The World to Come


A young immigrant child in Orlando,
I came to the Far West from the Persian Gulf,,
To the Gulf from the Levant,
and to the Levant from the highlands of Armenia.
Now, here I am,
In the strong hold of modern imperium, America,
Seeking my own freedom,
from the dual extremes of ignorance,
and the societal pressure against solitude.
Music, art and philosophy are my realms of expression,
and sustenance.
I offer excellence to you,
and pray for justice.

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Does Democracy Hurt the Arabs?


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We long for an Arab glory that has not existed for some time. We have been swept under the rug by nouveau riche politicians and faux-pas muslims trafficking in our religion. Institutional madness has convinced our people that western customs are our own. What happened? Aside from military domination, we have lost our unity, as an Arab people.

If we regard the Arab nation as one – not necessarily ignoring cultural and linguistic distinctions or political borders but, at least, in terms of political, social and economic unity – then we can argue that Israel is an apartheid state in the Arab World.

Furthermore, the Arabs are a linguistic group. This makes them less ideological or religious in political nature than the Israelis. But since the establishment of Israel and subsequent post-colonial occupations of the Middle East and Arab World by foreign powers, namely the US, violence and extremism have become the norm.

Discrimination in Israel against Palestinians and Arabs is evident too.

The arbitrary creation of Israel, violating Arab self-determination and sovereignty, must be considered the root cause of instability and extremism in the region.

Israel’s creation was a mere continuation of European colonialism. How can we discuss a “democratic” Israel which suppresses not only Arab Jews and Palestinians in the remaining territories, but a country built out of ignorance of Arab self-determination. The disaster created by WWII certainly posed a dilemma for Jews, but do two wrongs make a right?

American incursions in the ME are too continuations of the relentless superiority complex of the West in global politics. Unable to contain itself, western democracy is spreading its tentacles around the globe.

Democracy works in the West. It doesn’t in the Far or Near (Middle) East. That’s due to culture. It doesn’t imply democracy is wrong, but rather it is not absolute or universal. In other words, neoconservatism is defunct. Democracy must contain expansive ambitions otherwise it can function as an imperial agent.

What we must recognize is the following. Democracy won’t solve the Middle East as much as has yet to solve the problem for minorities in the West. We assume two things, that democracy is superior, and that it is applicable to the Middle East, and that the Arab World needs democracy to solve its instability. On the contrary, the legacy of democracy is an entrenched colonialism. The Arab World is struggling for unity against foreign interventionism. It, the Arab nation, must set aside its religious differences, at least for the sake of preserving peace. Borders and customs must be respected, but the Arab nation must be united in the face of foreign hegemonies claiming we need them or their policing.

That goes for America and Israel.

An Interview with Adonis


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This is an excerpt of a recent interview with Syrian-exiled poet Adonis taken from the New York Review of Books.

The renaissance needs time. Our society, during the fifteen centuries since the foundation of the first Islamic state, has not been able to establish a society of citizens. With a citizen’s duties come rights. Until now, Arab societies are formed of individuals who carry out the same duties but have different rights: the Christian does not have the same rights as the Muslim, for instance. Fifteen centuries. How can we solve fifteen centuries in a week or two, a month or two? But I trust that the time will come, but outside this context.

The problems that Europe experienced were overcome by the establishment of new societies, completely separate from religion and the church. In the Middle Ages, the ecclesiastical courts were just like the jihadists today. They killed people and burned them. But the West succeeded in separating church from state, and created modern societies. We are still in this stage. And if the West was successful in this separation then there is no reason to prevent the Arabs from separating [the two] as well. We are struggling for this separation. We will do it despite everything and despite Western politicians as well, because Western politicians unfortunately despise Arabs, and despise Arab regimes. Despise. [The West] uses these regimes as tools to execute its plans.

(Interviewer) What then is the future of Arab culture in—

I told you, as long as death and love are there, art will remain. Don’t worry. The readers are fewer, but that’s okay. Nietzsche, the agitator of modern thought, was not published [in his time]. No one knew him. This is the destiny of art, always. Many get published and sell millions, but their books belong in the trash.

— Adonis [April 16, 2016, 10:00 am]

Orientalism in America – My experiences with American Academia


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My experiences with American academia have coalesced into quite a journey, full of both order & tumult.

But the point of me writing this entry is to focus on what I have come to discover as an unrelenting, institutionalized dogma which pervades the American academic culture, and discourages intellectualism, non-conformity and originality.

This is because academics seem to fear student freedom.

