Degrade and Destroy: Winning the War against DAESH

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By Andy Hom

This blog originally appeared on Defence-in-Depth, a research blog from the Defence Studies Department, King’s College London

In late June 2016 the ESRC-funded Moral Victories project and KCL’s Department of Defence Studies convened a workshop, entitled ‘Degrade and Destroy: Winning the War against Daesh?‘, which brought together leading experts from the academic, military, policy, and NGO communities to consider the problem of confronting DAESH (ISIS) – both in terms of the results and consequences of extant approaches and of possible alternatives. This day-long meeting was designed to foster knowledge exchange and impact by bringing multiple sectors together for a sustained dialogue. It featured spirited discussions about the use of air power in counterterrorism operations, the linkages between DAESH and the greater Syrian conflict, the humanitarian toll of that conflict as well as regional counterterrorism operations, and the intriguing but largely overlooked question of whether Daesh is an enemy or a threat to the UK and its allies. This latter point in particular prompted some interesting discussions amongst the diverse group who attended.

One of these debates focused on whether DAESH should be seen as primarily a political rather than a military or strategic problem. Is DAESH a properly apocalyptic organisation bent on ‘hastening’ a global cataclysm or is it actually pursuing a territorial caliphate as an alternative to the Western states system? Although elements of both intermingle in DAESH propaganda, they are two distinct objectives with very different implications. If thoroughly apocalyptic, DAESH would likely present a genuinely existential problem, although even here a military response plays directly into its apocalyptic vision. Viewed as more traditionally political in the sense of governing territory, DAESH looks like an adaptable, goal-driven organisation availing itself of various means and messages.

After the fall of Mosul and its initial declaration of a caliphate, DAESH first tried to establish administrators in its territories and to project power to the rest of the world. While the specific means of accomplishing these were no doubt repugnant (e.g. brutal Sharia governance at home and hostage executions turned into spectacles), at issue here is their links to DAESH’s ultimate ends. Indeed, DAESH proved inept at public administration and management – it could not distribute public goods effectively and Sharia law did not enable a viable alternative to a social welfare platform. However, it was only after coalition airstrikes began to reduce DAESH’s territorial gains that its rhetoric shifted toward international terrorism as a religious duty. This supports a trend long known to terrorism experts, which is that attacks abroad signal the weakening of an organisation at home and its pending failure as a political programme. Once again this highlights the fundamental importance of a clear vision of what winning a confrontation with DAESH actually means. Air strikes have been successful at checking DAESH’s territorial ambitions, yet they have also driven DAESH toward a strategy of international terror. These paradoxes of military superiority highlight a parallel question: should we respond to violent non-state actors as if they were states themselves, or do asymmetric problems require novel and perhaps asymmetric responses?

Conventional military power has little effect on the ‘caliphate of the mind’, which DAESH spreads with remarkable effectiveness using social and traditional media. Regardless of the material situation on the ground, such propaganda will continue to appeal to young, marginalised, and misogynistic young men who seek a combination of thrill-seeking and meaning-making. One way for the UK and allied governments to resist the organic diffusion of the Jihadi’s claim to fame is to: 1) resist the urge to invoke overblown, national security rhetoric in the wake of localised or small scale attacks, as this valorises the actions of individuals and small groups; and 2) adapt Cold War programmes of ‘civil defence’ or preparedness protocols to train citizenries to employ standard response procedures in active shooter and rudimentary assault situations. The aim here is to reduce rather than magnify the material and political effects of terrorists’ actions and to focus on societal resilience rather than on large-scale transformations of regional and international political, legal, and strategic orders. It is also a shift that would likely deliver significant cost savings.

Going further, Western governments might even consider an ‘asymmetric’ means of engaging the ‘global Muslim subject’ by issuing a blanket apology for the War on Terror – not as an admission of defeat or sole guilt but as an unexpected step that requires dialogue while also recognising the global importance of Islam as a faith and Muslims as a people who have been disproportionately affected by powerful states’ response to the actions of a razor thin minority of their co-religionists. A public apology flies in the face of the accepted logics and conventional wisdom about the war on terror, a fact viewed by many at the meeting as its strongest endorsement.

