Thursday, July 24, 2008

Where not all citizens are equal...

Back in October, I was thinking of the different labels that fix as us part of the body of the nation or outsiders to this body. Today, I was reminded of these labels, albeit in a different context. Apparently, the Canadian government tries to keep a Canadian citizen away from Canada because he is on the US no-fly list.

Senior Canadian intelligence officials warned against allowing Abousfian Abdelrazik a Canadian citizen to return home from Sudan because it could upset the Bush administration, classified documents reveal. (Globe and Mail, July 24, 2008)

I have no idea who this guy is, why he's on the no-fly list. I'm not aware of his politics, nor do I know whether he has ties in Sudan. But I am interested in this idea that a government can keep a citizen out of the country. What is the relation between citizens and states? What is the relation between governments and citizens? And how is this relation in the context of imperialistic relations? What about accountability of the government - is it in front of the imperial power (and then the principles of the Westphalian order need to be requestioned) or in front of the citizens (as liberal democracy would have it)?

Of course, my own stereotypes kick in: I'm curious if this guy is indeed treated like this because he's a naturalized Canadian. Or even a first generation Canadian from immigrant parents. Whether he has ties with Sudan - and whether these ties are in any way part of the reason why this is happening to him.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Remember Ethnic Violence

The former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was finally caught and is being brought to justice for the ethnic-cleansing crimes in the violent wars in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. It took over 13 years to catch the guy, and they caught him in Belgrade. It makes you wonder though, with all this talk about how we are living in a surveillance society and how the Big Brother is always watching us...

Human Rights Watch: Bosnia: Karadzic Arrest a Blow Against Impunity. EU Should Push Now for Detention of Mladic

(New York, July 21, 2008) – The arrest of Radovan Karadzic, the former president of Republika Srpska, marks a major blow against impunity for the egregious crimes committed in the Balkans, Human Rights Watch said today. Karadzic is charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, including the massacre of up to 8,000 Bosnian men and boys after the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995.Despite the gravity of the alleged crimes, Karadzic was at liberty for 13 years after his initial indictment.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has twice indicted Karadzic on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. One indictment is for crimes committed in Srebrenica, where Bosnian Serb troops detained and executed thousands of men and boys. Eyewitnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch at the time described horror as the victims were lined up in front of mass graves and shot.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Technological utopianism

I had an epiphany the other day. I do wonder sometimes what's the use of being in the academia, of teaching those complicated theories that make my students sleep or the use of creating those complex researches that nobody -- besides you and your cohort of similarly indoctrinated peers -- makes any sense of. But every once in a while something happens and all the pieces of the puzzle finally fall in their place and you see it: those abstract theories and research become utterly important. Crucial. You see the power of their explanation. And it makes sense.

That's what happens to me the other night. I listened to an enthusiastic young man talking about how the Web 2.0 - or the new social software like this blog or Facebook - are changing the face of the world. About how they are constituting a new you, a new basis for economic activity, a new framework for our actions, thoughts and behavior. He was, of course, selling something: they all do, these enthusiastic young people who feel they got the future figured out (hey, I was one of them too!). Their energy is catchy, their vision is glaring.

But there's more to their story. Behind the optimism, there must be introspection. And we have to understand what is it that we do, and who gets to benefit from our deeds. In my case, I'm wondering how we build a technological vision of a social world which hides away the inequality, the oppressiveness, the divides. I wonder how technology is shaped by our values and visions, and how it comes to exclude, to tell us who we are or whom we should be. I remember a student saying that people are in Europe are technologically backward because they do not use Facebook. They only emailed, she said, and are not even doing this all day long... I wonder how come we do not see the economic interests behind these technologically driven visions. How come we buy into them and feel empowered, when we are becoming sources of profit - like the human bodies in the Matrix, providing energy for a society that develops at our expenses and in which we do not get to participate, but only to provide. I guess we need a new Marx, one immersed in the Web 2.0. lifeworld :)

Photo credits:

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Are You a Canadianist?

A friend asked me about the meaning of "Canadianist". I had never come across this word before, but it sounded familiar from the various discussions on the role of intellectuals in the process of drawing the boundaries of the nation. The word itself seems to refer to those intellectuals involved in studying various aspects of the Canadian culture. Google the word, and you'll find various academic groups gladly borrowing the label.

