“Leadership is Female, Is African, Is Muslim Women”

Tisch College is thrilled to host a special event on Wednesday, October 25, entitled “Leadership is Female, Is African, Is Muslim Women” in honor of Saïda Oumulkhairy Niasse, the inaugural recipient of Tisch College’s Global Humanitarian Citizen Award.

Please join us for this celebration, which will take place from 12 – 1:15 p.m. in the Distler Auditorium of the Granoff Music Center on Tufts’ Medford campus. The award ceremony will honor the impact of Mama Kiota’s leadership, feature Tufts Professor Pearl Robinson’s research on Mama Kiota’s movement, and celebrate the Sufi musical and cultural traditions with a live performance.

Known by her followers as Mama Kiota, Saïda Oumoulkhaïry Niasse is the leader of a Sufi Muslim women’s movement with over 200,000 members across West Africa. Trained by scholars in the Niassine Tijaniyya Sufi tradition,  Mama Kiota is a tireless advocate for women’s rights, education, and peace, and she has spent more than 50 years establishing schools, mentoring female leaders, and promoting religious tolerance in a region plagued by Boko Haram. Tisch College is honored to award its inaugural Global Humanitarian Citizen Award to Mama Kiota in recognition of her outstanding leadership and service to the global community in pursuit of a more just, equitable and peaceful society.

For more information and to register online, visit: https://tischcollege.tufts.edu/content/leadership-female-african-muslim-women

religion and politics in the US versus many other countries

Here is a thesis that experts can evaluate better than I: The issue of religion in politics is fundamentally different in the US from many other countries. In the US, it is mainly about majority opinions versus minority rights. In countries from Mexico to Myanmar, it is about the social functions of a single organized body, the clergy. This difference matters for everyday politics.

The US has always had a religious majority that has been divided among many Christian denominations, with other faiths also represented. The Constitution gives individuals the right to exercise their religions freely. It also prevents any religion from being “established.”

The classic questions of religion and politics in the US involve majorities versus minorities. Sometimes, a coalition composed of many denominations supports a policy (e.g., banning abortion) for reasons that include religious ones. Then the questions become: 1) Does the desired policy impinge on constitutional rights? and 2) Are religious reasons for the policy acceptable or desirable in the public sphere? At other times, the majority becomes adverse to a particular religion–Mormonism in the 1800s being a clear example. Then the same two questions arise, but now the majority threatens the minority’s free exercise.

In nations with a single dominant religion that is organized in a hierarchical fashion (Catholic countries, but also, perhaps, some Muslim, Orthodox, Buddhist, Lutheran, and Anglican countries, plus in some respects, Israel), the issue is different. These countries have an organized, institutionalized body: the clergy. Typically, the clergy has a history of delivering some public services to the nation as a whole. For example, there may have been a time when the Catholic Church ran and staffed almost all of the state-funded schools in a given country. Sometimes, there is also a history of violent reaction against the clergy as an institution. Priests were executed in the French and Mexican revolutions, for instance.

In these countries, the question is not directly about whether to enact laws consistent with religious values. The question is whether to entrust an organized group of people, the clergy, with particular social functions. At the anti-clerical end of the spectrum, the clergy or priesthood is seen as a bane on society. At the clerical end, it is seen as a bulwark. These positions are, in principle, separate from one’s opinions of theology and of policy issues. A person could agree with the Church on most topics but distrust the clergy, or vice versa.

Here are some practical consequences of the difference:

  1. In the US, when debates over policy have religious components, they are deeply divisive and feel existential. At least some other countries treat such debates as fairly routine. The divisive issues for them concern the prerogatives of the clergy as an institution. An interesting hybrid case is Ireland, where the ballot victory on same-sex marriage was greeted with joy, at least in Dublin. I think voters were pro-equality, they celebrated because they had defeated the Irish clergy, a (currently unpopular) institution.
  2.  In the US, religious involvement in politics is usually mediated by officially secular political parties. The parties strive to assemble majorities by drawing people from several denominations. They typically recruit believers, not churches, into their ranks. In many other countries, each political party has a relationship with the main denomination, ranging from a formal partnership (e.g., for the Christian Democratic parties) to official hostility. Indifference may also be an option, just as a party can be neutral on other issues, but it will face questions about the clergy.
  3. In the US, it doesn’t really make sense to ask a candidate what she thinks of “the clergy.” You can ask her about abortion, God, her own faith, or the First Amendment, but there is no national clergy to have an opinion about.