I’ve had my ideas shot down by esteemed professors, albeit in the South good professors are scarce – simply because they did not sit well with the perspective of the professor.

Other professors would commend and encourage the same exact research project shunned by others.

Furthermore I discovered how even American capitalism has infiltrated the academic system which is supposed to be public – with emphasis not on quality education, but rather, on profit motive.

But this culture is America’s and the West’s. Call it “Capitalism, Democracy, Liberalism, Protestantism, Christianity,” whatever

The political culture is backwards here, with many elements of morality being only nominal, applied to the privileged, mainly white, few.

I reject this phenomenon both as an Arab & English speaking, Syrian-Armenian immigrant and as a first-generation American.

In every sense, both academic, musical, in both my individual and collective spheres, morality, free will, and the anomaly that is human nature will triumph over any rationalized, dogmatic system that reduces universal principles to devious political schemes.

I am grateful that I have been able to, by some miracle, attend an institute of higher education, considering that I am still, after 20 years of residence in the state of Florida, still considered a temporary alien, without any permanent status in the US. Never mind the indignation, political, economic and social hardship this has created for me and my family – and millions upon millions of others who are in worse shape – the problem of “nominal justice” or “privileged justice” exists as much in third world countries, authoritarian regimes, as it does in America, where only 40 years ago, African-Americans could not vote.

Let us be frank with ourselves. Before we point our fingers elsewhere, let us look at ourselves in the mirror. Let us lead by example, if indeed, we wish to remain leaders of the world.

 

Book Review – Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics & The Great Games by Eric Walberg


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Walberg, Eric. Postmodern imperialism: geopolitics and the great games. SCB Distributors, 2011.

Recent history has introduced a period of heightened military conflicts, uprisings and contentions. This has resulted in many shifts in global patterns. Competitiveness between empires has intensified and further complicated the quest for understanding the global political dynamic. In his book, Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics & the Great Games, author Eric Wahlberg seeks to clear the air. The author’s main premise is to illustrate the shift from a bi-polar global dynamic, once dominated by the US on one end and the Soviet Union on the other, to a unipolar world, where the US is largely uncontested in its position as the global hegemony. Proxy wars, insurgent movements and radical militants have filled this void, which, as the author argues, has pinned the US and its main ally against anti colonial movements, Israel, against a loosely defined cooperative of movements and states, as well as a ambiguous enemy – the terrorist.

The author presents a historical backdrop from which he draws his assertions. This stretches from the earliest expression of the Great Games to their modern manifestations, as the Wars on Terror, and the neoconservative crusade for democracy. The consequence is increased exploitation of resources and the rise of untraceable insurgent networks that target their national governments as much as western societies. The double-dealings and inconsistencies of the West are evident here, which taints the reputation of western civilization. This is underscored by the author’s sympathies with the anti-capitalistic Soviet philosophical foundation.

The book is divided into five segments, organized chronologically, in which the author elaborates on the historical backdrop of the Great Game dynamic which has led to the current landscape. Wahlberg begins with the 19th century onset of the great games as played out between the British and Russian empires, followed by the communist revolution, WWII, the Cold War and the post 9/11 era. The author focuses on the British tactic of pinning forces against each other, a strategy which has been arguably adopted by the US in modern times, evidenced by its double-dealings with authoritarians and the radical insurgent movements threatening to depose them.

The three major sections in the book are categorized as GG I, II and III. GG stands for Great Games, and each numeric represents a period in time, in respective chronological order, beginning with the games as they panned out in the early 19th century, onto the WWII period, and finally, to GGIII, the post-cold war era. GGI refers to imperialism that took place during the nineteenth century until WWII. GGII covers the Cold War in which the two global superpowers, the USA and the USSR, competed for global influence.  GGIII is focused on the post-Cold War era beginning in 1989 to the present. Imperialism cannot be discussed without dissecting the role of the British Empire, a main focus of the author throughout the book. The British assumed hegemonic power by constructing a global economic network which would serve the interests of the core to the misfortune of the periphery, and where diplomacy failed, the use of military power was utilized.  The key focus of the book is the Middle East and Central Asia, “the heart of Eurasia”. It has been argued that the Eurasian heartland is a key geographic location; in other words, he who that controls the heartland controls the world.

