon enough.
Wait, wha? This is going on at the same time as “Urgent Witness” stuff but not linked up?
It’s all part of the same series, Marcia.
Ah, OK. I hadn’t seen this leg of it. Thanks!
“…conditions and habits of life and living which need to be unpacked beyond mapping and analyzing networks as producing seamless globalizations.”
Holy crap, come on, who makes up this stuff? Beware (m)academia nuts Elias, especially in your lit/arts fields….
As to the vid, sorry not impressed, IMNSHO Arabs and Arab youth need something authentic and rap ain’t it.
NSH indeed. 😉
What, pray tell, do Arabs need?
The Arabs clearly need a technologically advanced army that espouses secular, democratic and liberal principles and is willing to fight for them. If not that, then Islamist militias and rap will have to do.
… Mass conversion to Judaism.
You can try that too. I can recommend lenient rabbis. If that doesn’t work for you, I guess its back to Islamist militias and rap.
Of all the things the Arabs need, it’s strange to me that you decided to opt for a technologically advanced army with liberal principles. Aren’t you putting the cart before the horse?
I don’t think so. This picture in the Arab world is repeating itself: A determined well organized religious extremist group takes over either by democratic means and/or by force. Examples include the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah and Al-Nusra (I think something similar is going on in Libya and Tunisia also). These groups are funded by other Arabs or Persians.
Why isn’t there ONE counter non-religious group? In the PLO and in Lebanon there were communist militias. I have began longing for them to return… Seriously, why can’t secular and liberal Arabs organize into a coherent entity that also has a strong military arm? You have to admit that the commitment and willingness to sacrifice looks much greater on the religious side and this creates a “virtuous” circle by which they get more funding and become more effective and so on.
There is no contradiction between being secular and liberal and having a strong army or fighting force. So what exactly is the problem? The religious groups did not wait for changes in Arab society to become effective. They started small and counted on success breeding success. Yes, it is a long term project, but you have to start somewhere.
I guess I feel that before anyone starts a secular army, we need to see secularism become more of a mainstream phenomenon. That was my point.
On another note, I dropped in on Syria Comment today for the first time in a while. Holy crap. Totally new faces, and some old ones too. But every post has over 400 comments. And the vitriol makes the old days like genteel.
Those of you who are reading SC regularly, could you catch me up? If you had to characterize the general landscape of political affiliations and attitudes in the comment section, how would you describe it?
I wasn’t kidding.
It solves the problems on most if not all fronts!
Let me know when you have converted or even started the conversion process. Or perhaps you can point me to some Arabs doing that. Then I will know you are not kidding. Until then go buy a unicorn. I heard some are available in North Korea.
The situation in SC is similar to the situation on the ground in Syria. You have regime supporters and rebel supporters with fragmentation among the revolution supporters along secular and religious lines. The regime supporters mostly post crap from dubious sources while claiming Assad is winning and that the opposition is fragmented and inefficient and it is really a foreign conspiracy that well lead to Islamist rule if successful. The rebel supporters come in more variety, both religious and secular. It seems though that the consensus is that Al-Nusral is effective and should be supported at least until Assad is gone.
Since there is basically no moderation it has become a cesspool. The videos coming out of this civil war are horrendous. I think it will make reconciliation that much more difficult. It is not that the Syrian civil war is more brutal than others. I think though it is the first time that every idiot had a video camera and took pictures of bodies, torture and mistreatment and then posted them on the internet or had the other side post them after killing him and taking his cell phone. These videos are never going away.
“I guess I feel that before anyone starts a secular army, we need to see secularism become more of a mainstream phenomenon. That was my point.”
I think it is the other way around. Hezbollah in the 80′ was a fringe group that grew popular because of its successes. The success of a secular group will make secularism more popular. Just as if Arab Nationalism would have succeeded, it would have been much more popular that it is now. Success breeds popularity.
AIG, as interesting as your point about secular armies and their potential success sounds, do remember that about every regime that has been desposed of was secular. In a way, secular leaders with their armies had their chance. They didn’t provide economically, they didn’t liberate Palestine and they certainly didn’t abide by any liberal democratic rule of law.
Maybe there’s one immediate chance to prove you right, and that would be by carefully nurturing (amongst others through arming) secular groups in Syria. Maybe this is what the UK and the US will be attempting now.
That is why I stressed secular AND liberal. Secular alone also applies to Stalin of which the Arab leaders were a more benign variety.
I guess it is an issue of funding and ideology. As you state, islamist groups are well funded. Which Western country would fund a secular and liberal fighting militia, with the same endurance as for example Iran funds Hezbollah? That connects to the second point. Any funding by any western state for a non-state actor would quickly be painted as interference, and as ideologically non-suitable. Why could Hezbollah pull it off? Perhaps because they emerged and grew sufficiently strong during an era of chaos. Perhaps because they, by their opposition to Israel and America, appealed to a wider crowd other than only their Shia brethren. Which brings us back to Syria, perhaps the only place where a well funded secular and liberal militia could grow sufficiently strong to allow it to dictate postwar conditions, depending on various factors, like funding and time left for them organize themselves.
