Monthly Archives: September 2006

A Step at a Time: From the Baltic to the Caspian

One of the best compilers and translators of multilingual sources on strategic developments in areas near the Baltic, Black, and Caspian Seas is David McDuff’s A Step at a Time, with multiple posts on the escalation of tensions between Georgia and Russia (scroll down), conflict in Chechnya, elections in Estonia, Karelian refugees in Finland, and long-term developments in the former Soviet Union. For example, here’s an excerpt he quotes from a keynote speech (pdf) by former US State Department and CIA analyst Paul Goble at the Jamestown Foundation‘s recent North Caucasus Conference.

If the Russian Federation is at a turning point, and I believe that it is and I believe that the borders will change in a variety of ways, and I think they will change largely due to the actions of the Russians and Russian desires, as we’ll see. And this leads me to my one good piece of advice for today: don’t buy any maps. Buy stock in companies that print maps and you’ll make money.

But it’s equally important that Islam, too, is at a turning point. Indeed, if you understand the Muslim view of what happened in the Soviet Union in 1991, you can see a direct line from there to September 11th and you can understand why Muslims who were ethnic Muslims who didn’t know very much about their identity and what their faith was about turned to Islam in the ways that they did.

The collapse of the Muslim project after the French Revolution and the colonization of the Muslim world, which was more or less complete except for Egypt and Afghanistan by 1922, left the Muslim world with the question: if we’re right, how come we’re losing? And there were three answers. God’s time isn’t our time so we wait it out. The second answer was, we are wrong; we’ve got to be radical secularists. And the third is, back to basics: Allah, Sharia – the people who become the fundamentalists.

As long as there was a Soviet Union supporting the radical secularists, and please remember it was the Soviets who were doing that, the third category were in jail. Once the Soviet Union could not do that, those people emerged. And with the Muslim reading, or some Muslim reading anyway, of 1991 you saw a very different set of messages for people who were Muslims. These were in many ways – and this is another argument, different, but just to point it out for you – I believe that Central Asia and parts of the Caucasus will be over time the prime recruiting area for a radical fundamentalist Islam. Why? Because people there know they are Muslims, but don’t know exactly what it means and therefore they are prepared to listen to people who tell them exactly what it means.

I remember a conversation I had with Dzhokhar Dudaev, the first president of Chechen Ichkeria. And Mr. Dudaev said to me, Mr. Goble, I’m a good Muslim I pray three times a day. Well I was very polite and deferential [to] the senior official and didn’t point out that a good Muslim prays five times a day, but he didn’t know. He had been in the Communist Party since the age of 18 and was a major general in the Soviet Air force.

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New Orleans in the 1920s

In the mid-1920s, the Vieux Carré, or French Quarter, was mostly a gritty working-class slum where people spoke French as often as English. Women lowered baskets to the street to grocers who loaded them with food and added a pint of gin. Artists and writers had taken to the area, seduced by its cheap rents. Oliver Lafarge wrote his Pulitzer Prize-winning Laughing Boy there; Faulkner began writing there, encouraged by Sherwood Anderson, who entertained visitors like Theodore Dreiser, Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein, and Bertrand Russell. One of Anderson’s friends even wrote a book about Paris without ever having visited it, instead using New Orleans as his model; Parisians read it, Anderson reported, with “delight.” The smells of the docks hung over the whole area: sickly sweet rotting bananas—the United Fruit Company was the single largest user of the port—and the more intimate smell of the dozens of bakeries making bread. The finest restaurants—Antoine’s, Galatoire’s, Arnaud’s, Broussard’s—were there, and so were working-class cafés. In Jackson Square at Billy Cabildo’s, for 50 cents one got an enormous bowl of homemade soup, boiled beef, an entree, dessert, and coffee. The square itself was surrounded by hedges where prostitutes took clients.

Downriver from the French Quarter lived working-class whites. They made their living from the port, from sugar and timber mills, from great slaughterhouses.

