Pradeep and I have cooked for each other several times over the last few weeks. He lives in the neighbourhood. I have been over about three times now and I have each time been hugely impressed by his expertise as a self-taught gourmet chef. If you check out his blog, you’ll know why.
The part I find most interesting, however, is the conversation afterwards. On two occasions now, Indi also has been present, along with a few of the usual suspects. I generally tend to throw them an incomplete idea that I have been thinking about and let the pride tear at it, ripping it apart. There’s no snarling, although, at times, it does get passionate. It’s a great forum for debate, because Pradeep is an encylopedia – his arguments are meaty – and he tackles it with a razor-sharp mind and serves it lightly with humour. And the great thing about having Indi sparring alongside, is that when it comes to argument, Indi is a different animal. His views are principle-centred, he is irreverently hilarious in expressing them, and he will not let go until he is completely satiated.
There are some issues that I still have not worked out in my head. Not that it matters to anyone else – heck, I’ll never be able to run for public office with the things I have said on this blog – but I like to have a clear position on things. To work out issues, having other people from opposing points of view debate it in front of you is great. It’s even better when you can interject and steer.
Anyway, all this is a preamble. What I really want to share with you on this post is this article that Pradeep wrote in his defence a few months ago. I really liked it and I read it again today. I agree with its point of view on the international community, it is a point of view that I have found impossible to express as well as Pradeep has in this article, without sounding like a paranoid NGO-basher. God knows, I am not one of those, but I think our history being the way it is, we have every reason to be skeptical of too much international interference, and a general attitude of mild suspicion of foreign intervention will be to our long-term advantage. Remember the Kandyan Treaty of 1638? I can’t express myself as well as the article does, so, I might as well reproduce it.
ICES and ‘I’: the Struggle for a Critical Social Science
Dr. Pradeep Jeganathan,
Senior Research Fellow,
A mass protest against government attack on job security for young workers in France: ‘I then told him that I was, in turn, worried about the situation in France’.
The “I” in ICES:
September 2006 found me having dinner with a French Anthropologist, at the Delhi University international guest house. I had a month long visiting Fellowship in the famed Department of Sociology there, where I count many friends and colleagues, Jean Pierre was there for the launch of a co-edited volume on Bourdieu, the French Anthropologist who was deft enough to write a classic account of Algerian culture without mentioning violence once, while doing fieldwork in a time of revolt and revolution.
Jean Pierre (not his real name) told me he was very worried about Sri Lanka — the conflict, the violence, the Sinhalese and Tamils. I shared many of his concerns, and when I found his knowledge of Sri Lankan things was superficial, I tried to deepen his understanding, here and there. I then told him that I was, in turn, worried about the situation in France. He expressed surprise. When I said repression of youth protests, widespread racism directed against immigrants, when seen in the context of French intolerance of forms of female dress such as a headscarfs and veils, was very worrying to me, he stopped eating. “You worried!?” He said with amazement, pointing his fork at me. It obviously wasn’t a two-way street when it came to worry. He was worried about Sri Lanka, but was amazed when he heard I was worried about racism in France. When I went on to argue, that French racism was the basis of Franz Fanon’s celebrated analysis of the subject in Black Skin, White Mask — which I had used as the center piece of a global history class, when I was a professor in the US, he left the table, wandering off into the men’s room, not to return for some time. He didn’t even want to discuss it, well certainly not with me.
I first heard of Fanon, when I was an undergraduate intern at ICES. We didn’t really have a library in those days, but Regi Siriwardena had a copy and he lent it to me. It deepened my understanding of “whiteness” as well as “blackness.” Each time I asked my predominantly white, Lutheran students at the University of Minnesota to comment on his most famous line: “the Negro is not. Any more than the White Man,” I too read the line afresh, and understood a new, some thing about the world. When I joined ICES, the “I” in the International stood for that kind of vision. We were looking at the world, from its underbelly, from the point of view of those who had been colonized.
The “I” in ICG:
The I in ICG, the International Crisis Group, is not the I, in the ICES. It does not provide a located, anti-imperial view of the world, rather it provides us with a God’s eye view of “crisis;” not all over the world, but in carefully chosen trouble spots. If you scroll through the country selector on its website, you won’t even find India and China, or the United States or France mentioned; how these ‘crisis’ get selected, should be the subject of a research paper. In fact, North America doesn’t even appear as an area, and its European section doesn’t have regular reports on the Western part of the continent. It is a curious collection of small countries, that are positioned on a NATO or Western European centered political map, with ‘crisis’ that need what ICG calls ‘recommendations.’ North America is just a great blind spot that can never be commented on, but what’s most fascinating is the imputed audience for each set of recommendations. For example, a report on Thailand, has recommendations for the Thai government, a rare report on France, for which no country tab exists as pointed out above, has recommendations for the French government and activists, and a report on Sri Lanka, has three sets of recommendations, for the government. the LTTE and INGOs and foreign governments.
