Wednesday, 19 August 2009

I'm fed up! Stop treating me like an adult! I mean, I just friggin turned 30!

I am fed up without even having done any real work on the dissertation. The dissertation is still at the embryonic stage but I am fed up. I am fed up of being here, of being a so-called student and having my life on hold. I have not done any work but I am fed up of thinking about it or avoiding it. It's a great idea for a dissertation - I suffer from thinking my lousy ideas are great - but all I want to do is for this to end and for me to able to get out of here.

Why in the why did they give us THIS long to do the dissertation? I mean, what is it with the British education system? Why do they treat us like adults? Why do they think I will be able to do this on my own, without any structure or hand-holding, discipline myself, do equal amounts of research/drafting/finalising?

This really takes me back to my undergrad years. I was totally lost in my undergrad years having come from American high schooling. I was actually all set to go to do the liberal-arts-fooling-around at a college in the US but my family forced me to go to the UK because my frigging brother got into LSE and the idea was for us to be together. Yes, I got short changed as usual. I had had done the UCAS luckily and Tariq actually wrote out a letter for me asking one of my colleges to accept me. It was better than the idea of going to some college in Greece as my parents wanted me to. Don't ask about all these genius ideas of my family. Anyway, so I get to the UK but seriously, I had no clue about what it really entailed.

There was also the live-where-you-want in these depressing halls of residence. The entire experience was so let's-treat-these-people-like-adults. You were supposed to be an adult who had it completely figured out what you wanted to do with your life, how to live it and what it's all about.

The main thing about college in the UK is that it is pretty specialised right from the start (in fact, they start specialising all the way at the A-levels). So you have to endure three years of whatever it is you have made the mistake of choosing (or whatever you get accepted for) as a subject. I mentioned this earlier - I had no clue about anything. I was a kid at the end of it. Economics was crap as it is - politics which was much more interesting and exciting was still pretty sophisticated for me. I mean, I did not really have a political consciousness or idea of anything except for whatever I had been exposed to - watching the news, being in an international school, my father's lectures, etc. Otherwise, I was pretty much a dodo and didn't know what I was really doing.

Economics pretty went over my head but politics did start to make sense after my degree. It sort of came together.

I think there are many pluses of the whole liberal arts thing the Americans have going. You can fool around for two years and then choose your major. I think it's pretty cool. You can truly be a student and explore subjects and see what you're interested in. The Brits are just too friggin desperate to get there already. There's no enjoying-the-process of how you get there. In the good old days, you would have to learn everything - music, art, history, letters, poetry, mathematics, language, etc. This is all the goddamn fault of capitalism. What a beast. What a b****.

I mean, look at this year! This was a masters on drugs. It was too friggin fast. I barely had time to absorb and think about any of it. All I did was blah blah and react and talk like a moron but I had nothing really intelligent to say about it. We had these oh-my-G0d-which-moron-invented-a-one-hour-tutorial-at-masters-level? We had one-hour tutorials in undergrad!! I was so shocked when I got here and I go to myself, geez, I'm paying £ 12,000 pounds for 2-hour lectures and a 1-hour-half-baked-joke-of-a-class? Are you guys kidding me with this? They made us do these lousy, lousy, shoot-me presentations - regurgitation of the material which everyone is supposed to have read but one schmuck gets to present it - which took half hour and then you're left to deal with big master categories in a half hour. Seriously. And oh my God the essays. Each one was a Mount Everest for me, I swear. Nothing is as painful as writing those essays. It was like going to the doctors, it was worse then a 12-hour grueling journey on a non-air-conditioned bus in the middle of the desert in Balochistan sitting among gold smugglers. It was worse than the UN car breaking down in the middle of the Liberia bush in the middle of the night and being rescued by a local NGO car. It was worse than getting car sick going through the hills of mud in the rainy season in Liberia. It was worse than getting I'm-having-hallucinations malaria. It was worse than sitting through crappy chick flicks with your dodo friends. It was worse than listening to people say dumb things.

I can't wait to get out of here and back to my life. The adult life I have chosen for myself. This studying thing is not my deal - I suck at it. I peaked in 10th grade!

No. 1 What Is Peace Building? No. 2 What is Liberal Peace Building?

