Saturday, April 30, 2011
Friday, April 29, 2011
Thursday, April 28, 2011
GEOFFREY CROWTHER, editor of The Economist from 1938 to 1956, used to advise young journalists to “simplify, then exaggerate”. He might have changed his advice if he had lived to witness the current debate on globalisation. There is a lively discussion about whether it is good or bad. But everybody seems to agree that globalisation is a fait accompli: that the world is flat, if you are a (Tom) Friedmanite, or that the world is run by a handful of global corporations, if you are a (Naomi) Kleinian.
Pankaj Ghemawat of IESE Business School in Spain is one of the few who has kept his head on the subject. For more than a decade he has subjected the simplifiers and exaggerators to a barrage of statistics. He has now set out his case—that we live in an era of semi-globalisation at most—in a single volume, “World 3.0”, that should be read by anyone who wants to understand the most important economic development of our time.
Mr Ghemawat points out that many indicators of global integration are surprisingly low. Only 2% of students are at universities outside their home countries; and only 3% of people live outside their country of birth. Only 7% of rice is traded across borders. Only 7% of directors of S&P 500 companies are foreigners—and, according to a study a few years ago, less than 1% of all American companies have any foreign operations. Exports are equivalent to only 20% of global GDP. Some of the most vital arteries of globalisation are badly clogged: air travel is restricted by bilateral treaties and ocean shipping is dominated by cartels.
Far from “ripping through people’s lives”, as Arundhati Roy, an Indian writer, claims, globalisation is shaped by familiar things, such as distance and cultural ties. Mr Ghemawat argues that two otherwise identical countries will engage in 42% more trade if they share a common language than if they do not, 47% more if both belong to a trading block, 114% more if they have a common currency and 188% more if they have a common colonial past.
What about the “new economy” of free-flowing capital and borderless information? Here Mr Ghemawat’s figures are even more striking. Foreign direct investment (FDI) accounts for only 9% of all fixed investment. Less than 20% of venture capital is deployed outside the fund’s home country. Only 20% of shares traded on stockmarkets are owned by foreign investors. Less than 20% of internet traffic crosses national borders.
And what about the direction rather than the extent of globalisation? Surely Mr Friedman (author of “The World is Flat”) and company are right about where we are headed even if they exaggerate how far we have got? In fact, today’s levels of emigration pale beside those of a century ago, when 14% of Irish-born people and 10% of native Norwegians had emigrated. Back then you did not need visas. Today the world spends $88 billion a year on processing travel documents and in a tenth of the world’s countries a passport costs more than a tenth of the average annual income.
That FDI fell from nearly $2 trillion in 2007 to $1 trillion in 2009 can be put down to the global financial crisis. But other trends suggest that globalisation is reversible. Nearly a quarter of North American and European companies shortened their supply chains in 2008 (the effect of Japan’s disaster on its partsmakers will surely prompt further shortening). It takes three times as long to process a lorry-load of goods crossing the Canadian-American border as it did before September 11th 2001. Even the internet is succumbing to this pattern of regionalisation, as governments impose a patchwork of local restrictions on content.
Mr Ghemawat also explodes the myth that the world is being taken over by a handful of giant companies. The level of concentration in many vital industries has fallen dramatically since 1950 and remained roughly constant since 1980: 60 years ago two car companies accounted for half of the world’s car production, compared with six companies today.
He also refutes the idea that globalisation means homogenisation. The increasing uniformity of cities’ skylines worldwide masks growing choice within them, to which even the most global of companies must adjust. McDonald’s serves vegetarian burgers in India and spicy ones in Mexico, where Coca-Cola uses cane sugar rather than the corn syrup it uses in America. MTV, which went global on the assumption that “A-lop-bop-a-doo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom” meant the same in every language, now includes five calls to prayer a day in its Indonesian schedules.
Mr Ghemawat notes that company bosses lead the pack when it comes to overestimating the extent of globalisation. Nokia, for example, spent years trying to break into Japan’s big but idiosyncratic mobile-handset market with its rest-of-the-world-beating products before finally conceding defeat. In general companies frequently have more to gain through exploiting national differences—perhaps through arbitrage—than by muscling them aside.
This sober view of globalisation deserves a wide audience. But whether it will get it is another matter. This is partly because “World 3.0” is a much less exciting title than “The World is Flat” or “Jihad vs. McWorld”. And it is partly because people seem to have a natural tendency to overestimate the distance-destroying quality of technology. Go back to the era of dictators and world wars and you can find exactly the same addiction to globaloney. Henry Ford said cars and planes were “binding the world together”. Martin Heidegger said that “everything is equally far and equally near”. George Orwell got so annoyed by all this that he wrote a blistering attack on all the fashionable talk about the abolition of distance and the disappearance of frontiers—and that was in 1944, when Adolf Hitler was advancing his own unique approach to the flattening of the world.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Monday, April 25, 2011
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Sunday, April 17, 2011
WHERE do languages come from? That is a question as old as human beings’ ability to pose it. But it has two sorts of answer. The first is evolutionary: when and where human banter was first heard. The second is ontological: how an individual human acquires the power of speech and understanding. This week, by a neat coincidence, has seen the publication of papers addressing both of these conundrums.
Quentin Atkinson, of the University of Auckland, in New Zealand, has been looking at the evolutionary issue, trying to locate the birthplace of the first language. Michael Dunn, of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands, has been examining ontology. Fittingly, they have published their results in the two greatest rivals of scientific journalism. Dr Atkinson’s paper appears in Science, Dr Dunn’s in Nature.