Thinking about the politics of confronting DAESH returns us to a central question: Does DAESH represent an actual material and existential threat to the UK and its allies? DAESH is clearly an enemy of the systems, values, and politics enshrined in Western, liberal democratic states. Yet this is not the same as a threat. There was a consensus in our meeting that distinguishing more carefully between enemies and threats would help clarify the menu of political and strategic options for dealing with DAESH and similar actors. Terror attacks abroad and territorial gains within the Levant – especially within two struggling states such as Syria and Iraq, whose issues the UK and its allies helped create and have displayed little facility in resolving – do not rise to the level of a national or international security threat, except for when Western governments treat them as such and act accordingly. Threats require urgent security responses, enemies do not – as was ably demonstrated by the UK and its allies throughout much of the Cold War.

In addition to reframing thinking and discourse in a way that provides greater room for manoeuvre, distinguishing DAESH along these lines offers the opportunity to focus on the sorts of long-term conditions that enable terrorist organisations to emerge in the first place, conditions that are often closely linked to state failure, economic inequalities, and large-scale humanitarian disasters. It would also allow states that are party to the UN Refugee Convention, as the UK is, to begin think about how to meet their obligations to the international community’s most vulnerable peoples without framing this issue as a matter solely of terrorism and security. In general, it would allow the UK and its allies much greater freedom to deliberate how to meet emerging adversaries and issues like DAESH with a full set of political tools rather than only the pointy tips.

Although particular groups will rise and fall, regional and international terrorism are likely here to stay. Yet while specific tactics and dispositions will surely evolve, at root terrorism represents a remarkably narrow and indeed brittle approach to territorial control, political power, and international recognition. Facing a problem that is both sticky and limited, and combined with the underwhelming record of the post-9/11 years, it makes sense for leading states like the UK and its allies to explore more supple forms of response. One way to do this is to re-inject politics, understood in the most expansive sense, into counterterrorism.

 

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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The Peace Process in Myanmar: A Long Process That Should Include Future Generations

This is a translation of an article written by Daehan Wi, a 4th year MA (Hon) IR student, reporting on his research in Myanmar for the Korean-language J Magazine, the monthly journal of the  JoongAng Daily. Mr. Wi’s research was funded by the UoE Principal’s Go Abroad scheme.

by Daehan Wi

Introduction

“If you want peace, you [do] not talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies” Archbishop Tutu said. Myanmar is riddled with one’s enemies. A sense of hatred prevails throughout the country. However, Myanmar has started to talk about nationwide peace and hold talks with aggressive opponents.

In May 2015, the Union Election Committee (UEC) of Myanmar announced the plan for the upcoming general election. The government run by the Tatmadaw (the Myanmar Armed Forces) for more than 50 years promised publicly that the election would be free and fair. It gave genuine hope to the public who has long desired for democratization of the country. There were full of people on the street who wore red shirts showing that they were supporting the National League for Democracy (NLD), the political party that Aung San Suu Kyi led. They yearned for freedom of speech and other democratic values, better welfare and living standard in a free and fair society.

wi-blog-pic1NLD supporters rally in the street wearing red shirts and hoping for regime change.

In November, the NLD achieved the landslide victory in the election against the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) backed by the military. In March 2016, new and first civilian government emerged with Htin Kyaw as the President and Aung San Suu Kyi as the State Counsellor and the Minister of Foreign Affair. For many years, 59F, the constitutional clause barring her from the presidency was the central issue. Not anymore. By creating a new position, the State Counsellor, she is now more powerful than she had simply become the President.

The general atmosphere in the government has become hopeful. “People support Aung San Suu Kyi and she has eventually won the election. It is a political opportunity to remove military intervention in politics and make the country democratic, and a social opportunity to remedy the legacy of previous military regimes” said Tin Oo, the former Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Union of Myanmar, and the current NLD Chairperson. He indicated in the interview with me that the country was having a moment of historical opportunity.

 

Peace, the first priority

Myanmar has been blighted by armed clashes between the Burmese government and the ethnic minorities, particularly resource-rich groups in the northern areas. Winning in the election does not mean the consolidation of democracy, as many countries have not been the case. For Myanmar, ‘conflict management’ and ‘peace process’ is the first step to its successful democratization. I had an interview with Nyan Win, the spokesperson of the NLD, and he said, “This government has a lot of tasks to do such as economic development and consolidation of civilian government. However, nationwide peace is the first consideration. Without peace, there cannot be national and individual development.” The NLD-led government should re-invigorate stalled peace talks, which have been left behind by the previous government under Thein Sein.

