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Pope Francis, Salman Rushdie, and Charlie Hebdo

20 Jan

 

 

(Prefatory Note: This post is a much modified piece published a few days ago in AlJazeera English, and republished elsewhere on line. As many have now done it tries to enlarge the context in which the Charlie Hebdo events are understood beyond a highlight film clip in ‘the war on terror.’ The alleged link between the Chouachi brothers and Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) allows the attack on Charlie Hebdo to be experienced as the French 9/11, and with this a return of France to a status of post-colonial geopolitical relevance. Without grasping the relevance of how the dominant treat the dominated within our societies and throughout the world, we are consigning ourselves to many repetitions of the private and public horrors experienced in France on January 7, 2015.)

 

 

There is some common ground, but not much. The killings in Paris last week were horrifying crimes that expose the vulnerability of democratic societies to lethal vigilante violence, whether facilitated from outside or as a spontaneous expression of homegrown psychopathic alienation. Beyond this naked, morbid reality associated with the murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, police officers, and the supermarket hostages there is nothing but darkness, and in that darkness some dangerous monsters lurk.

 

We can be again thankful for the moral clarity of Pope Francis who a few days ago in the impromptu setting of a plane taking him from Sri Lanka to Manila shined a light upon the darkness. Unlike those who so ardently wielded the slogan “Je suis Charlie” the pope understood that free speech without limits is an invitation to indulge the worst negative impulses that will then operate as viruses destroying the vital organs of the body politic.

 

What Pope Francis underscored was the impossibility of reconciling dignity with hurtful insults, especially as directed toward the already marginalize and socially vulnerable. He illustrated his view by saying that if one of his companions on the plane, Dr. Alberto Gazparri a Vatican official, hurled obscene insults at his mother Gazparri could expect to receive a punch. The pope called such a physical response normal: “It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.” Perhaps, this is too strong an expression of limits, but it does indirectly raise the Derrida urgent question of how and whether we can ever learn to ‘live together’ in peace, with respect within globalizing social space, while swallowing differences of race, class, religion, ethnicity, gender.

 

Francis went on to say the obvious, that to kill in response to any provocation, however severe, hurtful, and lewd, is not compatible with religion properly understood. If it claims a religious motivation, such behavior is an expression of “deviant forms of religion.” He goes on to say “To kill in the name of God is an aberration.” At the same time, how lines are drawn with respect to acceptable and unacceptable forms of provocation is highly political, changeable, and culturally influenced and even constructed.

 

In one respect France and other governments understand both sides of this argument, but twist it for political purposes. The popular African comedian Dieudonné has been repeatedly charged with criminal offenses because his humoraous routines deeply offend Jews, Zionists, and Israel. He is being currently prosecuted in France for ‘defending terrorism’ It turns out that there are no less than 54 pending cases in the country associated with ‘condoning terrorism’ by way of speech. The Associated Press reports that despite present tensions and the public celebration of free speech the government in Paris has “ordered prosecutors around the country to crack down on hate speech, anti-Semitism, and glorifying terrorism.” But note no message by the French government is sent mentioning ‘hate cartooning’ or addressing the surge of ‘Islamophobia’ in the country in the days following the January 7th attack on the Charlie Hebdo editorial offices. A large number of mosques in France and elsewhere in Europe have been desecrated in the last week. There are numerous reports of harassment of Muslims as they walk the streets of the country, and indeed throughout Europe. It is understandable that the Muslim community as a whole feels on edge given the ambiguity of the ‘je suis Charlie’ fervor that includes a new press run of 5 million, compared to the former figure of 60,000, that features a cover demeaning the prophet Mohamed. The ambiguity arises because there is a merger of solidarity with the victims and their families after such a shocking attack and an endorsement of their depiction of the Muslim religion as depraved and degrading.

 

This kind of double standards toward these two kinds of hate speech performs a variety of insidious functions for the French state. It uses the language of ‘terrorism’ or ‘anti-Semitism’ to demonize its political enemies and ‘freedom of expression’ to insulate its political allies from any adverse consequences. It blends the criminalization of terrorist advocacy and anti-Semitism with public action taken in the face of strong criticisms of Israel, especially if proposes concrete nonviolent action as is the case for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign. And it makes it even clearer to Muslims that they are fair game for Islamophobes and xenophobes. In effect, a French political community is being upheld that seeks to include Jews as valued and protected members while reinforcing the Muslim understanding that their residences and social standing can be fully understood by reference to the negatively imaged banilieus of the country depicted by the corrupted custodians of public virtue as virtual no-go zones for ordinary Frenchmen, and hazardous neighborhoods even for public officials and the police.

 

In the wake of these events, there is in the West the mainstream media has given a renewed prominence and sympathetic look back at the ordeals that Salman Rushdie endured after the publication of his satirical novel The Satanic Verses in 1988. Rushdie, appearing as a guest on Bill Maher’s talk show and delivering a lecture at the University of Vermont, understandably defended freedom of expression as an absolute right. His words, deeply felt, are worth heeding as the counterpoint to the views expressed by Pope Francis: “And so artists who to that edge and push outwards often find very powerful forces pushing back. They find the forces of silence opposing the forces of speech. The forces of censorship against the forces of utterance..At that boundary is that push-and-pull between more and less. And that push and pull can be very dangerous to the artist. And many artists have suffered terribly for that.” To speak as an ‘artist’ is not a warrant for hate speech that is directed at a group where there needs to be a balance struck between opposed societal values.

The context of Rushdie’s recent remarks was the Charlie Hebdo incident, but his outlook was intended to be sweeping in its generality as applicable to Islam in general. And yet he did not, nor did Bill Maher, pause to take note of those powerful forces in the West that have tried to shut down critics of Israel by shouting ‘anti-Semite’ at the top of their lungs. Some sensitivity to Jews is certainly appropriate as a social value in our post-Holocaust world, but such sensitivity should not be coupled with insensitivity to the victimization of the Palestinian people by the state of Israel. Without some degree of consistency it is difficult to consider clearly how societal balance should be struck in a given situation. The intermingling of East and West has given rise to deep grievances among many Muslims throughout the world, and calls attention to exploitative structures of political, economic, and cultural life within our world that link the domineering to the dominated, giving rise to desperate forms of resistance in response to despicable forms of domination by the powerful and rich.

 

It should not be surprising that the killers in Paris were moved to action by Abu Ghraib pictures portraying the torture and humiliations of Muslims held in American run Iraqi jails. In 2007 Chérif Kouachi said these words in a French court: “I was ready to go and die in battle. I got this idea when I saw injustices shown by television on what was going on over there. I am speaking about the torture that the Americans were inflicting on the Iraqi.” Was it wrong for Kouachi to be appalled? Was it wrong for him to want to act in support of his beliefs? What were his real life options? Of course, it was wrong to do what he did. As W.H. Auden wrote in a famous poem: “Those to whom evil is done do evil in return.” This is essence of blowback, a kind of warning to the rich and powerful to act justly. Yet we find the rich and powerful in denial, and so the vicious cycles of blowback persist in their fury.

 

What makes this confrontation so difficult to resolve is that it engages at least two truths, not the single one that has dominated public space. The essential beginning of ethical credibility is an insistence upon consistency. Either Rushdie and France have to uphold the freedoms of Dieudonné whose humor they find abhorrent as well as safeguard the publication of Charlie Hebd discriminating as between various ethnicities and religions in its midst when it comes to drawing lines between protecting the freedom of expression and punishing hate speech.

 

The U.S. Supreme Court long ago decided that free speech does not entitle someone to yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. This is what courts are for, to draw these lines in specific cases, balancing opposing truths in the light of practicality and the evolving values of the community. What a judicial body had to say about race or homosexuality a century ago is different than what is says today. And as we in American know too well, the prevailing ideology among the justices is often of greater relevance in determining how such lines are drawn than are the legislative, constitutional enactment, and cultural norms being interpreted. In some respects, then, such determinations are more part of the problem than of the solution.

 

I find myself siding with the abstract sentiments of Pope Francis, but in sympathy with Rushdie’s view of minimizing the role of law and the state. In this respect, if we impose limits by way of government we are entering the domain of censorship. At the same time, we need to protect individuals and groups against malicious forms of defamation and hateful attacks on identities without confusing such protection with efforts to channel public awareness in certain prescribed directions. My own experience suggests that ‘freedom’ of this sort has been used by some pro-Zionist and pro-Israeli organizations to discredit and deter and criticism of Israel, and especially of Israeli state crimes victimizing the Palestinian people. In Rushdie’s case we need to protect his right to publish The Satanic Verses, while condemning the fatwa imposing a death sentence for blasphemy and apostasy, yet respecting the right, and possibly the duty, of non-Western political communities to prohibit distribution of such a book due to its provocative nature in certain civilizational settings.

 

Obviously, there are no cookie cutter answers. The proper limits are a matter of history, ethics, cultural priorities, political leadership, societal circumstances, and most of all, spiritual sensitivity. I feel that the central question is raised by Derrida’s inquiry into how we can learn to live together as well as possible, or at least better. For me living together, given the originality of our historical moment, involves the construction of overlapping communities of destiny—from family to world, with a major focus on national and sub-national political communities without forgetting the wholeness of humanity, our too often suppressed or distorted species identity. Such an undertaking needs to be combined with a greater effort to establish a global political community so that challenges posed by climate change, nuclear weaponry, infectious disease, religious and ethnic intolerance, world poverty, and societal marginalization can be addressed more effectively and humanely.

 

 

Pope Francis and Religious Cosmopolitanism

10 Jan

 

Points of Departure 

Perhaps, the most hopeful recent development in human affairs is the emergence of Pope Francis as the voice of global conscience. Although Francis speaks with papal authority to the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, he also increasingly speaks with human authority to the rest of us. How significantly this voice will resonate might be viewed as the ultimate test as to whether ‘soft power’ is overcoming the geopolitical death dance that imperils the human species as never before.

 

When visiting occupied Palestine in May of 2014 Francis prayed at the notorious Israeli separation wall in Palestine that the World Court had ordered dismantled as unlawful back in 2004. The pontiff chose to pray near a scrawled graffiti that read ‘Pope, we need some 1 to speak about justice.’ While in the Holy Land Francis articulated what justice should mean in relation to the Palestinian reality: the pope called the existing situation ‘increasingly unacceptable,’ defied Israel by speaking of the ‘State of Palestine’ while touring the West Bank, and urged the establishment of a ‘sovereign homeland’ for the Palestinian people where there would be freedom of movement (so long denied). By this visit and declaration, Pope Francis indirectly underscored the ethical insight of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu that after the collapse of apartheid in South Africa, the great symbolic moral challenge directed at the conscience of humanity is the empowerment and liberation of the Palestinian people. Such an affirmation also confirms Francis’ credentials as an independent world leader who will not defer to Washington’s craven submission to Israel’s continuous trampling upon Palestinian rights.

 

More broadly, Pope Francis has made it repeatedly clear that he is a critic of global inequality and of a capitalist world economic system that has produced ‘plunder of nature,’ a ‘frenetic rhythm of consumption,’ and worship of ‘the god of money.’ Above all, according to the German cardinal, Walter Kasper, this is a pope who “wants to lead faith and morality back to their original center” in authentic religious experience. Such leadership is definitely taking a form that is responsive to the array of unmet global challenges that threaten future harm to all peoples in the world, as well as to those most marginalized and vulnerable due to their particular circumstances. The spirit and substance of Pope Francis’ pastoral ministry is clearly within the framework of the Roman Catholic tradition, but its outreach is essentially ecumenical, touching deeply all who care about spirituality, survival, and global justice.

