Why it is important to decolonize and feminize reading lists

When I was an undergraduate student I took a political economy class in which we read exclusively white, male, mostly US American scholars. One of them was Thomas Schelling. Remembering my two childhood years in a mixed Philadelphia suburb I was particularly intrigued by his model of neighbourhood segregation. According to Schelling, not one group in a society wants to be a minority and hence, once a neighbourhood becomes predominantly ‘red’ or ‘green’ the minority neighbours will move away…to a neighbourhood where their group is strong and likely to become a majority, hence, pushing out the other group that is becoming a minority. Obviously enough, this model is easy to criticize from within its own thinking, most particularly with respect to the presumption that clearly delineated groups exist, that people think in racial/ethnic patterns and that what is supposed to be an autonomous ‘rational’ choice is, in fact, an intersubjective and socially constructed reaction to social dynamics — all of which I duly argued in my essay at the time.

Yet, what I missed at the time in my critique of Schelling was that there is, especially in the USA, a pretty hard materialist political economy that makes racial segregation possible in the first place as Keeanga-Yamattha Taylor’s research shows. Certainly, there were critical voices in the 1990s who already had looked into the political economy of segregation, and certainly a political economy class should have taught us about them but then those voices were not the voices of white men and, hence, unworthy of listening to.



Decolonizing and feminizing reading lists

In summer 2009 Stephen Walt published in Foreign Policy Magazine a reading list “My ‘top ten’ books every student of international relations should read” which only contained books of white American men. As shocking his narrowness of mind is he arrogantly asks at the end of his list is he has missed anything. Well, he has! He has missed contintental, women’s, feminist (not the same thing, mind you), queer, post-colonial, de-colonial, critical, Critical, IPE, sociological and post-structuralist books of international relations, and that’s HUGE! Basically Walt has ignored every single scholar who is not white, male and American, and everyone who cannot agree with US foreign policy as practiced by the Kissingers and Bushs. That’s pretty much the rest of the world.

If we want our students to be critical, empathic and interested in the rest of the world we need to propose other reading lists. On this blog I propose a couple of books I would put on my ‘top ten’ books every student of international relations should read. More importantly I will publish suggestions of colleagues so that we can collectively put together a reading list that reflects the multiplicity and colourfulness of the world we live in.

So this will be hopefully the first of a series of posts. To start, my top twelve books every students of international relations should read would look like this:

Dezalay, Y. and B. G. Garth (2011) Lawyers and the rule of law in an era of globalization, Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, Routledge.

Enloe, C. H. (2014) Bananas, beaches and bases : making feminist sense of international politics, Berkeley, CA, University of California Press.

Grovogui, S. N. Z. (1996) Sovereigns, quasi sovereigns, and Africans : race and self-determination in international law, Minneapolis, Mn, University of Minnesota Press.

Gruffydd Jones, B. (2006) Decolonizing international relations, Lanham, Md. ; Plymouth, Rowman & Littlefield.

Jahn, B. (2013) Liberal internationalism : theory, history, practice, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, Palgrave Macmillan.

Li, T. (2007) The will to improve : governmentality, development, and the practice of politics, Durham, Duke University Press.

Mazower, M. (2009) No enchanted palace: the end of empire and the ideological origins of the United Nations, Princeton university press.

Mudimbe, V. Y. (1988) The invention of Africa : gnosis, philosophy, and the order of knowledge, Bloomington, Indiana University Press.

Sassen, S. (2006) Territory, Authority, Rights. From Medieval to Global Assemblages, Princeton, Princeton U.P.

Teschke, B. (2002) The Myth of 1648. Class, Geopolitics and the Making of Modern International Relations, London/ New York, Verso.

Vitalis, R. (2015) White world order, black power politics : the birth of American international relations, Ithaca, Cornell University Press.

Weber, C. (2014) International relations theory : a critical introduction, London ; New York, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. (actually I haven’t finished reading Queer International Relations, yet but I guess when I will have I’ll replace the International relations theory book with the Queer one).


I have chosen twelve because I didn’t quite know which two to throw out of this list…and I still have missed masses. All suggestions welcome this list is meant to grow!

And first wonderful suggestion:

Sjoberg, L. and C. E. Gentry (2007) Mothers, monsters, whores : women’s violence in global politics, London ; New York; New York, Zed Books; Palgrave Macmillan.

That fabulous politician recycling machine that is the United Nations (example #1): Philippe Douste-Blazy

In 2001, a local social movement in Toulouse called ‘Les Motivé-e-s’ won four seats in the French municipal council elections. Their campaign song ‘Allez Ouste! (Douste-Blazy)’ became a national hit and made the movement known across France. The target of the song and campaign was Toulouse’s mayor Philippe Douste-Blazy who was accused of managing the pink city’s fortunes in all too obscure fashion. Douste-Blazy managed to stay in power in these elections but he gave up his position as mayor three years later when he became, first, Minister of health and family under Jean-Pierre Raffarin, then Foreign Minister under Dominque de Villepin and Jacques Chirac. Like others who were close to Jacques Chirac he has disappeared from France’s political scene after Chirac’s fiercest rival Nicolas Sarkozy was elected French president in 2007. He didn’t fall hard, though. Since 2008 he is Special Adviser on Innovative Financing for Development at the United Nations, at the rank of an Under-Secretary-General, and Chairman of UNITAID. The innovative financing in question is a levy on airline tickets to finance HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis drugs in developing countries. UNITAID sees itself as facilitator. It does not have own projects but supports programs of other organizations. The creation of the organization goes back to an initiative of Jacques Chirac — does someone else hear the bells ringing?

