Jan
18

Can Non-Europeans Think? (Dabashi)

I looked forward to Hamid Dabashi's Can Non-Europeans Think? (2015), with a forward by Walter Mignolo. Although the articles are interesting, they are a disconnected set of writings over a period of fifteen or so years. Most are former journalistic publications, which leaves academic readers wanting for references to follow-up on and dig deeper. The feature of the book is probably the exchanges that took place following a 2013 Al Jazeera article by Dabashi by the same title. I found Mignolo's forward and the opening contributions the most interesting, the others are on the topic of answer the book's question, or a demonstrations of it (yes, non-Europeans can think) but are more time and topic specific (e.g. on Edward Said, Iran, Arab Spring). Journalistic editorials, while interesting in the moment seem to lose their edge when the years have passed.

A few notes:

"This is "fast knowledge" produced on the model of "fast food," with plastic cups, plastic knives, plastic forks, bad nutrition, false satisfaction. The US invades Afghanistan and these think tanks produce a knowledge conducive to that project; then the US leads another invasion of Iraq and these think tanks begin producing knowledge about Iraq, with little or no connection with what they had said about Afghanistan, or what they might say about Iran. There is little or no epistemic consistency among the three – for these forms of knowledge are produced under duress (with tight deadlines) and are entirely disposable. You throw them out after one use." (p. 18)

"The question of Eurocentrism is now entirely blasé. Of course Europeans are Eurocentric and see the world from their vantage point, and why should they not? They are the inheritors of multiple (now defunct) empires, and they still carry within them the phantom hubris of those empires; they believe their particular philosophy is "philosophy" and their particular thinking is "thinking," while everything else is – as the great European philosopher Emmanuel Levinas was wont to say – "dancing."" (p. 33)

"A colonized mind is a colonized mind, whether it is occupied by the European right or by the cliché-ridden left: it is an occupied territory, devoid of detail, devoid of substance, devoid of love, devoid of a caring intellect. It smells of aging mothballs, and is nauseating." (p. 103-104)

"What unites Kant, Levinas, and Žižek (among many others) is that their self-universalizing philosophies are invariably predicated on denying others the capacity to think critically or creatively by way of enabling, authorizing, and empowering themselves to think for the world." (p. 259)

"Humanity needs new visionaries to shape its highest aspirations. The principal facts on the ground – acting as a beacon to those visionaries – are the wretched of the earth, the millions of human beings roaming the globe in search of the most basic necessities of life and liberty or else in fear of persecution. Muslims and Africans face the same ghastly discrimination in Europe as Latin American illegal immigrants do in the United States, as Afghan refugees do in Iran, as Palestinians (now joined by Africans) do in Israel, and as Filipino and Sri Lankan laborers do in the Arab world. That fact is the ground zero of principled moral positions." (p. 283-284)

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Jan
13

The Gulf Crisis, Views from Qatar

With the potential for an end, or at least easing of tensions, in the GCC, it seems an interesting moment to look back and see what the perspectives were when the crisis started. "The Gulf Crisis: The View from Qatar" (2018), edited by Miller, gives a set of perspectives on a wide range of issues, with contributions written in the first year after the UAE, Saudi, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties and closed borders as well as airspace with Qatar. A few notes:

One of the most dramatic shifts for Qatar has been increasing domestic production, notably for food products, but also for a wide range of other commodities that were previously primarily imported. For example, a national food security plan re-oriented the food system, with targets set for domestic production of specific food commodities (notably fresh milk and poultry are to be 100% domestic supply by 2023) and explicit objectives to diversify the sources of imported items. Dr. Ansari (p. 33) says the events will "forever be viewed as a turning point for Qatar's food system", looking back from 2021, this rings just as true today as it did then.

The long-term investment in culture, arts and sport, which long preceded the events of 2017, appear to have had multiple positive benefits for Qatar. One component relates to diversifying the economy, while another acts as a means to build linkages with partners around the world (while FIFA is well publicized, international sporting events are regularly held in Doha). 

Partly due to the external pressures of internationalization (particularly FIFA), during this period Qatar departed from the employment and labour standards from the region, such as making it easier to transfer employers and introducing a higher minimum wage. Although long in the planning, during this period Qatar also moved forward plans to introduce elected members of government (advisory council), which are scheduled for 2021. These, and a number of other domestic policy issues, were transformed during this challenging period, arguably making Qatar much better placed (e.g. investment, residency rights, work) in relation to its neighbours following the crisis (see chapter by Dr. Mitchell). However, the economic growth and investment is not outward, another domestic shift during this period was the development of domestic entrepreneurship. Dr. Tok (p. 39) argued the crisis was an opportunity to foster domestic entrepreneurship. While it is unclear how new businesses will manage in the long term if/when trade fully re-opens, what is clear is that there is a much greater recognition and support for Qatari-produced products.