 

The Failures of Secular Global Leadership

 

When Barack Obama was elected in 2008 there was a hope throughout the world that he would provide the kind of inspirational leadership that could nurture political confidence in the human future. Surely, such expectations are the only conceivable explanation for awarding Obama the Nobel Peace Prize the following year while America was involved in two major wars of aggression (Afghanistan, Iraq) and was pursuing a militarized foreign policy of global scope involving navies in every ocean, hundreds of overseas bases, and the potential weaponization of space. It still seemed plausible in 2009 to suppose that only a charismatic American leader possessed the will and ability to forge cooperative solutions serving the human interest in response to global challenges. The United States at its best managed to combine the pursuit of its national interests with some sense of responsibility for upholding global interests. This role was played by the United States with varying degrees of success. It has been a characteristic of world order since 1945.

 

In the months after his inauguration as president, Obama seemed to share this sense of historic mission by making in the Spring of 2009 rather visionary speeches in Prague proclaiming a commitment to achieving a world without nuclear weapons and then in Cairo about turning a new page in the Middle East, including exerting pressure on Israel to create finally the political basis for resolving the conflict. Unfortunately, all too soon it became apparent to all who observed the scene that Obama was a president committed to the continuity of American global power and influence, and not at all ready to engage in battles against entrenched forces that would be required to achieve global justice. On both the Middle East and nuclear weapons Obama quickly yielded to those who insisted on the absoluteness of Washington’s support for Israel and gradually showed his willingness to appease the American political establishment that was far more interested in modernizing the nuclear weapons arsenal than considering prudent moves toward its abolition.

 

On a global scale, the failure of all efforts to heed the warnings of climate scientists to curb carbon emissions on an urgent basis or continue the trend toward global warming with dangerous intensifications of its attendant harms. Conference after conference each year under UN auspices have exhibited the inability of states to cooperate for the global common good to nearly the extent called for by a prudent response to what the scientists are saying about climate change. What prevails in these gatherings of over 190 states is the unwieldy interplay of national interests, and a grim recognition that the only practical way forward is to rely on the voluntary pledges of governments, and in doing so, abandoning the goal of imposing ‘common but differentiated’ legal obligations on all states. In effect, this shift to voluntary undertakings gives up any pretense of establishing an effective public order of climate protection. There is no doubt, as has been evident since the failure of the United States to ratify the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, that the domestic political situation within the country makes it unrealistic to seek a responsible climate change treaty if it makes encroachments on national sovereignty, as it must, as well as likely on profit-making, economic growth, and employment. In effect, the structure of international society based on the interplay of sovereign states and market driven economic actors makes it politically impossible to reconcile patterns of global governance with upholding the human or global interest. This structural reality of statism has become more relevant given the inability of the United States to any longer possess credibility as the chief promoter of global interests of benefit to all peoples of the world.

 

There are also ideological resistances to acknowledging limits with respect to human activity, mainly associated with the persisting strength of nationalism as compared to competing transnational belief systems. As became evident as long ago as World War I, working class solidarity promoted by socialist values was no match nationalist sentiments supportive of European colonial interests overseas. In effect, political leaders of states, whether democratic or authoritarian, are products of political cultures that continue to be shaped by the predominance of nationalism. Such a reality underscores growing tension between the human exploitation of the natural environment and a variety of threats to ecological sustainability.

 

Pope Francis as an Agent of Global Revolution

 

It is precisely here that Pope Francis’ entry upon the scene has potential revolutionary consequences. In line with this, it seems entirely appropriate that his most concerted commitment to date is to awaken the world to the menace of global warming arising from unchecked climate change. The Vatican has announced the Pope’s intention to issue a major encyclical that will set forth an authoritative statement of the Catholic Church’s thinking on climate change. This will be followed by a speech to the UN General Assembly in the Fall and after that, by a Vatican call for a global summit of religious leaders drawn from around the world. What the Pope brings to the table is a meta-political promotion of the human interest that has so far been absent from all efforts, including those of the UN, to meet global challenges. In this sense, mobilizing the pope’s Catholic base and reaching out to other religions is the kind of global leadership needed to have any prospect of fashioning the sort of robust response to climate change that is needed with growing urgency.

 

I have long believed that within each of the great world religions there exists an ongoing struggle between sectarian and universalist tendencies. Both tendencies can draw on their respective traditions to support contradictory claims about the nature of the core religious message. What is exciting about Pope Francis is that he seems to be moving the most globally constituted and influential world religion in a distinctly universalist direction at an historical time when such an orientation is directly related to building a positive future for the peoples of the world, and even more generally, for the human species and its natural habitat. Whether he is able to attract other religions to exert their influence in similar directions remains to be seen. As has been already observed, there are some influential doubters within his own Catholic hierarchy, seemingly threatened by his assaults on their bureaucratic positions of prestige (he has notably accused the Vatican Curia of ‘spiritual Alzheimer’s and a ‘funereal face’) and privilege associated with its proper custodial role of administration and the protection of the traditions of the Church. Some forces within the Catholic hierarchy hostile to Pope Francis’ ministry are allied with predatory political and economic interests. It has also been reported, for instance, that the great majority of Christian evangelists are deeply suspicious of this pope’s emphasis on climate change as arising from human activities. They even accuse Francis of propagating a ‘false religion’ by undermining their religiously based belief that global warming and extreme weather are clear signs of an approaching apocalypse rather than being negative byproducts of a fossil fuel world economy.

 

There is a further concern. Even if the religious summit is a glowing success, it will not by itself exert a sufficient impact on the political system to get the job done, given the hegemony of the state structure of world order and its supportive nationalist ideology when it comes to the adoption of global policy norms. Overcoming statist resistance will only be brought about if religious pressures are backed up by a transnational mobilization of people, a popular movement that alters the political climate within which leaders of states act. We need to remember that even the most inspirational of religious leaders does not have access to the policy mechanisms at the disposal of sovereign governments that alone have the ability to solve problems through institutionalizing cooperative action. Only with a surge of bottom-up politics can there be mounted a sufficient challenge to status quo forces resistant to change.

 

Note should be taken of the relevance of the US-China Agreement (Novemeber 2014) to place certain modest limits on carbon emissions, less for the substance of what was agreed upon by these two governments that account for about 50% of the buildup of greenhouse gasses, then to illustrate that if a populist movement calls for change and is then reinforced by the top-down initiatives of the dominant geopolitical actors, it becomes much more likely that a prudent globally oriented policy on climate change will finally emerge. Most optimistically viewed, the US/China agreement could be a breakthrough if it heralds a recognition by these dominant political actors to combine their pursuit of national interests with assuming geopolitical leadership in defining and promoting the global interest, thereby merging 21st century humanism with geopolitics.

 

Of course, what makes Pope Francis’ presence on the global stage so welcome extends beyond climate change. It involves the entire gamut of global justice issues. It represents a dramatic move toward what might be described as ‘moral globalization.’ It challenges the statist character of world order, the nationalist hold on the political imagination, and the predatory manipulation by neoliberalism of our wants and desires. In the end, what is being offered is a spiritual and cosmopolitan alternative to human fulfillment and the meaning of life. Such a worldview is not presented through an exclusivist prism of Catholicism, but rather through a renewed nurturing of the deep roots of the human condition. These roots include a coevoultionary reenchantment of nature as the indispensable bio-political partner of humanity in the work of safeguarding this planet against the rising dangers of ecological implosion. Such a realignment of fundamental attitudes also involves subordinating the technocratic and calculative sides of modernity to more holistic cosmopolitanism. This will involve reestablishing contact with the deeper emotional and spiritual sides of our being mainly lost in the modern quest for a scientifically validated technocratic salvation.

 

At a time when there are many strident voices insisting that religion is irrelevant or worse, the example and messages of Pope Francis offer cosmopolitan hope. It has never been more important to counter the widely disseminated view that religion is inherently responsible for political extremism, and more destructively, to blame Islam as a religion for sociopathic violence when the culprits are Muslim. True, religious doctrine can be twisted to serve any values, however demonic, as can secularist thinking.

Remembering 2014 (Badly)

25 Dec

 

Considering the year that is about to end is a time to pause long enough to take stock of what went wrong. In the United States not much went right aside from Barack Obama’s surprising initiative to normalize relations with Cuba after more than 60 years of hostile and punitive interaction. Although the sleazy logic of domestic politics kept this remnant of the worst features of Cold War diplomacy in being for a couple of extra decades, it is still worth celebrating Obama’s move, which when compared to the rest of his record, seems bold and courageous. As well, Obama exhibited a strong commitment to doing more than previously on climate change, using his executive authority to circumvent Congressional unwillingness to act responsibly. Obama’s immigration reform proposals also seem on balance to be positive, although whether they will be implemented remains an open question.  

 

Drifting Toward Cold War II: Remembering World War I

 

There are several signs of a worsening global setting that seemed to gain an ominous momentum during 2014. Perhaps, worst of all, is a steady drumbeat of anti-Russian rhetoric backed up by Western sanctions, that seems almost designed to produce Cold War II. No less a figure than Mikhail Gorbachev, speaking at the Brandenburg Gate an event observing the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, warned of a renewed Cold War, and wonder aloud as to whether it had already started. There is little reason to praise Vladimir Putin, but there is far less reason to transform the tensions generated by the confusing and contradictory happenings in the Ukraine into a renewal of high profile geopolitical rivalry, replete with crises and confrontations that pose world-shattering threats that could be actualized by accident, miscalculations, or the over-reactions of extremists bureaucrats and leaders.

 

In this year when the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I is being observed in many countries it is helpful to remember that this ‘Great War’ was started rather frivolously and proclaimed to be “the war to end all wars.” Instead, it is better remembered as the war that helped produced political extremism in Europe, unleashed forces that led to an even more devastating Second World War, and created the conditions that brought the nuclear age to the world. Perversely, as well, the origins of the contemporary turmoil in the Middle East today can be traced back to the world war one diplomacy that produced both the Sykes-Picot Agreement carving up the region by establishing artificial states to satisfy the greedy appetites of British and French colonial ambitions and the Balfour Declaration that committed the British Foreign Office and the League of Nations to the Zionist Project of establishing a Jewish homeland in the heart of historic Palestine without ever bothering to consult the indigenous population. Although some of the mistakes associated with the punitive aspects of the peace imposed on Germany by the Versailles Peace Treaty were corrected after World War II, these colonialist moves converted the collapse of the Ottoman Empire into an ongoing regional catastrophe that shows no signs of abating in the near future. We cannot rewind the reel of Middle Eastern history to learn if things would have turned out better if things had been handled more in accord with Woodrow Wilson’s premature advocacy of a self-determination ethos as the foundation of legitimate political communities deserving of membership in international society as sovereign states. These developments of a century ago are to an extent lost in the mists of time, but we should at least be alert about the roots of the present ordeal of chaos, strife, and oppression.

 

Torture Revelations

 

On December 9th after months of delay and controversy, the 500 page Executive summary of the 6,000 page Senate Intelligence Committee Report on CIA Torture was released. It contained some grizzly additional information and interpretations to what had been known previously, adding such practices as ‘rectal re-hydration’ to the repertoire of state terrorists, and indicating that there were at least 26 individuals tortured by the CIA who were improperly treated as suspects.

 

Perhaps, the most disturbing feature of this phase of the controversy about the treatment of terrorist suspects is the absence of remorse on the part of those associated with the policies relied upon during the Bush presidency in the period of hysteria following the 9/11 attack. Dick Cheney was particularly out front about his readiness to do it all over again, and refused even to lament the abuse of those detained by mistake.

 

The former Deputy Director of the CIA, Mike Morrell, has attempted to insulate the CIA from blame by suggesting the reasonableness of CIA’s reliance on the ‘torture memos’ prepared by John Yoo and Jay Bybee that encouraged the CIA to think that their forms of coercive interrogation were ‘legal,’ and argued the reasonableness of the post-9/11 inclination to take exceptional measures to gain information given the fears that abounded at the time within the U.S. Government of further attacks, including according to him, of a credible threat of al-Qaida’s access to a nuclear weapon within national borders. George W. Bush, never one bothered by nuance, assures us that the CIA torturers were ‘patriots’ who were engaged in doing the good work of protecting the security of the country. Bush seems to be saying that patriotism wipes clean the slate of individual criminal accountability.