The social elite … lived upriver in the great homes on St. Charles and in the Garden District. There maids waxed the grand ballrooms by sitting on towels and sliding across the floor…. On Canal Street at Katz & Besthoff drugstore, soda jerks delivered ice-cream sodas to cars parked on the street. Well-dressed doormen at Maison Blanche and Holmes department stores knew all the chauffeurs and called for them by name as their employers came out….

Only recently, jazz had been born from deep in the bowels of the city; its beat emerging from the African jungle into Congo Square, then spreading to the whorehouses of Storyville, where Jelly Roll Morton and the Spasm band, possibly the original jazz combination, and a little later Louis Armstrong, played. At its peak, Storyville had had two newspapers and its own Carnival ball, and the best houses had advertising brochures….

From the city’s earliest days New Orleans had close ties to the money centers of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, London, Paris. English bankers began living full-time in New Orleans in the early 1800s.

As a result, before the Civil War, on a per capita basis New Orleans was the wealthiest city in America. In the 1920s it remained—by far—the wealthiest city in the South. Its Cotton Exchange was one of the three most important in the world. Its port was second only to New York. Its banks were the largest and most important in the South. According to a Federal Reserve study, New Orleans had nearly twice the economic activity of Dallas, the South’s second-wealthiest city, and between double and triple that of Houston, Atlanta, Memphis, Louisville, Richmond, or Birmingham.

SOURCE: Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, by John M. Barry (Touchstone, 1998), pp. 213-215, 219

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The Thai Coup and the Jihadist Insurgency

The milblogger who authors The Adventures of Chester has compiled an interesting take on what the Thai military coup might portend for dealing with the jihadist insurgency in the south of Thailand.

News reports indicate that there were a number of reasons why Thailand’s military decided to overthrow Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra last week, but the most interesting among them was a disappointment with his strategy toward the Muslim insurgency in the south. From The Australian:

THE Royal Thai Army will adopt new tactics against a militant Islamic uprising, following the coup that sent Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted prime minister, into exile in London last week.

According to sources briefed by the army high command, Mr Thaksin’s bungled response to the insurgency in southern Thailand, which has claimed 1700 lives in two years, was a critical factor in the generals’ decision to get rid of him.

Military intelligence officers intend to negotiate with separatists and to use psychological warfare to isolate the most violent extremists, in contrast to Mr Thaksin’s heavy-handed methods and harsh rhetoric….

When Mr Thaksin, a former policeman who made his fortune from telecommunications, came to power in 2001, he broke with the old order. He put police cronies in charge of the southern border and shut down two intelligence clearing centres.

Soon, reports in the media alleged that corruption, smuggling and racketeering were rife.

In January 2004, militants raided an armoury and started a killing spree. They have murdered Buddhist monks, teachers, hospital staff and civil servants – anyone seen as representing the Thai state. The army has seemed powerless to halt the chaos.

But at the same time Zachary Abuza, a political science professor at Simmons College in the US, and author of a forthcoming book about the Thai insurgency, offers a more nuanced take:

Will the CDR [Council for Democratic Reform] and interim administration be better equipped to deal with [it]? At the very least, there will be less political interference in counter-insurgent operations and fewer personnel reshuffles and policy initiatives from an impatient “CEO prime minister.” Second, the CDR is likely to implement many of the recommendations of the National Reconciliation Council that Thaksin had blatantly ignored. Though the NRC’s recommendations alone will not quell the insurgency, they will have an important impact in regaining the trust of the Muslim community. Third, [coup commander-in-chief Gen.] Sonthi [Boonyaratglin] has expressed a willingness to talk with insurgents, though to date only PULO has offered to talk and the aged leaders in Europe have no control over the insurgents. And many in the military establishment including Sonthi, himself a Muslim, have publicly refused to see the insurgency for what it is, denying it any religious overtones or secessionist goals. Nor is the political situation likely to alter the campaign of the insurgents. If anything they may step up attacks in an attempt to provoke a heavy-handed government response. The Muslim provinces have been under martial law for over two and a half years, with little to show for it but an alienated and angry populace.

