This post is excerpted from the essay "Syria" by Paulo Gabriel Hilu Pinto, which appears in Dispatches from the Arab Spring (UMP, 2013).
A long history of resistance and opposition to the Baathist regime existed in Syria before the uprising that began in 2011. While both secular and religious political movements had tried to counter the control that the regime had imposed on Syrian society since 1963, Islamic groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, managed to attract militants from the traditional elites and the urban middle classes into confrontational opposition to the regime. From 1979 to 1982 various Islamic groups under the leadership of the Muslim Brothers had waged an armed struggle against the Baathist regime (Abd-Allah 1983). During the 1970s the grievances of the traditional landowning and industrial elites and of the professional middle class found expression through the idiom of political Islam, as all secular political forces had been disbanded by the Baathist regime.
Several Islamic groups were created, but the Muslim Brotherhood was the largest. The society of the Muslim Brothers in Syria (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun fi Suriya) was created in the 1940s with the reunion of preexisting Islamic organizations under the leadership of the Syrian sheikh Mustafa al-Siba‘i, who had come into contact with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt while he was a student in Cairo. Like their Egyptian counterparts, the Syrian Muslim Brothers were committed to the creation of an Islamic state, but unlike the Egyptians, they had a strong presence among the members of the religious establishment, such as Sufi sheikhs and ‘ulama, who mobilized their followers into the political project of the movement. The ideology of the Muslim Brothers recruited adepts among the urban middle class of merchants and professionals. The Islamic opposition was particularly active in Aleppo and Hama, where some of the religious leaders had family connections with the traditional urban elites of merchants and landowners, as well as a strong appeal among the middle classes and some popular sectors (Abd-Allah 1983; Batatu 1988; Carr. and Seurat  2001). The conflict with the state culminated in a military confrontation that destroyed a large part of the city of Hama in 1982 and resulted in an enormous number of casualties among the civilian population. After the tragedy of Hama, political Islam declined as a mobilizing force in Syrian society, and Hafiz al-Assad’s government adopted a more accommodating stance toward Sunni Islam.
The rise of Bashar al-Assad to the Syrian presidency after the death of his father, Hafiz, who ruled Syria from 1970 to 2000, consolidated the grip of the Assad dynasty over Syrian politics. This power transition produced a “dynastic republic” (which its opponents ironically called a jumlukiyya), a model that was eagerly copied by other authoritarian regimes in the Arab world. The dynastic succession also signaled the intensification of the concentration and personalization of power within the Baathist regime. This process started under Hafiz al-Assad’s rule, as he gradually neutralized the Baath Party and other institutions such as trade unions and peasant organizations, depriving them of any coherent ideological content or political power within the structure of the regime (Le Gac1991, 135–36; Perthes 1995, 133–202). Already in preparation for the dynastic transition, Hafiz eliminated all centers of power within the regime that could threaten its course. In 1998, Rifa‘at al-Assad, Hafiz’s brother, who had been in exile since his frustrated coup in 1984, was stripped of his symbolic position as vice president. In 1999, the network of legal and illegal business in the port of Latakiya that had been controlled by Rifa‘at was dismantled, and groups of his loyalists were disbanded after they took part in armed confrontations with the Syrian army throughout the city. Similarly, ‘Ali Duba, chief of the military intelligence services, was dismissed from his post because he was perceived as being a potential threat to Bashar’s ascension to the presidency.
The elimination of threatening or potentially bothersome power figures and the dismantling of their networks was an important strategy that Bashar al-Assad often mobilized in his struggle to consolidate his position in the regime. This affected even high-profile figures from Hafiz al-Assad’s era, such as Mustafa Tlas, minister of defense, and ‘Abd al-Halim Khaddam, former foreign minister and vice president, both of whom were highly instrumental in assuring Bashar’s ascension to the presidency. In this way, there was a gradual concentration of power in the hands of the president and his allies, and only the networks of patronage and clientship directly connected to them were allowed to survive (George 2003, 64–81; Donati 2009, 129–60).
Beyond the power disputes within the regime, Bashar al-Assad tried to gain political legitimacy by presenting himself as a leader committed to political reform and the economic modernization of Syria. While in the political realm the reforms were fast and ephemeral, they allowed the emergence of a public debate on democracy and political freedom that had some impact on the political idiom of the current protests. The recognition by Assad, in 2000, of the necessity of social dialogue and debate on political, economic, and social matters unleashed a vast drive toward the organization and institutionalization of a multiplicity of social and political movements. Soon, clubs and circles of debate were organized throughout Syria in what was locally known as the Civil Society Movement (Harakat al-Mujtama’ al-Madani) and internationally called the Damascus Spring (George 2003).