In 2011, Jacques Chirac has been, by the way, sentenced to two years of prison (on parole) for the creation of feigned employments at the City Hall of Paris when he was mayor of Paris from 1977 until 1995. The scandal of ’emplois fictifs de la mairie de Paris’ is only one of several financial scandals involving Chirac and his closest aides; the obscure financing of his party and electoral campaigns, on national, regional and municipal level, have also been since long in the eye of the prosecutors of the French republic. There is no doubt that Chirac and his ‘clan’ (as his close party mates were often called) have solid experience in ‘innovative financing’… honi soit qui mal y pense…

Women at the UN: what is at stake?

Since Helen Clark is in the race for the next Secretary-General of the United Nations, everyone talks about gender equality at the UN (and international organizations more generally). The UN is certainly one of the places in the world where the discrepancy between the discourse of equality and its reality of gender and race based marginalization is absurd. Indeed, it needs a white woman from a high-income OECD country to make a female UN Secretary General imaginable. In 2016, the UN is still far, far away from what has become possible at the British National Student Union, namely the election of dark skinned woman of ‘Muslim’ origin (inverted commas as the category ‘Muslim’ is a really silly rubbish bin category to squeez all those people in who have not been to Brownies). Helen Clark’s female competitors (Irina Bokova from Bulgaria, Susana Malcorra from Argentina, Maria Angela Holguin from Colomba) have received much less attention from Western media even though their track record as workers for humanity is at least as good as Clark’s if not better; one wonders why…

Apart from the fact that she is from a rich country, one reason Helen Clark is so spoilt by many Western media is that she is considered to be able to promote women’s issues and equality at the UN. She herself plays the women card very loudly in her campaign by claiming that women are a force of peace or that by giving TED talks about women and leadership. She emphasises how much she has done herself to promote women in government while she was New Zealand’s prime minister and chair of the World Council of Women Leaders.

But being a woman and woman senior leader does not automatically lead to greater gender equality in an organization. The UN is a particularly stubborn place when it comes to the promotion of women. This article on the opendemocracy website has some really uncomfortable charts to show this. As the article says: “At the current rate of increase [of women in senior positions] during the current Secretary General’s tenure—from 20 percent in 2007 to 22 percent in 2015—it would take another 112 years to reach 50/50 gender parity in the UN’s senior leadership.”

In peace missions, however, the share of women has noticeably risen. In 2006, not one single mission was led by a woman. Today, the UN misisons in Haiti (Sandra Honoré), Lebanon (Sigrid Kaag), Côte d’Ivoire (Aïchatou Mindaoudou), South Sudan (Margaret Løj) and Burundi (Karen Lindgren) are headed by women. Before this there had been only one mission that had been led by a woman, the first UN peace mission in Angola under Margaret Joan Anstee (a vivid account can be found in her memoirs and Marrack Goulding’s).

Most of these women are in sort of mid-career stages and it is probable that their current position as special representative will lead to further advancement. Even though overall the share of women has not increased in UN senior management in recent years, there is a little hope that in peacebuilding, at least, women’s presence might well be just taking off. Having a female secretary general, whether Helen Clark or someone else, does intuitively make believe that the careers of these female Heads of Missions would not be stalled in the same way Anstee’s career came to an end after the Angola experience and Boutros-Ghali’s installation as Secretary General.

However, the problem is that we don’t know. Having a woman at the top of the UN might as well have no effect whatsoever on the gender gap in international organizations. To start with, the UN is not doing particularly worse than any other socio-professional or political sector; it is actually doing better than many countries, including advanced industrial countries. Worldwide women hold only 12% of seats on executive boards of major business corporations (same page). Men still earn about twice as much income as women. According to the World Bank, worldwide parliamentary representation of women has increased to 23%, however it is a bit puzzling to see particularly high representation of women in parliaments that are utterly dysfunctional (e.g. Cuba or Iran). One explanation is that some countries generously count in these statistics female representatives in parliamentary chambers that have not direct legislative powers (e.g. Bolivia which has about 50% women in its lower chamber but none in its higher parliamentary chamber). Having a female head of state or government has not had any direct impact on women’s representation in parliament as the case of Germany for instance shows. According to the UN women programme, 11 women served as Head of State and 10 served as Head of Government as of August 2015 and only 17% of ministers worldwide were women.