 

Morrell, and his colleagues, conveniently ignore the fact that the Nuremberg Judgment concluded that even ‘superior orders’ are no defense for someone charged with violating fundamental rules of international humanitarian law. If we stop for the briefest of moments, and consider how we would view the interrogation practices of the CIA if roles were reversed, and white American males were seen as the victims rather than dark Muslim men from the Middle East, it would seem clear beyond a reasonable doubt, that the label ‘torture’ would fit, and the description ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ (further euphemized as EITs) is a malicious evasion of reality.

 

Even liberal centers of opinion, including the ever cautious New York Times, have reacted to the Senate Report with calls for criminal investigations leading to probable indictments of those responsible for implementing torture, with the ladder of responsibility leading up at least as high as Cheney as Vice President, and conceivably to George W. Bush. [See editorial, “Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses,” Dec. 22, 2014] The even more cautious American president, Barack Obama, has disconcertedly combined his repudiation of EIT culture and practices with a steadfast refusal to besmirch the reputation of the CIA or to look backward in time. Obama’s strange view, which is entirely destructive of any notion of governmental accountability ever, is that with respect to torture allegations the effort should be to prevent such behavior in the future, but not to investigate or impose any accountability for what was done in the past. I am led to wonder why he does not apply a similar logic to the leaks associated with such well-intentioned whistleblowers as Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and above all, Edward Snowden! Perhaps somewhere in the dark recesses of Obama’s mind he distinguishes between crimes of government (deserving impunity) and crimes against government (deserving severe punishment).

 

It is not that Obama is necessarily wrong in his disposition to overlook the past when it comes to torture revelations, although he supplied the citizenry with no appropriate justification for this de facto conferral of impunity. It is not at all certain that the United States political system could manage such self-scrutiny without experiencing such a deep polarization as to put domestic and world peace at risk. It is evident that the country is split down the middle, and the risks of strife and a surge of support for the extreme right in the event of arrests and prosecutions are far from being paranoid excuses of the timid. We need to face the reality, with all of its shortcomings in relation to law and justice, that we live in a world of pervasive double standards when it comes to the official treatment of criminal accountability for international state crime, whether perpetrated within the American domestic legal structure or at black sites around the world. It is plausible to hold defeated dictators like Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, and Qaddafi, accountable, but quite another matter to indict Bush, Cheney, and Tony Blair, although both groupings have been responsible for heinous crimes.

 

Part of the liberal concept of legality is to overlook what it is not feasible to do and focus on what can be done. From this perspective it was good to prosecute surviving German and Japanese leaders at Nuremberg and Tokyo because those charged were associated with vicious behavior and it was important to discourage and deter in the future. The fact that the indiscriminate bombing of German and Japanese cities by the victorious democracies, and the unleashing of atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, would also by any criminal court be deemed as crimes is true but irrelevant. It is better not to go there, and leave it to dissident anti-imperialist scholars to whine about ‘victors’ justice’ and ‘double standards.’ “We liberals do what we can to make the world better, and to fight against the nihilistic nationalism of the extreme right.” Such is the liberal credo.

 

What liberalism ignores is the relevance of structure and the organic connectedness of equality with the rendering of justice. If we are unwilling to prosecute the most dangerous perpetrators of state crime, is it not hypocritical to go after only those whose behavior appalls or angers the reigning hegemon? Does it not make the rule of law susceptible to dismissal as a cynical exercise in the demonization of ‘the other,’ whether belonging to an adversary religion, ethnicity, a marginalized class, or defeated nation? The experience of the International Criminal Court during its first thirteen years of operation is illustrative of this two-tier discriminatory approach to individual accountability. This parallels the more overtly discriminatory approach to nuclear weaponry adopted via the profound shift away from the initial concern about apocalyptic dangers posed by the weaponry to anxiety about its spread to certain unwanted others.

 

Although these questions about criminal accountability are rhetorical, the prudential dilemma posed is genuinely challenging. I am not convinced that it would on balance be constructive in the present national atmosphere to attempt the punishment of political leaders in the United States who in the past authorized the practice of torture. The potential costs and risks seem too high compared to the benefits. The related question is whether or not to create some kind of equivalence at lower levels of expectations. If ‘well-intentioned’ torturers are given a free pass why not do the same for ‘idealistic and responsible whistleblowers’? It would seem almost beyond debate that the whistleblowers should not be prosecuted if the torturers are beneficiaries of such a pragmatic form of impunity. I would make the case that Assange, Manning, and Snowden deserve an honorific form of pardon, namely, the application of a doctrine of ‘principled impunity” as distinct from the notion of ‘pragmatic impunity.’ Here I think the social system in the United States would benefit despite producing some severe political strains that would almost certainly follow. I would argue that the highest pragmatic virtue of prudence would mandate taking such steps, namely, protecting one of the few safety valves available to citizens living in a modern national security state, which when added to the principled recognition of selfless and virtuous citizenship makes an overwhelming case for decriminalization. If we cannot have accountability for certain categories of abhorrent state crime, at least we should encourage transparency, making whistleblowing integral to the preservation of political democracy.

 

It would be a mistake not to connect the torture revelations to related issues of police brutality associated with the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and of Eric Garner in Staten Island New York. Beyond this, the militarization of American political culture has been reaffirmed at the level of the citizenry by polls confirming the highest level of support for gun rights in the history of the country. It is little wonder that the elected leadership, as reinforced by the entrenched bureaucracy, cannot think much outside the military box when it comes to conflict resolution. Above all the resources of the moral and legal imagination have been degraded for so long as to be virtually irrelevant, which of course satisfies the comfort zone on ‘political realists’ who continue to distort our perceptions of 21st century realities.

 

 

 

Multiple Atrocities

 

More than in previous years, 2014 seemed to be a time of multiple atrocities, events that went beyond the ordeals of warfare and massive poverty, to shock the conscience by their violent aggression against the purest forms of innocence—deliberate brutality directed at young children, exhibiting depraved political imaginaries. By calling attention I have no intention of downplaying the widespread suffering associated with such continuing struggles at those taking place in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Kashmir, and many other places on our tormented planet.

 

ISIS or Daesh: This extremist movement, claiming an Islamic identity, emerged suddenly in the early part of 2014 as an occupying force in Iraq and Syria, proclaiming a new Sunni caliphate under its authority, and representing a sociopathic and sectarian response to the failed American occupation of Iraq. Initially welcomed by many Sunni Iraqis living in the northeastern parts of the country as liberation from Shiite abusive domination that resulted from American policies of debathification following the 2003 regime change in Baghdad, ISIS outraged the world by its televised beheadings of Western journalists, by its uprooting and slaughter of Shiite males belonging to the mainly Kurdish-speaking minority Yazidi community, and its alleged practice of turning Yazidi girls and women into sex slaves. Yazidis are considered an old religious sect that adheres to a pre-Muslim syncretist beliefs drawn from Zoroastrianism and ancient Mesopotamian religions, and drawing on other later religions as well. It would seem that the American-led response to ISIS is proceeding by way of yet another military intervention mainly in the form of air strikes. Although the political impact are yet to be clear, this does not a constructive path to restore peace and order.

 

Boko Harem: Another manifestation of sociopathetic extremist politics gained world attention in April by the kidnapping in Nigeria of some 200 schoolgirls who were later abused in various ways, including being sold into slavery. Boko Harem has controlled parts of northern Nigeria since 2009, and has continued to engaged in behavior that constitutes crimes against humanity, and a total disregard of the innocence of Nigerian children, repeatedly engaging in kidnappings and wholesale destruction of villages. As recently as December 18th, Boko Harem forces kidnapped at least 185 young men, women, and children from a village in northern Nigeria. Its political goals, to the extent evident, are to protect Muslims in the country and establish a strict version of sharia law for areas under their control.

 

Pakistani Taliban: The mid-December attack on Peshawar’s Army Public School by the Pakistani Taliban produced the massacre of an estimated 134 children and 14 others. The writer, Pervez Hoodbhoy, says that the Taliban, in ways that he believes parallel the ambitions of the Afghani Taliban, Boko Haram, and ISIS, are “fighting for a dream-to destroy Pakistan as a Muslim state and recreate it as an Islamic state.” The implication is a radical transformation from some kind of religious normalcy into a fearsome embodiment religious fanaticism.

 

Israel’s Military Operation ‘Protective Edge’ Against Gaza: For the third time in less than six years Israel launched a vicious attack against Gaza that continued for 51 days, with the resulting humanitarian crisis caused accentuated by imposing a punitive ceasefire that has hampered recovery. The entire viability of Gaza is at severe risk. The attacks, known by the IDF code name of Operation Protective Edge, produced heavy civilian casualties (over 2,100 Palestinians killed including 519 childen, about 11,000 wounded, and as many as 520, 000 displaced, many homeless; on the Israeli side 70 were killed, 65 of whom were IDF, and one child) including among children, and traumatized the entire population locked into Gaza, with no exit available even for women, children, and disabled seeking sanctuary from the attack.

 

Identified above are just a few highlights from this year’s catalogue of atrocities. It is also evident that there exists a pattern of numbed response around the world that amounts to a collective condition of ‘atrocity fatigue.’ Beyond this these incidents and developments illustrate the inability of many governments in Africa and the Middle East to exert effective sovereign control over their own territory, as well as the inability of the United Nations to protect peoples faced with threats underscoring their acute vulnerability. Account must also be taken of geopolitical priorities that accords attention to ISIS and Pakistan’s Taliban but much less to Boko Haram and none at all to Israel’s IDF. If there is any hope for effective responses it is a result of national and transnational activations of civil society that do their best to fill these normative black holes.

 

Climate Change and Nuclear Weapons

 

Without dwelling on these familiar issues threatening the future of the entire human species, it is worth noticing that little of a constructive nature took place during the year. A notable exception, which may make a difference, was the U.S./China agreement in November to regulate emissions and to cooperate in an effort to prevent the global buildup of greenhouse gasses. These two dominant states are responsible for almost 50% of this buildup, and suggest that geopolitical cooperation may produce more positive results than the dilatory movements of unwieldy UN mechanisms that involve the more than 190 states that make up its membership. On its surface the agreement was not impressive with the U.S. agreeing to cut emissions by 26-28% by 2025 and China agreeing to peak its emissions in 2030, and by meet its energy needs by relying for 20% on zero emissions sources, but the very fact of such an agreement was looked upon as ‘a game changer’ by some. I would be more skeptical, especially of the American side of the commitment, given the possibility that a Republican could become president in 2016, and might well ignore such an agreed target, especially if it is perceived as slowing economic growth. The UN Conference in Peru a month later ended up doing little more than issuing the Lima Call for Climate Action was one more disappointment. The bickering among states pursuing their distinct national interests was manifest and a resulting race to the bottom. It does not generate any confidence that the hope for a 2015 breakthrough in Paris will actually address climate change in a manner that heeds the warnings of climate scientists. Relying on voluntary guidelines so as to circumvent domestic debate, especially in the United States, is not an encourage feature of what is expected.

 

As for nuclear weapons, the less said the better. Obama’s Prague visionary statement in 2009 has been swept aside by the nuclear weapons establishment, not only in the United States, but in all the nuclear weapons states. And even the possibility of bringing a measure of stability to the Middle East by eliminating nuclear weapons from the region has been taboo because of Israeli sensitivities. Instead the United States is embarked upon an expensive program on its own to upgrade its arsenal of nuclear weaponry. There is no serious initiative evident within international society to move toward the one solution that has long been obvious and yet unattainable—phased and verified nuclear disarmament as a prelude to a wider demilitarization of the global security system.