See also: a typology of denominationsthe political advantages of organized religionreligion and politics in the Muslim world and the USA; and on religion in public debates and specifically in middle school classrooms.

a civic studies perspective on European citizenship

In “A Civic Studies perspective on European citizens: in search for potential in the conflict surrounding TTIP” (European Politics and Society, Aug 2017, pp. 1-27), Nora Schröder provides a learned and insightful overview of Civic Studies–consistent with the core ideals of the Summer Institutes of Civic Studies–and applies it to the case of European grassroots protests against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TIPP).

The anti-TIPP protesters hold a view of global trade and tariffs. They also hold related opinions of what citizenship should mean in the European Union context: they favor democratic control of markets and oppose neoliberalism as a political/economic philosophy. As Schröder notes, public policy research would seek to clarify these issues, assess the impact of the protests, and perhaps provide advice to the activists. Civic Studies is different because it is explicitly normative (concerned with evaluating what is right) and because it aims to expand citizens’ capacity to influence the world for the better. It doesn’t stop with assessing whether the protesters have influence and are on the right side of the issue; it strives to increase their influence for the good. Schröder argues that Civic Studies must therefore be “bottom-up” and closely related to practice, a case also made by Sanford Schram in this volume about Civic Studies. I admire such engaged research but believe there’s also room for relatively abstract and general theory in Civic Studies–a point that Karol Soltan makes in the same volume. In any case, Schröder provides one of the best available summaries of Civic Studies, en route to offering some valuable thoughts about the anti-TIPP protests.

civics road trip: from Philadelphia to Ukraine

I’m in Philadelphia for the Action Civics Initiative Summer Convening, a gathering of students, educators, and NGO leaders who are working to make civic education more action-oriented. From the closing plenary tomorrow, I’m heading to Ukraine to participate in the third annual European Institute of Civic Studies, this year at the Chernivtsi National University. The Institute draws practitioners, scholars, and activists involved with strengthening democracy in Ukraine and its neighbors. On my way home, I’ll stop in Kiev to talk with civic educators who work at the high-school level.

I predict some consistent themes (polarized societies, fragile democratic norms, inequalities of power and agency) as well as some important differences. I plan to blog periodically as I travel, or at least on my return.

See also: action civics goes mainstream and gets controversiallessons from a large youth service program, creating good citizens, and the European Summer Institute of Civic Studies.

does the UK election show a return to two-party rule?

A May 2016 article in the Financial Times was headlined, “British politics has broken out of the two-party system.” The lead explains:

Politics has fragmented. London’s choice of Sadiq Khan as mayor grabbed the headlines — and rightly so. But the local and regional elections across the UK carried a broader message. British politics has broken out of the familiar framework of the two-party system. As in much of the rest of Europe the old rules are being discarded.

Provisionally, it seems the 2017 election results tell the opposite story. Here’s a hypothesis about what happened in Britain last week:

  1. Elections based on single-member districts tend to produce two-party systems, because votes for parties other than the top two are seen as “wasted.” The exceptions occur when regional parties are able to win majorities in their home areas.
  2. Given two parties, over time, people tend to split their votes about 50/50. If one party has a big advantage, that’s a disequilibrium; soon some demographic or identify groups migrate to the other party to even it out. Voters use party labels as heuristics and are not mainly affected by the specific policies or personalities on offer in a given campaign. That each party will get 50% of the vote is a pretty good guess.
  3. Britain avoided a two-party system for parts of the 20th century, but the 2017 election saw the duopoly return. That’s why, despite May’s poor performance and Corbyn’s arguably radical views, each got closer to 50% of the vote than their predecessors had for decades.

This second graph breaks it down by party:

Sources: The Guardian for the 2017 vote tallies so far. The UK Electoral Commission for historic data. Analysis is my own.