Therefore, the reforms, instead of producing greater economic dynamism, created new networks of corruption and patronage and intensified the predatory grip of those networks on Syrian society. Not that corruption was foreign to the Baathist regime. On the contrary, various forms of corruption constituted a diffuse mechanism of negotiation and co-optation between the state and discrete social groups and agents that was central to the construction of the Baathist governance of Syrian society (Perthes 1995, 181–87). What happened under Assad was the centralization of the networks of corruption and patronage within the circle of the president’s allies, so that enormous amounts of resources were channeled into their hands.
Dispatches from the Arab Spring, edited by Paul Amar and Vijay Prashad.
"In their Dispatches from the Arab Spring, Paul Amar and Vijay Prashad have brought together groundbreaking writings on the unfolding Arab revolutions. The common feature of this set of exquisite reflections is their critical intimacies with the fact and phenomena of the Arab Spring and an abiding commitment to its success and promises. The result is the rare feat of a sober and uplifting read at one and the same time."—Hamid Dabashi, Columbia University
1. Sufism is the mystical tradition in Islam. It is organized into various esoteric traditions of "paths" (tariqa; plural turuq) that are transmitted through a process of mystical initiation of the disciples by their masters, who are those who have already been successfully initiated by other masters, becoming Sufi sheikhs. The social expression of Sufism involves communities, each of which is organized around a charismatic leader, the Sufi sheikh, who is the main religious authority for his followers and disciples. In Syria, Sufism is an integral part of Muslim religiosity, with a large proportaion of the nation's religious leaders being initiated in Sufism and acting as Sufi sheikhs for their communities (Pinto 2007a).
2. Estimates of the number of deaths range from five thousand to twenty-five thousand (Van Dam 2011, 111).
3. Ironically, the rejection of this dynastic model of authoritarianism was one of the mobilizing factors in the revolutions and uprisings that took place in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. The term jumlukiyya is a neologism created by the fusion of two Arabic words: jumhuriyya (republic) and mamalukiyya (kingdom).
4. A Kurdish political militant from Aleppo told me in 2006 that the Kurdish party Yekiti tried to forge an alliance with the leaders of the Civil Society Movement, but their refusal to incorporate Kurdish demands of cultural recognition into their political project led to the eventual failure of this initiative.
-Abd-Allah, Umar. 1983. The Islamic Struggle in Syria. Berkeley, Calif.: Mizan Press.
-Aita, Samir. 2007. "L'Economie de la Syrie peut-elle devenir sociale? Vous avez dit economie sociale de marche?" In La Syrie au present: Reflets d'une societe, edited by Baudoin Dupret, Zouhair Ghazzal, Yussef Courbage, and Mohammed al-Dbiyat, 541-88. Arles: Actes Sud.
-Batatu, Hanna. 1998. "Syria's Muslim Brethren." In State and Ideology in the Middle East and Pakistan, edited by Fred Halliday and Hamza Alavi, 112-32. New York: Monthly Review Press.
-Carre, Olivier, and Michel Seurat. (1983) 2001. Les Freres Musulmans: 1928-1982. Paris: l'Harmattan.
-Donati, Caroline. 2009. L'Exception Syrienne: Entre modernisation et resistance. Paris: La Decouverte.
-George, Alan. 2003. Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom. London: Zed Books.
-Le Gac, Daniel. 1991. La Syrie du General Assad. Brussels: Complexe.
-Perthes, Volker. 1995. The Political Economy of Syria under Asad. London: I. B. Tauris.
-Pinto, Paulo. 2007a. "Religions et religiosite en Syrie." In La Syrie au present: Reflets d'une societe, edited by Baudoin Dupret, Zohair Ghazzal, Youssef Courbage, and Mohammed Dbiyat, 312-58. Arles: Actes Sud.
-Van Dam, Nikolaos. 2011. The Struggle for Power in Syria: Politics and Society under Asad and the Ba'th Party. London: I. B. Tauris.
