Looking in the mirror

In a recent interview, Karen Armstrong was asked: “So, when we in the West talk about religion as the cause of this violence, how much are we letting ourselves off the hook, and using religion as a way to ignore our role in the roots of this violence?”

We’re in danger of making a scapegoat of things, and not looking at our own part in this. When we look at these states and say, “Why can’t they get their act together? Why can’t they see that secularism is the better way? Why are they so in thrall to this benighted religion of theirs? What savages they are,” and so on, we’ve forgotten to see our implication in their histories.

We came to modernity under our own steam. It was our creation. It had two characteristics. One of these was independence — your Declaration of Independence is a typical modernizing document. And you have thinkers and scientists demanding free thought and independent thinking. This was essential to our modernity. But in the Middle East, in the colonized countries, modernity was a colonial subjection, not independence.

Without a sense of independence and a driving force for innovation, however many skyscrapers and fighter jets you may possess, and computers and technological gadgets, without these qualities you don’t really have the modern spirit. That modern spirit is almost impossible to acquire in countries where modernity has been imposed from outside.

Instead, modernity is seen as a threat, a further humiliation. Continue reading

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Putin interview with German TV

In an interview with German TV channel ARD on November 13, Putin expressed cautious optimism about Ukraine’s future before adding:

You know, there is only one thing that is missing. I believe, what is missing is the understanding that in order to be successful, stable and prosperous, the people who live on this territory, regardless of the language they speak (Hungarian, Russian, Ukrainian or Polish), must feel that this territory is their homeland. To achieve that they must feel that they can realise their potential here as well as in any other territories and possibly even better to some extent. That is why I do not understand the unwillingness of some political forces in Ukraine to even hear about the possibility of federalisation.

Pushed by Hubert Seipel about whether Russia “can do more” to rein in the separatists, Putin eventually went back to what he sees as “the essence of the problem”. Continue reading

Satellite images shed light on the impact of the Syrian conflict

In recent years darkness has enveloped Syria, not only metaphorically but also literally.

TRES-35-18-Syrian-night-light-fig.1

The results indicate that night-time light and lit area in Syria declined by about 74% and 73%, respectively, between March 2011 and February 2014. In 12 of 14 provinces, night-time light declined by >60%. Damascus and Quneitra are the exceptions, with night-time light having declined only by about 35%. Notably, the number of internally displaced persons IDPs of each province shows a linear correlation with night-time light loss, with an R2 value of 0.52. [ . . . ] These findings lend support to the hypothesis that night-time light can be a useful source for monitoring humanitarian crises such as that unfolding in Syria.

via Satellite images shed light on the impact of the Syrian conflict (h/t Colonel Cassad)

“Psychological Androgyny” | Brain Pickings

Psychological androgyny is a much wider concept, referring to a person’s ability to be at the same time aggressive and nurturant, sensitive and rigid, dominant and submissive, regardless of gender. A psychologically androgynous person in effect doubles his or her repertoire of responses and can interact with the world in terms of a much richer and varied spectrum of opportunities. It is not surprising that creative individuals are more likely to have not only the strengths of their own gender but those of the other one, too.

via Why “Psychological Androgyny” Is Essential for Creativity | Brain Pickings

‘The Collapse of Order in the Middle East’ | Ambassador Chas Freeman

The friend (FB Ali) who pointed me to this recent talk by Chas Freeman described it as “the best analysis I have read of the problems of the ME, US policy, and what the future likely holds. It is superb.”

Amen. The hardest part was choosing which of my twelve lengthy highlights was most likely to persuade you to read the whole thing.

The need for restraint extends to refraining from expansive rhetoric about our values or attempting to compel others to conform to them. In practice, we have insisted on democratization only in countries we have invaded or that were otherwise falling apart, as Egypt was during the first of the two “non coups” it suffered. When elections have yielded governments whose policies we oppose, we have not hesitated to conspire with their opponents to overthrow them. But the results of our efforts to coerce political change in the Middle East are not just failure but catastrophic failure. Our policies have nowhere produced democracy. They have instead contrived the destabilization of societies, the kindling of religious warfare, and the installation of dictatorships contemptuous of the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.

Americans used to believe that we could best lead by example. We and those in the Middle East seeking nonviolent change would all be better off if America returned to that tradition and foreswore ideologically motivated intervention.  Despite our unparalleled ability to use force against foreigners, the best way to inspire them to emulate us remains showing them that we have our act together. At the moment, we do not.

Every other attempted analysis of these matters has seemed to me to suffer from various failings, whether of perception or in the proposed solution. Continue reading