Posted by: hobbesonafob | November 15, 2009

Pakistani Pop

Well, it has become apparent to me that grad school is not conducive to blogging and I will most likely be quiet until this term winds down. In lieu of my own analysis or thought, here’s an interesting video on Pakistani pop:


Posted by: hobbesonafob | November 7, 2009

Another Paradigm Shattered – The Politics of Refugee Camps

Another week of grad school completed and another outlook has been changed. For those whose knowledge on refugee camps exceed mine, this post will be banal. For those who never really thought about refugee camps, this posting may spur further interest.

I finished reading Sarah Kenyon Lischer‘s 2003 article in International Security “Collateral Damage: Humanitarian Assistance as a Cause of Conflict,” and came to the conclusion that my conceptualization of refugee camps was incredibly inaccurate. Apparently, I have always ascribed refugee camps with the following characteristics: static and powerless. Instead, I should have attributed the following attributes to refugee camps: dynamic and powerful.

Dr. Lischer’s article reveals to the reader how refugee camps can become political arenas. The the nature of these dynamics are attributed to what kind of refugees are in the camp and how the host state (the state the refugees went/fled to) interacts with the refugees. Lischer divided refugees into 3 categories:

  1. Situational Refugees: Their reasons for leaving their home state are apolitical (i.e. they were not targeted for political reasons). Reason include war, chaos, deprivation, and natural disasters. These refugees usually have very loose initial political organization, which, in turn, means that they have a low propensity to use humanitarian aid for war.
  2. Persecuted Refugees: This type of refugee has left their home state because of persecution by another group. Their initial political organization is weak, although it may grow. Their propensity to use humanitarian aid for war is higher than the situational refugees.
  3. State-in-exile Refugees: These refugees usually experience defeat in civil war, will only return to their home state if they become the new government or win a military victory, and their initial political organization is usually strong. Their propensity to use humanitarian aid for war is likely.

After reading Lischer’s article, my perception of refugee camps changed and I now see refugee camps as potential political arenas. The more politically organized groups may use refugee camps to provide for its supporters, as a pool to recruit members from, or even as a venue for conducting organized crime.

An example of political groups utilizing refugee camps occurred during the Rwanda crisis in 1994. Lischer writes of aid workers that were unaware of the genocide and saw some of the Hutus who engaged in genocidal actions as the victims because the Hutus were able to wage a successful propaganda campaign. According to one American engineer who was in Goma, Zaire:

“I went to Goma and worked there for three solid months. But it was only later, when I finally went to Rwanda on a break, that I found out about the genocide, and realized, ‘Hey, I’ve been busting my butt for a bunch of ax murderers!”

I think, for me, that politics can occur in any situation that requires the organization and utilization of resources. Those who can best acquire these resources, whether it be humanitarian aid or weapons, have the ability to become politically relevant. It seems that refugee camps now fit this description.




Aid in refugee camps can be used to support organizations engaged in political violence

Posted by: hobbesonafob | October 17, 2009

John Elway and a Change of State

Here’s the outline of today’s post:

  1. Play promotional (educational?) video from the Center for Empowered Living and Learning
  2. Blog about the video and some of the points it brings up
  3. Address “stag hunt” game theory in a cursory manner
  4. How the video and “stag hunt” game theory relate to resilient communities

First, here’s the video:

Danger Room has a pretty good overview of the video if you don’t want to spend 8 minutes watching it.

So what does John Elway have to offer resilient communities? Well, let’s try and figure out what are the video’s premises and how they relate to society.

The Video’s Stated Premises

  1. Terrorism is bad and dangerous.
  2. Terrorism is so bad and dangerous that individuals in a community must take responsibility for their society.
  3. Artistic photographers taking pictures of security cameras do not exist. If you take pictures of security cameras, you are a terrorist.

The video’s unstated premise is that the security apparatuses currently in place in society cannot protect us all without having us invest our time and energy into our own security (i.e. having to report suspicious activity).

