Welcome to 2018 Summer Hybrid – LS 657: Challenges of Democracy
Week 3 – Due here online August 2-August 6: What’s Next for Democracy? A look at the Middle East and Technology
Last week, we introduced some of the ideas challenging democracy today in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere. This week we consider two more topics: the now-seemingly-failed-dream of democracy in the Middle East, and a couple of the many implications of the IT revolution – including the Internet and social media – on democracy.
I. Democracy and the Middle East?
One way to begin this discussion is to define terms. Very often, in the West, we carelessly use Middle East, Muslim, and Arab interchangeably. Of course, there are many Arab Muslims in the Middle East. But Turks, Persians, and Kurds and others are not Arab. Many Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrians, Coptics, Lebanese, and Palestinians and others are Christians, while Iraq alone has Kakai, Yezidi, Shabaks, Bahai, and other religions – not to mention a sharp divide among its Sunni and Shia Muslims. The “Middle East” includes the countries on the Arab peninsula – and Egypt, Turkey, and Iran, probably – but what about North Africa – Arabic-speaking Muslim countries? Or Afghanistan? Or Somalia? All we mean here is, we need to pay attention to what we mean.
As for “Muslim countries,” there are 230 million Muslims in Indonesia, 200 million in Pakistan, 180 million in India, 140 million in Bangladesh. At 80 million, there are as many Muslims in Nigeria as in Turkey or Iran. Iraq, Algeria, Ethiopia, and Morocco – and maybe China – each have as many Muslims as Saudi Arabia. Kosovo, Albania, and Bosnia are each Muslim-majority countries; Macedonia, Montenegro, and Cyprus are each 20 percent Muslim or more. Sweden, Austria, Bulgaria, and France are each about 7 or 8 percent Muslim. (All these are estimates via Wikipedia – not gospel, but usually pretty close on this kind of thing.)
And so when we ask about Arab democracies, or Muslim democracies, or democracies in the Middle East, we need to be careful that we are saying what we mean, and remembering that these are distinct ideas.
We can start with a graphic from the classic Stepan and Robertsonarticle that made these distinctions. (Skim this article)
Polity IV, we remember, is database ranking states by year as democratic (closer to +10) and not democratic (closer to -10). Look at the Arab world – in 2000 (and today, excepting maybe Tunisia), there are no democracies. Look at the rest of the Muslim world – there are some democracies, some in between, and some not democracies – just like the rest of the world.
Michael Ross and others judge that Islam isn’t the problem – oil is. And Islam isn’t the problem for women in the Middle East – oil is. Where there is oil, there is a myriad of related problems. Ross does a great service with his meta-analysis of hundreds of articles about this “resource curse” – we get it all in 15 pages here. Don’t hurt yourself too badly, but try to get through this article (it’s a lot easier than getting through the 100 it summarizes!)
We can take a third look at democracy in the Middle East by blending it with last week’s work on democratic recession. After decades of being one of Freedom House’s “partly free” states, Turkey has slipped into the “not free” category. See Freedom House’s analysis. Take a look inside of what Turkey’s political purge of the last couple of years looks like, according to the New York Times.
II. Democracy and Technology
Ok, we take two approaches here.
The first is a short introduction to the question of vulnerability of American elections to anonymous outside influence.
If Putin says, Vote for Trump, that’s one thing. If a Russian government agency or teenagers in Macedonia post ads on facebook pretending to be almost anyone else, how much should the US worry?
The Washington Post highlighted a Journal of Democracy article on the pros and cons of social media for democracy; it’s followed up by a How Stupid Are We analysis. A little, sure; but maybe our willingness to be duped is a symptom of our political divisions, more than being duped is a cause of our divisions?
You’ve seen the Mueller indictment (skim this). These Russian journalists claim that much of that information was published by them (read this), months earlier. Note: even Vox had to acknowledge that (so far), “Importantly, the indictment does not allege that the outcome of the election was changed, and it does not allege that any Americans or anyone on the Trump campaign was aware of or involved in this Russian effort.” This could change, of course, but so far….
Second, how much do we need to mind ourselves? Edward Snowden showed us the answer might be, Quite a bit.
These are distinct areas, but with certain obvious and not obvious overlap. We begin with a review of one of the great moments in business-government-cyber-privacy – Edward Snowden. We start with the two articles from the Washington Post that got this all underway in 2013 – the Guardian was doing this at the same time. Barton Gellman and Laura Poitras id PRISM and other NSA cooperation with all the big tech companies – Facebook, Google,Microsoft, and more. Start with the graphics: the NSA slides that the Washington Post published (also here: snowden – wapo – slides ), Next, read the story and watch the interview (6:09) of Gellman at the top of the story. Two days later we learn about the mysterious source, Edward Snowden: read the story and watch the Guardian’s interview (12:34) of him.
The stories are also here: snowden – wapo – Edward Snowden comes forward as source of NSA leaks.
These were massive new reports, for which the Washington Post and the Guardian won much acclaim and many awards. But this “intersection” of business and government was just one of many different kinds of cyber-privacy questions. Should the U.S. or local governments (aka, police) be able to track you and your phone without court authorization? You probably don’t even want to know about the privacy of your genetic material – good news about law enforcement, but bad news about those Ancestry / 23and me types of services, or what is basically genetic facebook.
III. Ok, your turn
There is really a lot to think about here. Take your time with these readings and videos, and then create your own prompts. You might want to go back and review What Makes a Good Post. And then:
— news on facebook by Thursday night, August 2
— your essays here by Saturday night, August 4 – which of these issues above really made an impact on you? how do some of the issues coalesce, or contrast? which of these is really illuminating, or somehow not quite right? how does one of these help us understand what’s going on today?
— your facebook comments by Sunday night, August 5, and
— your essay-replies (to your classmates’ essays) here by Monday night, August 6 – some of your comments to each other have really been thoughtful and helpful and extended the discussion – read each other’s work humbly but critically – what are you learning from your classmates, or how are your thinking about something a little differently – it’s ok to disagree with each other and to ask each other questions, if what you’re really doing is making the conversation richer, fuller, and at the same time respectful and humble and civil.
Ok, let’s have fun – what do you really see here that moves you – what do you want to say that makes us smarter, surprised, more curious, etc…?