The Hague campus of Leiden University today hosted the “Final Reflections” symposium of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Everyone from the institution showed up: current and past presidents, current and past judges as well as ad hoc judges, current and past prosecutors, media officers and archivists, plus a bunch of guests—gender advisors, professors, judges from other courts, and so on. Even the president of the International Criminal Court (ICC) spoke at the last panel. This was not a mere stock-taking exercise “between a variety of stakeholders,” says the agenda. Rather, it was an opportunity for said stakeholders to reflect on the ICTY’s legacy, ideally via a set of “short but emphatic statement[s] on the importance of international criminal courts and tribunals – particularly in today’s political climate.”
In her speech to the 2016 Conservative Party conference, Theresa May threw down a gauntlet:
…if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.
For anyone wondering who or what met the cut, May was helpfully expansive, populating this rather arcane placeholder with the figures of the boss who earns a fortune but doesn’t look after his staff, the international company that eludes the snares of tax law, the ‘household name’ that refuses cooperation with anti-terrorist authorities, and the director who takes out massive dividends while knowing that the company pension is about to go bust. Basically, fat cats with the odd public intellectual thrown in. May contrasted the spectre of the rootless cosmopolitan with the ‘spirit of citizenship’, which, in her view, entailed ‘respect [for] the bonds and obligations that make our society work’, ‘commitment to the men and women who live around you’, ‘recognizing the social contract that says you train up local young people before you take on cheap labour from overseas.’ And perhaps astonishingly, for a Conservative Prime Minister, May promised to deploy the full wherewithal of the state to revitalize that elusive social contract by protecting workers’ rights and cracking down on tax evasion to build ‘an economy that works for everyone’. Picture the Brexit debate as a 2X2 matrix with ideological positions mapped along an x-axis, and Remain/Leave options mapped along a y-axis to yield four possibilities: Right Leave (Brexit), Left Leave (Lexit), Right Remain (things are great) and Left Remain (things are grim, but the alternative is worse). Having been a quiet Right Remainer in the run-up to the referendum, May has now become the Brexit Prime Minister while posing, in parts of this speech, as a Lexiter (Lexiteer?).
This is the first post in the symposium on Robert Vitalis’s, White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2015). Professor Vitalis (who also answers to ‘Bob’) teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. His first book, When Capitalists Collide: Business Conflict and the End of Empire in Egypt, was published in 1995. His second book, America’s Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier, published in 2005 was named a book of the year by The Guardian. He has been a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (2009), Rockefeller Foundation (2003), the International Center for Advanced Study, NYU (2002), the American Council of Learned Societies (2002), and the MacArthur-SSRC International Peace and Security Program (1998). He was a MacArthur Award nominee in 1998. Below is his introduction to our symposium.
White World Order, Black Power Politics may well be the only book discussed in this symposium series that isn’t primarily concerned with theory, or at least the only one by an author who does not self identify as a theorist, teaching in a department that does not recognize what I do as “IR.” It is also less an intellectual history, which might allow it to pass as theory, than it is an institutional history. So I am grateful for the interest in it here.
That said, it is indeed a critical history. The records of professors, schools, research organizations, and foundations in the early twentieth century United States reveal a past that bears scant resemblance to the “practitioner histories” or insider accounts of great debates invented about the discipline of international relations in the second half of the century, which are the ones most specialists tell themselves and their students until now. In fact, the more I learned and labored in the archives the more I came to see the problem as similar to the one I wrestled with in my last book, America’s Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier. The history that U.S. oil companies invented after World War II about their early and unshaken commitment to a “partnership in progress” with the Saudi people, at a moment when criticism of U.S. imperialism was on the rise in the Eastern Province and across the globe, is the one that books repeated uncritically for decades. The firms’ private records though revealed a dramatically different reality. I developed an account of the exploitative order in place in the oil camps, the racial science that justified it in the minds of the American engineers and managers, and the failed efforts of Arab and other workers to bring about its end. I likened what I did in that book to “reverse engineering” particular processes of mythmaking. I’ve done more or less the same thing for a sector of the U.S. academy in White World Order. Continue reading
Our fourth commentary on The Black Pacific. Olivia U. Rutazibwa is Lecturer in European and International Development Studies at the University of Portsmouth, UK. Currently she is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Käte Hamburg Kolleg/ Centre for Global Cooperation Research, Duisburg in Germany where she looks into ways to decolonise the scholarship on sovereignty and self-determination, drawing from philosophies and practices of autonomous recovery in Somaliland, Agaciro in Rwanda and Black Power in the US. She is the former Africa desk editor and journalist at the Brussels based quarterly MO* Magazine and continues to write monthly op-eds for them.
When I first started reading Robbie Shilliam’s The Black Pacific last April, I was only a couple of pages in when I shot him the following email: “Sitting on a sunny terras [sic] by the waterfront in Antwerp and reading your book. It is not often that I feel deeply comforted, healing, cared for and utterly inspired reading an academic text… At some point I’ll hopefully have more eloquent ways to share my thoughts with you on your book, for now it’s just feelings…J”
Today, more than half a year later, the point of ‘more eloquence’ has supposedly arrived, but I doubt that I will ever truly reach it when it comes to this remarkable book.
