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What Do Syrians Want? The Syrian Freedom Charter

by Danny Postel

Resposted from: http://pulsemedia.org/2015/04/06/what-do-syrians-want-the-syrian-freedom-charter/

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Planet Syria – كوكب سوريا‎ has declared today — 7 April — a global day of solidarity with the people of Syria. In the spirit of this important effort, I present the following interview with Talal Barazi, Program Associate with the

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Foundation to Restore Equality and Education in Syria (FREE-Syria), a civil society development and humanitarian support organization, about the Syrian Freedom Charter, a momentous initiative inspired by the South African Freedom Charter.

The Syrian Freedom Charter is a national unity document based on tens of thousands of face-to-face interviews with Syrians, in every governorate of the country, about what kind of society they want. Over the course of a year, a team of over a hundred activists assembled by FREE-Syria and the Local Coordination Committees (LLC) of Syria, completed more than 50,000 surveys.

How did the South African Freedom Charter influence the Syrian Freedom Charter?

The Syrian Freedom Charter used the South African Freedom Charter as a model from which to work. The biggest influence the South African Freedom Charter had on the Syrian counterpart was in the idea. We also leveraged the expertise of a university professor who was involved with South Africa’s ANC for more than 30 years, and other experts with experience in other conflicts (Ireland, South America). In the final analysis, we consider the Freedom Charter a national unity document, in which the vision of the Syrian people is the only component. We also used the format of the South African predecessor to lay out the vision of the Syrian people. 

How representative is the Freedom Charter? The introduction refers to Syrians “from our diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, and religious sects”. How much of a cross-section of Syrian society does the document represent? Were Syria’s minority communities genuinely included? Can you provide some numbers?

As a document of national unity, the target number of surveys for the Freedom Charter was done proportionally based on districts, not based on ethnicities or religious sects. To get a proportional representation of all districts, we looked at the percentage each district made up of the total population, and set our goal for each district, proportionally, based on that. We did work in areas with prominent minority presence such as Sweida, a governorate known for the high presence of Druze, and Hassaka, a governorate with a large number of Kurds. The work was harder in predominantly Alawite areas and Damascus proper.

With that, we see that 50% of people chose not to disclose their ethnicity, and 36% of people chose not to disclose their religious beliefs. Below are the graphs for the demographic questions.

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How would you respond to the argument that the sentiments and ideals expressed in the Freedom Charter represent only a thin layer of Syrian society — an elite sector that is educated, westernized, urban, and/or living in exile — and that the sectarian violence the country has descended into is a more realistic reflection of popular sentiments and political loyalties? This view has been advanced by Joshua Landis, for example, but it’s widely shared across all sorts of ideological boundaries.

There is nothing elitist about the Freedom Charter — in fact, it is truly “the voice of the people.” The Freedom Charter represents the opinions of ordinary Syrians — more than 50,000 — the majority of whom live inside Syria under abysmal conditions imposed by the Assad regime and other militarized groups. The actual surveys were conducted at the grassroots level. Activists surveying in a specific district were locals of the district. 99% of surveys done were completed inside Syria and in neighboring countries that currently host a large number of refugees. The only precondition for surveys was that respondents be Syrian, without regard to ethnicity, religious affiliation, political affiliation, or social/economic status.

There’s a lot of discussion now of finding a political solution in Syria  some sort of negotiated settlement. Of course that’s not a new idea, but for a while it seemed to have receded from the horizon with the failure of the Geneva process, the exasperated resignation of both Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi as Special Envoy for Syria, and the seemingly intractable geopolitical deadlock over Syria. Recently, however — with the new geostrategic equation created by the intervention against ISIS  the push for a political solution is being revived. Various proposals have been floated, and virtually all of them involve Assad staying in power in some form. So my question for you is: the Freedom Charter doesn’t directly address the issue of political transition  how to get from the current moment to the political order outlined in the document  but from your point of view is there ANY scenario in which it would be acceptable for Assad to remain in power, or does the Freedom Charter necessarily preclude that?

For more than three years, Syrians have taken to the streets in both nonviolent and armed resistance to state what they do not want. The goal for the Freedom Charter was to express to the world what Syrians do want. The document does not discuss the transition period, nor the current situation; it is purely a statement of what Syrians are demanding. The Freedom Charter articulates the desires and goals of the Syrian people, not the process to achieve them.

With regard to the political process, FREE-Syria certainly advocates nonviolent solutions. However, the Assad regime has proven, through the failed initiatives of Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi, that it is not prepared to pursue a political process. Rather, the regime has and continues to use deadly force, including chemical weapons, against civilians, particularly children. We do not foresee a future in which Assad or those regime supporters with blood on their hands can play a lasting role in a peaceful, democratic Syria.

