A Note: On How the System Perpetuates Itself

A very blue–eyed BBC–reporter asked his friend recently about the corruption. Hadn’t the system now reached a point where it had become unsustainable? Couldn’t everybody see the discrepancy, between the ministers’ meagre salaries, and the palaces they lived in? Weren’t the people ready to confront the system, which was leaking oil revenue from the state treasury like through a sieve? His friend, a regular Lagosian working man, looked at him with dismay. ‘No’, he asserted. ‘… Yes’, he admitted, reluctantly. Then he explained. ‘This may be the feeling of the regular Nigerian. He feels, it may be his turn tomorrow to have the opportunity to dip his hands into the treasuries’. The driver nodded to this in acknowledgement. ‘I won’t lie to you. That’s the fact, my brother. I might be the next lucky man’.

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The Dighouse

Commercial alert! The new blog The Dighouse is up and running.

For six weeks this summer I’m joining the Vultur Project, an archaeological investigation in the Basilicata region of Southern Italy.
This is my first dig, so I’ll be posting a about my experiences and the things I learn along the way. If you’re interested in archaeology, do have a look!

I’ve finally managed to put up something that is almost decent, so from now on it is going to be updated almost daily.

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News from Oslo and a Norwegian Abroad

24.07.11 Sunday

Early this month I travelled from Norway down to Rionero in Vulture, Basilicata, Italy to participate in the Vultur Project,  a wonderful archaeological investigation funded by the university of Alberta. Very soon I am going to create another blog to document my life and learning here in Rionero, to which I will post a link on this blog. As I have already at this time been here for three weeks however my new blog is going to lag a bit behind, but after the things that happened in Norway on Friday I felt I had to write this post right now about my experiences of it.

There are about 58 people here joining the project this year, most of whom are Canadians and Americans. We are also many Scandinavians here, and particularly Norwegians. Seven of my class mates in the archaeology program in Bergen are participating in this six week dig as well, and there are a handful of more experienced Norwegian archaeologists/archaeology students here. All in all we number thirteen.

Since we came down here we haven’t paid much attention to the news. We were initially almost completely cut off from internet for weeks and most of us can’t read newspapers in Italian. Since about 5 o’clock Friday afternoon however we have been glued to anything that may provide news, computer screens to read online, TV screens in a restaurant to watch images on an Italian news program and cell phones close to our ear to call home and make sure everyone we know in Oslo are all right. When something new is reported we all now within minutes, news travelling like wildfire among us, across the dighouse.

On Friday afternoon a bomb went off in a governmental building in Oslo, killing at least seven and injuring a large number. A couple of hours later we got the next shocking message. A man had disguised himself as a policeman and traveled to the youth camp of the main socialist party in Norway, the party currently in government, and gone on a killing spree on the small secluded island. The news just kept getting bigger and bigger. Some said ten were dead, then one paper reported 20-30, then Saturday morning we heard that at least 80 had died just in the shooting. The number has by now risen to one hundred.

For a group of young Norwegian students abroad at the time this happened, it has so far been a disorienting time. We have been busy with stuff to do and places to see, and meanwhile these news have been looming in the back of our heads. Out of 7-800 young and politically engaged people about one hundred died in one day on the island of Utøya. The exact number is not yet known. About half of the Norwegians here knows someone who knows someone. One of us knows someone who survived but in desperation had to swim to safety. One of us knows only that a cousin sent a message from her cell phone when she was hiding in the water and that nothing has been heard from her since. She is now missing. Tonight, we all sat in a bunch in the hallway, just talking together and trying to settle our confusion.

They say that as the bomb went off and every ambulance, firetruck and police unit available flocked to the capital, the man responsible sat calmly on a train out of it. Many things are still unclear, but the image of him has already gone around the world. They say that he had been to Utøya many times before, getting to know the island and its hiding places. On Friday afternoon he walked around shooting for one and a half hour. They say that after killing over one hundred people he walked calmly into the hands of the police, the world and the justice that the Norwegian justice department can provide him.

I never intended to write about news events or  politics while I was here in Italy, and I will probably wait until after I come home before I try to focus and process it a bit more. But this has had such a big impact on all the Norwegians here and our whole weekend, and probably also on the rest of our stay here and our return, that I wanted to write about it now. I imagine already that the date 7/22 is going to hold a 9/11 kind of meaning to Norway and Norwegians in the future, especially since it is a small country and there are so few of us. This is going to impact each and everyone here.

