17 July 2010

Report: Indonesia: The Dark Side of Jama'ah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT)

The International Crisis Group (ICG), a non-governmental organization that surprisingly receives most of its funding from governments (54%, according to its own website), on 6 July 2010 released a report titled "Indonesia: The Dark Side of Jama'ah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT)" (Asia Briefing no. 107).

The full text of the report can be read free of charge here:


Excerpts: "Jama'ah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), led by Indonesia's best-known radical [Muslim] cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, has been an enigma since its founding in 2008. An ostensibly aboveground organisation, it has embraced individuals with known ties to fugitive extremists. It has welcomed many members of the militant Jema'ah Islamiyah (JI) but clashed with the JI leadership over strategy and tactics. It preaches jihad against Islam's enemies but insists it stays within the law – though it rejects man-made laws as illegitimate. [...] It recruits through mass rallies and smaller religious instruction sessions in which Ba'asyir and other JAT figures fulminate against democracy, advocate full application of Islamic law, and preach a militant interpretation of jihad. [...]

"The [...] challenge for Indonesia is to manage the aspirations of the thousands who join JAT rallies for its public message: that democracy is antithetical to Islam, that only an Islamic state can uphold the faith, and that Islamic law must be the source of all justice. [...] Islamic teachings, according to JAT, are the absolute, most modern and most scientific truth and will be so until the end of time. Anyone who believes otherwise is a deviant, including followers of secularism, pluralism, liberalism and all other ideologies under their banners such as nationalism, communism, socialism and democracy. [...] For their own good now and in the hereafter, Muslims are required to live under a caliphate that applies Islamic law."

15 July 2010

Trend: Democracy in trouble

The "Washington Post" last week published two articles on the backlash against democracy (promotion). First, on 5 July, an opinion piece titled "Around the world, freedom is in peril" by Fred Hiatt, the paper's Editorial Page Editor.

The full text of the article can be read free of charge here:


Excerpts: "As America this weekend celebrates the birth of its liberty, in much of the rest of the world freedom and democracy are in retreat. Over the past decade, authoritarian rulers have refined their techniques to stay in power, learning from each other and thinking two steps ahead of democratic forces. [...] They recognized the threat and mobilized, with old-fashioned methods and new. From China to Egypt to Cuba, political challengers were neutralized, as they always had been, by confiscation of property, imprisonment and torture, with the examples of a few chastening the many. The foolish mistakes of one regime – allowing elections before seizing total control of the election machinery, as in Burma in 1990 – were duly noted and not repeated.

"Dictators have learned from each other to stamp out any buds of independent civil society by means of tax laws and supposedly neutral regulation. With China in the lead, they learned not only to neutralize the World Wide Web but to turn it into an effective weapon for propaganda, tracking and repression of their own citizens, and attacks against democratic rivals. Taking advantage of their control of television, they mobilized ideologies of nationalism and anti-terrorism to undermine the rhetoric of freedom. So at decade's end, the correlation of forces, as the Communists used to say, looks bleak. Three assertive powers – China, Russia and Iran – not only resist democratization but actively seek to disseminate their model of authoritarian rule in their spheres of influence."

On 6 July, the paper published an op-ed titled "Democracy in trouble" by columnist Anne Applebaum.

The full text of the article can be read free of charge here:


Excerpt: "[D]emocracy is in trouble. By every measure, the world's autocrats have become more entrenched over the past decade. Countries as disparate as Russia, Venezuela and Iran have become adept at using the rhetoric of 'democracy' – along with faked elections, phony political parties, even state-controlled 'civil society' organizations – to deflect pressure for change. But democracy promotion has also been unfairly discredited by the invasion of Iraq, a decision too often remembered as nothing more than a foolish 'war for democracy' that went predictably wrong. [...] Since becoming president, Barack Obama has shied away from the word democracy in foreign contexts – he prefers 'our common security and prosperity' – as if it might be some dangerous Bushism."

09 July 2010

Article: DIY Science, Democracy, and Dogma

Patrick Lin's article "DIY Science, Democracy, and Dogma" was published on 6 July on the website of the "technoprogressive" US-based Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET).