One interesting contribution of this volume covers a much less reported on aspect of the crisis: its manifestation across Africa. A number of other nations followed suit (Chad, Comoros, Mauritania and Senegal cut diplomatic ties, while Djibouti, Gabon and Niger downgraded their ties). This is covered by Harry Verhoeven (p. 136-144) and should be an area of increasing focus, as the influence of the Gulf expands. As a non-tech expert, the extent of cybercrime (and its central role in the Gulf Crisis), at least in my circle, appears to attract far less attention than it should (see p. 109-118 by Joseph J. Boutros). 

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Jan
08

Capitalism, Alone

In the realm of those interested in inequality, Milanovic and Piketty have been leading intellectual voices in the last decade. A few years ago I wrote about Milanovic's 2016 book on global inequality, this post covers his 2019 book Capitalism, Alone. In general, I think anyone interested in development economics should read this, and fortunately for the rest of us who are not specialists in development economics, this book is written for a broader audiences. A few notes:

"The uncontested dominion of the capitalist mode of production has its counterpart in the similarly uncontested ideological view that money-making not only is respectable but is the most important objective in people's lives, an incentive understood by people from all parts of the world and all classes." (p. 3).

"These gaps result in what I call "citizenship premium" and "citizenship penalty." Citizenship premium … refers to the boost in income one receives simply from being a citizen of a rich country, while citizenship penalty is the reduction in income from being a citizen of a poor country. The value of this premium (or penalty) may be up to five to one or ten to one, even after adjusting for the lower price levels in poorer countries." (p. 129)

"The same role that colonialism played then, more brutally, is played today by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, hundreds of bilateral investment treaties, and other global governance bodies: they are the guardians against nationalization and the abuse of foreign property. In that respect, globalization has created its own governance structure." (p. 148)

"The existence of the welfare state is not, in the longer run, compatible with full-scale globalization that includes the free movement of labor." (p. 156)

"By our long custom of "methodological nationalism," where we essentially study certain phenomena within the confines of a nation, we are led to the position that equality of opportunity seems to apply, and to be studied, only within the nation-state. Global inequality of opportunity is forgotten or ignored. This may have been, philosophically and practically, a reasonable position in the past, when knowledge differences among nations was vague and inequality of opportunity was not addressed even at home. But it may not be a reasonable position now." (p. 159)

"The truth is that we are willingly, even eagerly, participating in commodification because, through long socialization in capitalism, people have become capitalistic calculating machines. We have each become a small center of capitalist production, assigning implicit prices to our time, our emotions, and our family relations." (p. 195)

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Jan
02

Define and Rule - Mamdani

Mahmood Mamdani has written a number of essential reading books, including When Victims Become Killers, as well as Citizen and Subject and Neither Settler Nor Native (reviews on those to come in future posts). Define and Rule: Native as Political Identity (2012) is the W. E. B. Du Bois lectures, presented in three chapters (Nativism: The Theory, Nativism: The Practice, Beyond Settlers and Natives). As lecture notes, this is a relatively short book, of 154 pages in a small size book. Nonetheless, an interesting read, and particularly interesting to see Mamdani's ideas develop from this 2012 book until his 2020 book (Neither Settler Nor Native). A lecture on the book is available here. A few notes:

"Nick Dirks has rightly argued that anthropology supplanted history as the principal colonial modality of knowledge and rule after 1857, creating an ethnographic state in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century India. Having characterized colonized societies as stationary, all efforts were invested in containing social change in these societies - and justifying it as protection of vulnerable minorities." (p. 30)

"Before managing difference, colonial power set about defining it. Nick Dirks called this "the ethnographic state," which wielded the census not only as a way of acknowledging difference but also as a way of shaping, sometimes even creating, difference. The focus of colonial power, after 1857, was to define colonial subjectivity. Thus I have titled this book: Define and Rule." (p. 44)

"With races, the cultural difference was not translated into separate legal systems. Instead, it was contained, even negotiated, within a single legal system and was enforced by a single administrative authority. But with tribes, the case was the opposite: cultural difference was reinforced, exaggerated, and built up into different legal systems, each enforced by a separate administrative and political authority. In a nutshell, different races were meant to have a common future; different tribes were not. The colonial legal project - civil and customary - was an integral part of the colonial political project." (p. 48-49)

"Did tribe exist before colonialism? If we understand by tribe an ethnic group with a common language, it did. But tribe as an administrative entity that distinguishes between natives and non-native and systematically discriminates in favor of the former and against the latter - defining access to land and participation in local governance rules for settling disputes according to tribal identity - certainly did not exist before colonialism. One may ask: did race exist before racism? As differences in pigmentation, or in phenotype, it did. But as a fulcrum for group discrimination based on "race" difference, it did not." (p. 73)

"In an era when it was fashionable to think of violence as the way to "smash the colonial state," Nyerere taught otherwise: first, that the backbone of the colonial state and its legacy was no the army and the police but its legal and administrative apparatus, and that it required political vision and political organization - not violence - to "smash" these. The creation of a substantive law from multiple sources - precolonial life, colonial modern form of the state, and anticolonial resistance - and the establishment of a single and unified law-enforcing machinery meant that every citizen in mainland Tanzania was governed on the basis of the same set of rules, enforced by a single court system. Here, I intend to focus on Nyerere's seminal achievement: creating an inclusive citizenship and building a nation-state." (p. 107-108)

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