The ‘International Community’
The I in International Community, as used by the ICG, is quite the same as the I in ICG, and isn’t all that very far from the I in Imperial. This is in fact, the “I” that allowed my French colleague Jean Pierre to ‘worry’ over violence in Sri Lanka, but be amazed that I would worry over French racism and repression. When it comes to France, ICG has no recommendations for non—French institutions or organizations. Why, it is an internal matter, no doubt, none of any one else’s business! But when it comes to Sri Lanka, of course they have recommendations for the EU or INGOs.
The “I” in ICISS.
This is where the knowledge produced by ICG is crucial to what is now called, the “responsibility to protect” or R2P. It is in those crisis areas or trouble spots where, recommendations for outside actors and interests have been legitimized. And it is the need to underline this legitimacy, and foreclose criticism of it, that has made necessary, the labored, yet superficial claim that R2P, as a conceptual turn, is vastly innovative — and therefore a enormous advance towards global peace. This is just not true; and is based on a weak argument. The claim to a great advance, comes on several fronts — the first being that there is a rethinking and then a redefinition of State Sovereignty, in the conceptual casting of R2P. This supposedly, is all worked out in the Report of the International Commission on Intervention of State Sovereignty (ICISS). Note the I again! It isn’t really worked out there at all. As should be well known to serious political theorists, State Sovereignty, in pre-modern times was configured in two parts, and is embodied in the King and the King’s body, the subject people. Again, as is well known, the locus classicus of this argument is Kantorowicz’s account, and the literature that follows, whether it be Balibar or Lefort will tell you that in modern societies, it is the ‘people’ constituted as a community of equals, who represents themselves in a state which is an expression of their Sovereignty. The ICISS report does not address the basics of political theory, rather it asserts that if a state is unable or unwilling to protect its population, then its Sovereignty can be challenged to that extent. Well of course, that’s central to the charter of the United Nations, with the provision that a resolution of the Security Council or two thirds of the General Assembly meeting in Emergency Session supports this claim. And as such, intervention under UN authority is allowed under the charter. Does the ICISS claim to challenge this? Yes, most certainly! That’s the big innovation; according to the report, and this is tucked 57 pages in, a regional body (read NATO in Kosovo) or even another state, can intervene unilaterally in another, if it feels that there is a “responsibility to protect.”
So can we, at ICES, begin to study, with a view to intervening at once, racism in France or for that matter the US prison system, where inmates, who are a large proportion of the general population and belong to a minority group i.e., African-Americans, who are, as it is well known, subject to widespread and continuous rape and battery? No of course not, there is no “I”CG report on US prisons or the US for that matter. Sorry, you can’t feel responsible; the ICG doesn’t think it’s a crisis in the first place. The penny drops; this is why Gareth Evens has to be the head of ICG and the ICISS and now the new, Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P).
ICG decides for GCR2P what the cases are; and in those cases, a sub set of which are earmarked for third party ‘recommendations,’ it is asserted that state sovereignty has now been eroded. Sri Lanka is such a case, Burma is another. Thailand or India is not, because I very much suspect, that in those countries –one a long standing democracy, the other having struggled with this form of government for some time– such recommendations wouldn’t be tolerated by the state. Claims of Sovereignty and democracy are certainly not incompatible, it would seem.
And there is of course another criteria which comes in: when a country is ripe for third part recommendations to be made about it. Yes, you guessed it, it is also a failed or faling state, in the eyes of the International Community. That’s why it isn’t enough to address the state, or political groups within the country; oh no, they’ve failed, so we must look to the Internationals (that “I” again), who of course, never fail.
R2P & the UN
To counter mounting criticism in Sri Lanka over this idea of R2P, Rama Mani, in an interview, and Radhika Coomaraswamy in a widely publicized email letter claimed, the Sri Lanka state is a signatory to the 2005 World Summit declaration on R2P and thus, this concept has somehow been “bought” on our behalf, by the government. That’s just not true. The World Summit declaration, which has hundreds of paragraphs, mentions R2P in two, 138 and 139. But it only supports intervention under the charter of the UN — that is after Security Council resolutions and/or General Assembly sessions. Euro—American commentators, like Walter Hodge of the New York Times, have begun to refer to states having “buyers remorse” after signing on to R2P. Well that’s a misstatement, since they’ve never bought it in the first place; they couldn’t surely — a UN summit can not agree to overrule itself! GCR2P, an INGO, funded by multiple government sources and private sources, now established in a University in New York, is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an organ of the UN. But Coomaraswamy who serves on its advisory boards, acts like it is — telling us she is there on the express request of the Secretary General. Well, that’s nice, but it does not make it a UN body, does it? Rama Mani in an interview with Lakbima News makes a specious analogy with UN peace keeping forces in Haiti, which have a Sri Lankan contingent. Sri Lanka has participated in R2P operations, she cries out – so what’s wrong with it. That’s based on typically weak logic; UN peacekeepers, in Haiti or elsewhere, operate under the authority of the UN charter, under security council resolutions, not on a privately commissioned study, authorized by ICG and then regurgitated by the private GCR2P. The situations don’t compare, since what is at stake in the Sri Lankan debate right now, is the direct affiliation of ICES to GCR2P as an associated center.
