Sunday, March 22, 2009

Balkanization or a Welcome Diversity

I originally wrote this entry on August 17, 2004 and published it on

Door in Masuleh, Ghilan Province, Iran

When Tim Wu writes about the Balkanization of the Internet on Lessig Blog, he is really trying to get to the effects of diversity of cultures and languages on the production and consumption of Internet content.

While he only scratches the surface of this phenomenon, he does bring something important to his readers' attention. However, characterization the phenomena as Balkanization produces a rather unfair assessment. The volume of comments on his post demonstrate that many others have thought (or have thoughts) about the problem. A dialog still needs to occur regarding the issue.

In my view, this is not a case of Balkanization. Instead, it is a case of diversity mixed with new global opportunities for exchange and dialog among civilizations.

Tim does mention a few cases where governments, regulations or technology work together or separately to break the available online content into islands of discourse. This is a natural evolution, and the only way these islands can be connected is by multi-lingual people. Multi-lingualists will be the people who will distill and make available across linguistic islands material from one culture to the next. Hence, the expected rise in the social value of multi-lingualism. There's a caveat here, aptly revealed by the late British philosopher, Barnard Williams, in his Moral Luck: Only those who can truly see another culture as a genuine alternative have the best capacity to provide a valid critique of the other. (For more on the philosophical concept of moral luck, see here.)

In general, we're living in a world where diversity is on the rise.

Speaking for myself, for example, I was very suprised about the extent to which Persian Weblogs have taken off. Here, i.e. with Weblogs, the expressive power of a culture comes to its assistance. The electronic realization of some cultures, in which masses are consumer rather than participant producers of cultural expression and content, will be at a disadvantage.

On the positive side, all cultures are expressive and all languages have high human value. Cultural and linguistic diversity is to be cherished and nurtured, as one nurtures a garden full of beautiful flowers.

Cieling in Bageh Fin, Kashan, Isfahan Province, Iran

What Internet offers to the smaller, more endangered cultures and linguistic communities is a means for them to preserve and propagate themselves. It also gives other rising cultures an ability to find new ways of connecting.

Then, there are cultures that go well beyond linguistic and national borders. For them, the Internet provides a bonanza of expressive power. For example, a Shiite Islam website, Ahlulbayt Global Information Center, carries the writings of its scholars, including Ayatullah Sistani. It carries independent versions (at various levels of completion) in several languages including Arabic, Kurdish (arabic lettering), Kurdish (turkish/latin lettering), French, Urdu, English, Persian, Bulgarian, German, Azeri Turkish (in Cyrillic lettering), Chinese, Bosnian, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Hausa (I'd never heard of this language before), Indonisian, Fulani, Burmese, Swahili, Bangali, Hindi and Thai (I might have got this last one wrong). The same website, provides translations of Al-Quran in these same languages.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Friday, August 10, 2007

A "Strategy" for Iraq?

Thus, writes David Gardner of Financial Times ("America's Illusory Strategy in Iraq," August 9 2007):

But US commanders seem to have no trouble detecting the hand of Tehran everywhere. This largely evidence-free blaming of serial setbacks on Iranian forces is a bad case of denial. First, the insurgency is overwhelmingly Iraqi and Sunni, built around a new generation of jihadis created by the US invasion. Second, to the extent foreign fighters are involved these have come mostly from US-allied and Sunni Saudi Arabia, not Shia Iran. Third, the lethal roadside bombs with shaped charges that US officials have coated with a spurious veneer of sophistication to prove Iranian provenance are mostly made by Iraqi army-trained engineers – from high explosive looted from those unsecured arms dumps.

Shia Iran has backed a lot of horses in Iraq. If it wished to bring what remains of the country down around US ears it could. It has not done so. The plain fact is that Tehran’s main clients in Iraq are the same as Washington’s: Mr Maliki’s Da’wa and the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq led by Abdelaziz al-Hakim. Iran has bet less on the unpredictable Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi army, which has, in any case, largely stood aside during the present troop surge.