The full text of the article can be read free of charge here:


Excerpts: "Ordinary citizens today have access to much greater destructive power than ever before, and this may force the evolution of democracy, which has turned somewhat into dogma. [...] [D]emocracy and its attendant values of education, information freedom, and progress are what enable DIY [Do-It-Yourself] science. In this way, democracy has become a threat to itself. To explain, let me rewind to about one month ago. I was a speaker at the Humanity+ Summit at Harvard [...]. The conference theme was 'Rise of the Citizen-Scientist.' I've always had mixed feelings about this issue: [...] is DIY science wise in this day and age? [...] Today, the individual wields much power, enough to change government itself as well as to open an unprecedented world of hurt on fellow citizens, whether with malicious computer hacking or fertilizer-based bombs or anthrax-laced letters or any number of other ways. At the same time, we accept that democracy is a risky venture [...]. The average citizen, with a shrinking attention span, continues to cast the most important votes with incomplete or just plain misinformed knowledge. This risk – of irresponsible power among the masses – is the double edged blade of democracy.

"But today, it is still a traitorous offense in many circles to question the limits of freedom and individual rights [...]. Democracy has become dogma, a mantra of sorts – and God help you if you criticize those values. (You fascist! Terrorist!) [...] But, granting that democracy is better than all other forms of government today (Plato and Marx would still disagree), is it the best form of government possible? Can we do better? Are we allowed to ask these questions? Let me put it this way: If individuals had the power to destroy cities and societies – and we may have that soon, if we don't already – would a democracy even work? [...] Information wants to be free, and it may take new regulation – or a non-democratic regime – to rein them in [...]. A bioattack spawned from a DIY lab, as one scenario, could cause such murder and panic that it destabilizes society, imploding democratic controls from within. We should know by now that no organization is too big to fail. [...] I worry that the furious pace of technology and information is on a collision course with democracy and freedom. It is an act of faith to believe that democracy will always work, no matter the scale of the society or the state of science – no one really knows."

Patrick Lin is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

06 July 2010

Article: Democracy Undermined: Constitutional Subterfuge in Latin America

Forrest D. Colburn and Alberto Trejos are the authors of the article "Democracy Undermined: Constitutional Subterfuge in Latin America", published in the latest issue of the quarterly US magazine "Dissent" (57 [3], summer 2010: pp. 11-5):


Abstract: "Although democracy is being questioned and even battered throughout Latin America, what is happening in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia is qualitatively different. It is more than a 'ratcheting up' of the assault on democracy; it is a deliberate, well-designed project to deconstruct democracy and substitute something else in its place, poorly defined as that may be. What is new here – and completely unanticipated by the legions of academics who wrote in the 1980s and 1990s about the 'transition' to democracy – is the use of democracy to dismantle democracy. These projects pose a political and moral dilemma: how do you oppose political change that has been approved by a majority, sanctified by elections? Especially in poor countries with marked income and wealth disparities, which frequently overlap with race, how do you in good faith oppose the political projects of those who not only speak in the name of the oppressed, but who have the electoral support of the oppressed?"

Excerpt: "Early in the morning of June 28, 2009, the president of Honduras, Manuel 'Mel' Zelaya, was rousted out of his bed by soldiers and sent out of the country in his pajamas. It was an old-fashioned coup d'état, evoking, seemingly, a bygone era. The coup d'état seemed out of place because democracy has taken hold everywhere in Latin America except Cuba. In principle, now, elections are the only sanctioned route to the presidency; and, in principle again, presidents leave office after completing their term – only then, but definitely then. What was novel, in fact, about the ouster of Zelaya was the fear that prompted it – what can be called 'constitutional subterfuge.' The military in Honduras acted in a clumsy way to avert a very real threat to democracy – Zelaya's move to call an unprecedented special election to remove a term limit on the presidency – in that country and elsewhere in the region."

Unfortunately, I can't access the full text of this article.

Forrest D. Colburn is a Professor in the Department of Latin American and Puerto Rican Studies at Lehman College, City University of New York.

Alberto Trejos is Professor of Economics at INCAE Business School, Costa Rica, where he previously served as Minister of Foreign Trade.

05 July 2010

Article: Australian Muslims told to shun democracy

The newspaper "The Australian" today published on its website an article by its senior writer Sally Neighbour (an investigative journalist and book author specializing in Islamic extremism and terrorism), titled "Muslims told to shun democracy", which reports on a conference taking place in Sydney yesterday on the topic of "The Struggle for Islam in the West".