The author suggests that in modern times, Islamic movements have replaced communism as the new anti-imperial force. The two primary agents of imperialism, argues Wahlberg, is an alliance between the US and Israel. The war on Iraq, and subsequent interventions in Libya and Egypt, are expressions of this new imperialism, and perhaps fall right into the hands of the main players in the global Great Games. The author suggests increasing tensions and growing insurgencies as a direct result of a stubborn imperial alliance between the US & Israel. Rising tensions in the Middle East and the growth of radical Islam in Central Asia are indicators of this reality. The US’ inconsistent foreign policy will only further retaliatory measures. The players of the great game must decide once and for all what is of greater priority; playing a fair game, or winning.

The Seeds Were Sewn: Democracy & Terror in the Middle East


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Democracy & Terror in The Middle East

Danny Krikorian

Abstract

The aim of this research analysis is to determine whether or not levels of democratic process influence political violence in the form of Islamic extremism within the context of Middle Eastern countries. The overall findings suggest that the relationship between reduced violence, that is, stability, and political freedom is weak. Even countries with higher levels of political freedom, like Lebanon, Tunisia, Israel and Iraq exhibit high levels of terrorism. The notion that democracy is universal, that it brings stability, comes into question here. The presumption that authoritarianism breeds fundamentalism, alone, ignores the data provided, which is contradictory to the general belief that democracy induces stability and discourages violence. Furthermore, it implies that US foreign policy initiatives aimed at “democratizing” the West are more elusive than perhaps believed.

Introduction

Since the end of World War I, the break-up of the Ottoman empire, and the subsequent partitioning of the Middle Eastern territories among world powers, the Arab World has yet to see peace. In fact, an unprecedented century of instability has almost become a de facto part of the Middle Eastern social fabric. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the 21st century thus cannot be understood without looking into these types of historical contexts as well as the political realities of today which have led up the current dynamic in the Middle East. It appears, with further research, that the relationship between the forces of colonialism, poverty, autocracy and political violence is rather intimate (Dalacoura 2005).

The aim of this research analysis is to determine whether or not levels of democratic process influences political violence in the form of Islamic extremism within the context of Middle Eastern countries. Since there is no universally accepted definition of democracy, I will use one particular indicator, political freedom. Generally, indexes use variables such as press freedom, political competitiveness and economic liberalization as indicators of political freedom. In this case, the independent variable is political freedom, measured by the Economic Intelligence Unit, based in the UK. The dependent variable is terrorism, as measured by the Global Terrorism Index, gathered by Visions of Humanity which is part of the Institute for Economics and Peace, based in Sydney, Australia.

Conventional wisdom within western scholarly circles would offer the general hypothesis that nations with lower levels of political freedom are likely to experience higher rates of terrorism (Dalacoura 2005). The logic behind this hypothesis is that citizens are likely to resort to violent means of insurrection as a reaction to the government’s repressiveness. The research shows however that because terrorism is actually higher in countries with greater political freedoms, such as Lebanon and Tunisia, other variables might play a role, such as culture, religion, economics and geopolitics. When put to the test, this hypothesis appears weak, as indicated in the following section.

The research is divided into five segments starting with the introduction, which includes background information about the region and its relationship with terrorism and democracy; second is the literature review in which I will analyze the current conversation; followed by a data and methods section which will explain the quantitative measurements used to test the hypothesis; fourth, I will discuss the shortcomings and potential weaknesses of this research design; finally, I will leave readers with a conclusion regarding the future of the region and the overall theoretical and policy implications of this research.

Literature Review – Democracy & Terrorism in the Middle East

The scholarly literature surrounding this particular topic of Middle Eastern stability and the region’s political relationship with the outside world (namely global hegemonies like the United States, European Union, Russia and China) offers two overall explanations for rising tensions in the region as well as conflicts between political actors from the region with the rest of the world.

The first emanates from Samuel Huntington’s (1996) book “Clash of Civilizations” in which the pervading theory explaining the cause of conflict between the West and the Middle East is rooted in a “clash of civilizations”; a certain cultural rift, driven mainly by religious conviction.

The second is more empirically oriented, and attributes underdevelopment in the Middle East to environmental or biological predispositions, rendering the region less viable for growth, stability and peace, therein warranting the need for foreign intervention and “occupational development” (Diamond).

Since the democratic experiments of Iraq and Libya have produced contradictory results, it has encouraged me to contribute a third opinion. This opinion considers factors overlooked by the aforementioned theories, such as colonialism (exploitation by foreign powers), the presence of immense natural resources in the region, and possibly most important, cultural relativism. These factors have perhaps largely contributed to the region’s volatility and vulnerability to greed, corruption and instability.