The obvious place to look for the evolutionary origin of language is the cradle of humanity, Africa. And, to cut a long story short, it is to Africa that Dr Atkinson does trace things. In doing so, he knocks on the head any lingering suggestion that language originated more than once.
One of the lines of evidence which show humanity’s African origins is that the farther you get from that continent, the less diverse, genetically speaking, people are. Being descended from small groups of relatively recent migrants, they are more inbred than their African forebears.
Dr Atkinson wondered whether the same might be true of languages. To find out, he looked not at genes but at phonemes. These are the smallest sounds which differentiate meaning (like the “th” in thin; replace it with “f” or “s” and the result is a different word). It has been known for a while that the less widely spoken a language is, the fewer the phonemes it has. So, as groups of people ventured ever farther from their African homeland, their phonemic repertoires should have dwindled, just as their genetic ones did.
To check whether this is the case, Dr Atkinson took 504 languages and plotted the number of phonemes in each (corrected for recent population growth, when significant) against the distance between the place where the language is spoken and 2,500 putative points of origin, scattered across the world. The relationship that emerges suggests the actual point of origin is in central or southern Africa (see chart), and that all modern languages do, indeed, have a common root.
That fits nicely with the idea that being able to speak and be spoken to is a specific adaptation—a virtual organ, if you like—that is humanity’s killer app in the struggle for biological dominance. Once it arose, Homo sapiens really could go forth and multiply and fill the Earth.
The details of this virtual organ are the subject of Dr Dunn’s paper. Confusingly, though, for this neat story of human imperialism, his result challenges the leading hypothesis about the nature of the language organ itself.
The originator of that hypothesis is Noam Chomsky, a linguist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr Chomsky argues that the human brain comes equipped with a hard-wired universal grammar—a language instinct, in the elegant phrase of his one-time colleague Steven Pinker. This would explain why children learn to speak almost effortlessly.
The problem with the idea of a language instinct is that languages differ not just in their vocabularies, which are learned, but in their grammatical rules, which are the sort of thing that might be expected to be instinctive. Dr Chomsky’s response is that this diversity, like the diversity of vocabulary, is superficial. In his opinion grammar is a collection of modules, each containing assorted features. Switching on a module activates all these features at a stroke. You cannot pick and choose within a module.
For instance, languages in which verbs precede objects will always have relative clauses after nouns; a language cannot have one but not the other. A lot of similar examples were collected by Joseph Greenberg, a linguist based at Stanford, who died in 2001. And, though Greenberg himself attributed his findings to general constraints on human thought rather than to language-specific switches in the brain, his findings also agree with the Chomskyan view of the world. Truly testing that view, though, is hard. The human brain cannot easily handle the connections that need to be made to do so. Dr Dunn therefore offered the task to a computer. And what he found surprised him.
To find out which linguistic features travel together, and might thus be parts of Chomskyan modules, means drawing up a reliable linguistic family tree. That is tricky. Unlike biologists, linguists do not have fossils to guide them through the past (apart from a few thousand years of records from the few tongues spoken by literate societies). Also, languages can crossbreed in a way that species do not. English, for example, is famously a muddle of German, Norse and medieval French. As a result, linguists often disagree about which tongues belong to a particular family.
To leap this hurdle, Dr Dunn began by collecting basic vocabulary terms—words for body parts, kinship, simple verbs and the like—for four large language families that all linguists agree are real. These are Indo-European, Bantu, Austronesian (from South-East Asia and the Pacific) and Uto-Aztecan (the native vernaculars of the Americas). These four groups account for more than a third of the 7,000 or so tongues spoken around the world today.
For each family, Dr Dunn and his team identified sets of cognates. These are etymologically related words that pop up in different languages. One set, for example, contains words like “night”, “Nacht” and “nuit”. Another includes “milk” and “Milch”, but not “lait”. The result is a multidimensional Venn diagram that records the overlaps between languages.
Which is fine for the present, but not much use for the past. To substitute for fossils, and thus reconstruct the ancient branches of the tree as well as the modern-day leaves, Dr Dunn used mathematically informed guesswork. The maths in question is called the Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) method. As its name suggests, this spins the software equivalent of a roulette wheel to generate a random tree, then examines how snugly the branches of that tree fit the modern foliage. It then spins the wheel again, to tweak the first tree ever so slightly, at random. If the new tree is a better fit for the leaves, it is taken as the starting point for the next spin. If not, the process takes a step back to the previous best fit. The wheel whirrs millions of times until such random tweaking has no discernible effect on the outcome.
When Dr Dunn fed the languages he had chosen into the MCMC casino, the result was several hundred equally probable family trees. Next, he threw eight grammatical features, all related to word order, into the mix, and ran the game again.
The results were unexpected. Not one correlation persisted across all language families, and only two were found in more than one family. It looks, then, as if the correlations between grammatical features noticed by previous researchers are actually fossilised coincidences passed down the generations as part of linguistic culture. Nurture, in other words, rather than nature. If Dr Dunn is correct, that leaves Dr Chomsky’s ideas in tatters, and raises questions about the very existence of a language organ. You may be sure, though, that the Chomskyan heavy artillery will be making its first ranging shots in reply, even as you read this article. Watch this space for further developments.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
27% of the urban population in the developing world does not have piped water in its house.
827.6 million people live in slums often lacking adequate drinking water and sanitation facilities.
Water-related diseases kill a child every 8 seconds, and are responsible for 80% of all illnesses and deaths in the developing world.
Water-related diseases kill more than 5 million people every year, more than ten times the number killed in wars.
884 million people (one in five people) do not have access to improved water sources.
2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation facilities.
