On a sunny Saturday in May, a “Humans of” team of 12 volunteers hit the streets to talk to more Calgarians and share their stories with the 18k followers of the Humans of Calgary Facebook page.
The popular “Humans of New York” Facebook page (now with over 17.5 million likes) has inspired grassroots “Humans of” initiatives in cities around the world, including ours. The purpose of these initiatives is to “show there is beauty here in this city, on your block, in your neighbourhood. Wherever you are, there are amazing people; they might even be your neighbour,” says Mark Reierson, Editor in Chief of Humans of Calgary.
Thanks to a partnership formed in late 2015 with Calgary Centre for Global Community, Reierson is excited to have the resources needed to build a volunteer team behind the project. He explains, “As far I know, we are the only project that has so many people directly involved in a single city. It is exciting to see the different perspectives, views and talents the team members bring.”
One such volunteer, Precious de Leon, a professional journalist who participated in the first cohort training this Spring was attracted to the project because she saw the chance to combine two things that drive her, connecting with people and storytelling. “I see Calgary as a city with many layers. It has a rich tapestry of stories that continues to grow and evolve. Humans of Calgary reminds us we all have an important part to play in the city's narrative. There's something beautiful about putting a spotlight on stories of resilience, growth, and personal battles won and lost that don't make the headlines but equally resonate with our own experiences.”
Having had hundreds of conversations with strangers through various street photography projects, Reierson sees the project as “an outlet to connect to people” and as “a way to unplug from the virtual world and create a space for someone, look them in the eye and communicate, person to person.”
The Humans of Calgary volunteer team met completed eight interviews in the Kensington/ Sunnyside area on May 14th, 2016, and is planning another group walkabout during Stampede this July.
Keep an eye on www.facebook.com/humansofcalgary over the next couple of months to read their stories!
Writing about post-invasion Iraq, Feldman and Martinez (2007) argued, ‘as the constitutional process became increasingly participatory and democratic in the period from the fall of Saddam Hussein to ratification, the constitution itself became increasingly Islamic in orientation and detail….. To put it simply, more democracy meant more Islam.’ If one reviews the political developments in other Muslim-majority countries (MMCs) during the last few decades, more democracy means more Islam (hereafter Feldman’s aphorism) seems to be true. Democratic advancement has resulted in more Islam in Jordan, Indonesia, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt. Recently, Hamid (2014) also contended that democratic openings in the MMCs might lead to more Islamization and not to a more liberal polity. This blogpost reviews Pakistan’s constitutional history to see whether democratic progression in Pakistan has also led to more Islamization. It concludes that during the first thirty years of Pakistan (1947-77), more democracy did lead to more Islam in the constitutions but since then, Feldman’s aphorism is no longer true.
Before proceeding, a note of caution. This blog post only reviews Pakistan’s constitutions and their amendments. Islamization can (and does) happen by enactment / change of laws. Conversely, Islamic provisions often find place in the MMC’s constitutions for purely symbolic purposes, with no corresponding changes in laws.
More democracy means more Islamization (1947-77)
Pakistan has three promulgated three constitutions (1956, 1962 and 1973 constitutions) during its short history. In 1947, it became independent and a democracy but it took nine years to agree on a constitution. However, when the constitution was promulgated, it supported the aphorism that more democracy leads to more Islam as 1956 constitution contained several Islamic provisions that were absent in Pakistan’s temporary constitution, the colonial British India Act, 1935. For example, country was named as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and only a Muslim could become head of the state. Moreover, though legally not enforceable, in the preamble of the constitution and in the directive principles of state policy, governments were required to promote Islamic precepts and education. The most important and enforceable provision was given in Article 198 which stated that no law repugnant to the injunctions of Islam shall be enacted and existing laws shall be brought into conformity with such injunctions. Another article (Article 197) called for the formation of an organization for Islamic research.
In 1958, General Ayub Khan took power in a coup and abrogated the 1956 constitution. The 1962 constitution was based on the Khan’s ideas and was not debated in any legislature. It envisioned a presidential system, with few checks and balances. For all intent and purposes, 1962 constitution was a way for General Khan to institutionalize his illegal power grab.
While Feldman’s aphorism cannot be verified for the period 1958-62 as Pakistan had regressed democratically, one can check whether the inverse of aphorism was also true i.e. did less democracy in Pakistan lead to less Islam? It appears so. The 1962 constitution had less and more diluted Islamic provisions than the 1956 constitution. First, in the 1962 constitution, the name of the country was changed from Islamic Republic of Pakistan to Republic of Pakistan. Second, to give legislators more leeway in legislation, references to ‘Quran and Sunnah’ in many articles of the 1956 constitution were replaced with ‘Islam’. Finally, 1962 constitution, unlike 1956 constitution, had no provision to bring existing laws in conformity to Quran and Sunnah.
