Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Plight of Women in Afghanistan

The plight of women in Afghanistan.  This is what Tom A. Peter reports in the Guardian

  • Nearly half of all women in Afghan prisons are being held for "moral crimes" such as running away from home or adultery, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.
  • In almost all cases of the imprisonment of women who fled their homes to escape abusive situations those responsible for the abuse did not face any legal actions, while the victims faced prison sentences.
  • Afghanistan is the only country in the world that interprets sharia law to prohibit women from running away from their home without permission.
  • In one case described by the HRW report, a woman named Souriya Y was given away for marriage at the age of 12 to resolve a family dispute. Her husband was abusive, but her father encouraged her to be patient. Nine years into the marriage, her husband accused her of running away and having sex with one of his enemies. Souriya told HRW she saw the man she was accused of running away with for the first time in court and says her husband made up the story to get rid of her and shame his rival. She was convicted and sentenced to five and a half years in prison.
  • 87% of Afghan women reported experiencing physical, psychological, or sexual abuse or forced marriages.
  • With a legal system that often punishes women for reporting violent crimes against them such as rape or abuse, a number of women do not speak up for fear of facing judicial reprisal.
  • an Afghan woman named Gulnaz was imprisoned after she was raped by a relative. After the case received international attention, the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, offered Gulnaz a pardon but she told reporters that she planned to marry the man who raped her to avoid social problems associated with having a child outside of wedlock.
  • Only 12.5% of Afghan women are literate, and campaigners say that it remains a challenge to educate women about exactly what rights they possess.
  • Karzai has publicly supported a decree by the Ulema Council, a government-sponsored group of religious leaders, that said women are worth less than men, should not leave the house without a male escort, or mix with men at school or the workplace.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Important new web posts

Some interesting recent publications:

The new government ethics website will have a lot of useful raw material on how government in Washington works.  Try it out.

Also Washington Post has a neat article about a key person in the CIA "terrorism hunt."


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Devices of Political Persuasion: Historical Amnesia and Deniable Slander

Jonathan Haidt’s recent op-ed piece in the New York Times notes that in public affairs folks tend to respond to moral appeals more than appeals to their self-interest.  “When people feel the group they value – be it racial, religious, regional, or ideological – is under attack, they rally to its defense.”  Political positions that get the votes are developed as narratives that appeal to moral concerns.  This is a fundamental concept of political activity in a society that has the vote.  We see it in the competing narratives now being spun by the Republican candidates for President.  In this election year the American public will be subjected to a lot of these narratives.

What he does not mention is that effective political narratives steer clear of some topics but also evoke feelings or implications that should not be mentioned.  Some things are best forgotten; others too crass to mention are best implied.

An example of the first is the careful avoidance by the Republican candidates for President of any connection with George W. Bush, or those who with him crafted and administered our country’s policies for eight years.  They have been out of office for only four years, but we hear no mention of that administration.  Could it be that the folly of an unjustified and underfunded war in Iraq promoted by lies, with so many Ameircan lives lost (to say nothing of the many times more Iraqi lives lost) is best left unmentioned?  The Bush policy in Iraq gave new life to Al Qaeda after it had been nearly totally crushed in Afghanistan.  Bush and those in power with so much cost to the country -- Chaney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, etc. – have baggage best forgotten. 

So some stories have nuances you want to avoid in crafting a political narrative.  At the same time there are nuances you want to cultivate – some of them too crass to invoke directly.  Political narratives have to suggest connections and association without really saying them:  implications that can be denied but implied.  A good example is the title of Dinesh D’Souzsa’s newly published book, The Roots of Obama’s Rage.  D’Souzsa’s title has a couple of layers of nuance:  hinting meanings without exactly affirming them.  The word “rage” linked to Obama suggests that behind Barak Obama’s appearance of unflappability there is a seething caldron of malice, all of it carefully controlled so as to mask it from the public.  For a black man the hint of rage is dangerous:  No angry black man can be trusted; none can be elected President.  (Indeed, a young black man in a white neighborhood in Florida has been shot dead merely on the basis of suspicion.)  But there is another nuance in the title: it hints of the famous Bernard Lewis article in the Atlantic, “Roots of Muslim Rage.”  Buried in D’Souzsa’s title is implication that Obama is a Muslim, a claim based on the identity of a father he scarcely knew.  As in the previous Presidential election the rumor was circulated that Obama is really a Muslim who pretends to be a Christian.  Like the Islamists who attacked our country on 9/11/01 Obama is secretly planning to destroy this country.  
The point is, Obama is not what he appears to be:  He presents himself as placid, stable, unflappable but is in fact he is driven by rage.  He appears to be a Christian but in fact he is a Muslim, and (as many Americans believe) Muslims cannot be trusted. 

These are meanings best not mentioned specifically; they are too transparently gross, crass, to be affirmed directly.  They are merely a weak nuance; indeed they are eminently deniable.  Slanderous associations are best left for the reader to infer.  Deniable slander.

The point of D'Souzsa's title is:  Nothing about Obama is what he appears to be.  Behind the exterior of stability there is seething hatred.  Behind the Christian blandness there is Muslim enmity.

If you can persuade me of that -- that nothing about Obama is what it appears to be -- then you can make me believe all kinds of things about him.  
As Newt Gingrich says, "You will never see Obama the same."  Exactly.

Friday, March 09, 2012

The obligations of privilege

Thank you, Andrew Delbanco, for putting a good educational experience in the proper light.  In an op-ed piece in today's New York Times he was replying to Rich Santorum's dumb and insulting remark against higher education.  Santorum described America’s colleges as “indoctrination mills” from which God-fearing Americans should keep their distance, and he called President Obama a “snob” for urging Americans to go to college.

The whole article is worth reading in full [click on the title above for a link], but the part I think worth emphasizing is this:  
To the stringent Protestants who founded Harvard, Yale and Princeton, the mark of salvation was not high self-esteem but humbling awareness of one’s lowliness in the eyes of God. With such awareness came the recognition that those whom God favors are granted grace not for any worthiness of their own, but by God’s unmerited mercy — as a gift to be converted into working and living on behalf of others. That lesson should always be part of the curriculum.
Yes, for those of us so fortunate to have the natural endowment and practical opportunity to enjoy a good education, let us take that endowment and opportunity as gifts given by God's grace, not as a sign of superior worth but as a call to a life of humble service to the world around us.

I wonder: Will that concept ever be part of the curriculum at the Chicago business school?