Suspicious activity was not defined in the video, but you are given many examples (e.g. lock snipping, and taking pictures of security cameras, etc.). In other words, there are people in society that may do us harm and we should be vigilant in keeping an eye on them. Being wary of individuals is not necessarily a bad thing when done in moderation. But I would like to reveal some of the problems of living in a low-trust society.

The impact of having a low-trust society can have dire effect on progress. This is explained in Tim Harford’s write-up in Slate about a type of game theory called “the stag hunt.” The theory is described by Harford in the following:

In the stag hunt, two hunters must each decide whether to hunt the stag together or hunt rabbits alone. Half a stag is better than a brace of rabbits, but the stag will only be brought down with a combined effort. Rabbits, on the other hand, can be hunted by an individual without any trouble. There are two rational outcomes to the stag hunt: Either both hunters hunt the stag as a team, or each hunts rabbits by himself. Each would prefer to cooperate in hunting the stag, but if the other player’s motives or actions are uncertain, the rabbit hunt is a risk-free alternative.

Ideally one would live in a society where he or she could hunt stags all the time. To hunt stags all the time, a high-level of trust would be needed. I would make the argument that some security initiatives decrease the trust in a given society and make it difficult for progress. Instead of investing time and energy into fruitful endeavors, one would have to waste time and energy in conducting background checks on potential partners, looking over one’s shoulder instead of looking forward towards goals, and other activity one needs to survive in a low-trust society. I would point to border security initiatives and their impact on cross-border trade as an example.

Harford highlights the importance of trust in determining whether or not a country will be rich or poor:

That is a formalized form of trust, based on institutions that dramatically expand our ability to interact with those beyond our immediate neighbors. Economists who study such things—such as the World Bank’s Steve Knack, or Paul Seabright, author of The Company of Strangers—argue that the difference between countries that have successfully formalized trust and those that have not is, basically, the difference between rich countries and poor ones.

Resilient Communities

Ideally resilient communities would be high-trust societies. I am wondering what would be the average size of resilient communities and if there would be a type of security based on local knowledge. Such a security system would be based on people knowing other people in the society and everyone’s general expectations of their behaviour (preferably norms and values conducive to progress). Anyone from a small community knows how everybody can get all “up in their biznass,” but they also know that they have relatively little to fear from unidentified individuals terrorizing their community. There is little to fear because strangers standout in small communities.

A high-level trust society may have to be quite small, unless the norms and values of a society are so strong that they can regulate individual behaviour amongst strangers.

To conclude, the Center for Empowered Living and Learning may actually disempower communities by raising suspicion so high that it actually harms a society.

Mohamed Aden: the "accidental warlord" of Adado (Source: New York Times)

Mohamed Aden: the "accidental warlord" of Adado (Source: New York Times)

I’ve recently read this weekend’s New York Times “Saturday Profile” and came across an interesting person named Mohamed Aden (Here is the article by Jeffrey Gettleman). Mr. Aden is described in the article as

part militia commander, part schoolteacher, part lawmaker, part engineer, part environmentalist, part king — a mind-boggling combination of roles for anyone to play, let alone for a guy who dresses (and talks) like a rapper and recently moved from Minnesota to Somalia in an effort to build a local government…Think of him as the accidental warlord. And a shard of hope.

Although I do not see why dressing and speaking like a rapper would make anything more or less mind-boggling, Gettleman does highlight the multi-faceted nature of building an organization that exercises the state-like attributes described by Charles Tilly: warmaking, statemaking, resource extraction, and protection (it is essentially a “coercive non-state actor” – a CNA).

The article offers a superficial glance of the dynamics that are taking place in Adado, but it does mention the importance of Mr. Aden’s clan in terms of its financial support and its role in legitimizing his rule. The article also highlights the importance of being able to exercise coercive abilities:

When I first arrived, I was afraid,” he recalled. “I didn’t know how the people would react to me, if they would trust me. That first year I was focusing on muscle. Without muscle, you can’t do anything.

