Tag Archives: ethnic cleansing

Who hustles the hustler?

Trigger warning: racism, antisemitism, the Holocaust

After months of progressives gnashing their teeth that Donald Trump only adds a glean of faux-populism to policy ideas that are straight out of Atlas Shrugged, many are celebrating that his campaign may have finally let the cat out of the bag.

With the Republican nomination locked up, one of Trump’s most prominent and earliest supporters, representative Chris Collins (R-NY) has qualified the Border Wall as probably going to just be “virtual”, and the mass deportations Trump has discussed as being “rhetorical”. The deeply xenophobic mentalities that animate a plurality of average Republican primary voters – quite literally popular ideas – have a long history of being floated by major Republicans only to be yanked back. For all his promises to break that pattern, it looks like Trump might at least go through the motions of moderation.

So in light of this apparent change of tone, the right-wing coalition continues to threaten to dissolve and their most likely success case isn’t the worst case scenario for people of color and others targeted by their politics. Amidst the overly eager left-wing cracking out the champagne, let’s all consider how Trump’s primary supporters will take the news about being tricked once again.

While these quotes began to surface describing how minimal and non-corporeal the anti-immigrant regime will turn out, a piece of Trump’s base pasted the face of journalist Julia Ioffe on to the photograph of Auschwitz prisoner number 6874 and sent her directly images contrasting “bad Jews” – antisemitic caricatures of Jewish men – with “good Jews” – a lampshade with the same caricature’s face.

chjmtwbu0aalf7s
(From the collection of images she was sent or found, republished here.)

What prompted this avalanche of antisemitism towards Ioffe? She had questioned Melania Trump’s narrative about her family – and particularly her father – having traditional values. Ioffe had dug deeper, found a cavalierly abandoned half-brother Melania’s father had from an earlier relationship, and published in spite of a (noted in her article)  request for her to “respect [Melania’s father’s] privacy”. She interviewed the estranged relative himself for her piece. It seems he weighed in differently on  whether he should be included in this portrait of Melania’s Slovenian family.

The people still sending Ioffe Holocaust imagery edited to update it for more Trump-related uses think they have already won. They aren’t being guarded with their language on Twitter, because they don’t think there’s any reason to be – Trump has essentially won the nomination and they expect him to win the general election. The genie is out of the bottle, and it’s calling a Jewish journalist on blocked numbers and playing clips from Hitler’s speeches. The antisemitism isn’t new, but there’s a degree of brashness Trump has allowed it to adopt – because that type of attitude is what allowed him to upend all the expectations in the Republican primary.

In aggregate, this country’s social mores aren’t actually designed so that you can’t win prominent party nominations while advocating ethnic cleansing. That secret, historically the lynchpin of this extremist group not taking control of the Republican Party, is out. This isn’t going away. If anything, it’s going to get worse.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Economic justice… for whom?

It’s one of the familiar just so stories about US politics that’s become crystal clear in recent decades. The Democrats want to maintain or even expand programs designed to provide economic resources and benefits to people with less. Republicans want to shrink or dismantle those types of programs. One party for workers, one party for the “1%”, so the story goes.

Even the candidates who look like exceptions – like Donald Trump with his promises to maintain social security and medicare – tend to ultimately reveal policy ideas that firmly locate them in the political party that they’ve already embraced (Trump, for example, thinks “wages [are] too high” – an implicit criticism of current minimum wage standards).

More interesting, I think, than those less easily categorized oddballs are the terms on which the debate between these two camps is being held. Economic redistribution and inequality are actually somewhat lofty, vague even, concepts. How to measure, to quantify them is an open question. The language tends to be like that in what I’ve linked above – a discussion focused on easily indexed numerical statistics: wages, entitlements, inflation, productivity, unionization.

That’s not a wrongheaded way of talking about who wins and who loses in the US economy, but it’s just one way of doing that. Unfortunately, it’s a way shaped by, and sometimes specifically for, articulating a particular group’s economic grievances. One of the easiest ways of seeing that is in terms of communities with large numbers of undocumented people – for whom income taxes are a murky territory and benefits exist in a similarly unclear limbo.