This research aims to fill a particular void in the scholarly debate surrounding the US-Middle East relationship. Its aim is to answer the question of whether or not the undemocratic structure of political institutions in the Middle East are a primary source of instability, poverty and political violence in the region. It forces analysts to consider external political actors that exploit resources, conflicts and cultural sensitivities in the region to their advantage. This “colonial” tactic often manifests in the autocratic tradition itself, silencing critics, banning opposition, bribing officials and major income disparities between rich and poor (Dalacoura). But global powers are complicit too, in this regard, often double-dealing with the non-democratic tyrants they so adamantly oppose (Kleveman 2003).

Much of the political violence conducted by Islamic fundamentalist groups against Western countries is actually aimed at exposing the complicity of Western governments in propping up dictators to the constituencies of Western countries, where democratic process makes injustice more difficult to cover-up. This practice is known as “propaganda by the deed” (Chaliand and Blin 2007). Further scholarly research suggests that the major grievances of national populations are not religious, they are socio-economic (Rashid 2002). The rise of social media in the 21st century has made it difficult for Western governments to hide their double-dealings (Chaliand and Blin 2007). Fundamentalism is fomenting at a more rapid race than ever in the Middle East, and poverty is worsening (Wilson 1995). Leaders are growing more weary that the effects of the “Arab Spring” might spill-over into their countries. Desperate attempts to alleviate their populations have been pursued. But these seem to only buy time. In this paper, I argue that in order for Western countries to genuinely reduce the threat of political violence, they must end their inconsistency in foreign policy, which has them picking and choosing between autocrats. This could threaten some the West’s most valuable allies, who have a lot of leverage on US politics: Israel & Saudi Arabia (Kleveman 2003).

While the Middle East remains largely impoverished, elites in these two countries, to name a few, enjoy the spoils of a cult-of-personality-owned economy (Yom). The issue of colonialism and autocracy plague the region, but before the West ends its double-standard, instability, poverty and violence will continue to rise, narrowing the window of opportunity for democratic reform and peaceful transition (Dalacoura 2005). This means that autocrats will have to suspend their franchise over the political and economic process; allowing for national competitiveness. I argue that this will increase government authenticity, popular trust and will therein reduce both the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, as well as its appeal to those once impoverished and disenfranchised populations of the Middle East. Only then will the so-called threat of “Islamic-Jihad” be distinguished from the genuine popular struggle against injustice and autocracy in the Middle East (Rashid 2006). Only then will political violence cease to be more commonplace than the peace enjoyed in the West.

The literature varies on the intimate relationship between the forces of autocracy, poverty, colonialism, and political violence in the Middle East. That colonialism is responsible for income disparity in the region, is a point made by British journalist Patrick Seale in his infamous book on the Assad family’s leadership in Syria. The fomenting of Islamism, largely through the organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, is largely blamed on the constant influx of foreign financing to extremism forces in the region. Seale highlights that the Saudi Arabian autocratic monarchy is largely responsible for growth of extremism and political violence in the region (Seale 1990). In his research, Seal also suggests the possibility that a tight-grip on the political and economic fabrics of Syrian society by the Syrian government did nothing to help reduce national mistrust therein encouraging movements of insurgency. Such movements would prove to have dire consequences, with the regime’s bombing of a Muslim Brotherhood anti-government uprising in the city of Hama resulting in the deaths of nearly 20,000 men, women and children (Seale 1990). The majority of extremism in Central Asia, also a predominantly Muslim region, has been tied to the socio-political fabric of Saudi society, which is largely propped up by an extreme brand of Islam: Wahhabism (Kleveman 2003) Considering the closeness with which Saudi Arabia maintains its relationship with the West, it deems Western demands for democratic reform in the region almost hypocritical (Dalacoura 2005).

Samuel Huntington isn’t the only scholar offering the “Clash of Civilizations” perspective. Military-history scholar Caleb Carr also suggests this perspective, that Islam, as a political ideology, is incompatible with components necessary for Western-style democracy. He goes further to justify military campaigns against the Muslim world in order to prevent threats against the democratic order of the world (Carr 2002). In All the Shah’s Men, Steven Kinzer contradicts this view by explaining how constant efforts by western democracies, namely the US and the UK, to infiltrate the national sovereignties of predominantly Islamic nations, usually for the sake of securing economic interests, results in reactionary movements against the West, fueled more often that not by Islamic sensationalism, and eventually “sowing the seeds of Middle Eastern terror”, so to speak. (Kinzer 2008).