Origin of the armed conflict traces back to British colonial period in the early 1900s. In August 1941, US President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill jointly declared the Atlantic Charter. The Charter set the goals of the post-war period by promising self-determination, restoration of self-government, no territorial aggrandizement and no territorial changes made against the desire of the people. British government planned to grant independence in accordance with the development stages. For Burma, the government aimed to liberate the Burmese areas first, and subsequently the other ethnic and mountainous areas. Burmese nationalist leaders including General Aung San, father of Aung San Suu Kyi, became opportunistic to establish a country called ‘Burma’ that included the areas of non-Burmese ethnic minorities.

In 1947, General Aung San and representatives of ethnic communities from Kachin, Chin and Shan signed the Panglong Agreement. The ethnic communities agreed to have a united federal state called Burma in exchange for guarantee of equal treatment with Burmese and a high degree of autonomy. In January 1948, the nation finally became independent as the Union of Burma. However, his political rival U Saw, who was later executed, assassinated General Aung San, generating a leadership vacuum after independence. U Nu became the Prime Minister of the Union and the government adopted parliamentary democracy. After Aung San’s assassination, the Panglong Agreement was completely broken. In 1962, General Ne Win seized power in a military coup and the ethnic minorities have been under dreadful pressures and discrimination since then.

Most ethnic minorities emphasize on history of the pre-colonial period. “We, and other ethnic communities, were the people who live in Zomia Land, the land of independent people. However, we have become the people who have to fight to preserve not only our natural resources that the government is eager to exploit, but also our culture, language and religions.”

Before British colonial period, there was no such thing as ‘Burma’ but the territory of Myanmar today was filled by city-states. Ethnic minorities settled down in mountainous areas in northern parts of Myanmar where there were rich natural resources. Rough mountains historically functioned as natural shield for them. From the 11th century to British colonial period, Burmese dynasties repeated fell and were conquered, whereas ethnic minorities were not ruled by any other invaders. In other words, ethnic people never lived with Burmese together. This is why they have been fighting against the Burmese government backed by Burmese Army, and against all discriminations from them. This armed conflict has lasted for around 70 years.

On 31 August this year, the 21st century Panglong Conference kicked off by Aung San Suu Kyi. It drew inspiration from the 1947 Panglong Agreement, and aimed to end the long-lasting armed conflict between the Burmese central government/military and the minorities in a way that General Aung San pursued. It was a huge peace conference that representatives from 17 out of 20 rebel forces, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and the former Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other 1700 people attended.

However, they failed to draw a practical conclusion and the conference ended a day earlier than initially planned. Three rebel forces did not participate in the conference, and the United Wa State Army (UWSA) stomped out of the room during the meeting because they did not have right to speak. The conference was meaningful in a sense that the government brought rebel forces to the table, but it showed again that there were so many challenges for government to resolve in order to achieve nationwide peace.

 

Irony: Peace talks in the capital city, firing in ethnic areas at the same time

While the 21st century Panglong Conference was taking place in Naypyidaw, the capital city, there was an armed clash in northern Shan State. It was a military operation of the Myanmar Army to track down rebel forces in the region. In the incident, some civilians were killed and buried in secret. The incident was shocking for the public. Moreover, it was totally not understandable since it was in the middle of the peace conference that drew attention from international community. The public started to doubt whether the government really had sincerity about peace.

When I was in Yangon, soldiers of the Myanmar Army killed a young Kachin man in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, without a good reason. The media was heavily controlled but it was quickly spread on Facebook. For this, there was a mass rally in front of Yangon City Hall. A participant said to me, “Does the government really have sincere mind for peace process? They are the one who shoots us, they are the one who kills us, but at the same time, they are the one who wants peace with us. How strange is this?” Another protester said, “So there is no reason to expect positive outcomes from the 21st Panglong Conference. This is how they prepare for the conference. We know that the 21st Panglong Conference will be designed based entirely and solely on Aung San Suu Kyi’s personal perspective not on ethnic groups!”

An immediate ceasefire has always been the first demand from ethnic communities. However, firing has consistently been reoccurred after several attempts of ceasefire. Since the independence, there have been over 250,000 civilians killed; 1 million people have become internally displaced persons (IDPs). I had a chance to interview a soldier of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). He said, “Presence of the Myanmar Army in Kachin State itself is serious disturbance for trust building between the Burmese government and Kachin people. For us, their presence is not seen as a defense purpose but an offensive operation to attack us. It is the Myanmar Army that has made us to have this stereotype.” It is the passage that tells us how serious the pressures under military have been for them. It is an obvious expression but immediate cessation of physical hostility is the first step for peace process.