Habermas on the French election

Here are Jürgen Habermas’ recent remarks on “the future of Europe” at an event with President-elect Emmanuel Macron and German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel. They spoke in March, before the election, but Habermas credits Macron with courage in “a challenging situation.”

Habermas calls for broad public deliberation about the basic values of the European Union, in contrast to a technical negotiation among elites.

European unification has remained an elite project to the present day because the political elites did not dare to involve the general public in an informed debate about alternative future scenarios. National populations will be able to recognize and decide what is in their own respective interest in the long run only when discussion of the momentous alternatives is no longer confined to academic journals – e.g. the alternatives of dismantling the euro or of returning to a currency system with restricted margins of fluctuation, or of opting for closer cooperation after all.

This has been a consistent theme for Habermas for more than seven decades as a public intellectual. In the 1950s, he argued against counting on the German Constitutional Court to define and protect the Federal Republic that had been designed by the Western allies. Instead, the German people must hold a democratic conversation that led to democratic institutions. Likewise, when East Germany fell, Habermas argued that its political institutions were worthless, but that the peoples of East and West should come together to design a new constitution for a unified Germany. (Instead, the GDR was simply absorbed into the post-War Federal Republic.)

Habermas names a list of crises that he thinks are forcing a broader and deeper conversation: Syria, terrorism, and (in a word) Trump.

Nationalist, racist, anti-Islamic, and anti-Semitic tendencies that have acquired political weight with the program and style of the new US administration are combining with authoritarian developments in Russia, Turkey, Egypt, and other countries to pose an unexpected challenge for the political and cultural self-understanding of the West. Suddenly Europe finds itself thrown back upon its own resources in the role of a defensive custodian of liberal principles (providing support to a majority of the American electorate that has been pushed to the margins).

Habermas has always been friendly to the American people and culture, which is a noteworthy stance for the head of the Frankfurt School. He seems to have been a fan of Barack Obama. I appreciate his support for the liberal part of our electorate.

Finally, Habermas calls for an expansion of democratic public spheres beyond the nation-state, in response to the globalization of public problems.

The institutionalization of closer cooperation is what first makes it possible to exert democratic influence on the spontaneous proliferation of global networks in all directions, because politics is the only medium through which we can take deliberate measures to shape the foundations of our social life. Contrary to what the Brexit slogan suggests, we will not regain control over these foundations by retreating into national fortresses. On the contrary, politics must keep pace with the globalization that it set in motion. In view of the systemic constraints of unregulated markets and the increasing functional interdependence of a more and more integrated world society, but also in view of the spectacular options we have created – for example, of a still unmastered digital communication or of new procedures for optimizing the human organism – we must expand the spaces for possible democratic will-formation, for political action, and for legal regulation beyond national borders.

See also: Ostrom, Habermas, and Gandhi are all we needMatthew G. Specter, Habermas: An Intellectual Biography and Habermas and critical theory (a primer)

Habermas on the French election

Here are Jürgen Habermas’ recent remarks on “the future of Europe” at an event with President-elect Emmanuel Macron and German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel. They spoke in March, before the election, but Habermas credits Macron with courage in “a challenging situation.”

Habermas calls for broad public deliberation about the basic values of the European Union, in contrast to a technical negotiation among elites.

European unification has remained an elite project to the present day because the political elites did not dare to involve the general public in an informed debate about alternative future scenarios. National populations will be able to recognize and decide what is in their own respective interest in the long run only when discussion of the momentous alternatives is no longer confined to academic journals – e.g. the alternatives of dismantling the euro or of returning to a currency system with restricted margins of fluctuation, or of opting for closer cooperation after all.

This has been a consistent theme for Habermas for more than seven decades as a public intellectual. In the 1950s, he argued against counting on the German Constitutional Court to define and protect the Federal Republic that had been designed by the Western allies. Instead, the German people must hold a democratic conversation that led to democratic institutions. Likewise, when East Germany fell, Habermas argued that its political institutions were worthless, but that the peoples of East and West should come together to design a new constitution for a unified Germany. (Instead, the GDR was simply absorbed into the post-War Federal Republic.)