 

What is at stake, above all, is whether the species as a species can manifest a collective will to survive in strong enough forms to meet these mounting unprecedented challenges of global scope. The species will to survive has never been seriously challenged previously, with all past survival collapses being of civilizational or sub-species scope. Humanity has been facing something new since the advent of nuclear weaponry, but has responded managerially rather than either with moral clarity or prudential wisdom.

 

Conclusion

 

Despite all, we can look to 2015 with some measure of hope, almost exclusively because there seems to be a slow awakening of civil society, at least in the domains of the BDS Campaign relating to Palestinian rights and in the form of the separate emergence of a transnational movement that takes global warming as seriously as the realities suggest. As for the future, we see, if at all, through a glass darkly, and thus have no excuse for refraining from a dedication to the struggle for global justice in its many shapes and forms. A posture of cynical hopelessness or despair worsens prospects for positive future developments, however empirically based such a negative assessment seems. All of us should recall that those who struggle for what seems ‘impossible’ today often turn out to be the heroes of tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Ali Mazrui (1933-2014)

4 Dec

(Prefatory Note: This second essay of remembrance celebrates another friend and close collaborator in an innovative academic and political project that occupied much of my energies in the period between 1969 and 1990. The undertaking was known by its infelicitous acronym ‘WOMP’ [World Order Models Project], and was conceived and managed by Saul Mendlovitz, yet another friend and co-worker, as a way to explore ‘feasible utopias’ within the rather utopian timeline of what could and should happen by the decade of the 1990s. Scholar/activists from different civilizational backgrounds met though out the world frequently in these years to exchange ideas and visionary conceptions of how to proceed humanely and effectively to realize a series of shared values: peace, justice, ecological stability, development, human rights. It became evident that despite this common ground rooted in ethical agreement, there were strong divergences when it came to expectations about what was attainable and what was desirable. The participants from the West were preoccupied with the avoidance of war, while those from the South focused their hopes and dreams upon development and empowerment, giving emphasis to overcoming the legacies and renewals of colonialism. Such transnational collaboration was attempted in the atmosphere of the Cold War and prior to neoliberal globalization and the more recent realization of the global threat posed by climate change. Present circumstances of challenge would make a new venture along similar methodological lines both illuminating and possibly politically relevant, and certainly of intellectual interest. It is my hope that someone who shares this viewpoint and has that blend of visionary adventurism and entrepreneurial ambition will make a second attempt along similar lines to those pursued too soon by WOMP.] 

 

 

Remembering Ali Mazrui (1933-2014)

 

One of the infrequently mentioned rewards of academic life is the opportunity for friendship with extraordinary persons, and no one I have known, better exemplifies the human potential to please mind, body, heart, and soul of others than Ali Mazrui. His death in October of this year was an occasion for widespread mourning but also of rejoicing through recalling the satisfaction of having had the benefit of Ali’s warmth and friendship over such a long span of years. If memory serves, as it rarely does these days, we met during his period of academic residence at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda toward the end of the 1960s. It was an early gathering of participants in the World Order Models Project (WOMP). Ali presided over the meeting in his triple role as African director of WOMP, Dean of the Makerere’s Faculty of Social Science, and Chair of its Political Science Department. He was already at that early age a prominent intellectual, internationally known as an outspoken champion of human rights and freedom of expression in the authoritarian atmosphere of Uganda. This situation would soon worsen when the murderous Idi Amin took over the government, making life impossible for Ali and forcing his departure from Uganda. As is evident to all who knew Ali, he never left in spirit or engagement the Africa whose people and culture he loved with his whole being.

 

As a speaker and thinker Ali was in a select class of his own. I remember encountering him at an African Studies Association a few later. He calmly told me that he was pressed for time because he was on the program eight separate times! Only Ali could have claimed such an absurdity without provoking a bemused smile, but Ali had so much to say that was valuable about so many topics that it made sense that numerous colleagues would implore him to join in their efforts. His speaking feats became legendary, especially in Africa, where heads of state invited him to speak on special occasions to crowds of thousands. Throughout his career Ali was honored and acknowledged with many awards, honorary degrees, and leadership positions in professional associations.

 

The reverse side of Ali’s virtuoso performance ethos was illustrated by a 1970s event in Montreal at McGill University. It was billed as a public meeting to exhibit the WOMP approach on global issues, and Ali was to be the featured speaker. We had a dinner prior to the event hosted by university dignitaries in a private dining room, and then walked to the nearby auditorium. To our astonishment and the dismay of the local conveners, the huge arena was completely empty. It turned out that the Canadian organizers of the event had completely forgotten to advertise the lecture, and we few at the dinner were the only ones present. It is still vivid in my mind that an undismayed Ali confronted the cavernous emptiness with dauntless composure, delivering his talk with accompanying flourishes as if he were addressing a hall filled with hundreds of attentive and adoring listeners.

 

I felt that Ali drew strength on that occasion, as in other challenging situations, from his noble Mombassa background that endowed him with that rare resource of unflappable poise in situations where most of us wilt shamefully. Having said this, it is also relevant to appreciate that Ali, as with most great persons, did not take himself nearly as seriously as others took him. He always enjoyed laughing at his own over the top exploits, not with a polite drawing room chuckle, but with a robust and contagious laugh that trumped whatever difficulty or tease he might experience.

 

When I first met Ali he was a brilliant product of an Oxford education with an outlook and elocution that might be associated with latter day disciples of John Stuart Mill and other liberal notables of the nineteenth century. He spoke eloquently, yet with a certain detached intellectuality. I never remember Ali being at a loss for words or ideas, but also not in these early years engaged socially and politically beyond his passionate commitment to maintain academic freedom enabling the work of the mind to go forward unimpeded along with an instinctive distaste for the sort of dictatorial ruling style that he was then encountering in Uganda.

 

In subsequent years Ali confronted some difficult family challenges, and experienced what others might describe as an ‘ideological midlife crisis’ culminating in a turn away from the West, an embrace of Islam as his empowering cultural foundation, and a fierce civilizational nationalism that bespoke his African identity, although coupled with his belief that Africa might serve as the stepping stone for the emergence of a genuinely global culture. I have many memories of this period. Listening to Ali speak with fervor in private about the propriety of banning Salmon Rushdie’s Satanic Verses in deference to the sensitivities of Muslim communities where his satiric treatment of Mohammed and Islam were being received as blasphemy, giving rise to violent reactions. I mention Ali’s views on this delicate matter because it represented such a sharp turn away from the kind of liberal openness to uncensored thought that had seemed his signature trait when we met in Kampala.

 

Then there was Ali’s unembarrassed cooperation with the academic activities of Reverend Moon’s Unification Church, which had struck many progressive folk, including myself, as well beyond the pale of acceptable collaborative work. Ali did not welcome being given political advice from his Western friends about the boundaries of academic propriety. He insisted on his independence and individuality, and declared that he would not sever the connections he had with the Moon operations, also contending, which was true, that he was left free to say and do what he thought when participating in events under their auspices. As warm as Ali was, he was defiantly willing to swim against the tide of political correctness wherever it might land him. In the case of the Unification Church Ali actually counter-attacked his critics, observing that Western missionaries had long penetrated non-Western societies, often in furtherance of crude colonialist interests without being berated for their cultural insensitivity, yet when religious figures from the non-West dare reverse the process, it’s no-go. He supported, in principle, such efforts as those of the Unification Church under the rubric of what he called ‘counter-penetration,’ what some more recently call counter-hegemony. In this instance as in others, whether one agreed or not, Ali understood well the whys and wherefores of his controversial stands.

 

Along similar ideological lines I would also mention Ali’s Reith Lectures in 1979 on the BBC, a prestigious platform that Ali used to shock the audience by putting forth the heretical notion that the countries in the West would only consider seriously giving up nuclear weapons when such weaponry fell into the hands of African and other Third World governments. [published in 1980 under the title The African Condition]. In effect, he was advocating nuclear proliferation as the only realistic path to nuclear disarmament, which was a total inversion of the Western consensus. It was not a popular position to adopt, and made never made an impact on the policy outlook in the West that had accommodated itself to nuclear weapons in the possession of the permanent members of the Security Council (and a few others), while remaining ready to risk a shooting war to keep nuclear weapons from falling into the ‘wrong’ hands. For Mazrui, and for me, any hands are the wrong hands. The justification for the 2003 Iraq War and the threat diplomacy to which Iran had been exposed for many years were expressions of this anti-proliferation alternative to nuclear disarmament. In effect, Ali saw through this Western approach as an effort to keep the Third World under its thumb in the post-colonial era. What made Ali so valuable was his capacity and willingness to articulate in lucid language such ideas that went against the grain of mainstream conventional wisdom in the West, making all us of think freshly about issues we had previously put aside as settled.

 

In a similar provocative vein, Ali even had some good words to say on behalf of the militaristic leadership (despite his own personal problems in Uganda) that had become so prevalent in post-colonial Africa, interpreting this phenomenon as a healthy reassertion of black male personhood in the aftermath of centuries of colonial demasculinization and racism imposed on African communities. Our grasp of the recent developments in Ferguson are illustrative of the parallel persistence of racism in America long after it had been legally abolished and would have surely benefitted from Ali’s commentary. I am confident that Ali’s take on these sordid events would have exhibited his originality, and rejection of the liberal platitudes of the day, but dug deeper into the cultural soil of fear and hatred that helps explain recurrent police violence, black victimization and anger, and public bewilderment.

 

This evolving political consciousness shaped Ali’s contribution to the WOMP process where he maintained a steady and lively presence, always the most articulate person in every conversation, and certainly the one among us with the greatest gift of conceptualization. In the WOMP context Ali’s enduring contribution was his wonderful and quite prophetic book A World Federation of Cultures (1976). The main contention of the book is the ‘postulate’ that “the transmission of ideas and their internalization are more relevant for world reform than the establishment of formal institutions for external control.” [p.2] This is a crucial starting point that goes directly against the grain of most thought about global reform that is devoted to the advocacy of feasible or desirable structures of governance. What Ali believes will improve the human culture is the establishment of a world or global culture. Again his words are illuminating: “At first sight the evolution of a world culture seems to be even more distant than the evolution of a world government. But a closer look at human history so far would dispel this misconception. In reality, we are no nearer a world government than we were a century ago, but we are much nearer a world culture.” [p.2]

 

In apprehending Ali’s approach, we should realize that it is rather complex and sophisticated, and difficult to apprehend all at once. While acknowledging Westernization as providing some of the foundations for global culture, Ali is clear about the need for a prior regional assertiveness in the form of regional autonomy. He posits a special role for Africa, achieving post-colonial independence by way of affirming regional and civilizational identity, ridding Africa of structural and cultural dependency, while at the same time reaching out beyond itself. In his view, regional self-esteem must precede empathy for the human species, the most essential ingredient of the transition from a collective sense of self at the regional level to a universalization of outlook. Ali is fully conscious of the difficulties of at once making use of his education and socialization in the West and the imperative of ridding political consciousness in Africa of crippling ‘cultural dependence.’

As he puts it, “[t]ranscending both the cultural Euro-centricism and political Afro-centricism of this book is the larger ambition of a more viable world order for mankind as a whole.” [p.14] The fuller presentation of the Mazrui worldview would show how nuanced and relevant his construction of the future remains almost 40 years after the book was published.

 

Ali’s ideas set forth in the WOMP context sprung to life in the 1990s, especially thanks to Samuel Huntington’s inflammatory version of cultural differences as historically revealed for him to be ‘a clash of civilizations.’ This view was given great credence in the thinking and behavior of neoconservatives in America, encouraged by the more interventionist applications of Huntington’s favored by Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami. These custodians of the American global state represented everything that Ali opposed—renewal of Western intervention based on a presumed cultural superiority and a callous disregard of non-Western cultural values. We still have much to learn from the Mazrui way forward, which incidentally is also currently professed by the Prime Minister of Turkey, Ahmed Davutoğlu [e.g. see Davutoğlu’s foreword to Civilizations and World Order, ed. By Fred Dallmayr, M. Kayapınar, and İsmael Yaylacı (2014)].