As well, Mr. Aden has engaged in Tillian statemaking (eliminating rivals within one’s territory):

People who have challenged his authority have paid the price. Last summer, his police officers shot to death four men who violently refused to vacate a piece of property that Mr. Aden’s administration ruled belonged to someone else.

To effectively administer a large population in a territory as large as Adado is quite an accomplishment (5,000 square miles and a few hundred thousand people). I hope to see a follow-up article on Mr. Aden in the future.

Posted by: hobbesonafob | September 26, 2009

State-building Conundrums: Whose Rule of Law Should One Follow?

After finishing my second week of grad school, it has become apparent to me that I actually have a lot of work to do. That being said, blogging will become more of a “break” for me. I’ll try and take a break once a week.

We’ll begin with the following article from the Toronto Star (not a newspaper I read, but the article was sent to me by a friend):

The article is about the experiences of some Canadian soldiers who have witnessed the rape of citizens by Afghan soldiers. Specifically, Corporal Travis Schouten witnessed an: “Afghan national army soldier abusing a young boy and then saw the boy afterwards with visible signs of rape trauma, his bowels and lower intestines falling out of his body.”

What Cpl. Schouten witnessed is disturbing for many reasons, but I believe that it raises some important questions that those involved in Afghanistan should ask. These questions are highlighted by a quote from a senior Canadian officer :

“It’s ridiculous,” the officer says. “We have an ethical and moral responsibility to pursue this, not to shut our eyes to it because it would make it more difficult to work with the Afghan government.

“We’re supposed to be in Afghanistan to help people who are being victimized.”

I think this quote reflects some of the perceptions the public and those serving in Afghanistan have. This quote also brings up important questions, some of them involving ethics. The questions that come to my mind after reading this quote are as follows:

  1. Are “we” really in Afghanistan to help people from being victimized?
  2. Does one have to allow these breaches of morality to occur in the meantime (as defined by the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights) so that cultural changes can be better made in the future?
  3. At what points is it moral to change a cultures?

I’m not going to answer these questions, but I have intensely thought about them and I recommend that people who may end up working with or studying this subject to do so.

The other point I wanted to draw from this article is the importance of one’s narrative matching his or her reality. The senior officer’s quote represents the disconnect from reality and the narrative. In other words, the stories that the officer told him or herself about the conflict in Afghanistan did not match with Cpl. Schouten’s account. This disconnect can prove to be emotionally traumatic to the soldiers experiencing it:

The sexual-abuse allegations put Canada in a thorny position with the local Afghan government and rekindle memories of some past deployments that led to Canadian soldiers developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

After serving in Bosnia, some soldiers were diagnosed with PTSD after rules of engagement prevented them from interfering when they witnessed civilians being raped by soldiers. Retired general Roméo Dallaire famously struggled with PTSD after the United Nations thwarted his efforts to stop a genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

Complicated? Most definitely. Hopefully somebody with more expertise and experience than me will address these issues raised.

Posted by: hobbesonafob | September 9, 2009

Choosing a Master’s Thesis – Mohamed Atta’s Thesis

My apologies for not posting during the past few weeks. I was dealing with exams and then followed those up with some road-tripping around southern Ontario. And, as of recently, I have grad school orientation sessions to attend.

I’ve been thinking about possible thesis topics, and an apropos article in Slate by Daniel Brook came up:

Essentially Brook’s article examines Mohamed Atta’s master’s thesis and how it relates to the attacks of 9/11. Atta’s thesis was in urban planning and its subject was on a

section of Aleppo, Syria’s second city. Atta describes decades of meddling by Western urban planners, who rammed highways through the neighborhood’s historic urban fabric and replaced many of its once ubiquitous courtyard houses with modernist high-rises. Atta calls for rebuilding the area along traditional lines, all tiny shops and odd-angled cul-de-sacs. The highways and high-rises are to be removed—in the meticulous color-coded maps, they are all slated for demolition. Traditional courtyard homes and market stalls are to be rebuilt.