After the promulgation of 1962 constitution, elections of federal and provincial legislatures were held. The election to federal legislature were indirect and most of the erstwhile political leadership was not allowed to run by the military regime. Nonetheless, even the indirectly elected, inexperienced, toothless legislature managed to force the powerful President to give way. Within a year, the legislature passed the first amendment to the constitution that changed the country’s name back to Islamic Republic of Pakistan and reverted to the language of the 1956 constitution with respect to Islamic clauses, thereby rejecting the attempt to weaken them by the General/President. So, even a little democratic advancement resulted in more Islam as Feldman’s aphorism had predicted. The 1962 constitution was abrogated in 1969 after another coup.
Pakistan’s current constitution was promulgated in 1973. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, constitution was debated and approved by an assembly that was directly elected under universal suffrage. So, did democracy progression lead to more Islam? Yes. The constitution of Pakistan, 1973 was more Islamic than the previous two constitutions. For the first time, Islam was declared the state religion of Pakistan (Article 2). Moreover, both the President and the Prime minister had to be Muslim and they had to take a special oath as a proof. In addition to the references to Islam in the preamble and principles of policy, similar to the previous two constitutions, state was also asked to encourage learning of Arabic. Article 227 brought back the 1956 constitution’s undertaking that all existing laws shall be made to conform to Holy Quran and Sunnah and no new law shall be enacted which is repugnant to their injunctions. However, only one body, Council of Islamic Ideology, was envisaged to assist the state in fulfilling this promise. The second amendment, passed in 1974, further consolidated the Islamic character of the 1973 constitution by defining who is a Muslim (Article 260(3)).
More democracy does not mean more Islamization (1977-2014)
In 1977, martial law was imposed in Pakistan and the 1973 constitution was held in abeyance. From 1947 to 1977, the first thirty years of Pakistan, not only Feldman’s aphorism ‘more democracy means more Islam’ was true but its inverse was also true and democratic regression meant less Islam in constitution. The 1977 martial law was a watershed. After 1977, the link between democracy and Islam was broken. After 1977, more democracy did not result in more Islam, in fact in many instances, the opposite was true; less democracy meant more Islam.
The first period when less democracy meant more Islam started immediately after the 1977 coup. The military dictator, General Zia, made several changes in the constitution from 1977 to 1985. When elections were held in 1985, parliamentarians were forced by the general to accept these changes (as the 8th constitutional amendment) in lieu of restoring constitutional rule. The major changes brought about by the 8th amendment were: the preamble of the constitution, with its many Islamic references, was made substantive (and justiciable) part of the constitution (Article 2-A); creation of a Federal Shariat Court and a Shariat Appellate bench in the Supreme Court (Article 203-A to J); members of parliament/provincial assemblies were required to have adequate knowledge of Islam and not only abstain from major sins but also avoid being known as violators of Islamic injunctions (Article 62 and 113).
Pakistan had democratic dispensation from 1985 to 1999. Did democracy lead to more Islam during this period? The answer is no. There were efforts to Islamize the constitution further but they were unsuccessful. The proposed 9th amendment in 1985 that attempted to make Quran and Sunnah the supreme law of the land was passed by the Senate but was not passed by the National Assembly. In 1998, another attempt was made (the proposed 15th amendment) to make Quran and Sunnah as the supreme law of Pakistan but it also failed to pass the legislature, despite government having more than the required two-third majority.
In 1999, martial law was imposed by General Musharraf and he ruled Pakistan till 2002. Democracy was restored in 2002 and since then in twelve years, four constitutional amendments have been presented and passed but these amendments didn’t increase Islamization. Even in the 18th amendment that completely revamped the 1973 constitution, changing dozens of articles, there was no attempt to Islamize. So, Feldman’s aphorism did not find support in Pakistan after 2002, continuing a trend that started in 1977.
Why Feldman’s aphorism lost its power after being so successful earlier in Pakistan’s history? It appears that there are both conceptual and practical limits to legal/constitutional Islamization in a democracy. The conceptual limit is due to the multivocality of Islam. Once one moves beyond the basic principles, depending on the choice of Quran’s ayah or Hadith contrasting conclusions can be reached. This has led to multiplicity of Islamic sects and set boundaries beyond which any Islam-based legislation would result not in piety or harmony but in disagreements, discord and violence. In a democracy, it is, therefore, difficult for a government to venture into top-down Islamization (beyond the basic principles) and not come out bruised.
