Question of the Day…

Because wouldn't we all like to know.

Review of Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations

Huntington, Samuel The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996; pp. 367)


Samuel Huntington’s highly organized approach in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, lends to his highly comprehensive analysis of modern day war. With the end of the Cold War marking a new era in world conflict, he asserts that global politics have been “reconfigured along cultural lines”. (19)  Expanding on his original article, The Clash which appeared in the July 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs, he successfully endeavors to demonstrate in Part I how global politics have become both multipolar and multi-civilizational, how the balance of power is shifting and possible ramifications of that shift in Part II and that conflict has become contingent upon cultural affinities in Part III. In Part IV, he elaborates on how the pretensions of the West, and their desire to impress these values on other cultures, inevitably have in the past and will in the future, bring it into conflict with other civilizations and finally in Part V, he concludes by saying that the West must not see their culture as universal as a means to preserving it against non-Western societies. 

When the Cold War came to an end some thought that Westernization was synonymous with modernization to the extent that many, like Francis Fukuyama, heralded the West as holding the key to a universalized civilization. This however, was never possible because the seeds planted in La Revanche De Dieu (95) were coming into full bloom. The 1970’s saw a great resurgence of religion. Within the core states of the world’s dominant civilizations people were looking for a sense of identity amidst unfamiliar modernization, and found it in religion. While Huntington is a political scientist he relies on this religious history to classify civilizations as they exist today. He argues that our identities are rooted in ancestry, religion, language, history, values, customs and institutions, (27). From these identities, civilizations re-emerged or were strengthened and developed core-states which served as “sources of order within civilizations and, through negotiations with other core states, between civilizations.” (156) Consequently, where once rivalries were based on superpowers, they have become conflicts between these civilizations. (28)

After the Cold War, Huntington believes that culture replaced ideology (138) and the question turned from “Who’s side are you on?” to “What are you?” (127) According to Huntington, this reconfiguration resulted in two types of conflict. The first one is core-state conflict in which the major states of different civilizations go to war against each other. The other type is fault-line conflict in which neighboring states from different civilizations go to war. Within both types of conflicts interference from secondary and tertiary parties can provide support and constraints to mitigate conflict. (281) There is, however, also the risk of intensification should interfering states force their values and institutions on them. The evidence Huntington provides for this is extensive and reaches from the Orthodox-Muslim fault-line, which has seen multiple conflicts between Russia and the Serbs against Bosnia, Iran and Turkey to conflict between Asian and Western states as Sino based states resist Western values including, but not limited to human rights, proliferation and pluralism.

Hunting asserts that in order for specifically the West, to mollify conflict or at best avoid it, it must abstain from intervening in the affairs of other civilizations, work with other civilization to mitigate and contain fault-line conflict and they must reject the universalism of Western culture. Instead, they must focus on commonalities between civilizations. The United States has since 9/11, intentionally or not, seen the impact of Huntington’s premises as they have and continue to promote the “War on Terrorism”. As Huntington quotes Michael Walzer as saying, “What people have in common is ‘more the sense of common enemy [or evil] than the commitment to a common culture.’” (318)

What is unique about this publication is that it came out almost ten years ago so we are not only are we forced to examine Huntington’s arguments in the time that they were written but then we must hold them up against the backdrop of the 21st century and determine whether the assertions and predictions, which he boldly made hold true and/or came to pass in the last decade. What is indisputable however, is that we are in a time of civilizational clashes and the events of 9/11 are a testimony to that. What I found most compelling about this book was the emphasis that Huntington places on fundamental cultural differences between Christian, Muslim and Sinic cultures which inhibit full cooperation. An example of this is the Asians’ long term benefit strategy versus the promotion of immediate gains by the West (225) and the supremacy of collectivity (238) as opposed to the centrality of the individual we hold to in the West (108). With these values in mind it is interesting to note the diversity within a country such as the United States or Canada and our capacity for national unity and yet, contrary to mainstream political platforms, Huntington discourages the multiculturalism that Clinton so strongly endorsed and rather, advocates the reinforcement of US Military superiority. (312) While I would agree that an international world order based on civilizations would eliminate much of the conflict that we have today, I see it as an impossible feat. It is counterintuitive to the nature of humans as well as the religions we profess.




Is Idle no more a spiritual battle

Is Idle no more a spiritual battle

Is the Idle No More a spiritual battle? Go!