Friday, April 15, 2011
In an ideal world, it would not take a film star to get the media focused on mental illness. But we don't live in an ideal world, we live in a celebrity culture where Catherine Zeta-Jones being treated for bipolar disorder can soar to the top of news websites' "most viewed", and relegate Andrew Lansley's woes or even David Cameron's pre-election views on immigration.
I am an ambassador for Time to Change, the campaign to change attitudes on mental illness, to break down the stigma and taboo which still surround it. It appears to be having some success: when England cricketer Michael Yardy left the World Cup because of depression, the "pull yourself together ... what has he got to be depressed about?" brigade were in the minority. There is greater understanding, but still stigma. Some people with mental illness say the discrimination can be worse than the symptoms.
What the mental health charities find deeply frustrating is that they can only get on the media via celebrities. If Zeta-Jones had been diagnosed with cancer, we would be talking about cancer. It is as though the celebs attached to an issue lead a debate, rather than the issue and how it affects millions of people. There is a danger that focus on famous people tends to get in the way of one of our central messages – it can happen to anyone – or that it reinforces one of the myths, that mental illness hits "creative, achieving people".
But if you are the charity in question, trying to raise your profile so as to raise funds and awareness for the services you provide, you have to play the game. I was inundated with media bids and the charities wanted me to take them up. Isn't it better if a doctor or a nurse goes up? Ah, but they want a name.
So here's an idea for the Guardian. Take Catherine Zeta-Jones as the "peg" – but open a few pages of G2 to fellow sufferers most of us have never heard of. The charities will help find them. Then your readers will see that not all bipolar sufferers look like Stephen Fry or Catherine Zeta-Jones ... They look like the woman next door, the guy on the bus, the colleague across the office, the kid you met on holiday last year.
One in four of us will have a mental illness at some point. That is a lot of people. Very few are film stars. Zeta-Jones will help raise the profile of the issues, whether she wanted it that way or not. That should lead to better understanding. But as I said when I spoke to the Royal College of Nursing on Wednesday about mental health, including my own issues of breakdown and depression, better understanding must be an accompaniment to good treatment, not a substitute.
I join the many others who wish her well and thank her for the support her name will lend our campaign. But there are people with the same illness who cannot get the support they need, who still feel they have to lie about their condition to get or keep a job, and who really worry about the impact of government cuts and reforms that will fundamentally change the way mental health services are run. Those issues should be getting an airing regardless of celebrity support or involvement.
by Alastair Campbell
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Monday, April 11, 2011
“TYPICAL Blackwater operative,” says a senior military officer, gesturing towards a muscular Westerner with a shaven head and tattoos, striding through the lobby of Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel. Pakistanis believe their country is thick with Americans working for private security companies contracted to the Central Intelligence Agency; and indeed, the physique of some of the guests at the Marriott hardly suggests desk-bound jobs.
Pakistan is not a country for those of a nervous disposition. Even the Marriott lacks the comforting familiarity of the standard international hotel, for the place was blown up in 2008 by a lorry loaded with explosives. The main entrance is no longer accessible from the road; guards check under the bonnets of approaching cars, and guests are dropped off at a screening centre a long walk away.
Some 30,000 people have been killed in the past four years in terrorism, sectarianism and army attacks on the terrorists. The number of attacks in Pakistan’s heartland is on the rise, and Pakistani terrorists have gone global in their ambitions. This year there have been unprecedented displays of fundamentalist religious and anti-Western feeling. All this might be expected in Somalia or Yemen, but not in a country of great sophistication which boasts an elite educated at Oxbridge and the Ivy League, which produces brilliant novelists, artists and scientists, and is armed with nuclear weapons.
Demonstrations in support of the murderer of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, in January, startled and horrified Pakistan’s liberals. Mr Taseer was killed by his guard, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, who objected to his boss’s campaign to reform the country’s strict blasphemy law. Some suggest that the demonstrations were whipped up by the opposition to frighten the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government, since Mr Taseer was a member of the party. Others say the army encouraged them, because it likes to remind the Americans of the seriousness of the fundamentalist threat. But conversations with Lahoris playing Sunday cricket in the park beside the Badshahi mosque suggest that the demonstrations expressed the feelings of many. “We are all angry about these things,” says Gul Sher, a goldsmith, of Mr Taseer’s campaign to reform the law on blasphemy. “God gave Qadri the courage to do something about it.”
Pakistani liberals have always taken comfort from the fundamentalists’ poor showing in elections and the tolerant, Sufi version of Islam traditionally prevalent in rural Pakistan. But polling by the Pew Research Centre suggests that Pakistanis take a hard line on religious matters these days (see chart 1). It may be that they always did, and that the elite failed to notice. It may be that urbanisation and the growing influence of hard-line Wahhabi-style Islam have widened the gap between the liberal elite and the rest. “The Pakistani elites have lived in a kind of cocoon,” says Salman Raja, a Lahore lawyer. “They go to Aitchison College [in Lahore]. They go abroad to university…A lot of us are asking ourselves whether this country has changed while our backs were turned.”
The response to another death suggests that the hostility towards Mr Taseer may not have been only about religion. Two months later Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister for minorities, was murdered for the same reason. Yet his killing did not trigger jubilation. Mr Taseer’s offence may have been compounded by the widespread perception that he, like most of the elite, was Westernised. His mother was British, he held parties at his house, and he posted photos on the internet of his children doing normal Western teenage things—swimming and laughing with the opposite sex—that caused a scandal in Pakistan.
