Archive

truth and reality

As reported by The Guardian a few days ago, Israeli security forces have arrested the Gaza director of World Vision (one of the world’s largest Christian charities) accusing him of diverting tens of millions of dollars to Hamas. The main Israeli concern is probably not the mismanagement, but that these funds were allegedly used to build a military base, dig military tunnels and pay salaries in Hamas’s military wing.

Reading the related articles (AlMonitor, Haaretz, +972Mag, others) and reports on similar cases (UNDP or here; Save the Children) the most surprising is the international surprise. The management of World Vision, other donors, diplomats and journalists  claim that they were not aware of the mismanagement of funds. Hamas officially denies the accusations condemning “the Israeli detention campaign against staff of international organizations working in the besieged Gaza Strip” (Ma’an). However, it is either a pure lie (since it is more or less known how things are usually going on under a sort of authoritarian rule, military occupation or simply tough economic conditions; big international donor charities have been quite visible in Gaza for the past decade) – or donors really did not know anything about these practices and their surprise is genuine. But then they have been simply blind/deaf, so to say, cheated…? Would it be so simple? Is it possible that international donors, being present and witnessing what has been going on in Gaza for years, really do not know the rules of the game? As proposed by a related journal article (by Neil Narang in International Studies Quarterly), ‘aid can inadvertently increase each combatant’s uncertainty about the other side’s relative strength, thereby prolonging civil war (…) so policymakers need to carefully consider whether the specific benefits provided by humanitarian aid outweigh the risk of prolonging civil conflicts.’

Our interviews conducted last summer (see previous post) did not touch upon this subject, my colleague did not heard about similar cases during the interviews (we did not ask about it). It is probably very difficult to investigate and prove these claims (by academic means). But to run an aid organization or a humanitarian charity without ‘compromises’ is equally very difficult under such circumstances, if not impossible. And while one can only guess how or why someone, an individual working at an aid organization “gets into trouble” this way, it is hard to believe that donors are not aware of such attempts.

A few years ago researchers demonstrated that monkeys and humans ‘share a specific perceptual mechanism, configural perception, for discriminating among the numerous faces they encounter daily’. The main message is that  the evolution of the ‘critical human social skill of facial recognition’ enables us to form relationships and interact appropriately with others [1]. Provided that these others think alike.

monkey_mirror_curious_hg_wht

A recent article investigating the trends in social media communication (the specific subject is the recent war in Gaza, Israel vs. Hamas, but the findings are more general) seems to underpin the old wisdom of journalism: people read what they are otherwise interested in. Recalling the author’s words: social networks are perfectly designed to reinforce our existing beliefs. It is the media – not simply the traditional version, but everything which is internet-based, so to say, the online society itself, illustrated by the monkey above – which ‘creates’ reality (for itself, for themselves).  It is not the message, which is novel, but the way of proofing. The spectacular results can be seen here:

Gilad Notan (2014): Israel, Gaza, War & Data. Social Networks and the Art of Personalizing Data. https://medium.com/

View story at Medium.com

The gap between truth and reality is larger and larger, the former playing less and less significant role in any game. It seems so.

Sources and further reading: [1] ‘The science of faces’ blog post on Skepacabra, July 12, 2009 (the monkey graph is copy-pasted from this blog).

Neither peaceful demonstrations, not violent actions can be explained without keeping in mind that ‘revolutions cannot do without the word “justice” and the sentiment it arouses. (…) People feel that government is just or unjust, legitimate or illegitimate (…) by what it does. If its actions (…) violate their basic values, they may conclude, (…) that “a government without justice is a great robbery”’. [1] People’s views and perceptions are needed to understand both their relation to power (obedience, legitimacy among others) as well as the relations between foreign aid and legitimacy. Negative perceptions on their governments’ performance and their ‘illegitimate’ foreign alliances will lead to decreasing feeling of community between the masses and the elites as well as decreasing legitimacy of the regime. Even if measuring legitimacy is difficult, the Arab Barometer may help us understand how people think about their own obligations to obey. When (in 2010 or 2011, check Arab Barometer codebook) asked about the necessity of support to be provided to their governments (even if they do not agree with it), ca 40-60% of the respondents in most countries were ready to show (belief in the necessity of) obedience:

arab barometer wave II, q216

 

Michael C. Hudson, investigating the origins of legitimacy in the Arab world, points to the fact that “Islam was a complete social system; membership (…) created a certain brotherhood above the immediate ties of kinship. It also conferred a stability, an equilibrium, on society as a whole, even to the point of supporting the passive acceptance of wrongs committed by the ruler who nonetheless deferred (theoretically) to the sanctity of the Shari’a.” [2]

Sources and further reading: Arab Barometer, wave II (2010-2011, question 216): http://www.arabbarometer.org/instruments-and-data-files; other (see biblio data in earlier posts): [1] Citing Eckstein and Gurr (1975) Razi emphasizes that it is people’s “positive or negative judgment of what is perceived” about the behavior of the regime that must be investigated to know the level of legitimacy. If the majority of the population is more or less satisfied with the government’s performance and actions in areas of “identity, participation, distribution, equality and sovereignty according to the norms they believe in, there is no crisis of legitimacy.”  Razi, ‘Legitimacy, religion’, 70.; [2] Michael C. Hudson (1977): Arab Politics. The search for Legitimacy. New Haven: Yale University Press, p50.