For more on the Syrian Freedom Charter, go here. For more on ‎Planet Syria‘s global day of solidarity with the Syrian people, go here.

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REMEDIAL MATH (2): MORE ON THE 2015 ISRAELI ELECTIONS

An addendum to our last post from Daniel Bertrand Monk and Daniel Levine, reposted from: http://relationsinternational.com/remedial-math-2-more-on-the-israeli-elections/#more-778

Guest Post from: Daniel Bertrand Monk, Colgate University and Daniel Levine, University of Alabama

Claims that Tuesday’s elections in Israel resulted in a striking victory for the right are as untrue as last week’s predictions that a narrow center/left ‘win’ was in the offing. It is true that Likud’s capture of 30 Knesset seats took most pollsters by surprise (the center-left Zionist Camp garnered only 24, about what the polls predicted). But despite claims to the contrary, no large-scale shift in voter preferences over the previous Knesset should be read into this. Likud’s gain was almost entirely at the expense of other parties within the right-wing nationalist bloc: the ‘Jewish Home’ and ‘Israel is Our Home’ parties. While viewed as a whole, this bloc did pick up two additional seats, its ‘natural’ coalition partners – the clerical/orthodox parties – suffered a stunning loss offive Knesset seats relative to the last election cycle, owing to divisions among them and a newly-raised minimum vote threshold.

As a result, the Likud must now build a parliamentary majority with only 57 secure seats: three fewer than it held after the 2013 elections. For that, Netanyahu will have to seek partners from among his former rivals: the Zionist Camp, the Centrist Parties, or both. Among the Centrists, ex-Likud Minister Moshe Kahlon’s ‘Kulanu’ party could provide 10 seats.   But these would come at the expense of stability for the new government. Kahlon – against whom Netanyahu ran a nasty, ‘dirty tricks’ campaign – would effectively become kingmaker; and because all but one of Bibi’s other partners have more than 7 seats, his government would always be one defection away from collapse.  The alternative, a ‘unity government’ (ie, a ruling coalition of center-left and center-right parties) would give Bibi a wider base, but at the cost of a coherent political program. Such a government could well survive for its appointed four years – unity governments were a feature of Israeli politics in the 1980s – but at the cost of enforced inaction. Its coalition agreements would be structured so as to ensure that the government could never rule effectively: its only mandates would be concerning the formalities for declaring another election, or going to war. Meanwhile, everyone (hawks, settlers, doves, supporters of the clerical and Arab parties) would see it as illegitimate. This was the structural stalemate that we described last week. The eventual ‘winner’ of these elections was always going to be confronted with this same choice: between coalitional breadth and political legitimacy, between stability and inaction.

If it seems otherwise in many other post-election analyses, it is because many observers of Israeli politics fail, in our view, to distinguish between tactical shiftswithin electoral blocs and strategic shifts in the balance of power among them. The latter are extremely rare. Even ostensible sea changes in voter affiliations – like the 1992 elections, which brought a center-left coalition into power and ushered in the Oslo Accords – were the result of razor-thin majorities and the widespread invalidation of votes owing to parties that had failed to pass the minimum vote threshold.

Why do so many pundits and policymakers fail to make this distinction? Why, that is, do they continue to view Israeli elections as moments of actual political decision, rather than rituals in which voters make largely tactical shifts within stable – and orthogonal – voting blocs? What is it that drives what we can only consider to be a willed – albeit perhaps unconscious – mischaracterization of Israeli elections as events marked by potential shifts between Left, Right, and Center, when the experience of some two decades of voting suggests that while names of individuals and parties may change, the situation after each election is structurally indistinct from the one that prevailed the day before?

For US-based observers, that mischaracterization may reflect a broader unwillingness – or an inability – to see the image of a Middle East that is increasingly unlike the one that American hegemony had painted for it. In Israel, that mischaracterization may persist because many Israelis themselves still advance it. The fact that every election produces its own parade of ‘centrist’ candidates – senior army officers, public officials, leading media personalities – who believe themselves capable of rising above the old ideological divisions and producing a new national consensus, is proof of this. The ‘ash-heap’ of Israeli political history grows with each passing election: the Third Way and Center Parties, Shinui, Kadima, HaTnuah – and now, Yesh Atid and Kulanu. To date, all have suffered the same fate: they either disappear, or are re-absorbed into the electoral blocs they claimed to supersede.