Again ideologically, the fault of western countries was that they burned their cards somewhat by funding and supporting secular regimes that now have been toppled. Again, the lone exception is Syria. One could argue Libya as well.
Takes funding…and faith. Even seculars need something more than money to fight (mercenaries alone won’t do) You need at the very least to trust the ones that are asking you to fight? No funds, no faith, no trust, no hope, no fight.
Why is it the Western countries that need to fund the s & l militia? Why can’t they initially be funded by Arabs and after being successful get Western backing? As for Western support for the regimes, did the West support Nasser? In fact the Russians supported Egypt till Sadat changed policies and the Russians still support Syria. Doesn’t seem to be a problem for them in the Arab world. This is all an excuse. The s & l should proudly proclaim that it supports the West just as Hezbollah has no problem saying that it supports Iran with its many warts. Of course many people will not like it. So what? Does Nasrallah care that so many Sunnis hate his guts? Does that make him change his ideology or compromise his willingness to pursue his goals?
“You need at the very least to trust the ones that are asking you to fight?”
If you are fighting because someone is asking you, the battle is already lost. You need to be self-motivated. I do agree that part of the issue is no hope. The s & l crowd in the Arab world does seem disorganized and deflated though it could easily be 20% or more of the population (going by Egypt and Lebanon).
Those of you who are reading SC regularly, could you catch me up?
SC is sooo bad right now, it makes me think Obama’s strategy of staying away from Syria is the correct policy. There are 30 participants on SC, and they all hate each other for one reason or another.
“Why is it the Western countries that need to fund the s & l militia? Why can’t they initially be funded by Arabs”
I guess your theory/thinking is being played out as we speak in Syria. The lack of western support has ushered new Islamist groups into the forefront. Which Arab entity would fund a s & l organization? Is there any such entity worth speaking of? It’s an intriguing idea though. Islam has proven to create very durable groups, as opposed to western capitalism that seeks results each quarter. Perhaps also, authoritarian leaders that have 20 years to kill on the throne can wait several years for an investment to bear fruit, whereas elections even in four-year-term democracies lack far sightedness, not to mention that transparency in the west makes it difficult to funnel large amounts of money for long periods, whereas a few billion here or there even in poor Iran doesn’t create too much of a stir.
And as MJ implies, liberalists are just not coherent enough, whereas islamic groups really see themselves as being in an existential struggle against capitalism and liberalism, and are ready too die for their cause to a larger degree. Right or wrong, in Europe we tend to think that an idea is stronger than any sword. Perhaps true in the long, long, run. That’s why the questions often circulating in Europe are twofold; how long time until Islam reaches enlightment (as Christianity is perceived to have done 500 years ago) and how long time until democratic thinking will take hold in the MENA-region? Basically, we’re sitting here in Europe waiting for people to come around to our way of thinking 😉
“Which Arab entity would fund a s & l organization?”
How about the liberal Arab diaspora?
Western liberalism has also created very enduring groups, like the one I belong to, Zionists. There is nothing special about Islam that allows creation of durable groups and nothing in Western society that works against it. It is the commitment of the people and their belief in their principles that count.
Increased religious nationalist participation is eroding the secular nature of the IDF; evangelical Christians are doing the same to the USAF. Dangerous trends all around.
What is not dangerous however are the actual and real proliferation of Islamist militias in the Arab world, right Lally?
Are those militias a “trend” that one day may prove dangerous or are they real now? See the difference?
I’m wary of all religious fanatics and tend to be more nervous about those with access to nukes. The Islamist militias proliferating in Syria (and beyond) do pose a future risk to Israel but not on the scale of say, Pakistan going rogue.
My point was the secular/liberal nature of military orgs is not static. IMO discipline and training are more critical to having an effective military than adherence to some airyfairy thinktanky notions about secular Arab liberals with guns.
Besides, as everyone should know by now, G0D is on OUR side, ya’ll.
The Baathists, the Nasserites and others were led by military elites that espoused secularism and democracy. Unfortunately, after coming to power they quickly veered to totalitarianism. It is hard to see a promising future in MENA as long as the strongest forces are those of revanchist Islam and radical Zionism. In fact, the country with the most political promise, IMHO, is Iran, where there is an educated and liberal leaning population. However, the religious right there has erected some very high constitutional barriers to making changes and the American/Israeli war drums will likely deliver many of them to the ayatollahs for reasons of national defense and pride
“There is nothing special about Islam that allows creation of durable groups and nothing in Western society that works against it. It is the commitment of the people and their belief in their principles that count.”