In what follows I will share some preliminary thoughts on The Black Pacific, rather than venture into a full on book review. The book challenges our traditional (read: colonial) ways of doing research so convincingly and profoundly, that a conventional review would not do it justice. Too many of our research ways continue to be concerned with the generalizable and the linear. Divisive categorisations still play an important role and we end up with consumable knowledge at the service of the (oppressive) control of reality and peoples. Too often then, academic conversations, ideally conceived as open spaces for dialogue, exchange and creation, ossify into zones of judgementality, oxygenised by a misguided belief that there are indeed some absolute truths out there. The Black Pacific speaks a radically different language.
To me, it sang like Rebel Music at the heart of the (IR) academy and as such, it was a source of comforting discomfort. More on that later.
The first in a forum on Robbie’s recently released The Black Pacific: Anti-Colonial Struggles and Oceanic Connections (Bloomsbury, 2015). A number of commentaries will follow in the coming week.
May 1979. A Black theatre troupe from London called Keskidee, along with a RasTafari band called Ras Messengers, land at Auckland airport, Aotearoa New Zealand. They have been invited by activists to undertake a consciousness-raising arts tour of predominantly Māori and Pasifika communities. They are driven almost immediately to the very tip of the North Island. There, at a small hamlet called Te Hāpua, Keskidee and Ras Messengers are greeted by Ngati Kuri, the local people of the land. An elder introduces his guests to the significance of the place where they now stand. Cape Reinga is nearby, where departing souls leap into the waters to find their way back to Hawaiki, the sublime homeland. The elder wants to explain to the visitors that, although they hold an auspicious provenance – the Queen of England lives amongst them in London – Ngāti Kuri live at ‘the spiritual departure place throughout the world’. The elder concludes with the traditional greeting of tātou tātou – ‘everyone being one people’. Rufus Collins, director of Keskidee, then responds on behalf of the visitors:
You talked of your ancestors, how they had taken part in our meeting, and I do agree with you because if it was not for them you would not be here. You talked of our ancestors, taking part and making a meeting some place and somewhere; the ancestors are meeting because we have met. I do agree with you.
But Collins also recalls the association made between the visitors and English royalty, and there he begs to differ: ‘we are here despite the Queen’. Then the Ras Messengers begin the chant that reroutes their provenance from the halls of Buckingham Palace to the highlands of Ethiopia: “Rastafari come from Mount Zion.”
This meeting is emblematic of the story that I tell of The Black Pacific wherein Maori and Pasifika struggles against land dispossession, settler colonialism and racism enfold within them the struggles of African peoples against slavery, (settler) colonialism and racism. Sociologically, historically and geographically speaking, these connections between colonized and postcolonized peoples appear to be extremely thin, almost ephemeral. But those who cultivate these connections know otherwise. How do they know?
A guest post – on the eve of the 5th anniversary of the Egyptian uprising – by Michaelle Browers. Michaelle is Associate Professor of Politics and International Affairs and directs the Middle East and South Asia Studies Program at Wake Forest University. She is author of Democracy and Civil Society in Arab Political Thought: Transcultural Possibilities (Syracuse University Press, 2006) and Political Ideology in the Arab World: Accommodation and Transformation (Cambridge University Press, 2009), and has edited and contributed to (with Charles Kurzman) An Islamic Reformation? (Rowman and Littlefield, 2003). Her articles have appeared in the International Journal of Middle East Studies, Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, Journal of Political Ideologies, Critical Review of Social and Political Philosophy, Theory and Event, and Third World Quarterly. An earlier version of this memo was prepared and presented at working group on “Re-envisioning the Arab State,” hosted by the Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) at the Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Doha, Qatar (January 17-18, 2016).
The past five years has been a series of ups and downs, trading moments of great elation and hope with periods of deep disappointment for those of us who study Arab political thought and practice. We have seen declarations of Arab springs and Arab winters, and claims about the resilience, the end and again the resilience of Arab authoritarianism. We have seen people in the streets and squares of many cities call for justice, dignity, democracy, rights, revolutions – ideas that many Arab intellectuals have written about at great length and mourned for their lack – and heard commentators claim Arab intellectuals were absent from the uprisings or, as Ramzy Baroud put it, “resting, not dead.” In general, we have seen much in the way of claims of a lack of intellectual work or a lack of alternative visions to the status quo. I contend that the real lack is a full investigation of whether, in fact, such claims have merit—that is, that there is a need for research into political thought that assumes its existence rather than its absence.
But in engaging post-2011 “Arab political thought” we may need to revise some of our assumptions about what it is we seek at the outset. This intervention puts forth four subsets of questions in need of further discussion as we broach that larger question (of how we should study Arab political thought after the 2011 uprisings): one which raises an old question worth reconsidering anew, a second which suggests a different approach to our study, a third which maintains the need to look for answers in a slightly different place or with a broader lens, and a fourth which proposes one substantive line of theorizing that strikes me as politically salient after 2011. Embedded in each of these four broad question-sets are myriad avenues of research, as well as, of course, indications of some of my own convictions and commitments.