Research provided by The Heritage Foundation in their 2015 Index on Economic Freedom indicates high levels of corruption, and low levels of mobility in the economies of Middle Eastern countries. Since research indicates that a vast majority of Islamic fundamentalism is exported from the Gulf region, it leads to ask whether or not the these income disparities between fuel the culture of radicalization, relative to the variable of democracy. “Scores in the Middle East for business freedom — the lack of which, the editors note, helped ignite the “Arab Spring” protests — declined for 11 of the 18 countries in the region (three of which are not graded in the 2015 Index due to ongoing violence and unrest)” (Miller, Terry & Kim 2015). This could suggest that economic inequality plays an equal if not more important role than political institutions in influencing the threat of terrorism.

Data & Methods

To indicate the relationship between terrorism and political freedom, two tables were retrieved from two western Non-governmental Organizations dedicated to analyzing levels of democracy and terrorism. Each table measures the respective variable according to its own scale. Conveniently in this case, both indexes used a scale of 1-10. The Global Terrorism Index provided by the Institute for Economics and Peace, ranks countries in their vulnerability to terrorism from 1-10. The Political Freedom Index also measures the independent variable, political freedom, on a  scale from 1-10. Based on the assumption and hypothesis that more political freedom results in less terrorism, the trend should follow a negative linear regression, with a downward slope.  The research indicates that the hypothesis is in fact weak; that democracy is a stabilizing force in the Middle East may be presumptuous. Libya’s GTI score rose from zero to six since the overthrow of Gaddafi. The hypothesis originally suggested that the relationship between democracy and terrorism is negative, that the more democratic a nation, the less terrorism it will exhibit. The data retrieved from the indexes suggests what could be the exact opposite; that democracy enables terrorism in the Middle East, or that it simply does not ensure stability. This blurs the prospects for democracy in the region. It furthermore forces us to consider other variables that might challenge the universalist tendency of democratic theory which is so prevalent in the political conversation today. Variables such as geography, cultural relativism, and religion must be taken into account when determine the forces of conflict and instability within a region. In the appendix I have included an aggregation of the data gathered from the two aforementioned indexes regarding political freedom & terrorism in Middle Eastern countries.

The idea that natural resource endowment is responsible for low levels of democracy is not uncommon (Mehlin, Morne & Torvik 2002). This is known as the resource curse. While Saudi Arabia possesses the world’s largest oil reserves as well as high levels of authoritarianism, relative to its neighbors, the kingdom exhibits low levels of terrorism (Institute for Economics and Peace). Furthermore, countries like Syria, Jordan & Egypt possess an insignificant amount of oil relative to Saudi Arabia and the global market at large, yet these three countries exhibit some of the lowest levels of democracy and the highest levels of terrorism in the entire region (Institute for Economics and Peace).

A particular finding that stood out in the research is that, while Jordan, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Qatar and Morocco all exhibit a relatively equal level of political freedom, there is a huge discrepancy in the level of terrorist attacks in each country.

To control for cultural relativity, Indonesia and Turkey, both predominantly Islamic countries with democratic political structures were included in the table. Indonesia perhaps poses the greatest support for the hypothesis, because it exhibits the one of the lowest levels of terrorism among the countries as well as one of the highest levels of political freedom. On the other hand, Turkey, which is enjoys a relatively heathy level of political freedom and democracy, exhibits terrorist attacks at the same rate as Egypt. This challenges the hypothesis.

Weaknesses

The complexity of this research’s subject matter, the Middle East, is perhaps the most noticeable detriment to the strengths of this research. In other words, the influence of a variety of other potential variables, such as cultural relativism and colonialism are difficult to account for, whereas variables such as natural resource endowment may easier to control for. Another weakness of this article is that it focuses only on Middle Eastern countries, despite the fact that a lot of religious terrorism comes from other regions of the world, regions that exhibit similar conditions of authoritarianism and natural resource endowment, like Central & Southeast Asia.

All of the Middle Eastern nations are young, having only gained independence within the last century. This makes it difficult to pass long-lasting judgments regarding the prospects of democracy in the region.

Despite the empirical limitations intrinsic in this type of analysis, as well as the absence of empirical research on the subject especially in the Middle East, it furthermore implies the ambiguities of the findings.

Another major weakness of the research is that only 12 of the 22 countries in the Middle East were assessed due to difficulties that arise in retrieving reliable information from a region as contentious as it is.