UPDATE: The Head Heeb has a characteristically thorough and comparative analysis of what he headlines The Bertolt Brecht coup.

All this leads to some concern about what the new constitution might contain. Boonyaratglin has promised that it will make the government more accountable, which is a good thing on its face; the former constitutional framework allowed Thaksin to accrue far too much personal power and was often ineffective in providing institutional checks and balances. The trouble is that it isn’t clear who will hold future governments to account. If the early signs are any indication, the military may impose a paternalistic, royalist-praetorian constitution in which unelected oversight agencies and councils hold the balance of power and the army and the throne are the final arbiters of political acceptability. Thailand may come out looking, at least in the near term, like Turkey up to the 1980s or Fiji today.

The Thai coup, in other words, carries more than a hint of Bertolt Brecht’s “Solution – that, the people having forfeited the military’s confidence, Boonyaratglin decided to dissolve it and elect another. Granted, he is unlikely to do so as literally as Stalin did, but he has evidently concluded that the people – who, after all, elected Thaksin – can’t entirely be trusted with democracy for the time being. Therefore, politics will be banned until the people – or, more specifically, institutions like the legislature and media through which the people expresses its will – are reordered to the military’s satisfaction and the balance between representative and non-representative organs is adjusted. As in Turkey or Fiji, the military doesn’t intend to dissolve the people very often, but it will ensure that their institutions are established in such a way that they don’t risk losing their guardians’ confidence.

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Rise, Spread, and Fall of State Sovereignty

The classic state system is said to have emerged with the treaties of the Peace of Westphalia, in 1648, at the end of the Thirty Years War. In these treaties the secular claims of German princelings were recognised above the religious claims of the Papacy. There was no secular right of external power above the sovereign. This formal recognition of the principle of territorial sovereignty became the basis of an interstate system of international relations. Although there was the beginning of an interstate system, there was no international law in the modern sense as the rights of sovereignty were restricted to the European powers. While interstate relations were regulated between mutually recognised sovereign states in the West, there was no explicit framework of international society, which formally limited the exercise of state sovereignty. The regulation of interstate relations could not go beyond voluntary agreements between a select group of sovereign states. These treaty agreements were based upon interests of preserving state power through strategic alliances and the limited geo-political stability of a balance of power.

The age of the classic ‘anarchical’ state system, with no limits to the sovereignty of the major powers, was also the era of colonialism. The states included in this interstate system were those that could exercise power in the international arena through ruling over their territory and defending it from the claims of other sovereign states. It was, therefore, also quite logical and consistent to see that in those areas outside Europe, which could not demonstrate ’empirical statehood’, sovereignty could not apply. Under this system the right of intervention in the affairs of other states was granted to states which were capable of acting on, and enforcing, this right: the Great Powers….

The Westphalian model of state sovereignty had its critics throughout the modern era, particularly as the leading non-Western states modernised and grew in importance. The fear of Western decline and the need to stabilise growing international society led to new experiments in international relations. The first Hague Conference, in 1899, saw the attendance of China, Japan, the Ottoman Empire, Persia and Siam. Japan’s defeat of Russia in 1905 was a powerful shock to European imperial confidence, because this confidence was closely bound up with a notion of racial superiority. The second Hague Conference, in 1907, was the first international gathering of modern states at which non-Europeans outnumbered the Europeans. The descent of European powers into the barbarism of the First World War did much to undermine the idea of Great Power international security. The fear of imperial decline and the expectation of resistance from the colonies led Western policy-makers to speed the process of transformation away from ‘might is right’ towards international law in an attempt to contain the threat of war between the Great Powers as well as anticipated anticolonial revolt.