The practical limitation is that although elections can be won once or twice campaigning on ‘Islam is the solution’, governing is difficult and needs lot of intellectual ability, critical thinking and hard-nosed effort to apply Islamic principles to the present-day world. Islamist parties, although committed to applying Islam, either do not have the ability or the will to go through this process. Other parties are not committed to Islamization and use Islam instrumentally which, not surprisingly, leads to mostly negative consequences (like sectarianism) and to none of the positive outcomes (like less corruption or good governance). For example in Pakistan, regular elections have resulted in misgivings about constitutional Islamization in Pakistan as people realized that despite Islamization, behavior of elites has not changed. Governance has not improved and nepotism, extravagance, incompetence and corruption have not decreased. This has resulted in a decrease of support for new constitutional provisions based on Islam.
Is Pakistan unique among the MMCs or did Pakistan just pass through the various phases of church-state relationship earlier than other MMCs and others would follow the same course in future?
I believe Pakistan’s experience is not unique. Therefore, a lesson that can be learned from Pakistan’s experience is that Western liberals/democrats should not panic because of Islamists winning elections and bringing Islam in their country’s constitutions. Democracy puts limits on what can be done in a country. Islamic provisions in constitutions made after Arab Spring revolutions are not slippery slopes that would lead to establishment of theocracies. Elected Islamist parties might be authoritarian but their replacements are more so, as the experience of Egypt has shown. And elected Islamist parties have less freedom of maneuver than undemocratic regimes that do not have to contest free and fair elections. Protecting liberalism and pluralism by sacrificing democracy in the MMCs is foolishness at its best and patronizing arrogance and orientalism at its worst.
Raja M. Ali Saleem PhD Candidate
George Mason University.
Scotland, in the end, decided not to be independent. However, it did encourage other separatist movements, many of which supported Scottish referendum. There is evidence that Catalonians from Spain helped the ‘Yes’ vote campaign and many Kashmiris in Scotland and England supported Mr. Salmond’s Scottish National Party, not for any love for an independent Scotland but for its positive implications for Kashmir region. Despite the negative results, referendum has shown that there is no need for fighting or killing for independence in the 21st century. As Jonah Blank, senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, writes in the Foreign Policy after the Scottish referendum.
Almost every modern nation has some sort of local separatist movement, and the international community views nearly all of them either with indifference or contempt. Merely to be considered a quasi-legitimate candidate for independence, a group generally has to suffer generations of brutality bordering on genocide. Even then, the odds aren't great. Just ask the Kurds.
The vote in Scotland shows what modern-day secessionism should look like. What if an ethnic group didn't have to justify its bid for a separate state through a saga of historical oppression, or seek to achieve it through a violent insurgency? What if the standard for independence were nothing more than the statement: "We want out." London agreed to take aye for an answer.
Blank, however, does not remember that it was Canada that first showed the world the ‘mature’ way to deal with separatist movements. The two referenda (1980 and 1995) for Quebec independence were held at a time when there was no social media, not even internet for most of the humanity, so their impact was limited but a precedent was, nevertheless, set.
Blank lists five separatist movements (Kashmir, Tamil Eelam, Papua, Pattani and Tibet &Xinjiang) from Asia and the question is would these movements succeed in getting their independence referenda?
It looks improbable. Both Canada and Great Britain were consolidated democracies when they gave the secessionists option of staying with the union or independence. The separatist movements listed by Blank are fighting against India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, China and Indonesia. None of these states are consolidated liberal democracies. Infact, these states have a long history of using violence to thwart separatist movements within their borders.
The current leadership (except perhaps in Indonesia) and atmosphere in these countries does not inspire much confidence about the future. Rabid extreme nationalism is on the rise and anyone not following the ‘patriotic’ line is branded a traitor, a stooge of foreign powers trying to destroy the ‘great’ nation. Thinking of referendum, like the one in Scotland, is absurd when even asking for basic minority rights is considered sedition. Unfortunately, the press and big business have also joined the fray and rather than advising reason and caution, they are inflaming atavistic passions. This dismal state of affairs is, however, not limited to these countries only. Current or previous leaders in Turkey, Hungary, Pakistan and Russia have also used nationalism to advance their illiberal policies and to stifle minority rights. Depending on time, space and audience, this extreme nationalism allies with democracy, development, ethnicity or religion.
