Archive for the ‘Culture & Society’ Category

17
Jan

By Mohammed Ayoob

Because of its strategic location between the two twentieth-century centers of Arab power, Egypt and Iraq, Syria has been for many decades a bellwether of Arab politics, viewed widely in the region as the heartland of Arab nationalism. The fact that the first major pan-Arab nationalist party, the Baath, was established in Syria and the leading roleplayed by Syrian (including Lebanese) intellectuals and activists in making pan-Arab ideology popular contributed greatly to this perception.

Moreover, whichever ideological or political trend emerged victorious in Syria came to dominate, more often than not, the Arab political scene. This was true in the 1950s and 1960s during the time of a “cold war” between “revolutionary” military regimes espousing the cause of Arab nationalism and conservative monarchies determined to hold on to their power and privilege. According to one analyst, today’s regional politics are showing signs of a new cold war, “and, once again, that broader conflict is manifesting itself in a struggle for Syria.”

But this new cold war extends beyond the Arab world. Saudi Arabia is being challenged by non-Arab Iran. Also, the ideological lines of conflict are blurry. Arch-conservative Gulf monarchies, steadfastly opposed to democracy in their own countries, support democracy in Syria, along with non-Arab democratic Turkey. Meanwhile, the authoritarian Assad has the support of Iran, whose hybrid political system encompasses both clerical and representative institutions.

Some argue that Iran’s role in the current regional cold war has introduced sectarian (Shia versus Sunni) as well ethnic (Persian versus Arab) divisions into the region. But Tehran supports Assad largely for strategic rather than sectarian (leave alone ethnic) reasons. Syria has been Iran’s only loyal Arab ally, even during the devastating Iran-Iraq War imposed on Iran by Iraq. All other Arab regimes, principally the Gulf monarchs newly flush with petrodollars, not only supported Iraq but largely financed Saddam’s war machine. Equally important, if not more so, is the fact that since the 1980s Syria has been the principal conduit for Iranian military and financial assistance to the Lebanese Hezbollah and, until recently, to Hamas.

The relationship’s economic dimension also is important. Syria has become a crucial economic lifeline for Iran. As one analyst puts it, “As both countries become increasingly isolated from the international community their economic ties have become exceedingly more important.” These ties have included a $10 billion agreement signed just before the Syrian uprising began for the construction of a gas pipeline running though Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and reaching Europe via the Mediterranean. Read more…

Mohammed Ayoob is University Distinguished Professor of International Relations at Michigan State University, and Adjunct Scholar at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

As published by The National Interest on January 16, 2013.

16
Jan

By Jeongwen Chiang

Apple staff welcoming customers in the new Apple store at WangFujin business district in Beijing on October 20, 2012

Apple CEO Tim Cook expects China, the world’s most populous country, to become the No. 1 market for the company.

Equally heavyweight tech companies Google or Facebook can only watch with envy. It is not because of lack of effort that they are nowhere near the success of Apple in China. Their businesses are just too different.

The Chinese government’s tight control on freedom of information flow applies especially to the Internet. Web access is filtered on a regular basis. Social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter are blocked because the government deems them as potential hot spots for facilitating politically sensitive or socially inappropriate content.

Meanwhile, Google is operational in China but has to route all searches to its Hong Kong site, and the access is often interrupted. So, it is fair to say that the Chinese government is the reason why companies such as Google and Facebook are not doing well in China.

In contrast, Apple mainly sells hardware, so it has not run into any censorship problems.

Chinese consumers love electronic gadgets. Mobile phones are ubiquitous. Apple is doing incredibly well because its products are so much more attractive and pricy. The iPhone quickly become a status symbol product in Chinese social circles since its debut. Likewise, the iPad also joined the must-have list as soon as it was launched.

If someone wants to lubricate his “guanxi” — relationship — with an important person, these two products are often the gift of choice. Before the iPad reached China, a businessman in Shanghai told me that in the back of his car trunk, he had stocked at least 20 iPads, all bought in Hong Kong. “It is the most-loved present for government officials,” he claimed.

The social pressure of having an Apple product is strong, especially as the wealthy elites set the trend. If a middle class Chinese consumer cannot afford an expensive car or watch, sporting an iPhone may be just as good. Even the bad press surrounding Foxconn, the main manufacturer of Apple products, did not make too much of a dent on the company’s sales. Read more…

Jeongwen Chiang is professor of marketing and chair of the department of marketing at China Europe International Business School.

As published in www.cnn.com on January 15, 2013.

11
Jan

The case of the student gang raped in Delhi reveals how deep-seated misogyny remains in Indian society. Even as women are encouraged to study and join the work force, prejudice is rampant. It is time for change.

By Kishwar Desai

India has been transfixed by the Delhi gang rape which took the life of a young woman in December. Mass protests have resulted and the country has set up a fast track court to try the alleged perpetrators.