Peace situation in Myanmar reminded me of a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King in <A Testament of hope: Essential Writing and Speeches> (1991). He said, “Peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”

What other problems do the first civilian government have in peace process? Do they well understand perspectives and desires of ethnic minorities? I would like to address three issues of peace process: government-military relationship, Burmanization, and IDP alienation and future generation.

Problem 1: government-military relations

For the emergence of the civilian government, there is certainly a hope for better society, but at the same time, a peculiar feeling of betrayal coexists. “Peace is not achieved merely by peace conference. It is a process. In that process, the current government has already betrayed so many people.” A large proportion of population expresses voices of concern about the government-military relation. Aung San Suu Kyi considers the Tatmadaw as an important partner for stable government operation and peace process in the long run. A spokesperson of the NLD said, “Nationwide peace in this country requires the unification of the civilian government and military. It is not an option but a condition. We have been working hard on this.”

However, military has lost trust from the public, especially the ethnic minorities for a long time. Rather, there is active antagonism towards military for torture, rape, murder and oppressive rules. It is certainly difficult for the minorities to welcome the government that has friendly relationship with military. I interviewed four pastors in Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), a highly influential religious organization in the region, and they said, “We can trust Aung San Suu Kyi. But we do not trust Aung San Suu Kyi united with military.” A lawyer, former political prisoner, Thein Than Oo, also criticized the current government, “It is a quasi-civilian government wearing military uniform with the 2008 Constitution, which gives veto power to military in politics. How would you say this government has more trust than the previous government under Thein Sein had?”

The public want military to be removed from politics. It is not only about ethnic minorities but Burmese people also desire for true civilian government that military do not intervene in. The Chief Minister of Agriculture and Dam pointed out, “This country experienced serious corruption under military regimes. Economy collapsed, education system has been destroyed, and infrastructures have been poorly constructed. People’s lives are devastated by military officials’ efforts to keep their power.

Is it really worthy for the government to have restored relationship with military prior to the restoration of government trust from the public? It is too early to judge if it is right, but public grievances are increasingly high. It certainly is an obstacle to peace process. The government should find the balance in this relationship and also consider their relationship with the public.

 

Problem 2: Burmanization, another way of oppressing the minorities

“In the views of international community, official outlook of peace process might look good due to the emergence of the civilian government and attempts for peace conference. However, ground-level situation tells something different. A very important component for peace process has been missing. That is culture.” Sai Sam Kham, The Executive Director of Metta Foundation, a local NGO helping refuges and conflict-affected communities, claimed that understanding and respecting other cultures, languages, and identity should be taken into account when considering peace process.

He defined the term ‘Burmanization’ as a carefully crafted policies by successive Burmese governments to establish a state in which only Burmese culture, language, and religion (Buddhism) exists while trying to annihilate others. A Burmanizing effort is to assimilate non-Burmese ethnic groups into the majority Burmese in social, political and cultural aspects.

In practice, Burmese governments have long been trying hard to Burmanize the country. The government under the first Burmese Prime Minister U Nu passed the State Religion Promotion Act of 1961, which made Buddhism the official religion of the state. After this, people were heavily discriminated by religions, and non-Buddhist groups such as Kachin (Christian) and Rakhine (Muslim) could not avoid conflict with the government. There are still ongoing-armed clashes in Kachin State, and Rohingya issues in Rakhine State.

During the military regimes, the military sector, the highest authority, and all other primary government agencies were filled by Buddhist Burmese. Promotion was virtually impossible for non-Buddhist. I interviewed a former diplomat, who served the Ministry of Foreign Affair for 40 years. He said he could not be promoted for 15 years due to three reasons. First, he was not a Buddhist. Second, he was not a Burmese. Last, his background was not from military. He further explained, “Most Burmese consider themselves superior to the others. Burmese is the most superior ethnic. Buddhism is the best religion. Military people are better educated than civilians. They think the government should force people to have education in Burmese contexts because it would be the only way to achieve national development. Burmese people consider this sort of education as high-civilization.”

Yangon is the most populated city of Myanmar and there are not only majority Burmese but also many different ethnic people living in different townships. Sanchaung Township is the place where Kachin and Shan people live together. In this township, I met an ethnic activist who was preparing for the Ethnic Youth Conference. The conference was to promote harmonized societies and reconciliation among young generation for long-lasting peace. The activist formally invited Burmese people to participate in the conference. However, their responses were too vain.

“In our country, there are only Burmese states, and only Burmese people are living in this country. The others are barbarians living in mountainous areas.”