Habermas names a list of crises that he thinks are forcing a broader and deeper conversation: Syria, terrorism, and (in a word) Trump.

Nationalist, racist, anti-Islamic, and anti-Semitic tendencies that have acquired political weight with the program and style of the new US administration are combining with authoritarian developments in Russia, Turkey, Egypt, and other countries to pose an unexpected challenge for the political and cultural self-understanding of the West. Suddenly Europe finds itself thrown back upon its own resources in the role of a defensive custodian of liberal principles (providing support to a majority of the American electorate that has been pushed to the margins).

Habermas has always been friendly to the American people and culture, which is a noteworthy stance for the head of the Frankfurt School. He seems to have been a fan of Barack Obama. I appreciate his support for the liberal part of our electorate.

Finally, Habermas calls for an expansion of democratic public spheres beyond the nation-state, in response to the globalization of public problems.

The institutionalization of closer cooperation is what first makes it possible to exert democratic influence on the spontaneous proliferation of global networks in all directions, because politics is the only medium through which we can take deliberate measures to shape the foundations of our social life. Contrary to what the Brexit slogan suggests, we will not regain control over these foundations by retreating into national fortresses. On the contrary, politics must keep pace with the globalization that it set in motion. In view of the systemic constraints of unregulated markets and the increasing functional interdependence of a more and more integrated world society, but also in view of the spectacular options we have created – for example, of a still unmastered digital communication or of new procedures for optimizing the human organism – we must expand the spaces for possible democratic will-formation, for political action, and for legal regulation beyond national borders.

See also: Ostrom, Habermas, and Gandhi are all we needMatthew G. Specter, Habermas: An Intellectual Biography and Habermas and critical theory (a primer)

two cheers for the West

The defeat of Marianne Le Pen is a victory for the European Union; and the EU is one of the structures built in the wake of World War II either directly or indirectly by the Western Allies in that war. In that sense, the EU is part of a project called “the West” that also includes at least the Marshall Plan and NATO–and arguably institutions that span the globe, like the IMF and the UN. These institutions are now beset by critics from Putin and Orban to Trump.

One reason to call these institutions “Western” is that Washington, New York, and Brussels lie to the west of, say, Moscow and Beijing. But at least some people believe that these institutions reflect a perspective, value-system, or set of ideals that can be usefully named “the West.” When I took a “Western civilization” course in the 1980s, it was colloquially called “Plato to NATO.”

One of the deepest ideological fault-lines of our time is how to assess this thing called “the West.” Imperialistic? Reactionary? Liberatory? Ethnocentric? Universalist? Inclusive? Greedy? Humane? A threat to US (or French) sovereignty, or an imposition of US (or French) power on others?

This debate seems intractable because institutions like the EU and NATO (not to mention the UN) have been involved in so many episodes and policies and have had so many effects on nations around the world. And if the West means a perspective or value-system, it is fatally vague. Anything we could define as “the West” in that sense encompasses too much diversity and overlaps too much with other cultural traditions to be meaningful.* For instance, Plato actually has almost nothing in common with NATO, but was an explicit influence on the Islamic Republic of Iran.

On the other hand, most large, co-constructed projects offer resources and inspirations for the present. Even if the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the EU or NATO is the exploitation of the Global South, these institutions also reflect other traditions. They were built on FDR’s Four Freedoms, the UN Declaration, and the promise of economic and social integration to prevent war. A set of states whose domestic arrangements range from democratic socialism to untrammeled capitalism have cooperated to advance international law, human rights, democratic institutions, and robust and interconnected cultures. I don’t deny that these states have done other things as well, but their achievements have been remarkable. Just compare continental Europe in 1945 and 2017.

I’m not sure we have conveyed the grandeur of this achievement–or its vulnerability. The EU is not just an economic zone with high GDP and a lot of bureaucrats in Brussels. It is part of a project that reflects high ideals for humanity. Stopping Le Pen has saved the EU to fight another day, but it doesn’t automatically convey the institution’s ideals. To make the European project inspiring again will require not only beating off its explicit enemies but also reforming “Western” institutions so that they again advance their best values.

*See my posts on the West and the restavoiding the labels of East and Westwhen East and West were one; and on modernity and the distinction between East and West.