Conclusion

The original hypothesis, that political freedom reduces violence and stability, is perhaps not absolute. The literature as well as the data provided have together displayed how in some cases, terrorism has in fact increased where democracy has been most prevalent in the Middle East. Furthermore, the inconsistency in the foreign policy of western democracies has made democracy less appealing, and credible to the Middle Eastern community (Dalacoura 2005). There are many questions that can be raised about democracy itself. Why is the United States, the beacon of western democracy, increasingly entangled in the affairs of authoritarian regimes? And how complicit is western negligencee towards the realities of the region in the rise of terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda and Da’esh. Since the tragedy of 9/11, the US has embarked on a dual mission of spreading democracy and containing the threat of Islamic radicalism, but these two initiatives often run counter to one another (Dalacoura 2005). The U.S. invasion of Iraq, as well as the NATO-led overthrow of Gaddafi, have had dire consequences on the region’s stability. That Libya has transitioned from a GTI score of zero to six since 2006 is telling of the future of the Middle East as it grapples with democracy. The overall research suggest that the relationship between reduced violence, that is, stability, and political freedom is weak. Even countries with higher levels of political freedom, like Lebanon, Israel & Iraq exhibit the highest levels of terrorism. The notion that democracy is universal, that it brings stability, is being challenged by these findings. There are many other factors that can be attributed to the volatility of the region and the rise in terrorist activity, such as oil politics, geopolitics, and cultural relativism. Nonetheless, the presumption that authoritarianism breeds fundamentalism, alone, is premature.

Whether or not democracy is universal is a matter of theory. But what is fact, is that western democracies have preferred cooperation with authoritarianism over democracy where it is deemed convenient (Yom 2011). The opposite is true, that western democracies, namely the United States, will promote extreme pressures for democratic reform where it is convenient. The irony is that in the cases where democracy is encouraged, the United States has managed to maintain a permanent military presence. Furthermore, these regions, like Iraq for example, exhibit the highest rates of terrorism in the region — in the world for that matter (Institute for Economics and Peace). Perhaps this explains why Middle Eastern attitudes towards democracy have remained negative (Tessler 2002).

Terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism are on the rise in the Middle East (Rashid 2006). Democracy perhaps isn’t the best force against radicalization. This is evidenced by the current instability in Iraq, Syria & Libya. Even Russia has responded to the threat of radicalism by propping up its anti-democratic authoritarian allies in the region, such as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Perhaps this suggests that democracy is culturally relative — that is, not all societies are compatible with democratic institutions. What this means for the future is increased instability and heightened tensions between various forces in the Middle East, in what appears to be the formation of a dichotomy between pro-western and anti-western political factions. It could also increase the overall threats to international security emanating from radical Islamic movements. This could threaten America’s economic interests, and affect the global economy.

If the West wishes to avert this, perhaps it would be best to reserve democracy for itself, instead of trying to desperately spread it abroad. It is as if the West cannot decide for itself what is of greater value; oil or principle. The longer it waits to decide, the greater the threat terrorism may become, to democracy, stability and global peace.

References

Blin, Arnuad & Chaliand, Gerrard. 2007. The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to Al Qaeda.    University of California Press.

Carr, Caleb. 2002. The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare against Civilians : Why It Has Always Failed and Why It Will Fail Again. New York: Random House.

Dalacoura, Katerina. 2005. U.S. democracy promotion in the Arab Middle East since 11 September 2001: a critique. International Affairs. Vol. 81. 963-979.

Huntington, Samuel P. 1996. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Kinzer, Stephen. 2008. All the Shah’s Men: An American-Coup & the Roots of Middle Eastern Terror. John, Wiley & Sons, Inc. New Jersey.

Kleveman, Lutz. The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003.

Martin, Gus. 2003. Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives, and Issues. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Mehlum, Moene & Torvik. 2002. Institutions & the Resource Curse. The Economic Journal. 1-20.

Miller, Terry & Kim, Anthony. 2015 Index: Economic Freedom Rises Slightly in Middle East/North Africa. http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2015/01/middle-east-north-africa. (2015).

Rashid, Ahmed. Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.

Seale, Patrick. 1990. Assad: The Struggle for the Middle East. University of California Press.

Tessler, Mark. 2002. Islam and Democracy in the Middle East. Comparative Politics, Vol. 34. No. 3. 377-354.

Wilson, Rodney. 1995. Economic Development in the Middle East. Routledge.

Yom, Sean. 2011. Authoritarian State Building in the Middle East. Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law. Stanford University. 121.

Index References

Global Terrorism Index. 2015. Visions of Humanity. Institute for Economics and Peace. Australia.