Religion has often been a tool for Burmanization. There are institutions called Dhamma School all over the country, and they are established by Buddhist organizations. Young students learn about Buddhism, and they are taught in anti-Christian and anti-Muslim ways in this school. Moreover, there are Buddhist schools run by government teaching about the Buddhist ideology of ‘Maha Burma’, which was brought in by Mon ethnic monks in the name of ‘Shin Arahan’ during Anawrahta’s reign in the 11th century. It is an imaginary belief that Buddha was Burmese, so people believe Buddhism is indigenous, and the others as inferior, foreign religions.

wi-blog-pic2Students in a government-run Buddhists school practice meditation and other Buddhist teachings.

Peace activists worry about young generation being taught in a seriously biased way. “We do not think religion is the cause of conflict, because true Buddhism is not about killing and dividing. It is the biased education system and Burmanizing efforts that have caused conflict in this country.” They indicate that tactfully crafted policies cause serious problems in peace process, which will ruin long lasting peace. Young students should respect each other in terms of culture, religion and identity so they can promote or maintain peace in future. There will be no difference in future if one still wants to destroy others, and the opposition wants to preserve. The activists, therefore, urge cessation of Burmanization towards young generation and the spread of Buddhist fundamentalism.

“If you omit cultural understanding, there cannot be any sort of progress in peace process” the former diplomat said. He added, “Ethnic people are living in Zomia Land. So we are the people who have preserved our culture, language, religion and our identity. Struggle for freedom and preservation has become our lifestyle. We do not know how strong the enemy is because we do not care how strong it is. We only know we have to fight to preserve ours until there is no threat to ours. Therefore, if government approaches ethnic groups with cling to the thought of ‘one ethnic, one religion, one command and one language, peace process is an impossible plan from the first outset.” The new civilian government must consider cultural aspects and they should not omit this component in peace process.

 

Problem 3: Still-alienated IDPs and an unpromising long-lasting peace

Another obstacle to peace process is the issue of IDPs who have lost their homes and families by conflict between the Myanmar Army and rebel forces. There are more than 600,000 IDPs in the country and most of them are teenagers. Among them, 80,000 IDPs are in Kachin and Shan State where there are frequent clashes.

“Children in IDP camps do not expect positive outcomes from peace process. They see Burmese as enemy and ‘mistrustful people’ and the one from whom they should protect their family.”

An activist in the Kachin Peace Network (KPN) pointed out that the IDPs have still been alienated and trauma healing has not yet been done for them. Many IDP children desire to become a soldier to protect their ethnic community and family. In practice, most of teenagers in the KIA have been conscripted while they were in IDP camps. The children who have suffered a trauma in deeply sad emotions decide to grab guns in their hands after all.

Sai Sam Kham claimed that young IDPs should not be politicized by any actors in peace process and their rights to education should be respected regardless of political situations. They have often been denied access to education. According to an activist in the KPN, many IDP children, who have successfully passed their 9th grade and achieved good marks in the University Entry Exam, have been rejected by the government. They have to retake the exam in Burmese schools and they generally cannot get into the top-level universities even if they obtain good marks.

It will seriously divide the levels of education between Burmese and non-Burmese. A KPN activist indicated, “Capacity building for young IDP students is a big issue. It is certainly a necessary condition for peace process because negotiation could not be fair when one actor is considered only poor and disadvantaged. Peace negotiators should have similar levels of capacity and development in order to have fair negotiation in peace process. The first step to this would be fair education system for young generation.”

 

Tasks for peace: Forgiving, Understanding and Future Generation

Peace cannot be achieved by one actor. In other words, the new civilian government cannot achieve it alone. The whole population should contribute to peace process. Then what do they have to do together?

Nelson Mandela said, “Courageous people do not fear forgiving for the sake of peace.”

I visited a refugee camp located near Yangon, and met young Kachin IDP students. They are aged from 10 to 14. I heard so many hopeless opinions in many interviews, but from these students, I could feel optimism for the future. They gave me impressive answers to my question: what kind of country they want for Myanmar to be.

“A country where there is no war and no hatred, a free and fair country, a country where powerless people can obtain power, a country where elderly people receive good healthcare, a country where streets are clean, a country that reconstruct broken bridges and houses by wars, a country where there is no division by ethnicity, a country where there is no political deceptions and a country where everyone has right to education.”

I asked them again why Myanmar is not such a country they desire yet and what they should do to make peaceful Myanmar. “Because people do not love each other, do not forgive, hate each other and they are selfish.” They added, “We should keep loving our people in Myanmar even when Burmese threat us or do something bad to us. We should become good people first, and we should treat them equally.”

