EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Sweeping the Sand Out of the Desert: From Verwoerd to Prawer

Ethnic cleansing in the Negev

The Prawer-Begin Plan was shelved. But the idea that you can forcefully transfer an indigenous population and determine where it can legally reside – looks and smells like a plan pulled from the dusty drawer of Hendrik Verwoerd, architect of Apartheid South Africa. And that didn’t work out so well.

Sadly, it was too early to celebrate the downfall of the Prawer-Begin Plan. The victory of suspending the Knesset vote following the the “day of rage” protests on November 30 was short lived. The dark threatening cloud of ethnic cleansing still hovers over the Negev’s Bedouin population. Nevertheless, Prawer’s suspension was the culmination of a grassroots mobilization that took months, years actually, to climax and grab public attention. It was an historical achievement.

The good news is that for the first time, the Jewish Israeli public woke up to the sound of a clear, well articulated and well organized Bedouin-led resistance movement…

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EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Hannah Arendt, Constitutionalism and the Problem of Israel/Palestine

The following was the keynote lecture at the XXVII Encuentro Internacional de Ciencias Sociales in Guadalajara, Mexico, December 5, 2013.

On October 3, 2013 the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that there is no Israeli identity, since there is “objectively” no Israeli ethnicity. The 21 litigants will have to continue having the designation “Jewish” in their official files (coded into their identity cards!), instead of “Israeli” as they desired. Against their own wish, they will not be able to share a common citizenship identity with Arab citizens of Israel, in a state that continues to be identified as that of an ethnicity, the Jewish people. Some of the consequences of that identification are well known. Thus, for example, if I wished to ask for Israeli citizenship and membership in the citizen body to which the state is said to belong, namely the Jewish millet, I would be able to do so, though I have never lived in Israel and practice no religion. Many who have lived all their lives in that country would not be able to do the same, unless they converted to Judaism…

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EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Letter from Ukraine: The Maidan Experience

Kyiv’s Maidan has really proved to be a lasting affair, strong enough to manifest the will of the majority of Ukraine’s population. Everyone could see the evidence of its ability to stand against police forces. Even during calm periods Maidan is still an impressive sight.

For those of us who are used to spending most of our time on the Internet, getting to Kyiv’s Maidan feels like diving. Emerging from the subway in the city center actually turns into a deep submersion. The sense of clarity and understanding, seemingly provided by “navigation devices” – social networks and information web-portals, instantly disappears when one is on the streets. You are there and you have to reconstruct on the spot a whole new and different picture of the Maidan’s world and of what really happens there. You begin to understand that the indicators generated by the devices we are so used to are nothing more than indicators…

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EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

A Post on Laughter and Remembering in Berlin

Diversity, tension, relief, and the Stolpersteine

“…and this woman in the chic coat: is she going to clean also?”

Responding to advertisements calling for people to “actively remember,” on November 9 and 10, 2013, in Berlin and other German cities, the commemorative Stolpersteine (or “the stumbling blocks”) were physically cleaned. The Stolpersteine are little brass plaques placed at the entrances of houses whose inhabitants, most often Jews, were deported and murdered in the Nazi period. This form of commemoration was initiated in 1993.

The cleaning of the plaques was itself commemorative, marking the events of the once-named “Reichskristallnacht” of 1938. Though taking place on November 10 and 11, and often in broad daylight, the infamous attacks on Jews in Germany and Austria are officially remembered in Germany on November 9 and commonly thought to have been only nocturnal. The attacks have since been renamed, in both state and popular language, as the “Reichspogromnacht,” or the November Pogrom, foregrounding the anti-Semitism at their core…

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EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

The Booing of Zuma

The booing of South African President Jacob Zuma at the Mandela memorial gathering – this before a resplendent cast of visiting global dignitaries, around 60,000 audience members and millions of international television viewers – resonated through first the stadium that hosted the 2010 soccer world cup and then the country beyond. The resonance consists in another bout of national self-interrogation (what does this say about us?) and political punditry (what does this say about the ANC’s prospects in next year’s general elections?). So what can be sensibly said at this point?

First, South Africans showed that they have enough democracy to get away with humiliating their President in front of the world. Zuma, who has built himself an entire village at state expense in his native Nkandla, does not take his status lightly. It is not impossible that ruling circles will buzz again with talk of the need for an insult law to protect the President. But what the crowd did broke no laws and is quite typical of the style in which ANC factional battles have been waged since 2005…

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EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Lenin’s Lost his Head: What’s Going On in Kyiv?