 

The last time I saw Ali was in the Spring of 2011 at the Intellectual Forum of the UN Conference on Least Developed Countries held in Istanbul. He was clearly diminished physically, having notable difficulty to move around, but his mental energy and conceptual agility were as dazzling as ever. There was about him then the aura of greatness that his death has not diminished.

 

Beyond the marvel of his oral gift and the instructive provocations and explorations of his thought, Ali remains vivid for me as a friend who relished long talks lasting deep into the night, which were invariably enlivened by the joys of unblended scotch whiskey. In a search for comparisons of talent and imaginative power, I can only think of James Baldwin, whom I admired from a distance for these same qualities of mind and heart that I found so captivating in Ali Mazrui. Perhaps, my most precious memory of all was the realization that when listening to Ali I was not only hearing an authoritative voice of Africa but also the universal voice of humanity. RIP.

 

Oslo is dead! Long live Oslo! The UK House of Commons Supports Diplomatic Recognition of Palestine

19 Oct

(Prefatory Note: The post below is a modified version, especially the ending, of a piece published online two days ago in AlJazeera English.  While appreciating the importance of the European moves to endorse Palestinian statehood, seeks a more definitive repudiation of the Oslo Approach. It calls for an end to the U.S. role as exclusive intermediary and the presumed outcome of a peace process being two states without indicating the character of the Palestinian states. So far, the two-state mantra has been cut back to allow Israel to retain at least the unlawful settlement blocs and to insist on arrangements that uphold their security against unforeseen threats, while granting not a word of acknowledgement to Palestinian security concerns. My own strong belief is that unless the two peoples are treated with full equality in seeking a solution, the result will not be sustainable or just even in the unlikely event that some sort of agreement is reached.)

 

 

 

 

Oslo is dead! Long live Oslo! The UK House of Commons Supports Diplomatic Recognition of Palestine

 

On October 13 the House of Commons by an overwhelming vote of 274-12 urged the British government to extend diplomatic recognition to Palestine.

At first glance, it would seem a rather meaningless gesture. It is a non-binding resolution, and Prime Minister David Cameron has already declared that this expression of parliamentary opinion will have no effect whatever on existing government policy. So far Britain along with the states in Western Europe adhere to Israel’s stubborn insistence, echoed by Washington, that Palestinian statehood can only be established through a solution to the conflict negotiated by the parties.

 

Even if the British vote was binding, why should it be seen as a dramatic move in Palestine’s favor? After all, Palestine has already been accorded recognition by 134 states since Yasir Arafat declared the existence of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders back in 1988.

 

Such downgrading of the significance of what took place is also part of the Israel tactical response. Its ambassador in London now declining even to comment on the decision after earlier indicating extreme disapproval with the evident hope of discouraging affirmative votes. Before the vote Israeli leaders used their levers of strong influence to discourage the vote. Netanyahu even insisted that such a step would seriously diminish prospects for resumed negotiations and would seriously harm peace prospects. After losing out, the Israeli tone changed, now calling the vote meaningless and devoid of importance.

 

In actuality, the UK initiative is an important symbolic victory for the Palestinians. Until the recently when the elected Swedish government indicated its intention to recognize Palestine as a state at some future undesignated time, no Western European government had broken ranks on the Oslo approach as interpreted by Israel and the United States. It is this approach that has put a straightjacket on diplomacy, requiring any progress toward a solution to be exclusively through direct negotiations for a Palestinian in which the U.S. acts as the one and only intermediary.

 

At stake, then, is not only the momentum building for European countries to extend recognition to Palestine, but also a belated admission that this Oslo approach after more than 20 years of futility should no longer be respected as the consensus foundation of Israel-Palestine conflict resolution. The UK action needs to be joined with the recent diplomacy of the Palestinian Authority, first the Fatah/Hamas agreement of April to form a unity government, and even more so, the resolution to be submitted to the Security Council on behalf of the Palestinian Authority that calls for Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders, including East Jerusalem, no later than November 2016. It is expected that the U.S. will veto this resolution if it is unable to mount enough pressure to prevent nine SC members from voting affirmatively. Such an initiative by Ramallah further signals that the PA is no longer willing to play the waiting game that has given Israel ample time for settlement expansion and ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem past points of no return.

 

In Mahmoud Abbas’ speech of September 26th to the General Assembly he clearly indicated that he was refusing to cooperate any longer with these diplomatic maneuvers facilitated by the Oslo framework. Responding to Palestinian pressures from below, Abbas left no doubt that he would not pretend that he had ‘a partner for peace,’ thereby turning the tables on Tel Aviv. He signaled this clearly when he described Israel’s 50-day military operation against Gaza this past summer as “a genocidal war.” The G-word was bound to elicit an angry Israeli response, which Netanyahu provided a few days later in the same UN venue, calling Abbas’ speech “shameless.”

 

There still remains a lingering and unfortunate ambiguity in these developments suggesting we have not yet truly arrived at a post-Oslo phase of diplomacy. The UK resolution accepted an amendment stating that its purpose was “as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution.” The former British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, elaborated on this, suggesting that was being done was to exert additional pressure on the parties to get on with negotiating a two-state outcome. This tail wagging the dog is a regression, sustaining the illusion that Israel, whatever the context, is at all willing at this stage to allow an independent sovereign Palestinian state to be established within 1967 borders, even if these are slightly modified. In effect, “Oslo is dead! Long live Oslo!”

 

Since the latest Gaza war there have been two developments of lasting significance : first, the inter-governmental diplomacy is slowly moving away from the Oslo approach, and Western Europe is beginning to fill the diplomatic vacuum created by the April collapse of the Kerry round of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. And Secondly, civil society nonviolent militancy and political leadership is beginning to occupy center stage in Palestinian hopes and dreams, particularly taking the form of the growing BDS campaign, but also visible in the refusal of Oakland, California workers to unload an Israeli cargo ship.

 

This latter fulcrum of resistance within Palestine and without raises serious leadership and representation questions—who now speaks with authority and authenticity on behalf of the Palestinian people? how can this question be answered given the statist manner in which the world is organized? Let me put my own understanding of this issue more directly: I find that the voices of Omar Barghouti and Ali Abunimah to be more authoritative and authentic than are those of the diplomats from Ramallah who a few years ago showed themselves ready to give the store away in the Palestine Papers and on other occasions. They couldn’t manage such a transaction since Israel apparently felt it already owned the store and was not ready to show gratitude even for a political outcome heavily slanted in their favor.

Changing the Political Climate: A Transitional Imperative

5 Oct

[Prefatory Note: The text below was originally published in Great Transition Initiative

 an online journal of the Tellus Institue, Boston, MA; the best link is: 

(http://greattransition.org/publication/changing-the-political-climate-a-transitional-imperative)

My hope is to encourage discussion of these ideas. Four comments were also

published in Great Transition Project.]

 

 

 

 

 

                        After the final no there comes a yes

                        And on that yes the future of the world depends.

                       

Wallace Stevens, “The Well Dressed Man with a Beard,”

                        Selected Poems (New York: Vintage, ed. H. Stevens, 1972)190

 

Points of Departure

 

            The most daunting challenging of adapting to the realities of the anthropocene era is achieving a soft transition from state-centric world order to a geo-centric reconfiguring of political community to enable the emergence of effective and humane global governance. The dominant existing framework for transnational and global political action is mainly still entrapped in old habits of thought and action tied to the primacy of the territorial sovereign state and myopic time horizons that are too short to shape adequate responses to the deepest challenges to the human future.

 

Empowering these actors to be more humanly and globally oriented and farsighted in their pursuits would generate hopes for a brighter future.[1] Such empowerment depends on a reorientation of individual identities on a sufficiently widespread basis as to create a new type of citizen, called here ‘a citizen pilgrim’ whose principal affinities are with the species and its natural surroundings rather than to any specific state, ethnicity, nationality, civilization, and religion. The hopes and expectations of citizen pilgrims rests on the quest for a sustainable and spiritually fulfilling future for all, and in sustainable harmony with nature. In this respect, humanity is confronting by a combination of unprecedented opportunity and danger: the practical and urgent imperative of fundamental change to meet existing threats and challenges and the prospect of catastrophic harm if an adaptive transition of sufficient magnitude does not occur in a timely fashion.

 

The outlook of the great transition involves two possible successful paths to the future: (1) the reorientation of the policies and practices of governance at all levels, and particularly those of sovereign states and their interaction;[2] or (2) a revolutionary change in the state system

This inquiry presupposes that a ‘great transition’ is necessary, possible, and desirable, but that at present, paradoxically, does not seem feasible. Proposing with all seriousness what is possible, yet not widely seen as feasible, is one way of ‘thinking outside the box.’ More responsively to a concern with world order there is contemplated two transitional paths to the future: (1) a revolutionary change in the political consciousness that shapes and statecraft that facilitates the pursuit of human and global interests. It is also possible that (1) and (2) could up being blended in various waysT. (1) is actor oriented, achieving transition without changing the structure of world order, whereas (2) is system or structure oriented, insisting that needed behavioral changes will not happen without altering the institutional and ideational context within which policies and practices are currently shaped.

 

Citizens and States

 

            The originality of our age is best interpreted by contrasting the identities associated with being a citizen of a sovereign state and successfully addressing the main challenges confronting humanity as a whole. The horizons of citizenship for most persons on the planet generally coincide with [1]the territorial boundaries of the state and are reflections of the related sovereignty-oriented ideology of nationalism. Security for societies and individuals is mainly understood to be the responsibility of the governing authorities of states. Efforts to entrust international institutions with some of this responsibility has not been successful, especially for problems of global scope in the context of war/peace issues and managing the world economy.[3]

 

            There is an historical transition underway that can be expressed as movement from structures and ideologies that serve the part to those that serve the whole. The political actors representing various parts include

persons, corporations, NGOs, international institutions, religious organization, and states. The whole whether conceived to be humanity conceived of as a species or the global being thought about as to what will sustain life on earth in benevolent ways.[4] Their outlook tends to be dominated by a fragmentary consciousness that seeks answers to various questions about ‘what is good for the part,’ and at best, assumes this will be of benefit to the whole. Such actors do not generally waste their time on questions about ‘what is good for the whole,’ which are most often dismissed as being meaninglessly abstract or piously sentimental. It should be stressed that such trends toward a global polity do not at all ensure a positive outcome from the perspectives taken here; it is helpful to realize that various forms of oppressive centralized governance are also seeking historical relevance.[5]

 

            What is more most people do not want or expect the perspective of the whole to be the basis of policy and action by decision-makers that represent the state, but are insistent that those who decide do their best to protect and promote what will most help the part whether it be country, corporation, religion, or group interests. Citizenship is conferred by the state, which in return expects and demands loyalty, and even a readiness to sacrifice lives for the sake of the nation-state, and certainly the obligation to pay taxes and uphold laws. Citizenship is very much bound up with ideas of a social contract between state and citizen, that is, an exchange of benefits and duties.