Compared to this, the UN is actually doing ok with its 22% of women in senior leadership positions. But this also means that there will be a hell of resistance to take active measures to further increase women’s representation at the UN. For many male-dominated organizations, one woman in a room represents already parity. The best means to increase women’s representation has been up to now the introduction of quota. However, in an organization like the UN that is already riddled and divided up by numerous formal and informal quota it is unlikely that such a proposition would get anywhere even if it were seriously on the table. There are, of course, numerous other ways of supporting promotion of women in organizations like flexible working times, child care support (which in the case of the UN should include family friendly expatriate arrangements) and active support for promotion for instance through mentoring and gender sensitive promotion structures.

It’s in this last respect that much is expected from a female UN Secretary General. However, simply having a woman at the top cannot by itself lead to better support for female colleagues; on the contrary, single women leaders have shown a tendency to frustrate junior female careers rather than to support them. This has become known as ‘queen bee’ phenomenon and a well-known plot of Hollywood films. In mild forms the queen bee effect can be seen in female leaders’ refusal to support any kind of active policies to reduce gender gaps (‘we do the same work as men’), whereas more aggressive forms can take the form of active obstruction, for instance by precisely asking more effort and better results from women colleagues. The reasons for queen bee’s existence have been explained in various forms but some research argues that it is, actually, a result of gender inequality, and not a cause.

Researchers point to two factors that determine the severity of the queen bee phenomenon: the ‘maleness’ of the organizational culture and the socio-cultural socialization of the female leaders. Simply said the more sexist an organization is the more it is likely that a woman has complied with and assimilated gender stereotypes. She will apply these sexist standards to female junior staff in order to get her own achievements acknowledged. From other contexts, we know that an organization is the more sexist and gender discriminating the more it is dominated by men only. There is, hence, a vicious circle between male dominated organizational cultures and queen bee syndrome. Unnecessary to emphasize that sexist organizational cultures are more likely to exist in settings in which gender equality is less developed and where women generally participate less in the workforce.

Consequently, one of the surest ways of breaking through the vicious circle of queen bees and male organizational culture is female leaders’ awareness of this and other stereotyping phenomena. If female senior leaders lend active support to end gender discrimination, the effect on the organization is overall positive (not only for women!). Women who come from gender egalitarian backgrounds show less incidence of the queen bee syndrome than women who were socialized in gender discriminating cultures (whether national cultures or sector-specific cultures).

Hence, when looking for a UN Secretary General who will promote female careers, the actual fact of being a woman does not by itself promise change. Rather it is necessary that this woman is committed to promote junior women and that she actively engages in combatting discriminatory culture, policies and practices. This is easier in an environment in which women are already well represented and on the rise (as it is the case of the UN in the past decade). That means, however, that women like Irina Bokova from Bulgaria where the employment rate of women is high and the income gap comparable to New Zealand (13.5% in Bulgaria, 11.8% in New Zealand), and who has two children of her own (unlikely Helen Clarke who is childless) might even be a better choice to promote women in the UN. But then, Helen Clarke is not the candidate supported by Russia…

The lazy bugger myth

The Guardian just published a list of 11 tips how to make a career in the UN, most of them giving advice on how not to work. Of course, the list is a satiric take on the myth of the UN’s lazy buggers who only pretend to save the world when they are actually playing minecraft or hanging out at the pool, or even worse, abusing the power they have. There are many such lists and articles (here and here); ineffectiveness or stupidity is also commonly laughed at on the very popular blog ‘Stuff expat aidworkers like’ (which has seriously lost speed in the past years); and there have been a number of books written on the UN’s ineptitude (see for instance the highly tainted and disputed memoirs of Pedro Sanjuan).

But the laziness of UN staff thus decried is a myth. UN workers do work their bottom off. Especially in field missions Un staff usually does not have 9 to 5 working hours or a four-day working week. On the contrary, stress is a major problem of UN work. In my 2012 survey of civilian staff in peacebuilding missions which I did for my book project, a third of the respondents said that they felt extremely or very often stressed. More than 40% of the respondents found it very difficult to balance family and work life.

2012 survey of civilian staff in UN peace missions

2012 survey of civilian staff in UN peace missions

So, the problem is not that UN staff doesn’t work. If it is not the real laziness of UN staff that is at stake, then the myth has another foundation. The problem is that their work is not very visible to the outside world. As this graph shows from the same survey, most staff is in regular contact with other UN agencies or international organizations during their working day, however they deal little with, however defined local agencies. They also draw their information and ideas less from locals than from international sources. Even though many read local newspapers or say that they are in regular contact with people living in the country and that they know many since a long time, they still privilege international newspapers and expert advice as information sources.

UN work (and probably also of any other international agency) is highly self-referential. Hence, it might appear irrelevant and remaining aloof of the reality of the goals to be achieved. The world seems to go on very well without the UN. The 2015 Millenium Development Goals for instance were successfully met largely because of China’s formidable economic growth that took place entirely independently from any UN work (and with economic policies which, according to some, defied the development politics’ wisdom).