Dubai, Uganda, and today’s global political economy

My family and I are just back from visiting our daughter, who works in Uganda, with a two-day stop in Dubai, where there’s a change of flights en route from Boston to Entebbe. We chose these destinations for family reasons. But it’s significant that Emirates Airlines flies direct from Dubai to Uganda. Even though the United Arab Emirates is small, and these two countries lie far apart, the UAE is Uganda’s 4th-largest source of imports. Dubai, an “Alpha+ Global City,” is a hub in a network of financial and human capital for a vast hinterland that includes Uganda, where 84% of the population still depends on subsistence agriculture.

There is much to like in both places—and reasons to hope that their futures will be brighter. However, if the worst aspects of each state predominate, and if the world increasingly resembles this pair of nations, then the human future will be dystopian.

Two centuries ago, both the Buganda Kingdom north of Lake Victoria and the Sheikdom of Dubai were independent monarchies. If we assume that today’s basket of most desired goods (life expectancies above 70, individual freedom, security, etc.) define human development—a contested assumption—than both societies were poorly developed. But they had rich and complex cultures and social structures.

The British made both kingdoms into dependencies and then subsumed Buganda within a full-fledged colony. The period of colonialism must have been experienced as traumatic in both countries. There were important differences. For instance, most Ugandans–but virtually no Emiratis–converted to Christianity. But they also shared some experiences, such as in-migration from South Asia. (Indians and Pakistanis now far outnumber Arabs in Dubai.) Police departments, accounting firms, factories, and many other innovations that we might label “modern” or “Western” arrived in both places with the British.

They gained independence within ten years of each other, but their economic trajectories have split. Dubai, a city-state entrepôt on one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, has become the 9th-wealthiest nation in the world, with a per capita GDP of nearly $70k. Uganda, a land-locked agricultural nation of 38 million, ranks 163 out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index and has a per capita annual GDP of $572 and a median individual income (my favorite summary statistic) of $2.50 per day. By definition, that means that half of Ugandans live on less than that much–at least as far as a cash economy is concerned–and one in five live below the poverty line of $1.90 per day.

Their political trajectories have also split. Dubai has been a stable absolute monarchy within the federal structure of the United Arab Emirates. Political rights are nonexistent; there is no legitimate public sphere, in the sense of a zone where citizens freely form public opinion and influence the state. The Ruler may choose to consult, but he decides. Most residents are not citizens in any sense; about 90% percent are expatriates.

Albert O. Hirschman argued that two strategies are valuable when you don’t like how things are going: exit or voice. In Dubai, political voice is irrelevant or even illegal. But exit (along with entrance somewhere else) is prevalent. People shape Dubai by moving themselves and their assets there or away, whether they are construction or domestic workers from India or the Philippines or bankers or real estate developers from wealthy nations. With the exception of the most exploited workers, they can leave if they are dissatisfied. This means that Dubai has been created by its residents, not by the Ruler. It’s the residents who have thrust astounding numbers of postmodernist skyscrapers out of the desert or have withdrawn their capital when dissatisfied. But their influence is entirely individual and apolitical.

Uganda, meanwhile, has had a tumultuous history, with only three presidents (although four regimes) so far since independence, and still no peaceful transfer of power. We visited the underground cells behind Idi Amin’s former presidential palace where thousands were tortured and killed by electrocution; no one left those chambers alive. I don’t think I am naive about the limitations of the current democracy, as Yoweri Mouseveni spends his 31st year in the presidency. Yet Uganda is a democratic republic. The people govern through representative institutions, albeit with several dubious elections since 2001. The newspapers call Ugandans “citizens,” respecting them as the people who ultimately govern the republic and implicitly holding them responsible for doing so. (I think respect and responsibility are what define a republican form of government.)

Three democracy indices from V-Dem (not available for UAE)

The Ugandan press is vibrant and competitive. The standard journalistic style is a bit more stenographic than what we are accustomed to in the US. Many articles basically report what someone said, in the same order that he or she said it. But the perspectives captured in these stories are diverse and often sharply critical. There is a public sphere, even if the state is somewhat unresponsive to it.

