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The Huffington Post: Brexit: An Inconvenient Truth for Liberals

(The Huffington Post 5/7/2016) Globalists can no longer parade under the banner of international unity while ignoring imbalance at home.

LORD ASHCROFT POLLS
Large majorities who considered multiculturalism, globalization and immigration as forces for good voted to remain in the European Union; while those who felt they were ills voted by greater majorities to leave, according a poll of over 12,000 voters.

 

If you’re connected to the U.K.’s professed liberal social media network, there’s a strong chance you’ve read a cacophony of Tweets and Facebook status monologues condemning the outcome of the U.K. referendum.

For many in the Remain camp—hailing from London, its suburban corridors and university towns—the June 23 vote to leave the European Union was an apparent victory for “the racists, the ignorant and the uneducated.”

But in their blind outrage many have revealed their very own insularity. There is a failure to understand how different economic, political and social narratives can precipitate alternate belief systems—ones that feel fearful of immigration, subordinated by multiculturalism and disadvantaged by international trade.

If Britain’s avowed progressives are to truly challenge the salience of xenophobic, nationalist and anti-expert rhetoric, they need to first digest that globalism is not a value everyone can afford to espouse, nor is it just unique to Remain voters.

The snapshot analysis of the 17.4 million who voted Leave—the elderly, lesser educated and lower income individuals—offered scapegoats for a result truly cast by the entirety of British society, and borne in the nation’s disparate economic and cultural experiences of globalization.

Inequality and Inequity

Over the past decades, Britain has undergone one of the largest de-industrializations of any major nation. Manufacturing output shrank from over 30 percent of economic output in the 1970s, to nearer 10 percent today, as shifting global trade patterns and technological productivity transformed the nation into a service-orientated society.

Industrial, coastal and agricultural Britain languished in obsolescence, as financial, commerce, research and cultural hubs blossomed into wealthy, tolerant and cosmopolitan havens. And by the late 2000s, income inequality among Britain’s working-age population had risen faster than in any other high-income nation since 1975, according an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development study in 2011.

Riding high on Britain’s deregulated globalized capitalist system a professional, political and media elite captured the zeitgeist of individualism and a largely feckless working class, caricatured as the “Chav”—a British pejorative used to describe the young lower class.

And, with the post-financial crisis age of austerity, influx of eastern European migrants and the images of last year’s ‘migrant’ crisis on the continent, which disproportionately threatened the less affluent, animosities grew in a largely unequal and upwardly immobile society.

“Many people have grown tired of waiting for the benefits of a vastly interconnected world to trickle down,” wrote Reva Goujon, a global strategic analyst at the Texas-based intelligence firm Stratfor, in a company report. “As the world whizzes by them, their wages remain flat and jobs become scarcer.”

It is little surprise then that large majorities who considered multiculturalism, globalization and immigration as forces for good voted to remain in the European Union; while those who felt they were ills voted by greater majorities to leave, according the Lord Ashcroft Poll of over 12,000 voters—globalism dichotomized the nation.

The inconvenient truth for many Remainers is that they benefited most from the post-industrial status-quo, and therefore had the most reason to protect it. While Leavers voted symbolically against a system that did not work for them—and not to frivolously spite liberal principles, as social media feeds may suggest.

Promises to “take back control” from foreign interests and reduce immigration were bound to foment eurosceptic appeal among the disenfranchised and economically excluded millions. And it’s a damning harbinger for the U.S., with an equally torn narrative over trade and immigration.

Illiberal Liberalism

Unless British society can overcome its vogue for mindless virtue signaling, ridiculing and vilifying those who do not effuse liberal values, nuance—like the logic of experts—will forever fall on deaf ears. And, its exclusionary impact will continue to strengthen the appeal of simplistic xenophobic explanations.

Because calling someone a racist, or stupid, is not a policy prescription. It does nothing to tackle the roots of racism, fascism or nationalism, or offer a path for inclusive prosperity. And too many feel its is enough to make a spectacle of globalism and liberal values without actually acting to ensure they can be universally adopted.