Thursday, August 29, 2013
Thursday, August 22, 2013
|In 1972, Julie L. Davis and her grandmother discuss the merits of good storytelling.|
BY JULIE L. DAVIS
Associate professor of history at the College of St. Benedict/St. John's University
In the last years of her life, a conversation with my grandmother inevitably led to her asking me, "So how is The Book coming?" Each time, the question filled me with love and anxiety—love for her unflagging support, anxiety because usually, it wasn't going all that well. Since it was only was a Ph.D. project at the time, calling it a "book," out loud and in capital letters, also seemed presumptuous. "It's just a dissertation," I would insist.
In fact, I really did think of it as a book all along. This allowed me to believe that someday, someone might want to publish it. It suggested that it might have readers beyond my dissertation committee. Above all, it meant that it was going to tell a good story.
With the publication of Survival Schools: The American Indian Movement and Community Education in the Twin Cities, The Book actually became a book. Throughout the long process of research, writing and revising, I maintained my commitment to crafting a compelling narrative while also making a scholarly argument. In History: A Very Short Introduction, John Arnold defines history as a process of telling "true stories about the past." The truth and the story are equally important to writing good history, especially if we want it to reach beyond an academic audience.
Historians pursue truth by studying fragments of the past found in our sources and analyzing them in context. In academic writing, we convince colleagues that our interpretations are valid by building logical arguments through debatable claims, supported by verifiable evidence. But there are other sorts of truth by which we might measure a work of history. Does it render the past comprehensible? Does it make it meaningful? Can it help us understand what it was like to live in that other time and place, and would it resonate with the lived experience of those who inhabited it? Might it help us empathize with people in circumstances very different from our own?
Here's where the story part comes in. Effective historical narratives don't just put events in chronological order. They humanize the past. They help us get inside other people's skins. They move us. Thus they provide a sort of experience-truth, an emotion-truth—what novelist Tim O'Brien calls in The Things They Carried "story-truth." Unlike O'Brien, historians can't make things up in order to get at this kind of truth; we have to base our interpretations on the evidence provided by our sources. We can, however, seek the story in the sources, and give it space in our writing.
Providing that space is challenging for scholars whose work also must pass academic muster. Even in history, a relatively narrative-friendly discipline, peer evaluations of our work depend more on the strength of the argument than the skill of the storytelling. As an academic, I spend most of my time constructing and deconstructing arguments, defending and dismantling them, and teaching students to do the same. As a public scholar, however—one whose goal is to foster historical understanding outside the classroom and beyond academia— I'm convinced that if we want our work to engage wider audiences, if we want it to shape opinions or shift perceptions, and if we want it to capture the emotional truths of human experience, historians need to give at least as much attention to telling stories as we do to constructing arguments.
My conviction is supported by research on the science of storytelling. In The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gottschall concludes that storytelling is "central to the human condition." This is because our brains consistently "force narrative structure on the chaos of our lives." As neurobiologist Andre Fenton recently explained, what we call a "memory" is a story our brains construct from the various components of a past experience. Because of this hardwiring, Gottschall has written, “our attitudes, fears, hopes, and values are strongly influenced by story. In fact, fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than writing that is specifically designed to persuade through argument and evidence.” Research suggests that this also holds true for nonfictional narratives.
When writing Indigenous history, it's especially important to respect the power of story. Stories long have been central to Indigenous knowledge and communication systems, including interpretations of the past. As expressed by Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair in Centering Anishinaabeg Studies: Understanding the World through Stories, Anishinaabeg stories are "vessels of intellectual life. They are methods." Jill Doerfler adds that "stories are theories." Anishinaabeg storytelling is imaginative and generative, as well as intellectual and philosophical; as Doerfler writes, "we create ourselves with stories."
In Survival Schools, I used oral history to create both a convincing argument and an engaging narrative, to tell a true story about the Indigenous past. The interviews I conducted with founders, parents, teachers, and students were essential primary sources providing otherwise inaccessible information, and I use them as evidence to support my claims. As personal narratives, fashioned from individual memories and communicated in conversation, the interviews also steep the book in story. Building the book on a foundation of oral history and weaving the interviews through the text helped me tell a human story about Indigenous history. I hope that it helps readers understand that history, and rings true for those who experienced it.
Survival Schools and associate professor of history at the College of St. Benedict/St. John's University.
"For the first time, Julie L. Davis gives us an essential view of one of the American Indian Movement’s most audacious and long-lasting achievements: the creation of schools for the lost Native kids of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Sympathetic but never sentimental, she captures the righteous anger, new-found hope, and rugged determination that turned dreams into reality."