 

            Yet we are increasingly aware that the wellbeing of the part cannot be preserved under contemporary conditions without taking proper account of the wellbeing of the whole. The citizen of a democratic state is a composite of juridical and psychological forms. The state confers citizenship through its laws, enabling participation in elections, acquiring a passport, offering some protection abroad; citizenship in this conventional sense is a status that varies from state to state in its particulars. There is also legally grounded expectations of loyalty, the radical deviation from which can be the occasion for accusations of the capital crime of ‘treason.’ At the same time, the citizen of a constitutional democracy enjoys the right to dissent and oppose within the framework of the law and through competitive elections, and as such the identity of a ‘citizen’ contrast with that of a ‘subject’ of an absolute monarchy where obedience is the major political norm.[6] A constitutional state struggles to maintain this delicate balance between the rights and duties of a citizen, especially in times of internal stress.[7]

 

            The crime of treason, giving tangible aid and comfort to an enemy state, highlights the interface between conscience and loyalty in the conventional life of a modern citizen. The second face of citizenship is psycho-political, the sense of loyalty as an existential reality, not a juridical category. When Palestinian citizens of Israel oppose the policies of their government toward the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, they are reflecting a state of mind. Many minorities feel alienated from the state of which they are citizens to varying degrees, and are in effect, ‘captive nations’ resident in states that do not command their loyalty. Treason and espionage pose these issues vividly. When Edward Snowden violated American security regulations by releasing many documents of the National Security Agency and disclosed its surveillance operations he claimed to be acting on the basis of conscience but in a manner that the official leaders of the state viewed as dangerous to the general wellbeing of society. In a globalizing world, in which ethnicities and religions are mixed and interactive, the tensions between the juridical and existential demands of citizenship are intensifying. A poignant example is the plight of Mordecai Vanunu, a worker in the Israeli nuclear facility who many years ago confirmed the reality of Israel’s suspected arsenal of nuclear weaponry, and has been since treated both as an enemy of the state and a hero of humanity, serving 18 years in prison, and even after being released, placed under house arrest in Israel.

 

            What is new is that these struggles between dissent and loyalty is that the issues have now an agenda and context that is beyond the borders of the state. Some political innovations have acknowledged this, especially the idea of European citizenship being superimposed on the citizenship conferred by sovereign governments. So far there is little evidence that those living in Europe are more likely to be loyal to their regional than to the traditional state affiliations, but at least this idea of European citizenship illustrates the layering of citizenship, enabling a person to be a legal and psychological participant in polities bigger (and smaller) than the territorial state that alone qualifies for membership in the United Nations and most international institutions. The layering of regional identities seems beneficial from the perspective of encouraging the development of the European Union as an instrument of cooperation and participation more effective than principally relying on inter-governmental patterns, but it does not meet the most urgent challenges of a planet in crisis.

 

Why Global Citizenship is not Enough

 

Some years ago I was chatting with a stranger on a long international flight. He was a businessman who traveled the world to find markets for his products. His home was in Copenhagen. He spoke very positively about the European Union as overcoming boundaries and national antagonisms. I asked him at that point in our conversation, “Does that make you feel like a European citizen?” His response, “Oh no, I am a world citizen.” I asked him what he meant by that and his reply was revealing: “Wherever I travel in the world I stay in the same kind of hotel. It makes no difference where I am, everywhere I go in the world seems the same to me.”

 

Such an apolitical conception of world citizenship is a direct consequence of economic globalization and franchise capitalism. It is true that if you choose Westin or Interncontinental hotels in the main world cities you can travel the globe without ever leaving home, but this is a rather sterile view of what are the hopes and fears associated with the transition from a world of bounded nation-states absorbed by territorial concerns to a new world without boundaries. It surely leads to a weakening of the bonds of traditional citizenship without generating any new and broader sense of solidarity and community.

 

At the other extreme, is the more familiar image of world citizen as the idealist who experiences and celebrates the oneness of the planet and of humanity, overriding fragmented identities associated with the privileging of particular nations, ethnicities, religions, and civilizations. As with the businessman’s image of being a world citizen the idealist also is embracing an apolitical conception of citizenship in which sentiments are affirmed as the basis of identity and the hard political work of transformation is evaded. For such a world citizen all that needs to be created is presupposed. The struggles of transition, as if by magic wand, are waved out of existence.

 

These conceptions of what it is to be a ‘world citizen’ possess an underdeveloped view as to the nature and value of citizenship. To be a proper citizen implies being an active participant in a democratic political community, extending loyalty, exhibiting approval and disapproval, voting, paying taxes, resonating to cultural expressions of unity by way of song, dance, and poetry, and having certain entitlements relating to reasonable expectations of human security. There is no possibility of having any of these attributes of citizenship fulfilled on a global scale given the way the world is currently governed. Prematurely proclaiming oneself a world citizen if other than as an expression of aspiration, is an empty gesture that misleads more than it instructs.

 

To think of oneself as a European citizen is somewhat more meaningful, although still, on balance, more confusing than clarifying. To be sure Europe has virtually abolished internal borders, war between European states verges on the unthinkable, the Euro acts a common currency for the entire continent, European institutions have broad authority to override national policies and laws under many circumstances, Europe has a regional framework setting forth binding human rights standards and a tribunal to resolve conflicts as to their interpretation, and finally, Europe has a parliament of its own that is now elected by direct votes of people. Yet Europe, too, has failed to establish a political community that elicits widespread loyalty or exhibits much unity under stress, except in relation to an external enemy. Most Europeans remain overwhelming nationalistic in their loyalties, and seek their national government to do what is best for their country, and not give any priority to European interests should they clash with national interests. European citizenship, as conferred by the Maastricht Treaty is at this point more a still unfulfilled promise than a meaningful status in either a juridical or an existential sense.

 

The reality of citizenship is best displayed during periods of crisis, and the European recession of recent years has made people far more aware of the fragility of the regional experiment as it bears on the future of Europe. As the Mediterranean members of the EU succumbed to the economic crisis, the northern European states, especially Germany, began to exhibit discomfort and express condescension. Laments in Berlin were bemoaning why hard-working and prudent Germans should be helping lazy, indulgent Greeks live a decadent life beyond their means. In their turn offended Greeks ask, why should Greeks forfeit their autonomy and mortgage their future to an anal retentive German fiscal policy that has learned none of the lessons of economic recovery from the experience of the Great Depression in the 1930s.

 

In contrast during the same experience of sharp recession in the United States, the debate centered on such issues as banks being too big to fail or why Wall Street rather than Main Street should receive bailout billions, rather than on the recklessness of Alabama as compared to say Connecticut. The point being, that in the United States, despite its deep federal structure, there is an overriding sense of community at the national level. American citizenship is meaningful in ways that European citizenship falls short, and world citizenship can hardly even perceive the problem.[8]

 

In other words, some of the political preconditions for European citizenship are present but the most vital are still absent, while the political preconditions for world citizenship are almost totally missing.

There are some good reasons to be confused about this latter reality. After all the United Nations was established to prevent war among nations, and we indulge language games that allow us to talk about ‘the world community’ as if there was one. A closer look at the way the world works makes us realize that the United Nations, despite the rhetorical pretensions of its Charter, is much more an instrument of statecraft than an alternative to it. We also need to be aware that almost all governments continue to be led by political realists who view their role as serving short-term national interests and are privately dismissive of any encroachment on these priorities that derive from notions of ‘world community,’ even if based on international law and morality.

 

            Within this framing of global policy, the UN, international law, even international criminal law, and moralizing rhetoric, are all instrumentally and selectively useful in the pursuit of foreign policy goals. The selective application of supposedly global norms makes transparent the state-centric underpinning of world order. For instance, the double standards associated with the implementation of international criminal law suggests that up to now there is accountability for the weak and vulnerable, impunity for the strong, a pattern described as ‘victors’ justice’ after World War II. There has been established in the interim an International Criminal Court (ICC), although the most dangerous political actors forego the option to join. The ICC pursues wrongdoers in Sudan and Libya, while turning a blind eye toward the United States, Russia, China, and the United Kingdom, and their closest allies. There are two clarifications of citizenship present: first, there is no global reach for the implementation of global norms relating to fundamental issues of human security, and therefore no bonds of community binding the person to the world by way of citizenship; second, the directives of the UN and international law are manipulated by major states to serve their national interests, sometimes implemented and sometimes blocked, which represents the working of a geopolitical regime of power rather than a global rule of law regime that would above all treat equals equally. Without a trusted system of laws no sustainable community can be brought into being, and hence no genuine bonds of citizenship can be established.

 

            Such a critique expresses the dilemmas of citizenship in this time of great transition. The most fundamental missing element in this premature projection of world citizenship is time. It is possible to wish for, and even affirm, human solidarity, and to highlight the commonalities of the human species under conditions of heightened interaction and interdependence. Yet such feelings by themselves are incapable of creating the basis for acting collectively in response to urgent challenges of global scope. Such behavior requires the emergence on the grassroots and elite levels of a widespread recognition that the only viable governance process for the planet is one that greatly enhances capabilities to serve human and global interests. The transition is about moving from the here of egoistic state-centrism to the there of humane geo-centrism, which implies a journey and a struggle against social forces that are threatened by or opposed to such a transformation of ‘the real.’ In this undertaking, the citizen pilgrim combines the identity of a participant in a community and the acknowledgement that the desired community does not presently exist, that its essential nature is to bond with a community that is in the midst of a birth process.[9]

 

Material Conditions of Urgency

 

            Throughout human experience there was a strong case for adopting the identity of ‘citizen pilgrim,’ and many spiritually motivated individuals did so in their own ways. What is historically unique about the present time is that the challenge of transformation is rooted in fundamental material conditions relating to human activities, which are the outcome of technological innovations and earlier progress that now is threatening apocalyptic blowback. In other words, it has always been true from an ethical perspective that there better ways for people to live together on the planet, especially under conditions of mutual respect and without collective violence. At times, the failure to adapt to challenges either from natural causes or resulting from conflict led to the collapse of communities or even entire civilizations, but never before has the species as such been confronted by challenges of global scale.[10] There have always been risks of planetary events such as collisions with giant meteors or an unexpected shift in the orbit of the sun that are beyond human agency, and could at some point doom the species. My focus is upon the accumulation of dangerous material conditions that have been generated by human agency, and could be addressed in a manner that is beneficial for the survival, wellbeing, and happiness of the species.

 

            The two sets of circumstances that are the most dramatic examples of such realities are associated with the dangers of nuclear war and climate change. The nature of these two sources of extreme danger are quite different, although both reflect the technological evolution of human society that is associated with modernity, and an outcome of scientific discovery and the human search for wealth and dominion. Along the lines of the argument presented here neither of these dangers can be sufficiently reduced without significant progress with respect to the transition from state-centric to geo-centric world order. At the level of ideology and ideas that requires a ‘new realism’ informing those with governing authority. Above all, this new realism involves a readiness to uphold commitments to serve human and global interests as necessary, even if requires subordinating or defining currently incompatible national and an array of private sector interests.

 

            The further assertion being made is that ‘new realism’ can only be brought into being by drastic shifts in political consciousness that informs citizenship in such a manner that the wellbeing of the species and a collaborative relationship restored between human activities and the surrounding environment. Such a relationship existed to an impressive degree in many pre-modern societies where there existed a sense of mutual dependence in relations between human activities and natural surroundings, and often as well a sensitivity to seven generations past and future that is absent from the modernist sensibility that has tended to take nature for granted, there to be exploited or tamed. Nature being mainly valued either for its resources, as a sink for the free discharge of wastes, and as a retreat from the rigors of ‘civilization.’[11] With scarcities, pollution, and climate change there is emerging a realization that without a comprehensive post-modern equilibrium between human activity and the natural surroundings the future prospects of the species are rather grim.[12] The phantasies of modernity persist in the form of utopian geo-engineering schemes that represent efforts by the old realism to find technological solutions for the problems generated by technology, which is itself is raising serious concern and posing severe additional risks of its own.[13]

 

            The imperatives of transition to a safer, more sustainable world are resisted by the embedded assumptions of the old realism to the effect that military capabilities and war making remain the keys to security, that GNP growth is the indispensable foundation of political stability and economic contentment, that technology and market will find solutions for any challenges that arise before serious threats materialize, and that the correct role of governments of sovereign states is to manage this set of relationships on behalf of national political communities variously situated. As argued here, such an orientation is not so much wrong, as it is anachronistic, and in need of fundamental adjustment. Further that such adjustment is much more likely to take place in a non-traumatic modes, if the expectations of many citizens are altered according to the precepts of citizen pilgrims who subscribe to various interpretations of what being called here the new realism.