The First World War settlement began the process of developing a legal concept of sovereignty as opposed to the Westphalian concept of sovereignty based on power. At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, US President Woodrow Wilson affirmed the principle of national self-determination for the newly created states of Central Europe. The attempt to legalise or formalise international relations was a direct consequence of the collapse of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires during the war and the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. The Soviet leader Lenin’s declaration of the right of nations to self-determination and the Soviet Union’s propaganda linkage of war with the imperialist outlook of the Great Powers put the Western policy-makers on the defensive. Instead of the discredited system of international power politics, post-First World War international relations became legitimised on the basis of formal equality between states….

The League of Nations initiated the process of formally restricting the sovereignty of the Great Powers. For example, colonial powers were no longer entitled to act as they liked but were mandated to advance the interests of their subject peoples. The mandate system, which implied that colonial rule could only be temporary, was the first open admission that empire was no longer a legitimate political form. However, the concept of sovereign equality was still a heavily restricted one, and the West rejected Japan’s attempt to include a clause on racial equality in the League of Nations’ Charter. The major European imperial powers were not in a position to consistently uphold the rights of sovereign equality….

After the Second World War, the United States’ dominance of the world economy enabled the construction of a new system of international regulation…. The discrediting of international regulation based on power and colonial domination led, through the two World Wars, to one based on sovereign equality. The Nazi experience and the rise of non-European powers had undermined the elitist ideologies of race and empire and led to the defensive acceptance of a law-bound international system…. The political pressure on the leading world powers meant that the 1945 settlement preserved in the principles of the UN Charter, was a decisive moment in the transformation of the Westphalian system. The sovereignty of the Great Powers was restricted, while the right of sovereignty was granted to new states which would have failed the Westphalian test of ’empirical statehood’, and hence have been dismissed as ‘quasi-states’.

SOURCE: From Kosovo to Kabul and Beyond: Human Rights and International Intervention, new ed., by David Chandler (Pluto Press, 2006), pp. 123-126 [reference citations removed]

Since the early 1990s, international relations have been transformed through the development of new norms and practices established with the intention of protecting human rights by extending the reach of ‘international justice’. Justice and rights protection no longer stop at the borders of the nation-state…. The establishment of The Hague tribunals, dealing with crimes committed during the Bosnian war and the civil conflict in Rwanda, the House of Lords judgment against Pinochet, and the international indictment against a sitting head of state, Slobodan Milosevic, are all held up to indicate the trend towards ‘international justice’ and the prioritisation of human rights.

The extension of ‘international justice’ has reflected a widely welcomed decline in the legal weight attached to state sovereignty as a barrier to external judgement and intervention in a state’s affairs. State sovereignty, the recognition of self-government and autonomy, is perceived to be increasingly dangerous or inadequate for many states and peoples. International intervention in Iraq, the decision to extend international regulation in Bosnia, and the establishment of protectorates in Kosovo and East Timor are seen to herald a new set of precedents that suggest a modified approach to state sovereignty. De facto rule over a territory is no longer held to legitimise the denial of justice or the abuse of human rights.

SOURCE: From Kosovo to Kabul and Beyond, p. 120

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Of River Horses and the Sea Pigs of Tonga

Christian Science Monitor reporter Nick Squire recently filed a quirky story headlined In Tonga, pigs fish but don’t fly – yet.

TALAFO’OU, TONGA – Travelers who think they have seen it all should head to the island kingdom of Tonga for one of the Pacific’s strangest tourist attractions: “fishing pigs.”

Hogs on the archipelago’s main island, Tongatapu, have conquered their fear of the ocean and now forage at low tide for crabs, mussels, seaweed, and fish marooned in rock pools.

While piglets snuffle around a few yards from the beach, fully grown porkers wade into the turquoise sea up to their waists….

In the coastal village of Talafo’ou, what looks like a miniature hippo is half-submerged in the sea, 100 yards from the beach. In fact it is a huge black sow, that bears closer resemblance to a wild boar than any farm breed, rooting around the reef.

Although the pigs don’t swim, they do plunge their heads beneath the water for a few minutes at a time.