As indicated by recent Eurobarometer data (see previous post), most of the Europeans are ready to provide help for the developing world, even if they do not know precisely the scope or magnitude of the problem (poverty). But do people in the West know how people living in the ‘developing world’, the Middle East included, think about themselves and the world around them? Or how poverty, development and democracy is related? Lipset (1959, 1960), Rostow (1960), Przeworski and his co-authors, to mention only the most influential ones were pretty much successful in exploring and analyzing the relations between development and democracy. As observed by Lipset ‘the more well-to-do a nation, the greater the chances that it will sustain democracy’ (1959: 75). To capture the essence of ‘well-to-do’, Lipset listed a list of conditions related to (correlated with) democracy, such as, industrialization, urbanization, wealth, and education and other ‘conditions’. The survival or sustainability of a democracy depends on its legitimacy which is ensured by its effectiveness, understood as stable economic development (Lipset 1960: 41). Being interested in the interactions between democracy and development, Przeworksi and his peers asked whether development brings about democracy, or it is development which helps sustain an already established democracy (2000). Their conclusion is the following in a nutshell: a certain level of development is needed for a democracy to endure, but development does not make democracy more likely to emerge. Taking a closer look at the results, further research was done and publications written related the debate (Wucherpfennig and Deutsch 2009).

Regardless to the academic debate surrounding data collection, methodology or the validity of findings one cannot get rid of the conviction that democracy and development is somehow related and (in)equality plays a great role in people’s capacity to democracy. If inequality matters, its definition definitely does. It is widely accepted to measure it by income and its distribution, Gini coefficient, other indexes and ratios. However, it is not that common to measure inequality by ‘public opinion surveys’, by asking people about their views and behaviour on equality in general.

Taking a closer look at the Arab Opinion Index conducted by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACPRS, Doha) the 2012 survey shows great theoretical support for democracy and democratic changes in all the 12 Arab countries, the population of which was sampled representatively (more about the sampling: ACPRS 2012). At the same time, answers to an open-ended question on the definition of democracy revealed some sort of disagreement (variation) over the most important element(s) of democracy. While, 86% of the respondents (ca. 13000 people) was able to give a meaningful definition, the answers were very different in terms of the essence of democracy. 35% of the responses named ‘freedom, civil and political rights’ as the core element of democracy definition, only 21% defined ‘justice and equality’ as needed for defining democracy, whereas few others emphasized the ‘democratic system of government (8%), ‘improvement of citizens’ economic situation’ (6%) and ‘ensuring security and stability’ (6%). Acknowledging that even the academic sources can offer more hundred definitions to democracy, it cannot be doubted that modern democracy can neither exist, nor prosper without equality between its members. Gender equality, at least equal opportunities in daily life and human decision-making are minimum conditions for democracy. To measure it is more difficult than to measure income inequalities or to count voting rights.

Recalling Reinhold Niebuhr, the American political thinker’s famous thought – man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary – one may say that the ‘Arab Spring’ – the revolution(s) or intifada(t) – has been very promising and unpromising at the very same time. It has proved masses’ inclination to justice, but failed to produce the needed capacity for (creating) democracy. And even it is not necessarily the ‘revolution(s)’ which is (are) liable for creating the needed capacity, capacity (for justice, for democracy), a strong commitment for equality included, has not been strong and visible enough.

References:

ACPRS (2012): Arab Opinion Index 2012, http://english.dohainstitute.org/release/a520ed46-4b5d-4b37-adb6-3e9a0cc9d975

ACPRS (2013): Arab Opinion Index 2013, http://english.dohainstitute.org/content/af5000b3-46c7-45bb-b431-28b2de8b33c7

Lipset, Seymour (1959): Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy. American Political Science Review. 53 (March): 69-105,.

Lipset, Seymour (1960): Political Man. The Social Bases of Politics. New York: Doubleday

Niebuhr, Reinhold (1944): The Children of Night and the Children of Darkness. p. xxxii. University of Chicago Press

Przeworski, Adam, et al (2000) Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Material Well-being in the World, 1950-1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rostow, Walter (1960) The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Wucherpfennig, Julian –Deutsch, Franziska (2009): Modernization and Democracy: Theories and Evidence Revisited. Living Reviews in Democracy, Vol 1  http://democracy.livingreviews.org/index.php/lrd/article/viewarticle/lrd-2009-4/13