For largely Latin@ agrarian worker communities, how do you quantify being an exception to environmental regulations? For the far broader set of populations at risk of being targeted with detention or even deportation, how can that not be among other things an economic threat – both held over you by your boss and your landlord but also just ominously lurking outside your home, endangering everything you have.

2016-01-04_1015.pngLeft, 2012 chlorpyrifos use in the western US, from here. Right, a heatmap of Latin@s in the western US made using the 2010 census, from here.

The Bernie Sanders campaign has recently sought to highlight a difference between their candidate and Trump. Sanders is a meaningful, redistributive choice. Trump is manipulating some of those hoping for greater economic opportunity, without any intention to deliver on it. In order to prove that, the Sanders campaign has latched on to Trump’s comments on wages.

Why was that necessary? Trump has already spoken to a more wild set of economic policies designed to hoard resources for some. That’s one of the things inherent in his promise to deport millions of people. That is economic injustice, and it’s important to ask why it hasn’t been considered that by the largely non-Latin@ mainstream media or presented as that by the redistribution-centered campaign of Bernie Sanders.

Is the economic populism advanced by Sanders and tolerated within major media really for everyone? Whose concerns does it speak to? Whose concerns does it barely register?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Turkey on Turkey-Day

Trigger warning: ethnic cleansing, genocide, linguistic imperialism

Earlier this week, almost everyone who watches the news had at least a little bit of a mild panic. A Russian military plane was shot down by Turkish forces after it veered slightly into their territory from the Syrian side of the border. While most outlets have offered soothing explanations of the situation – noting that Turkey’s NATO membership and Russia’s formidable military checked each other and prevent a misunderstanding from escalating into full fledged conflict – I think this speaks to the rather worrisome politics that have taken grip of Turkey.

Al Jazeera’s article on the recent incident gives a descriptive overview of what just happened and also provides a map that underscores just how deep into Syrian territory this Turkish province actually extends:

hatay plane incident

A piece by Gary Brecher from October paints a vivid picture of how such a comparatively Turkish population came to be lodged in the middle of the more diverse Syria. In a nutshell – ethnic cleansing on a mass scale. To any student of Turkish history that’s not surprising. Before the World War II seizure of this southern province, there was the Armenian Genocide during the first World War, and before that the long history of expelling Greeks, and before that the very genesis of the Turkish state with the help of Janissaries.

The Turks began their history in modern Turkey as a tiny ethnic group lost in the chaotic medieval east Mediterranean and emerged as the powerful heads of an Ottoman Empire not by accident, but from a consistent policy of conversion, Turkification, and ethnic cleansing. What is today Turkey’s Hatay Province began as the Sanjuk of Alexandretta – a part of the French Mandate of Syria and Lebanon, with a significant Turkish minority that remained from the administrators of the recently fallen Ottoman Empire. That type of historical trajectory is common to most Turkish territory.

What reads to most of the rest of the world as a terrifying overreaction takes on another layer of meaning with the knowledge of that province’s history. The first priority of almost every settler state is the defense of its newly acquired territory, and Hatay is no different. While Arabic as a spoken language and Arab as an ethnic identity have both declined in popularity there at a staggering rate, a large portion of that province’s population continues to recall their family origins and to remember a kind of otherness within Turkey. That’s a vulnerability for the Turkish state, particularly with the on-going internecine conflicts raging on the other side of Hatay’s extensive border.

I have said before that the movements in Turkey seeking to strengthen their democracy aren’t incompatible with the push within the country to redefine their ethnic and religious identities in a confusing and globalizing world. That’s difficult, but it’s possible.