So, in my view, for a large part of humanity, unfortunately independence would still require ‘suffering generations of brutality, bordering on genocide’.
For the first time, directly presidential elections were held in Turkey on 10th August, 2014. As expected, Prime Minister Erdogan won the elections and crossed the fifty percent threshold, making second round of presidential election unnecessary. The idea of Erdogan ruling for five more years is disconcerting for many inside and outside Turkey. Erdogan, after an initial liberal start, has now become a symbol of elected illiberalism or illiberal democracy. Erdogan is not alone. Since the start of 2013, illiberal democrats have won elections in Algeria, Pakistan, India, Hungary, Egypt and Venezuela.
The idea of illiberal democracy was first popularized by Fareed Zakaria (See http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/53577/fareed-zakaria/the-rise-of-illiberal-democracy). He argued that democracy requires only regular competitive elections and can be liberal or illiberal. Liberal democracy, in addition to regular elections, entails individual liberty and constitutionalism. Without protection of individual rights and limits on the power of democratic governments (usually through constitutions), there is no liberal democracy. Zakaria contended that sequencing of liberalism and democracy was different in the early Western European democracies (and East Asian democracies) and most third wave democracies. In the former, liberalism became entrenched before democracy became a reality but in the later, democracy came earlier. This led to illiberal democracy or infringement of individual and minority rights in many countries. According to Zakaria,
The tension between constitutional liberalism and democracy centers on the scope of governmental authority. Constitutional liberalism is about the limitation of power, democracy about its accumulation and use. For this reason, many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century liberals saw in democracy a force that could undermine liberty. James Madison explained in The Federalist that "the danger of oppression" in a democracy came from "the majority of the community." Tocqueville warned of the "tyranny of the majority," writing, "The very essence of democratic government consists in the absolute sovereignty of the majority."
To stop what he calls ‘the growth industry of illiberal democracy’, Zakaria cautions against giving too much importance to elections as elections even when free and fair can lead to more wars, suppression of minorities, infringement of fundamental civil and political rights and centralization of power in a small group of people. He advises the West to consider absence of elections as one flaw, focus more on constitutional liberalism and realize the dangers of democracy, without liberalism:
Illiberal democracies gain legitimacy, and thus strength, from the fact that they are reasonably democratic. Conversely, the greatest danger that illiberal democracy poses -- other than to its own people -- is that it will discredit liberal democracy itself, casting a shadow on democratic governance. This would not be unprecedented. Every wave of democracy has been followed by setbacks in which the system was seen as inadequate and new alternatives were sought by ambitious leaders and restless masses. The last such period of disenchantment, in Europe during the interwar years, was seized upon by demagogues, many of whom were initially popular and even elected. Today, in the face of a spreading virus of illiberalism, the most useful role that the international community, and most importantly the United States, can play is -- instead of searching for new lands to democratize and new places to hold elections -- to consolidate democracy where it has taken root and to encourage the gradual development of constitutional liberalism across the globe. Democracy without constitutional liberalism is not simply inadequate, but dangerous, bringing with it the erosion of liberty, the abuse of power, ethnic divisions, and even war. Eighty years ago, Woodrow Wilson took America into the twentieth century with a challenge, to make the world safe for democracy. As we approach the next century, our task is to make democracy safe for the world.
Shadi Hamid agrees with Zakaria’s diagnosis but explains the difficulty of implementing the solution prescribed due to the popularity of democracy (see http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/05/democracys-future-in-the-middle-east-islamist-and-illiberal/361791/?single_page=true#comments)
Illiberal democracy has risen to prominence in part because Western Europe’s careful sequencing of liberalism first and democracy later is no longer tenable—and hasn’t been for some time. Knowing that democracy, or something resembling it, is within reach, citizens have no interest in waiting indefinitely for something their leaders say they aren’t ready for. Democracy has become such an uncontested, normative good that the arguments of Zakaria seem decidedly out of step with the times. Zakaria argues, for instance, that “the absence of free and fair elections should be viewed as one flaw, not the definition of tyranny…. It is important that governments be judged by yardsticks related to constitutional liberalism.”
Hamid adds another dimension to the problem by differentiating Islamist and other illiberal democracies:
The phenomenon of Islamists seeking, or being in, power forces us to rethink the relationship between liberalism and democracy. Illiberal democracy under Islamist rule is different from the Venezuelan or Russian varieties for a number of reasons. In the latter cases, illiberal democracy is not intrinsically linked to the respective ideologies of Hugo Chávez or Vladimir Putin. Their illiberalism is largely a byproduct of a more basic, naked desire to consolidate power. In the case of Islamists, however, their illiberalism is a product of their Islamism, particularly in the social arena. For Islamists, illiberal democracy is not an unfortunate fact of life but something to believe in and aspire to. Although they may struggle to define what exactly it entails, Islamist parties have a distinctive intellectual and ideological “project.” This is why they are Islamist.
