Monday 2.13.12

Lin-Sanity – A long-shot player (who was actually pretty good in college!) gets an opportunity, makes the most of it and becomes an overnight social media phenomenon being credited with leading his team to wins. No, not another Tim Tebow story. This is Jeremy Lin who is playing for the New York Knicks. The Harvard graduate is the first Chinese American NBA player. Another great part of the story is the character and faith that he possesses. Here is an interview he did while still in college.

Turkey’s Test – This post raises some serious questions about Turkey and its role in relation to the violence that is being carried out in Syria. While certainly it would be foolish for anyone to try to paint this as a simple scenario it is one where action needs to be taken. The most compelling statement from this post was this:

Power stems not just from size, strategic location, a strong economy, able diplomacy, and military capacity. It also requires the will to act – the understanding that true leadership means the courage to take and implement even decisions that are deeply unpopular in some quarters.

Changing Education Paradigms – This animate was adapted from a talk given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert and recipient of the RSA’s Benjamin Franklin award.
For more information on Sir Ken’s work visit:


Public Protest as a Road to Democracy?

We are all quite aware that 2011 was a year full of protests. I say “Arab Spring” and”Occupy” what do you think of? I picture crowds filling the streets. Chanting, screaming, yelling for change. Time was on to something when they named “The Protester” their person of the year. There was certainly a lot of noise.

What changed? Maybe you shoot back – what didn’t change? Ben Ali is gone. Mubarak is gone. Gadaffi is gone. Papandreou is gone. Burlusconi is gone. Even Kim Jong-il is gone. Okay, but what changed? What assurance is there that the public protests that pushed most of these out of office will in someway lead to something better for their countries? We know what has been torn down. What will be built up?

Within political sciences many have argued that the public protest is not actually a very likely candidate for moving a country from authoritarianism to democracy. Why would that be? What factors might stand in the way of a public protest leading to a democracy?

Let me at least give you five:

1. Lack of Leadership 

Authoritarian rulers do not appreciate challenges to their rule from other potential leaders. So what do they do? They repress leadership. Students are the universal opposition of regimes, in the words of Samuel Huntington. While certainly public protests have been more than just students, the young people do contribute a significant amount to the cause. Nor am I discounting the importance of young peoples movements. I’m in full support of students and youth taking an active role in the shaping of their society. However, if they are not able to create leaders who are able to reach a broader demographic than just the youth the protest may ultimately fail to produce.

2. Institutional Weakness

Another factor is that the authoritarian government controls nearly every aspect of civil life. Especially in single party regimes they monitor and control the institutions. The civil servants that run the daily affairs of the country are employed by the regime. A violent removal of all those elements leaves the country with weak institutions. During the transition period to a new government there must be some sort of civil institutions. In some societies these are able to operate under the rule of the regime. Whether they are labor unions, religious groups, etc. institutions and organizations will be an important part of a new society. If they are lacking or prove too weak then the prospects may be grim.

3. Factionalism

During protest movements we don’t often hear much about factionalism. There is a common goal – remove the current person from power. That is pretty much all that matters. Ideologies and principles take a back seat. However – once that goal is accomplished – factions come to the surface in the rebuilding phase. The ability for groups to form broad-based and effective coalitions will be crucial to a transition to a democratic government. If they are not able to do this then the factions will compete – with institutions that are not strong enough to handle the competition within the political arena – and the political movement that started out so well. That drew together people from all different backgrounds and ideologies will ultimately come to nothing. Worse than nothing it will produce instability.

4. Instability

 The period falling the removal of a regime is often marked by instability. One study (from the 1980s) looked at the transition after the removal of a long-ruling leader to determine if the way he was removed made a difference for the instability that followed. The most volatile and negative effects came about when he was overthrown. It is studies like these that inform the fears of outside countries who are cautious about supporting public protests of regimes. This is the charge leveled against the US for their foreign policy in the Middle East. That they will support an authoritarian regime rather than democracy to protect their interests. The evidence in many ways supports the conclusion that instability will follow. If a country persists in a period of instability for too long someone will step in to offer stability. Oftentimes this is the military and sometimes this creates a military regime. It happens not because that is what the public wanted but because they are the only ones who offer peace. This is especially true when violence is involved.

5. Use of Violence

One of the most crucial components is whether or not the opposition movement uses violence in their protest against the authoritarian regime. When they do the likelihood of producing a stable democracy decreases significantly. There are also studies that have shown that nonviolence is a more effective strategy than even a well-armed and well-organized resistance. A non-violent opposition is able to engender more support from more facets of society. It does not offer the regime any way to legitimize their use of force against the protesters. As many have pointed out having the military on your side – or at least not actively against you – is key to successfully removing the regime. Soldiers are less likely to join forces with those who have been throwing Molotov cocktails at them. It also sets the standard for what your goals and objectives are. If you are willing to stand by your principles in your efforts to achieve them.

So what do you need to go from the crowd chanting in the street to the crowd casting votes at the ballot box to the crowd living in a secure, stable, and democratic society? Leadership, institutions and organizations, a willingness to work together and not default to factionalism, minimize the instability, and a rejection of violent methods.

Is it a guarantee of a transition to democracy? No. Is it going to make it easier? No. But it offers the best hope that the public protests will be part of putting the country on a road to democracy.

Public Protest as a Road to Democracy – References

What I’ve read recently↑

I’m not going to post a full review but have not written recently and wanted to at least share a few links.

If you are looking for an in-depth scholarly treatment of Turkish history (and let’s face it, who isn’t these days?) check out Turkey: A Modern History by Erik Zurcher.

I’ve also just finished God’s Century: Resurgent Religion and Global Politics by Monica Duffy Toft, Daniel Philpott, and Timothy Shah. I will definitely be writing a full review of that book in the coming days. I really enjoyed it. It is a book written by political scientists dealing with the question of “does religion matter in Global Politics?” and if so why and what the implications of that are. If it sounds interesting to you I would encourage you to check it out.

Also of note, Time magazine ran a cover story on Turkish PM Recep Erdogan. If you haven’t – or even if you have – been following the events of the Middle East over the past few months this will help give some perspective for what is going on when people talk about “The Turkish Model” or why people are looking to Turkey. Also as the USA and other western countries seem hesitant to support Syria like they did in Libya many are looking to Turkey and specifically Erdogan to take the lead. He is certainly a polarizing figure but one that is worth learning more about.

Reading Today’s Stories…9/6

Four Military Options in Syria – Brookings Institution

Interesting piece laying out some of the options and strengths and weaknesses of each should the uprisings in Syria persist and the violence of the Assad regime escalate that a military intervention from outside forces needs to be imposed. The author is not advocating for any of them but in beginning the analysis helps to remind everyone that it is not that far from reality. Read the whole story here.

Turkey’s ambassador first to be approved by Libya’s NTC

In a sign that Libya’s new government is moving toward normalcy Turkey has officially appointed an ambassador and opened up its embassy to begin working with Libya’s new government. This is a positive sign for the country as they seek to get the country moving in a positive direction in this new era. More than 40 countries have recognized the NTC as the legitimate representative of Libya. Read the whole story here. – What Makes Evangelicalism Evangelical? A New Book Joins the Argument

As I’ve mentioned in various posts before the terms Evangelicalism (and Fundamentalism) are highly contested and often times misunderstood. They are also becoming increasingly relevant in the political realm as a number of confessing Evangelicals are serious candidates for the Republican nomination. With that much in the background this forthcoming book looks timely. It is part of a Counterpoints series in which multiple contributors include an essay that is then responded to by each of the other contributors. This allows for the reader to benefit from the educated critique of each of those positions. This essay is an adaptation of Albert Mohler’s contribution to the book. Read the whole story here.

Reading Today’s Stories…9/3→

I apologize for not posting over the last few days. I went away for the week with my wife and a friend on a tour of the northern Aegean Sea. It was beautiful. The water was probably the clearest I’ve ever seen. I do have to admit it was a little on the cold side though. Anyway, now on to a few a stories of the day.

Also…while I was away I started reading Island of The World, a book my wife had highly recommended. I’ve still got a ways to go but have absolutely loved it thus far. Check out her review here:

For Ankara, it’s time for deeds not words on Syria – Hurriyet Daily News

A story that continues to be of interest to me is the uprisings in Syria. Having begun to study more and more about Turkish politics and foreign relations this has provided one of the most difficult challenges that the Ankara government could possibly face. Over the past few years Turkey has made a concerted effort to improve their relationships with Syria. This has been one of the models for the “Zero-Problem with Neighbors” policy and yet now next door there are riots and killings taking place on a daily basis. Turkey has come out with public statements, private diplomatic visits and yet there seems to have been no change. This provides a crucial test case for Turkey to play a role as a peacemaking leader in the region. Will it be able to turn it’s talk into actions? Read the whole story here.

How the U.S. and the world can help Iraq – The Washington Post

Great article from a former Prime Minister of Iraq. With all the attention that has been given to the Middle East over the past few months in many ways Iraq has been somewhat forgotten. The US intervention that began in 2003 is still continuing. Yet the reality (as described in this article) is far from the promises that were originally made. As the Arab world moves towards democratic rule Iraq should be standing as a model of Arab democracy, albeit that it came about from foreign intervention rather than a popular uprising. This article gives some practical suggestions for things that the U.S. and other foreign countries can do to help bring freedom and hope to the people of Iraq. Read the whole story here.

BBC News – Gaza flotilla row: New low in Turkish ties with Israel

A continuing story in Turkey has been the reaction to 9 Turkish citizens killed on the Mavi Marmara by Israeli soldiers. This has led to the souring of a relationship that had grown cold already. While Turkey and Israel in the past had enjoyed relatively good relations they had begun to cool. This incident has only worsened the situation. The publication of a UN report on the incident has served to keep the wound fresh in the minds of those involved. Neither side seems quick to flex on the issue and until there is a need for a restoration of the relationship it will probably remain distant. Read the whole story here.