Bathed in a defense of the historical violence that served to create Turkey, however, a different fusion of older ideas of Turkish identity with modern senses of self might emerge from the Turkish state. That was what was hinted at by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan earlier this year, when he created a photo-op with the traditional military uniforms of the sixteen former incarnations of the Turkish empire (of varying actual ethnic composition).

erdogan sixteen turkish empires

There are other identities to be pulled out of Turkish national memory, including martial ones. Ceremonially and militarily, Erdoğan appears to have cast in his lot with that understanding of where he’s come from and what his country has to do to survive. For foreign powers intervening in Syria and various local contingents skirting the Turkish-Syrian border, that’s another risk to consider in the already difficult fight.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Decoding dogwhistles

Trigger warning: racism, anti-immigrant violence, deportation, police violence, ethnic cleansing

On Tuesday, Donald Trump became frustrated at a press conference. To journalist and eight-time Emmy Award winner Jorge Ramos, Trump responded to a line of questioning about how on earth he was going to deport millions of undocumented people by saying, “Go back to Univision.” In case the thinly veiled language is able to pass you by undetected, one of Trump’s supporters confronted Ramos after he was expelled from the event and made it even more explicit.

“Get out of my country, get out.”

Donald Trump himself did say “Univision”, a Spanish language news network based in the United States, but the implications of it, that Ramos did not belong in the room, were heard loud and clear and seized on almost immediately by someone less able or willing to hide the nature of what was being discussed. That slipping of the curtain behind what Trump said and what others correctly heard him mean is not only a confirmation that “dogwhistling” – the use of subtle language to indicate support for unpopular and extremist groups – will continue to be a key part of the Republican presidential primary, but also a confirmation of what many had already suspected about the specifics of the anti-immigration animus currently propping up Donald Trump.

Jorge Ramos is a US citizen. While he was born in Mexico, he immigrated at the age of twenty-four with a legal student visa. The following thirty-three years of his life, he has lived in the United States first on that visa and later as a naturalized citizen. Whatever political stance you take on undocumented immigration isn’t a stance that at least personally implicates him, and yet, the language ultimately used to dismiss him is identical to that used against undocumented people. That’s because, for all the bluster about legality and criminality, Donald Trump’s campaign doesn’t care about documentation of immigration, they care about immigration, full stop.

In hindsight, this is obvious. In his announcement that he was running, Trump famously spoke with open hostility towards undocumented immigrants from Mexico, stating they were intrinsically criminal people guilty of not only failing to obey immigration laws but also habitually engage in various violent crimes. His description actually doesn’t connect what he sees as an anti-social nature among those immigrant communities to their undocumented status, but rather their national origin. “Mexico sends” them, is how he put it – technically including legally documented Latin@ immigrants like Ramos, who left his birth country after facing pushback for critical coverage of the Mexican government. While the focus is on what’s possible policy-wise to do towards the undocumented, the political desire clearly expressed targets all immigrants regardless of documentation status.

The anti-immigrant politics defining Trump’s campaign only become more obvious from there. The first of his rallies to attract the size of crowd first associated with Bernie Sander’s populist rhetoric was in Mobile, Alabama, where he appeared on stage with Senator Jeff Sessions. His host has previously used his weight in the Senate to upend proposals about legal immigration – essentially he’s opposed to immigration in any form. Trump has added him to his team specifically to design immigration policy for him. Tellingly, this is what the crowd that greeted the two of them in Alabama looked like:

trump in mobileFrom here.

Alabama is in many ways not just the type of place where Trump draws the largest support but also the kind of population that Trump wants to create with the policy of all undocumented people being “returned”. Years of anti-immigrant policies culminated in Alabama in 2011 with the passage of a strict profiling-encouraging law inspired by an Arizonan forerunner. As many news outlets noted at the time, one of the most immediate impacts on Alabama was that many neighborhoods were in essence ethnically cleansed. As the New York Times put it –

“By Monday afternoon, 123 students had withdrawn from the schools in [Albertville, Alabama], leaving behind teary and confused classmates. Scores more were absent. Statewide, 1,988 Hispanic students were absent on Friday, about 5 percent of the entire Hispanic population of the school system.

John Weathers, an Albertville businessman who rents and has sold houses to many Hispanic residents, said his occupancy had suddenly dropped by a quarter and might drop further, depending on what happens in the next week. Two people who had paid off their mortgages called him asking if they could sell back their homes

[…]

Rumors of raids and roadblocks are rampant, and though the new law has nothing to say about such things, distrust is primed by anecdotes, like one told by a local Hispanic pastor who said he was pulled over outside Birmingham on Wednesday, within hours of the ruling. His friend who was driving — and who is in the United States illegally — is now in jail on an unrelated misdemeanor charge, the pastor said, adding that while he was let go, a policeman told him he was no longer welcome in Alabama.