These are the answers that I could not hear from adults. The students desire to be a pastor to console devastated people, a singer to sing a song of consolation, a teacher who teaches children who lost their families and a doctor who takes care of injured people from wars. I could only hope they become leading people in the country and promote peace in future.

This message is important also for ethnic groups. The former diplomat indicated, “Ethnic people tend to be too nationalistic and protective. They share social responsibilities to protect their people and culture from majority Burmese. They are narrow-minded. Their unconscious hatred towards Burmese people disturbs trust building between the Burmese government and ethnic communities.” It is not wrong that ethnic groups distrust Burmese as they have been suffered for a long period of time. However, the stereotype towards Burmese should be removed for peace process. Peace can be hardly achieved while possessing unconscious hatred.

Lastly, the civilian government should prepare a long-term plan for peace process. A scholar at Myanmar Institute of Peace and Security Studies (MIPSS) pointed out the importance of long-term plan. “In a democratic country that Myanmar is trying to become, new government emerges regularly. However, it is rarely possible to draw the plan of peace process in a 5-year timeline because we do not know how long it will take, and what kind of measures and systems we need at a certain period. If the whole peace process goes into hands of one government, we will have to see different approaches whenever we have new governments. We should have a consistent strategy of peace process until the final result comes out.”

Peace process is a long process that should include future generation. It is also important for the consolidation of democratic civilian government. Consideration for future generation means the preparation for post-Aung San Suu Kyi period. Thein Than Oo said, “Post-Aung San Suu Kyi period means the loss of powerful democratic leadership in this country, which military will welcome. This civilian government must have efforts on education for young students, lawyers, women, and people in ethnic communities.” Sai Sam Kham also added that the new leader who will replace Aung San Suu Kyi should be cultivated within a democratic bloc, and also capable of countering against extreme nationalism. The government and all actors involved in peace process should draw realistic and feasible long-term goals so that the current leadership does not follow populism.

I expect Myanmar would become the country for which the IDP students desire in future. For long-lasting peace, future generation should be taken into account when considering peace process.

Seeing Illegal Immigrants

Politics, Knowledge & Migration

We have now officially launched our new ESRC project on ‘Seeing Illegal Immigrants: State Monitoring and Political Rationality’.

The two-year long ESRC-funded project focuses on the ways states have ‘seen’ unauthorized migrants in France, Germany and the UK from the late 1960s to the present day.

We explore which forms of illegality states monitor, and which are left unscrutinised; and investigate the techniques states use to produce knowledge about illegal populations. In doing so, we aim to shed light on what we call the ‘logics of monitoring’ shaping the monitoring practices of different parts of the state. Do public authorities maximise surveillance and control of illegal residents, or do they prefer to cultivate a form of benign neglect or even ‘strategic ignorance’ of these groups?

Our website is up and running, and we have already posted 3 blogs. You can read about the project and the research team here.

If you would like further details about the project…

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How politically viable are proposals for an EU immigration ’emergency stop’?

Politics, Knowledge & Migration

Arguably the major stumbling block in Brexit negotiations concerns the relationship between membership of the Single Market, and the acceptance of EU provisions on the free movement of workers. A number of commentators have already analysed the options, and weighed up their feasibility. See for example the blog by Jonathan Portes on this, and a recent FT article. Here’s my take on the question. I pay particular attention to the question of political feasibility – both in terms of the EU’s potential to accept one of these deals, and its marketability to Leave voters concerned about immigration.

As one of the ‘four freedoms’, the movement of workers is generally viewed as a core condition of participation in the Single Market. A number of Member States and the Commission have recently restated their position that the commitment to free movement of workers is a non-negotiable part of Single Market access. This…

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Trump in Mexico

by Mark Aspinwall

Few things have united Mexicans in recent times quite as much as their loathing for the bombastic and grotesque candidate Donald Trump, nor their profound disbelief that their president, Enrique Peña Nieto, could be so foolish as to invite Mr Trump to Mexico.

Their hatred of Mr Trump is well-founded, but they are mistaken to think that by excluding him from participating in face-to-face talks with their president they have somehow defended Mexican interests, or pride.

They have criticized that there was an invitation in the first place, that Peña Nieto did not use the occasion to excoriate Trump, and that to invite the monster into the home was an act of treason, in the words of director Alejandro González Iñárritu.