The desire for a center party represents a legitimate political yearning: Israeli voters are trapped within an intolerable status quo. The details of that status quo are those we described last week. To maintain coalition governments, the Israeli state has effectively had to subsidize two ‘para-states’: one in the occupied territories, and one in ‘Israel proper’. The former boasts an enormous, state-supported settlement project and an equally large, and equally expensive, mechanism for systematically containing and dispossessing Palestinians. The latter is rigorously committed to a constant, moralizing rhetoric of free-market capitalism and public-sector belt-tightening – except when coalition obligations demand monumental ‘side payments’ to clerical parties for parallel and separate infrastructures in housing, education, and more. The logic that holds this status quo together is that of a hostage crisis: to address the enormous costs of those ‘para-states’, one would need to confront the possibility of armed violence from Israel’s settlers, and the fact that the clerical parties have no sustained commitment to Israeli civil society.

The appeal of so-called ‘center parties’ is that they address the symptoms of this condition, while evading its structural causes. Their platforms unfailingly address the effects of skyrocketing economic inequality, the rising cost of housing, and the problems in the state health care and education systems, but rigorously ignore the steps needed to address them. As we’ve argued elsewhere, it is this same species of “actionism,” – talk of action, but ultimately for the sake of inaction – that animated Israel’s 2011 housing protests [http://foreignpolicy.com/2011/09/12/the-end-of-the-israeli-spring/]. In elections, then, Israelis debate the consequences of the political hostage crisis under which they live, even as they perpetuate it: the separate infrastructures of the occupation and of the clerics can’t be challenged seriously, and everyone understands that the state is expected to survive on what remains, if it wishes to avoid dissolution or civil war.

It’s not clear how long this evasion can persist. It is largely underwritten by American diplomatic and security backing: that support has made this ‘hostage crisis’ seem largely a domestic affair – to everyone save for those who must suffer its effects. Were that to waver – and the exigencies of Bibi’s campaign, from his congressional speech to his recent pronouncements on the death of the two state solution, have certainly revealed new fault lines, both within the Beltway and beyond it – it might yet force a reorganization of Israel’s domestic-political map.

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“Remedial Math: The Israeli Election of 2015,” by Daniel Bertrand Monk, Colgate University and Daniel Levine, University of Alabama.

Reposted from http://relationsinternational.com/remedial-math-the-israeli-election-of-2015/

With one day remaining before Israel’s Knesset elections, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party appears poised to fall at least four seats short of its principal rival, the Zionist Camp (an amalgam of the Labor Party led by Yitzhak Herzog, and the remains of the Kadimah party led by Tzipi Livni), presently polling at about 25 seats.  Many pundits are now daring to suggest that a stable Left/Center coalition – unthinkable for well over a decade – may now be in the offing.   math20

The truth is quite different.  Unless a real upset occurs, the brute mathematics of Israeli politics suggest that it will be nearly impossible for anyone to build a stable coalition that can also govern the country. The President of Israel, Re’uven Rivlin, understands this well. Last week he summoned Netanyahu and Herzog to his residence in order to deliver a caution: when the election results are posted, instead of charging one of them to try to form a coalition, he may call on the two rivals to form a national unity government simply for the purpose of revising the electoral system. His well-founded fear is that the Israeli electoral system can’t produce stable coalition blocks and is lapsing into something resembling Italian-style paralysis.

Few American observers understand the extent of the Israeli political stalemate, even though it threatens to boomerang on US foreign policy in the region – again. Despite news flashes that Netanyahu’s political end may be near, he still faces a much shorter path to a forming a parliamentary majority.  That holds, even if the Likud party – now polling at about 21 seats – garners fewer votes than the Zionist Camp.  In tandem with its right wing allies (the 17-odd seats of the ‘Jewish Home’ and ‘Israel is Our Home’ parties), Likud has a clear path to what Bibi calls a ‘natural’ coalition with the ultra-orthodox factions (another 17-odd seats).  Netanyahu can fatten those margins by extorting the participation of centrist parties whose leaders genuinely fear the social and economic costs of the same ‘natural’ coalition’s rule.  Coalitional stability will be achieved at the expense of governance.  This is not a new story.  Since the 1990s, the two logics – getting to a 61-seat majority in Israel’s Parliament on the one hand, and actually forming a coherent sensus communis out of an increasingly fragmented electorate on the other – have been growing ever more orthogonal.

Conversely, if present polling figures hold, Herzog’s and Livni’s Zionist Camp cannot make its way to a stable governing coalition very easily. To arrive at suitable numbers, the Zionist Camp would have to break an established taboo and form a coalition with what is expected to be the Knesset’s third-largest block, and its newest – the Joint List, a coalition of Arab parties now polling at about 13 seats. The Zionist Camp would then have to persuade its other would-be coalition partners to do the same.  The pressure on those parties to defect would be enormous, and would only grow, if serious peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority were to resume.  The Zionist Camp’s only other option is an assortment of Orthodox parties, which would have, somehow, to be persuaded to sit in tandem with the same centrist parties that are intent upon checking their power.