Yet, this is only part of the story. As it is true for all administrations and bureaucracies the UN is most successful if not seen or heard. Ideally, the UN (and its affiliated organizations) is in the background and provides the conditions of possibilities for other– NGOs, national or local governments, local organizations etc. – to act. The critique that the UN is bunch of lazy buggers, hence, also expresses extreme unease with the organization’s elusiveness. The UN appears unaccountable, byzantine and far removed from the people it is supposed to serve. The contradiction is particularly disturbing where the UN is engaged in ‘empowerment’ or ‘democracy’ projects; whoever is the beneficiary of UN aid is her/himself utterly powerless and excluded from any major decision-making (despite the rhetoric of ‘consultation’) – an impression which is reinforced by the self-referential nature of UN work where the views of headquarter officials are more important than the views of the people on the ground.



What if the template for the Greek crisis would be Yugoslavia?

There are many historical parallels being conjured since the Greek referendum was announced and looking for ‘historical’ lessons is as usual a favourite pastime of media comments. But one historical case has as far as I can see not been mentioned at all: the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) in the 1980s. Clearly, the narrative that the wars in former Yugoslavia were all about ethnic-nationalist hatred still overshadows any political economy analysis. Yet, a closer look at Yugoslavia in its last hours reveals many disquieting parallels to the mess Europe and Greece are in today as the bloody wars of the 1990s were, in fact, triggered by the debt crisis of the FRY in the 1980s.

Like Greece the FRY had been piling up international debt that had been given mainly for geostrategic and ideological reasons and although the political and economic system had become highly dysfunctional, leaving the federal and some (not all!) republican institutions without far lower revenues than their expenses required (for all sorts of reasons that I cannot discuss here but which are well discussed in the very fine edited volume of Nabojsa Popov, or in the analyses of Susan Woodward here and here).

Like for Greece today, creditors at the time (the IMF, the US and the European Communities) became highly intransigent and nasty, requesting neoliberal restructuring and building up more and more pressure to oust the ‘socialist’ governments. And just like in Europe now, all sides fell back into nationalist-aggressive macho rhetoric’s to defend their position. The questions who or what had caused the Yugoslav debt, which republic had to repay just how much and who had to bear the brunt of the burden of restructuring were the key problems to be solved in the Federalist institutions of Yugoslavia; the response, however, was the rise of nationalist populists like Milosevic and Tudjman who, instead of proposing political programmes by which to rebuild one functioning welfare market economy in Yugoslavia, jumped around like a bunch of Kangaroo males sticking their tiny fists into each other faces.

The Yugoslav population was left out of the picture despite all sides claiming to represent ‘the people’. As David Dyker showed, concrete information on the debt burden and on the restructuring plans rarely reached the wider public; and if information did go out, it was clad in such a bureaucratic and technical language that it was perceived as insulting simply by the fact that it was incomprehensible. In last Sunday’s referendum, too, the technical aspects of the question were entirely irrelevant to the debate over the referendum, which became the stage of a highly ideologized confrontation between anti- and pro-neoliberal policies as well as anti- and pro-Europeans. The two cleavages are not congruent and also do not match up well with more classical socialist-conservative divides – again, like in former Yugoslavia where the divisions within the FRY did not follow simple patterns of liberal reformists vs. communists, federalists vs. nationalists or between those who argued for debt relief vs. those who aggressively used the debt question for their nationalist-populist agendas. In the end, the nationalist rethoric crushed all other voices, at gunpoint when needed, so that the multiplicity of voices and interests that these multiple cleavages reflected did not transform into a pluralist democratic debate but into nasty chauvinist warfare.

In the case of Yugoslavia the populists won over the real political debate on the rebuilding of Yugoslavia’s economy and political institutions. They then did exactly what macho nationalists have always done, they made war. In the Manichean logic of populist Kangaroo fighting there is no other way to keep in power. The nationalist boxing suited well the ‘international community’ whose harsh debt repayment conditions had thrown the FRY’s leadership into those ring fights in the first place. The initial question on the table, namely how to reform a failing economy in order to save guard high levels of social justice, i.e. the quarrel between welfare market economies and neoliberal policies, was brushed away by the ethnic-nationalistic bickering over whose great-grandfather had killed whose great-grandfather two or more generations ago or whether strong, concentrated black coffee is to be called ‘Croatian’, ‘Bosnian’ or ‘Serb’ coffee. No need to rethink neoliberalism, it was all ancient ethnic hatred.

Unless last Sunday’s ‘No’ is taken as invitation to think collectively about a common solution to Greece’s debt – and debt relief certainly seems as the solution which makes political and economic sense – and unless all sides drive back the nationalist populist rhetoric of the past weeks the risk is that the parallel with former Yugoslavia becomes ever more real. Varoufakis’ resignation and the toning down of aggressive breast banging it will bring, is a clear Greek step in the latter sense. Now it’s the EU’s turn…


Globalization buzzwords

Scopus has this really nice analysis tool with which one can quickly get an idea how fancy some buzzwords really are. Out of curiosity I looked up ‘cosmopolitanism’ and its generic ‘cosmopolit*’ as well as ‘civil society’, ‘global civil society’ and ‘global governance’. Interestingly, global governance and civil society as well as cosmopolitanism seem to follow each other. Their high time seems to be over as their use has been falling since 2012. Maybe the sobering experience of the 2008 crash and crisis, after the popping globalization champagne of the 2000’s?


