June 11th, 2005

[BRIEF NOTE] Plus ça change: Recruiting in the US Military

My thanks to lifein2x3 for pointing me in the direction of Susan Paynter's articles for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (1, 2) about the harassment of teenager Axel Cobb by Marine Corps recruiters. Not content with harassing him with phone calls at home and at work, if he, his relatives and friends, and his employer are to be believed the recruiters went to the point of kidnapping him, holding him incommunicado as they tried to meet their quota. Fortunately for Alex, one phone call from a lawyer was enough to set him free.

All that I have to say is that the United States fought the War of 1812 because Britain was doing things like this to its sailors. It's not at all reassuring to discover that the United States' military has progressed to the point of impressing its own citizens.
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    Pet Shop Boys, "My October Symphony"

[BRIEF NOTE] Google News' Downside

It was while I was reading yet another infuriating opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post bordering on Der Stürmer-style racism (it's them there Arabs, and their evil subversion of those decadent Jew-hating Europeans and assorted symps, they're the ones responsible for everything bad) that I realized that Google News has the potential for great evil, or rather, to reveal great evil and so render us all cynical. Just type in the appropriate search terms and you can discover which nationality or language group demonizes which other ethnic group using seemingly legitimate and honest and moderate news sites.

If it's a Muslim site, it's the Jews when it isn't the Crusaders or perhaps the Hindus; if it's a Christian news site, it's the gays; if it's Turkish, it's the Armenians; if it's British, it's the Romani when it isn't the Poles, who in turn are concerned about the Ukrainians and Russians, said latter nationality being quite worried about the Chinese, who in turn inspire the Japanese to untold heights while the South Koreans nurse their hatreds. If it's an American site, then the controversial political rhetoric is produced either by scary nationalists who want to repeat Europe's 20th century mistakes or by idiot protesters who think Michael Moore isn't an idiot. If it's a Canadian site, then it's either insipid and degrading Ameriphilia or the sort of 1970s-style neonationalism that Atwood mocked. And so on.

Isn't the emergent noosphere great? We get to find out what makes us all tick.
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[BRIEF NOTE] Towards A Typology of Apartheid

I was rather interested to come across Jonathan Edelstein's post this afternoon asking his readers what apartheid was. While I certainly don't deny that the empirical method has its advantages, trying to build a theoretical framework can be quite useful. And so, this evening as I ate my Bento boxed lunch at Natural Sushi on Yonge just south of Bloor, I compiled a list of apartheid's most important features. I came up with six key characteristics.

The group favouring apartheid is either a minority population or about to become a minority population. Apartheid isn't the sort of strategy adopted by the majority population of a delimited and secure territory. Similar policies can be and have been adopted towards unpopular groups of immigrant background and other indigenous minorities, ranging from forced assimilation to genocide, but the similarity is only superficial. These strategies are generally designed to prevent the dominant group's contamination, to avoid its adulteration. Apartheid is a last-ditch defense of a threatened position that liberal individualism will insidious destroy.

The group favouring apartheid believes itself to be indigenous. The myth of indigeneity is critically importance for any apartheid mythology. The group in question believes itself to be the rightful proprietor of its own territory, to be descended from the first people ever to effectively occupy that piece of land. This indigeneity trumps the collective rights of other groups on that territory, just as it denies the individual rights of people who don't belong to the "indigenous" population.

The group favouring apartheid believes that it must act immediately. Apartheid is a strategy that appeals to those groups which see themselves as threatened, whether by a relatively benign assimilation or by destruction. Nothing can be allowed compromise the indigenes ' presence in their homeland; no more ground can be given without threatening the group's very existence.

Under apartheid, each group must develop separately. Proponents of apartheid systems don't believe in such things as porous group boundaries. If they did, perhaps they might be more sanguine about the viability of multicultural societies. The group's territory must be defended, but this is only one element of an all-out effort intended to prevent the assimilation of the group. Individuals from different groups cannot be allowed to collaborate, not even if they want to. All the connections uniting people of different backgrounds in non-apartheid societies--cultural, economic, political, personal--must be severed immediately. The only sorts of connections permissible are those which don't challenge the apartheid system.

The group behind the apartheid system must establish as complete a monopoly over power as possible. Some powersharing is possible with influential groups capable of posing a direct threat to the system, usually in the economic realm, but the group favouring apartheid must dominate the state. No one can be allowed to threaten the system. Separate development can be made to reinforce this goal, by limiting the development of the actual or imminent majority into a population capable of replacing the group benefiting from apartheid.

