Day: August 12, 2011

Pornography and National Security: The ever expanding threat

In today’s ‘horrors of bad social science’, we have a piece by Jennifer S. Bryson, director of the Witherspoon Institute’s Islam and Civil Society Project, (which seems to be a conservative think-tank) who has written a piece for the Institute’s blog on the threat of pornography for national security. (No really.)

Bryson asks the question that no serious scholar has ever, ever addressed and comes up with an argument to be considered. In fact, she is getting right on top of this hard and pressing issue.She reaches around the boundaries of conventional thinking about terrorism and slowly but steadily penetrates the burning question as to whether pornography drives a serious challenge to National Security:

With the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks staring us in the face, we already know that our failure to have an approach to security that is robust and accurate has dire consequences. Pornography has long circulated nearly unbounded due to calls for “freedom,” but what if we are actually making ourselves less free by allowing pornography itself to be more freely accessible?
Are there security costs to the free-flow of pornography? If so, what are they? Are we as a society putting ourselves at risk by turning a blind eye to pornography proliferation?
I wonder further: Could it be that pornography drives some users to a desperate search for some sort of radical “purification” from the pornographic decay in their soul? Could it be that the greater the wedge pornography use drives between an individual’s religious aspirations and the individual’s actions, the more the desperation escalates, culminating in increasingly horrific public violence, even terrorism?

Let me tell you, now that we’ve been stirred to this threat – of young men somehow being converted to wicked, wicked ways – we need to act now, right here and now, damn it! Clearly the perpetrators of this filth have been very, very bad and need to be punished.

I believe that we all need to come together, scholars, government workers, NGOs, and throw caution to the wind. We need to straddle the division between us, fuse ourselves together and come up with an inspired solution. Let’s use each other to the very best of our abilities, and respond quickly to this vitally important need.

It’s Friday night so I’m just going to be at home thinking really long and hard about a solution to this problem. I’m just going to lie back right here by my lonesome self, thinking about nothing but pornography… for the sake of National Security.

Share

Impunity Gap: Syria



There is a near absence of calls for accountability in the international responses to the ongoing and escalating violence in Syria. Unlike in the Libya situation, where there was a swift UN Security Council Resolution mandating both the use of force and a referral to the International Criminal Court, influential states and human rights groups have yet to stand firm on either type of response for Syria. Is it simply premature or counter-productive to demand justice when violence has yet to cease? Or are the political and security implications of removing Assad greater than the risks of impunity?

There is some consensus that the scale and manner of the attacks by Syrian forces against civilian protestors constitute crimes against humanity and that President al-Assad is likely “most responsible” for such systematic violence. Estimates put the death toll between 1,600 and 2,000 so far. Comparable to other situations before the ICC, Syria would meet the “sufficient gravity” criteria that determine the selection of situations and cases by the Court’s Office of the Prosecutor and Pre-Trial Chambers. But the much less impartial political criteria that guide the referral of situations to the ICC by the Security Council are more strategic.

While the Security Council has condemned the violence and the US is calling for consensus on stronger measures, there appears to be little political will for an ICC referral. The US, UK, and France have been the strongest critics of the Syrian regime’s actions. China and Russia initially resisted endorsing UNSC interference but then supported the condemnations that were expressed in the Security Council’s first Resolution on August 3rd and are unlikely to block a future resolution. Moreover, the Arab world is now breaking ranks with Syria as many states, notably including Saudi Arabia, recalled their ambassadors and demanded Assad end the attacks.

The international diplomatic responses illustrate that most of the pressure is directed towards marginalizing Assad and his regime with sanctions, expressions of moral outrage, and encouraging an effective opposition in order to incapacitate and and delegitimize his leadership domestically. Accountability, responsibility, and justice are notably absent from the discourse and policies.

Even notable human rights groups are cautiously realistic about an ICC referral. While Amnesty International called for such action, the main thrust of its recommendations is for the UNSC to forego diplomacy and take stronger measures like an arms embargo and freezing the Syrian regime’s assets. Human Rights Watch makes similar recommendations, but stops short of calling for the ICC and instead presses for more cooperation with the OHCHR’s ongoing investigations and, short of Syrian cooperation, to establish an official Commission of Inquiry. David Bosco, blogging at The Multilateralist, questions HRW on whether it would support an ICC referral. Kenneth Roth responded: “Yes in principle, but as a practical matter it’s not realistically on the Security Council agenda yet….so we’re focusing on the accountability steps that currently are in play.”