Even the subtitle of his thesis is telling of Atta’s world paradigm:

The subtitle of the thesis is Neighborhood Development in an Islamic-Oriental City, and the use of that anachronistic term—Islamic-Oriental city—is telling. The term denotes a concept rooted in 19th-century European Orientalism, according to which Islamic civilization and Western civilization are entirely distinct and opposite: The dynamic, rational West gallops toward the future while the backward East remains cut off from foreign influence, exclusively defined by Islam, and frozen in time. In his academic work, Atta takes the Orientalist conceit of two distinct civilizations, one superior, the other inferior, and simply flips the chauvinism from pro-Western to pro-Muslim.

All and all, Brook’s article makes for an interesting read.

And now I’m off to what I’m assuming will be an enthralling library orientation.

So apparently it is difficult to blog while working and finishing up two full credits  (French and Economics). I’m sure things will slow down once school starts up again, and I begin my M.A. program…

As of now, I’m thought experimenting with democratic state-building. This is partly due to the coming elections in Afghanistan and my general interest that tends to “mission creep” into all sorts of areas.

Here is the point I would like to make in this post (I think): for a healthy democracy to work well in practice, a sense of individualism needs to exist. Not only does this individualism need to exist, but one must be able to act upon his or her individualism. In other words, I can express my own individualism and act upon my own interests without being intimidated, threatened or killed.

Malcolm Gladwell’s recent article on the New Yorker’s website ( highlights the lack of individualism in Alabama during the 1950s:

The Alabama of Folsom—and Lee—was marked by a profound localism. Political scientists call it the “friends and neighbors” effect. “Alabama voters rarely identified with candidates on the basis of issues,” George Sims writes in his biography of Folsom, “The Little Man’s Best Friend.” “Instead, they tended to give greatest support to the candidate whose home was nearest their own.” Alabama was made up of “island communities,” each dominated by a small clique of power brokers, known as a “courthouse ring.” There were no Republicans to speak of in the Alabama of that era, only Democrats. Politics was not ideological. It was personal.

The idea that primary loyalties were confounding the ability of the individual to vote independently is also apparent in Olivier Roy’s article  “Development and Political Legitimacy: The Cases of Iraq and Afghanistan” (Conflict, Security & Development, 4:2 August 2004) where he describes the “Afghan identity”:

This Afghan identity is based on a common political culture, which could be summarised as follows. ‘Real’ political life is played out at the local level and primary loyalty lies with a ‘solidarity group’, whatever its sociological basis. This function can be fulfilled by any community, clan, tribe or village composed of an extended network of people who tend to consider themselves as protected by this group affiliation and able to build on it for whatever purpose (business relations, political constituency, patronage and clientelism, and also, during the war-armed resistance (p. 173).

I think what is highlighted in both quotes, is the idea that identities play a strong role in politics. Now, if we accept the idea that some cultures are more prone to individualism and other cultures are more prone to collectivism (corporate cultures in different countries have been widely known to exhibit these differences), ultimately, for a strong democracy to work, there must be a strong sense of individualism. If this individualism is lacking, then does it follow that for democratic state-building operations to succeed in a collective culture, a culture change must occur?

But, what about political parties? Are they not a form of allegiance towards a “solidarity group” that individuals can participate through? I think the difference, is that maybe one form of solidarity group (e.g. primary loyalties to a clan) has less individualism than a political party in a democracy. I would argue that the big difference between political parties and “local level identity politics” is that I can shred up my Socialist Medicine United Party of Canada membership without facing any coercive actions against myself and my interests. However, if I were part of a community that would ostracize me if I were to vote according to my individualistic interests, the consequences would be much higher.

Simply put, politcal parties (in theory) should be easy enough to walk away from without experiencing coercive acts.

