Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What's Old is New Again

I've been awfully quiet on this space these past couple of months for a variety of reasons, but this quote (that I stole from Steve LeVine and am citing as such) from Craig Newmark, of Craigslist renown, took me aback:
By the end of this decade, power and influence will shift largely to those people with the best reputations and trust networks, from people with money and nominal power. That is, peer networks will confer legitimacy on people emerging from the grassroots.

Is it just me, or is Newmark describing, in a loose sense, the idea of qawm? I'm skeptical of pre-Zahir Shah Afghanistan being the model for a sort of future network that can form the basis of a state. And, in my vastly unscientific opinion, I think that a straw poll of Kyrgyz and Kyrgyzstanis wouldn't lead to anyone preferring to live in an Afghanistan-esque situation.

I agree with most of the other writers on this site, I think, when I say that Twitter et al have done little more than speed up unrest that would be happening besides. It says a lot that Otunbayeva is the interim leader, not some random cadre of students or someone equally unknown. There is more to ruling a state, or even disseminating information, then reputation and trust. "Nominal Power" is still, and will be still, plenty powerful.

I'm awfully optimistic about the power of crowds. And I think that the more access they have to cheap technology. Like, say, building real houses and infrastructure instead of slums out of barbed wire and sandbags. Real change off of the internet has to occur as well, and to take that sort of change on requires Newmark's nominal power. I'm not sure that has happened, or has the chance to happen, quite yet.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I bet you I can link the Kyrgyz riots to Islamo-Fascist Terrism

Kyrgyzstan. It's happening. I am, by all counts, a blathering punk for not seeing it coming. This site's tagline should probably be, "AJK: blatantly making stuff up since, oh 2009 or so."

So I might as well have fun with this. I wonder how I could get some dude to fund me to do some analysis for them? I know! I'll link spontaneous domestic riots over corruption, state bankruptcy, and fuel prices to Islamicism. That'll get me to where I want to go.

Bakiyev came to power in 2005. Tulip Revolution blah blah blah. He was also named Supreme Soviet in the city of Kokjanggak, which is near Jalalabad (Kg variety). Jalalabad is also the name of a city in Afghanistan. Coincidence? Hardly.

Bakiyev made the news in early 2009 for threatening to close Manas Air Base. Which is, of course, a huge big important base for the Global War on Terror. Lots of bickering later, its renamed Transit Center at Manas International Airport.

As we all know, Obama is a sleeper agent for Islamic terror groups trying to bring down America. Goes without saying, almost. He likely had a secret deal with Bakiyev in place to bring down Manas in his attempt to end the fight in Afghanistan. BHO was understandably upset when Russia made the US lose face and the Manas deal ended up being continued. BHO was out for revenge.

He calls up his bretheren in the IMU. The IMU, as Ahmed Rashid can tell us, is only the beginning of a sweeping movement that will turn all of Central Asia into a new Caliphate. Because there used to be a Caliphate in Central Asia and all. That's definitely how the Timurids would define themselves. Getting agents into Talas to start trouble is easy. It's mountainous, etc. Plus, all Turkic people kind of look the same and they all speak Arabic, so its tough to tell one from the other.

The agents then begin to spread rumors, first of Russian involvement, then of energy price increases. People begin to get angry. They go to the government buildings to address their grievances. One of our Islamicist agent provocateurs begins throwing rocks, etc. Begin the violence.

Roza Otunbayeva announces herself as head of the interim government. Classic wolf-in-sheeps clothing (b/c women are meek and all). Remember: Benazir Bhutto funded all sorts of Islamicists in Afghanistan. Do not be fooled. Like Bhutto, she appears very Western at face, but has links to who-knows-where. She will be continuing funding for the IMU to continue their destabilization of Uzbekistan while, using her Russian contacts, usher in the end of the Manas airbase, thus the war in Afghanistan, thus American freedom + democracy.

Other Possible Angles:
  • Otunbayeva has done an incredible amount for the Soviets back in their day, and currently works with the Kyrgyz Social Democratic Party. Aforementioned Russian involvement was all-too real. This is the beginning of Cold War II. Or even better...THE NEW GREAT GAME! Do you want to your kids speaking Russian and eating borscht? Nyet, komrade!
  • Talas is the home of the other Manas, the "National Story of the Kyrgyz people" and other Wilsonian sorts of things. There is a lot of symbolism in this national uprising beginning in Talas. What we see here is the essentialized voice of a people yearning to be free from their colonial yokes: from Russian socialism, American capitalism, and Arab Islamicism. This uprising -at least a thousand years in the making- will allow the Kyrgyz to freely elect the people who they believe in, who will make their nation-state great. Robert Kaplan told me so.
So those are my theories. Or, you know, its sensational nihilist violence writ-large. There are all sorts of fun narratives out there!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Book Review: Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk

I started reading this book way back in Spring 2007. I was in the airport between flights (I want to say on my way back to school from Albuquerque). I just started taking Turkish and I was making plans to study in Istanbul that fall. So when I saw Pamuk's book in the "Travel" section of the Hudson News, I figured it was worth a snag, right?