Review of Men, Militarism & UN Peacekeeping: A Gendered Analysis

Whitworth, Sandra Men, Militarism & UN Peacekeeping: A Gendered Analysis (London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2004; pp.224)


In her book Men, Militarism & UN Peacekeeping, Sandra Whitworth paints a disturbing yet not entirely convincing picture of United Nations operations as they pertain to peacekeeping missions. She argues that the so-called best practices of the UN and it’s third-party military forces have extremely detrimental and ultimately fatal implications that overshadow the missions themselves. (183) At the heart of these “best practices” is the contradiction which emerges as a result of peacekeepers being trained first and foremost as killing machines in a hyper-masculine environment. (12) Using Canada’s missions to Somalia and Cambodia, she asserts that the subjugation of feminine traits and values results in severe exploitation of women and children as they are the most vulnerable members of society. While she provides a provocative and passionate exposé littered with thorough research this book leaves many loose ends and unanswered questions – then again, perhaps answers are not her objective.

She begins with a brief explanation of the origin of UN peacekeeping in response to conflicts emerging after the Cold War. Peacekeeping, in turn, became an accessible military platform for many smaller states including Canada and gave way to the military myth that, to this day, permeates Canadian culture. This myth has not only fueled our national identity but distinguished ourself from the “other” as it hails Canada to be “a selfless middle-power, acting with a kind of moral purity not normally exhibited by contemporary states.” (14) In turn however, it “serves as part of the contemporary colonial encounter, establishing knowledge claims about both “us” and “them,” knowledge claims that then serve to legitimatize the missions themselves.” (15) Likewise, for the UN, while it is defined by peacekeeping, peacekeeping gives purpose to the UN. (25)

Through this lens, Whitworth examines the UN’s mission to Cambodia, which many deemed a success and while they did reduce the violence that prevailed there and repatriated almost 370,000 Cambodian refugees, the peacekeeping soldiers who were deployed left a trail of tragedy behind them. The UNTAC’s mission created a booming prostitution industry and left the economy in chaos. Whitworth narrows in on Canada’s peacekeeping shortcomings in Chapter four as she uses the atrocities in Somalia as a case study for evidence of the implications of an overly masculine militarism. She argues that “soldiers trained for battle often feel cheated by their peacekeeping role.” (86) So when the Airborne troops arrived in Somalia, they were ready for some kills. Some tried to write this off as a few bad apples but as Whitworth demonstrates, aggression targeted by racism, sexism and insecurity are common and a part of military rights and rituals.

In Chapter five, Whitworth recognizes the attention the UN has given to gender, peace and security issues but sees it as no more than empty rhetoric. She quotes Anne Orford in saying, “many of these understandings signal the ways in which ‘a gender perspective can be mapped onto existing ways of doing business without questioning any of the bases upon which peace, security or even the category woman is understood.’” (133) Whitworth sees these failures of conflict prevention as the result of “insufficient financial resources or properly trained staff, an inability to collect and recognize the right kinds of data, [and] failure of coordination, either within the UN or between the UN and local governments, militaries, and agencies.” (134) Finally, in  Chapter six she focuses in again on Canada: it’s military practices and the results of conflict on the individual, namely, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Whitworth concludes her book with the question, “Do Warriors Make the Best Peacekeepers?” Simply put, “no” – Whitworth makes this evidentially clear throughout. But where do we go from here? One might think that she is trying to argue that there needs to be a more encompassing gender mainstreaming program, sufficient training on culture and gender or more women making military decisions and deployed on peacekeeping missions but these argument are left inconclusive. She assert that the UN’s attempt at gender mainstreaming was more a matter of theory than practice citing statistics from the past talks on Afghanistan. Moreover, their approach to gender, is inconsistent but why wouldn’t it be? The United Nations is just as it’s name implies: many nations. If “mainstreaming views gender as shaped by cultural, class, religious and ethnic differences and recognizes the power differentials between women and men, the fluid nature of those differences, and that these differences are made manifest in a variety of ways” than the expression of gender values are going to be inconsistent between nations. In Somalia, soldiers stated that they “treated their women badly, and were a bunch of homosexuals” and while I am not condoning the behavior of the Somalians, Westerns must make judgements through an internationally unbiased lens. Furthermore, based upon this argument, Whitworth would have to totally disregard any role of women in the brutalization, dehumanization, torture and abuse of men at home and abroad in cases such as Abu Ghraib in which Lynndie England ( a woman) was found equally guilty, imprisoned and stripped of her rank.

Throughout this book, I found myself questioning whether Whitworth was taking up issues with the UN, the Canadian Military, peacekeeping in general or all three or, is it with the UN’s 2000 Brahimi report that called for more “robust” peacekeeping, which she interprets to mean more militaristic? But perhaps her contention is with none of these and she ultimately just wants to prompt conversation about non-militarized peacekeeping as she concludes, “It is time to insist on the ideas that will be dismissed as impractical and idealistic by the United Nations.” “Militarized peacekeeping is founded on a series of contradictions, such that it cannot deliver on the promises it makes to those who are subject to the missions or even those who are deployed on peacekeeping missions.” (186)



I write better when I have an audience.