So, while Zakaria blames sequencing of democracy and liberalism and West’s all-consuming love with elections, Hamid adds Islamist ideology to the reasons of the rise of illiberal democracies.
In short, democratization does not necessarily have a moderating effect on Islamist parties, nor does it blunt the importance of ideology. There are no easy answers and, at some point, it may very well come down to a matter of faith. What if Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, Yemenis, or Syrians decide, through democratic means, that they want to be illiberal? Is that a protected right? For its part, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is clear on the matter. A United Nations background note discusses the “red line”: “The right to culture is limited at the point at which it infringes on another human right. No right can be used at the expense or destruction of another, in accordance with international law.” For Western policymakers and Arab liberals alike, the notion that there should be supra-constitutional principles binding on all citizens seems self-evident. Liberal democracy depends upon the recognition of inalienable rights. But if Islamists do not consider themselves party to this consensus—and many do not—then the matter becomes a more basic one of colliding worldviews.
Throughout the 20th century, alternative ideologies, such as socialism, communism, and Christian Democracy, all attempted to secure power through the ballot box. But these were movements with built-in limitations. Islamist groups, particularly insular and secretive ones like the Brotherhood, are divisive for other reasons, but they do not struggle with the same limitations.
Hamid does not give any solution to problem of illiberal Islamist democracy. He acknowledges that ‘democratization will reorient political life in Arab societies’ but does not know whether the new direction will be toward liberalism or away from it:
What is common to both Zakaria and Hamid is the focus on non-Western world and the implicit assertion that these ‘others’ are different/backward because of historical and cultural reasons. Therefore, Zakaria and Hamid’s advice to them is to unlearn their own ways and imitate or follow the West. But they fail to analyze the basic issue: why one Western product (i.e. democracy) became accepted all over the world but another Western product (i.e. liberalism) is rejected or still contested. Historically and culturally, if liberalism was not part of the non-Western world, democracy was also a novel idea. Why most of the non-Western world were ready to imitate West in one way and not in another way?
Looking a few decades back, we can have a clue about why democracy became popular and liberalism didn’t. Democracy was initially as much a contested concept as liberalism. It was considered a Western conspiracy or imposition to control the non-Western world. Not only kings and military juntas but politicians also used to reject democracy proudly and publicly. Now, most Islamists, communists, radical socialists and ethnic movements vouch their loyalty to democracy. What happened? The main change in the non-Western world was that the Western democracy dropped the epithet (Western) and became simple democracy. What was appreciated was that democracy had nothing to do with East or West. It is a procedure to decide who will rule a country. But is democracy a procedure? There are two opinions about it. According to the minimalist and popular definition, democracy is about free and fair elections, a procedure. However, more expansive definitions also include minority rights, due process and some inalienable civil and political rights in the definition of democracy (what Zakaria calls constitutional liberalism). The non-Western world had no problem accepting the minimalist definition of democracy but they still contested the more broad definitions of democracy that include constitutional liberalism in it.
One reason why constitutional liberalism was rejected by many was its link with Westernization and Western liberal hypocrisy. Western liberals have been claiming individual liberty as their main goal for centuries but this has not stopped them from participating in genocides, slavery and colonialism. Most of the Western liberals supported colonialism and the murder of millions of people in 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. Sometimes the civilizing mission of Western liberals also included imposing Christianity and forcibly eliminating local cultures, traditions and religions. During the 20th century, as colonialism ended, many Western liberals supported brutal dictatorships in newly independent countries to defeat Communism and to support their national financial investments. Moreover, West’s cultural hegemony and control of international media has been instrumental in preventing the growth any alternate voice to the Western thinking/interests. Any support for alternative views by non-Western governments/societies is considered/dubbed illiberal, making liberalism a tool for the continued Western hegemony. For example, labor rights and rights of veiled women are regularly rejected. Similarly, countries that do not accept West’s dominance are constantly demonized in the international press, controlled by the Western liberal governments. For example, currently Palestinians are receiving bad press even when they are being killed in thousands.