I’ll revise my last statement that not only democratic state-building must seek to change a given culture, but, it must also eliminate groups (CNAs and CCNAs) that may coerce individuals. I believe these groups are usually prosecuted according to the law and/or constitution of a given state.

I think this follows…

Posted by: hobbesonafob | August 1, 2009

Centralizing the Taliban

Al Jazeera has recently published an article that has captured my attention: The article reports that a “Taliban code of conduct” has been supposedly printed by the Taliban:

Al Jazeera has obtained a copy of the book, which further indicates that Mullah Omar, the movement’s leader, wants to centralise its operations…The book, with 13 chapters and 67 articles, lays out what one of the most secretive organisations in the world today, can and cannot do…The book makes it clear that it is the duty of every fighter to win over the local population…The book appears to be an attempt to bring all Taliban fighters under Mullah Omar’s control..”The mujahideen have to behave well and show proper treatment to the nation, in order to bring the hearts of civilian Muslims closer to them.”…”The mujahideen must avoid discrimination based on tribal roots, language or geographic background.”

Here’s the video

There are a few interesting points from this report. The first point I would like to address is that Mullah Omar is attempting to centralize the organization known as the Taliban  (if I remain vague as to who the “Taliban” is composed of, it is because I really don’t know myself – too many splinter groups and too little knowledge on my part).

The video on Al Jazeera reports that it is now forbidden to create new battalions of fighters, and “unofficial groups” that refuse to join the “formal structure” should be disbanded. It could be possible that Mullah Omar is attempting to position himself in a post-NATO intervention Afghanistan. Mullah Omar may have realized how diaphanous the state really is.

As well, the book discourages individuals from suicide bombing “lower and useless targets” and that civilian casualties should be avoided. Another interesting highlight from the book is that “Releasing prisoners in exchange for money is strictly prohibited.”

It seems that most of theses “edicts” are either for greater control over the organization or relate to winning the hearts and minds of the population. If this document is acted upon, it is safe to say that the Taliban are now initiating or aspiring to initiate their own population-centric strategies (although I sure this new branding won’t fly for other ethnicities in Afghanistan).

I wonder what happens when multiple groups compete for the hearts and minds of a population. I think part of the battle for both sides will be constructing narratives that the population will believe in: and a comparison of the general narratives for NATO, the GoA, and for the Taliban are in order.

Posted by: hobbesonafob | July 22, 2009

Survival School

As interesting as my graduate courses in conflict studies look, I cannot help but think that this school would be far more interesting, as described by Sara Behunek:

An excerpt:

What this has to do with breaking out of handcuffs or picking padlocks requires a rather Hobbesian leap. It assumes that if the government can no longer provide for or protect its citizens, there will be a complete upending of the societal order. It assumes that humans will act to the worst of their capacity. It assumes that if, in fact, the financial crisis is just a mile marker on the highway to hell, we could soon be facing a very different, very violent world. So, beyond the novelty element of being able to pull a Jack Bauer-like escape, there is a sense that these skills are a necessity as our society becomes ever more precarious.

On that note, I’m off for a canoe trip through Algonquin Park and won’t be posting for a week or so. I’ll either be practicing my Apache-like survival skills or enjoying boxed wine by the campfire (perhaps both at the same time).


Posted by: hobbesonafob | July 12, 2009

On the Importance of Stories for COIN and the State

I’ve been doing some research on peacebuilding and came across John Winslade and Gerald Monk’s book Narrative Mediation: a New Approach to Conflict Resolution. This book is the first time that I have come across the idea of narratives in an academic setting (i.e. not at the pub). The narrative perspective on conflict is intriguing, especially for somebody who hasn’t been prone to studying the so-called “touchy-feely” side of things. The authors write the following about narratives and conflict:

“…from the narrative point of view, conflict is likely because people do not have direct access to the truth or to the facts about any situation. Rather, they always view things from a perspective, from a cultural position. Drawing on this perspective, they develop a story about what has happened and continue to act into a social situation out of the story they have created. Facts, from this perspective, are simply stories that are generally accepted. From time to time these stories lead to diametically opposed readings of events. Again, this is not anyone’s fault. It is to be expected, given the nature of human cultural interaction. Nevertheless, these stories have effects and produce realities” (p. 41).