1. What is Peace Building?
"Inspired by a reductive and teoleogical informed reading of the significance of 1989, the burgeoning optimism of the post-Cold War period was the defining force in the birth of the concept of peace building." (Heathershaw; 2008; 600)
The pursuit of peace has only recently been adopted by International Development although, it has been around as a philosophical dream for time immemorial and as a stand-alone concept within peace studies since at least the 19th century*. As Uvin states, "The development enterprise spent the first three decades of its charmed life in total agnosticism towards matters of conflict and insecurity." (2002) The outbreak of conflict entailed the flight of development workers and the influx of humanitarians. Furthermore the “conflict dynamics” were not analysed nor addressed since they were not considered part of the development mandate (Ibid).
The passing of the Cold War is a significant marker for the paradigm shift it ushered in. As the "cold war order" gave way to the "new-world order" (Duffield; 1994) it spelled new directions for notions of sovereignty and interventionism. As Bradbury puts it, the international community was "liberated from the diplomatic straightjacket of sovereignty." (Bradbury; 2003) The Westphalian practice of non-intervention that was even "strengthened during the Cold War period" (Goodhand; 2006; p. 50) gave way to "an explosion of international concern to respond to and resolve conflicts" (Goodhand; 2006; p.1) outside of the state-sovereignty paradigm. Fittingly, the UN secretary general Boutros-Ghali proclaimed the end of "absolute and exclusive sovereignty." (1992)
Another way to approach the build up towards peace building era is to consider the mood at the end of the Cold War. The seemingly unforseen timing of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of Communism was famously hailed as 'the end of history': "The Cold War ended for all intents and purposes with the dismemberment of the Soviet Union in 1990. The conflict between the superpowers had so shaped international events...that the fall of Communism felt like 'the end of history' itself.'" (Montgomery & Rondinelli; 2004; p. 68) The failure of the Soviet Union on a state level with its "profound implications for the idea of statehood itself" (Clapham; 2002) was one of many state break downs to follow in the Third World too but, for the time being it symbolised the "triumph of liberal capitalism" (Goodhand; 2006; p. 79). This victory brought about a sense of "optimism and enthusiasm" (Yannis; 2002; p.71) or, the "optimism of a peaceful new world order" (Bradbury; 2003). However, this "expected 'peace dividend' failed to materialise" (Richards; 2005). Somalia, for instance, became one of first test cases of international intervention and peace building for "humanitarian reasons" (Yannis; 2002).
The reading of the end of the Cold War is interesting as a mood as suggested above: euphoria as well as disappointment ensued followed by rolling-up of sleeves to intervene in conflicts. What is interesting is the unravelling and evolution of the concepts of the concepts of war and peace. As Richards describes it, "War - we thought we knew - was Super-Power rivalry. Peace would supervene with victory of one system over the other (or ideological accommodation). " (Richards; 2005) The fact that conflict - seemingly non-ideological at that - continued to plague the world prompted new waves of analysis. State collapse in war-torn countries was a "disturbing new phenomenon." (Helman & Ratner; 1992 in Yannis; 2002; p.65). Kaplan called it the Coming Anarchy which would threaten peace and stability of the West itself. (Kaplan; 1994 in Yannis; 2000) Richards groups these "explanations of 'new war'" as "'Malthus with guns', the 'new barbarism' and the 'greed not grievance' debates." (Richards; 2005) Kaplan's doomsday views fall under 'new barbarism' grouping of Richards. Essentially, a lot of non-political exploration and explanation of conflict in developing countries occurred on the policy and academic levels.
Peace and security were reduced to an individual level. With the end of the Cold War being hailed as the 'end of history', Boutros-Ghali's Agenda for Peace "set out to take full advantage of the de-politicisation of warfare and development." (Stockton; 2004; p. 13) Furthermore, "consistent with this vision of the triumph of liberal capitalism over totalitarian socialism, the secretary-general blamed any ongoing conflict upon under-development and historical misunderstanding about identities." Yannis describes the post-Cold War shift as follows: "the centre of gravity in international relations has shifted away from exclusively state-centred considerations and increasingly towards the individual." (2002; p. 70) The shift has brought about what Yannis further describes as "an international society with a human face." What we had was the convenient and opportune moment for the expansion of the United Nations' role as well as the advance of liberal capitalism and democracy by