All three criticisms are poorly conceived. Of course, Peña Nieto could have avoided inviting either candidate, but it’s not uncommon for foreign leaders to meet with US presidential candidates, as Gordon Brown did when UK Prime Minister in 2008. And consider this test – what reaction would Mexicans have given had it been Hillary who visited instead of Trump? Assuming the reaction would have been positive, it’s hard to sustain the argument that campaign invitations are inappropriate.

Did Peña Nieto miss an opportunity to lambast Trump in the joint press conference afterwards? Perhaps his words could have been stronger, but he did lecture Trump at length on the benefits to the relationship for both parties, and the need for cooperation where there are shared challenges. And every notch higher that the rhetoric goes now, so the chances of serious conflict in a Trump presidency later (and perhaps the stronger Trump’s support becomes back home).

The third rationale fails to separate schoolyard taunts from the need to deal with foreign leaders whose values and practices affect us (or may affect us). There is a difference between the person and the office. American diplomats know this, but most Mexicans, with little knowledge of or experience in the wider world, have yet to discover it. They can only discern the words.

There are leaders in the world whose records of human rights abuses and interference in their neighbors’ affairs are outrageous. Most of them do not taunt us openly. Does that make them acceptable? We can reject their actions – and should – at the same time that we work to change their regimes (and promote our own national interests). Statecraft requires action, and that leaders interact.

To put this more concretely, imagine a national leader somewhere in Central America whose treatment of indigenous groups violated human rights standards and potentially threatened regional stability – but who spoke kindly about Mexico. Would this person be welcome in Mexico because they said nice things?

Mexico is treading a fine line – it has deep interests at stake in the outcome of the US election, and it needs to make that clear, while at the same time not interfering in the electoral process. In the longer run there is an urgent need to promote Mexican interests and image in the US.

There are two Mexicos – the educated, cosmopolitan, and internationally-connected one, and the one which is traditional, hidebound, and parochial. One accepts that Mexico has responsibilities and opportunities in the world, and the other one still has its head in the sand. One takes seriously the need to promote and protect Mexican interests, and the other would shut its eyes and hope for the best.

Social Media: Enhancing teaching & building community?

 

by Gareth James

The 2016 Principal’s Teaching Award Scheme (PTAS) forum – Rethinking Learning and Teaching Together – took place this week, during which we enjoyed some inspiring keynotes, interesting presentations and stimulating discussion on developing our teaching practices and improving learning experiences at the University. You can read a live blog of the forum, written by Nicola Osborne (a.k.a. @suchprettyeyes), here.

The aim of our PTAS-funded project was to comparatively assess the effectiveness of Twitter and Facebook in engaging students in their course material, while also strengthening links between students and staff in the Politics and IR subject area. We compared the experiences of Facebook groups, as used by Luke March in the teaching of Russian Politics, and Twitter, as used by Sara Dorman and Gareth James in the teaching of African Politics. In the five undergraduate and postgraduate courses we covered, social media was used in addition to the provision of a Learn page for each.

Social Media is fast becoming a ‘normal’ part of student life, with some students anecdotally expressing a preference for Facebook over Learn forums. Universities and academics are also increasingly using social media to keep staff, colleagues and students informed on the latest research, news and events in their subject areas (Blair, 2013; Graham, 2014). The @EdinburghUni and @EdinburghPIR accounts on Twitter are prime examples of this. For lecturers and tutors, it is also easier to tweet a link – to course documents or other materials – than to set-up a hyperlink across multiple courses in Learn. Politics and IR also has a large student cohort and students have expressed a desire for more community and connectedness with ‘their’ subject area. Social media could therefore be important as a potential way of both building community and adding value to our academic offerings.

We particularly wanted to know whether and to what extent social media helps to mediate the relationship between students’ learning experiences and their desire for ‘more community’, and to what extent this complements or conflicts with the use of a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), like Learn. Does social media enable students to stay informed and participate in debates? Does it make them feel more included and valued? Does it complement VLEs or risk duplicating existing provision? Which medium is best for achieving our goals and are there any downsides to these approaches? To answer these questions, we collected data from 70 undergraduate and postgraduate students via a short questionnaire and three focus groups.

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Our data showed that 80% of those who responded said they were aware of our use of social media in the teaching of these courses. When asked how often they used the resource, 70% said they used it at least once and some 40% said they used it on a regular basis i.e. daily or weekly. When asked about the usefulness of each, almost 60% of those using Facebook said it was useful, compared to only one-third of Twitter users. In fact, Twitter users were 10 times more likely to respond with ‘not useful’. These findings echo those of other studies that show Facebook is more popular among students than Twitter (Graham, 2014). That said, almost 46% of our respondents found the course social media useful to some degree, but this was further qualified by students in both their questionnaire responses and during our focus groups.