Political Freedom Index. 2015. Economic Intelligence Unit. The Economist. London.

 

 

Salih, K.O. “Underlying Causes Of Violence In The Middle East.” Digest Of Middle East Studies 1 (2007): 58. Academic OneFile. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.

Vick, Karl, and Rami Nazzal. “Violence Beats Politics As A Third Intifadeh Looms In Israel.” Time 186.17 (2015): 9-10. Academic Search Premier. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.

Hirst, David. The gun and the olive branch: the roots of violence in the Middle East. Nation Books, 2003.

Does Foreign Aid Perpetuate Terrorism?


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The purpose of this article is to analyze the strengths, weaknesses as well as the overall implications of five separate research studies on the subject of foreign aid and its relationship to politics development. The general tendency based on the research suggests that foreign aid has a negative relationship with development, that is, the more foreign aid a country receives, the less likely they are to enact the reforms conducive to development. While there are some exceptions. It is argued that countries with effective financial management that receive large sums foreign aid are likely to exhibit stability and at least some levels of development and redistribution.

The body of this paper will be separated into five sections in which I summarize the main points of each article as well as the potential weaknesses of the research. After this segment, I follow up with a section about the theoretical and policy implications of these findings, and what this could mean for the world today, as well as in the future.

In Moss, Peterson and Walle’s article, the hypothesis is that large sustained aid flows fundamentally alter the relationship between citizenry and the government. The financial flow alters the incentive of the recipient government, and may undercut the very principles the aid seeks to promote: ownership, accountability and participation. States that raise a substantial amount of revenue from the international community are less inclined to usher reform or to cultivate public institutions, having a harmful effect on institutional development. The focus of this research is specifically on Sub-Saharan Africa. As the author’s cross-sectional time series indicates, countries that receive higher levels of foreign aid exhibit lower tax shares as percent of their GDP, meaning there is less incentive to invest in and cultivate public institutions when a significant percentage of the GNI is received in foreign aid. In sum, the literature and research suggest a negative relationship between foreign aid and political development. Perhaps the greatest weakness of this research is that it covers only a period of 17 years, making it more difficult to make far-reaching conclusions regarding the data. Furthermore, the authors could control for natural resource endowment as well as cultural relativity by considering the same measurements for non-African states with lower incomes. It would also be interesting to measure the the effect of foreign aid on countries with high levels of income per capita, which could help further contextualize the data on lower income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Svenssons’s research in “Foreign Aid and Rent-Seeking” is rather interesting as it makes strong claims. Among other findings, Svensson argues that donors countries do not discriminate based on corruption levels, which means that foreign aid is given despite how corrupt the recipient may be. Svensson also finds that only in cases where a binding policy commitment is enacted can there be expected to be an increase in public spending. However, the data indicates that in most cases foreign aid perpetuates rent-seeking and reduces public spending. Furthermore, the data suggests that countries with competing social groups are likely to exhibit fluctuations in foreign aid. The research method was rather reliable, in that intervening variables such as infant mortality rate and arms imports so as to isolate the effects of foreign aid from the health and military dynamics of the subject states. Svens son’s control for ethnicity exposed the relative weakness of the coefficients of other variables, such as trade restrictions and protection from the international community. Of the four assumptions listed by the author, two particularly stood out. First, the assumption that that the larger the budget, the more likely a government is going to be corrupt. Perhaps stretching the boundaries of this study outside of Africa might provide a clearer indication of this assumption. What about countries with vast natural resource endowments? Are they less more or less likely to exhibit corruption? The second assumption that stood out was that donors at least partly care about the recipient’s welfare. The author suggests that much of the literature on this subject confirms the statement, however, I find it hard to believe that global hegemonies are more concerned with well-being of their recipients of foreign aid than perhaps the preservation of their own economic assets. Is it not surprising that countries which receive high levels of aid invest less in public institutions? Would this not be at the detriment of the recipient? That countries with tensions between social groups are likely to receive large swaths of foreign aid confirms this notion, in that global hegemonies are likely to provide aid if it secures their interests and prevents the threat of competing forces. How could this be regarded as “caring about the recipient’s welfare?” This leads directly into the next article.

