Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s recent overseas tour didn’t go well according to most in the press. The British press, in particular, blasted Romney for his comments regarding Britain’s preparedness for the Olympics. Then, Romney went to Israel. There he avoided offending his hosts but managed to offend Palestinians and some other nations while he was at it.
Romney said that, “Culture makes all the difference,” as he compared the GDP per capita of Israel to “areas managed by the Palestinian Authority.” He then noted a “dramatically stark difference in economic vitality” “between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.” As a sociologist, I certainly agree that culture matters but Romney’s use of culture as the key causal mechanism for global inequality implies a scale of cultural superiority similar to the one that animated racist justification for colonialism and slavery. (more…)
According to a recent article in the New York Times, the single mothers of South Korea are beginning to mount a battle to reclaim not only their rights but also their identities. The social stigma surrounding unwed motherhood in South Korea is particularly fierce. According to the report, in 2007, 1.6 percent of babies were born out of wedlock and of those 1.6 percent 70 percent are given up for adoption. However, nearly 96 percent of the single women who are impregnated chose to have an abortion. The percentage of women who chose to either terminate the pregnancy or give their child up for adoption is startlingly high in comparison to United States figures where in the same year 40 percent of babies born were born into single parent homes and only 1 percent of these were given up for adoption. Yet these figures remain high in the face of South Korea’s declining birthrate as unwed mothers risk a life of “poverty and disgrace” in Korean culture. One observer explains, “Once you become an unwed mom, you’re branded as immoral and a failure. People treat you as if you had committed a crime. You fall to the bottom rung of society.” Women are often cut out of their families completely because of the shame it is supposed that they have brought on their house. Even the South Korean government’s recent attempts at social programs to help women are stymied by the fear of coming forward and subsequently facing eviction and job loss. In the face of such adversity, single mothers in South Korea are approaching their breaking point claiming, “Culture is not an excuse to abuse human rights.” A movement is growing in the region, spawning groups such as the “Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network,” and “Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea.” (more…)
In an effort to reinvigorate the Fatah movement, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas launched the party’s first congress in 20 years. In what was described as a lively two-hour speech, Abbas maintained the right of the Palestinian people to resist occupation and praised non-violent opposition. He proclaimed the need to find, “a new organization, a new party, and a new political language.” Notably, Israel permitted delegates from throughout the Arab world to attend the Congress, including Lebanon and Syria. Israeli news sources are reporting a possible peace plan to be presented by the United States, which is based on the 2002 Saudi proposal. The proposal calls for normalized ties between Israel and more than 50 Arab States in exchange for an independent Palestinian state.
Much of what happens in the Middle East is analyzed in the scope of the “Arab world” and the Israeli/Palestinian peace process is not different. As the Washington Post article notes, delegates from the Arab world were invited to attend the Congress and the future of peace in the region depends not upon an agreement between two nations but rather civility between 51 states. For political purposes the Arab states around the world are lumped into one imagined community. In his article, “Imagined Communities,” Alan Finlayson explains that a community is a set of people who draw on the same symbols when attempting to articulate their identity. While there is a tendency to believe that communities are natural or given, they are, in fact, a sharing of means of self-identification with a group. The most prevalent form of a modern imagined community is the nation. With the facilitation of communication through modern technology, there is a heightened ability to create imagined communities that transcend geographic boundaries. Because the imagined community is a unified collective, it can express rights and needs as a whole. Finlayson points out that it is then the role of political sociology to determine the form and function of the myths that sustain a nation.
The absence of true nationhood in the Arab world is a key factor in its political instability. It is called upon as a whole while Arabs do not belong to one ethnic, religious, or linguistic group. However, so long as the Arab world exists in the collective imagination and therefore has the ability to lobby for rights as such, it will be important for members of this imaginary community to remember that the sharing of symbols is not the same as the sharing of meaning; rather, a community is maintained through the constant making and remaking of meanings.
Read the article at the Washington Post
Read “Imagined Communities” by Alan Finlayson at Blackwell Reference Online
To what extent, I have been thinking recently, can we feel, understand, and represent the suffering of other people? Is it reasonable to argue that the continuous exposure to images of the atrocity of the war – most notably children – has rendered those atrocities a media spectacle and “Us” a privileged passive audience? Would this prevalent opinion make any difference to the crude ‘reality’ of the conflicts? Or, on the other hand, if we maintain that “We” cannot ever understand those who experience(d) the drama of the war (as the latest Susan Sontag suggested), then, what kind of pacifism is possible?
To try to address some of these issues, I started being interested less in the grand ‘political questions’ and more in the everyday practice of the war, focusing on the daily bodily reactions or adaptations to it.
Raising Yousuf and Noor: Diary of a Palestinian Mother
Tales to Tell: from Gaza 2008