But, in what amounts to little more than gossipy political intrigue at this stage, there are reports that an unknown Western government is “bankrolling” investigations into the crimes committed by the Syrian regime and ensuring they are credible enough to be put to use in an ICC trial. The fact-finding mission is being carried out by interviewing Syrian refugees in neighboring countries. See Mark Kersten’s post here, blogging at Justice in Conflict, on why this is a sketchy way to politicize and undermine the ICC.

The strategic imperative and lessons learned from the mess of simultaneously combining judicial and military intervention in Libya are undoubtedly undermining support for justice in the short term. Many fear the political and security implications of removing Assad via a negotiated exit or trial. He is a slick autocrat whose regime’s propaganda convinces citizens and foreigners that his rule keeps the pin in a bomb of potential sectarian violence and economic instability. For now the calls for accountability will remain isolated in diplomatic back channels and the blogosphere until politics and principle align for the Security Council.

(See also the first post in this series “Mind the Impunity Gaps” and “Impunity Gap: Sri Lanka“)

Share

Film review: Godard’s “Made in U.S.A.”

Made in U.S.A (Jean-Luc Godard)

“We were in a political movie … Walt Disney with blood.”

I generally do not discuss films unless I enjoy them and intend to recommend them without hesitation. Jean-Luc Godard’s Made in U.S.A. is an exception, worth mentioning in part because it has so rarely been viewed in the US. Godard made the film in 1966, during an incredibly prolific period of his career. Ostensibly, the film pays homage to “The Big Sleep,” a Humphrey Bogart-Lauren Bacall detective story based on a book by Raymond Chandler. That earlier film classic is well-known for the sizzling chemistry between Bogart and Bacall, as well as the convoluted plot and ambiguous resolution of the murder mystery.

For his source material, Godard used a book (The Jugger) by Donald Westlake. It is one of Westlake’s Parker novels, penned pseudonymously as Richard Stark. Since Westlake did not authorize the use of his book and was not paid for his ideas, he sued successfully to prevent the film from being distributed commercially in the United States. The film premiered briefly at the New York Film Festival n 1967, but was not then shown again stateside until 2009 — very soon after Westlake died. TCM recently broadcast the movie and I recorded it.

Artistically, the film is interesting, colorful, and quite odd.
Westlake’s Parker, a ruthless killer and efficient criminal in the book series, is renamed Paula Nelson and played by the beautiful Anna Karina (Godard’s soon-to-be ex-wife). As the film’s colors and ideas are clearly embedded in the 1960s, this bit of gender-bending is obviously just one element of the broader social and cultural commentary addressed in the film. At one point, Paula says advertizing is fascism. On another occasion, she explains her cartoon-like experiences as if she is in a “film by Walt Disney, but played by Humphrey Bogart–therefore a political film.” A dirty cop twice talks in the voice of Tweety Bird and many of the colorful pop images in the film certainly add a cartoonish quality to the film.

As the New York Times explained in April 2009:

…while this film is far from a lost masterpiece, it is nonetheless a bright and jagged piece of the jigsaw puzzle of Mr. Godard’s career.

…There is, for one thing, a pouting and lovely Marianne Faithfull singing an a capella version of “As Tears Go By.” There are skinny young men smoking and arguing. There are the bright Pop colors of modernity juxtaposed with the weathered, handsome ordinariness of Old France, all of it beautifully photographed by Raoul Coutard. There are political speeches delivered via squawk box.

And of course there is a maddening, liberating indifference to conventions of narrative coherence, psychological verisimilitude or emotional accessibility.

As assaultive as “Made in U.S.A” can be, it also seems to have been made in a spirit of insouciance, improvisation and fun.

The Times does not devote much attention to the film’s explicit and implicit political agenda. The plot, such as it is, revolves around the disappearance and presumed murder of a young communist writer — the former lover of the film’s protagonist. Various characters in the film compare murder to war and the cold war to hot war. One ticks off a list of past battles, culminating in Hanoi, and suggests that all these wars have been essentially the same. Overtly leftist themes and slogans are woven into the dialogue and some characters seem to see a “vast right-wing conspiracy” almost everywhere.

Some critics interpret a strange bar scene as an example of Hegelian dialectic and the communist slogans emanating from the squawk box might suggest a Marxist dialectic at work. Whatever the preferred method, the title “Made in U.S.A.” almost certainly has a double meaning and arguably suggests the need for a double reading.

