Activism: Are Politics Local?

Politics have been a hot-button issue of debate from the beginning of governments. The nature of this debate while having a very wide scope oftentimes boils down to, who has the power? Is political action the result of top down thinking where the leader makes a decision and expects everyone else to fall in suit, or is it a movement of the people where the citizens band together to shape policy?

Historically, there are examples of both. There have been many instances where a leader has made a decision without the consent of the people or without a huge public outcry to implement certain policy. This is most common in totalitarian regime types, but can also be found in many different types of government. Recently, there has been a major shift in the nature of politics. Looking to the Middle East and North Africa as a region that is currently and very visibly undergoing this change, we see a shift from leader controlled policy decisions to citizen outcry leading to policy change.

This recent change in the region is enabled by the growth of technology in the region where satellite television, cell phones, and internet have begun to take over. It is especially important to mention the importance of social media sites as a source of building coalitions by which people can organize and gain strength. This allows the citizenry to push through policy through popular support. Never before in this region has activism been so important in shaping the nature of politics.

So, to answer the question, are politics local? Yes, to an ever growing degree, politics are becoming more and more local as the people, despite limits on democratic freedoms and liberty, have gained the ability to band together and begin to make change. For this to happen politics must occur on the local level before anything can take hold on any broader platform.

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The “Others” in our Society

The concept of the “others” in our world, especially being Americans, is an ever changing idea and perception. The discrimination and labeling of those outside the groups traditionally viewed as American or even in a broader sense “western” has been an ongoing issue throughout history.

Currently these “others” are predominately from the Middle East. Simply turning on any major news network or reading a paper will confirm this. With constant reports of Jihad and ISIS plotting terror attacks through the region and the world. The focus of these reports is not “how can we fix this issue,” so much as it is, “look how backwards this region is.” This issue is further emphasized by the recent attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris. The attacks were instigated by numerous depictions of Islam and Mohammed in a negative light. Had this been a “nothing is sacred in satire” series of cartoons perhaps there would be much less issue. However, while the attacks are in no way being condoned, this is not the case. Recent reports have shown that Charlie Hebdo been reported to, in the past take action to avoid anti-semetic remarks and cartoons while still viciously pursuing the satire on Islam

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One key answer to this is that currently Muslims are the “others” in western society therefore they are the ones being persecuted. Our perception in the media of these people is that of bloodthirsty, radical, religious extremists. This is not the case. Sure, there is a group of people who do embody this image yet they are a very small portion of the population.

In reality the average Middle Easterner is in many ways quite similar to the average westerner. Despite obvious differences in region and societal norms such as prevalence of McDonalds, the average Middle Easterner is motivated by food, shelter, providing for their family and other core principles of human existence. For this reason we shouldn’t view the few extremists as representative of the society as a whole but instead understand that they are just that, extremists and the average person is no different than you or me.

I have no doubts that changing ones views towards the “others” in our society would change the way we deal with the region as a whole, in the case of the Middle East. This would ultimately reduce tensions and improve relations, thus, improving the world.

Rentierism: A matter of region or timing?

The Middle East as a region has dominated headlines for over 20 years with constant conflict in the region and almost uninterrupted U.S involvement. One question which has repeatedly been brought up, what is the cause of this seemingly never-ending turmoil.

It is especially interesting to look at the region considering the history. Centering the first civilizations in the world it would only make sense that these nations would be more well established than the rest. This however, is not the case. Instead this region appears backwards and stagnated.

So what has caused this? Clearly the existence of hydrocarbons does not automatically create a rentier states. Looking to other hydrocarbon rich nations such as Norway, Canada, and even The United States, rentierism is not an issue. Looking to where rentierism strikes the hardest is undoubtably the Middle East. So the question remains, is this an issue of region or is it something more?

It is undeniable that the recent influx of conflict in the region do not benefit the development of stable governments who have the ability to move away from the rentier style of governance. Further the history of colonialism has also played a very significant role in this issue. It is here that a probable answer can be found. First, the majority of these nations are relatively new in their creation.

(Image courtesy Lasalle.edu)

The Middle East was left in shambles following World War I and the majority of states didn’t receive independence until after World War II as demonstrated by the map above. Prior to the creation of these states hydrocarbons had been discovered and was being mined. This continued to increase following their independence. The fact that these states were dependent on hydrocarbons as a their sole source of income without developing any other industry is the key reason rentierism is such a prevalent issue in this region. Comparing these countries to Norway, Canada, and The United States, these countries had already established industrial economies prior to the discovery and production of oil, thus allowing them to avoid the issue.

Conclusively, the issue of rentierism is not so much a matter of region, instead it is an issue of timing. Had the Middle East not been colonized and had they developed industrial economies prior to the discovery of oil they would not have the same issue that currently exists.

Siege of Salt and Sand Documentary Response

Tunisia under the rule of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had a very “fake” stance on climate change and environmental protection. This all changed when in 2011 during the Jasmine Revolution, one of the many uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa during the Arab Spring, the Tunisian people in their movement towards democracy, took a firm stance on climate change.

Currently Tunisia is one of only three nations to include climate change and the environment in their constitution. This provision makes the Tunisian constitution one of the most progressive in the region.