‘I am afraid to drive to church,’ a 54-year-old poultry plant worker named Candelaria said, adding, ‘The lady that gives me a ride to work said she is leaving. She said she felt like a prisoner.'”

For many this is perhaps a not terribly revealing moment, but this marks an opening in which the motivations behind policy are being revealed, making them visible for some for the first time. What Donald Trump is running is at its core an anti-immigrant campaign that is built to validate what was said to Jorge Ramos – that this is a White person’s country and not his. The basic idea that Trump’s campaign sells is that Ramos shouldn’t feel entitled to ask questions as a journalist, that Latin@ people shouldn’t feel entitled to drive or go to school otherwise exist in the US publicly, that Candelaria shouldn’t feel entitled to go to church. The targeting of the undocumented for deportation is just the most visibly violent part of the system he’s trying to set up.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What a right of return could look like

TW: ethnic cleansing, Israeli occupation

To be brief, Al Jazeera’s Jonathan Cook recently published an excellent article on the Palestinian village of Iqrit, which is still under Israeli jurisdiction, and how the displaced residents of it are enacting a plan to make their right of return into a reality. To provide some background, in 1948, Iqrit like most villages was evacuated under misleading or false assurances that Palestinian civilians would be allowed back into their villages and homes after a brief period.

Iqrit was in fact one of the fortunate villages in that “Israel does not deny that the promise was made, and the villagers’ right to return was backed by the country’s supreme court in 1951”. Unfortunately before that decision could be implemented, Israeli forces “blew up the houses in a move designed to stop the ruling being enforced.” Since then, a series of ministerial decisions and outright propaganda on Israel’s part have effectively buried the issue, in spite of the Israeli decision to return at least a portion of the land taken from the Palestinians at Iqrit (and a few other villages were land claims weren’t so easily cast aside).

The former village of Iqrit sits atop a small hill surrounded by lush groves of various trees
(Iqrit in 1935, sixteen years before it was destroyed, from here. It then only housed about 600 Palestinians, less than half of the now 1,500 who can claim a right of return to the location.)

Tired of waiting, those exiled or born from those exiled from Iqrit are presented an official plan of how to rebuild the village, “showing how it would be possible to build a modern community of 450 homes, including a school, for the villagers-in-exile, who today number 1,500.” The limiting factor, which apparently they have finally gotten past, was simply that there was no were to return to an a moral expectation for Israel to restore the village it destroyed. The former has been overcome and the second has been abandoned evidently, with plant to rebuild Iqrit being put into motion now.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This is not just in theory

TW: ethnic cleansing, islamophobia, genocide

On Monday, I discussed just how much violent rhetoric the Muslims of the world, particularly anglophone ones, are subject to, on an increasingly frequent scale. It’s become commonplace to discuss mass murder, for instance. It’s important to remember that this isn’t just a matter of thoughts and statements, as in some places, Muslims are being killed or otherwise systemically endangered because of their religious faith. Al Jazeera has been doing some excellent reporting for the past couple of months on the situation in Burma or Myanmar, specifically approaching the “democratization” of the country from that angle.

In the past couple of days, especially, they’ve covered the dangerous potency of islamophobia in the country, starting with a renewed look at the nativist and islamophobic violence against the Rohingya people, who tend to live in the westernmost province of Myanmar. Much of their recent history is quite depressing – from first colonialist exploitation by the British (who “imported” their labor into British Burma) to modern xenophobic otherness by their compatriots of some half century (if not longer). It’s one of the cases where the separate socio-economic classes laid out by Harm de Blij in The Power of Place seems particularly salient. Unfortunately, following the departure of an imperialist “global” class, the “mobile” Rohingya laborers and “local” Burmese peoples have targeted each other, instead of cooperating to repair the colonial era damage to the country.


(From Human Rights Watch’s online report on the killings, an image of civilian forces that drove out or killed Rohingya in western Myanmar in the summer of 2012.)