the West: "In the aftermath of the Cold War, proponents of both 'End of History' and 'New World Order' theories advocated the principles of market economy and multiparty democracy as global recipes for development, peace and stability." (Yannis; 2002; p. 71) This moment represents the convergence of peace-making/security, development and humanitarianism. (Goodhand; 2006; p.78) The convergence can be illustrated by Bourtos-Ghali's "totalising" speech in 1993: "Without peace there can be no development and there can be no democracy. Without development, the basis for democracy will be lacking and societies will tend to fall into conflict. And without democracy, no sustainable development will occur; without such development, peace cannot long be maintained." (Heathershaw; 2008) Democracy, development and peace are linked together but, in a chicken-or-egg sequence; we do not quite know which comes first. As Uvin remarks, "there is scarce secure evidence of a casual relationship between economic development and peace." (Uvin; 2002) Moreover, "Scholarly opinions are divided on these matters, and even if there was consensus, the capacity of the aid enterprise to affect these factors with any degree of speed or certainty is exceedingly small." (Ibid)
What does this human-security centred peace building entail in practice? In the aftermath of the end of the Cold War, the UN envisaged for itself a broad role in the area of peace, security and development. Boutros-Ghali "listed five specific measures: confidence-building, fact-finding missions, early-warning networks, preventive deployment, and demilitarised zones." (Ackermann; 2003; p. 340) This has further been consolidated by Boutros-Ghali's successor Kofi Annan's "proposals to create a peace building commission, support office and fund." (Barnett et al; 2007; p. 36) The ambitious range of this peace agenda "entails deep intervention in aspects of governance, humanitarian aid and development." (Richmond, 2003 in Goodhand; 2006; p. 80) It essentially requires omnipresence. The vision for 'conflict prevention' failed early on in the case of Rwanda. Uvin states that "the tragedy of Rwanda more than any other, demonstrated to both development and humanitarian actors that 'normal professionalism,' even if implemented successfully, could lead to disaster if conflict dynamics were not understood." (2002; 6) However, it is difficult to imagine that conflict prevention - as in the case of the methodological genocide that occurred over a couple of months - is simply a matter of deepening our knowledge of conflict dynamics or re-thinking our post-Cold-War paradigms.
Peace building enjoyed a spectacular rise as "UN peacemaking activities have increased nearly fourfold from four in 1992 to 15 in 2002." (Goodhand; 2006; p. 80) Moreover despite the suffering of quite a few setbacks "the original peace-building paradigm remained generally intact for most war-torn nations until September 2001." (Stockton in Donini, Niland and Wermester; 2004; p. 27) As Stockton further explains (Ibid) this consisted of "a sequence beginning with a negotiated settlement, followed by the deployment of impartial UN Chapter VI peace-keepers, internationally supervised elections, and international aid-driven demobilisation, resettlement, reconstruction, and development."
Peace building has its detractors. We have discussed above peace building's a-political approach as far its analysis of conflict in the new post-Cold-War 'end of history' context is concerned. This applies to the development enterprise in general with which peace and security have merged and is summed up by Uvin as follows: " the extent to which the development enterprise engages explicitly in the political realm, running counter to the norm of sovereignty and the practice of 'a-politicalness' that historically underlie its work." (Uvin; 2002; p.6) In the conclusion to the same article Uvin states: "The key problems of the operational work in the field are the weakness of the knowledge and the ethical base on which this work rests." (Uvin; 2002; p. 21) On a similar note, Featherstone states "Peace keeping is not a highly theorised topic." (Featherstone; 2002; p. 191) For Featherstone, the "unproblematised discourse of modernity which is at the heart of both International Relations and Conflict Resolution theory and practice" and, "problematic discourses of violence" make peace keeping and peace building of the Agenda for Peace kind limited in terms of long term change. (Featherstone; 2002; p. 190, 197, 201) Furthermore, "there are critical differences among actors regarding its conceptualisation and operationalisation" (Barnett, Km, O'Donnell, and Sitea; 2007; p. 36) despite the 'quest for coherence.' (Donini, Niland, and Wermester; 2004; p.2-3) It also seems that although "we see a lot of interest in peacebuilding, much of it is at the level of rhetoric and not at the level of resources." (Barnett, Km, O'Donnell, and Sitea; 2007; p. 36)