The West in general, and America in particular, are unpopular. It was not always thus. Before the Soviet Union left Afghanistan, around a third of Pakistanis regarded Americans as untrustworthy. Since then, a fairly stable two-thirds have done so. The latest poll on the matter (see chart 1) suggests that Pakistanis see America as more of a threat to their country than India or the Pakistani Taliban. It was carried out in 2009, but anecdotal evidence confirms that the views have not changed. “America is behind all of our troubles,” says Mohammed Shafiq, a street-hawker. That may be because America is thought to have embroiled Pakistan in a war which has caused the surge in terrorism; or because many Pakistanis, including senior army officers, genuinely believe that the bombings are being carried out by America in order to destabilise Pakistan, after which it will grab its nuclear weapons.
From the complex web of factors that have fostered intolerance and violence in Pakistan, it is possible to disentangle four main strands. The first is Pakistan’s strategic position. Big powers have long competed for control of the area between Russia and the Arabian Gulf, and the unresolved tensions with India have dogged the country since its birth in 1947. Nor has Pakistan tried to keep out of its neighbours’ affairs. It was America’s enthusiastic ally in the war to eject the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in the 1980s, which it sold to its people as a jihad. “We used religion as an instrument of change and we are still paying the price,” says General Mahmud Ali Durrani, former national security adviser and ambassador to Washington. Pakistan helped create the Taliban in the 1990s to try to exert some control over Afghanistan. And with much trepidation on the part of its leaders, and reluctance on the part of its people, it has supported America in its war against the Taliban over the past decade.
By trying to destabilise India, Pakistan has undermined its own stability. “When the Soviets went away,” says a senior military officer, “we had a very large number of battle-hardened people with nothing to do. They were redirected towards India. The ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence, the main military-intelligence agency] was controlling them…20:20 hindsight is very good, but this decision was perhaps wrong.” According to the officer, after al-Qaeda’s attacks against America on September 11th 2001 the army decided to wind down the policy. “We started taking them out. But many of them said, ‘Nothing doing.’ They had contact with people in the Afghan jihad, and they joined those people again.” Because the Pakistanis were helping the Americans in their fight against the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani jihadis turned their fury on the government.
The second strand is the unresolved question of Islam’s role in the nation. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder, made it clear that he thought Pakistan should be a country for Muslims, not an Islamic country. But since then, according to General Durrani, “Every government that has failed to deliver has used Islam as a crutch.” Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, for example, though fond of a drink himself, banned alcohol. Zia ul Haq, his successor, tried to legitimise his military coup by pledging to Islamise the country.
The relationship between religion and the state is not an abstruse question of political philosophy. A treatise on the Pakistani constitution published in 2009 by Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s number two (who is believed to be in North Waziristan), argues that the Pakistani state is illegitimate and must be destroyed. This tract is widely read in the madrassas from which the terrorist groups draw their recruits. Its popularity exercises Qazi Hussein Ahmed, the grand old man of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the most fundamentalist of the political parties, for the Jamaat works within the state, not against it. He argues that Pakistan’s failure to adopt an Islamist constitution “has given the Taliban and such extremist elements a pretext: they say the government will not bow to demands made by democratic means, so they are resorting to violent means.”
The third strand is the uselessness of the government. Democracy in Pakistan has been subverted by patronage. Parliament is dominated by the big landowning families, who think their job is to provide for the tribes and clans who vote for them. Except for the Jamaat-e-Islami, parties have nothing to do with ideology. The two main ones are family assets—the Bhuttos own the PPP, and the Sharifs (Nawaz Sharif, the former and probably future prime minister, and his brother Shahbaz, chief minister of Punjab) own the Pakistan Muslim League (N). The consequence is dire political leadership of the sort shown by Asif Ali Zardari, who is president only because he married into the Bhutto dynasty. When Pakistan desperately needed a courageous political gesture in response to the murders of the governor and minister, the president failed even to attend their funerals.
Pakistan’s rotten governance shows up in its growth rates (see chart 2). In a decade during which most of Asia has leapt ahead, Pakistan has lagged behind. Female literacy, crucial as both an indicator of development and a determinant of future prosperity, is stuck at 40%. In India, which was at a similar level 20 years ago, the figure is now over half. In East Asia it is more like nine out of ten.
Given the government’s failings, it is hardly surprising if Pakistanis take a dim view of democracy. In a recent Pew poll of seven Muslim countries they were the least enthusiastic, with 42% regarding it as the best form of government—though, since the country has spent longer under military than under democratic rule, the army is at least as culpable.
The armed forces’ dominance is the fourth strand. Tensions with India mean that the army has always absorbed a disproportionate share of the government’s budget. Being so well-resourced, the army is one of the few institutions in the country that works well. So when civilian politicians get them into a hole, Pakistanis look to the military men to dig them out again. They usually oblige.
Terrorism is strengthening the army further. In 2009 it drove terrorists out of Swat and South Waziristan, and it is now running those areas. Last year its budget allocation leapt by 17%. Nor are the demands on the armed forces likely to shrink. Although overall numbers of attacks are down from a peak in 2009, they have spread from the tribal areas and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), along the border with Afghanistan, to the heartland. Last year saw an uptick in attacks on government, military and economic targets in Punjab and Karachi, the capital of Sindh province. Since then, security has been stepped up; and with the usual targets—international hotels, government buildings and military installations—surrounded by armed men and concrete barriers, terrorists are increasingly attacking soft targets where civilians congregate, such as mosques and markets.
Pakistani terrorism has also gone global. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, or Pakistani Taliban), announced when it was formed in 2007 that it aimed to attack the Pakistani state, impose sharia law on the country and resist NATO forces in Afghanistan. But last year Qari Mehsud, now dead but thought to be a cousin of the leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, who was in charge of the group’s suicide squad, announced that American cities would be targeted in revenge for drone attacks in tribal areas. That policy was apparently taken up by Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistan-born naturalised American who tried to blow up New York’s Times Square last year.