The focus groups taught us that students do appreciate the potential for sharing resources and staying informed, although sometimes they fail to see the relevance to the course itself. ‘Twitter was useful for flagging up articles or news stories that I might not have heard of, because it’s not easily accessible [African Politics]. It’s not always in the news that often’, said one undergraduate student. Another said, ‘In terms of directly relating to the course, it [Facebook] wasn’t the most helpful thing in the world – it was kind of more like the icing than the cake’. It is clear that social media has huge potential for exposing students to multiple sources of information and different conceptions of knowledge, but some scholars have expressed concerns about the quality of information and students’ lack of critical analytical skills in deciphering the good from the bad (Whitworth, 2009; Thornton, 2010, 2012; in Blair,2013).

We also learned that students mostly appear to recognise the potential for debate, but they complain that it tends not to happen; and when it does, they find it intimidating if it is open to ‘real’ academics and/or professionals. One student told us, ‘As an undergraduate, I don’t feel qualified to comment [in online debates] because you might make a mistake, or you might not understand everything that’s going on’. To our surprise, there were many students who felt this way, using words like ‘intimidated’, ‘unqualified’, ‘unsure’, and ‘inadequate’ to describe themselves and/or their feelings about engaging in discussion online. Middleton recognises this when he writes, ‘To be the first to post on a discussion board can be an incredibly intimidating experience’ (2010, p. 7; in Blair, 2013). We thought that students might enjoy being ‘included’ in ‘real world’ debates, but instead it seems that they are wary of commenting too much in ‘public’, instead preferring ‘closed’ forums and discussion among their own classmates. This suggest that we might need to do more to ‘build community’ in order for ‘community building’ tools to really work.

In terms of the comparative effectiveness of each platform for enhancing teaching and building community, Facebook was by far the more popular. Facebook was seen as best for building community, although some found the social-academic distinction confusing. Twitter was considered best for sharing information, but was described as too ‘noisy’, indicating a real danger of information overload (Thornton, 2010; in Blair, 2013). Learn was seen as the most ‘academic’ and ‘safe’, but is perceived as too ‘clunky’ to navigate and for effective course discussion. Indeed, one student commented that “If Learn worked like Facebook, I’d use it”. Clearly each platform has its advantages and disadvantages, and there is a continuing problem of lack of integration between Facebook, Twitter and Learn.

Our findings therefore tell a mixed story, but overall the data suggest less enthusiasm for social media use in teaching than was anticipated. While there is no need to rush into using more social media in teaching, we still think that there are clear benefits for areas like African Politics, that are fast changing and not well-covered in the mainstream media. For lecturers we restate the benefits of time and effort-saving across platforms, but our idea that students might enjoy being more included in wider debates was clearly not carried through. However, it would be interesting to see if and how this might differ in other courses on issues like #indyref or #euref, or just Scottish/British politics more generally. Colleagues in Politics and IR are also considering using social media in a course on the US presidential elections in 2016/17, and it would be interesting to see if students are more engaged in these issues which are covered more frequently in the mainstream media.

Sources:

Blair, A. (2013). Democratising the Learning Process: The Use of Twitter in the Teaching of Politics and International Relations. Politics, Vol. 33(2), pp. 135-145.

Graham, M. (2014). Social Media as a Tool for Increased Student Participation and Engagement. Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice, Vol. 2(3), pp. 16-24.

Pro-Leave proposals on immigration risk creating wide scale irregular migration

Politics, Knowledge & Migration

One of the more curious features of the EU referendum campaign is how the Leave campaign has positioned itself on immigration. The attempt to mobilise support for Brexit by tapping – and revving up – fears about immigration has been widely discussed. But more intriguing are the various attempts by pro-Leavers to sketch out a post-Brexit immigration policy. And the ideas here have been surprisingly progressive; but, as I shall suggest, likely to yield a range of inadvertent effects. Let’s deal with each in turn.

1. First the Leave campaign launched a proposal for a post-Brexit ‘Australian-style’ points system. This was touted as an alternative to the currently ‘uncontrolled’ EU immigration. The idea is that a future UK government could choose exactly which (high-skilled, presumably) immigrants to admit. It was an odd suggestion, given that we already do have a points system in the UK: Tier 1 of the current system allows…

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