Amongst the most critical critiques of peace building is both a critique as well as the nature of the beast itself - that peace building in the post-Cold War context is ultimately a liberal project. Duffield, for example, famously states that the North is actually trying to impose a 'liberal peace' on the South to preserve itself. (2001)
2 What is Liberal Peace Building?
The intellectual foundations of liberal peace lie in Kant's work; in fact, according to Howard peace was invented by Kant. (2001) Howard's The Invention of Peace (2001) argues from a European perspective that while war has been a norm throughout history, peace has been less so. Tracing a broad history of Europe, Howard states that under the reign of priests and princes from 800 to 1789 AD, war was part and parcel of the social and political order sanctioned by king and church. Even as the power and rule of priests and princes gave way to the new order of states, "the institution of war persisted as part of the international order...partly because there were still serious issues of power to be determined, partly because it came naturally both to the ruling classes and to the sovereigns themselves." (Howard; 2001; p.22) War, then, came to be rationalised beyond holy language and more in terms of balance of power, preservation of peace and rights of states.
Until the arrival of the "greatest of intellectual revolutions in the history of mankind" - the Enlightenment - peace was more or less an intermission between wars. (Howard; 2001; p.25) The thinkers of the Enlightenment sought to think of society and state, the general order of things, without war. This "intellectual revolution"'s "most remarkable child" (Howard; 2001; p. 29) was the star philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant's legacy for Liberalism and specifically Liberal Internationalism is, to borrow Howard's word, "remarkable." Kant was not a fan of human nature but believed peace should be pursued not only for practical reasons but for moral and enlightened ones as well. Today, we speak of the 'Kantian duty to peace.' Kant believed the pursuit of peace "can be imagined to follow logically from human beings' pursuing their rational self interest in the circumstances of the world as we know it." (Doyle; 1997; p. 254)
Howard places the highest accolade on Kant by declaring: "So if anyone could be said to have invented peace as more than a mere pious aspiration, it was Kant.” (Howard; 2001; p.31) His “Perpetual Peace” written in 1795 “predicts the ever-widening pacification of a Liberal pacific union”(Doyle; 1997; p.253) or a “cosmopolitan community” as described by Howard where, mutual needs for security and hospitality would hold this union. (Howard; 2001; p. 31) Kant states that the perpetual peace would be guaranteed by acceptance of three 'definitive articles of peace'; namely, i) states should be republican ii) pacific federation or foedus pacificum iii) a cosmopolitan law to operate in conjunction with the pacific union. (Doyle; 1997; p. 257-258) Peace would first be established among Liberal states where individuals would enjoy republican rights. The pacific union would gradually come to encompass all states gradually. In fact, “if by good fortune one powerful and enlightened nation can form a republic (which is by nature inclined to seek peace), this will provide a focal point for federal association among other states.” (Doyle; 1997; p. 257) One could say along this line that the United States' emergence and hegemony over of the last two hundred years has helped to create the kind of pacific federation around itself as imagined by Kant. As Howard states: “The ruling philosophy of the generation that established the independence of the United States was the very quintessence of the Enlightenment, with its belief in the rights and perfectibility of man and his capacity for peaceful self-government...” (Howard; 2001; p. 28)
Howard's enthusiastic sweeping statement in the European political nation-state and political philosophical context – that was peace was truly only invented not only as a political order but also as an aspiration as a social order by the Enlightenment and Kant – is significant in helping us to understand modern history in terms of attempts to impose global political orders and the Liberal foundation of global discourse on peace – whether it be philosophical or in terms of peacemaking, peace building or peacekeeping. Howard himself excuses his Eurocentric approach to his essay on peace by explaining that “it was in Europe, and its overflow in North America, that there developed the thinking about war and peace that now constitutes the bulk of global discourse about the topic.” (Howard; 2001; p. 7)
Perhaps indeed peace maybe have been more clearly imagined and argued for by Kant than his predecessors. Kant proposed how the populations in Europe's states could exist more peacefully through transitioning to republican states, forging a more cosmopolitan Europe, and so on. - liberal under pinnings of peace building - liberal understanding of war
*"War in human society is as pervasive as the wish for peace is universal." (Thakur; 2002; 405)