Why the South is not in the East, some reflections on postcolonial studies at the recent International Studies Association annual convention in New Orleans

With this post I want to start reflecting on other topics than peace and conflict research strictly speaking. To the extent that my research has turned away from conflict research and (hopefully) will turn away from peace research for some time after I have finished this */&%$”***book I’ll use the blog as notepad for other reflections on IR and global studies. 


The International Studies Association’s annual convention, which just came to close last Saturday in New Orleans, is probably the largest academic international relations conference, in terms of people but also in terms of topics and approaches. Thanks to the great work of the programme chairs Pinar Bilgin and L.H.M. Ling this year’s conference was an extra-ordinary showcase for alternative approaches, notably postcolonial, queer or gender studies and other critical and alternative ways of thinking about world politics. Many of this was new to me and it was really exciting to be able to explore so many different ways of thinking about world politics and global society. And yet, a lot of puzzling impressions, too…. And one of them was the question why the farthest east postcolonial studies get is India. The sinosphere (Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Korea, Mongolia) are apparently not part of the postcolonial world; only one paper out of more than 260, which deal with China referred explicitly to postcolonial thought. Singapore or Malaysia are also absent from postcolonial studies maps. And Japan, anyway, is entirely absent from the agenda as if it would have always been the high-tech, American vassal state that is only interesting for liberal IPE or Asian realist conflict analysis and not one major example of orientalist thought and colonial warfare (on the receiving and sending side). Indonesia and Thailand might be more often subject of postcolonial analysis but at this conference such were equally conspicuously absent. Why?

It is strange that postcolonial IR should neglect an entire region of the world, which was just as much object of brutal, exploitative and estranging colonial practices, although in highly variable forms and in which a huge number of inequalities, racisms and structural exploitations continue to be reproduced. Why is it that this region should be excluded from the questions that postcolonial studies have so successfully formulated for India, Middle Eastern and African countries and societies. This is particularly striking as literature studies, area studies or historians like A. Dirlik have extensively used Orientalist analyses to expose 19th and 20th century writings about East Asia. One just has to think of the ways Ruth Benedict’s ‘The Chrysanthemum and The Sword’ or the film (and book) ‘The Geisha’ have been torn apart by postcolonial scholarship (and media). The big absence of postcolonial analyses of East Asia at ISA is something particular to international relations and global studies, not to social sciences and humanities in general.

I don’t think this is a coincidence but intimately linked to the fact that East Asia simply does not fit very well the economic narratives that underfeed postcolonial studies. The economic success of East Asian countries, particularly of Japan but also of Korea, Singapore and China (and to a lesser extent of Malaysia), rattles too uncomfortably on the socio-economic ontology of postcolonial studies. An essential argument of postcolonial studies is that orientalism is the cultural manifestation of the South’s material exploitation and oppression. Sometimes this is explicitly linked to (neo)Marxist readings of imperialism or colonialism but more often than not the assumption remains implicit that the world is marked by a fundamental bipolarity of the capitalist modernity of the West and the exploited, colonized ‘otherness’ of the South. In fact, the economic narrative looms large behind post-colonial ventures into IR but it is rarely explicitly discussed. The economic success of East Asian countries and their strong developmental states are therefore hard to explain from a postcolonial point of view and attract only attention as examples of model students of the West or for what remains in poverty and exploitation (a lot). The economic history of East Asia is at once a refutation of the provincialism assumption, apparently confirming rather classical (neo)Marxist assumptions of globalization (see Robinson or Harvey), and of the resistance assumption, i.e. that integration into world processes will go through upheavals of resistance. These difficulties of inscribing East Asia past forty years into a postcolonial frame are additionally compounded by the historical complexity with which the East Asian ‘subaltern’ has created and continues to create ‘subalterity’ in Asia and around the world.

Yet, the narrative that East Asia has become simply another manifestation of the ‘West’ appears too simplistic to me and somehow profoundly contradictory to cultural studies’ interests in the orientalisation of East Asian societies and cultures. It would be an interesting exercise of reflectivist scholarship if the lack of postcolonial studies of East Asia’s politics and economics were to be explained in a postcolonial framework.


And now once again, all together now: what is terrorism and who becomes a terrorist?

The recent killing of the editorial team of Charlie Hebdo and of four French Jews in Paris has again brought the debate back over what terrorism is and who becomes a terrorist. The questions are, obviously, not new and it might be seen as a sign of a vibrant social science debate that they have not been satisfactorily answered (see for instance this interesting row of articles in the Journal of Social Philosophy). In the meanwhile, the space for ideologization and politicization of these questions from all sides remains open with the troubling consequences we can already see in France, from increased securitization and surveillance to mounting racism.

