RSS

Three thought provokers

12 May

These have come my way via Arts & Letters Daily.

1. "The Idiot’s Guide to Pakistan" by Nicholas Schmidle (Foreign Policy March 2009)

After eight years of a White House that often seemed blinkered by the threats posed by Pakistan, the Obama administration seems to grasp the severity of the myriad crises affecting the South Asian state. The media has followed suit and increased its presence and reporting, a trend confirmed by CNN’s decision to set up a bureau in Islamabad last year.

And yet, the uptick in coverage hasn’t necessarily clarified the who’s-doing-what-to-whom confusion in Pakistan. Some commentators continue to confuse the tribal areas with the North-West Frontier Province. And the word lashkars is used to describe all kinds of otherwise cross-purposed groups, some fighting the Taliban, some fighting India, and some fighting Shiites.

I admit, it’s not easy. I lived in Pakistan throughout all of 2006 and 2007 and only came to understand, say, the tribal breakdown in South Waziristan during my final days. So to save you the trouble of having to live in Pakistan for two years to differentiate between the Wazirs and the Mehsuds, the Frontier Corps and the Rangers, I’ve written an “idiot’s guide” that will hopefully clear some things up…

2. "Human Nature" by Mark Dowie (Guernica Magazine May 2009) — in the paradox and unexpected consequences department.

Is modern conservation linked with ethnic cleansing? In an excerpt from his new book, the investigative historian explores the concepts of wilderness and nature, and argues that the removal of aboriginal people from their homeland to create wilderness is a charade.

"One way to guarantee a conversation without a conclusion is to ask a group of people what nature is." —Rebecca Solnit, University of California…

3. "Fear masquerading as tolerance" by Christopher Caldwell (Prospect May 2009).

This article has resonance for Australia, but I suspect our experience with immigration and multiculturalism has been different from Europe’s in significant ways. Nonetheless I add this to paradox and unexpected consequences too.

…The Europe into which immigrants began arriving in the 1950s was reeling in horror from the second world war and preoccupied with building the institutions to forestall any repetition of it. Nato was the most important of these institutions. The EU was the most ambitious. The war supplied European thinkers with all their moral categories and benchmarks. Avoiding another explosion meant purging Europe’s individual countries of nationalism, with ‘‘nationalism’’ understood to include all vestiges of racism, militarism, and cultural chauvinism—but also patriotism, pride, and unseemly competitiveness. The singing of national anthems and the waving of national flags became, in some countries, the province only of skinheads and soccer hooligans.

Prompted by the US, which was addressing its own race problem at the time, and with the threat of communism concentrating their minds, Europeans began to articulate a code of ‘‘European values’’ such as individualism, democracy, freedom, and human rights. These values were never defined with much precision. Yet they seemed to permit social cohesion, and their embrace coincided with 60 years of peace.

Europe was an attractive place for immigrants. But attraction and admiration are not synonyms. The Ottoman empire and China both had a ‘‘power of attraction’’ for westerners in the 19th century. But it was not out of any admiration for their systems of government or their ideals of human rights that Europeans signed treaties with, settled in, and disrupted the national lives of those two countries. It was because they were rich places too weak to look out for themselves.

The EU was not dreamt up with immigrants in mind, but it wound up setting the rules under which they were welcomed. Postwar Europe was built on an intolerance of intolerance—a mindset that has been praised as anti-racism and anti-fascism, and ridiculed as political correctness. Our interest here is neither to defend it as common sense nor reject it as claptrap. It is to understand, first, what Europe was thinking when it welcomed immigrants in such numbers—something it would not have done at any previous moment in history—and, second, what grounds Europe had for dealing with newcomers in the often naive and overindulgent way it did…

Advertisements
 

Tags:

2 responses to “Three thought provokers

  1. Bruce

    May 12, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    “Postwar Europe was built on an intolerance of intolerance—a mindset that has been praised as anti-racism and anti-fascism, and ridiculed as political correctness.”

    Popper comes to mind, obviously and I’ll spare you my usual repetition of the relevant quote. 😉

    That being said, I think the colonies approached the same problem in a similar way (i.e. intolerance of intolerance) but from a post-colonial, less paternal perspective. I wonder how much Popper was influenced by his time in exile spent in the colonies.

    All in all, as I’ve said before, I think the multicultural colonies, particularly Australia and Canada, have dealt with tolerance and intolerance far better than the rest of the west. Despite recent setbacks and challenges of course.

    While we are by no means infallible or beyond improvement, I don’t think it chauvinistic for us to stand up and say to the west “hey look at us!”, given that less successful countries are being treated as exemplars as justification for defeatism.

    This whole navel-gazing Europe is engaged in is predicated upon pre-existing, unstated, un-challenged assumptions that it is somehow the wellspring of civilized values and that the colonies by definition can’t come up with something better. Which naturally goes against the grain of what it hopes to achieve.

    I think it was obvious that in grasping on to such chauvinism (albeit by stealth), the process was bound to develop problems. But then I would say that – I’m from one of the colonies!

     
  2. Kanani

    May 16, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    Thanks for this, Neil. I’m looking forward to reading the bit on Pakistan. I’ve been trying to read as much about all of it as I can.

     
 
%d bloggers like this: