Monday, July 13, 2009

Some catch-up

Yes, I'm a little behind on World on Fire, sorry. I'm switching to Friday, since hopefully that will make updating a bit easier. In the meantime, however, I'll go through with a mini-post on one of the earlier passages in the book that caught my eye. Jumping in,

For globalization enthusiasts, the cure for group hatred and ethnic violence around the world is straightforward: more markets and more democracy. (9)
I wouldn't consider myself a globalization enthusiast, especially given my opinions on protectionism, but I really can't see what she's trying to say here - it seems almost universally accepted that true democratic representation is a key component in reducing terrorism and violent extremism. For example, Islamism, a popular example of both, has thrived in the least democratic areas of the Muslim world, and has only seen stunted growth in more democratic areas. Where there is some level of democratic representation, as in Morocco or Turkey or the United Arab Emirates, a lengthy battles continues between the democracy and the Islamist forces. This goes further than correlations, as countless politicians from that region have remarked on how the rule of secular, pro-Western despots have steadily radicalized the population, often making them vulnerable to Islamist revolutionaries. As Benazir Bhutto once said, she found herself stonewalled in trying to expand educational and economic opportunities in Pakistan, often by the remains of the dictatorship or the grounds on which the later dictatorial governments were built. Nonetheless, she wanted aid to reach the poor through the semi-secular government without coming through a mosque, which in many cases bred a religiously-defined identity, which first stoked sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni populations, precisely what Chua claims to want to prevent through lesser democracy - what stunted the necessary aid in the first place.

Alternatively, the statement about markets, on the other hand, seems nonsensical. More markets? Does that mean more goods and more products or more exchanges and more buyers? What are we talking about here? Globalization advocates clearly favor opened markets, a lack of national trade barriers, and other means to restructuring markets, not increasing their size (whatever that translates to). Nonetheless, globalization is only one of several alleged solutions to promoting economic as well as political equality; what of us anti-globalization advocates? To put it simply, we try to point out that the correlation of extremism and anti-democratic oppression is dwarfed by a triple correlation between extremism, lack or deficiency of democracy, and poverty. Yet, apparently we neither matter nor exist for Chua, who only describes a pro-globalization position:

Thus after September 11 attacks, Friedman published an op-ed piece pointing to India and Bangladesh as good "role models" for the Middle East and arguing that the solution to terrorism and militant Islam is: "Hello? Hello? There's a message here. It's democracy, stupid!" -- "[m]ulti-ethnic, pluralistic, free market democracy." (9)
I'm just surprised there's any one who takes Thomas Friedman (or for that matter Globalization) seriously. Even stranger though, is that Chua seems to present this as the only alternative to her muddy position, despite the fact that she's characterized this Friedman alternative as consisting of multiple political opinions - pro-democracy, pro-"free market", and pro-Globalization - without discussing alternatives to the alternative that can switch off one or two of those opinions.

At first she seems to lay down a comparatively reasonable conclusion:
Because markets and democracy benefit different ethnic groups in such societies, the pursuit of free market democracy produces highly unstable and combustible conditions. (9)
I'm unclear on how democracy fits into this. Dictatorships actually destabilize countries, often because they pit different ethnic groups against each other with the intention of dividing and conquering. More fundamentally, dictatorships often pit patriotism against rationality, love of country against love of equality and freedom. It's quite difficult for patriotism to stand in the face of outright political violence of that sort, and so, again returning to theoretical impacts, fanaticism on ethnic identity is often a necessary basis for a patriotism strong enough to withstand human decency. We can see this in Sri Lanka, in a situation quite similar to Amy Chua's, but in one regard. The Sinhalese majority attacked the politically and economically influential Tamil minority in a ruthless manner, targeting, in an eery way reminiscent of Rwanda, Sinhalese moderates who opposed the massacre of their compatriots. The only difference? The Sri Lankan government was a transparently failing democracy, not a state keeping up the appearance of democracy despite clear violations of minorities' rights and even basic rule of law. Chua has given some arguments explaining why a "free market" (again carefully examine what that term even means) can be a necessary component to extreme ethnic competition, but nothing concerning democracy, and now she should deal with an obvious counterexample that precisely what she wants to discuss can occur without democratic assistance.

Yet Chua seems unconcerned with whether addressing this, instead continuing and letting a thin piece of her actual opinions peek through:
Markets concentrate enormous wealth in the hands of an "outsider" minority, fomenting ethnic envy [...] (9)
Envy? Ignoring issues with mechanics, that we'll start with on Friday, wanting equality with a newly emerging upper class is envy? As others have said, wanting equality is justice if you're hungry but envy if you're well-fed. Chua had persisted on how unfairly the lower class Filipino servants of her family were treated, but in this moment she let her guard down and showed us her unmediated thoughts, and we saw how little concern she actually has for the situation of the poor. She clearly cares enough about something to write a book, and it's becoming increasingly clear that it's not the horror of the inequality, but maintaining the status quo.

Again, I think we're seeing all the reasons Chua shouldn't have written this book on parade, the most visible being her inability to separate herself from the issue and report on it objectively. Instead of picking apart the violent revolutions and finding a complex interaction of ethnicity and economics, and perhaps finding the ability to criticize her own community in addition to others - faulting both, the elites for their lack of empathy and the majorities for their ends-justify-the-means insanity within most of her examples. And her injection of democracy into it deserves some examination as well. But Chua seems determined on each and every page to look away and fault every one else (recall it was other members of her community, not her family, and especially not her than had supposedly provoked the nativist response) for the anger, sometimes justified anger, directed at her.

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