—Paul Chaat Smith, author of Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
|Courtyard of the Place of Hidden Waters, Tacoma, Washington. This is the|
first tribal building to be certified LEED Platinum.
BY JOY MONICE MALNAR
Associate professor of architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and co-author, with Frank Vodvarka, of New Architecture on Indigenous Lands
The result of six years of travel, interviews, email correspondences, and research is as stated in our new book's introduction:
A BOOK ABOUT ARCHITECTURE, REALLY GOOD ARCHITECTURE. We found exciting things happening on Indigenous lands, especially since responsibility for new construction has increasingly been turned over to tribal authorities. Needless to say, these buildings are a far cry from the sort of structures that have been thought suitable by governmental agencies in Canada and the United States in the past. As clients, these tribal groups are clearly communicating their cultural needs and values to designers who are listening, and they are approving the final designs. It is an uneven sort of progress. British Columbia has, for example, enjoyed remarkable advances in the construction of new primary and secondary schools while the United States has not.
Two questions emerge: What is the cause of this uneven progress? And, how, as seen in the examples presented in our book, did some tribal groups overcome the negative aspects of their situation to make progress? The causes, as one might imagine, are numerous and complicated. In the U.S. there are 564 tribal entities and in Canada there are more than 630 First Nations, eight main Inuit tribal groups, and five Métis governance structures. One fundamental view often noted by Native American scholars is that most of the treaties were not honored except for the parts that removed North American tribes from their homelands. In The Nations Within, Vine Deloria, Jr., and Clifford M. Lytle point out that it is “important to understand the primacy of land in the Indian psychological makeup, because, as land is alienated, all other forms of social cohesion also begin to erode, land having been the context in which the other forms have been created” (12). Thus any solution must, in the first instance, be land-based. But that alone is insufficient.
Also needed are individuals feeling compelled to take on the status quo. One example of the advances made in British Columbia is discussed in chapter 4:
Henry Hawthorn maintains that the dynamic quality of some of the newer schools is due in large degree to the presence of a remarkable architect, Marie-Odile Marceau. Marceau had served as project architect in the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs between 1985 and 1987, but in 1987 she became regional architect for Public Works and Government Services Canada, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, to head up a school building program. She determined from the outset that the schools she was going to be responsible for would only be commissioned to first-class architects, and they would be remarkable.
Recently Frank and I had the pleasure of touring the Place of Hidden Waters in Tacoma, Washington, with Annette Bryan, Executive Director of the Puyallup Nation Housing Authority, and design architect Daniel Glenn. Bryan has been preparing for this project since 2004 on many levels, from insuring a clean financial audit to educating the Board and Council to obtaining community input and involvement. Glenn’s Crow tribal ancestry coupled with his MIT education informs his design. While his buildings are beautiful, they are much more due to the specific cultural support they provide Native American peoples.
|Salmon bake area at the Place of Hidden Waters.|
It is an excellent example of compact development necessary to preserve the majority of the forested land. As we walked the site we caught a glimpse of the water hidden by the forest. Bryan explained how in order to respect the land they avoided the expedient developers’ method of bringing in a backhoe. They wanted to preserve as many trees as possible and minimize disturbing the natural topography. Removing invasive plants by hand was not cost-effective so they hired a herd of goats—an environmentally sound solution.
It is the first tribal building to be certified LEED Platinum, the highest building certification for leadership in energy and environmental design. The Phase I Longhouse project was recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council and awarded the prestigious LEED for Homes 2012 Project of the Year. It is also one of six projects worldwide honored with a 2013 SEED (Social Economic Environmental Design) Award for Excellence in Public Interest Design.
Of note, this project, which is an aesthetic, cultural and environmental success, was also built on time and on budget. Bryan made clear that the most important aspect of this project is that the people living here love it. The building is resonating.
This is real progress.
New Architecture on Indigenous Lands (2013) and Sensory Design (2004).
Here are some more images of the Place of Hidden Waters:
|Community Center front addition with renovated building|
in the distance.
|Community Center interior.|
|Entry to Community Center with bench made|
from recycled wood.
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
|This illustration by Adam Turnbull is featured in Take Back the Economy.|
By J.K. Gibson-Graham, Jenny Cameron, and Stephen Healy
The task of imagining and enacting a new economy is one that is being taken up by a growing number of people around the world, as our new book Take Back the Economy: An Ethical Guide for Transforming Our Communities demonstrates. Yet it is nevertheless remarkable when one so clearly a member of the 1% calls for a new economic system.