That prompted an increase in American pressure on the army to attack terrorists in North Waziristan. The army is resisting. The Americans suspect that it wants to protect Afghan Taliban there. The Pakistani army says it is just overstretched.
“We are still in South Waziristan,” insists a senior security officer. “We are holding the area. We are starting a resettlement process, building roads and dams. We need to keep the settled areas free of terrorists. It is not a matter of intent that we are not going into North Waziristan. It is a matter of capacity.”
The growth in terrorism in Punjab poses another problem for the army. “What we see in the border areas is an insurgency,” says the officer. “The military is there to do counter-insurgency. What you see in the cities is terrorism. This is the job of the law-enforcement agencies.” But the police and the courts are not doing their job. One suspected terrorist, for instance, a founder member of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, was charged with 70 murders, almost all of them Shias. He was found not guilty of any of them for lack of evidence. In 2009 the ISI kidnapped 11 suspected terrorists from a jail in Punjab, because it feared that the courts were about to set them free.
So where does this lead? Not to a terrorist march on the capital. Excitable Western headlines a couple of years ago saying that the Taliban were “60 miles from Islamabad” were misleading: first because the terrorists are not an army on the march, and second because they are not going to take control of densely populated, industrialised, urban Punjab the way they took control of parts of the wild, mountainous frontier areas and KPK.
Yet even though they will not overthrow the Pakistani state, the combination of a small number of terrorists and a great deal of intolerance is changing it. Liberals, Christians, Ahmadis and Shias are nervous. People are beginning to watch their words in public. The rich among those target groups are talking about going abroad. The country is already very different from the one Jinnah aspired to build.
The future would look brighter if there were much resistance to the extremists from political leaders. But, because of either fear or opportunism, there isn’t. The failure of virtually the entire political establishment to stand up for Mr Taseer suggests fear; the electioneering tour that the law minister of Punjab took with a leader of Sipah-e-Sahaba last year suggests opportunism. “The Punjab government is hobnobbing with the terrorists,” says the security officer. “This is part of the problem.” A state increasingly under the influence of extremists is not a pleasant idea.
It may come out all right. After all, Pakistan has been in decline for many years, and has not tumbled into the abyss. But countries tend to crumble slowly. As Adam Smith said, “There is a great deal of ruin in a nation.” The process could be reversed; but for that to happen, somebody in power would have to try.
Saturday, April 09, 2011
The Guardian's New Europe series launched at perhaps the busiest time for international news since 9/11. Revolution in north Africa and the Middle East, a triple disaster in Japan, Ivory Coast on the brink. What could a month-long journey through Europe's most important countries tell us about the crises of the day?
Plenty. Within hours of launching Germany week, the nuclear disaster in Japan was contaminating German politics, forcing a rethink on nuclear power and propelling the Greens to a remarkable electoral triumph. France week kicked off at the same time as the French-led air assault (pictured below) on Muammar Gaddafi's regime, which rebooted not only French foreign policy but perhaps the Sarkozy presidency. The immigration debate in southern Europe faced a new dynamic with the sudden spike in the number of Africans heading north across the Mediterranean.
All this at a time when the leaders in all four countries we examined faced questions about their mandate: Nicolas Sarkozy and Poland's Donald Tusk are both girding for imminent re-election battles; Spain will get a new prime minister next year after José Luis Zapatero announced he would not be seeking a third term; and Germany's Angela Merkel suffered an electoral setback in Baden-Württemberg.
But New Europe month told us most about the post-crash Europe that we live in. It gave us a chance to understand how our neighbours are dealing with the biggest economic upheaval in a generation, an opportunity to find out who had the best answers to universal European problems of ageing populations, listless youth, insolvent governments, bankrupt welfare systems, restive regions and often unfair health and education systems.
Economics and welfare
Our correspondents found that when it comes to economics, Europe's post-crisis nations are a little like Tolstoy's families: happy economies are alike, but every unhappy economy is unhappy in its own way. In France, les misérables are striking workers, jobless youth and a president who has had to water down his grand designs for Thatcherite reform. In Spain, the unhappy are residents of construction-boom towns that now sit almost empty, the bankers who are all but bust and the one in five unemployed. In Poland, the unfortunates are those on the wrong end of deepening inequality.
Ailing economies weaken the power of the state, nowhere more critically than in France, where the sense of entitlement now dwarfs the ability of the state to subserve it. Polly Toynbee found that in a country which diverts a full third of its national income to pensions, income support, health and social services, "cross-party commitment to welfare runs deep". Readers online and of the paper were as divided as the French themselves on the issue of whether the generous French welfare state was still affordable. For some, the country's system is a model for the UK; others expressed concern about its top-down economy and an emergent two-tier system for workers, in which those on low pay and temporary contracts are excluded from the security, tax breaks and welfare payments enjoyed by their permanent counterparts. One reader, Gwan, said: "No one in my office has a permanent contract, and we're all educated to master's level and employed by the state. Job insecurity aside, there's zero hope for advancement."
Health and education
France's health system impressed our correspondents, beating the NHS on most yardsticks. The picture was more nuanced elsewhere, but readers took issue with the suggestion that Spanish healthcare and medical staff have been protected from cutbacks during the financial downturn. Healthcare standards vary greatly between regions as the organisation of the communidades autónomas play their parts, they said, with one reader citing a 10% cut in Catalonia's health budget this year. There was much praise, however, for the work of the donor co-ordinators mentioned in the article and for hospitals' treatment of family members and visitors.
On schools, our correspondents were surprised to find that elitism, selection and ghettoisation were not just a British disease. The German system of streaming at 10, which heavily favours the middle classes, felt like a formalisation of the UK's own patchwork system in which the well-to-do try to buy better futures for their children.