Today, however, Al Jazeera provided some excellent analysis of the broader regional implications of this conflict, both for Buddhist-majority countries like Sri Lanka and Muslim-majority ones like Indonesia. In a nutshell, while there are ethnic dimensions to this and nearly every ethnic conflict in neighboring countries, many of those tensions between groups are increasingly talked about as religious. The Rohingya might not be exclusively targeted for being Muslims, but like many people in the area and ultimately around the world, their religious identity makes them only even more acceptable as targets. While the Rohingya have born the brunt of anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar, it is not unique to regions where they live and has led to recent killings of Muslims with other ethnic backgrounds.

Of course, there’s a question of acceptable to whom – and the potential answers to that are distressingly broad. With prior reports showing deliberate government inaction and subsequent efforts to restrict Muslims facing communal violence in Myanmar, it seems wrong to excuse the actions of various official and unofficial political leaders. But beyond them, Al Jazeera seems to be asking whether the international community is culpable as well. Today, their official twitter account explained, “We ask if the EU is [sic] liftting sanctions on Myanmar prematurely“. Sanctions are difficult to justify in any situation, but the fact that a wave of violence against Muslims hasn’t phased narratives in the “Western” media that Myanmar has democratized seems to indicate something about the perception of Muslims in not only that country but ours as well.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How many dead

TW: islamophobia, mass killings, genocide

So, of course, in the wake of the Boston Bombings, this happened:


(Erik Rush responded to being asked if he was blaming Muslims for the Boston attacks by saying “Yes, they’re evil. Let’s kill them all.”)

I think after the decades of the US being at war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and arguably secretly too in Yemen and Pakistan, people in this country have gotten accustomed to extreme displays of violence towards (presumed) Muslims. I don’t think the actual magnitude of this statement, which frequent Fox News guest Erik Rush walked back as “sarcasm”, has sunk in for many people.

There are about 1.6 billion Muslims on this planet. That’s nearly a quarter of the entire world’s population. Killing every single one of them, as Rush cavalierly suggested (oh sorry, “joked”) would be equivalent to more than 200 times the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. That’s more than 145 times the total deaths in the Holocaust. That’s more than 66 times the military deaths in World War II. That’s almost 39 times the military deaths in both World Wars. That’s still about double the largest estimates for deaths under Mao Zedong’s governance in China (which were primarily from starvation, but also included several million political killings). To call the number of people Rush joked about killing staggering seems like an understatement.

The sort of mass killing Rush referenced seems to fit more effectively into eradications that history textbooks describe as occurring across continents and over centuries: the colonization of the Americas, the “settlement” of Australia, the exploitation of Africa. Even compared to those, Rush’s “sarcastic” remark falls short: indigenous peoples saw their lives destroyed on an unimaginable scale in each of those historical processes, but there were survivors. In a very real way, what Rush “joked” about was a level of murder unprecedented even in those cases, that would have lead to the depopulated path leading from the western coast of Africa into central Asia.


(Percentage of the population in a given country that’s Muslim. The darkest color, which is most prevalent in North Africa and the Middle East, represents that at least 90 percent of the population is Muslim. Click to enlarge.)

In spite of how much this remark, if translated into action, would be a new chapter in an already bloody history, it’s actually shocking how well it fits certain legal language: that of genocide. To the surprise of some, the legal definition of genocide is actually quite narrow, since it was written by the US (which had just used nuclear weapons against enemy civilian populations), the UK (which still had it’s empire, including the brutal local governments in south Asia and south Africa), France (which had brutally repressed its colonial subjects in Algeria and would do so again after the war), the USSR (who at that time was governed by Stalin), and China (what was in the midst of a massive civil war that would lead to Mao’s death-happy rule). The hands that conceived a legally actionable idea of what were and weren’t crimes against humanity were careful to make sure their past and future actions weren’t themselves quite within the boundaries of the definition.

In light of that it’s something of a shock how easily Rush’s comments fit into this deliberately narrow definition: the intent or act of killing in whole or in part an ethnic, religious, or racial group. Muslims are pretty clearly a religious group, which he quite clearly advocated killing of in whole. With so little wiggle room, the only defense he has that he didn’t advocate genocide is to claim “sarcasm” – and lo and behold he has.