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The theatre (Leave the Afghan, take the Nerd)

I have just come back from a fantastic evening at the theatre. I went to see Chekov's "The Cherry Orchard" at the Old Vic. It was directed by Sam Mendes and starred among others Ethan Hawke and the chick from Vicky Christina Barcelona. I was supposed to see the play with Tariq as a kick start to my birthday but sadly he couldn't make it and I had the extra ticket. I asked my girl friends and they were not able to make it either at such short notice. As I scrolled down my contacts, I decided to give my friend Haseeb a call. I said to myself, why not? He's a serious guy, I am sure he would appreciate it. So I give my Afghani friend a ring and he was up for it. He did say a few things which annoyed me like 'what time do plays end?' and 'I'm more of a movies person.' I even told the guy, look, if you are going to get bored or tired, it's okay, I'll ask someone else.

I enjoyed the play tremendously. The companion was - for a lack of a better word - a bit lousy.

I have never really been to the theatre as such so it is a new experience for me. And, it is as exciting and thrilling as I had imagined it to be. I wish I had taken the time to experience the theatre when I was an undergrad. Remember my friend Vasso? THAT's what SHE was busy doing in her spare time. This kid who is a year younger or more would be at the opera, at musicals, you name it. And I must thank her for being my theatre mate this year. Together we've seen Partenope, Twelfth Night and Hamlet.

Well taking the Afghan to the theatre backfired. My friend was making these dumb jokes all the time and that really annoyed me. It was killing my I'm-at-the-theatre-this-is-so-cool-I'm-so-arty-farty buzz. I think he enjoyed most of the play but the remarks got to me. On top of it, he is so friggin confrontational! Dude, no one is asking you to act like a gora here - reserved and fake and all - but at least be a little pleasant!

I mostly enjoyed my evening. The guy is 45 minutes late - we were supposed to meet at a coffeeshop. Makes one lousy remark after another. 'This is a shit building - why are you taking a photograph?' I ask him to pipe down - this is hello to me, by the way - but he says he doesn't care. In fact, when I tell him to try to be a bit more pleasant, he says, 'I've told my boss if he does not like him, he does not care.' I'm standing there, thinking someone please shoot me. Starts comparing plays to movies. 'Ok, so what kind of films do you like?' I'm thinking maybe he'll start waxing lyrical about some great films but what does he talk about? 'Shawkshank Redemption' and 'Gladiator' and 'Benjamin Button.' Don't even ask me. He does not even throw me the name of one obscure movie. How can one claim to be a film fanatic dropping those names? Please shoot me.

I am a much bigger nerd and much more tightly-wound than I actually think I am, I guess. Well who cares? Is it too much to ask?? If you want to go to the theatre, leave the Afghan, take the Vasso or Tariq. * At least you can go ga ga with a Vasso over Ethan Hawke. Or jump into hours-long discussions of English class in school with a Tariq. The Afghan wants to watch Gladiator! ** And, you can't have any freaking discussion with him. I know, I know, I am committing heinous crimes of stereotyping but I can't help it.

The play. It depicted the fading away of a wealthy landed family which was in utter denial. Ultimately, the play is a tragedy but it had some comic moments. The posters were promoting it as a tragi-comedy. I would say it - again - that it is a tragedy more than anything else. When you read this stuff as a kid in school, you're taught this play is a comedy or a tragedy. The distinction is made. When you see this stuff being played - in London theatres no less - you realise how many comic moments a play actually has, the thunderous feedback the comic moments receive (you never 'hear' the tragic scenes, except the absolute silence I guess), and the deep relationship that comedy actually has with tragedy and vice versa.

I appreciated the fact that the production stayed true to the period in terms of costume. The plays and opera I mentioned above were depicted in more or less modern costume which throws one off. Hamlet, for instance - the Queen looked like a frumpy old lady. Come on, she's the friggin queen - how am I supposed to believe it? If a costume can enhance the character, why not? I want to believe I am watching a certain era, a certain time and place.