There is an intuitive understanding of ‘terror’ as arbitrary and gratuitous violence that aims at spreading fear and insecurity among a population. However, with this in mind drone attacks are, quite obviously, as much terrorism as the killing of cartoonists and supermarket costumers (a good discussion how the terms ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist’ are politically constructed and disputed in the case of US-Israel-Palestine relations can be found here). The question what terrorism is and who the terrorists are goes deeper because it touches the much more fundamentally political question of legitimate uses and users of violence; hence, any intuitive answer will be unsatisfactory.

Debating the question becomes all the more complex in an age of transnational violence. In the 1970s and 1980s when left-wing extremists killed politicians and industrial leaders in Westeuropean states, they did so within a neatly circumscribed political field with a so-called military-industrial state complex on the one hand and a so-called revolutionary cell on the other. The question of what terrorism is became subsumed in the question whether the Red Army Fraction’s (in Germany) killings were politics or not (and the imprisoned RAF members treated as political prisoners or as common murderers). Although in theory the RAF’s members appealed to an abstract idea of world revolution, the RAF’s act were not committed in the name of some far-away imagined community but self-assumed in their own interest as revolutionaries within Germany; the aim was to kick off a revolution in Germany first not in any other part of the world.

This is different to the current attacks. Here, there is also a very abstract idea of a Muslim community in the background and which, by definition, includes French Muslims, but importantly there is the very concrete objective of destabilising Western military policies in far away countries. The strategic target of the attacks was, if the communique of the Yemenite Al Qaida is to be believed, actually not in Paris but in Syria, Afghanistan, Mali, Tchad and other ‘holy lands’. The killers did not aim at changing French politics in France. Yet, the killers were French as French can be, apparently not particularly religious themselves and rather socialized in the petty criminal and drug dealing milieus of France’s marginal zones; they were neither Palestinians nor Libyans who have to deal daily with the terror of Israeli or French bombings.

With RAF killings, the answer one gave to the question what terrorism was (murder or a political act) automatically included the answer to the question what a terrorist was (a murderer or an insurgent against social injustice). Now, this has become more complex. One could for instance acknowledge that some armed groups are resistance movements to occupation (as many do for Hamas in Gaza) and acknowledge their legitimacy to use violence.

However, it is then difficult to see what French marginalized, disenfranchised youth has to do with it. In order to make this argument, one needs to create a connection between Gaza or Syria and Corèze (where the Kouachi brothers apparently grew up). This is what a number of texts circulating on the internet actually try to do by postulating a general oppression of all Muslims, in France and in Iraq alike, but the link remains unconvincing per se. There are many marginalized, disenfranchised and frustrated youth in France; yet, not all of them are Muslims and not all Muslims are marginalized and disenfranchised. As Olivier Roy points out correctly the very idea of a Muslim ‘community’ in France is factitious. It might well be that it was one objective of these attacks to create such communitarian antagonism, exactly because it does not exist in the facts of French society.

It is more promising to separate the motivations of the killers from the motivations of the killing. The debate over who becomes a terrorist is often represented as opposing the hypothesis of individual mindsets to the hypothesis of strategic, well-calculating political networks. Yet, there is no reason other than the observers’ own ideological goggles not to assume that both can be true. One can perfectly well see the three young men as mere tools of a larger, transnationally calculating strategy of violent confrontation, and as subjects who act out their own individual social and, eventually mental, troubles within their very own realm. Young men and women have to  be socialized into networks of violence (as summarized here) and these structures of socialization are, indeed, ‘homemade’. (I find it noticeable for instance that the Kouachi brothers staged their attack like a headshooting video game which is much more symptomatic of French youth culture and not in the Hamas or Chechen style of a suicide bombing.)

If, indeed, both were true then the political responses, too, have to be kept separate. ‘Standing the ground in Syria’ as the French President took his mouth full the other day or bombing Yemen will not stop the French marginalized zones of society to produce young men and women who are willing to let their lives to kill others; and starting (finally) to work seriously on the issues of daily racist prejudice, of rampant exclusion and marginalization, of urban decay and (most important of all in my eyes) educational misery might not have much effect on Palestinian statehood or peace in Syria. Yet, the realization that one has maybe very little to do with the other would, very importantly, open space for a democratic debate whether the state’s money should to go into more bombs on far-away places or is better spent on education, culture and employment, in France’s marginalized zones in particular but in the entire country in general.

So far for politics…but on the research side of things, separating the individual terrorist from the greater question of transnational terrorism paradoxically requires an inter-disciplinary approach. Academically, the question of the terrorist’s mindset has been kept at arm’s length by political science research out of fear that any investigation into the subjective experience of terrorism (and the corresponding debates about deviance or not) would delegitimate the assessment of its economic, social and political causes. If one argues that the oppression of Palestinians in Gaza is causally the same as the oppression of ‘muslims’ in France and that therefore the three killers of last Wednesday have acted out of the identitary humiliation that Muslims apparently feel all over the world, then, of course, any psychological or socio-psychological explanation of terrorism is inacceptable. On the other hand, if one argues that terrorists are purely the product of dysfunctional socialisation processes, examples of delinquance rather than politics, or simply psychopats, then any further investigation into the causal connections with wider world politics is inacceptable. In both cases, the reaction would be to fend off inter-disciplinary approaches out of ideological fears or egoistic fencing off of research claims.