This perspective places a strong emphasis on how people interpret actions or other forms of information. The applications this has for population-centric counter-insurgency strategies (also known as “nation-building” while being shot at) is how events are interpreted by the population. One can also apply this concept to other states. For example, how does a Canadian view resource extraction (e.g. taxation) and how does this view compare to how an American may perceive resource extraction by the state or  contentious and coercive nonstate actors (CCNAs)? ALL of the Tillian attributes of “stateness” can be viewed within the purview of narratives:

narratives diagram.001

There are endless examples or situations where narratives can be examined. For the sake of my time, I’ll draw an example from a couple of books I’ve been reading over the summer.

Michael Ignatieff’s book Empire Lite looks at one narrative that the British Empire constructed over its colonies (some colonies with more effectiveness than others *cough cough American Revolution cough*):

“Effective imperial power also requires controlling the subject people’s sense of time, convincing them that they will be ruled for ever. The illusion of permanence was one secret of the British Empires long survival. Empires cannot be maintained and national interests cannot be secured over the long term by a people always looking for the exit” (p. 76).

In The Accidental Guerrilla, David Kilcullen gives a full chapter to the road-building project in the Afghan province of Kunar. Here is Kilcullen quoting Colonel Cavoli from the I-32 Infatnry in the Kunar valley in 2005-2006:

“…one of the most important things a road does that no other technique can do is to convey a sense of long-term commitment to the people. You can drill a well in a day, and build a school in a month… but it takes a long, long time to build a road. When you start a road, you send a message that this isn’t a month-long partnership — it’s for the long haul. This is very important for all the reasons you can dream up, but let me highlight one: when you mix this sense of long-term commitment with a persistent-presence methodology, it becomes apparent to everyone that U.S. and ANA forces are going to be in the towns for a long, long time” (p. 95-96).

The similarities between these quotes (as there are many differences) reveal that both nation-builders/colonizers are attempting to persuade the population that the nation-builder/colonizer is an organization that is worthy of compliance.  The U.S. forces won’t be as extreme as the British in convincing the population that they would be there forever because that would be a contentious narrative among the population that the Taliban or other CCNAs could capitalize on.

Not only do narratives highlight the importance of information campaigns and communicating to the population, but I think that narratives are essential for social control. The importance of being able to mobilize a population is shown in Joel S. Migdal’s description of social control: “Social control is the currency over which organizations in an environment of conflict battle one another.” For him, social control is divided into three levels:

COMPLIANCE: “conformance to its demands by the population. Compliance often first comes with the use of the most basic of sanctions, force.”

PARTICIPATION: “to gain strength by organizing the population for specialized tasks in the institutional components of the state organizations.”

LEGITIMATION: the “acceptance, even approbation, of the state’s rules of the game, its social control, as true and right” (p. 5).

The ability for a CCNA or the state to exercise social control provides an incredible resource from which to draw. Social, mental, and even emotional capital can be drawn from those who are willing to support certain narratives.

Again, I would like to draw attention to yourself and ask question about how you have attempted to provide narratives for the actions of the state or the CCNA that governs you (e.g. The story behind the wars my country engages in is ______. The story behind the police in my community is based on _____.).

In conclusion, stories matter (and I’m not even trying to attempt to justify my studying of history for the past five years!).

Works Cited

Joel S. Migdal, Strong Societies and Weak States. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988.

Michael Ignatieff, Empire Lite. Toronto: Penguin Group, 2003.

David Kilcullen, The Accidental Guerrilla. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

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