A truly progressive form of liberalism in Britain must rather decentralize economic power, devolve politics, fight inequality and elitism, bridge the North-South divide and raise British expenditure on investment.

It must also pragmatically engage with alternate narratives, to avoid a continueddestabilizing polarity in British politics—in which the far left and right amplify in reaction to one another—and to regain the middle ground. That challenge is clearly harder now that some see Brexit as a vindication for racism.

The Remain camp must see its own culpability in failing to convince swathes of moderates. In fact, some now emerging, liberal, Leave voters, justify their vote by saying greater constitutional autonomy is paramount in addressing Britain’s long ignored socio-economic fissures.

And so, among the multiple introspective questions Brexit should impel upon militant Remainers, its greatest may be to the in-denial leaders in Brussels themselves. How can an effective political, monetary, and eventually, fiscal, supra-national union of over 500 million people be achieved when nation states are not only disparate to each other, but also, within themselves?

It is this fallacy—carried by a somewhat privileged ignorance—that we all have the same agency and all stand to benefit equally from globalism, that has led to Brexit and an unravelling of the European project. We cannot continue to parade under the banner of international unity, without addressing imbalance at home.

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The Diplomat: Will Genocide Be the True Cost of State Building in Myanmar?

(The Diplomat 2/6/2016) “If we mix religion and politics then we offend the spirit of religion itself,” said Myanmar’s independence hero Aung San, addressing his Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League party in 1946.

Seventy years on, for his daughter and globally revered human rights icon, Aung San Suu Kyi, the doctrine has changed.

Deeply entrenched nationalism has blurred the line between religion and politics as Myanmar seeks to build a viable state. And it’s pitting the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s pragmatism against her principles—with the lives of the nation’s Rohingya minority at the center.

“[Aung San]…wanted the Buddhist Sanghas [associations] to retain their traditional roles and abstain from politics,” writes author Nilanjana Sengupta in her book A Gentleman’s Word.  “Their contribution to nation building could be in spreading the message of brotherhood and freedom from fear but not in inflammatory communal politics.”

But since Aung San’s assassination in 1947 and independence the year after, xenophobia has been stoked by the successive nationalist agendas of Myanmar’s leaders. With the dominant Buddhist and ethnic Bamar population—estimated at 89 percent and 68 percent respectively today—minorities were considered a hindrance to nation building.

Attempts by the state to homogenize language, culture, and religion gained impetus among the nation’s monkhood, an institution with gargantuan civilian sway.

Nationalist Buddhist groups like the 969 Movement, championed by Ashin Wirathu (dubbed the “Buddhist bin Laden” by some) amassed a stronger platform for their xenophobic rhetoric under former-President Thein Sein’s censorship-loosening reforms since 2011.

The nation’s Muslims, four percent of the population, have been their top target. Rakhine state’s Rohingyas are subject to violence, discrimination, and economic exclusion. Numerous attempts to flee have seen hundreds drown at sea and thousands displaced in refugee camps, and the government afford humanitarians limited access. They are “one of the world’s most persecuted minorities,” says the UN.

And early last month, Suu Kyi’s government—once a glimmer of hope for the minority— requested the very term “Rohingya” be renounced, failing to recognize the community’s rights as part of Myanmar’s 135 official list of ethnic groups.

Suu Kyi’s stance is not new. Since violent riots broke out between ethnic Rakhine and Rohingya in 2012, she has remained passive, neutralizing questions by pointing out aggressions against Buddhists and downplaying the concern of international bodies.

For some, Suu Kyi was just straddling the political line, cautious not to alienate an electorate largely sold to an entrenched islamophobic narrative. In the lead up to the National League for Democracy’s landslide election victory in November, an Al-Jazeera source reported that she deliberately purged the party of its Muslim candidates.

For an election that received plaudits from U.S. President Barack Obama, the Rohingyas were ineligible to vote, and currently there is not a single Muslim parliamentary representative.