This past summer I began graduate studies and since then I have read more books, written more reviews and crafted more essays than I have in the past 10 years.

And for what?

A final grade? One letter?

I write for an audience of one, which takes a tonne of pressure off, but does very little for quality.

So I am just going to go ahead and begin posting in this space again,

perhaps just for validation

perhaps for the benefit of others

perhaps to open myself up to criticism and perhaps to engage my mind a little bit more in critical analysis.


So enjoy.


Dare I say, critique. I would love to know what you think.



Review of Samuel Moyn’s The Last Utopia

I didn’t post a question last week, but then again, few ventured to answer my last couple of questions.

I have been trying to put in some decent time on my course work and therefore everything internet related has fallen to the wayside. I thought however, given my recent questions on Human Rights that you might be interested in my review of Samuel Moyn’s book The Last Utopia….I could go further but I will let my review speak for itself.

Moyn, Samuel The Last Utopia (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010; pp. 352)

As a professor of European History at Columbia University and a visiting professor of International Human Rights at Yale Law School, one would assume that Samuel Moyn would provide a more persuasive argument on the history of human rights than he does in his book The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History. He clearly states his thesis in the the prologue, “…human rights are best understood as survivors: the god that did not fail while other political ideologies did.” (4) Not only that, but he seeks to prove that human rights did not emerge until the late 1970’s (7) climaxing with Jimmy Carter’s presidency albeit, only as a result of accident and the failure of other “utopias”. It would seem that Moyn, ultimately saw human rights as a classic case of the “Emperor’s new clothes” and seeks to reveal the “true history of human rights”, which “matters most of all, then, in order to confront their prospects today and in the future.” (9) But because Moyn does not see human rights as existing before the 1940’s and instead, birthed as a scapegoat for other political agendas many problems inevitably arise. I see these problems being linked, for the most part, to the fact that he is working off the presuppositions implied by a contemporary definition of human rights, which is never explicitly outline, and also to his determination to maintain human rights within a secular arena.

After discounting the the role of natural rights and the emergence of democracy in chapter one, Moyn argues that the subordination of rights to the nation-state could have been the main historical reason for human rights’ failure to launch after the French Revolution and throughout the nineteenth century. (30) Chapter two, Moyn names after a quote by Moses Moskowitz, an early NGO chief, when he said that human rights “died in the process of being born.” (47) This stillbirth Moyn contends was not a response to the Holocaust, or a measure to prevent further catastrophic slaughter but rather an introduction of rhetoric by means of the United Nations, which he says, “to capture the world’s imagination, [they] would need profound redefinition in a new ideological climate.” (48) In his third chapter, Moyn suggests that anti-colonialism was an issue of collective liberation rather than human rights although, some of the same language of self-determination was used and he brings to light the complicated relationship between the state and the individual when he writes, “Above all, it integrated them in a commitment to collective sovereignty that would later seem the very barrier the concept of human rights was intended to overcome.” (98) Chapter four is then concerned with the actual emergence of human rights through language, action and result as he highlights the work of Amnesty International and the infusion of human rights into American foreign policy. And finally, in chapter five, Moyn discusses the progress of human rights through the lens of international human rights law. He concludes his book with a discussion of the hurdles that human rights face, and will face in the future in a highly political milieu as we seek to make the world a better place.

Based on the assumption that the history of human rights originated with the formation of the United Nations, Moyn inadvertently places his whole argument in a secularized western scope. Moreover, he works solely off of human rights as they are defined today, but never explicitly states what this entails leaving the reader to piece together a definition by process of elimination. Even then, I find Moyn’s arguments, within this framework, contradictory. For example, in remarking about the emergence of international organizations, post 1870 (39), we can only assume that human rights, as he sees them, are international in scope, which he confirms in chapter three (87), however he discredits the abolition movement saying it was never framed as a human rights issue. (33) The same goes for women’s rights even though they both played out on an international level, and neither of them were a result of anti-colonialism, which he later argues in chapter three, was also outside of contemporary human rights. In addition, while abolition was heavily weighted in politics, the latter was anti-political in nature, which Moyn does attribute to human rights even though his history begins with their political birth through the UN and only sees their fruit through political organizations (with the exception of Amnesty International) as legitimate.