But that is exactly what Peter Buffet, son of Warren, one of the world’s richest men, has done in a recent New York Times opinion piece The Charitable-Industrial Complex.
It’s not an end to capitalism that Buffet wants, just some humanism and, by the way, a “new operating system…something built from the ground up.” Buffet admits that he and his wife don’t have the answers, but they are ready to listen and to support “conditions for systemic change.” We think that Take Back the Economy might have some leads for how to produce such conditions. But perhaps we need to step back and understand why a clear beneficiary of capitalism’s private largesse might be so concerned as to ask for a new way to live.
Peter Buffet and Warren Buffet are philanthropists who are committed to giving back most of their fortune to charitable causes worldwide. Why then bag the very system that has allowed the Buffet family to be such do-gooders? Because, as Peter Buffet reveals, a charitable-industrial complex has emerged that allows the rich to pat themselves on the back for charitable acts while continuing to fuel “a perpetual poverty machine.”
On countless philanthropic boards over the years, meeting with heads of state, investment managers and corporate leaders, he has become aware of the links between increased wealth and continued poverty. Buffet’s revelations imply a causal chain: economic activity generates inequality and allows for staggering fortunes to grow alongside human misery, a portion of this staggering fortune is then reinvested in starting new NGOs designed to address the problems generated or exacerbated by economic activity or rising levels of inequality. The charitable-industrial complex is peopled by investors who want to know if they are getting an adequate return on their investment (ROI), who clamor for statistics on how efficiently this misery is being addressed. In disgust Buffet comes to the conclusion that the charitable-industrial complex is ultimately little more than “conscience laundering,” a palliative fantasy that helps the rich to, in his words, “sleep well” at night.
Quoting Albert Einstein, who said that problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created it, Buffet asks what would a different mindset look like? One more attuned to humanism? One that sees a world free from child exploitation as progress, not a world that is one vast market where Wi-Fi is on every street corner?
From our perspective, what Peter Buffet calls "humanism" certainly does have a place in how we think about, organize, and enact economies, but for us where that place is differs. Buffet clearly shows how ethical values are placed at the end of a chain of causal events: charities come in to clean up messes that have been made by business as usual. Moral judgment as to whether or not philanthropy has done a good job is applied after the fact, drawing on the same old thinking of ROI. Ethics here is at the end, not the beginning, of the process. No wonder people have little regard for it.
The mindset we advocate is one that places ethical considerations such as those raised by Buffet at the starting point, not at the end as a patched-up add-on to appease the squeamish consciences of the uber-rich. In Take Back the Economy, we show how it is possible to integrate ethical matters of concern into how we conduct our economic lives from the outset. The key to keeping ethics up front are conceptual tools or metrics (including a community economy return on investment) that allow us to discern the right course of action as we work together to reorganize:
· our working lives
· exchanges in markets and other settings
· the management of common and private resources
· how we invest in the future
in ways that align with our values.
Putting ethics at the beginning of the process of organizing an economy is definitely a different mindset. Mainstream economics dictates that ‘moral sentiment’ has no place in the competitive business world. In our view, putting ethical negotiation at the core of economic activity and democratizing economies by inviting more people into the process of developing a new economy will create the new operating system that Buffet calls for and make that ‘other world’ possible.
Take Back the Economy: An Ethical Guide for Transforming Our Communities.
J.K. Gibson-Graham is the pen name of the economic geographers Professor Katherine Gibson from the University of Western Sydney and the late Professor Julie Graham from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Their earlier books include A Postcapitalist Politics, The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It), and Class and Its Others.
Jenny Cameron is associate professor of geography and environmental studies at the University of Newcastle, Australia.
Stephen Healy is assistant professor of economic geography at Worcester State University.
"Take Back the Economy is the single most farsighted and practical work enlightening us on the path to a steady transition towards a genuine postcapitalist world. It is based on the presupposition that reorienting the economy means much more than the control of production—it means reinventing ourselves, our communities, and our world in profound ways. Out of this act of ‘reframing’ there emerges a novel understanding of work, enterprise, market, property, even finance. In this wonderful new work in the tradition of Gibson-Graham, students, activists, movements, and communities will find a toolkit for ethical and effective action any time, any place."
—Arturo Escobar, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill