Wednesday, 3 August 2011


In his attempt to differentiate his own views from mine on the current uprisings in the Arab world, Vincent Littrell attributed a number of statements to me that do not correspond to what I have argued in my postings. First, he claims that I see everything in 'black/white terms', and others, presumably simpleminded individuals like me, do the same. Anyone familiar with what I have been writing on the current Arab uprisings can see that I pose various possibilities about the internal and external immediate and long-term causes of the uprisings, and above all that I caution it is still much too soon to come to any conclusion about what is transpiring in North Africa and Middle East; at the very least it is important to wait for new regimes to take power and judge them on the basis of their policies, and then wait a generation to have a clearer picture.

Second, presuming to know me and my experiences in life and as an academic, Vincent Littrell questions my knowledge of the Arab world, while projecting his own personal experiences as authoritative, thus conclusive. This of course assumes that expertise emanates solely from personal experience, a concept that necessarily invalidates a very large percentage of scholarship. Edward Gibbon, for example, did not live in the Roman Empire, although he wrote extensively about it and provided sound scholarship for his generation and posterity. Third, Mr. Littrell argues that worker-bee and day-to-day Arab-non-Arab interactions are complex and surface coverage by the media fails to capture the reality on the ground; again assuming that the only source of information available to people is mass media. Let us for the sake of argument accept the above contention; exactly what is the point here, how does this impressionistic observation not even placed into reductionist paradigm add to our social science knowledge of the dynamics of the Arab uprisings?

Finally, Vincent Littrell accuses me of adopting a "Westphalian state-centric geo-political analysis can even scratch the surface of the complexities associated with bridging Occident and Orient, or even determining the true impacts of Western hard/soft presence/encroachment on the Muslim World."  In 1648, major European powers signed the Treaty of Westphalia that endorsed the principle of territorial sovereignty, thus formalizing - making the de facto status quo of nation-state into de jure - and operating on that system in international political and juridical matters.

It is the right of course of anyone reading my postings to reach the conclusion that I have not kept up sufficiently with the times by not questioning the Westphalian assumptions. My theoretical assumptions aside, what coherent ideological model does Mr. Littrell offer with which to articulate the complexities of the Middle East, or is he merely basing his opinions about the Arab world on impressionistic experiences because he believes that empirical 'day-to-day' impressionistic perspective is superior to any theoretical approach? That too is an interpretation that I would have on the table for discussion assuming at least it is articulated into a coherent reductionist model, but why is it more valid or superior than the holistic paradigm?

Finally, the modern state emerged with the Treaty of Westphalia, and scholars of the Western World have used that political-juridical paradigm simply because that is the world in which they lived and which conditioned their way of thinking, as much in international law as international affairs. The challenge to the Westphalian IR assumptions have surfaced in the last decade or so, partly as a result of the enormity of regional economic blocs that transcend state sovereignty, as for example in the European Union. Moreover, traditional conservatives like Henry Kissinger have argued that: "The Westphalian system sought security based on the sanctity of international borders. In our time, the power, range and speed of modern weapons have made this definition too narrow."

The nature of the integrated world economy, as well as more fluid definition of national borders in part accounts for questioning Westphalian assumptions. However, the very broad "Westphalian IR assumptions" in part or as a whole have profoundly influenced individuals who come from very different ideological backgrounds. From the conservative camp, both Otto von Bismark and Henry Kissinger and todays neo-conservatives falling into the school of realism have embraced aspects of Westphalian assumptions and rejected others; Wilsonian internationalists of the Liberalism school and human rights advocates have done the same; and idealists like Mahatma Gandhi who also fits into the same model. The Westphalian 'state sovereignty principle' has been used to justify imperialist extension (externally-imposed sovereignty) as well as by anti-colonial movements to justify their desire for self-determination.

One last point about theoretical models in the social sciences. I believe that while no theoretical model adequately captures the empirical world and all theoretical models suffer from limitations, just as all philosophical schools and systems, it is important to place a body of empirical information into some coherent model, and then work out from there so that people have some basis of comprehending the empirical world systematically and holistically. This does not mean that the reductionist paradigm, which generally overlooks or minimizes the history of a system, is inferior to the holistic, but it does seem to me that the former is more appropriate for the hard sciences than the social sciences.

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