Friday, November 18, 2005

*A Quiet Day a.k.a. I need to go back to work*

But before that happens, just a quick comment on two op-eds in the ST today.

The first is "Can we win over women in the war against terror?" by Ms. Zuraidah Ibrahim where she argues that education isn't a panacea and might even form the basis for them turning towards extremism and the use of unconventional tactics.

It's an interesting thesis and one that is (implicitly in the essay) primarily grounded in SEA where she argues that such women are "grounded in South-east Asia's long history and deep culture of strong women", which arguably should be true anywhere else in the world. However, while the 'subjugation' of women is a relatively recent thing, this has to be seen in the context of a long long history where even 100 years may constitute recent. More importantly, recent history has marked a turn where women's position in society is indeed getting stronger. The point is, I'm not entire sure culture is an answer for anything much less tradition is an answer. Dogma and change have tended to come from within traditions and culture so it could really go either way.

As such I simply can't help but get the feeling that her argumentation is a little tautological and perhaps hollow. Note for example, "In the aftermath of the Afghan war, Americans placed great emphasis on Afghan girls and women going back to school, believing that from education wouild come emancipation and resistance to regressive thinking. This might be the case in rural settings, but enough research has been done to show that Muslim women who receive a modern education in urban centres are not automatically immune to fundamentalist religion." Well, obviously that is true, I don't think anyone has made the claim that education will be a cure-all. In fact, one simply needs to look at the rise in Fundamentalism in America to understand that Fundamentalism acts as a 'refuge' for their narrow faith against the more secular and pluralism education people receive.

But the question really has to be, is there an alternative and does edcuation work to mitigate against the reception of fundamentalism? And I think the evidence in Afghanistan generally answers to the affirmative. Women might have to accept the political regime but where they could they resisted the notion that they were 'mere women' who had to stay at home and take care of their husbands etc. (this of course killed the women who had no one to take care of them because they were widowed, had no relatives or were unmarried) but nevertheless, they taught in secret and gave medical help and attention in secret as well. Before the Taliban, women lived and worked in society alongside men. After the Taliban, this naturally stopped but it was the education that gave them a means of resistence. They had skills that could be used and they did.

As long as there's free will and irrationality, education will never work perfectly, but what is the alternative the writer suggests? "[T]here is also an opportunity for the forces of moderation and peace. These are women who are applying their reason and trying to solve the practical problems of life. And, as they try to balance their roles as mother and wife with their own needs for self-fulfillment, they are hardly helpless slaves in their households. They wield great influence, if not power." And finally, "Win over the women and militant Islam will struggle to spread in the region."

*Mr Fluffy reads and thinks. Crickets chrip in the background* This is merely begging the question, "so how do we do this?" And even granting that education will not solve the problem entirely, it's a very good start if people could be encouraged to think and realise that there's a world outside your own narrow parochial interest. And even better if the education provides you will the skills and knowledge that you are not dependent on getting married simply to survive. Every world bank and UNDP study has shown that education is positively correlative with and causal for lower poverty, higher societal wealth, higher expectancy, lower social ills, less ethnic striff etc. All of which are the perfect breeding ground for extremism and terrorism. Yes, Osama bin Laden may not be poor and some of the masterminds of recent attacks come from relatively wealthy and educated backgrounds, but the footsoldiers were not. And if all the masterminds started killing themselves in suicide bombing attacks, I don't think the movement will last very long.

So maybe, education by itself is not sufficient, perhaps we should turn to India and Vietnam for lessons in micro-banking and lifting women and (their familiies and thereby society) from poverty, hunger, and lack of education.

Nevertheless, this essay is good because it could segue into a broader question that is the biggest problem facing all liberal democratic societies today. How does one face the enemies of your society when it is the very nature of your society that breeds and allows these people to promulgate their ideas and their cause? When the forces of intolerance have developed specifically in opposition to the tolerant and secular nature of your society, how does one combat them without irrevocably changing the nature of your society and thereby become as intolerant as the enemies you seek to combat? Is there a straddling line that one can make?

Anyway, leaving you with that thought, I just want to turn to Janadas Devan's op-ed, "How Bush and Hu talks should, ideally, be" and I wish I had the time to go through everything because while I think it starts off well and makes certain good points throughout, it veers off into this merry little path of oddness where he thinks (or at least he thinks Hu thinks) that Taiwan should be happy the CCP is in power because then the CCP would be subject to the vote and the nationalist sentiments would mean an invasion of Taiwan.

*Crickets chirp again*

Well first off, I think Taiwan would be more amenable to talks to China and hell, China would actually come to the table wihtout sprouting ideological arguments, which simply provokes Taiwan to sprouting the converse ones.

Two, one has to question how strong the nationalist sentiments are i.e. strong enough to push a China that doesn't want war into a war?! More to the point, given the inherent social problems that are going on in China, poverty, income inequity and social inequalities divided along coastal/inland, rural/urban divides, you think the general populace can be bothered about Taiwan when they have way more immediate problems?

Three, even if we talk about the Wag-the dog argument i.e. going to war to distract the domestic populace from their problems, democracies don't go to war with other democracies. Hell, democracies go to war at their own risk, espcially with a free press and a general unwillingness to willy-nilly sacrifice lives. And please, if China is already as Mr Devan claims, so succeptible to pressure to keep the status quo as it is, what more if they were a democracy and even more fully integrated into the International Community. And lastly, there's a reason they have a space programme, it sort of acts in a wag-the-dog fashion.

Four, the Chiang-Kai Shek argument is facetious because at that time, Chiang was try actually contemplating a successful reinvasion and reunification of Taiwan. Which is why, until now, the KMT has a One-China policy.

Five, he's way too easy on the Chinese. The question one needs to ask is this, are their domestic interest generally in line with the global one? And the answer is a disturbing "generally no". Taiwan is the second most dangerous friction hot-spot in the world after Kashmir (mostly because India and Parkistan are big, have nukes and very lousy C&C for them).

The reason why Taiwan is so dangerous is because of China's obsession with territorial soverignity, so much so that free-elections are sufficient to get them doing missile tests and war games. This trumps almost any desire for them to keep the international peace and status quo. And if China should one day become powerful enough to do a lightning take over, the DefCon numbers would go shooting down straightaway.

It's not just the US that is worried but every other Asian (east and south-ease) nation that is worried. As it is, some of them are already in a standoff against China e.g. Spratley Islands.

So when the time comes, I seriously hope that China has become a liberal democracy by then.




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