Whether from the left or the right, then, the essential crisis of Israeli parliamentary democracy remains the same: there is an irreducible gap between coalitional stability and political legitimacy.

This situation explains the current rise of Israel’s centrist parties, which together account for a block of approximately 20 Knesset seats.  Popular support for them has been fueled by the electorate’s prioritization of social and economic justice concerns in a country that now boasts the largest gap on the planet between rich and poor. As we’ve argued elsewhere, however, the turn to ‘social issues’ – housing, health, and education – is actually an evasion.  That is, it is a means to avoid a direct confrontation between average citizens and those extorting, through coalitional blackmail and the implicit threat of extra-judicial violence, the ongoing maintenance of two overlapping para-states: one in the occupied territories, and one in ‘Israel proper’.  The former boasts an enormous, state-supported public housing project and an equally large, and equally expensive, mechanism for systematically containing and dispossessing Palestinians.  The latter is rigorously committed to a constant, moralizing rhetoric of free-market capitalism and public-sector belt-tightening – except when coalition obligations demand monumental ‘side payments’ to clerical parties for parallel and separate infrastructures in housing, education, and more.

The unspoken convention – and this is why talk of ‘social issues’ is actually an evasion – is to deny that these ‘para-states’ even exist, or that their constituents’ support of Israel is anything but conditional.

According to this ‘public secret,’ the separate infrastructures of the occupation and of the clerics can’t be challenged seriously, and the State is expected to survive on what remains.  If the public sector in ‘Israel proper’ is starved of funds, it is because of greedy plutocrats and inter-ethnic and secular-religious rivalries among Israeli Jews, rather than because of the enormous costs of occupation and settlement building.  While it should, theoretically, be possible to confront this convention, doing so cuts across the map of electoral politics as presently constituted. No matter how many times one plays the ‘fantasy coalition’ generators like the on Israel TV’s Channel 2, all Israeli elections result in a de facto preferential democracy.

The math is clear. There is no viable coalition that can govern Israel, except by renouncing governance in favor of an intolerable status quo and by periodic turns to military unilateralism.  Israel’s democracy cannot function except in dysfunction, as the centrifugal forces of income inequality, territorial para-politics, and sectarian kleptocracy continue to fragment the polity and the state even further.   The question is, for how long?

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Critical Inquiry in/on Cuba

Click the link to read W. J. T. Mitchell’s “Havana Diary: Cuba’s Blue Period” and Ricardo Alarcón’s “The Return of C. Wright Mills at the Dawn of a New Era.”

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At Last, We Understand Capitalism

Capitalism Explained

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I Voted

Bill Ayers

I voted.
Early.
No illusions that a billionaire’s ball is either a reflection of popular will or a mandate for what is to be done; no dreams that pulling a lever fulfills my ongoing responsibility as a socially engaged person or could possibly realize my most hopeful vision of a just and joyful world; no fantasies that the process is either clean or fair or honest.
But I voted.
Because it’s a fundamental right. Because people who are denied that right demand it and fight like hell for it all across the globe. Because I remember the courage of African-Americans on the courthouse steps in Mississippi and Alabama enduring hatred and humiliation, risking violence and death for access to the ballot. Because the right to vote is secured with blood. Because the right to vote is, then, sacred.
But four billion dollars? Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Finance, Big Military, Big Prison. That’s not democracy. That’s an oligarchy.
As Emma Goldman once said, “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”
Oh, and they did.
The Onion got it right: “Republicans poised to retain control of Senate.”
Gloria Ladson Billings commented: “Republicans are going to party like it’s 1865.”
Indeed.


See: billayers.org chatter

 

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Bureaucracy in Academic Research

Thomas Scheff

Why are we making so little progress in our understanding of the human world? Bureaucracy might be one of the reasons. As Max Weber (1947) pointed out, bureaucracies run on a system of rules in order to avoid arbitrary decisions. But Pascal (1660), an early scientist, pointed out that system itself can become arbitrary. The discovery of new knowledge, he wrote, requires both system and what he called finesse (intuition) more or less equally.

The attempt to plot the orbit of Venus by the astronomer Tycho Brahe illustrates the problem. Brahe’s approach was entirely systematic: his sightings of the planet were quite accurate. But he couldn’t chart the orbit, because he assumed, like everyone else at the time, that it was around the earth, rather than the sun. After Brahe’s death, his assistant, Johannes Kepler, broke the impasse unsystematically. In what might be called a “case study,” he constructed a physical model of the planetary system. In doing so, he accidently placed the sun in the center. When he saw the mistake, he knew how to make good use of Brahe’s data.

