Quotulatiousness

September 30, 2013

Modern terrorism isn’t anti-state … it’s anti-society

Filed under: Africa, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:21

Tim Black discusses what we know and don’t know about the Kenyan terror attack and why recent terrorist attacks seem less directed at the organs of the state and much more at society as a whole:

Some analysts have even gone so far as to pinpoint Kenyan troops’ take over of the port of Kismayo, a lucrative trading position for al-Shabab, as the catalyst for the Westgate attack. As one commentator put it: ‘[The Westgate attack] wasn’t a random act. On the contrary, it was a direct consequence of Kenya’s own policy decisions. To say that in no way justifies this heinous attack – it merely identifies cause and effect.’

Yet tit-for-tat accounts miss something. They appear too glib, too easy. They may not excuse a drawn-out atrocity like Westgate, but they do give it a nicely polished rationale.

But it’s a rationale at odds with what actually happened. Yes, the Kenyan military, under the auspices of the African Union, did play a role in weakening al-Shabab’s position in Somalia. And no doubt members of al-Shabab, already a declining, increasingly unpopular grouping in Somalia (even Osama Bin Laden disowned it because of is brutality), did feel anger towards the Kenyan army. But there is a massive, unexplained causal gap between that sense of grievance and the attack on a shopping centre in Nairobi. That’s right, a shopping centre. This wasn’t an attack on the Kenyan state. This wasn’t a gun battle with the Kenyan army, the principal object of al-Shabab ire. No, this was an indiscriminate attack on men, women and children at a shopping centre. The people targeted weren’t intent on a conflict with militant Islamists in Somalia; they were shopping for Old El Paso fajita mix.

[...]

What’s important to grasp here is that the new terrorism does not draw its militants from any specific struggle in Somalia, or anywhere else for that matter. Rather, it draws upon a broad and deep disillusionment with modern society; it exploits the non-identity between society’s threadbare values and particular members. And it turns certain individuals upon society as a whole. Hence the new terrorism does not target the institutions of the state; it targets the institutions of civil society. In particular, it targets the embodiments of modern social life: a shopping centre in Nairobi, an office block in New York, a market in Baghdad.

In 1911, amid anarchist bomb plots, Vladamir Lenin wrote a scathing critique of what he called ‘individual terrorism’ — the act, for example, of assassinating a minister — on the grounds that it turned what could be a mass struggle into the act of a single individual. ‘In our eyes’, he wrote, ‘individual terror is inadmissible precisely because it belittles the role of the masses in their own consciousness, reconciles them to their powerlessness, and turns their eyes and hopes towards a great avenger and liberator who some day will come and accomplish his mission’. Today’s individual terrorist is far more degenerate than his anarchist precursors. So far removed from the masses is he, so little concerned is he with any actual struggle for something in particular, that his terror is turned against the masses. The consequences have been barbaric.

August 10, 2013

CBC notices social conservative group is critical of the government

Filed under: Africa, Cancon, Government — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:05

This is probably the most attention the CBC has paid to REAL Women of Canada since … well, ever:

REAL Women of Canada, a privately funded socially conservative group, says Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is imposing his own views on Uganda, Kenya and Russia when he criticizes those countries for passing legislation targeting homosexuals.

The group, which describes itself as a “pro-family conservative women’s movement,” issued a press release Wednesday decrying what it called Baird’s “abuse of office” and his awarding of a $200,000 grant to “special interest groups” in Uganda and Kenya “to further his own perspective on homosexuality.”

REAL Women also lambasted Baird for admitting he worked extensively behind the scenes to persuade Russia not to pass laws restricting foreign adoption of Russian children by gay couples and cracking down on gay rights activism to control the spread of “homosexual propaganda.”

Finally, the press release states, “Mr. Baird’s actions are destructive to the conservative base in Canada and causing collateral damage to his party.”

It’s not often that the CBC can find this kind of anti-Harper criticism coming from a group they would identify as being “core” Harper supporters, so it’s not surprising they give it the full treatment it really doesn’t deserve.

H/T to Brendan McKenna for the link.

May 19, 2012

Mark Steyn on “The Great Baracksby”

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:54

In his weekly Orange County Register column:

It used to be a lot simpler. As E.C. Bentley deftly summarized it in 1905:

“Geography is about maps

But Biography is about chaps.”

But that was then, and now Biography is also about maps. For example, have you ever thought it would be way cooler to have been born in colonial Kenya?

Whoa, that sounds like crazy Birther talk; don’t go there! But Breitbart News did, and it turns out that the earliest recorded example of Birtherism is from the president’s own literary agent, way back in 1991, in the official bio of her exciting new author:

“Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, was born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii.”

So the lunatic theory that Barack Obama doesn’t meet the minimum eligibility requirements to be president of the United States was first advanced by Barack Obama’s official representative. Where did she get that wacky idea from? “This was nothing more than a fact-checking error by me,” says Obama’s literary agent, Miriam Goderich, a “fact” that went so un-”checked” that it stayed up on her agency’s website in the official biography of her by-then-famous client up until 2007:

“He was born in Kenya to an American anthropologist and a Kenyan finance minister.”