I wonder how long it would take for these swine to evolve into hippos–or porpoises. According to Wikipedia:

As indicated by the name, ancient Greeks considered the hippopotamus to be related to the horse. Until 1985, naturalists grouped hippos with pigs, based on molar patterns. However evidence, first from blood proteins, then from molecular systematics, and more recently from the fossil record, show that their closest living relatives are cetaceans – whales, porpoises and the like. Hippopotami have more in common with whales than they do with other artiodactyls (even-toed ungulates), such as pigs. Thus, the common ancestor of hippos and whales existed after the branch-off from ruminants, which occurred after the divergence from the rest of the even-toed ungulates, including pigs. While the whale and hippo are each other’s closest living relatives, their lineages split very soon after their divergence from the rest of the even-toed ungulates.

How would one render in taxonomic Greek the ‘sea pig’ equivalent of hippopotamus ‘river horse’? Hyenathalassa?

This reminds me of an article about the initial failures of machine translation that I remember from grad school in linguistics. The example I’ve never forgotten was translating the Russian for ‘guinea pigs’ a bit too literally as ‘maritime piglets‘ (or ‘sea SVINKI‘).

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Mississippi River Flood, 1543

IN 1543, GARCILASO DE LA VEGA, a member of Hernando de Soto’s expedition, was one of the first white men to see the Mississippi River. He recorded its power: “Then God, our Lord, hindered the work with a mighty flood of the great river, which … came down with an enormous increase of water, which in the beginning overflowed the wide level ground between the river and the cliffs”—meaning the river’s banks, which towered above the river at low water—”then little by little it rose to the top of the cliffs. Soon it began to flow over the fields in an immense flood, and as the land was level, without any hills, there was nothing to stop the inundation. On the 18th of March, 1543, … the river entered with ferocity through the gates of the town of Aminoya [an Indian village near the present site of Greenville, Mississippi]. It was a beautiful thing to look upon the sea that had been fields, for on each side of the river the water extended over twenty leagues”—nearly 60 miles—”of land, and [within] all of this area … nothing was seen but the tops of the tallest trees…. These floods occur every fourteen years, according to what an old Indian woman told us, which can be verified if the country is conquered, as I hope it will be.”

SOURCE: Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, by John M. Barry (Touchstone, 1998), p. 173

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Comfy-chair Fieldwork on a Japanese Cinema Dialect

I recently saw for the first time (via Netflix) a Japanese film from 2002 entitled Twilight Samurai (Tasogare Seibei). It’s a wonderfully restrained and down-to-earth portait (reviewed here and here) of a dutiful but impoverished petty samurai aching to live as a plain farmer (not—like Tom Cruise—aching to die with The Last Samurai).

But an added attraction for me was the combination of English subtitles and a Japanese regional dialect, Yamagata-ben, or at least a Shochiku Film rendition of some of its key features. The dialects of the northern (Tohoku, lit. ‘northeast’) part of Honshu are collectively known as Tohoku-ben, or somewhat less diplomatically as zuzu-ben for their failure to distinguish /i/ and /u/, rendering both as a high central unrounded vowel [ɨ], which then of course fails to palatalize /s/ and /t/, so that sushi, shishi ‘lion’, and susu ‘soot’ all sound something like [sɨsɨ], which can be spelled susu, since /u/ is not rounded in standard Japanese either.

I haven’t been able to find much online in English about Tohoku-ben except for a few sketchy accounts, the most extensive being a sketch of Miyagi-ben by a former JET volunteer. (Yamagata prefecture is on the Japan Sea side of Miyagi prefecture in southern Tohoku.) So I thought I’d offer a few general impressions of (Shochiku emblematic) Yamagata-ben from my second viewing of the film.

/s/ > /h/ in suffixes – I noted the kin terms otohan ‘father’, okahan ‘mother’, and babahan ‘grandmother’, the names Tomoe-han, Naota-han, and the polite expressions gokurou-han ‘thank you’, oboete-naharu ‘do you remember?’, and oyu wakasute kumahen ‘can you boil some water for me?’. This lends a Kansai flavor to the dialect.