If voice is more evident in Uganda than in Dubai, exit is rarer. Few Ugandans can afford to or want to leave, although remittances from emigrants are rapidly growing. The largest migration of people consists of refugees into the country from South Sudan; they lack both exit and voice.

In Dubai, the global consumer brands are pervasive, including the Trump brand, now attached to a huge new golf course. There is a preserved old quarter that represents traditional Emirati culture, but it is probably smaller than one Bulgari ad on the side of one high-rise office building. We saw at least four billboards for completely different products that used the same format: a White woman in fashionable Western clothes and an Emirati man in a traditional white dishdosh and headscarf are beaming at the same consumer good. Even though about 70% of the residents are Asians, rich Westerners and Arabs are the normative consumers.

In Uganda, despite a few ads for Coca-Cola and Pepsi, the global brands are rare. Almost all stores are one-story brick structures with a raised front wall that can display messages above the door. By my count, about 30% of the stores in the cities and along the paved intercity roads (but fewer on dirt back roads) display painted advertisements for a handful of local brands, mostly telecom service-providers, construction materials, and detergents. Another notable form of advertising consists of new mosques, ubiquitous next to the roads in this overwhelmingly Christian country, thanks to funding from Turkish and other Middle Eastern sources. Finally, one often sees the logos of aid agencies: national, multilateral, or nongovernmental. In one national park, a sign announced that the signage had been given by the “people of the United States” through USAID. Paying for the signs that carry our national logo seems a way to maximize the ratio of branding to actual benefit.

Language often offers insights into culture. I’m sure that individuals in each country have unique relationships to the languages they speak, but I’ll risk some generalizations about English in Uganda and in the UAE. Ugandan (or East African) English is a branch of the language, like the Queen’s English or my own. It is mutually intelligible with American English, yet highly distinctive, full of terms for local foods and activities, loan-words from Swahili, and idioms and rhythms that make it a vehicle for expressing a particular culture. You could learn to speak Ugandan English, and that would be a linguistic attainment, an addition to your repertoire.

The English of the UAE sounds to me like what one learns in a second-language course in a business college. It is error-prone but functional, jargon-filled, strictly pragmatic. It might offer possibilities for creativity and insight—but I doubt it. I’m guessing that most residents experience cultural depth and aesthetic satisfaction in their native tongues. In Joseph O’Neill’s wonderful novel set in Dubai, The Dog, the narrator says, “I have a real soft spot for the habitual accent of Arab speakers of good English, in whose mouths the language, imbued with grave trills, can seem weighted with the sagacity of the East. (See Alec Guinness in Lawrence of Arabia.)” That may be true, but only 12% of the UAE’s residents are Emirati, and not all of those speak good English. Purely functional English–plus math–is the code of business, and business is the culture that counts in Dubai.

Looking toward the future, one can imagine that Dubai adds political liberties and public deliberation to its market freedoms, and Uganda not only honors the true spirit of its republican constitution but also develops sufficiently so that all its people attain the core human capabilities. That would be a better world. To be even more utopian, we might hope that the relationships among Uganda, Dubai, and the inevitable third corner of the triangle–the OECD nations–becomes genuinely just, not just in the sense that human circumstances converge but also that the people of Uganda can make real claims on the people of Dubai or New York.

One can also imagine that Dubai continues to prosper without political freedom, much as Shanghai also does today. Absolute monarchies seem quaint, but arguably the real players in Dubai are the big corporate investors, and corporations are not democracies. Their influence could grow, not only in Dubai but in all the Global Cities. Indeed, as the world gets hotter, dryer, more postmodern, higher-tech, more racially intermingled, yet more culturally homogeneous, one could imagine that all the cities that dominate the global economy will look like Dubai today. Already, the man whose portrait hangs in every federal office building in the USA also has his name on the huge billboards for Dubai’s newest golf course.

Meanwhile, Uganda faces rapid population growth, a median age of 15, a worsening climate, unstable neighbors in several directions, and the risk of political instability once Mouseveni finally retires. One could imagine that Uganda will look much as it does today, only poorer and more violent, and that many other nations will look more like it. That is the dystopian future that haunts us.