The Spanish mix of concertadas (academies) and faith schools alongside down-at-heel state schools also felt deeply familiar. France, with its long school days, rigorous grading system and uniform curriculum, is falling down international league tables.
Also familiar are the various debates across the continent on immigration, minorities and integration. In France, Angelique Chrisafis spoke to Marine Le Pen, pictured, dauphine of the far right, who still argues that immigration is a threat to the economy and security of France, and speaks of immigrants as "neverending queues of foreigners". Her Front National scored well in local elections and an opinion poll found she was more popular than Sarkozy.
In Germany, steeped in a sulphurous debate about whether Turks are doing enough to integrate, Gary Younge found housing projects where there was "not a lot of tension here, but there's also not necessarily a lot of contact". Readers weighed in on both sides: many took issue with "multiculturalism". JoeDeM wrote: "It seems that Germany has similar problems to the UK when it comes to the integration of Muslim immigrant communities. Hardly surprising." Ostberlin offered a first-person perspective that provided a nice counterpoint: "Although everybody speaks about education all the time, I think the poison of racism is the key issue; if, like Günther Wallraff, you treat people with affection and dignity, they respond in kind. This is my experience."
In Spain and Poland, our writers found countries preoccupied with a different kind of migration: exodus. With jobs hard to find, a new cohort of Spanish youth is preparing to move overseas to find work. Poles did the same, of course, throughout the past decade. Amelia Gentleman found that many are now returning, and not always with good stories. One migrant, JanPomorski, said: "I was one of those migrants myself, came back after two years … I was just another Pole living in the ghetto (Stratford, London) for 900 pounds/month, in overcrowded place, struggling to save some money. As for the promised land, I can say just one thing: agencies. Some work agencies are advertising, hiring, and even training in Poland (like I was trained) and as soon as you start working they don't give a sheet about you any more."
Gender and family life
Zoe Williams found Germany preoccupied with its low birth rate, France suffused with pervasive, tacit misogyny, and Spain with a lot of women in its government, but many more discriminated against in the job market. Readers challenged the view of France, pointing to a proliferation of political and business high flyers, with lavieenrose offering this personal perspective: "As a woman who has lived in France for 40 years, I worked my way up the corporate ladder to senior management positions back in the supposedly dark days of the 70s and 80s. Not easy, particularly with two children, but not exceptional by any means and probably easier than in the UK due to the higher percentage of working women, superior maternity benefits and well-organised childcare facilities. And why no mention of leading French businesswomen such as Anne Lauvergeon, president of one of the biggest companies in the world, Areva?"
However, support for the piece came from mireillep: "It is anecdotal but I find women here so subservient in subtle ways. Men rule, no doubt about that. In this Latin society the male has space, he is entitled. It is indefinite, it is subtle, but even my British husband feels it. They strut their stuff and it's OK. Women work, have babies (the highest birthrate in Europe), do the washing, the shopping, the cooking, the kids' stuff (82% of childrearing is carried out by women, 80% of domestic tasks too) and they get depressed (recent studies done) and anxious. France is the highest consumer of antidepressants."
Our G2 writers, meanwhile, found young European families grappling with the same issues that their British counterparts face: trying to be good parents as well as good professionals; short of time, space and money.
Art and culture
Correspondents found arts at the sharp end of the cuts agenda – even in France, which has traditionally earmarked lavish funds to ensure the persistence of the exception culturelle. Some readers argued that Spain's art scene might not be as bleak as our piece portrayed, pointing to "an overwhelming amount of art that doesn't involve gallery spaces, public or private". Street theatre, outdoor performances and exhibitions are found all year round, some readers said, and there has been an improvement in Spanish arts since the 1980s and 90s, with increased involvement of public institutions at national, regional and local level, leading to new collections, grants, exhibitions and museums. Others suggested Spain was "a cultural desert" that neglected to nurture artistic talent at youth and university levels and also lacked cultural programming on TV – factors that are driving Spanish talent abroad.
Marie Winckler's appeal for new, subversive French theatre directors, actors and playwrights produced a wide range of recommendations on who to follow, from the Théâtre de la Colline in Paris to the writers Bernard-Marie Koltès, Jean-Luc Lagarce and Olivier Py, and actor/writers such as Joël Pommerat. Commenters broadly agreed there was a shortage in this area of French theatre, with some suggesting the stagnation was being felt in other cultural areas such as the visual arts, too, and was fed by being "a closed space which only services a small group [of friends and influencers]".
Dorota Maslowsa's summary of the development and future of Polish art since the fall of communism was welcomed by commenters as "interesting" and "well-observed", although one worried: "I just hope that 'modern' and 'universal' are not euphemisms for 'western' and 'homogenous'."
Readers were invited to send us short videos in support of their favourite European country. Spain emerged as the most popular and Spaniards the most likely to nominate their own land, possibly helped by a Twitter campaign urging Spaniards to fly the national flag. "Where else can you ski in the morning and go to the beach in the afternoon?" pondered Cristina and Lola.
Miles from Wiesbaden took us on a tour of his city to show us "why Germany is a nice place", explaining that Germans are old-fashioned people who love traditional food, nature and romance. Italians made wry references to Silvio Berlusconi's extracurricular activities while extolling their food, lifestyle and landscape. Ambra told us: "I don't eat pasta every day, drive a Ferrari or participate in bunga-bunga parties with my prime minister."