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The Overwhelmingness of Asia

In the West, during the last 7-8 years, interest in Asia has surged. Many are referring to China as a potential challenger of Western hegemony, and since the term was coined in 2004 politicians, analysts and enthusiastic headlines alike have been referring to the “Beijing Consensus” as an alternative to the Washington Consensus. Meanwhile India, although lagging behind its neighbour China, is still the only country which can be compared in terms of population, economic prospect or future potential. Now an economic success story, India is also beginning to make its voice heard on the international, as opposed to just the regional stage.

So why has Asia, and in particular China and India, become so important? I’ve been asking myself that question for a while, and looking at it I think that part of the answer is really just that simple.

Asia is the largest continent in the world, bigger even than North and South America put together. It is also the most densely populated. Very soon, the world is set to hit a landmark 7 billion inhabitants. Out of the 10 most populous countries 7 of them are in Asia, which with an excess of 4 billion people is the world’s most populous continent. That is roughly 60 % of the entire population of the world. To give a further sense of proportion, Africa is the second most populous continent just shy of one billion. China and India, with populations of well over a billion each, together constitute about 37 % of the entire population of the world.

I will keep scratching my head, but I think I’ve at least figured out the core reason why China and India are gaining importance. It seems inevitable, really.

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Fischer gives Muslims a Choice; Convert or Die

“The only thing that will give us a shot at building a democracy in an Islamic land is a mass conversion of its people to biblical Christianity.”

If you just watched the video above, I hope it genuinely shocked and saddened you.

Extreme rightism is a very scary thing and these days the US also seems to also be a scary place, speaking from a liberal European perspective. A radicalization of Islam has undeniably happened over the past few decades, but the ongoing radicalizing Christian conservative fear-mongering in the US is to me just as unnerving, expressions of it ranging from popular phenomena like the Tea Party and the ”Birther movement” to the assassination-attempt on senator Gabrielle Giffords in January. Another sad thing is, if Bryan Fischer was a Muslim instead of a Christian we would probably be using his comments to justify society’s paranoia of Islam instead of giving him money and equipping him with his own radio show. Christian and Muslim extremism are supposedly two opposites, yet the rhetoric and the hate is all the same.

I understand that the vast majority of Americans also distance themselves from extremism, just as only a very small minority among Muslims are extremists. But when I consider that there are in fact people who see the views expressed by Bryan Fischer as being just and blameless, I feel ashamed on their behalf.

When it comes to Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, the conservative Christian group classified as a hate group by the SPLC, all you can do is brace yourself for the next time he spews out something offensive. He is certainly no stranger to criticism. No wonder, when you consider he has previously stated that “Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler … and 6 million dead Jews”. Fischer has also claimed that the clause in the First Amendment of the US Constitution providing free exercise of religion only applies to Christians, making it a mystery why there is such a clause in the first place. In February he stated that the “savagery and sexual immorality of Native Americans” made them “morally disqualified from sovereign control of American soil” as if the European colonizers were on a moral high ground, and only a month ago he made this ridiculously racial bomb comment:

“Welfare has destroyed the African-American family by telling young black women that husbands and fathers are unnecessary and obsolete … Welfare has subsidized illegitimacy by offering financial rewards to women who have more children out of wedlock. We have incentivized fornication rather than marriage, and it’s no wonder we are now awash in the disastrous social consequences of people who rut like rabbits.”

But let’s get back to the video at hand and the claim that Muslims must be converted to Christianity before democratization is possible. I have said before that I very much distrust the notion of Islam somehow being less compatible with democracy than Christianity. I simply see no fundamental difference between the two religions that can justify this view (you are welcome to argue against me). For some mysterious reason however, Fischer seems to take for granted that Islam and democracy are wholly incompatible. He seems to ignore the fact that there are several democracies, and successful ones, in Muslim majority countries. Did he decide to just skip Turkey, Bosnia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Albania, Azerbaijan, Lebanon and Mali? Notice he at the same time failed to mention that there are Christian countries that have authoritarian or hybrid regimes as well, such as Russia, Belarus, Venezuela, Cuba, Ethiopia and the Congos, just to mention a few examples.