He examines the language used in the Universal Declaration and Atlantic Charter noting that from the beginning, “human rights” meant different things to different people (50) yet he is so bold as to discredit any religious movements as not being a response to human rights or at least not sufficient enough to validate their existence. I think, rather, what Moyn assumes, but never states is that human rights are secular in nature, and therefore the work of the social gospel movement of the 1920’s or the work of the Catholic church throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries don’t count even though they were pivotal to the advancement of human rights and carried the spirit of humanism through times of crisis and war. Furthermore, it would explain why he does not recognize abolition as being framed as a human rights issue because it wasn’t. It was framed as an equality issue based on christian principles and justice.

Essentially, what Moyn sees as an accidental utopia, I see as the secularization of an originally Christian idea: transforming a religious doctrine into an issue of morality, in turn, making it accessible by all. Whereas Communism or it’s later variations would inevitably suppress or contradict many individual political or religious beliefs, human rights capitalized on the innate morality shared by all of humanity.

It is also noteworthy that while Moyn sees the evolution of human rights from the 1970’s to present day, he does not seem to accept progression as a viable possibility before then. This is particularly evident in chapter four when he revisits the apartheid in South Africa. (173) It was anti-colonial in inception and yet he clearly admits it evolved into a human rights struggle, (which was led by Nelson Mandela, one of the authors of the Freedom Charter of 1955, and whose name has almost become synonymous with human rights, yet is never mentioned in Moyn’s book). In the same way, Christian principles of equality and justice (which have been present since the Old Testament) also have a place in the evolution of human rights, albeit using a different language. Even so, the universalisms represented transcend the “maximalist utopia” politics have created and therefore, human rights will always be minimalist in nature.

While I agree with Moyn on the discontinuities of the history of human rights, namely the lack of resemblance to its so-called Enlightenment origins or the lag between the Holocaust and a hospitable social climate to facilitate human rights in political sphere, I feel that he fails see beyond the failure of the state agenda and it leaves him wanting and no less confused. It is evident through Moyn’s repetitive insistence of his thesis that he himself is not entirely convinced of his argument and I would argue that it is because he worked backwards from an idea he so desperately wanted to believe in hopes to create a blueprint for human rights in the future.

Who holds the power?

Who is more powerful?

a.) The United States of America

b.) Microsoft

c.) The United Nations

Gay Marriage vs. Religious Freedoms

Would forcing the Church of England to perform gay marriage ceremonies be an of impingement of Religious Freedom?


Here in England, Downing Street is moving ahead with its plan to legalize gay marriage. The lawyers acting on behalf of the Church of England however, are worried that that the European Court for Human Rights will force the church to perform such ceremonies. In all fairness, the government insists that they won’t but if it did come to that would it be then be swinging the other way and impinging on the religious freedoms of the clergy?

Religion and Foreign Policy?

Should governments incorporate an element of religion to their foreign policy?

Last year, the Canadian government created a new office of religious freedom within the department of foreign affairs. They are following suit after the American government did the same not too long ago which got off to a rather rocky start. The rationale behind creating the office is that there is a direct correlation between religious freedom and democracy, explains Baird. There are many complicated facets to this issue but without spilling all the beans on my own speculations what do you think?

Should Education Be Free?

Let’s take my last question a little further. Recently, in Quebec students have taken to the streets to protest an increase in tuition. After over 3 months of protest the government passed Bill 78, restricting their demonstrations, which only fuelled their fire. In a recent article published by the National Post students were interviewed to find out what exactly it was that they wanted and most of them said that they thought tuition should be free. I found this article  posed many questions in my own mind and contributed to existing debates such as the meaning of democracy.

I would like to know:

Should education be free?

Does this show signs of a healthy democracy? 

Is it a sign that street power should be more powerful than a democratically elected government? (which is my opinion somewhat conflicts with the last question be it is how the questions were posed to the students)




Should Culture Be Free

The delay in a new question was not only the result of the Canadian long weekend but also because of the lack of response to my last question. I am curious as to why few attempted to comment, whether it was just to say that they didn’t know or that they believe one way or another. Regardless, now that you have had some time to think about it, I encourage you to join the discussion.

Today’s question is Should Culture Be Free?

The 19th century encouraged the idea that culture should be available to all but because of the inevitable cost associated with the arts in particular, it remained an aristocratic privilege. Today, all the museums in Paris are free to children under 18. Here in Cambridge, most museums are “by donation” and free concerts available on a weekly basis. But few are so fortunate and there still remains, around the world exorbitant fees for browsing an art gallery, exploring a museum or taking in a show making access to culture relatively restricted. And yet, in Canada, there has been large controversy over the Conservative government’s decision to increase funding to Arts and Culture despite and economic crises.

Should Culture Be Free? And if so, who should foot the bill?