The full text of the article can be read free of charge here:


Excerpts: "Leaders of the global Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir have called on Australian Muslims to join the struggle for a transnational Islamic state. British Hizb ut-Tahrir leader Burhan Hanif told participants [...] that democracy is 'haram' (forbidden) for Muslims, whose political engagement should be be based purely on Islamic law. 'We must adhere to Islam and Islam alone,' Mr Hanif told about 500 participants attending the convention [...]. 'We should not be conned or succumb to the disingenuous and flawed narrative that the only way to engage politically is through the secular democratic process. [...]' He said democracy was incompatible with Islam because the Koran insisted Allah was the sole lawmaker, and Muslim political involvement could not be based on 'secular and erroneous concepts such as democracy and freedom'. His view was echoed by an Australian HT official, Wassim Dourehi, who told the conference Muslims should not support 'any kafir (non-believer) political party', because humans have no right to make laws.

"Mr Dourehi also urged Muslims to spurn the concept of moderate Islam promoted by governments in the West, including in 'this godforsaken country' of Australia. 'We need to reject this [...] perversion that seeks to wipe away the political aspects of Islam [...] and challenge the proponents of this aberration of Islam.' [...] HT is outlawed in much of the Middle East but operates legally in more than 40 countries, campaigning for the establishment of a caliphate (Islamic state) modelled on the empire founded by the Prophet Mohammed in the 7th century. [...] Another British HT member, Salim Atchia, told the conference the West was attempting to 'beat the Muslims into submission' through intimidation and demonisation and by falsely portraying the aspiration for an Islamic state as dangerous and backward. Mr Dourehi said Muslims in the West must be at the vanguard of the push for a caliphate, which would govern all Muslim majority countries and lands that were previously under Islamic rule, such as Spain and The Philippines." (bold removed)

I can't figure out whether the article also appeared in print.

04 July 2010

Journal "Theory & Event" special issue questioning democracy

The journal "Theory & Event" just published a special issue carrying a symposium of papers, first presented at a roundtable at last year's annual meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA), under the heading "We Are All Democrats Now" (13 [2], 2010):


The journal's editors, Jodi Dean (Hobart and William Smith Colleges) and Davide Panagia (Trent University), write in their introduction to this issue: "Wendy Brown guest edits our symposium, 'We are All Democrats Now.' From ancient Greece to contemporary Israel, from a deep aspiration worth saving to a barrier demanding its own overcoming, democracy appears in these discussions not only as being in question but also as a concept in need of being questioned."

The following articles are included:

Wendy Brown (Berkeley), "Editor's Introduction We are all democrats now ..." (page numbers not given).

Excerpt: "Democracy today experiences historically unparalleled global popularity, including among political theorists. Yet, in practice, democracy has never been more conceptually footloose, substantively thin or semiotically manipulated for undemocratic domestic and foreign exploits. What accounts for this schism? And what are the specific difficulties for democracy in a world contoured by civilizational conflict, eroding nation-state sovereignty, settler colonialism by 'democracies,' unprecedentedly large mergers of state and capital, ascending neoliberal rationality, and invasions and occupations conducted in the name of democratization? [...] [G]iven the disrepair and misuse into which it has fallen, ought democracy to be abandoned for other visions and practices of popular justice and shared power? The contributors to this symposium [...] approach democracy cautiously, curiously, even skeptically, [...] and query the cultural, social, economic, political and even intellectual conditions that would nurture or erode it."

Wendy Brown (Berkeley), "We Are All Democrats Now ..." (page numbers not given).

Excerpt: "Perhaps democracy's current popularity depends on the openness and even vacuity of its meaning and practice – an empty signifier to which any and all can attach their dreams and hopes. Or perhaps capitalism, modern democracy's non-identical birth twin and always the more robust and wily of the two, has finally reduced democracy to a 'brand,' that late modern twist on commodity fetishism which wholly severs a product's saleable image from its content. Or perhaps, in the joke on Whiggish history wherein the twenty-first century features godheads warring with an intensity presumed vanquished by modernity, democracy has emerged as a new world religion – not a specific form of political power and culture but an alter before which the West and its admirers worship and the divine purpose through which Western imperial crusades are shaped and legitimated. Democracy is not only exalted across the globe today but across the political spectrum. Along with post-Cold War regime changers, former Soviet subjects still reveling in entrepreneurial bliss, apostles of neoliberalism, and never-say-die liberals, we of the EuroAtlantic Left are also mesmerized [...]."

John R. Wallach (Hunter College/CUNY), "None of Us is a Democrat Now" (page numbers not given).