Suu Kyi not only had to pander to the electorate, but also to the military which traditionally bands around nationalism and is constitutionally entitled to 25 percent of seats. But it was assumed her humanitarian streak would return once in power, more willing to tackle electorally sensitive issues years before the next election. However, Suu Kyi’s latest constraint may be the pressures of state building.

After 27 years of playing the pro-democracy activist opposition, the NLD are in uncharted territory. In November, U Win Htein, a party spokesman, said the Rohingya would not be the party’s priority.

Suu Kyi inherits an inefficient, unskilled, and corrupt bureaucracy, alongside a promise to deliver economic development. Elevating the strife of an estimated 800,000 to 1.3 million minority may pale in comparison, particularly when factoring in a likely lengthy reconciliation process, financial resources, and potential for social instability.

Suu Kyi is aware of the sacrifice, diplomacy, and compromise that comes with taking office. “I’ve been a politician all along. I started in politics not as a human rights defender or a humanitarian worker,” she said in a 2013 CNN interview. She will have to negotiate shrewd deals with international suitors and make controversial decisions on large construction projects. Not all parties can be satisfied.

Bound by the realism of statecraft, Suu Kyi may be playing a long game. Forging peace between Buddhist and minority communities is likely to be more delicate, iterative, and convoluted than external observers can appreciate.

During U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Myanmar last month, Suu Kyi asked for “enough space” to address the “emotive” Rohingya issue. On May 31, it was announced she would lead a new Central Committee for Implementation of Peace and Development in Rakhine State, though the details remain sketchy.

The global community is growing impatient with a woman who has come to embody revolution and democratic values. Some have suggested her Nobel Prize be revoked for failing to act definitively on her sermons, while others fear Suu Kyi sees reason in the nationalist logic of Myanmar’s past.

The fact that she may be carefully treading the line between religion and politics is a bitter pill to swallow for her followers who feel short-sold, particularly when the Rohingya “face the final stages of genocide,” according to an 18-month study by the U.K.-based International State Crime Initiative, published last year. “The marked escalation in State-sponsored stigmatization, discrimination, violence and segregation, and the systematic weakening of the community, make precarious the very existence of the Rohingya,” it adds.

The clock is ticking on Suu Kyi, with her legacy deeply intertwined with the fate of Myanmar’s long-persecuted minority.

Tej Parikh is an international affairs journalist and recently received his master’s degree from Yale University, with a focus on state building, ethnic politics and fragile states. He has published for Reuters, The Diplomat, The Cambodia Daily, the Guardian and Global Politics Magazine. He tweets at @tejparikh90.

The Diplomat: Myanmar’s Democracy Paradox

(The Diplomat 26/2/2016) The lengthy talks over the exact shape of Myanmar’s government, and the identity of its new president, are just the first signs that the country’s path to democracy may not be orthodox.

On November 11, democracy icon, Aung San Suu Kyi, received a congratulatory phone call from U.S. President Barack Obama, after her National League for Democracy party romped to victory in Myanmar’s national election.

But while Western powers rejoice, and though Suu Kyi’s has sewn the seeds for democracy in Myanmar, the ground remains infertile.

“The distinguishing mark of a universal value is not that it already enjoys universal acceptance,” said development economist Amartya Sen. “But, that people everywhere have reason to see it as valuable.”

Unfortunately the nation that the NLD inherits is far from adopting universal values, with interests Balkanized along economic, ethnic and political lines.

The country lacks the cross-cutting cleavages to allow democratic change to take off, such that democracy today may paradoxically destabilize Myanmar, by giving power to entrenched, divided and unequal interests.

Suu Kyi does not seek “abrupt changes,” and hopes to bring about a steady transition of rule from decades of military dominance.

On the economic front the NLD is likely to continue pushing the country along its path to greater liberalization.

Foreign direct investment rose to over $8 billion in the 2014/15 fiscal year, but much of the money remains concentrated in the country’s jade, oil and gas industries – tied to former generals.