On Sunday, for the second time in two weeks, a half-million people gathered to protest against the government in Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in an action dubbed on Twitter #ЕвроМайдан (EuroMaidan). Meanwhile, a short distance away, a smaller group of people toppled an eleven-foot statue of Vladimir Lenin, quickly removing its head and breaking the body up with a sledgehammer. The images of the latest Ukrainian protests are reminiscent of the Orange Revolution. The Maidan is again the site of a makeshift opposition camp complete with field-kitchen, portable toilets, hundreds of tents, a stage, and barricades all decorated with Ukrainian flags. Viktor Yanukovich and Russia have also reprised their roles as the main villains and targets of popular protest. While there is value in comparing the Orange Revolution and EuroMaidan, there are also important differences that make the solution to the present situation much more complicated and uncertain.

One common thread between the Orange Revolution and EuroMaidan is the contestation of Ukrainian identity…

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EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

We Are America: Guantánamo, The Aamer Appeal, and the Passion of Andrés Thomas Conteris

“President Obama, stop the tortuuurrre,” bellowed Andrés Thomas Conteris, as a plastic tube snaked through his nose, down his throat, and into his stomach to deliver a bottle of Ensure nutrients to his starved body. Conteris, months into a grueling fast, voluntarily submitted to the nasogastric feeding in front of the US Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. on October 18, 2013 to underscore the brutality of the continued forced-feeding of hunger strikers at Guantánamo Bay. Throughout the feeding, which simulated what some in Guantánamo endure twice daily, Conteris gagged and wailed. Cameras snapped. Observers winced.

The spectacle inside the courthouse, concluded minutes before, had been in its own way grave. There, the Circuit Court of Appeals had considered oral arguments in a lawsuit contending that forced-feeding at Guantánamo was a violation of human rights and therefore should be stopped. Known as the Aamer Appeal, the case was brought on behalf of Shaker Aamer and others of his Guantánamo brethren…

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EssaysIn DepthLiberal Democracy in QuestionMedia/Publics

Limiting Democracy: The American Media’s World View, and Ours

This article was originally published in Social Research, Vol. 7: No. 3: Fall 2010.

One of the difficulties in discussing the notion that it is the media that limits our idea of politics is that we all have an inherent resistance to believing that our own understanding of the political world is artificially limited. Most of us are willing to talk about political propaganda and the way in which political opinions are manipulated as long as that means somebody else’s opinions. We all prefer to think it happens to other people, not to ourselves.

This is true, first, because it is simply unpleasant to think about oneself being propagandized or being in some way manipulated. But the more substantive reason for this resistance is that the way in which we assess the set of information we receive about the world is very self-reinforcing. There is a certain set of information, a set of sources to which we are subjected or which we seek out, that provides us with information about the world and shapes our political world view…

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EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Remembering Tadeusz Mazowiecki

Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the first democratic prime minister of Poland, elected after decades of Communist rule, died on October 28.

In a widely popular weekly satirical puppet TV show, The Polish Zoo, which aired in Poland at the beginning of the 1990s, Mazowiecki was a turtle: sluggish and wise. (Among other central political figures were Lech Wałęsa, the president of Poland, as the lion, and a key post-Communist figure, Leszek Miller, as the spider.) Easily recognizable for his slow manner of speaking, Mazowiecki quickly became the symbol of peaceful, and rapid, democratic change.

 

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EssaysIn DepthLiberal Democracy in Question

Human Rights Without Persons? A Review Essay of Third Person

We are used to thinking that human rights are rights that belong to every person because of their intrinsic value. But is this the only, or at least, the best way of thinking about human rights? In his recent book, Third Person, Roberto Esposito has radically challenged this view. According to him, the triumph of the category of “the person” that, since the end of World War II has accompanied the discourse on human rights, is not the source of its success, but rather of its failure. This is because, in his view, the notion of the person, which has, since the days of Roman law and even more pointedly in its Christian elaboration, indicated the transcendent value of a human being, is incapable of bridging the gap between humanity and the logic of citizenship, precisely because it is what creates such a gap.

By opposing the person, as something artificial and endowed with moral and political significance, to mere humanity in its naturalness, Roman law gave rise to a powerful “dispositif” (p. 9), that is, to a notion that has, throughout its various Western morphologies, always been able to produce very real and tangible effects.

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