While I don’t intend to suggest we should limit speech half as much as we do now, it seems like the US public and Fox News in particular could make clear that we aren’t on the same page as Erik Rush. So, I hope you’ll consider signing this petition which requests that Fox News cease hearing from him permanently.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Everything starts to come unglued

TW: ethnic cleansing, indefinite detention, torture, islamist violence

To be honest, I’m not quite sure what to make of the statements by Michael Sheehan, the US military official who explained that he’s concerned over the withdrawal of French troops from Mali and neighboring African countries aren’t “capable at all. What you saw there, it is a completely incapable force. That has to change.” You can practically see the rolling eyes that elicited as the Johannesburg Times summarized his explanation:

At the same time, [Sheehan] praised the French troops which ‘very rapidly’ pushed al Qaeda’s north African branch ‘back across the Niger river and took control of the major cities’ in northern Mali, he said. However, he added that much of the al Qaeda leadership had escaped. ‘They haven’t been killed or captured, but they (the French forces) have disrupted this very threatening sanctuary.’

Attributing the “successes” in Mali to the French seems like missing multiple forests for a single useless tree. As Sheehan makes it clear in the above quotes, he pictures the fight as being very geographically limited, which seems like deliberate stupidity considering that this is supposedly an intervention against an international islamist force that specialized in asymmetrical and guerrilla warfare. Beyond that particular nonsense, Sheehan seems very quick to declare the French forces superior, but there’s not a whole lot of semantic content to what they’re superior at. It’s been more than a month since the territorial advances he mentioned occurred – what have the French done since and beyond that?

The sad fact is that the French, Malian, and other purportedly anti-islamist forces in North Mali or Azawad have used different methods but frequently with similar methods: the deaths of seemingly innocent civilians of either Touareg, other Berber, or Arab background. I’ve covered a bit about that before, but in all honesty, what does the withdrawal of French troops do? Does it matter that the forces seeming to target especially Touareg civilians indiscriminately will be much more African than European? And trust me, there’s no indication of them stopping: the stories of torture, stories of murder by government forces, and other stories that make this seems like a developing bout of ethnic cleansing.


(Malian forces that have targeted Touareg civilians, from here.)

Many Touareg civilians seem to be caught between the threats of the Malian government’s forces and the assorted islamist rebel groups that threaten them as well, as much of the more in-depth reporting on civilians still living in the region show. Those are not conditions for long term peace, or even a simple conflict between islamists and the Malian government with Touareg nationalism rendered irrelevant.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Le conflit au mali n’a guère commencé

TW: suicide bombings, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, neo-colonialism, operation serval

No, the conflict in Mali isn’t over at all, just the showy part that Western media were particularly interested in is. I’ve had my strong disagreements with Bruce Whitehouse in the past, but I think his recent piece on the transition of the conflict from the French and Malian armies retaking territory to occupying it is excellent. The war isn’t over, it’s only just begun. If nothing convinces you of that, the recent suicide bombing in Gao should give you at least pause.

Gao Accusation Violence
(Some non-Touareg civilians have already begun targeting suspected Islamists, sometimes with mob violence, including against this injured man in Gao. Image from here.)

Of course, it would be remiss to mention that a Touareg youth, presumably motivated by Islamist arguments, blew himself up and injured a Malian soldier and fail to mention at least three ethnically Arab civilians from Gao who were detained by the Malian government. Their bodies were found in a mass grave near Timbuktu along with many others, also presumably ethnically Berber or Arab Malians (who may have preferred to be known as Azawadis).

There’s the rub beyond even that identified by Whitehouse, of course. Is the Malian government occupying predominantly Touareg land really going to reduce nationalist tensions in the area? This military operation has been argued for as a protection of not only Malians but the whole world ultimately from Islamist-inspired terrorism, but why then have France and Mali been unwilling to even negotiate with Touareg separatists to improve their ability to control the region and weed out violent Islamists? Why has neither occupying force clarified their position on purportedly non-violent Islamist groups like the Islamic Movement for Azawad (MIA)?