Tunisia has been greatly affected by global warming and its impacts are felt by nearly all of its citizens. The documentary “A Siege of Salt and Sand” gives firsthand accounts of those most affected by recent climate change. The film first looks to the coast. Tunisia, located on the coast of the Mediterranean in North Africa relies heavily on fishing and other related industries. These fishermen are having their source of income destroyed by overfishing and sea level rise. Further, port cities and towns are at risk of being swallowed by the sea as the sea level is rising more rapidly than ever before. The effects are already being felt on beachfront property most notably hotels and resorts. One area they focused primarily on was the Island of Djerba. Located just off the coast in eastern Tunisia. This region faces the threat of being reduced to inlets.

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Another major issue facing the island of Djerba and across Tunisia is the lack of rainfall. In some regions it has been over 12 months since the last rain and when it does come it lasts less than 20 minutes. Ultimately this is leading to increased rates of desertification and shortages of water. Farmers and herders have taken a huge hit as it costs a great deal of money to buy water and many are moving to urban areas simply because they cannot make any money without water.

This is a huge issue as the desert overtakes houses and sand dunes continue to advance across the country. The solution to this growing problem is to construct a wall stopping the advance of the desert and to dig deep wells to provide water to the people. This is a slow process and despite the new government’s mention of environmental protection in their constitution, is not being done fast enough much to the despair of the locals who are directly affected by this.

(Image courtesy of Carbon-Based blog)

Democracy in The Middle East a Reflection on Lisa Anderson’s Article

Since the September 11th attacks carried out by Middle Eastern extremists the region has received a great deal of interest investigating the overwhelming lack of democracy to these states. It has since been the U.S policy to extend democracy throughout the world. Looking to Condoleezza Rice, then Secretary of State, she claims “[democracy is the] ideal path for every nation.” (191). This is based in the theory that democracies do not fight. Therefore ending hostilities in the Middle East. What has been especially troubling about this is the simple fact that almost no Middle Eastern nations are democratic.

One of the major issues was the time at which the United States became involved in the Middle East. Following World War II the United States left as the last remaining western power was thrown into the region with the intention of stopping the spread of communism. To do this often, the United States would be forced to back autocratic rulers and accept that it would be too much trouble to stage a democratic revolution. This issue persisted throughout the Cold War and left no reason for the Middle Eastern nations to undergo democratization at similar times viewed throughout the rest of the world.

The 1990’s rolled around and it appeared as if democracy would take hold in the region just as it had around the globe. This however, was not the case as became very apparent. Instead of actually implementing democracy regimes used the notion of democracy as a way to shore up power and gain support only to limit the power of the people and institute authoritarian regimes just as before.

The main flaw with the way scholars have been studying the Middle East comes about through the comparison to the democratization of Latin America in the 70’s and 80’s. These are very different events, occurring under very different circumstances and simply cannot be compared. Further, comes the notion of an incompatibility with Islam. The clash of civilizations theory would lead you to believe this as the reason democracy has failed to take root in the region. The true reason, I believe democracy has failed in the Middle East is due mainly in part to the view of Democracy as a “western” ideal especially after decades of western oppression and exploitation.

The Arab spring uprisings of 2010 marked an interesting movement in the Middle East previously unseen. Addressing one of Anderson’s complaints that scholars find it difficult to find the views of the people, the Arab Spring movement made those views much more clear than ever before. This was done through the growing technological improvements which enable the people’s voice to be heard. While there is controversy as to the extent that the Arab Spring was a social media movement there is no question that it enabled common folks to be heard like never before.

Where I live. Where they live.

A blog post on the impact of region of upbringing on views of the Middle East.

There is no doubt that where you live has a huge impact on how you view other civilizations. Perhaps one of the most notable instance of this would be an American’s view of the Middle East.

Given the high involvement in the region by the United States going for the entirety of my lifetime there is no doubt my view of the middle east is much different that what it is actually like to live in the Middle East and what middle easterners are like.

There are two images that come to mind when thinking of who Middle Easterners are. First, there is the mega-wealthy oil princes living in Dubai, driving expensive cars and traveling in their Boeing business jets. The extreme wealth not only amazes most Americans but is often difficult to even imagine.

The second image that comes to mind when thinking of Middle Easterners is the crazed Islamic jihadists. This is the image most often portrayed in the media. For the near entirety of my lifetime the U.S has had some military involvement in this region combating these militants and attempting to “bring stability” to the region. Seemingly to no avail.

All of this gives the image of super wealthy, super religious people who cannot form working governments and have resisted U.S aid.

This is all easy to say coming from an American perspective and frequently watching the news, however a more difficult challenge is to imagine how Middle Easterners view Americans.

In reality the number of jihadists and terrorists in the Middle East is a very small percentage of the population as a whole, however they receive the most media coverage for obvious reasons. The result being that Middle Easterners most likely view Americans as trying to combat a relatively small force with  the entire might of the U.S military destroying everything in their path.

There is also the longstanding mistrust of westerners after centuries of exploit in the region. So when American troops ride into Iraq bringing “freedom” and “democracy” there should be no confusion as to why they are met with resistance and skepticism.

The moral of the story here being that both the United States and the Middle East have very skewed perceptions of each other resulting in further conflict. If we take a moment to recognize that the majority of the people in the Middle East are not extremists and are normal people with normal goals. To provide food, shelter, education, and find a job. Then we can better understand the region as a whole.