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Hometown: Xenia, OH
Member since: Tue Sep 19, 2006, 03:46 PM
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Juan Cole: Top Ten Myths about the Arab Spring of 2011


1. The upheavals of 2011 were provoked by the Bush administration’s overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. None of the young people who made this year’s revolutions ever pointed to Iraq as an inspiration. The only time Iraq was even brought up in their tweets was as a negative example (“let’s not let ourselves be divided by sectarianism, since that is what the Americans did in Iraq.”)

3. Muslim radicalism benefited from the revolutions in the Arab world. So far, at least, the beneficiaries of the upheavals have been both secular, left-leaning dissidents and Muslim religious parties. Neither is violent.

7. The Arab Spring is a Western plot. This allegation was made by the Qaddafis in Libya and is currently asserted by many in Syria’s Baath Party. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is quite clear that the upheavals in the Arab world came as a surprise to the G8 nations, and were mostly at least initially unwelcome.

9. The Arab dictatorships now overthrown or tottering were better for women than their likely Islamist successors. The postcolonial Arab states often pursued what my friend Deniz Kandiyoti of the School of Oriental and African Studies has called “state feminist” projects of female uplift. ... That is, “state feminism” often backfired because it was felt as intrusive and heavy-handed. Women’s progress was tainted, moreover, by association with hated dictatorships.

"Germany ... an economic model with more bottom-up worker control than that of any other country..."


In his latest book, "Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life" (The New Press, 336 pages, $25.95) Geoghegan asks his readers if they really believe the propaganda that the U.S. is the greatest place to live on earth, balancing job security, health care, life expectancy and time off for good behavior to have some fun.

His conclusion, based on five trips where he tries to understand so-called European socialism firsthand, is that we're not the best place for middle-class people. First he tries France (which has become a rhetorical stand-in for the continent as a whole in many Americans' minds), but he eventually ventures into Germany to see what some call the "boring" Europe. He says the French model is flawed because workers don't have the advantages of Germans, with a say in the company's future, and are constantly striking. Germans, with their powerful unions, rarely go on strikes because they have a real voice in their employment.

In Germany, Geoghegan finds the true "other"—an economic model with more bottom-up worker control than that of any other country in the world
— and argues that, while we have to take Germany’s problems seriously, we also have to look seriously at how much it has achieved. Social democracy may let us live nicer lives; it also may be the only way to be globally competitive. His anecdotal book helps us understand why the European model, contrary to popular neoliberal wisdom, may thrive well into the twenty-first century without compromising its citizens' ease of living — and be the best example for the United States to follow.

OK, some facts about Germany, the largest economy by far in the European Union and the fourth largest in the world, measured by gross domestic product per person (GDP), with a thriving export-oriented manufacturing sector -- like the kind we used to have when we manufactured goods that were desired around the world.

Germany, with 83 million people and few natural resources, is the world's second largest exporter, with $1.170 trillion exported in 2009. You know who is the largest exporter and it ain't us. Hint: It begins with C and ends in A. and has more than 1.3 billion residents. Germany's service sector contributes about 70 percent of the total GDP of Germany, with industry another 29.1 percent and agriculture less than 1 percent. Most of the country's exports are in engineering, automobiles, machinery, metals and chemicals. Germany is the world's leading producer of wind turbines and solar power technology.

Geoghegan tells us that the average number of paid vacation days in the U.S. is 13, compared with Germany’s 35. New mothers in the U.S. get three months of unpaid job-protected leave and only if they work for a company of 50 or more employees, while Germany mandates four months’ paid leave and will pay parents 67% of their salary to stay home for up to 14 months to care for a newborn. U.S. life expectancy is 50th in the world, compared to Germany’s 32nd.

What kind of nationalism makes people happy?

The term nationalism can encompass many strands of ideology; from believing your country is superior to all other countries, to 'civic' nationalism, to protecting a state from another state's imposed power.

'Ethnic' nationalism, often expressed in racial or religious terms, sees ancestry as the key social boundary defining the collective national 'us'. 'Civic' nationalism on the other hand is more about creating an inclusive society, requiring only respect for a country's institutions and laws for belonging. Whilst ethnic nationalism often employs a closed and antagonistic approach to minorities or immigrants, civic nationalism, in principle anyway, is more open to building bridges between different communities and opening up borders to immigrants.

Like the previous studies they found that people who exhibited more national pride had greater well-being. But Reeskens and Wright's findings also show that it was the civic nationalists who were on the whole happier, with even the proudest ethnic nationalists' well-being barely surpassing that of people with the lowest level of civic pride.

By looking at how people define their pride we can make predictions as to how they might react as situations change.

With extreme nationalist parties once again on the rise in Europe, studies like these are essential for getting to grips with complex political ideologies and for defining exactly what kind of nationalism is a desirable one. Wright believes that the findings give clues to what popular responses we might expect to trends such as millions of people crossing borders from poorer to wealthier countries looking for work or seeking refuge from war or political repression. 'It's unclear what the political implications of the happiness measure are - though unhappy citizens could demand many politically dangerous, xenophobic responses. Ethnic nationalists, proud or not, appear relatively less happy to begin with and more likely to lead the charge as their nation diversifies around them.'

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