National interest still reigns supreme and even in 21st century, many Western governments and liberals choose when to apply liberalism and when to ignore it. As Hakan Altinay, the director of the European School of Politics in Istanbul and a former Yale Fellow, explains (See http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/opinion/will-erdogans-victory-turkey-mark-rise-illiberal-democracy/):
The recent bad patch for the liberal project is compounded by the West’s lackluster performance to live by its own creed. When EU is so muted regarding the Egyptian coup and even fails to call the coup a coup, it loses credibility in criticizing Erdogan’s authoritarianism. In a similar fashion, Washington’s calls for restraint and magnanimity ring hollow, when the US itself abuses its privileged position, as seen in the way the National Security Agency demands access to global information companies that happen to be located in the US but serve global customers, and when BNP Baribas, a French bank, is fined equal to its yearly profits for the privilege of conducting business in the world’s reserve currency. In other words, Turkey has an Erdogan problem and also a larger liberalism problem.
Mocking Erdogan is easy. He provides more than plenty reasons to dislike him. Those who wish for a less authoritarian Turkey ought, instead, to redeem liberalism globally….In other words, Turkey has an Erdogan problem, and all of us have a larger liberalism problem.
So, notwithstanding other reasons (such as defensive nationalism), one of the main cause of liberalism’s retreat and the rise of illiberal democracies is the link of the West with liberalism. Many non-Western populations are just sick of Western government’s posing as defender of human rights and liberalism. Unsurprisingly, almost all illiberal democrats defend their illiberal ways by pointing out to Western hypocrisies and insults to their nations by Western liberal democracies. As Andras Simonyi recently explained in the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andras-simonyi/putin-erdogan-and-orban-b_b_5672236.html), illiberal leaders (like Russian president Putin, Erdogan and Hungarian Prime Minister Orban) use their nation’s misgivings against the West to denigrate liberalism:
No doubt, Putin, Erdogan and Orban all have an amazing sense of understanding of the soul (read: the fears) of their population. They are addressing the dreams of their people of past glories and grandeur...They also build on nationalism and xenophobia….They build on the sentiments of abandonment by the West in the broader population.
A few decades ago, non-Westerners broke the link between democracy and West. Now, they have to break the link between liberalism and the West. Only then, liberalism can be acceptable and not suffer because of the West’s actions. As many non-Westerners have found democratic traditions in their past, they have to find liberal traditions too. Non-Western cultures are certainly not devoid of traditions embracing due process and inalienable civil and political rights. Sufism in Islam and Bhakti movement in Hinduism are example of liberal traditions. Similarly, in Chinese tradition, Taoism’s founder Loa-tzu was a philosopher for whom individual and his happiness was the most important goal and his thinking was very close to liberalism (See https://mises.org/daily/1967).
Liberalism has to be delinked from the West. This will remove one of the most important hurdle in making liberalism an uncontested, normative good like democracy and establish permanent liberal democracies in the non-Western world.
Appropriately lost amongst the headlines of contemporary turmoil and tragedy is the commencement of the trial for five former Blackwater security contractors charged with manslaughter, murder and illegal use of weapons stemming from the 2007 shooting and killing of seventeen Iraqis in Baghad’s Nisour Square – the charges against the men pertain to fourteen of the seventeen people killed.
As a result of a 2009 dismissal of an initial trial followed by the successful appeal of the 2009 decision in 2011, it has taken nearly seven years to test the legal validity of the claim that the shooting in Nisour Square was done in self-defence. And this is why the trial is actually an important global event; a minute event, but an important one nonetheless.
The right to self-defence, of an individual person or an organization of people such as a nation-state, is held, globally, as a customary, codified and, for some, commonsensical right. Whether a divine, natural, legal or political provision, the right to self-defence is globally accepted as a foundational right that governs how people and organizations of people may interact violently. Globalized acceptance does not mean globally minded practice however. Determining for whom, when and how self-defence can be legitimately claimed and enacted is too often fraught with inconsistencies, contradictions and hypocrisy’s that afford the powerful, the privileged, the “strong” the right to defend themselves, whilst determining other forms of violence, particularly those directed at/against the powerful, privileged and strong, to be illegitimate.
In this trial, it would appear as though the powerful, privileged and strong are being held to account for their enactments of violence. Even if the defendants can prove that they were not the aggressors in Nisour Square, the prosecution can still mount a convincing case that the force exercised by the contractors was reckless and excessive and thus illegitimate. That the former contractors are being held to account through judicial proceedings must be lauded as one of a few serious efforts to hold security contractors to account for heinous actions perpetrated in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It also must be recognized as a privileged proceeding for the men being charged. This trial is a privilege and thus globally meaningful, at least when it comes to the exercise of legitimate violence, because too few instances of self-defence are subject to judicial proceedings, let alone other forms of collective oversight and too many instances of excessive and reckless violence are “legitimized” through inequitable and discriminatory processes, which allow certain people and organizations of people to effectively enact let alone claim self-defence.