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In their article “Aid, Policies & Growth”, the Burns & Dollar suggest foreign aid is often wielded as a tool for global hegemonies pursuing their own strategic interests. In other words, governments may receive aid — but not necessarily their people. Since the vast majority of countries that receive aid are underdeveloped or engulfed in conflict between competing social groups, the authors’ findings and assertions come as no surprise. How could it be assumed that donors care about their recipient’s well-being if the recipient state constantly receiving foreign aid is essentially in the hands of a small, political elite?  The research method is rather reliable as it includes a large sample size of 56 developing countries as well as wide-ranging time series covering two decades between 1970-1993. In terms of policy, the authors find that foreign aid has no effect in ensuring policy change, usually due to the donor’s lack of interest in policy-change. Rather, the donor is focused on its strategic interests. The positive outcome of foreign aid has been in the realm of income growth. How is it possible that state policy remains unaffected while incomes rise? Perhaps a common thread among the recipient states is a lack of natural resource endowment, making them more dependent on foreign aid. What could be said about the universality of democratic political development given that incomes rise despite a lack of institutional reform? That the budget for foreign aid is shrinking while policies tend to improve in poor countries, there is reason to believe there is a negative correlation between foreign aid and institutional development.

In their article, Easterly, Revise and Roodman seek to debunk some of the claims made by the previous article. The authors argue that the idea that foreign aid results in positive growth in countries with good financial management presumes that foreign aid causes growth and that countries with good policies should be the target of foreign aid donors. Their belief is that such conclusions were reached due to limited data availability.

The most crucial element of the data is in the time-series. By extending the period of analysis to from 1993 to 1997, the authors reduced confidence in the assertion that foreign aid causes growth. This is a significant finding as it parallels my concerns regarding the contexts of the research method. Furthermore, this study illuminates the dangers of presumptuous research methods in that minor alterations to the study produced completely different results, challenging previous literature.

In his article on the influence of non-tax revenue on political development and regime security, author Kevin Morrison illustrates that revenue accrued by governments from non-taxable revenues like from oil or foreign aid essentially secure regimes and their grasp on power. This in turn reduces the incentive for reform and public investment. The reliability of the data is quite strong, given that the time series stretches from 1973-1999. I wonder still, given that in the previous study where only three years were added therein altering the findings, if perhaps adding a few more years to this study would have the same effect. That 80 countries were tested, a relatively large sample size, is another indication of the strength of this research method. While the authors generally tend to control for the more common variable of ethnicity and natural resource endowment, perhaps controlling for other variables might affect the outcome of the study, variables such as religious homogeneity, security threats, cultural relativity and historical evolution. How do we know that the religious dynamic, or the threat of religious militants, or perhaps the mere cultural differences of a region are not responsible for the level of redistribution and political development within a respective country?

The common thread among these articles is that there is a negative relationship between foreign aid and political development. That is, the more foreign aid a government receives, the less likely it is to implement the changes that foreign aid was intended to induce. For the most part the research methods were rather reliable, however contextualizing the data by measuring it against non-African states, as well as broadening the time-series spectrum, could provided more accurate indications of the relationship between foreign aid and development. While there are some cases of incomes rising as a result of foreign aid, generally, as indicated in “Aid, Policies and Growth”, as the global budget for foreign aid shrinks, better policies continue to blossom in poor countries where foreign aid may have once paralyzed institutional development and public investment. Further studies indicate that rises in growth via income are poor indicators of the positive impact of foreign aid on political development, especially when the research covers a more broad time-series. Perhaps future studies could focus on trying to gather data that covers a wider time range. Furthermore, researchers could create ways to control for the aforementioned variables of religious homogeneity, stability (via the stability index), terrorist threats and cultural relativity.

The implications of these findings are far-reaching. They suggest that the motives of foreign aid donors have been rather inconsistent with their principles, and that they have in fact perpetuated corruption. It is not surprising that global hegemonies seek their own strategic interests. What is more surprising is the threats to international security this dynamic could cause. As donors funnel foreign aid to authoritarian regimes, especially those that govern countries with tensions between social groups, it forces analysts to wonder whether there is a correlation between these provisions, which prop up and support oppressive and divisive regimes, and the rise of insurgent military movements in the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries.

Perhaps looking at countries on a case by case could show other country specific qualities such as resource endowment, geography, economics, culture, and history. These are more qualitative in nature, underscoring my emphasis on the presence of prejudgments in the scholarly tradition.

A 3:2 ratio that long prevailed in the overall levels of U.S. aid to Israel and Egypt was applied to the reduction in economic aid ($60 million reduction for Israel and $40 million reduction for Egypt), but Egypt did not receive an increase in military assistance. Thus, Congress reduced ESF aid to Egypt from $815 million in FY1998 to $411 million in FY2008 (Sharp 2015).