In short, why are there civilian bodies in a grave somewhere that Whitehouse would be quick to remind us, many Malians view as more Maghrebin than Malian?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Rohingya World is on fire too

TW: ethnic cleansing, genocide, nativism, class warfare, erasure

Amy Chua’s World on Fire, first published in 2002, quickly captured the imagination of a wide swathe of the media and has continued to be a subtle force in political analysis since then. From the almost establishment liberal press to the moderate and internationalist conservatives, a consensus emerged that for all its faults, the book was quite an insightful examination of the trials many developing countries faced. With economic globalization, the prior decade had seen something of a race to the bottom as markets “reformed” or “opened” around the world. As post-Cold War democratization began to speed up and seemed poised to accelerate given Bush’s lofty language of a plan to democratize the Middle East, ethnic competition within electoral contexts had increased. Her idea that the class war and ethnic electoral competition in many places could collapse into a single, potentially very violent struggle seemed not particularly unreasonable, even if she presumed a certain model of a given less developed country.

The Guardian hailed that conception of the world’s poorer nations, actually, as it noted-

“Her starting point is that in many developing countries a small – often very small – ethnic minority enjoys hugely disproportionate economic power. As she points out, this is not true in the west: on the contrary, we are accustomed to small ethnic minorities occupying exactly the opposite situation, a very disadvantaged economic position.”

If you accustom yourself with those other countries, primarily defined by what they aren’t (in this case, “Western”), you’ll quickly realize the illusion at play here. The assumption is that demographically large ethnic groups are typically impoverished, which is unsurprising given that we’re talking about less wealthy countries. Likewise, small ethnic minorities may install themselves as a type of local elite, which isn’t terribly surprising given many of the examples Chua turns to are either former colonizers (as the Whites of Latin America and much of Southern Africa are) or colonial-era managerial classes who were empowered by colonial rule. Missing from the mental diagram however are those who are both outnumbered and impoverished. That’s apparently a concern exclusive to the “West”.

Al Jazeera for quite some time has been among the few international news outlets to pay much attention to one particular set of events in Myanmar. As others, including this blog, focused on the geopolitical ramifications of Myanmar’s warming relations with the US and complex relationship with China or the possibility of democratization, Al Jazeera has covered the plight of the Muslim Rohingya minority, mainly isolated in the coastal western districts of Myanmar, along its border with Bangladesh. They have been effectively stripped of their legal rights and branded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, although many were born in Myanmar, and had ancestors living in Myanmar prior to colonization even. Bangladesh similarly denies them citizenship, leaving them essentially a stateless people. Without a political entity to appeal to, they have been recently subject to campaigns of violence, which left many of them homeless, if not injured or killed. A few experts on the issue have started using the word “genocide” as local authorities have started implementing punitive measures for every birth in the community.


(Remains of Rohingya villages burned down during anti-Rohingya riots in October. From here.)

Apparently the struggles of groups like the Rohingya are invisible to Chua’s analysis. They don’t have the demographic numbers to swing a national election in Myanmar, assuming they were even granted suffrage. But that isn’t compensated for the kind of opulence displayed in the mansions that Chua visits through the course of her book. Instead, they have neither political nor economic power, so they apparently don’t even register for her and her many fans. Yet, for the moment at least, they still exist.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Give thanks

TW: military coups, ethnic cleansing of indigenous peoples, political killings

I am thankful that I live in a country with democratic norms that are strong enough to prevent military coups.

I am thankful that at least one country that is not so lucky has at least a chance of improvement on that issue.

I am thankful that the United States is neither assisting the military regime nor treating them as a legitimate government, as we have done before throughout the region and previously in that country.


(“In the Freedom Party, the people are the ones that choose (the presidential nominee)” – originally from this excellent Spanish-language overview of the current politics of Honduras.)

I am hopeful for Honduras today.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Myriad facts about Goma that you didn’t hear today

TW: ethnic cleansing/genocide, warfare

In case you haven’t heard, amid all the coverage of the on-going conflict along the Gazan-Israeli border, there’s also a growing conflict along the borders of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Yesterday, after days of fighting between government forces and the “M23” rebels in Goma, DRC ended with a decisive anti-government victory. Both the UN and the military forces have stated they won’t immediately contest the city, which has already seen enough fighting and doesn’t deserve another week if not longer of it. The UN and the DRC are sticking to condemnations for the time being.