In the past few weeks, something has happened in India that we never thought possible: We have seen an unprecedented show of solidarity and anger over the horrific gang rape of a 23-year old woman, who later died of her injuries. The brutal killing of this nameless student — an ambitious young woman from a small town who worked hard to train as a physiotherapist and was a role model to her two younger brothers — moves us because she was one of us, a sister, a daughter and a wife.

For years, I have been writing about rape and abuse, about the killings of female fetuses, of girls and of women in India. But when I heard about it happening right in the middle of Delhi, in the heart of our capital, on a public bus, it felt like it happened to me. Fortunately, I have never had to experience rape myself. During my growing up years, however, I of course experienced molestation and verbal abuse by males. And even as a working woman it was part of my life — as it is part of any woman’s life in India. Friends of mine have experienced much worse, and they have been traumatized by it.

The young woman has been called “Nirbhaya”, the fearless, by the press, and she has become a symbol of India’s terrible misogyny. India’s middle class has held protest meetings and candle light vigils in many cities all over the country. The anger, despite reassurances from the government, refuses to die down. Even more unexpected has been the sight of young men pouring onto the streets, expressing their personal sorrow over escalating gender violence, as this emerging “superpower” becomes increasingly unsafe for women.

The response from the government has been slow and callous, with its clumsy attempt to squash the protests. This lack of empathy within the ruling coalition, and its inability to understand or comprehend the betrayal that Indian women feel today has left many aghast. Read more…

As published in www.spiegel.de on January 10, 2013.

10
Jan

Mammon’s new monarchs

Written on January 10, 2013 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Asia, Culture & Society, Foreign Policy, Globalization & International Trade

The emerging-world consumer is king

Intelligence agencies seldom take a sunny view of the world. Yet the latest report from America’s National Intelligence Council (“Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds”) is rather cheerful. The council frets about threats ranging from cyber-sabotage to nuclear holocaust (in a brilliant piece of understatement it warns that “Russia could become a very troublesome country”). But it argues that the most important trend in the coming decades will be the growth of the global middle class.

Britain, where the industrial revolution began, took 150 years to double its income per head. America took 30. China and India have pulled off the same feat in a fraction of the time and on a larger scale. The result is an explosion in the number of people who can afford middle-class luxuries, such as a nice home and a good start for their children.

The council is not alone in thinking that, despite the threat of bubbles and hard landings, the new middle class is the future. The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) predicts that there will be nearly a billion middle-class Chinese and Indians—some 320m households—by 2020. McKinsey & Co, another consultancy, points out that consumption tends to follow an “S” curve. When people’s income hits a certain point, demand for consumer goods surges. It later levels off: a family’s first fridge is a colossal blessing, but two would make the kitchen seem crowded.

Western companies ask: how can we appeal to the new kings and queens of consumerism? And how can we compete with sharp-elbowed rivals from the emerging world? Dozens of books and articles have tried to grapple with these questions. Two stand out: “The $10 Trillion Prize” by Michael Silverstein and three colleagues at BCG and “What Chinese Want” by Tom Doctoroff, of J. Walter Thompson, a marketing company. Read more…

As published in www.economist.com on January 5, 2013.

8
Jan

Eve of Disaster

By Charles Emmerson

The leading power of the age is in relative decline, beset by political crisis at home and by steadily eroding economic prowess. Rising powers are jostling for position in the four corners of the world, some seeking a new place for themselves within the current global order, others questioning its very legitimacy. Democracy and despotism are locked in uneasy competition. A world economy is interconnected as never before by flows of money, trade, and people, and by the unprecedented spread of new, distance-destroying technologies. A global society, perhaps even a global moral consciousness, is emerging as a result. Small-town America rails at the excessive power of Wall Street. Asia is rising once again. And, yes, there’s trouble in the Middle East.

Sound familiar?

In many ways, the world of 1913, the last year before the Great War, seems not so much the world of 100 years ago as the world of today, curiously refracted through time. It is impossible to look at it without an uncanny feeling of recognition, telescoping a century into the blink of an eye. But can peering back into the world of our great-grandparents really help us understand the world we live in today?

Let’s get the caveats out of the way upfront. History does not repeat itself — at least not exactly. Analogies from one period to another are never perfect. However tempting it may be to view China in 2013 as an exact parallel to Germany in 1913 (the disruptive rising power of its age) or to view the contemporary United States as going through the exact same experience as Britain a century ago (a “weary titan staggering under the too vast orb of its fate,” as Joseph Chamberlain put it), things are never quite that straightforward. Whereas Germany in 1913 explicitly sought a foreign empire, China in 2013 publicly eschews the idea that it is an expansionist power (though it is perfectly clear about protecting its interests around the world). Whereas the German empire in 1913 had barely 40 years of history as a unified state behind it and was only slightly more populous that Britain or France, China in 2013 can look back on centuries of continuous history as a player in world affairs, and it now boasts one-fifth of the world’s population. Whereas Germany’s rise was a genuinely new geopolitical phenomenon in 1913, the rise of China today is more of a return to historical normality. These differences matter. Read more…

Charles Emmerson is the author of the forthcoming “1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War” and is a senior research fellow at Chatham House.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on January 4, 2013.

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