Urban “elites” and large corporations under armed force control are most likely to benefit from increased liquidity as the country opens up further – while poverty is expected to remain high in the country’s largely rural and ethnically segregated provinces.

“[The number of ultra-high-net worth] individuals in Myanmar could grow by more than seven times in the next decade – the fastest such pace of growth anywhere,” said Wealth-X, a wealth intelligence consultancy.

If the rural and unlanded are unable to tap into the country’s economic fortunes – fenced out by rising elites – vast chasms in wealth will remain an obstacle to building the broad-based citizen coalitions necessary for an efficient democracy.

Though democracy may be a banner for freedom in the west, true freedom will not be possible in Myanmar unless people have the power to make economic choices.

Beyond economic division, rife ethnic and religious conflict is likely to inhibit the creation of a society with cross-cutting interests, especially as recent peace talks continue in the absence of representation from the most active ethnic rebel groups.

Anti-Islamic sentiment has been mercilessly stirred-up among the near 70 percent Bamar population – carried in part by radical Buddhist monk Wirathu’s 969 movement, a nationalistic organization.

The majority Bamar thus forms an overriding part of the electorate with little tying them to the ethnic groups in Myanmar’s border states – where mountainous geography to its north and west has facilitated the preservation of distinct ethnicities, and the more traversable Shan plateau terrain on its Thai border has facilitated restiveness.

For all the promise of a more democratic Myanmar, even politically it is shaping up to be a pseudo-authoritarian state – lacking the natural forces to be truly representative at all levels.

Facing weak opposition and an winning an overwhelming 80 percent of available seats, the NLD take power with Suu Kyi vowing to “make all the decisions,” despite being barred from taking presidential post by the same constitution that retains 25 percent of seats for the military.

But, with question marks over how the military exercises its power, the political environment that Suu Kyi inherits may ironically be just the stage necessary to develop the nation.

Without a somewhat dictating hand, the liberties that unrestrained democracy brings may translate into the freedom to subjugate, hate and divide. But, with Suu Kyi’s aura, she can attempt to carve out a unifying long-term vision for the country.

She must tame military influence, manage inefficient ministries and act as a mediator across all ethnic parties.

A centrally planned development with employment projects, infrastructure investments and social welfare enhancement may create an economy that truly binds the vested interest of its people, rich to poor, Bamar to non-Bamar. Only when these divides are bridged will true democracy take root.

Suu Kyi’s task may echo that of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding father.

A small ethnically divided nation, Lee championed nationalism and prepared Singapore for the global free market in his role as a visionary authoritarian. Suu Kyi, with her own maternalistic style, now has the opportunity to guide Myanmar – to forge a national identity and to create inclusive and broad-based development as the country opens.

There is a balancing act in Myanmar, fighting for the short-term phantom of democracy today may just inhibit its long-term evolution.

And so, while Aung San Suu Kyi embodies “the spirit of democracy” – in reality, it may be her role as a benevolent single-handed ruler that guides Myanmar forward.

Tej Parikh is an international affairs journalist currently based in Southeast Asia. He recently received his master’s degree from Yale University, with a focus on state building, ethnic conflict and fragile states. He tweets at @tejparikh90. He has written for the Guardian, Reuters, The Cambodia Daily and Global Politics Magazine.

Reuters: Is political correctness over ‘refugees’ putting lives in danger?

(Reuters 27/11/2015) “They are refugees, not terrorists,” read one late-summer Facebook status at the height of Europe’s “migrant crisis.”

With evidence that Ahmad Almohammad, one of the eight Paris attackers, masqueraded as a refugee en route to Europe, alongside BBC interviews with ‘migrants’ themselves expressing concern for phony refugees — a more intense light has been cast upon Europe’s pro-refugee activists.

From the southern borders of Hungary to the camps of Calais, Europe’s humanitarians have united to assist the stream of migrants entering the continent — while politicians bumble over policy and right-wing heretics tune-up anti-migrant rhetoric.

