Author Archives: David

“The ‘Muslim Radicalisation of Central Asia’ Is a Dangerous Myth”, by John Heathershaw and David W. Montgomery

“The ‘Muslim Radicalisation of Central Asia’ Is a Dangerous Myth”, by John Heathershaw and David W. Montgomery. 2014. Open Democracy – oD Russia. December 29.

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This post is part of the CEDAR’s partnership with the UK’s Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), George Washington University, and the University of Exeter in organizing a two-part conference on “Islam, Secularism and Security in Central Asia and Beyond,” part of a British Council USA Bridging Voices dialogue.

CEDAR part of Bridging Voices Dialogue

CEDAR is proud to partner with the UK’s Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), George Washington University, and the University of Exeter in organizing a two-part conference on “Islam, Secularism and Security in Central Asia and Beyond,” as part of a British Council USA Bridging Voices dialogue. CEDAR Program Development Director David Montgomery is a principal investigator for the conference, which will take place in London in November 2014 and Washington, DC, in April 2015.

At a time when the world’s attention is focused on the impact of Islamic radicalization, this dialogue will consider the place of political Islam in Muslim-majority states that have undergone significant secularization. The conference will explore how thinking about religion and security raises the possibility that isolated pockets of radicalism and acts of violence are not simply outgrowths of the social environment and theological precepts of certain brands of Islam, but rather are relational: borne out of the confrontation between political Islamic groups and the assertive Islamic secularism they face from supposedly moderate governments and their international allies.

“It is exciting that CEDAR can bring its unique pedagogic perspective to such a prestigious gathering, and I hope that the discussions will particularly highlight our work on difference and advance our understanding of religion’s role in public life,” notes Montgomery.

The purpose of the dialogue is to begin a public debate about the implications of Islam and secularism for security relations in Central Asia and beyond. Provisionally, it will examine case studies from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan and Indonesia.

The conference will specifically address the following questions: How do governments in Muslim-majority secular states draw the line between ‘radical’ and ‘moderate’ Islam in both policy discourse and state practice? How do foreign states and international actors address the relationship between radical Islam and more secular iterations of Islam? How do civil society organizations negotiate the relations between political Islam and more privatized variants of Islam? How far is political Islam identified as a threat in popular discourse and practice? And how do the security responses of the state to perceived threats impact secularized Muslims?

The dialogues will be structured to optimize collaboration and discussion in both workshops and public sessions. Montgomery will co-lead the public event before an audience drawn from the policy and civil society communities of London and Washington. In London, this session will be used to launch Heathershaw and Montgomery’s Chatham House briefing paper (November 2014), “The Myth of Post-Soviet Muslim Radicalization in the Central Asian Republics.”

For more information about the conference contact montgomery@cedarnetwork.org.

Students Share the Burden of Education, by David W. Montgomery

The priorities of the university are changing and these changes put at risk one critical dimension of the university’s role in society as a place of reflective (self-) learning. Much has been written about the marketization of education and the trend toward running universities as businesses concerned with efficiencies and bottom lines,[1] pushed even further by recent proposals of the Obama administration to rank universities by the “value” they provide.[2] What it means for students to receive a “well-rounded” education is increasingly constrained by economic pressures and the politically biased devaluing of certain fields of learning. We see this in Florida Governor Rick Scott’s statement deriding the value of anthropology[3] and the University of Pittsburgh’s decision to cut programs in classics, German, and religious studies due to declining enrollment.[4] The shifting of resources toward STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) classes is representative of the changing university.

It can be persuasively argued that disciplines such as those listed above, and humanities and social sciences in general, are essential to teach students the intellectual rigor that will best enable them to meet the future’s unknown needs with flexibility.[5] But even in a consumer-driven society where service providers readily respond to customer demands, students must see themselves as sharing the burden of schooling if they are to receive anything resembling a well-rounded education.

The imperative for students to view themselves as actors in their own education can be seen in a recent petition by the University of Pittsburgh’s Muslim Student Association (MSA). The petition protests the cancelling of four classes on Islam for the fall 2014 academic term.[6] One of the classes mentioned, Anthropology of Islam, is a class that I have taught at the university for the last five years, the last four of which have been in the spring term. Regardless of whether the course is taught again, there is some validity to the ideals of the MSA’s petition. The University of Pittsburgh is a major research university that is decidedly weak in the area of Islam. While I fully believe resources should be directed to increase opportunities for learning about Islam, the way in which the university “values” its resources is influenced by the students themselves.