It was really cool that the Yermolai character frequently - and erroneously - quoted 'Hamlet' in this play! Speaking of Hamlet, I really did enjoy my experience of Jude Law as Hamlet. It was a fantastic production and Ophelia was particularly haunting and tragic as she begins to unravel and go loony. Jude Law was pretty good and he played it more or less safe. The soliloquies - the most famous there are except for what? Marc Antony? - were delivered in an average manner. I was expecting something more from these iconic bits of dialogue.

I did have a heavenly brush with what would be an electric rendition of the soliloquy when I was watching "In the Actor's Studio" *** with Ralph Fiennes. He delivered a few lines of the 'To Be or Not to Be' in a jittery, speed-of-lightening energy and I was blown away. That was fantastic! I had always imagined drama to be delivered in painfully-slow-and-measured tones but never imagined that it would be delivered like that! It made so much more sense. Fiennes explained that they had thought the speech should be delivered as thinking out loud in a frantic manner.

I am so glad I had such a fine experience on the eve of my 30th birthday. The play itself was poignant and, made me think about bidding farewell to my 20s and ushering in a new era. The play reminded me of all the houses our family had had to leave at the end of each posting, moving country to country like nomads. It was always such a painful experience. Incidentally, I've been reminiscing with my grade school friends on Facebook over some sweet pictures that a friend dug up. It made me realise that I was happiest in school in Romania where I was part of a fantastic class and, had some great friends. I look so happy and part of it in those pictures. School got harder and harder in the subsequent schools I went to and never quite had the same bond with my classmates. And I peaked in 10th grade!

I am also ever ever grateful to my father and my English teachers for the love of literature they have grown and nurtured in me. My mother also taught us poetry, especially Urdu poetry. You often hear of people being thankful for the role of books and poetry in their lives and, it's all true.

*In case you don't get it, it's the Godfather 'Leave the gun, take the canoli.'
** Hey, I went crazy over Gladiator too. Bawled each time I watched the ending in the cinema three times. But the cinema is the cinema. The theatre is the theatre. Where and why is the comparison?
*** I've watched dozens of this programme on You Tube. It's a revelation! James Lipton is something out of a novel. He's fantastic, he's a character all on his own. It is delicious to hear these actors talk about their craft. What was really endearing was that most of these actors or directors are incredibly humble. The media can really make one believe otherwise.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Brothers Karamazov (but mainly about brothers and more specifically about my brother)

My brother is a strange kid. The other day he tells me to give away a box of these fabulous-looking cigarettes - Sobranie. They are Black Russians.

The reason why he wanted me to give away the smokes was that he was smoking too much and did not want to finish the pack. I said, well, why don't you smoke one once in a while. He goes, 'Nah, I'll probably smoke it in one go.' So I agreed to relieve him of his worry of over smoking these Black Russians.

He had more of a Friday night than I did. It must have been 2 or 3 am when he got in and woke me up with a start as he was rummaging in my room looking for something. I thought it was a bad dream or something.

As I was making tea for myself the next morning in the kitchen, sure enough I saw the Black Russians on the kitchen table. He'd smoked one. "Oh brother!" I said to myself. Tariq himself was sleeping. I had my tea and then proceeded for my walk via Putney Bridge and via the-oh-so-green-Hammersmith Bridge. I got back, showered and got ready to meet a couple of friends to see a movie.

I wanted to ask him whether he still wanted to do something later in the evening as we had planned. But it was virtually impossible to do so. I'd enter the kitchen and he was smoking furiously and chattering away on the phone. He looked at me, nervously smiled, and then dashed out to another room. It went on and on, him pacing up and down the hallway and dashing in and out of the rooms of the flat. I heard bits of conversation - 'should I call her back,' 'what do you think,' 'she,' 'but..' I understood it was some kind of de-briefing going on. Who said boys don't talk on phone or display strange behaviour?

I guess I should have hid the Black Russians a bit better than that!

Note of interest: The first black people were brought to Russia as a result of slave trade by the Ottoman Empire. I couldn't believe that Pushkin was a descendent of a slave! During the 30s, African American families moved to Russia. Many African students also study in Russia. However, these Russians seem to be hyper racists. A lot of poor African students were killed brutally in hate/xenophobic crimes. Is it a fall out of the Soviet Union and related economic woes?