/ai/, /ae/ > /ee/ – This is not uncommon elsewhere, but it generally signals plain—even rough—talk. In Yamagata, it also occurs in polite speech. In the film I noted omee ‘you’, deekiree ‘really don’t like’, and nee ‘not’ (as in sabusukunee ‘not sad’).

/-masu/ vs. /-masunee/ – Polite negatives in Yamagata-ben sound like affirmative confirmations in standard Japanese. I noted ikimasunee ‘won’t go’, mattaku arimasunee ‘absolutely don’t have’.

/ne/ = /no/ tag – Yamagata no(u) performs the functions of the standard Japanese tag particle ne(e). In the film, I noted yoi ko da nou ‘(you’re a) good girl, aren’t you?’. (My usage tends toward /na/, thanks to my high school days in Kansai.)

/e/ > [i] – The backing of the high front vowel /i/ to [ɨ] (and its merger with /u/) leaves room for the mid front vowel /e/ to migrate upward. I noted sinko ‘joss stick’ and madi, madi! ‘wait, wait!’. However, there were plenty of unraised /e/ as well, so I suspect the actors were pulling their punches to maintain intelligibility and relying instead on just a few emblematic raisings to give a flavor of the dialect. (This is true of most, if not all, renditions of “dialect” on stage and screen.)

de gozaimasu > de gansu ‘the polite copula‘ – This remapping was so strikingly regular and transparent that I suspect it was not just one of the more salient emblems of Yamagata polite speech, but one of the easiest for dialog coaches to teach: owasure de gansho ka ‘had you forgotten?’; sou de gansuta ‘yes, it was’; omoe-dasu no wa iya de gansu ‘I don’t want to think about it’; ayamaru no wa ante ho de gansho ‘I’m not the one who should apologize’ (I’m not too sure whether my ante ho should be anta no hou ‘your side’ or hantee hou ‘the opposite side’). However, I did catch one instance of de gozeemasunee ‘is not’ (= de gozaimasen).

/-t-/ > [d], /-d-/ > [nd] – Unvoiced obstruents tend to get voiced medially, while voiced obstruents get prenasalized. I didn’t hear a lot of this. Maybe it would reduce intelligibility too much for the audience. Among the examples I noted were: odohan ‘father’, todemo suzuree ‘very rude’, and madi, madi ‘wait, wait’.

Finally, the grammatical construction mou ii de ba (= mo ii deshou) ‘that’s enough, isn’t it?’

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Sumo’s Female Executives: Okamisan

Among the long list of expectations Yokozuna Akebono faced were that he become a Japanese citizen and that, believe it or not, he get married. Japanese citizenship is a requirement for oyakata [‘stable bosses’], which as a yokozuna [‘grand champion’] he was almost certain to become. While marriage is not an actual Kyōkai [‘Association’] requirement for its oyakata, tradition dictates that one must be married; it is understood that a heya [‘stable’] cannot be run by an oyakata alone. An oyakata’s okamisan [‘headmistress’] does far more than act as a kind of mom away from mom for the heya’s deshi [‘apprentices’], many of whom are still kids. In many cases, the okamisan is a sumo-beya’s primary administrator. She organizes kōenkai [‘fan club’] functions and dinners with other friends and supporters. She can also be involved in recruitment. If the heya has a sekitori [‘paid professional’], she organizes everything related to his promotion parties and his wedding—sometimes right down to introducing prospective brides. In many cases, she handles all of the money coming through the heya. Hers is the only position of importance and respect for any woman in the Nihon Sumo Kyōkai.

SOURCE: Gaijin Yokozuna: A Biography of Chad Rowan, by Mark Panek (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2006), p. 230

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Bhumibol vs. Thaksin in Thailand

Shawn W. Crispin at Asia Times Online sees the coup in Thailand as an effort by the royalists to take power back from Thaksin, who had waged a long battle to wrest power away from the constitutional monarchy and concentrate it in the executive branch.