Wrong. Pamuk's style (lots of longing, lots of sighing, very little description of what things look like) isn't really conducive to travel writing. Paul Theroux he's not. I got maybe halfway through the book the first go-around before giving up. And it wasn't until I was at my folks' house this February, looking through my old books, when I decided to pick this one up again.

Istanbul is much more of a memoir than a travel book. It takes Pamuk from childhood through college and talks about his family, life in 1950's Istanbul, and mostly how Istanbul is viewed by various famous folk. Everyone from Yahya Kemal down to Gustave Flaubert. He makes fun of Pierre Loti, too, which I've been waiting for someone to do for a while now. Istanbul only talks about Istanbul tangentially. In a way, it sort of sketches a silhouette of Istanbul by shading in all of the areas around it, if that makes sense. By describing the commonalities that all of these Frenchmen, Germans, Ottomans, and Turks had in their descriptions of the city, Pamuk describes the city itself.

The thing he hammers home is this concept of huzun. Huzun is this really baroque form of melancholy. The concept is: Ye Olde Sufis who were religious enough would try to come as close to Allah as they could. But the real religious ones would be full of melancholy because there is no way to get close enough to Allah. As hard as you try, you are only human. However, the ones who were not religious enough would not even be able to feel this form of melancholy, they were never able to get close enough to feel not-close-enough. They could only feel huzun. Huzun is the feeling of not even being able to feel the emotions you want. Pamuk writes about how this feeling permeates Istanbul, since it is life in the shadow of a glorious empire. He's a lot more eloquent about it than me. And it helps that he gets to use a bunch of Ara Guler's pictures.

He does this while talking about his childhood and adolescence as well, which is fairly interesting. If you've read a lot of Pamuk's books (which I have) you can identify all of these tropes that begin from his life: Alaadin's shop, the dopplegangers, the secret apartments...all of these things are very real and very happened. I find it kind of neat that all of his novels (though probably not Snow as much as the others) are in many ways autobiographical. I can imagine that people will disagree with me there, though.

So the book's not about Istanbul. Its about Pamuk. So it's really not worth reading unless you've read a whole bunch of Pamuk books (which I fortunately have). But it is worth reading, though. If you can handle all the melancholy, that is.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Better Late then Whenever

This is a long time coming, but I got this tip from Jakob over at Rug Pundits way back in March and finally got around to commenting on it. After discussing how the US Military has been pretty haphazard and delinquent in setting up their language programs, a Dr. Jeff Watson has written a short bit comparing different branches' language and cultural training that is worth a read.

In short, the different branches focus on exactly what their stereotypes would lead you to expect they do. The Army worries about language retention, the Marines think its largely irrelevant to the killin', and the Air Force thinks it's only needed for a select few of their folks (my favorite Air Force bro quote: "I'm taking this class in Arabic History so I know what the people I'm bombing have done wrong")

Dr. Watson argues, and I'm inclined to agree, that language training is great as a key to cultural understanding. Just learning about Culture as a "this is what these people believe, this is what these people come from" can be terribly otherizing and take personality and individuality out of the population that is purportedly supposed to be COIN'ed. Someone more cynical than me would argue that this is what the military wants, what with the depersonlization. I don't buy that, I think that anything successful would be grabbed at a moment's notice.

As for Wright's assertion that language training gives soldiers a critical awareness of their affect on the people around them? Well, I mean, I'm not sure how much self-actualization would be required for COIN doctrine in Afghanistan, it all sounds a bit too elaborate to me, but I'd be sure to listen if there was fire to Wright's smoke.

My take? Language training - any language training - is certainly useful. Especially in context of cultural training and cultural awareness. But I think that all three branches examined in this little piece all go about language/cultural training in a way they find expedient rather than a way found to be successful. What's more shocking to me is the lack of high-level language or cultural training that has almost seems like that sort of stuff is for HTTs and PMCs, not for gun-fightin'-soldiers.

Wright had a great line that language training should be a requirement, dovetailed with cultural training, because soldiers are more than just observers. And he's right, if we are to expect soldiers to work within the population, to be an intrinsic part of a part of Afghanistan, then they need at least a language baseline and prodding to use it. The fact that its avoided because this doesn't seem to be the sexy part of getting promotions is endemic of a whole cultural impasse.