Effectively enacting defence of the self is by no means a globally equitable performance. The capabilities of some, in this case commercial security contractors, to procure and equip themselves with both deflective (e.g. body armour) and ballistic (e.g. automatic firearms) technologies drastically enhances the potential to effectively enactment self-defence. Indeed that is the very point of commercially sourced security guards, which is to say that commercial security contractors are themselves a technology of self-defence of those they’ve been hired to guard – and commercial contractors do not come cheap.
To claim self-defence would seem to require significantly less resources than to effectively enact it, however, the deployment, adornment and/or brandishing of technologies of self-defence works to enhance the functionality of some claims over others. By this I mean to say, that the deployment, adornment and brandishing of technologies of self-defence is the most effective method of claiming the right. Claiming and enacting self-defence does not prescribe whether one will be successful, however, to claim self-defence without or with hampered access to the technologies that can enhance the potential for a successful defence can hardly be considered to be an effective claim.
The legal and emotional consequences of this trial are not likely to extend beyond those most immediately involved in it. However, it will be exceedingly interesting to see how both the prosecution and the defence determine whether the Blackwater contractors legitimately acted in self-defence. It will be even more interesting and meaningful to see if the prosecution or the defence deploy methods of determination that either mitigate or exacerbate the inequitable/discriminatory access to and enactment of self-defence.
I am not hopeful for the latter, but even so, this trial will serve as a minute demonstration of the mutability and contingence of the so-called immutability and inherency of the right of self-defence. Recognizing the mutability and contingence of the right to self-defence is a first step towards conceptualizing and codifying a practice that is more globally minded, i.e., a practice which is non-exclusionary.
Recent news reports point toward a major change in Iran’s population policy in near future. Worried about the falling birth rate and its consequences for country’s future, Iranian policy planners are reversing the population policy once again and hoping that the population will listen to them as it did twice before in the 1980s and 1990s.
While many Muslim ulema (traditionally trained scholars) would claim family planning is not allowed, Quran and Sunnah, the two main sources of Islamic law, are ambiguous on this issue. Family planning has been approved, partially approved and rejected using the same two sources. This multi-vocality of Islam has given the Muslim-majority states more leeway in designing population policies than the Catholic-majority states, though most of the Muslim-majority states have not used this leeway to the fullest extent. Iran is an exception in this regard. Though not giving full reproductive rights, Iran has managed to first convince its population to increase the birth rate and then decrease it to close to replacement levels, all in three decades. Let’s look at Iran’s population policies in a little more detail.
Iran presents a fascinating case of successful population control in a political system that many have called a Muslim theocracy. Iran’s first population policy was introduced in 1967 as part of King Muhammad Reza Shah’s modernization/Westernization drive and it was not very successful. A result not quite different from the experience of other modernizing Muslim-majority countries. After the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the new regime adopted a pronatalist policy. Although no change in population policy was announced, the emphasis shifted from population control to family and children and the family planning program was largely abandoned. War with Iraq, restrictions on women employment, lowering of age for marriage and allowing polygamy/temporary marriages created an enabling environment. Not surprisingly, birth per women increased to more than six, one of the highest in the world.
By the end of 1980s, many in the Iranian religious and political elite realized that continuing pronatalist policy could have disastrous consequences. Imam Khomeini and other ayatollahs were also convinced and they issued fatwas, terming family planning not only Islamic but necessary in some cases. This was the cue Iranian officials needed and from then on, they devised and managed a comprehensive family planning program. This program included production, distribution and promotion of contraceptives in a variety of ways. New laws and rules were also adopted to encourage use of contraceptives e.g. marriage license is only issued after the couple has attended family planning classes. The commitment of Islamic regime to family planning could be seen by the setting up of first and only state-supported condom factory in the Middle East. More educated women, decrease in restrictions on women employment, rise of the Islamic-feminist discourse, and a comparatively more liberal regime provided the enabling environment that helped the acceptance of government’s message. The results were miraculous. The births per women dropped to two. Iran achieved the decrease in fertility in two decades what other countries have taken more than hundred years to achieve and this was done under ‘mullahs’.