[. . .]

“I suppose he’d had the name ready for a long time, even then,” says Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby. “His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people — his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all. The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself… . So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end.”

In a post-modern America, the things that Gatsby attempted to fake — an elite schooling — Obama actually had; the things that Gatsby attempted to obscure — the impoverished roots — merely add to Obama’s luster. Gatsby claimed to have gone to Oxford, but nobody knew him there because he never went; Obama had a million bucks’ worth of elite education at Occidental, Columbia and Harvard Law, and still nobody knew him (“Fox News contacted some 400 of his classmates and found no one who remembered him”). In that sense, Obama out-Gatsbys Gatsby: His “shiftless and unsuccessful” relatives — the deportation-dodging aunt on public housing in Boston, the DWI undocumented uncle, the $12-a-year brother back in Nairobi — are useful props in his story, the ever more vivid bit-players as the central character swims ever more out of focus, but they don’t seem to know him either. The more autobiographies he writes, the less anybody knows.

Like Gatsby presiding over his wild, lavish parties, Obama is aloof and remote: let everyone else rave deliriously; he just has to be. He is, in his way, the apotheosis of the Age of American Incredibility. When just being who you are anyway is an incredible accomplishment, Obama managed to run and win on biography almost entirely unmoored from life. But then, like Gatsby, he knew a thing or two about “the unreality of reality.”

January 13, 2012

Google Kenya’s motto: Do <strike>no</strike> evil

Filed under: Africa, Law, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:40

Someone at Google has some explaining to do:

Since October, Google’s GKBO appears to have been systematically accessing Mocality’s database and attempting to sell their competing product to our business owners. They have been telling untruths about their relationship with us, and about our business practices, in order to do so. As of January 11th, nearly 30% of our database has apparently been contacted.

Furthermore, they now seem to have outsourced this operation from Kenya to India.

When we started this investigation, I thought that we’d catch a rogue call-centre employee, point out to Google that they were violating our Terms and conditions (sections 9.12 and 9.17, amongst others), someone would get a slap on the wrist, and life would continue.

I did not expect to find a human-powered, systematic, months-long, fraudulent (falsely claiming to be collaborating with us, and worse) attempt to undermine our business, being perpetrated from call centres on 2 continents.

H/T to Megan McArdle for the link.

Update: BoingBoing got a response to their post on this issue from Google’s Vice-President for Product and Engineering, Europe and Emerging Markets:

We were mortified to learn that a team of people working on a Google project improperly used Mocality’s data and misrepresented our relationship with Mocality to encourage customers to create new websites. We’ve already unreservedly apologised to Mocality. We’re still investigating exactly how this happened, and as soon as we have all the facts, we’ll be taking the appropriate action with the people involved.

December 4, 2010

Looking for the remains of Zheng He’s treasure fleet

Filed under: Africa, China, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:22

Virginia Postrel looks at the latest archaeological expedition in the Indian Ocean:

A team of Chinese archeologists arrived in Kenya last week, headed for waters surrounding the Lamu archipelago on the country’s northern coast. They hadn’t made the trip to study local history. They came to recover a lost Chinese past.

In the early 1400s, nearly a century before Vasco da Gama reached eastern Africa, Chinese records say that the great admiral Zheng He took his vast fleet of treasure ships as far as Kenya’s northern Swahili coast. Zheng visited the Sultan of Malindi, the most powerful local ruler, and brought back exotic gifts, including a giraffe. “Africa was China’s El Dorado — the land of rare and precious things, mysterious and unfathomable,” writes Louise Levathes in her 1994 history of Zheng’s voyages, “When China Ruled the Seas.”

Now the Chinese government is funding a three-year, $3 million project, in cooperation with the National Museums of Kenya, to find and analyze evidence of Zheng’s visits. The underwater search for shipwrecks follows a dig last summer in the village of Mambrui that unearthed a rare coin carried only by emissaries of the Chinese emperor, as well as a large fragment of a green-glazed porcelain bowl whose fine workmanship befits an imperial envoy. Although Ming-era porcelains are nothing new in Mambrui — Chinese porcelains fill the local museum and decorate a centuries-old tomb — the latest finds suggest that the wares came not through Arab merchants but directly from China.

China’s brief dabbling in overseas exploration ended fairly suddenly, but there was no technical reason that they could not have continued. It would be a very different world indeed if the Emperor hadn’t decided to ignore everything outside the Middle Kingdom.

The real problem with contemporary China’s version of the Zheng He story is that it omits the ending. In the century after Zheng’s death in 1433, emperors cut back on shipbuilding and exploration. When private merchants replaced the old tribute trade, the central authorities banned those ships as well. Building a ship with more than two masts became a crime punishable by death. Going to sea in a multimasted ship, even to trade, was also forbidden. Zheng’s logs were hidden or destroyed, lest they encourage future expeditions. To the Confucians who controlled the court, writes Ms. Levathes, “a desire for contact with the outside world meant that China itself needed something from abroad and was therefore not strong and self-sufficient.”

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