The European psyche on migration appears to have been caught off guard by the sheer pace of events — with the European Union’s statistics agency Eurostat estimating over 700,000 asylum applications in 2015 as just the tip of the iceberg.

The sudden on-screen bombardment of border camps, sea-faring tragedies and protests, seems to have dichotomized the continent into gung-ho humanitarians or fearful conservatives — leaving the continent devoid of the crucial middle-ground to move forward with effective solutions.

Social media messages post-Paris reverberated like deja-vu. “They are not terrorists — less than 0.00007 percent of Muslims are terrorists,” said one Facebook user to rapturous approval. The message appeared directed at the potential right-wing backlash.

Unfortunately, the cruel reality underlying that Facebook status — is that despite the statistically miniscule number of radical Muslims – it takes just one, armed with an AK-47 and explosive belt to kill and maim hundreds.

Why then have Europe’s humanitarians remained so staunchly pro-refugee?

In a Forbes guest post written by Steven Emerson, an executive director, and Pete Hoekstra, a senior fellow, at the Investigative Project on Terrorism, they lament the role of political correctness toward radical Islam in obstructing frank discussion.

“Remember that they [politicians] blamed the Benghazi massacre on an Internet video. Perhaps they will blame the ISIS [Paris] attacks on a TV show,” they said.

The reality of Paris is that a “refugee,” with allegiance to a militant group that puts forward a toxic interpretation of Islam, killed 130 innocent people.

It seems that merely reflecting on the role Islam has to play, and the risks of mass refugee intake, may leave people open to accusations of xenophobia, Islamophobia and racism.

It was a fate British Prime Minister David Cameron risked last week when claiming that we can no longer deny any connection between Islam and extremism. “Extremists are self-identifying as Muslims,” added Cameron.

Unrelenting political correctness is a double-edged sword; protecting people from offense, but failing to allow hard truths through.

In Europe, the clashing liberals and right-wingers fail to recognize that a clear understanding of the migrant issue requires elements of both viewpoints.

Helping the hundreds of thousands of needy people arriving on European shores is virtuous and a central tenet of a continent that has thrived with the free flow of individuals from diverse backgrounds.

Preventing refugees from entering Europe risks the build-up of marginalized and impoverished individuals on its borders. That creates the risk of igniting the powder keg that is the Balkans; a reality Europe’s fence builders are inviting.

But, likewise, letting too many refugees into the EU risks creating instability in Europe’s core, which is currently in the midst of a right-wing resurgence and slow economic recovery.

Unfortunately, with policymakers caught somewhere in between the activist and right-wing voices, policy, too, has become schizophrenic. While some EU states have agreed to house refugees, some union members, such as Germany, the UK and the Netherlands, have flirted with the idea of making their states less attractive to migrants by reducing the “pull” factors of welfare support.

This is a potent mix. Accepting thousands of refugees requires long-term commitments to their financial and social needs. Otherwise, Europe will create a breeding ground for disillusioned young individuals susceptible to perversions of Islam, or any other extremist agenda.

When the evocative scenes of Europe’s migrant crisis subside, the fear is that the humanitarian forces to integrate Europe’s new populace will also fade. Europe may not be importing terrorism today — at least not on the scale some on the right-wing seem to think — but a failure in assimilation can create a tinderbox for future extremism.

This means being more balanced on refugee intake, and filtering the flow of migrants into the continent effectively. Thus far, that effort has been wholly inadequate.

When the BBC’s Ed Thomas and Gabriel Gatehouse traveled to the Greek island of Leros last week to speak to Syrian migrants en route to Europe, one Syrian man said, “Check me properly, ask me the right questions… you must check, for my safety and your safety.”

The emotion of the migrant crisis has caught Europe unaware, and divided it between unrelenting fear and impractically open arms. The lack of rationality and perspective on the problem risks sinking the continent deeper into fear and danger.