 

            It would be a serious mistake to underestimate the obstacles that lie ahead, and currently seem to lock societies into a civilizational orientation that falls far short of the bio-political potential and survival needs of the human species. At present governments seem unable to address the practical challenges posed by such features of the contemporary world as nuclear weaponry, climate change, poverty, political violence, and human security. Existing governance structures and ideological worldviews of both officials and society seem stuck in past modes of problem-solving and are failing to meet expectations of the citizenry.[14] Such a failure is exhibited by such widespread collective behavior as despair, denial, and alienation.

 

 

 

 

Recreating Political Community

 

            The calling of the citizen pilgrim is not meant to be a lonely journey toward a better future. It is intended as a call for an engaged citizenry responsive to the need and desire for a reconstituted future as well as a repaired present. As earlier indicated the commitment to navigating the transition can be conceived of by way of infusing political leadership and the electorate with the values and perceptions of the new realism. Transition can be achieved through a shift in governance structures such that state-centric world order is superseded by a geo-centric world order. Such a reorientation implies stronger globally oriented institutionalization by way of United Nations reform. Alternatively, a geo-centric world order could emerge as the self-conscious result of establishing a new framework for cooperative action that is capable of providing the world with the level of centralized governance that is required, while exhibiting sensitivity to ideas of subsidiarity, decentralization, dispersal of authority, and even philosophical anarchism.[15]

 

            In this respect, the engaged citizen pilgrim is devoted to the here and now of political action (as well as pursuing a visionary future), whether by way of exhibiting empathy and solidarity with the sufferings of those most vulnerable or by working toward innovative steps serving human and global interests. Such steps should to the extent possible reflect the interpretations and understandings of the new realism. Illustrative projects include the establishment of a global peoples parliament with an assigned mission of articulating interests from the perspective of people rather than of governments.[16] Other familiar proposals along the same line are a global tax of some kind, levied on currency transactions or international flights or casino and lottery profits, which would loosen the geopolitical leash that now limits international institutions in their capacity to serve human and global interests. Along these lines also would be the establishment of an independent emergency force capable of quick reactions to natural disasters and humanitarian catastrophes without being subject to funding by states or the veto power of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. These initiatives are not new, but their active promotion alongside avowals of   citizen pilgrimages would manifest modes of participation in political life whose aim was to achieve humane global governance in accordance with the precepts of the new realist.[17]

 

            Such innovations are directed toward overcoming the design deficiencies of state-centric world order, given the current array of global challenges. Because of the still dominant influence of old realism such innovations are vulnerable to various degrees of what might be called geopolitical cooption. The United Nations itself is undoubtedly the best example of an institutional innovation with a geo-centric mandate that has gone awry almost from its inception. The UN that has been geopolitically coopted over the period of its existence in such fundamental respects as to make its defining role being that of stabilizing state-centric world order rather than of war prevention and facilitating transition to a geo-centric

future. This assessment is most evident in the double standards evident in the pattern of UN responses to emergency situations, for instance, in the diplomacy surrounding the application of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) norm or in relation to the management of nuclear weaponry as between the nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear states.

 

            Another revealing instance concerns the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002 over the resistance of the largest and most dangerous states in the world. The fact that a tribunal could be established to assess the individual criminal responsibility of political and military leaders of sovereign states seemed like an important move toward creating a global rule of law in relation to war/peace and human rights issues,

and it was, although its performance has so far been disappointing. The work of the ICC has exhibited the same double standards that infuses the entire edifice of state-centric world order, resulting in a pattern of impunity for the West and accountability for leaders in the South. As such the ICC is ambivalent in its contributions to peace and justice, yet its own institutional destiny is being formed by the uncertain flow of events, and can yet become more attuned to human and global interests. It is that attunement that distinguishes the citizen pilgrim from what might be called ‘a liberal internationalist’ who favors stronger global governance capacity, but lives within a bubble of the old realism and its questionable reconciliation of global reform and geopolitics.

 

Citizen Pilgrims as Nonviolent Warriors of the Great Transition

 

            Prospects for the future depend on altering the outlook and performance of governments representing states, as well as the expectations of their citizenry. This is particularly true for constitutional democracies with strong private sector interest groups. Authoritarian states, especially with control over the economic infrastructure, do not require the consent of the governed to nearly the same extent, and can act or not more freely for better and worse to take account of rapidly changing perceptions. In constitutional democracies the relationship of leadership to the citizenry is very direct, although not necessarily reflecting the will of the people. Special interest lobbying, extensive secrecy and surveillance, and corporatized media all deflect government from a rational calculation of national interests, and tend to obstruct policy deference to long term considerations or to human and global interests. In relation to our two litmus issues it is clear that ‘the military-industrial-think tank complex’ has over the decades protected the nuclear weapons establishment from disarmament advocacy and that the fossil fuel campaign has lent a measure of credibility to climate skepticism despite its rejection by 97% of climate experts.

 

            Experience confirms that government policy will not shift against such

entrenched policy without a popular mobilization that alters the political climate sufficiently to allow change to happen. In the 1980s this happened in the United States and the United Kingdom in relation to apartheid South Africa. In this case, the ethical repudiation of official racism provided the basis for altering the political climate to such an extent that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, both conservative leaders who valued strategic and economic cooperation with South Africa, were led to endorse sanctions that were important contributions to the eventual success of the anti-apartheid campaign. Nuclear weaponry does pose an ethical challenge, but its main challenge is a prudential one of resting the security of major states and their friends on a conditional commitments to destroy tens of millions of innocent persons in a global setting where conflict and irrational behavior have been recurrent features. It would thus appear to be the case that both ethics and rationality favor phased and verified nuclear disarmament as had been legally stipulated by the nuclear weapons states in the Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968.[18]

 

            The global challenge of climate change is more complex, and in some ways exposes more directly the limits of globally oriented problem-solving in a state-centric framework. Unlike nuclear weaponry, there is strong inter-governmental support for the scientific consensus as to the need for mandatory regulations to reduce greenhouse gas (especially carbon) emissions so as to prevent further harmful global warming. For the past twenty years the UN has sponsored conferences that bring together annually most governments in the world to move toward implementing the scientific consensus, and yet little happens. Rationality gives way to special interests and short-term calculations of advantage are given precedence in the policy arenas of government, which means little is achieved. The state system seems stuck, and the old realism seems set to shape human destiny in adverse ways for the foreseeable future.

 

            In such settings the citizen pilgrim offers society a voice of sanity that speaks from the liberated isolation of the wilderness. It envisions a future responsive to the long-term survival of the human species, and maximizing its wellbeing and pursuit of global justice. Some citizen pilgrims may be seeking a drastic revision of the worldview of the national leadership cadres of society in the form of embraces of the new realism of human and global interests, pursued within an enlarged sphere of temporal accountability. Other citizen pilgrims may be thinking of a political community that is planetary in scope that organizes its activities to serve all peoples on the basis of individual and collective human dignity and envisions the replacement of a world of sovereign states with a democratically constituted geo-centric framework of governance—norms, institutions, procedures, and actors.

 

            The citizen pilgrim is not primarily motivated by averting danger and mitigating injustice on a global scale, although such concerns occupy the foreground of her political consciousness. The most basic drive is spiritual, to pursue the unattainable, to affirm the perfection of the human experience within the diverse settings present in the world. As Goethe said, “him who strives he we may save.” By striving, the sense of time comes alive in citizenship and political participation, as it must, if the Mount Everest challenges of the great transition are to be successfully traversed.

           

 

           

[1] I rely upon a distinction between ‘human’ and ‘global’ to underscore the interactive duality of human and earth interests, what is beneficial for the human species and what is beneficial for nature and the environment, implying a fundamental commitment to achieving their collaboration and reconciliation. In other words, the ideological posture recommended and adopted can be described as eco-humanism.

See Robert C. Johansen’s breakthrough contribution seeking to overcome the tetension destructive dualism between the national interest and the human

interest. See National and the Human Interest: An Analysis of U.S. Foreign Policy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980).

[2] Global Race to Reinvent the State (New York: Penguin, 2014). The authors persuasively demonstrate the resilience of the European state through time, responding non-incrementally, or by revolutionary leaps, to accumulated challenges

  1. For an intriguing interpretation of the evolution of the modern state and the state system since the mid-seventeenth century see John Micklethwait & Adrian Woolridge, The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State (New York:

Penguin Press, 2014). The book examines past reinventions of the state in the face of challengesthat have in the past threatened its viability as a source of human contentment. Their thesis is that such a challenge is currently present as evidenced by the widespread dissatisfaction with government in even prosperous and democratic countries. On this basis they draw this conclusion: “The main political challenge of the next decade will be fixing government.” (p.4) What the authors mean by this is mainly a scaling back of the governmental role and a scaling up of its efficient performance of core security and managerial roles. This is different than what is being argued here, which is enabling government to become responsive to global challenges.

 

[3] For one view of how the state is ‘disaggregating’ in ways that enable it to cope with the challenges of an increasingly interactive world, see Anne-Marie Slaughter, The New World Order (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004); there are also many instances of cooperation among states for the sake of mutual benefit, especially in relation to the management of the global commons.

[4] The writings of James Lovelock on the Gaia balances of the earth are relevant, as are the speculations that human activities are undermining the equilibrium that has for many centuries allowed plants and animals to live comfortably on the planet. It is the dawn of the age of the anthropocene that is threatening to disrupt this balance that has facilitated biological evolution since the first glimmers of habitation on planet earth. Revenge of Gaia: Earth’s Climate in Crisis and the Fate of Humanity (New York: Basic Books, 2006).

[5] I would include here various anti-democratic forms of imperial and hegemonic governance. See, among others, Andrew Bacevich, American Empire: The Reality and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002; and especially Michael Mandelbaum’s Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World’s Government in the Twenty-first century (New York: Public Affairs, 2005).

[6] For wide ranging defense of democracy along these lines see Daniele Archibugi’s important study, Global Commonwealth of Citizens: Toward Cosmopolitan Democracy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).

[7] Such a struggle has been evident in the United States in the period since the 9/11 attacks. For a critical account of the mismanagement of the balance see David Cole & Jules Lobel, Less Secure, Less Free: Why America is Losing the War on Terror (New York: New Press, 2007).

[8] But see California chapter in Micklethlwait & Woolridge for an attempt to ‘federalize’ their critique of what has gone wrong with governance in the United States.

[9] The idea of ‘citizen pilgrim’ is inspired by Saint Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews in which he talks of the pilgrim as someone animated by faith in that which is not seen, and does not exist as yet, and yet embarks on a journey dedicated to a better future in which that vision will be realized, not as an earthly city but as a heavenly city.

[10] The issue of civilizational collapse, and its avoidance, have been influentially explored in Collapse; the question of the risks to the species arising from human activities is addressed in Clive Hamilton, Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change (London: Pluto, 2004); see also Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (New York: Henry Holt, 2014).

[11] See Richard Falk, This Endangered Planet: Prospects and Proposals for Human Survival (New York: Random House, 1972); on the orientation of indigenous peoples, thinking ahead and looking back seven generations, see Maivan Lam, At the Edge of the State: Indigenous Peoples and Self-Determination (Ardsley, NY: Transnational, 2000)

[12] One of the most comprehensive appreciations of the approaching limits of modernity as a legacy of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution is found in James Lee Kunstler;

[13] Clive Hamilton critically explores this search for a technological escape via geo-engineering from the dilemmas posed by adherence ‘the iron law of growth’ (Paelke), population increase, and continuously rising living standards.

[14] Micklethwait & Woolridge, Note 1, are persuasive that national governments are generating widespread dissatisfaction among their citizens, although their focus is upon issues of efficiency and scale as the source of this public mood of alienation.

[15] Some suggestions along these lines are contained in Falk, “Anarchism without Anarchism,” Millennium

[16] See Richard Falk & Andrew Strauss, A Global Parliament: essays and articles (Berlin: Committee for a Democratic UN, 2011).