If, however, one accepts that there is a missing link between individual mindsets (which still then need to be more clearly defined) and greater globalised schemes of oppression (which then still would need better explanation than simply ‘oppression’ or ‘imperialism’), then social sciences working on the individual and micro-cosmen of terrorists (psychology, socio-psychology, anthropology, sociology) need to be integrated with those social sciences who work on the dynamics and pitfalls of globalisation (international relations, comparative politics, international political economy).

That is easier said than done. Apart from a host of practical problems (the competitive nature of funding that incites in-disciplinary research or simply the physical non-dialogue between the disciplines), there is a row of serious epistemological and ontological questions that need to be cleared. Obviously, there is the agent-structure problem and, if one thinks in terms of linear causality, the what/who causes what/who? Yet, this could be solved with an approach that disposes of linear causality and accepts the relational assumption that socialization is a two-way (or even multi-way) process, in which agents continously participate, by their very lives, in the reproduction of structures, which, in turn, condition the individual’s agency. Yet, the greater problem is that these dynamics of reproduction-socialization-reproduction are not linear and direct, and maybe not even coherent. In the end, the question which structures produce which kinds of agency and vice-versa can be only answered empirically, and that is probably the most frustrating part for all those who want social science to produce ready-made answers immediately when disaster strikes.

Protestantism, liberalism, peace

Reading up and down political theory and asking myself how this could be related to peacebuilding (in order to write that very chapter of my book) I was more and more puzzled by the relationship between Protestantism, liberalism and peace. Yes, this must be a HUGE area and yet, I searched google scholar and the usual databases up and down, to find very, very little if not anything at all on this topic. So using once again the blog as notepad and virtual ‘fridge’ to keep ideas fresh for later use….here we go, some reflections on Protestantism, liberalism and peace:

Since Max Weber we have an idea of how Protestantism and liberalism are ideologically linked. Historically, the history of Great Britain and the US show clear linkages between political ideas of toleration, civil society freedom and light state control over individuals as ways out of religious conflict arising from the spread of protestant and reformist churches.

On the other hand, there seems to general consensus that current peacebuilding efforts are to be labelled ‘liberal’. Some hold them to be too liberal, other not liberal enough (see David Chandler’s recent analysis) yet that political liberalism is the driving ideology underlying contemporary peacebuilding seems in little doubt.

However, nowhere has the link been made between Protestantism, liberalism and ideas of peace as advocated by the so-called ‘international community’ (of which we know, of course, that it isn’t really a community but as shorthand for the couple of powerful states and international organisations who orchestrate contemporary peacebuilding it will do).

This is so despite a renewed interest in dissecting our understanding of ‘peace’. Oliver Richmond in particular has devoted parts of his work to the question ‘what is peace’ yet similar to others he has ended up with a list of attributes to be attached to the notion ‘peace’: there is now not only the liberal peace, but also the victor’s peace (realist interpretation of peace), peace as social justice (apparently the Marxist version) and a post-structuralist understanding of peace. Richmond’s classification reflects largely the traditional English School interpretation of IR theory as ‘Hobbesian’, ‘Kantian and ‘Marxist’, or realist, liberal and Marxist and to this classical mix he adds a pinch of Foucault.

There is also hybrid peace, which is not defined in terms of political ideology or understanding of IR theory but rather a very rough category, any kind of peace effort that includes local actors. And then there is Michael Barnett’s proposition of a republican peace as alternative to the liberal peace which is, again, ideologically ill defined but preoccupied with the type of institutions that should be built in peacebuilding efforts.

What is common to all these interpretations and proposals of peace is that they see themselves as secular proposals. The rift between secular social science peace research and religious motivated peace research is rather obvious in the publication behaviour of the authors. On the one hand, there are the Yoders and Lederachs who publish monographs and in theological or philosophical journals. On the other hand are the secular peace researchers who prefer social science journals and, cautiously aim at integrating the larger IR debates by publishing in traditional IR outlets like Review of International Studies or International Organization. Quite interestingly and contrary to Yoder, Lederach makes very little of his religious background in his writings and seeks to impress a secular audience as much as he aims at reformulating basic principles of mennonite thought on peace. He resembles in this Ralph Niebuhr who argued for a secular peace philosophy in order to counter the reality of international politics that could not be captured with pacifist ideas alone.

Yet, this secularisation of peace research has rather obscured its religious legacy and continuities (older IR research has in fact more openly discussed the links between religious views and views of the international system, for instance Hedley Bull’s discussion of Martin Wight but somehow this has been lost in the more recent debates). Instead of critically analysing those religious roots, most of peace research continues to transmit values and ideas, which are based in Christian, and for large parts, protestant morality and ethics. The secularization of peace research might even have reinforced the tacit, subconscious and ‘normal’ essence of these values up to a point that it might appear extremely strange to even ask the question whether our, i.e. Western, white, European or Christian (or monotheist) ideas of peace are in any way culturally particular. This would not be blog post but a scholarly book if I had good, evidenced and fully argued answers to that question. Yet, I can throw in some arguments about striking parallels between protestantism, liberalism and certain visions of peace that can be typically found in Western (understood LARGE) discourses.