So, in sum. Having upturned the Sunni order in Iraq and the Arab world, and hugely enlarged the Shia Islamist power emanating from Iran, the US finds itself dependent on Tehran-aligned forces in Baghdad, yet unable to dismantle the Sunni jihadistan it has created in central and western Iraq. Ignoring its Iraqi allies it is arming Sunni insurgents to fight al-Qaeda. And, by selling them arms rather than settling Palestine it is trying to put together an Arab Sunni alliance (Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia) with Israel against Iran. All clear? How can anyone keep a straight face and call this a strategy?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Negotiation, Re-Interpreted Congress-Style

The concept of "negotiation" finds new, strange interpretations in order to justify political positions.
Apparently, and according to Rep. Shelley Berkeley, D-Nev., "the most important negotiating tool that the U.S. has when it comes to Iran" is an open-ended threat of a suprise attack.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Protracted Wars and Asset Attrition

When aggressive wars are waged with the purpose of acquiring resources (geopolitical bases, currency values, people, mines, energy resources, transportation resources, land, etc.), besides the moral bankruptcy of such a behaviour, the utilitarian calculation that takes the aggressor into war also stems from the "positive" consumptive impact on its economy. The "positive" nature of the impact shows up in the hope of the application and execution of war in a short time scale in order to solve a specific problem in a specific economic cycle. The impact of war spending on the cycle will always prove more dramatic than any long-term investment, whose impact will be faced and felt in a term longer than of interest to the executioners of "national interest."

However, matters of war and peace and life and death, have always proved to be more complex than what simple utilitarian calculations tend to reveal.

Despites rosy predictions and enthusiastic promises pundits of the war party give, the aggressive war itself drags on when it faces resistance, which it often does. Note that historians have found it odd and unusual when an aggressive war has encountered no resistance. While the planners of aggression always do what they can to dismantle resistance, the aggressor should always bet on encountering resistance to its aggression. (Even little Melos resisted the Athenian armada.) Occasionally, the aggressor perpetrates extreme violence in order to prove resistance futile. As a consequence, those who resist fold temporarily but only as a means to survive for a better day.

So, as a historical experience, all aggressive wars in history have bred resistance in various forms, scales and stages. Often the aggressor is quite well-versed in history and knows this fact of history full well. So, the aggressor takes care only to attack those who cannot be expected to defend themselves or only targets which have been "softened" through years of brutal but calculated preparation. Of course, not always do such preparations and campaigns succeed. History is littered with their failures more than with their successes. However, the successes occur with enough frequency to salivate the aggressor's appetite.

With the stretching of the war beyond expected scope, larger chunks of hard-to-renew resources continue to be wasted on it. Even as such wasteful spending may be advocated to drive further consumption, in reality, it generates no added value to supplement existing asset values. Hence, a general asset attrition sets in, and by extension, inflation takes hold, and soft and hard landings beset various asset-based sectors of the economy. Note that all sectors of the economy ultimately prove to be asset-based if we are daring enough to include, also, non-physical assets in our utilitarian calculations. We can think of various types of assets -- for example, national currency value (determining the value of various forms of savings and investments), stock values, real-estate values, expertise, know-how, skills and knowledge -- these are all assets, the latter few examples of which, by themselves, are non-physical assets even if they may have physical representations. Note that the most important assets are the human beings. This makes a mockery of aggressive war as one waged "for the hearts and minds" of the targets of aggression.

As war drags on, a grinding attrition grips all national assets. Resources that should have been invested to improve such assets are wasted, and the negative long-term economic impact draws itself near. (I refer the reader to a note elsewhere which extracts one of Nobel Prize economist Joseph Stiglitz' relevant observations on the cost of war.)

In conclusion, we should note that asset attrition has a multiplicative effect at a macroeconomic level. The value of assets deployed in a value network depend on the value of other asssets. So, as a particular group of assets lose value due to a lack of proper and long-term investment, they depress value of other, related assets.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Costs of War

War and occupation of Iraq has its economic costs for the occupier and the aggressor. None of the main presidential candidates from the core of the two party-system in the U.S. seem to have taken a clear and close account of these costs yet.

A Diplomat's View

Javad Zarif, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, has written a column worth reading about war, Iraq and the U.S. occupation for International Herald Tribune.