As for the European project itself, battered by the debt crisis, correspondents found Germany determined to defend its national interest, Spain's prime minister told Giles Tremlett the country would not need a bailout – words that take on greater significance in the wake of the Portuguese cry for help this week – and Timothy Garton-Ash's overview of Poland's journey to being a "normal" European country elicited plenty of responses. Alex, a 28-year-old living in Warsaw, said: "I am surprised how well authors of articles from the series New Europe describe Poland." Talking of his own, post-communist generation, he went on: "When I observe young people, born in the 80s and 90s, it is obvious they have no complexes, they feel Europeans, and speak at least one foreign language. It is the generation of our parents and grandparents who still live in the past, slowing down reforms and any other necessary changes in the country. I'm not sure if we should complain that much about the situation when people who govern still don't understand our reality – we are Europeans with European problems just living on Polish territory."Guardian readers also shared their views of Poland – its cities, countryside, food and people – in our Flickr group, inspired by David Levene's shots of Warsaw.
Wednesday, April 06, 2011
Even a broken watch tells the right time twice a day. So a UN Security Council resolution authorising the use of force against Libya is not necessarily wrong just because it was a US, French and UK initiative. Unarmed rebels facing a reign of terror may have to seek the assistance of an international force; preoccupied with their own sufferings, they will not refuse help just because the force may be deaf to appeals from other sufferers (for example, in Palestine). They may even forget that the alliance is better known for repression than aid.
But reasons that make sense to Libyan rebels in extreme danger cannot justify yet another western war on Arab land. Intervention by Nato member states is not an acceptable way to topple Muammar Gaddafi. If intervention seems the obvious solution – insofar as we are required to choose between western bombardment and the crushing of the Libyan uprising – that is only because other solutions, such as a joint intervention by UN, Egyptian or pan-Arab forces, have been dismissed.
Going by past record, it is impossible to believe the generous motives for sending in western troops that are currently being claimed. In fact, it is hard to believe that any state anywhere would spend money and deploy forces to achieve democratic goals. And recent history shows that battles fought for those goals may have widely acclaimed initial success, but what comes after is chaotic, more dangerous and less spectacular. The capitals of Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq fell years ago, yet the fighting goes on inside those countries.
The Libyans would have preferred, like their Tunisian and Egyptian neighbours, to end Gaddafi’s despotic rule without outside help. The intervention of external forces places them under an obligation to powers that never had any real interest in Libyan freedom. Gaddafi is primarily to blame for this regional exception. Without 40 years of his violent repressive regime (which shifted from an anti-imperialist dictatorship to a pro-western despotism), without his diatribes against the “agents of al-Qaida” and “rats in the pay of foreign intelligence services”, the Libyan people alone would have been able to determine their own destiny.
Security Council Resolution 1973 authorising the bombing of Libya may have prevented the crushing of a revolt with military means too slender to succeed. But it has opened the door to much hypocrisy. Gaddafi’s troops were not bombed because he was the most vicious or bloodthirsty dictator, but because he was the weakest, without nuclear weapons or powerful friends to shield him from military reprisals or speak for him at the Security Council. The decision to authorise intervention confirms that international law has no clear principles whose violation is subject to universal sanctions.
Gaddafi’s close friends
Diplomatic whitewash is like money laundering: one good action covers decades of wheeling and dealing. So President Nicolas Sarkozy could order air strikes against Gaddafi, his former business partner, whom he received in 2007 although the nature of Gaddafi’s regime was evident. (We can count ourselves lucky, though, that Sarkozy didn’t offer Gaddafi the “French security forces’ expertise” that he extended to Tunisia’s now ex-president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January.) And Silvio Berlusconi was a “close friend” of the Libyan Guide, who visited him in Rome 11 times, yet Berlusconi managed reluctantly to join the coalition.
The Arab League, full of old men who dread democracy, welcomed UN action but were horrified when the first US missiles landed. Russia and China could have opposed the Security Council resolution or introduced amendments to define the action and reduce the risk of escalation, saving themselves from having to “regret” the use of force later. The rectitude of the international community is also clear from the text of Resolution 1973, which condemns “arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, torture and summary executions” in Libya. Of course, these things don’t happen in Guantanamo Bay, Chechnya or China.
No one questions the imperative of protecting civilians. But in armed conflict that means bombing military objectives, including troops, many of them civilian conscripts, mingling with unarmed crowds. Aircraft patrolling a no-fly zone may be shot down, their pilots captured, and special forces will then be sent in to release them. However much the vocabulary is doctored, there is no euphemism for war.
War is in the hands of those who declare it and conduct operations, not those who believe in short wars with happy endings. It is fine to draw up plans for a conflict without hostility and no collateral damage, but the military forces that execute these plans will follow their own inclinations, use their own methods and have their own agenda. The consequences of Resolution 1973 may include retreating Libyan troops mown down by machine guns, as well as crowds rejoicing in Benghazi.
Progressive opinion on Libya is divided, according to whether it stresses solidarity with an oppressed people or opposition to a western war. Both objectives are legitimate but cannot always be reconciled.
Forced to chose, there is a decision to be made on what an “anti-imperialist” label gained in the international arena authorises by way of daily suffering imposed on people.
Many leftwing governments in Latin America, notably Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia have maintained a dignified silence about Gaddafi’s repressive measures, which seems all the more bizarre since his opposition to the West is pure facade. He claims to be the victim of a “colonialist plot”, after having assured the old colonial powers: “We are all embroiled in the fight against terrorism. Our security services cooperate. We have helped you a lot these past few years” (1).