[17] For elaboration see Falk, On Humane Global Governance (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1995).

[18] See for development of these themes Falk & David Krieger, The Path to Zero: Dialogues on Nuclear Dangers (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2012); but see Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Nuclear Ethics (New York: Free Press, 1986) for a contrary view.

4+ Logics of Living Together on Planet Earth

29 Sep

 

It is misleading to describe ‘world order’ as consisting exclusively ofsovereign territorial states. This misimpression is further encouraged by the structure of the United Nations, whose members are states, and only states. The UN was established in 1945 in the aftermath of World War II, reflecting a West-centric orientation that emerged at the time, quickly morphing into the Cold War rivalry between the two states that were geopolitically dominant and ideologically antagonistic: the United States and Soviet Union.

 

Even in the UN, however, this surface allegiance to statism is misleading. The geopolitical dimension was highlighted in the UN Charter by conferring a veto power on five winners in the recently concluded war, which amounted to the grant of a right of exception with respect to international law.

 

But there are differences in hard and soft power that make the interactions among states within the UN exhibit more inequality than is suggested by this still prevailing Westphalian myth of the equality among sovereign states. Some states contribute far more to the UN budget than others, and their views carry more weight; others are richer, bigger, more informed about some issues, are better at lobbying for support, and some play above their diplomatic weight by clever political maneuvers. And there are several kinds of non-states active behind the scenes that exert varying degrees of influence depending on the subject-matter.

 

Global policy is mainly shaped outside the UN by a bewildering array of formal and informal actors that participate in a bewildering variety of ways in international life. The world economy is substantially controlled by business oriented alignments such as the World Economic Forum that meets annually in Davos, Switzerland, or the gatherings of economically powerful states grouped together as the G-7, later becoming the G-8, and more recently the G-20 to accommodate shifts in trade and investment patterns, and give recognition to such new alignments as the BRICs.

 

As such, the shorthand designation of world order by reference to the 1648 Treaties of Westphalia that brought the Thirty Years War to an end serves as a convenient starting point for understanding the way authority and power are deployed in the world. Yet it must be supplemented by the recognition that the Westphalian framework has evolved through the years. Beyond this, it is not sufficient to rely on a statist logic to explain the main patterns of behavior that constitute world politics in the 21st century, which reflect the agendas of political extremist groups and transnational corporations and banks, as much as they do states. In fact, national governments are often subordinated to and instrumentalized by individuals and groups promoting the interests of business and finance.

 

Statist Logic. Despite these qualifications, states do remain the main political actor on the global stage, and the principal agent of diplomacy. The doctrinal ideas of territorial sovereignty continue to provide the basic organizing principle for the conduct of ordinary transnational relations. It is further important to realize that most political leaders and their chief advisors are ‘realists’ who purport to act on the basis of maximizing national interests and accompanying values even when they are in actuality serving the interests of transnational capital to the detriment of their own citizenry.

 

The boundaries of the state shape the outer limits of political community for most persons living on the planet , but some states contain within their borders one or more specific ethnicity that deems itself a distinct people and nation, which if it perceives itself as the target of discrimination or even a victim of submerged identity, may regard itself as ‘a captive nation’ that seeks a separate political existence that ensures the preservation of cultural memory and national pride. In this sense, the ‘nation’ represented by such a phrase as ‘the national interest’ may be profoundly misleading if understood to refer to the interests of an entire population within its borders rather than that of the dominant ethnicity or religion. Throughout the world there are many internationally unrepresented peoples seeking to form their own state in accordance with the right of self-determination, which if carried to extremes, threatens the unity of almost all sovereign states.

 

Sometimes, this process is a forcible one as with the establishment of Kosovo with the help of NATO in 1999, sometimes it is a consensual separation, as with the establishment of Slovakia. Democratic states may offer restive minorities the opportunity to secede by referendum as in the recent case of Scotland, but some forms of secession are resisted as was the case with American Civil War or more recently, the PKK efforts to establish in eastern Turkey a separate state of Kurdistan, as well as Spain’s treatment of the main separatist movement of the Basque people as essentially a terrorist organization.

 

Many individuals depend on citizenship to avoid the acute vulnerability of ‘statelessness,’ which is a status without rights or protection, and suggests the primacy of states in the life of most people, whether consciously realized or not. The plight of economic migrants and refugees fleeing combat zones suggests the humanitarian ordeal experienced by many people who are not securely connected to a state capable of providing the fundamental ingredients of a sustainable lives. Refugees may be citizens with rights in the country they escaped from, but generally find themselves victimized anew by the country within which they sought sanctuary. Some governments adopt humane and generous approaches to refugees and stateless persons, but it is voluntary and the affected individuals are not the recipient of effective rights even if ‘human rights’ are based on being human, and not on citizenship or nationality.

 

Geopolitical Logic. As statist logic is premised on equality before the law and in formal diplomatic relations, geopolitical logic is premised on inequality and the right of exception with respect to that portion of international law concerning issues of war and peace, and what is called ‘national security,’ or more broadly, ‘vital interests.’ While statism is descriptive of the horizontal dimension of world order within the Westphalian framework, geopolitics constitutes the vertical dimension that has been present ever since the modern structure of world order emerged in Europe in the mid-seventeenth century. Various empires exhibited the formalization of this vertical dimension as did European colonialism, which at its height after World War I, dominated much of the world. The anti-colonial movements of the last half of the twentieth century produced many newly independent sovereign states, universalizing the horizontal development of world politics.

 

In the post-colonial global setting of the early twenty-first century the vertical dimension of world order is disguised to some degree because it was weakened and discredited in the past hundred years. These disguises make reference to certain normative justifications for the imposition of political will by the strong on the weak. Among the most prominent of these legal and moral arguments favoring otherwise prohibited uses of force are ‘self-defense,’ ‘humanitarian intervention,’ ‘responsibility to protect’ or ‘R2P,’ and ‘nonproliferation.’ In each situation, depending on the facts the rationalization may be more or less plausible as a cover for a strategically motivated geopolitical maneuver. It seemed somewhat plausible to liberate Kosovo from Serbia in 1999, given the threat of ethnic cleansing in the aftermath of the Srebrenica atrocity, but it was also clearly motivated by the interest in maintaining NATO as a useful instrument of coercion in a post-Cold War setting, a demonstration conveniently coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the alliance. Similarly, it seemed reasonable in 2011 to intervene in Libya to prevent a civilian massacre by Qaddafi forces in the city of Benghazi, although it was undoubtedly also true that the high quality oil reserves added a strategic incentive to the humanitarian impulse to protect threatened Libyan civilians. In contrast, without oil, the atrocities taking place in Syria produced a much weaker expression of international concern. Each of these situations is complex, opening the way for contradictory interpretations as to the humanitarian effects of action and non-action, as well as the assessment of the importance of the strategic interests at stake.

 

The geopolitical logic trumps statist logic in relation to international uses of force, and helps explain the marginalization of international law and the UN in the war/peace context. The constraints that are operative with respect to geopolitics derive from considerations of cost/benefit analysis, pressures exerted by group politics, prudential concerns about nuclear weaponry and avoiding casualties to its military personnel, and the sporadic anti-war restraints of public opinion (especially in liberal democracies). In the recent American-led coalition created as a response to threats posed by ISIS (‘Islamic State of Iraq & Syria,’ also known by other names), President Obama did not even bother to justify recourse to force by reference to either international law or the UN, and seemed concerned only that he had a legal basis within the American constitutional framework to act as he did. Significantly, as well, most of the domestic controversy focused on this issue of authorizing warlike behavior without any participation by Congress, showing no worries about acting contrary to international law and without a UN mandate for recourse to non-defensive force.

 

Cosmopolitan Logic. Partly as a result of economic globalization and partly due to the impact of global challenges associated with nuclear weapons and climate change, there is an emerging appreciation that neither statism nor geopolitics can protect overall hman wellbeing and survival aspects of what might best be called the human or global interest. Despite decades of aspirational language, there seems to be no prospect in the immediate future of freeing humanity from the looming threat of nuclear catastrophe. The challenge of the weaponry has been geopolitically degraded in the form of creating a nonproliferation regime that distorts priorities by conceiving of the main danger deriving from countries that do not have nuclear weapons rather than those that do. The 2003 aggressive war undertaken by the United States and the United Kingdom against Iraq was mainly rationalized as a counter-proliferation undertaking, epitomizing the subordination of cosmopolitan interests in getting rid of nuclear weapons to the geopolitics of managing their control and dissemination.

 

A similar dynamic is present in relation to climate change, and the failed effort to contain the emission of greenhouse gasses, especially carbon dioxide.The UN mechanisms for lawmaking treaties have been unable to agree upon an obligatory framework that takes account of the scientific consensus on the need for strict regulation of the buildup of carbon in the atmosphere, and the resultant harmful effects of global warming. As a result the situation worsens, and irresponsibly the growing burdens of adaptation are shifted to the future.

 

Without the formation of a political community of global scope it is unlikely that cosmopolitan logic will have any significant impact on behavior that reflects strong national interests and geopolitical priorities. The preconditions for such a development do not seem present as nationalist ideologies continues to maintain the dominance of statism and geopolitics despite their dysfunctional implications for the future of the human species. This persistence raises some deep questions about whether there exists a sufficient species will to survive. Until the advent of the Anthropocene Age such an imperative did not exist, and survival threats as they occurred were directed at particular societies or civilizations, that is, posing sub-species threats, but not endangering the species itself. What distinguishes the Anthropocene is the impact of human activities on the fundamental balances that have allowed life and social development to proceed.

 

There have been past cases where cosmopolitan concerns have been addressed because competing logics were not seriously engaged: public order of the oceans, prohibition of ozone depleting technologies, ecological preservation of Antarctica. Until the atomic attacks on Japanese cities in the closing days of World War II the cosmopolitan horizons of human activity were treated as matters of idealistic and spiritual concerns, but not relevant to issues of bio-political persistence. Even Woodrow Wilson’s dream that the League of Nations would cause the institution of war to fade away was never taken seriously by the political leaders of the day, especially in Europe, who well understood that their privileged position of vertical control (that is, colonial system) rested on an atmosphere of permanent war to ensure that ‘the natives’ would not get uppity.

 

Civil Society Logic. The perspectives and activities of civil society occupy a broad and diverse spectrum of concerns, and contain elements of the other three logics that together compose world order. The normative motivations of transnational civil society actors do establish an existential constituency disposed toward the realization of human and global interests. These actors have been active in relation to the promotion of human rights, environmental protection, nuclear disarmament, and climate change. That is, civil society perspectives often merge in these venues with cosmopolitan perspectives, and present unified critical responses to statism and geopolitics. The counter-conferences at global policy events illustrate such encounters, and are likely to intensify as the awareness of global crises grow and the experience of the seriousness of unmet global challenges deepens. A distinctive feature of civil society logic is engagement with values and change, and a certain distrust of detached thought that presents itself as ‘neutral.’ The spirit of civil society was expressed unforgettably for me by a graffiti written on a wall in the city of Vancouver: “Thought Without Action Equals Zero.”

 

In a larger historical sense, the question before all of us is whether civil society can become an agent of historical transformation in relation to cosmopolitan logic, thereby joining thought with action. Only such a reconstituted political imagination has any chance of producing policy and behavioral adjustments that make the human future a brighter prospect than now appears to be the case.

 

Hope to balance despair depends on our according unrealistic confidence in the capacity of civil society movements to achieve transformative results, what I have called in the past ‘the realism of a politics of impossibility’ or ‘a necessary utopianism.’ Nothing less seems responsive to the magnitude of the civilizational challenges already negatively impacting on human wellbeing. I have little doubt that those ‘realists’ we rely upon as dutiful, taxpaying citizens are leading us down a path heading toward doomsday. It is time we shifted our allegiances and energies to the citizen pilgrims among us who are pointing us toward a humane and sustainable future for life on planet earth.

 

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