First, Godard’s homage to “The Big Sleep” says that American artists deserve credit and praise for the genre of film noir. And hard-boiled detective fiction as well — one character, a writer, is named David Goodis. These dark stories cover important themes often ignored in the mainstream. Of course, the mainstream is represented by Disney cartoons and advertizing and Godard speaks fairly explicitly and critically about these elements of pop culture. Even in “The Big Sleep,” the murderer’s identity is made ambiguous (and other important plot points are changed) because Chandler’s original story would not have been compliant with Hollywood morality codes of the time.

The second meaning of the title suggests that then-contemporary cold war conspiracies, whether overt like Vietnam or covert like a real mystery referenced in the film, were literally “made in America.” Again, the criticism is not especially subtle. Young thuggish characters named Robert McNamara and Richard Nixon briefly appear towards the conclusion of the main story. One proclaims that he enjoys killing and the other clearly assents.

Keep in mind that McNamara was Secretary of Defense at the time of this film serving under one of the most progressive Democratic administrations of the last century. LBJ’s “Great Society” produced important civil rights legislation, Medicare, Medicaid, new environmental laws, anti-poverty efforts, etc. But, of course, Johnson and McNamara also prosecuted and escalated the war in Vietnam.

Nixon was technically just a former Vice President (under Dwight Eisenhower), private citizen and corporate lawyer at the time this film was made. However, Nixon was an active party leader in 1966, meeting with foreign leaders while traveling abroad and campaigning for Republicans in midterm elections. Nixon had been a notable cold war hawk for some time and was a key figure on the House Committee on Un-American Activities. In his first campaign, he defeated a female incumbent by implying she was a “pink lady” harboring “communist sympathies.”

In the ending shot, Paula tellingly opines that “The Right and the Left are the same. We have years of struggle ahead, mostly within ourselves.”

This film remains important because the struggle against pervasive commercialism is far from over and the cold war’s end failed to kill the national security state.

Cross-posted from my personal blog on this Nerd Friday because I have not been adding anything here this summer. Sorry about that.

Share

Stability Ops Among Muggles

Foreign Policy‘s latest foray into the nexus between science fiction and political reality is a lively sketch on post-conflict reconstruction, Harry Potter style. Written by experts on the topic from the Marine Corps War College, Human Rights Watch and the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, the key point is this: though the “story” ends when the bad guys are vanquished (be they Deatheaters or Saddam Hussein’s forces) is is then that the real battle begins.

Former U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre and retired Gen. Gordon Sullivan have described four pillars of post-conflict reconstruction: security, governance and participation, urgent social and economic needs, and justice and reconciliation. Of these pillars, the magical world can currently afford to feel complacent about only one — social and economic needs. After all, with the proper application of scouring, mending, and engorgement charms, much of the physical damage wrought by the war can be repaired, and food can be multiplied to meet the needs of the population. But with respect to the other imperatives, critical challenges remain.

Surviving Death Eaters will have to be brought to justice or reintegrated into magical society. Long-standing rifts among magical communities that the war widened must be healed. Most of all, we must ensure that the values that triumphed in the final battle — tolerance, pluralism, and respect for the dignity of all magical and non-magical creatures alike — are reflected in the institutions and arrangements that emerge from the conflict. What ultimately matters is not just whether something evil was defeated, but whether something good is built in its place.

Brilliant article; I must say, however, that I’m not sure the same dilemmas of post-conflict reconstruction apply to the end of all conflicts in the same way. Invoking “the recent experience of American Muggles in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the piece would seem a rejoinder to Bush-era declarations of “Mission: Accomplished.” But the defeat of Voldemort is more like the expulsion of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait than it is like the US’ invasion and occupation of the Middle East and Central Asia post-9/11.

Voldemort, after all, is the invader; he is simply repulsed. It’s not as if Hogwarts invades the Muggle world, wins, and then has to deal with all the thorny dilemmas of reconstituting Muggle society. Hogwarts basically just defended its own borders and identity. As such its reconstruction projects will be more like Kuwait’s in the absence of Saddam’s invading army (rebuilding walls and lives) than like those of the US in Iraq in the absence of the old order (rebuilding society itself from scratch).

Even in such instances, as Cynthia Enloe reminded us in her post-Gulf War book The Morning After, victory is never as straight-forward as it would seem. But how non-straight-forward may be a matter of significant degree.

Share

© 2021 Duck of Minerva

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