The mainstream media have widely misinterpreted the potent but peaceful protests as being galvanized by the Thaksin family’s controversial US$1.9 billion tax-free sale of its 49% holdings in the Shin Corporation to Singapore’s Temasek Holdings. To the contrary, the protests, which were later co-opted by various special-interest groups aligned against the government, were first galvanized and primarily sustained by the explosive claims first made by firebrand media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul that Thaksin was on particular occasions disloyal to the throne….

According to sources familiar with the matter, Thaksin had attempted to elevate Major-General Prin Suwanthat to commander of the 1st Army Division, which crucially is charged with overseeing security in Bangkok. Thaksin also reportedly pushed to promote Prin’s ally, Major-General Daopong Ratanasuwan, to take over the 1st Infantry. With assistant army commander Pornchai Kranlert in place, the reshuffle, if accomplished, would have given Thaksin an unbroken chain of command over crack troops responsible for Bangkok’s security.

Notably, without his allies in the top posts, Thaksin’s order from New York to impose a “severe state of emergency” and remove Sonthi from his position as army commander went unheeded.

Meanwhile, the military has promised to return power to the people as soon as possible, and judging by past royally orchestrated extra-constitutional interventions, it will honor that vow.

Thaksin’s ouster will pave the way for important democratic reforms, which under the military’s and monarchy’s watch will broadly aim to dilute the power of the executive branch, limit the power of large political parties, and strengthen the independent checking and balancing institutions that Thaksin stands accused of undermining.

via LaurenceJarvikOnline

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Bernard Lewis on the End of the Old Order in the Middle East

In July 2006, Bernard Lewis delivered a lecture on board the Crystal Serenity, during a Hillsdale College cruise in the British Isles. He attributes the eclipse of democracy in the Middle East to two major factors:

Modernization and Nazi and Soviet Influence

The first of these changes is what one might call modernization. This was undertaken not by imperialists, for the most part, but by Middle Eastern rulers who had become painfully aware that their societies were undeveloped compared with the advanced Western world. These rulers decided that what they had to do was to modernize or Westernize. Their intentions were good, but the consequences were often disastrous. What they did was to increase the power of the state and the ruler enormously by placing at his disposal the whole modern apparatus of control, repression and indoctrination. At the same time, which was even worse, they limited or destroyed those forces in the traditional society that had previously limited the autocracy of the ruler. In the traditional society there were established orders—the bazaar merchants, the scribes, the guilds, the country gentry, the military establishment, the religious establishment, and so on. These were powerful groups in society, whose heads were not appointed by the ruler but arose from within the groups. And no sultan, however powerful, could do much without maintaining some relationship with these different orders in society. This is not democracy as we currently use that word, but it is certainly limited, responsible government. And the system worked. Modernization ended that. A new ruling class emerged, ruling from the center and using the apparatus of the state for its purposes.

That was the first stage in the destruction of the old order. The second stage we can date with precision. In the year 1940, the government of France surrendered to the Axis and formed a collaborationist government in a place called Vichy. The French colonial empire was, for the most part, beyond the reach of the Nazis, which meant that the governors of the French colonies had a free choice: To stay with Vichy or to join Charles de Gaulle, who had set up a Free French Committee in London. The overwhelming majority chose Vichy, which meant that Syria-Lebanon—a French-mandated territory in the heart of the Arab East—was now wide open to the Nazis. The governor and his high officials in the administration in Syria-Lebanon took their orders from Vichy, which in turn took orders from Berlin. The Nazis moved in, made a tremendous propaganda effort, and were even able to move from Syria eastwards into Iraq and for a while set up a pro-Nazi, fascist regime. It was in this period that political parties were formed that were the nucleus of what later became the Baath Party [emphasis added]. The Western Allies eventually drove the Nazis out of the Middle East and suppressed these organizations. But the war ended in 1945, and the Allies left. A few years later the Soviets moved in, established an immensely powerful presence in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and various other countries, and introduced Soviet-style political practice. The adaptation from the Nazi model to the communist model was very simple and easy, requiring only a few minor adjustments, and it proceeded pretty well. That is the origin of the Baath Party and of the kind of governments that we have been confronting in the Middle East in recent years. That, as I would again repeat and emphasize, has nothing whatever to do with the traditional Arab or Islamic past.

