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Islam: Hijab of the East

April 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Islam is the veil that covers the Middle East.  Similar to the now-stereotypical inky black hijab that has come to dominate media coverage of the region, the Islamic faith serves as a curtain[1] that hides the diversity of an amalgam of states tied together by a history of empires and imperialism. Attempting to define the region by the prevalence of Islam gives rise to a number of misconceptions and generalizations, and ultimately hides the diversity present in the area. To demonstrate this, I shall first discuss the region’s misleading moniker ‘the Middle East’ and how its utilization can be both useful and harmful in contemporary political discussions. From there I shall examine the traditional Islamic concept of umma that has contributed to a self-imposed distinction among many in the region as ‘Muslims above all else’ that has obscured political movement’s like Sayyid Qutb’s based on delineating Muslim identity through the use of jahilyya. Lastly, I shall discuss the wide and often hidden variations in faith , veiling, and genital mutilation among areas of the Middle East.

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Tribal Politics in Jordan and Yemen

March 25, 2011 Leave a comment

As numerous Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) regimes face anti-government protests, many pre-existing tensions have been cited as the cause of unrest in the region and certain states in an attempt to explain the wave of protests. In the case of Yemen, the withdrawal of tribal support from longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh highlights the role that tribalism plays not only in Yemeni politics, but the political process in many other regional states.[1] The Jordanian monarchy, Queen Rania in particular, has faced similar protests from tribal leaders recently as well.[2] In this essay I shall argue that an extensive tribal system is a poor substitute for independent political parties and equally incompatible with the traditional notion of liberal civil society due to its very nature. To demonstrate this, I shall first examine the dominant and independent role that tribes play in the politics of Yemen and Jordan in support of current government structures.[3] From there I shall discuss the antagonistic role of tribes against the government, as well as in distributing services within Yemen and Jordan. This will lead to a discussion of whether strong tribal systems exacerbate, ameliorate, or paralyze the growth of strong institutions, demonstrating the conclusion that tribal systems may not cause weak institutions, but they do prevent them from forming and strengthening. Read more…

How Political Science is Failing Us: Have We Lost Our Focus?

February 17, 2011 Leave a comment

I can personally attest to the exclusivist trend in upper-division academia in at least the departments of Philosophy and Political Theory. What’s more, any cursory examination of JSTOR’s holdings would reveal that out of every 100 articles, only a handful are immediately accessible to undergraduates in terms of vocabulary, scope, and readability. This attitude is nothing new; Arthur Schopenhauer famously attacked Hegel in his preface to The World as Will and Representation for being virtually unreadable and inaccessible, calling him, “that intellectual Caliban,” (Schopenhauer). However, in recent years it has reached a fevered pitch, and now more than ever Ivory Tower academics sequester themselves away and deliver symposium topics that few in the room understand, and that the man-on-the-street could never hope to grasp. It is my sincerest conviction that the role of any true academic scholar should not just be to endeavor to understand or quantify our world’s most puzzling issues, but also to synthesize that information in such a way that it is accessible. But all too often whatever intellectual work has been truly done is awash in a sea of confusing language and vaguely defined concepts.

Herbert Werlin laments this in his article, “Political Science: Hard Science, Soft Science, Primitive Science.” On the confusing treatment of key concepts he says, “Ask a political scientist what he or she understands by ‘politics.’ The reaction is likely to be a combination of annoyance and confusion, indicating just how primitive political science remains,” (Werlin). Politics, the very concept that all such writing is and should be immersed in, remains undefined and unexplained while minutia is squabbled over indefinitely. Read more…

The Utility of Research and Political Science

February 17, 2011 Leave a comment

When asked what I am studying at college, the inevitable rejoinder that follows my answer of “political science” is often either a slow nod of the head with a look of tacit confusion, or the blunt, “Oh…and what exactly are you going to do with that?” Those who think they know what political science entails seem rather perplexed as to what political scientists actually do. It is in instances like these that articles such as Henry Brady’s and David McKay’s shed some much-needed emphasis on an oft misunderstood avenue of study. In the following, I shall contend that political science certainly has the potential to impact the development of high-profile political events, and it can also help serve to explain trends and patterns that appear across time in the political arena.

 In his article “Law and Data”: The Butterfly Ballot Episode, Brady details the actions of a small cadre of political scientists who were ushered into the political spotlight immediately following the contentious 2000 presidential election. Firstly, he and his band were asked to assess whether they believed there was a possibility that voters mistook Buchanan’s spot on the butterfly ballot for Gore’s. In order to verify this, Brady’s team needed to produce statistical evidence that would suggest the seemingly disproportionate level of support for Buchanan in the contentious district was not merely a regular outlier that could have occurred in any district. Read more…