First there is this idea of ‘improvement’. Now, there can be a huge theological debate over the degree to which different protestant denominations argue about the scope of individual improvement but it is certainlynot entirely wrong to assert that the key ideas of protestantism are that men (and women) are born as individuals with one life in which they have to strive to move as far away as possible from the sinful, unreasonable and unrational child they are towards a person that can justify, morally and in terms of his or her beliefs, to have been selected by God. (I should maybe simply copy-paste Max Weber’s caveat as to the sociologists view on religion being forcebly superficial and rought as compared to the hairsplitting intracacies of the theologists’ views…in any case this here is meant to be a very rough sketch not yet a full theological, sociological discussion…apologies hence for very rough renderings of protestantism).

‘Improvement’ includes the idea of progress and perfectability of men. Much of Max Weber’s essay on protestantism and the spirit of capitalism aims at showing just how much these ideas of perfectability and improvement have been ideological motors of enrichment, invention and technological progress that have marked the capitalist age. But the idea of a capacity of improvement as key characteristic of societies and states can be found also in the early writing of liberals such as Mill and in later ideas of modernisation and development like in almost caricatural form of Rostow’s stages of development. Although critical theory and post-colonial thought have severely undermined the confidence of the modernist discourse, the idea of ‘improvement’ remains a central tenent of most development and also peacebuilding discourses.

It can be found in the language of any agency report one wishes to consult: every report will talk in progressive terms and assert that things are moving forward (never backward, you mind), that progress was achieved here or there, growth ignited here, take-offs orchestrated there. The paradigm of progress also sharply shapes policy oriented social science research, notably in the forms of scales on which societies can move up or down: the Freedom House scale, the failing states scale, the civil society scale etc. Improvement is indeed the key justification of any post-conflict reconstruction effort, what counts is that the lives of people become better and if they haven’t done so despite all efforts then this is because XX (insert: international community, the UN, the USA or any other culprit) has not tried hard enough.

Having to try hard, having to work hard, having to overcome obstacles is again another very protestant trait of peacebuilding. Again, the core distinction of protestant belief to Catholic bellief is that even though man has not chosen her destiny, it is still man who has to work hard to fulfill her fate. It is every individual who has to overcome the imperfections of the real life and who has to do so urgently, given that we only have this one life for that. Max Weber pointed out that it is this idea that the course of humanity can be changed and that destiny can be actively filled was at the origin of any political concept of social engineering (although Weber did not call it that way), i.e. of the idea that a community can be organised in a way that every single person can be set to improve.

The thought that men who are born miserable are luckier because they have more opportunities to prove how hard they are believing in God and to prove how hard they work to overcome the obstacles of fulfilling their destiny is only a psychological perversion for those who do not believe in the individual and determinate selection of God’s children. In the mindset of protestant beliefs it is entirely reasonable that having more proves of true belief to deliver is a clear indicator of being more selected.

It might be that the continuation of peacebuilding and development, despite their multiple and variously discussed and analysed failures, is due to this same perserverance. If peacebuilding or development assistance has failed up to now then this only shows how much it is necessary to continue. If Sysiphos would have been protestant he might have been happy.

Individuals who do not succeed in fulfilling their destiny have, in most protestant thought at least, mainly themselves to blame. They are probably not pious enough, not hard working enough, victim of deadly sins, seductions and temptations, not well integrated in the community of believers and distracted, or…simply not selected. The peacebuilding discourses about ‘spoilers’ or ‘trauma’ bear similarities in that they pathologize the societies in question for not achieving peace. If societies cannot find peace despite various efforts of conflict resolution, then it must be that they are caught in erronous beliefs (e.g. ethnic nationalism), that they are victims of seduction and temptation (e.g. warlords), that they are, temporarily at least, incapable of doing things right (e.g. traumatized) etc.

A final parallel between protestantism, liberalism and peace that comes to my mind is the tension of international law and interventionism which reflects not only the ambigious relationship between society and state in liberal ideology but also the ambigious relationship between individual, community and god in protestant movements. On the one hand is the sovereign individual communicating directly and personally with God, and on the other hand is the community surveilling the individual that this communication takes place in due form. On the one hand is the autonomous civil society minding its own business, and on the other hand is the state providing the legal protective space for the civil society to mind its own, and nobody else’s business, e.g. as seen in legalizing and enforcing private property. On the one hand is the sovereign state and the autonomous society, and on the other hand is the responsibility to protect norm (or however any interention norm had been called in the past) to oversee that the principles of international law may only be applied to ‘decent people’ as John Rawls called democratic and non-democratic, yet liberal states.

These are a couple of, admittedly very rough parallels between Protestantism, liberalism and peace yet they appear to me promising inroads into a genealogy of peace, as it is understood in contemporary peacebuilding. Comments, and especially corrections on my views on Protestantism, most welcome!