Defending the apartheid system requires constant vigilance. The marginalized population(s) within the apartheid state's frontiers, and hostile populations outside the borders, must be kept from challenging the system. Where possible, propaganda is used, perhaps borrowing from the rhetoric of Wilsonian self-determination, making claims about historically specific patterns of development, or arguing from necessity. Where propaganda fails, the coercive power of the state must be applied, up to and including the use of military force.

Consider the prototypical apartheid state of South Africa, if you will. Afrikaners, fearful not only of the growth of South Africa's Anglo population though immigration but the prospect of an enfranchised non-white population, instituted apartheid in order to build an Afrikaner nation-state immediately after the Second World War. Anglos, and to a limited extent Indians and Coloureds, were brought into the new structures of power in economic roles; Afrikaners dominated the political and military portions of the South African state. At great human cost, as I wrote last year, each major population group was forced to develop separately under unpromising conditions, fragmented, with as little resources as possible, and serving the dominant population. This system was fragile, and had to be defended by wars against South Africa's neighbours, the imposition of a full-fledged police state at home, and an active campaign of foreign propaganda seeking to position South Africa as a bastion of anti-Communism.

This isn't a definitive list by any means, and I can imagine some points where it could break down. What about empires directly integrated with their metropoles? What about multiethnic countries like the former Socialist and Federal Republic of Yugoslavia? Even so, it's safe to say that the necessary preconditions for an apartheid system are the identification of an existential threat facing a particular population and the belief that a liberal-individualist model will destroy this population. Only illiberal and destructive policies can prevent this threat from coming to fruition.

UPDATE (10:49 PM) : Crossposted at GNXP.
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[MEME] Book-Tagged Again; Or, All Things Come in Threes

First lifein2x3 book-tagged me, then Charlie Stross did, finally james_nicoll took his turn. My answers to questions 1, 2, and 3 have remained approximately stable the previous two iterations of this meme, and I think I'll let question 5 lapse as well since this meme is nearing exhaustion. Or it should be.

I do think that Question 4 deserves a response. Would it be a crime to narrow down its scope to the realm of science fiction?

4: Five books that mean a lot to me:

Chaga, by ianmacdonald. When I first found this book, I was pleased to discover that it was--in part--a continuation of the highly enjoyable 1990 novella Towards Kilimanjaro. When I finished this book, I was happy to find that it was so much more than that. I like Gaby McAslan.

Eon, by Greg Bear. Bear did a superlative job of infusing a Greek sense of tragedy in this novel set in the near future (now, thankfully, alternate-historical). What's more remarkable is that he was successfully able to take this plot beyond the tragedy.

Komarr, by Lois McMaster Bujold. I like Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan books very much, but I prefer those titles and stories and plot threads which emphasize the interplay of personalities over those which explore Vorkisigan's military adventures. While seeing Miles in action on the Barrayaran-conquered world of Komarr is a treat, it's the character of Ekaterin Vorsoisson that clinches it for me. I can empathize.

A Million Open Doors, by John Barnes. Barnes' Thousand Cultures series is, besides being one of the most significant recent science fiction series in terms of what it has to say about humanity, wonderful to read.

The Child Garden, by Geoff Ryman. I explained at length exactly one year ago why this book is so important to me. His vast sympathetic scope is what does it for me, I think.

[BRIEF NOTE] Islam and Gender in Europe

Yahoo! News has reproduced Deborah Scoggins' article from The Nation, "The Dutch-Muslim Culture War". Starting from the person of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Scoggins goes on to examine the wider role of Islam on some of Europe's more conservative communities.

Moors and others don't dispute the existence of the social problems Hirsi Ali identifies. Many Dutch Muslim women do live in segregated "parallel cities" where Islamic social codes are enforced. Muslims make up only 5.5 percent of the Dutch population, but they account for more than half the women in battered women's shelters and more than half of those seeking abortions. Muslim girls have far higher suicide rates than non-Muslim girls. Some Muslim girls, mostly African, are genitally mutilated. But in putting all the blame on Islam, they say, Hirsi Ali ignores the influence of patriarchal custom as well as the work of a generation of Muslim feminists.