Like Hugo Chávez, Daniel Ortega and Fidel Castro, Gaddafi claims the attack on him is “all about oil”, although Libyan oil is already controlled by the US, UK and Italian companies Occidental Petroleum, BP and ENI (see The subtleties of Libyan crude). Just a few weeks ago, the International Monetary Fund had welcomed Libya’s “strong macroeconomic performance and the progress on enhancing the role of the private sector” (2). Gaddafi’s friend Ben Ali was paid a similar compliment in November 2008 by IMF director general Dominique Strauss-Kahn – who had just returned from Tripoli (3).
Anthony Giddens, theoretician of the Blairite ‘Third Way’, also seems to have overlooked Gaddafi’s old revolutionary, anti-imperialist veneer, carefully restored in Caracas and Havana, when he observed in 2007 that the “ideal future for Libya in two or three decades’ time would be a Norway of North Africa: prosperous, egalitarian and forward-looking” (4). Gaddafi has duped many impressive people. He may not be quite as mad as we thought.
There are many reasons why leftwing Latin American governments misjudged Gaddafi. They hoped he was the enemy of their enemy, the US, though that was no reason to believe he was a friend. They didn’t know much about North Africa – Chávez phoned Gaddafi to find out what was happening in Tunisia – so they were against what Castro called “the colossal campaign of lies unleashed by the mass media”.
The events revived irrelevant personal memories, hence Chávez’s comment on Libya: “I don’t know why, but the things that have happened and are happening there remind me of Hugo Chávez on 11 April” (11 April 2002, when the Chávez government in Venezuela was almost overturned in a coup with strong media support).
There were other reasons for the failure to understand events in Libya: decades of US military intervention and domination in Latin America, Libya helping Venezuela to gain a foothold in Africa, Latin American states’ role in Opec and the South America-Africa Summits, and Venezuela’s diplomatic moves to strengthen South-South relations.
Chávez also assumed that close relations between states meant close relations between heads of state: “King Fahd of Saudi Arabia was a friend of mine, King Abdullah is a friend … The emir of Qatar is a friend, and the president of Syria, he came here too. And Bouteflika” (5). When Gaddafi (“my old friend”) and his regime turned repressive, the friendship proved a handicap. Chávez missed the chance to present the Arab uprisings as younger siblings of the leftwing movements in Latin America he knew so well.
It is in the diplomatic arena that one sees most clearly the dire results, in all countries, when power is held by a single individual, and orders are issued without parliamentary control or democratic deliberation. And when, as in the Security Council, diplomats proudly declare war in the name of democracy, the contrast is particularly glaring.
Gaddafi first claimed to espouse the cause of opposing the West and to be defending natural resources; then he played his final card – religion. He explained on 20 March: “The great Christian powers have launched a new crusade against the Muslim people, and the people of Libya first. The aim is to wipe Islam off the map.” Just a fortnight before, he had compared his repressive measures to an action in which 1,400 Palestinians had been killed: “The Israelis had to use tanks to deal with the extremists in Gaza, and we are in the same position … Detachments of the Libyan army had to be deployed against small pockets of al-Qaida” (6). This was unlikely to increase his popularity in the Arab world.
But it has one virtue at least. It makes evident the damaging political effects of language that reflects in reverse the neoconservative talk of crusades and empires. The Arab uprisings with their secular and religious support, and opposition, may end the rhetoric that claims to be anti-imperialist when it is merely anti-West. There may be no more talk in which hatred of “the West” conflates all that is worst (gunboat diplomacy, contempt for the “natives”, wars of religion) and all that is best (from the age of enlightenment to social security) without distinction.
Orientalism in reverse
Not long after the 1979 Iran revolution, the radical Syrian thinker, Sadiq Jalal al-Azm defined, and criticised, an “Orientalism in reverse” that eschewed secular nationalism and communist revolution, and wanted a return to religious authenticity as a weapon against the West.
The principal tenets of this “culturalist” concept, as summarised and refuted by Gilbert Achcar, were that “the degree of emancipation of the Orient should not and cannot be measured by western standards and values, such as democracy, secularism and women’s liberation; that the Islamic Orient cannot be grasped with the epistemological tools of western social sciences and that no analogy with western phenomena is relevant; that the key motional factor in Islamic history, the primary factor setting Muslim masses in motion, is cultural, ie religious, taking precedence over the economic and social/class factors that condition western political dynamics; that the only path of Muslim lands toward their renaissance is through Islam; and that the movements that raise the banner of the ‘return to Islam’ are not reactionary or regressive movements as they are perceived through western lenses, but indeed progressive movements prompted by western cultural domination” (7).
This fundamentalist political vision has not completely disappeared, but the shock waves from Tunisia suggest that its relevance is widely questioned in Arab states where people no longer want to be “with the West, or against it” (8), and where they may be equally critical of a state that is pro-US (Egypt) or against it (Syria). Far from fearing that civil liberties, free speech, democratic policies, trade unions and women’s rights are “western” priorities masquerading as universal liberation, people in Arab states are adopting them as a sign that they reject authoritarianism, social injustice and police states run by old men who treat their people like children. This great drive, reminiscent of other revolutionary movements, these unaccustomed social and democratic victories, this burst of energy all come when “the West” seems divided between fear and apathy, with a necrotic political system, running on automatic toward the same outcomes and on behalf of the same interests, regardless of which coalition is in power.
There is no guarantee that the courage and energy of the Arab people will continue to win easy victories. But they open unknown possibilities. In Article 20 of UN Resolution 1973, the Security Council “affirms its determination to ensure that [Libyan] assets frozen pursuant to [an earlier resolution] shall, at a later stage, as soon as possible be made available to and for the benefit of the people of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.” So assets can be frozen and returned to the people. This lesson will certainly be remembered, that the state can serve the people. In the past few months, the Arab world has reminded us of another universal truth: the people can shape the state.
by Serge Halimi
from Le Monde Diplomatique