Not unlike Italy, Germany and South Korea, Iran is now trying to increase its birth rate. While its concerns are understandable, it is important to keep in mind what made the previous effort so successful. First, only laws and regulations do not change reproductive behavior. Rather, a singular focus on them makes people wary of the state’s motives. Individuals have to voluntarily accept state’s proposals. So, incentives are in, punishments are out. Legislating to ban vasectomies and to punish doctors for performing them, a recent effort in Iranian parliament, will not help. Second, state policies cannot be successful, if they ignore the context, the ground realities. As literacy in Iran becomes universal, a comparatively more independent Iranian generation enters adulthood and more better-paying jobs require higher education (thus favoring delay in marriage and children), it is important to tailor fertility incentives to working women, women in late 30s and nuclear or one-parent households.
Iran’s example shows that it is not Islam that is stopping other Muslim-majority countries (like Pakistan. Yemen etc.) from devising and implementing population policies that are best for their people. As is often the case, it is politics hiding behind religion, not religion driving politics or policy.
On June 6 , 2014 the corporate ownership of Academi, which is the current name of the private military and security company (PMSC) that began its operational life as Blackwater, merged with The Constellis Group, which is a group of companies that includes the PMSC Triple Canopy, to form Constellis Holdings Inc. Now this is an admittedly niche news story to discuss for my first post to the Calgary Centre for Global Community blog, but this corporate merger does mean and reveal some rather interesting things about the contemporary governance of (post-)conflict spaces. For instance, with this merger, Constellis Holdings becomes the key commercial provider of security guards for the United States’ Department of State (DOS), particularly for protective services in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Beyond the potential for better looking balance sheets, Constellis’ position as a key provider of security guards to the DOS signals the continued import of commercially sourced services to the day-to-day going-ons of (post-)conflict spaces. Protective services, i.e. armed guarding of persons, places and things, have in recent history been thoroughly scrutinized by academic, media, government and civil-society investigators and analysts - with due cause. During the mid-2000s in Afghanistan and Iraq, PMSCs under contract to the DOS committed and were alleged to have committed a litany of egregious, unethical and illegal activities of which Blackwater were front and centre. The problems with Blackwater’s operations in Iraq became so troubling that the PMSC was ordered to leave the country in 2010. Although the exploits of commercially sourced armed men are a significant feature of the recent historical/contemporary landscape of (post-)conflict spaces the operations of and services provided by PMSCs extend far beyond protective services. Indeed the homepage for The Constellis Group boasts that its “family of businesses” provide “complementary security, support and advisory services” to a range of clients “working in challenging environments worldwide”. Such services include risk-assessment and mitigation, materiel transport and logistics, project management and consulting and market research, which in the case of Strategic Social involves in-depth socio-cultural research.
The clientele of PMSCs are also not limited to the military, diplomatic, development or intelligence apparatus of nation-states. Multinational corporations, especially those involved in the resource and logistics sector, aid and development non-governmental organizations as well as private individuals have all and continue to seek the services of PMSCs. This diverse array of services and clientele also ensures that PMSCs operate, whether corporately or in the field, on every continent save for Antarctica and recruit their contractors from and through global labour markets. As Rita Abrahamsen and Michael Williams point out in their influential book Security Beyond the State PMSCs are representative of as well as an integral productive aspect of the agential and structural changes that have effected how (post-)conflict spaces are governed over the past fourteen years. Accordingly, the contemporary governance of (post-)conflict spaces involves a complex arrangement of political, economic, military and security relations amongst globally influential and locally effectual agents and structures alike. PMSCs serve as both the vessels and in the case of the individual contractors the literal bodies through which other agents express and enact global influence and local effect. PMSCs themselves must also be recognized as influential and effectual agents and not simply for egregious, unethical and illegal activities.
Likewise the global and local rearrangements of political, economic, military and security relations brought on by processes of globalization, neo-liberalization, securitization and digitization are readily manifested by and through the work of PMSCs. This work most readily seeks to increase the security, mobility, functionality, efficiency and profitability of certain people, resources and finances. By increasing security, mobility, functionality, efficiency and profitability the work of PMSCs extends the influence the aforementioned processes not only in (post-)conflict spaces, but less violate locales as well. For instance, the global daily dependence on oil and other fossil fuel based products is utterly dependent upon the work of PMSCs particularly in Northern and Western Africa and the Persian Gulf. The formation of Constellis Holdings Inc. may only garner interest from the financial media and thus be of niche interest to investors or subject matter experts. It, as asserted in this post, can also serve as significant reminder of the complex arrangements of global and local structures and agents that are involved in the governance of contemporary (post-)conflict spaces.
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