At the other extreme, the theory of relativity began with intuition rather than system: Einstein devised what he first thought was a joke about the effect of train travel on time. When he realized that it might not be just a joke, he needed a colleague to help him restate it in mathematical form, so that it could be tested empirically. The two examples taken together suggest that ending impasses in knowledge may require both system and intuition, no matter which comes first.

  1. O. Wilson’s 1998 book is organized around the idea of consilience, the integration of seemingly different points of view. Wilson proposed that the physical sciences have made huge advances but the social sciences and humanities have not. He argues that most physical science progress has been made when separate disciplines or sub-disciplines have combined: biophysics, physical chemistry, and so on. His plea for integration was made more than twenty years ago, but there has been little response from the disciplines.

Wilson has several pages of criticism of each of the major disciplines, including economics, psychology, and history. Here is some of his comment on my own discipline of origin, sociology. It concerns a quote from a leading sociologist of his time (Coleman 1990):

“The principal task of the social sciences is the explanation of social phenomena, not the behavior of single individuals.”

Wilson takes issue with this idea, still strongly held by most sociologists, by noting that biology would have remained stuck in its 1850 position if it had remained at the level of the whole organism, refusing to include cells and molecules.

Durkheim’s study of suicide gave birth to modern sociology, showing that there is a social component in causation, independent of individuals. This is an important first step, but it is not much help for understanding suicide, because the relationship is tiny (less than 10% of the variance). The more obvious meaning of Durkheim’s finding and its replications is that the social component is NOT the major cause, or even one of the most important causes. Perhaps in the beginning, pure sociology was a virtue, but treating it as the only way has become a vice.

In modern academic research, social/behavioral studies tend toward system, and the humanities, intuition, ignoring Pascal’s advice. The discipline of psychology, for example, has become Brahean, committed to systematic studies, even if they don’t work. One example: more than twenty thousand studies using self-esteem scales. These studies are systematic, but they don’t predict behavior and are therefore useless. The main problem seems to be the confounding of true and false pride [egotism] (Scheff and Fearon 2004).

At the other extreme, the humanities use finesse, rejecting system. For example, there is a large literature in experimental psychology showing that the venting of anger seldom works (Scheff 2007). These studies support the literary idea of catharsis, based on the concept of the distancing of emotion (Scheff 1997). That is, angry yelling tends to be underdistanced, merely reliving rather than resolving one’s backlog of anger.

Theatre and most other art, on the other hand, are built on emotion at aesthetic distance: one is both reliving unresolved anger and also being a spectator of the process. Wordsworth wrote about powerful emotions recollected in tranquility. Neither the psychologists nor the literary theorists seem to be aware of their mutual support.

Perhaps journals can help overcome this unfortunate division. Specialization is still useful, but it must not become an end in itself. Rather it should be balanced by integration between specialties. Social/behavioral studies and the humanities need to connect, and also the disciplines and sub-disciplines within and between them. There should be groups and journals in all disciplines trying interdisciplinary or other new approaches.

Journals, particularly, have fallen into the Brahe trap. They are mechanized to judge submissions in terms of discipline and/or sub-discipline, size, and adherence to scholarly/scientific rules. One approach would be to stop relying entirely on any particular system of rules: not just disciplinary rules (“No psychology please: we are sociologists”) but all rules. Even though a submission breaks rules, is it new or interesting enough to warrant consideration anyway?

Such a change might encourage researchers to explore new topics and approaches, rather than choosing the well-worn, safe and conventional ones. Perhaps this would be a step toward overcoming our impasse on understanding human beings.

References

Durkheim, Emile. 1901. Suicide. Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press (1951).

Pascal, Blaise. 1660. Pensees. (Thoughts). Paris: Editions du Cerf (1982).

Scheff, Thomas. 1979. Catharsis in Healing, Ritual, and Drama. Berkeley: U. of California Press.

______________2007. Catharsis and Other Heresies. Journal of Social, Evolutionary and Cultural Psychology 1 (3), 98-113.

Scheff, Thomas and David S. Fearon Jr. 2004. Cognition and Emotion? The Dead End in Self-Esteem Research. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior 34, 1, 73–90.

Weber, Max. 1947. Theory of Social and Economic Organization. London: Collier-Macmillan.

Wilson, E. O. 1998. Consilience. New York: Knopf.

Thomas Scheff is Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Santa Barbara, past president of the Pacific Sociological Association, and past chair of the Emotions Section of the American Sociological Association.

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