The comparative silence from the “Western” world over this is intriguing, since we’re not even a year past the infuriating Kony 2012 campaign, which concerned itself with a national situation quite similar to this one. In both cases, a terribly undemocratic government of a former African colony is locked in an incredibly destructive struggle against extremely violent would-be revolutionaries. It’s the ultimate debate between a pair of astoundingly bad “lesser of two evils” – and I’ll be the first to admit I had no idea which one is actually worse. In any case, despite these clear similarities between the two cases, there’s no talk of launching a Ntaganda 2013 campaign, and I suspect that’s more than just motivated by the difficulty anglophones would have with this name.

What’s also interesting, however, is that we’re not seeing the inverse. The M23 is a predominantly Tutsi force, supported by the Tutsi-friendly government of Uganda and largely Tutsi political elite of Rwanda. The military regimes of both of those countries receive a surprising amount of sympathy from their former colonizers, in spite of both of their political use of mass violence.

The awkward fact remains that Kony’s LRA was formed in response to ethnic cleansing in Uganda and that anti-Tutsi sentiment in Rwanda is clearly tied their disproportionately higher society economic status throughout the region during and following colonial rule. It must be added of course that both the efforts at protecting the Acholi and Hutu people of the region have frequently become justifications for killing large numbers of people belonging to those ethnic groups, who are perceived as traitors to the cause. The reactions to these systemic inequalities are sometimes just as indiscriminately violent as the inequalities themselves.

Consequently, it’s hard not to see fertile ground in the DRC for the unilateral understandings of these conflicts which are very prevalent in the US. But there are no reports on the violence that glorify the M23 as a great liberating force for the people of the northeastern DRC, because there’s no reporting at all. This issue is so chronically undervalued in “Western” media, that its presentation isn’t flawed so much as nonexistent.

There are so many reasons to look at this and try to learn something. What’s immediately obvious is that much of sub-Saharan Africa faces the detestable choice between eliminationist revolutionaries and astoundingly violent and insular regimes. Or, to phrase that slightly differently, the choice between military rule and military-to-be rule. What’s less apparent though is how much of this political race for the bottom has been driven by colonial and neo-colonial influence. In Rwanda and Burundi, Belgian rule transformed historical dominance by hazily defined social groups into an immobile racial system that could determine your job, your prospects, and your life. In Uganda, US-based groups have bankrolled gradually more and more fundamentalist Christian politicians, creating a very heterosexist and cissexist political culture.

But what’s more, the example of the DRC shows that the social structures and political boundaries established during the mad dash to colonize Africa still has consequences. Geographically large and diverse, the DRC clearly has multiple population centers beyond the most densely populated band stretching from the capital of Kinshasa in the southwest over to the border with Zambia in the southeast. The rest of the country was largely incorporated together by Belgium to facilitate foreign control over its various useful resources.


(The population density of the DRC, originally from here.)

The political life of the country has not only been concentrated within the political elite but also within that region. Colonization not only favored different ethnic and social groups but also regional ones, leaving the also densely populated areas along the Ugandan, Rwandan, and Burundian borders out in the cold. Dissatisfied with their government on so many fronts, apathy towards the state’s disintegration or even active support of revolutionaries seems understandable.  Perhaps it was inevitable for Uganda and Rwanda to spread their spheres of influence into technically DRC territory that borders theirs given that it’s so politically disconnected from the power center of the country.

While Uganda’s and Rwanda’s pasts have been terribly bloody, the driving forces have typically come down to determining which ethnic group will monopolize power and wealth, rather than where within the country that wealth is and will remain. For all their flaws, Uganda and Rwanda are still countries with borders that don’t blatantly contradict the existing population distribution, and that’s an advantage they have over the DRC.

Maybe in addition to colonialism intentionally establishing certain ethnicities’ dominance through favoritism, it also unknowingly set up a hierarchy of states when it drew their borders.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,