Read the whole thing. He also has a lot to say about the rise of Wahhabism and the West’s witting and unwitting promotion of it.

Let me illustrate the significance of this with one example: Germany has constitutional separation of church and state, but in the German school system they provide time for religious instruction. The state, however, does not provide teachers or textbooks. They allow time in the school curriculum for the various churches and other religious communities—if they wish—to provide religious instruction to their children, which is entirely optional. The Muslims in Germany are mostly Turks. When they reached sufficient numbers, they applied to the German government for permission to teach Islam in German schools. The German authorities agreed, but said they—the Muslims—had to provide the teachers and the textbooks. The Turks said that they had excellent textbooks, which are used in Turkey and Turkish schools, but the German authorities said no, those are government-produced textbooks; under the principle of separation of church and state, these Muslims had to produce their own. As a result, whereas in Turkish schools in Turkey, students get a modern, moderate version of Islam, in German schools, in general, they get the full Wahhabi blast. The last time I looked, twelve Turks have been arrested as members of Al-Qaeda—all twelve of them born and educated in Germany.

Copyright © 2006. Reprinted by permission from IMPRIMIS, the national speech digest of Hillsdale College,

via RealClearPolitics

UPDATE: Several commenters object that the Vichy regime didn’t last long enough to have much lasting effect on the Middle East, but I think they’re missing the larger currents that preceded the crucial formation during Vichy times of European-style fascist parties in Damascus that later provided the vehicles for building secular nationalist, totalitarian police states. I feel a bit silly citing Wikipedia to support a well-known scholar like Lewis, but here’s the section on the origins of the Baath Party and its founders. I’ve also gone back and emphasized Lewis’s point that party formation was the key event of lasting consequence during the Vichy era.

The Baath party originated with two separate nationalist groups in Syria. The first of these, initially known as harakat al-ihyaa al-‘arabi (the Arab Resurrection Movement), was set up by Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Din al-Bitar in 1940s. It was a relatively small group of intellectuals and students, and Aflaq was its main theoretician. His ideology was essentially a form of romantic nationalism coupled with a vague socialism which rejected, however, the idea of class struggle. The second group formed around Zaki al-Arsuzi, a prominent figure in the resistance to French plans to annex the Syrian province of Iskandarun to Turkey. Al-Arsuzi’s conception of the Arab nation was essentially a linguistic one, and historian Hanna Batatu also charges him with racialism and a mystical tendency influenced by his Alawite religion. According to some sources, in 1940 Arsuzi founded a group known as al-Baath al-‘arabi (the Arab Resurrection); in other sources, he only used this as the name of a bookshop he opened in Damascus. In any case, he seems to have been the first to adopt the name.

Al-Bitar and Aflaq were from middle-class Damascus families, the former a Sunni Muslim and the latter a Greek Orthodox Christian. Both had studied in Paris, coming under the influence of European nationalist and Marxist ideas, as well as the secular historicism of leading 19th century French thinkers such as Ernest Renan and Auguste Comte. The two men, along with al-Arsuzi and another major proponent of early Baathist ideology, Shakeeb Dallal, had careers as middle-class educators.

These groups had formed in opposition to both French colonial rule and to the older generation of Syrian Arab nationalists, and advocated instead Pan-Arab unity and Arab nationalism. Their ideology blended non-Marxist socialism and nationalism. The early Syrian Baathists opposed the influence of Europe in their country’s affairs, and used nationalism and the notion of unifying the Arab world as a platform.

Aflaq (b. 1910), Al-Bitar (b. 1912), and Al-Arsuzi (b. 1899) all studied at the Sorbonne during the late 1920s and 1930s.

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