Perhaps someone should inform Fischer that with the successful revolution in Egypt in February 72 million Egyptian Muslims were cheering a new political order – not a new state religion.

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My Cowardly Position on the Question of Tibetan Sovereignty

There are a lot of questions being discussed and not being discussed about the whole Tibetan topic. It is one of those issues that seem to be absolutely dominated by strong, unwavering positions. It is also one that never seems to be going anywhere. In that way I find it similar to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, which is also very hard to unpack, sore and goes far back in time. In both of these conflicts, I find that each side is always being on the defensive, and very selective in the material that they choose to bring into the debate. As an outsider with no set opinion, I find it very hard to find a place in that debate.

When I was asked for my opinion on the Tibetan sovereignty debate, I honestly did not know what to say. The one who asked, a dear friend whom I respect, obviously presumed that I as a more-or-less educated and engaged member of society would have a ready answer. Problem was, I did not. Of course, I was somewhat familiar with the history and the political and ethical questions being debated, but I had not yet managed to form an opinion. Thus began an increasingly frustrating quest for the answer that I felt was expected of me.

I have found there is a strong pressure in the West to agree with the exiled government. At the same time (perhaps as a reaction to the suffocating political correctness of the “Free Tibet”-stance) there is a will to try to assess things from a more Chinese-friendly perspective. Or should I say less Chinese-hostile. But no matter where I went, whether it was mass media, academic literature or the blogosphere, I always seemed to find this prior partiality. There were bloggers out there who though they were bringing a positive contribution to the debate by plastering an excerpt from sites like tibet.org onto their blog to ’raise awareness’ while next betraying their ignorance. I was getting more and more confused and more and more fed up. It seems often the more people learn about an issue the more rigid their opinions become. I wonder if that has to do with seeing things from a biased viewpoint from the very beginning. But what are you supposed to do if you, like me, don’t want an opinion shoved down your throat?

I find it just amazingly tiring to read or listen to people who have already made up his/her mind. When somebody has a bolted down position it is both very annoying to know that that person is never going to change their mind (‘cause I’m right, dammit!), and very demanding because they are always trying to channel your mind into seeing things their way. I find it hard to talk to such people. Every word they speak seems to be pre-rehearsed and on the defensive. If they ever ask a question it is merely a rhetorical device, not in order to seek an answer. If you ask questions you’ll be accused of being either dense or in cahoots with the wrong side. Even if you’re sporting a neutral or sympathetic stance, you’re wrong as long as you don’t obediently cave in to their views. A discussion like that can never be productive.

On important questions like Tibet and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict I think it’s important to have a colourful and rich debate. I would love to be part of such a debate, but it seems too difficult. It seems like people are only really given two choices to vote and it is either for-or-against China, Palestine-or-nothing. I think these are false dichotomies, where only two opposite choices are propagated when in fact there are many. Guess which you are supposed to pick! Most definitely seem to end up in the “politically-correct” corner. But we don’t have to think in black-and-white.

This is why I am simply not going to make a judgment. It may seem cowardly to not choose a position, but I think it’s more cowardly to just accept what someone else wants me to believe. So I will not position myself in either corner. At least not yet. Whether I am for or against is going to be my choice, and when I am ready. If I’ll ever be ready. There is no real need as far as I can see. Why do we need to search for a villain anyway?

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Asian Media Darlings

Do you remember back in 2003 when nobody really knew anything about China and didn’t care? Back when most of what you knew of Indian economics belonged to a period in which it was referred to as the ‘crown jewel’?

It has dawned on me that the surge in interest in South-East Asia really only began pretty recently. Before that it had of course been a part of the world which generated a certain amount of interest. The mindboggling reality that the region contained half of humanity was often recalled, yet not fully comprehended. The memory of long gone dynasties and civilizations, fascinating and mystical world religions, plus some kind of grasp on the war in Vietnam was about as much as the average Joe Blow needed to know. In the seventies and eighties the West was forced to acknowledge an emerging economic power in Japan – an anomaly in an otherwise established Western world system. A few miniature ‘tiger’ economies have also been on our radar for a while (Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea). But South-East Asia as a whole still did not seem to hold more importance than any other region until just recently, when that begun to change. Nowadays, people have a real awareness of Asia as an emerging global economic powerhouse. Many believe that a shift in the global economic order is occurring, and no matter how fast or impressive the development is anywhere else, such as in Botswana or Argentina, nobody can steal the limelight like the two major powers of Asia.