Dunno AIG, the thinking becomes complicated the more we dwelve into the matter. Without any deeper analysis, I’m thinking that the Western world of today is good at creating institutions, not groups willing to die for a cause. I think the latter needs certain preconditons, religion (a cause of some sort, but belief in an afterworld certainly helps), demographics (many children), a sense of despair…a secular and liberal group just allows too much free thinking for coherent action. The more I think about it, it seems quite a paradox to be liberal and be a fighting group as well. War is dirty. But I know too little to be certain of anything. Marxist militias had a cause worth fighting for, in their eyes, but certainly money was/is an issue, if you look at Latin America for instance. Throughout history, has there ever been any group that fits your thinking? Zionists don’t qualify the way I see. There’s the religion and the feeling of despair that drove Zionists as far as I know (although I am by no means knowledgable of Zionism).
Why don’t Zionists qualify? As an atheist Jewish Zionist and a liberal that served many years in the IDF I can tell you that there are many Israelis like me. In fact, Zionism is a secular movement definitely not a religious one. Its founders were secular European Jews and it is based on 19th European nationalism.
And Zionists are of course not the only group. How about all those foreigners, like Hemingway, who volunteered to fight fascism during the Spanish Civil war? Or against Germany in WW1? And what would you call the the revolutionaries in the American war of independence that were willing to take on a great empire at great cost for their ideals which were at the forefront of liberalism at that time? There is just no paradox between being a liberal and fighting for what you believe in.
Damn. I guess that Hezbollah, “willing to take on a great empire at great cost for their ideals”, is also a liberal success story…..who knew?
Good points AIG. But I think we’re looking at it this slightly differently. As Lally, I thought you meant groups more like Hezbollah, or Hamas. The French resistance in WWII or fighting fascism in Spain are just people fighting, obviously for something they believe in. That I see in Syria as well. I thought your question/thinking went beyond those groupings of individuals. Like Zionism for instance. So the equivalent would be for instance Christian groups in the Levant banding together to form a coherent unit with the aim of creating a secular state where Christians dominate, thus shielding themselves from an islamic majority, with the help of a western backer? Slight pun intended (not directed to you), but kinda sounds like Lebanon.
What I meant was any secular and liberal group the was willing to fight for its ideas, not necessarily in order to create a country. You don’t need in Syria or Lebanon a group that wants to form a country as one already exists. Just as Lebanon existed when Hezbollah was formed and according to them all they want is to influence the internal discourse, you could have such group in Syria whose aim is to influence the outcome in Syria towards a more secular and liberal future. I don’t get your examples actually because both Hezbollah and Hamas aims are not to create a country but to gain influence for their ideology in one. They are a combination of political party and fighting arm. Why couldn’t there be a secular and liberal example of that? The equivalent would be instead of the “Party of God” the “Party of the Rights of People” that has also a military arm.
Isn’t there already a party like that? The SSNP? Secular, “liberal”, “for the people”. And armed?
Of course I didn’t mean to imply that Hizb or Hamas are out to create their own country, it was just an example of what it could lead to, as I immediately thought back to the Maronites being backed by the French.
We’ll see what happens in Syria now that France and UK seem to be pairing up with the US in wanting to arm rebels. Maybe they will heed “your” advice.
I though the SSNP were Nazis attacked by secular liberal Christopher Hitchens????!!!!
If the Israelis have finally decided that Obama can arm some reliable revolutionaries, we will. However, they seem to be pretending to insist that the big dumb Satan go bomb some stuff in Syria for them….or else….provide whatever backup the lil’ Plucky requires even if, as fervently hoped, it starts up some serious shit with Hezbollah.
Oh I don’t know Lally. This is all getting very confusing for me.
I’m not exactly sure who AIG is hoping to arm anymore! He didn’t seem too keen on my suggestion that perhaps if the Peoples of the Middle East all just took to the Judaic faith, the problems may all go away…. all without a gun in sight.
Oh well… we can keep waiting for that “truly liberal”, “rights dominated”, “secular” and lest we forget… “armed” party to be formed and funded by us enterprising expats!
I’m not quite sure what the idea is really.
Now that the Syrian airforce is firing missiles at Lebanese targets, I wonder if that towel-head Nasrallah will do something to protect Lebanon.
My quess: he’s ignoring the whole thing because Assad and Iran can do no wrong.
Already Hezbollah’s assistance to Assad is costing Lebanon. Exports to the Gulf through Syria have been halted by the rebels:
Gaby….if your solution of mass conversions were to manifest, the funding could come via The Diaspora by way of the US taxpayer as per usual.
Iron Domes all around!
Resistance isn’t just a electrical phenomenon in Lebanon
Glad to see the Missile Defense Agency getting a good deal from America’s ally.
Too bad there isn’t any other technology in the ME the US can use.