Excerpt: "The title of the panel, 'We are all democrats now ...,' is self-subverting: it notes a common political belief, and it subjects it to questioning. 'People may say it's so, but that can't be the case: so what’s going on?' It's both curious and provocative. It is curious, because one of the sources of the panel is Sheldon Wolin's most recent book, [...] in which he argues that democracy has been hollowed out by the forces of capitalism, bureaucracy, and state-power to become a one-dimensional political form that is connivingly, ultimately, anti-democratic. Wolin would say that there are strikingly few democrats now. [...] Dutifully provoked, I have chosen to signal my remarks by negating the panel's title, affirming that 'none of us is a democrat now.'"

Neve Gordon (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev), "Democracy and Colonialism" (page numbers not given).

Excerpt: "I contend that colonialism has served as a crucial component in the historical processes through which modern democracies were created and sustained. Focusing on the production of 'the people' – namely, those who are acknowledged as citizens and consequently have been granted the right to participate in political decisions – I maintain that colonialism has been deployed by democracy as a force that unifies, limits, and stabilizes the people within the metropole by employing violent forms of exclusion."

Antonio Y. Vázquez-Arroyo (University of Minnesota), "Democracy Today: Four Maxims" (page numbers not given).

Excerpt: "Worldwide, the summer of 2009 was a throwback. The world witnessed Manuel Zelaya getting ousted in Honduras – in what seemed an anachronism in the post-cold war era – by a coup d'état, with a mild reproach by the United States. [...] Coeval with this, an election, the minimal marker of democracy, was blatantly stolen in Iran, with Ayatollahs in tow, to the temporary outrage of the west; of course, the same west that scolded the Afghan elites was silent about the fact that [...] US drones killed 60 people in Pakistan, including women and children. [...] And this is without dwelling on the collusion of western democracies with on-going anti-democratic practices that their very ordinariness and dreariness render invisible, such as the apartheid occupation in Israel that effectively keeps the Palestinian population at the threshold of a humanitarian catastrophe [...]."

Anne Norton (University of Pennsylvania), "Democracy and the Divine" (page numbers not given).

Excerpt: "There are few democrats now, fewer still, I suspect, in the academy. Philosophers we might have trusted have fled from the defense of democracy. Derrida's late work exiled democracy to an uncertain, always deferred future. Democracy could be found only in the company of the rioting shebab of the banlieux, who were, those rogues, that canaille, too 'close to democracy.' Their society was suspect. Democracy had to be saved from these, the poor and disenfranchised, who were closest to it. Derrida's project should be familiar to us, since it has been seen often enough. His advice followed the example set by the Turkish, Argentine Chilean and Pakistani militaries: to save democracy from itself by taking up arms against the democrats. Derrida was hardly alone in this. The democratic politics of Muslims in Europe and the Middle East have been opposed by philosophers from Rawls to Zizek; few questions have so united this intellectually diverse assembly."

I wasn't able to access the full text of any of the longer articles. The full text of Brown's short introduction can be read free of charge.

03 July 2010

Trend: Africa's Failing Democracies

The American magazine "Newsweek" yesterday published on its website a short article by Ethiopia-based journalist Jason McLure, titled "Africa's Failing Democracies".

The full text of the article can be read free of charge here:


Excerpts: "When [H]uman [R]ights Watch criticized the results of Ethiopia's May elections, in which the ruling coalition 'won' an improbable 545 out of 547 seats, leaders in Addis Ababa didn't ignore the influential NGO. Instead, they paid tens of thousands of demonstrators to gather in the capital and denounce the report. Ethiopia's political shenanigans are emblematic of a growing trend away from democracy in Africa. The swing includes not only pariah states like Eritrea and Sudan, but also U.S. allies like Rwanda, where President Paul Kagame is up for reelection and seems set to duplicate the improbable 95 percent victory he posted seven years ago. [...] In Gabon and Togo, the deaths of long-serving autocrats have meant elections in which power was smoothly transferred – to their sons, that is. Mauritania, Guinea, Madagascar, and Niger have all suffered coups in the past two years.

"Freedom House, a nonprofit that tracks democratic trends, dropped three African countries from its list of 'electoral democracies' last year, and reported declines in political freedom in 10 others. [...] Why the backsliding? It's partly thanks to the rise of China, which provides cheap loans and investment to resource-rich countries while asking no hard questions about human rights, thus strengthening the hold of authoritarian governments. The West is to blame, too. The Obama administration and its European allies have turned a blind eye to autocratic trends in places like Uganda, Burundi, and Ethiopia because of those countries' role in battling Islamists. [...] 'If this is their representation of democracy and human rights, they shouldn't talk about it anymore,' says Hailu Shawel, an Ethiopian opposition leader. 'They should shut up.'"

I can't figure out whether the article also appeared in print.