This is not a matter of opposing the regime in power or not, as Paikiasothy Saravanamutthu and his colleagues have cast this. It’s a much larger issue; the decisions and directives of the GCR2P might well be violations of international law; catalyzing the movement of R2P from principle to practice may well be illegal. If the regime in power in Sri Lanka or elsewhere is committing atrocities against its population, the forum for expressing grave concern and demanding out side intervention, is the UN and its organs; to set up well funded and well heeled private organizations to be such fora might well be constituted as neo-imperial, giving the “I” in ICG, yet another meaning.
It is therefore really quite condescending for Romesh Thakur, to suddenly descend from on high and tell us, that questions of imperialism has long been settled, and in any event, is addressed in the ICISS report, of which he is a co—author. No, it is only an assertion, in this report — there is no argument as such, despite pages and pages of humming and hawing. In his recent opinion piece that was carried in the Hindu and also the Daily Mirror, Thakur cites straw men in an imagined Sri Lankan debate on the matter. He misses, perhaps through bad research or deliberate myopia, G.L Pieris’ reasoned arguments with Gareth Evens’ Tiruchelvam lecture, and again, his comments on Jayantha Dhanapala’s UNDP lecture, to which Tissa Jayathilaka replied. And I hope he will not miss this argument; if he, as an undoubted stand in-for my friend and colleague, Radhika Coomaraswamy, wants to continue with the debate.
While Thakur gets the contours of the Sri Lankan debate quite wrong, the real point is one that Evans labored over, as well. Neelan Thiruchelvam was a cosmopolitan, Evens said, and as such, would never have called R2P imperial. Cosmopolitans are those, in this argument, who’ve somehow got beyond imperialism, and are of course, comfortable with that wonderfully ill defined ‘international community’ of which of course the Canadian High Commissioner Angela Bogdan must be a member. By this argument neither G. L. Pieris nor Rajiva Wijesinha nor I am cosmopolitan; we are somehow parochial because we want to follow the logic of political theory (Pieris makes an important argument about the rule of states with recourse to social contract theory), or international law? Surely, this notion is extremely thin and not really worth further comment, except to note its function in the larger rubric. It is these cosmopolitans who liaise between the third party Internationals, the High level High Commissioners, and their friends, the parochial locals who aren’t really educated and refined — this is the thin upper crust in the society of any failed state, and it’s the kind of interlocutor Grath Evens likes.
Imperial or International?
The “I” matters after all. It matter who speaks and from what position. And it matters if the “I” stands for Imperial or International, and then in turn, what kind of International. ICC, would a good, final example. Once the Imperial Cricket Council, it then metamorphosed into the International Cricket Council, which is when Umpire Hair “called” Muralidharan in the famous Boxing Day test in Australia. The I in International was pretty close to Imperial, in 1995. It took a massive struggle over knowledge, who knows what and how, to establish that elbow flexing was pretty universal among bowlers. And then it took the leaking of an ICC report that Bret Lee flexes more that Murali to finally put the matter to rest. Alternative knowledge matters, and articulating it critically matters as much. That was central to the ICES I joined in 1987, as an undergraduate intern, and it was central to its projects for decades after. It gives me a sad, empty feeling to realize that arguments made on crucial matters by authoritative ICES voices, like those of Radhika Coomaraswamy and Rama Mani are based on bad fact and argument, and more, that we’ve lost the ability to think for ourselves.
Take for example, the simple fact that even though there has been widespread tub thumping about R2P, none of the associated books or journal articles are available in ICES, Colombo’s library — I had to find all the source materials used in this argument myself, an area of research which is far removed from my speciality. We’ve never had a serious in-house discussion of these issues based on a close reading of the documents, and there isn’t one serious article written by any one on the staff, that thinks through these issues. ICES is nowhere where it used to be.
In the old days, when the I in ICES, actually stood for some thing, the ICES, I joined, believed in, and returned from a coveted job in the US to work for, would have been at the forefront of whatever debate that we chose to enter, not from up high, as Internationals who are better than locals, but as internationals who are also local, located, recovering from colonialism and the ongoing brutalities of violence, to contribute, despite and through that experience, not only to the tradition of critical social science in this country, or the region, but beyond, in the world at large.