A custom phrased in terms of religious necessity is, in fact, a religious custom. Trying to disclaim responsibility for the less savoury elements of a religious culture because, well, they're not really part of the religion is a classic response by cornered reactionaries. It's a risible response, of course. Scoggins' further observations deserve mention.

Whatever happens to Hirsi Ali, the debate she helped polarize over women and Islam is sure to spread and intensify all over Europe in the next few years. As Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris have argued in their book Rising Tide, the true clash of opinions between Islam and the West is not about democracy but sex. Successive World Values Surveys, in which social scientists polled public opinion in more than eighty countries between 1981 and 2001, have shown that people in Muslim countries share broadly the same views on political participation as people in the West. What they disagree strongly about is gender equality and sexual liberalization.

In the United States the distinction is not as sharply drawn. Conservative Muslims are not the only religious group here opposed to what they see as sexual license; it's their opposition to Israel and US foreign policy, not their sexual politics, that sets American Muslims apart from the rest of the right. But in Europe, acceptance of gender equality and homosexuality have become core values across the political spectrum, said Jocelyne Cesari, a Harvard research associate and the author of
When Islam and Democracy Meet. "Here it is part of a national debate that doesn't involve immigrants only," Cesari said. "In Europe, this is seen as proof that Muslims are still outsiders whose values are in contradiction to ours."

Islamist thinkers have often argued that women are the key to culture, since they have the responsibility of raising children. An emerging coalition of European feminist and anti-immigration forces seems to be adopting the same view. In France, Belgium, Germany and Scandinavia, as in the Netherlands, the "woman question" is at the center of the debate over how to integrate the Muslim community. "I know most of my Muslim friends will disagree with me, but in my opinion the gender issue is the most important issue," says Martijn de Koning, an anthropologist at Leiden University who studies jihadi groups. "The head scarf, the Islamic schools, the policy of family reunification--every debate here more or less concerns the position of women."

Hirsi Ali is only the most prominent of a number of young Muslim women who have lately begun to criticize their own communities for their treatment of women. In Sweden, Fadime Sahindal campaigned against forced marriages before her father killed her in 2002 for having a relationship with a Swedish man. In France, Fadela Amara heads the Ni Putes ni Soumises ("Neither Whores nor Submissives") movement against Islamist groups she calls "the green fascists." In Germany, where six honor killings have taken place just this year, Seyran Ates, a Berlin-based lawyer, has charged the government with allowing Islamic fundamentalism to flourish under a policy of false tolerance.

In the United States, too, some of the Islamists' most vigorous opponents have been female. Asra Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and Amina Wadud, a professor of Islamic studies, have led the fight to open Muslim prayers to women. Most of the members of the newly formed Progressive Muslim Union, which aims to provide liberal Muslims with a platform, are women, according to co-founder Ahmed Nassef.

Many conservative Muslims have been almost as hostile to these female critics as they have been to Hirsi Ali. As with Hirsi Ali, they tend to disregard the women as deviants who want to change Islamic sexual mores because of their personal failure to live up to them. Nomani, who bore a son out of wedlock, was expelled from her hometown mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia. She and Wadud received death threats and condemnation from religious authorities around the Muslim world for organizing a female-led prayer service in March in New York.

But particularly in Europe, some Islamists are beginning to see the woman question as their Achilles' heel. The influential Swiss Islamist Tariq Ramadan recently warned Muslims that they were going to have to change their attitudes. "We are going through a reassessment," he said, "and the most important subject is women. Our experience in Europe has made it clear that we must speak about equality." In Austria in April, a meeting of 160 imams called for equality between men and women.

I'm tempted to agree with this analysis. At Queen's, I met a nice young woman who happened to be a lesbian, belonging to a Muslim sect known for its liberalism and coming from a country not under shari'a law. She mentioned that one thing that she rather liked about Canada was that she didn't have to worry about being subjected to Soviet-style psychiatric mismedication or gang rape. Speaking from a purely Rawlsian perspective, I can't begin to imagine why she shouldn't receive the same protection from assault as any other Canadian, or why the mores of that particular Muslim community (and, I fear, of Muslim communities in general) should be granted any legitimacy at all.

I just hope that it will be over quickly.

[LINK] No More Cod?

CBC Prince Edward Island reports that the extermination of the cod by an excessively active fishery has permanently altered the food chain in Atlantic Canadian waters. The cod will not be coming back. I wonder what species we can drive to the bring next. Lobster, perhaps?
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    Pet Shop Boys, "One More Chance"