A guest post from Loubna El Amine. Loubna teaches political theory, with a particular focus on early Chinese political thought at the Department of Government, Georgetown University (her teaching was mentioned on this blog last year). Before Georgetown, Loubna was a postdoctoral fellow at the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale University. She holds a PhD in Politics from Princeton University and a BA in Political Studies from the American University of Beirut. Classical Confucian Political Thought: A New Interpretation (Princeton University Press, 2015) is her freshly pressed first book.
I recently wrote a book. Its cover is (very) red and features an ornate golden doorknob shaped like the face of a lion. I have always dreamt of writing a book. The experience of seeing one with my name on it fills me with a combination of delight and incredulity. I am sure all first-time authors experience a similar feeling. In my case, however, the feeling is heightened by the sense that I wrote a book that, for the first two-thirds of my life, I could never have even conceived of writing.
The book is on early Confucianism in China, and I did not know anything about China until I was twenty. China was so foreign to the intellectual, political, and cultural world in which I grew up that the two ways in which it was usually mentioned were the proverb, often attributed to the prophet Muhammad, which says “Seek knowledge, even in China” and the description of anything that sounded incomprehensible as Chinese (the Arabic equivalent of the American “It’s Greek to me.”). More mundanely, there was only one Chinese restaurant in Beirut when I was growing up, a small, family-owned place called Rice and Spice (today there are many more, with names ranging from Chopsticks to Wok Wok).
Although I studied political science as an undergraduate at the American University of Beirut, the curriculum rarely covered areas beyond the Middle East, and when it did, it only reached as far as Europe. It was only because of one professor, Yahya Sadowski, that I discovered China. He taught courses on global political economy and on development in the Arab world, and frequently cited both East and Southeast Asian countries as case studies. When I started graduate school in the US, I decided to explore East Asia further. This exploration took a few twists and turns, and I finally landed, having foregone empirical for philosophical pursuits, in the intellectual world of 3rd century BCE China.
Every once in a while, someone describes what I do as “contrarian,” “crazy,” or “looney.” I never know quite how to react. The description is, in some ways, true. I studied Confucianism because it spoke to me and because I was intrigued by it, but I also sometimes wonder whether I studied it because I did not want to study the Middle East. I sensed that it was expected of me that, as a non-Westerner, I study my own region. This expectation bothered me. When people now call what I do “contrarian,” this only reminds me that the expectation is still at play. Not that I think that there is anything wrong with someone from the Middle East working on the Middle East, just as there is nothing wrong with someone from the US studying the US. The problem is simply that no one thinks it is contrarian or crazy when Americans or Europeans choose to study societies other than their own. In other words, my worry is that the surprised reactions I get about my work point to the existence of an unconscious bias, generated and maintained by the current make-up of academia, against the ability of non-Westerners to produce knowledge that is not about ourselves. We cannot transcend, like our European and American counterparts can, our own world. We are our own case studies, so to speak. This means that if we are successful at studying our own regions, the success is likely to be attributed to our “inside knowledge,” rather than the work itself. It also means that when we do happen to study a topic that is seen as “Western,” say European philosophy, the default assumption is that we do so from the standpoint of our colonial experience. And finally it means that studying another non-Western region is simply “contrarian.”
Though it has not happened to me personally, friends of mine from Lebanon have reported being encouraged, even if gently, to focus their doctoral work on Lebanon, the Arab world, or Islam. Other friends who have chosen to work on the Middle East have complained about their work being mislabeled to the same effect, its theoretical import downplayed in favor of its ‘regional flavor’. I have also heard of new professors being encouraged to teach courses on topics that they do not necessarily work on (who else is going to teach Islamic philosophy but the new Iranian professor?!). And my suspicion is that this arrangement also likely guides decisions on admission to US and European PhD programs in the humanities and social sciences: if you are from a non-Western country, you are more likely to get accepted if your work is directly related to the geographic area where you are from.
This expectation also feeds into the way in which academic institutions in non-Western countries are framed and present themselves. When I inquired some years ago about what it would take to be hired at the American University of Beirut, I was told clearly that I would need to shift my work toward Islamic thought. Middle Eastern and Islamic studies are, after all, AUB’s claim to fame, the primary reason it is able to place graduate students in American and European institutions and to attract foreign MA students. It was also telling that, when in Seoul this past summer, my work was described by a couple of people I met as the “Islamic view of Confucianism.” The equivalent here would be to describe American and European work on China as representing “the Christian view.” But while this sounds as odd as it is problematic, it is actually not much different from the charge of contrarianism: both descriptions belie the need to place me back into the world in which I grew up. I absolutely love the world in which I grew up, but I would like to think that, like my Western colleagues, my intellectual horizons are not limited by my place of birth.