I remembered a discussion at an academic conference. I was attending the annual editorial meeting of an academic journal. I won't name it, but it's one of those beginning with the word "Canadian". One of the members of the editorial board was lamenting the fact that the journal doesn't feature enough "Canadian" research. Given my interest in nationalism, I asked her why necessarily "Canadian"; shouldn't an academic journal feature 'quality' research, 'critical' research, 'interesting' research? Why do we need to see research as 'Canadian'? And what would make it such? Would an American scholar working in Canada produce a Canadian research? ...

Scholars of nationalism have called this perspective 'methodological nationalism': formulating a research question from the premises of an existing national space. It doesn't matter if we do not agree on what defines this space - in fact, instead of noticing the impossibility of such a space, we take it for granted and dig into it. In the above mentioned discussion, the member of the editorial board dismissed my question arguing that the Canadian academic market is dominated by the American market. And this was the end of the discussion.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Defining Nationalism: Wayne Norman - Another Canadian Perspective?

I'm reading Wayne Norman's 2006 book Negotiating Nationalism. Nation Building, Federalism, and Secession in the Multinational State. My interest - as always - lies in exploring the various attempts to understand nationalism and propose alternatives to its presence in our lives. I find Norman's book going in the same direction as Will Kymlicka's work (not surprisingly, since the two seem to have been working together) - a pragmatic approach to propose, justify and ultimately legitimate liberal political action moving away from ethnic politics/ nationalist solutions. I'm still not sure how one can ultimately divorce the institution of the state from the idea of the nation - I'm not saying it cannot be done, but I find it hard to see how it could be done, given the legitimation a politician can achieve by appealing to national identity, but also given the fact that many of the state's symbols are engineered to connect to this national identity.

Norman's definition of what makes a discourse nationalist is useful: the grounds/ sentiments to which a discourse appeals, whether explicitly or not make it nationalist ("any political issue... can become imbued with nationalist meaning and value" p. 12). Norman offers the example of demands for administrative control of immigration on provincial levels in Canada: British Columbia's demands are not nationalist, he says, because they are justified by a pragmatic need to accommodate an influx of Chinese-speaking immigrants. Quebec's demands however are nationalist because they are justified by a desire to integrate immigrants into the French-speaking culture (a nationalist rationale, justified by the greater aim of preserving Quebecois identity).

However, even in British Columbia's case, we still talk of state/ province (locals, citizens, legitimate constituents) vs. immigrants. It is still a matter of territorial arrangements, where the unit of governance is local, representing the people within it. The newcomers come from somewhere else; they bring a challenge to the local, a challenge which has to be managed somehow. And the challenge is a different language/ culture.

Nevertheless, this is an interesting and appealing approach for scholars of nationalism. It clearly argues that it is not the issue at stake which is 'nationalist' , but the way in which this issue (be it unemployment or housing or immigration) is being approached. If approached from the perspective of building or maintaining the nation, then it is nationalist.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Technology as Progress

I did this class activity with my students the other day. We were talking about our own understandings of technology in our society, and I made them look at this photo of an Amish girl and read some of the comments people left on Flickr about it:

"It's like stepping back in time!"
"I can imagine the youngsters get bored though"
"We passed one teen-aged girl who was out mowing the weeds next to the road with a manual rotary push mower. She was bare foot and didn't look like she was enjoying the labor"
"Straight from the 19th century!"

I then asked them to think about the values and beliefs that we hold about technology and its role in society, and how those values inform the ways in which evaluate a society as being 'advanced', 'modern' and 'progressive'. As we started talking about it, I came to think about the many ways in which we create difference.

We are trained to see technology as convenience, as progress and as advancement. We do not question why that is the case, why we see things in this light. It seems to hard to argue that a society that is not technology-prone will survive - but what are our Darwinist assumptions at work here? Why do we always start from the assumption that life is survival, struggle - is it something we observe in nature?

Or is it something that our Western worldview prompts us to observe? We tend to dismiss cultures centered on a harmonious communion with nature. In The Western culture, we see struggle, we strive to control nature. Conflict is central to our view of the world. But to what extent this is just a way of selecting our focus on the world?

Photo credits: Sleestak66
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