I have asked a few people, and while most seem not to have been conscious of it many agree that there has been a relatively sudden change in the common perception and interest about Asia. What is your experience of this? Has there been a change in media attention? Even if you really prefer the sports pages of the paper, or even if you feel like you lack enough knowledge to reply – I still really want to hear what you think!

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Buona Pasqua!

It has now been two weeks since I updated this blog, which is way too long. May my readers rest assured though; I have tons of things I want to write about, and I’m not planning to let this become ‘just another abandoned blog’. My poor excuse is that I’ve just spent a lovely week in Rome, and before that I was stressing because I had a paper due. In order to make up for lost time I have a lot of good questions coming up for you in the next few days, but for now I thought I might share some pictures from last year’s fall semester in Rome. I’ve limited myself to pictures from an early morning jog in (and back home from) Parco Borghese – just a soupcon of what the city has to offer. Having just seen it again in the spring, I still think the fall is the most beautiful. It is now Easter Sunday in Rome, so Buona Pasqua everyone!

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Politics & Religion – blurred lines?

What is the difference between religion and politics? Before, I have arrogantly called them “separate” but “intertwined” without caring to give a reason for my opinion. But what are they, and how do you succeed to divide the two? I’ll admit if I knew all the answers to that I would be a lot wiser. So these are just some quick thoughts I’ve made on the issue.

How to define religion? If you define it too narrowly, you exclude some that we suspect are religions. Yet if you define it too broadly, you include some that we suspect are not (like ideologies and philosophies). I suppose we all have our own ideas as to what religion really is, so I’ll leave it at that. Politics however can be more easily defined as a process where groups of people make collective decisions.

Spiritual and mundane matters seem to run into each other fairly frequently. When political decisions are made where moral issues have to be considered, religion often comes into the picture. Even within religious groups political decisions will sometimes have to be made. Organized religions may wield significant political power. The Pope may have been the most powerful political figure in Europe during the Middle Ages. Today the War on Terrorism is inaccurately viewed by many as though it was a religious war between Christianity and Islam.

I can’t seem to explain it well, but there is a reason why I think we ought to at least try to separate religion from politics. Personally, I think it is absurd to, for instance, try to draw a line between things like a “free market” and “Christian values”. How do these have anything to do with each other? Another thing is how the West automatically leaps in support of the non-religious political faction in countries like Egypt even if it is rotten. The only reason we do this seems to be because we have already automatically assumed that the Muslim alternative must be even worse. I think that this has been done many times, maybe without even considering the actual political differences. Not only is it hypocritically un-democratic, but I think it highlights a lot of misguided prejudices. For instance, we think that “secular” must always be more gender equal than Islam, and we also tend to think that Islam is less compatible with democracy than Christianity. But why should it be?

Though I don’t think I’ve exactly managed to illuminate the issue much, I’d like to at least bring up the question. What are your thoughts on this?

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An Illegal War in Libya

This is a quote from Richard Falk, professor of international law:

“What is immediately striking about the bipartisan call in Washington for a no-fly zone and air strikes designed to help rebel forces in Libya is the absence of any concern with the relevance of international law or the authority of the United Nations. None in authority take the trouble to construct some kind of legal rationalisation. The ‘realists’ in command, and echoed by the mainstream media, do not feel any need to provide even a legal fig leaf before embarking on aggressive warfare.

The core legal obligation of the UN Charter requires member states to refrain from any use of force unless it can be justified as self-defence after a cross-border armed attack or mandated by a decision of the UN Security Council. Neither of these conditions authorising a legal use of force is remotely present, and yet the discussion proceeds in the media and Washington circles as if the only questions worth discussing pertain to feasibility, costs, risks, and a possible backlash in the Arab world.”

So wait a minute… Is the war in Libya ILLEGAL?

Yes. The invasion of Libya is illegal after the standard of international law. I wrote a cautious post about so-called “Western propaganda” on the very day that the military bombing attack on Libya was ordered, where I suggested that in the Western press there might be too much worry about conforming to the politically correct order of the day. Is this true for Libya? Though the military intervenion in Libya is illegal, most people don’t seem to know it. I have read the papers lately, and there isn’t much sign of that many places. It seems it just is not politically correct to point it out.

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