The MSA petition emphasizes the importance for students of the opportunity to learn about Islam, the religion of 1.6 billion people in the world. Yet in the last five years I have regularly taught Anthropology of Islam, which has had an enrollment cap of 40 to 50 students, at half capacity. Very few Muslims have taken the course—in some years one or two, in some years none—and there has never been noticeable participation by students from the MSA. Regardless of the priorities of the university, basic economic theory suggests that a real demand by students for classes on Islam would make the provost and others more inclined to increase funding for such classes.

When I taught introductory courses on religion in the past, it was the case that students invariably performed worse on the exams that covered the religious tradition with which they identified. This makes sense, for having grown up in a particular tradition, one generalizes the familiarity with that religion without appreciating the diversity, historical controversy, and more doctrinal explanations of its rituals and beliefs. We think we know about our own beliefs and want others to learn about them so that they understand us better. The problem is that the corollary assumption does not hold: having others learn about our religious tradition does not in any way guarantee that we know about ourselves.

I support the MSA’s call for people to learn about Islam. But I wish to push them further: classes on Islam should also be filled with Muslim and non-Muslim students seeking to understand the diverse ways in which different religions provide frameworks for morally engaging with the world, ways intended to overcome the banality of misunderstanding. A rounded education is one that not only teaches the skills of a bureaucrat but also imparts a way of thinking that facilitates the ability to make morally engaged judgments. Though they are not taught with this end exclusively in mind, the humanities and social sciences should be seen as applied disciplines that prepare not only for work but also for life.

Students should learn about others’ traditions as well as their own, for what they will discover is that the assumptions and beliefs they hold will be challenged. And it is in preparation for such challenges that the university should engage its students. As concerned as we may be about our place in the world, we must also realize that the responsibility of education is not simply for others to learn about us, or even for us to learn about others, but also for us to learn about ourselves. Understanding is, after all, appreciating the difference of the other and recognizing the prejudices that keep us from seeing those differences as something—even when uncomfortable—to be tolerated.

David W. Montgomery (ISSRPL 2003) is CEDAR Director of Program Development and Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh.


References

[1] See Kendzior, Sarah. 2014. “College Is a Promise the Economy Does Not Keep.” Al-Jazeera, May 14.Available at http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/05/college-promise-economy-does-no-201451411124734124.html, last accessed July 24, 2014.

[2] See Shear, Michael D. 2014. “Colleges Rattled as Obama Seeks Rating System.” New York Times, May 25, A1.

[3] Anderson, Zac. 2011. “Rick Scott Wants to Shift University Funding Away from Some Degrees.” Herald-Tribune. October 10. Available at http://politics.heraldtribune.com/2011/10/10/rick-scott-wants-to-shift-university-funding-away-from-some-majors/, last accessed July 24, 2014. For a response to Gov. Scott, see Gomberg-Muñoz, Ruth. 2013. “2012 Public Anthropology Year in Review: Actually, Rick, Florida Could Use a Few More Anthropologists.” American Anthropologist 115 (2):286-296.

[4] The memorandum announcing these cuts is available at http://www.provost.pitt.edu/announcements/01-30-2014.html, last accessed July 24, 2014.

[5] Roth, Michael S. 2014. Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters. New Haven: Yale University Press.

[6] Petition available at http://www.change.org/petitions/dr-patricia-beeson-offer-courses-about-islamic-thought-and-history, last accessed July 24, 2014.

“Forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors”: The Unfinished Business of the Lord’s Resistance Army, by David-Ngendo Tshimba

It was recently reported in one of Uganda’s daily newspapers (Daily Monitor) that the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel leader, Joseph Kony, had written to Ugandans seeking forgiveness and a resumption of peace talks to end the insurgency. Kony’s letter, dispatched by Mission Okello, reads in part: “I want to assure the people of Uganda that, we [LRA] are committed to a sustainable peaceful political settlement of our long war with the government of (President) Museveni…. We are willing and ready to forgive and seek forgiveness, and continue to seek peaceful means to end this war which has cut across a swathe of Africa for the people of the Great Lakes and the Nile-Congo Basin to find peace.”[1] Allegedly, Kony further noted that he did not go to war as an aggressor but in self-defense. In response to this letter allegedly authored by Kony, Government of Uganda (GoU) Media Centre chief Ofwono Opondo dismissed Kony’s plea for fresh talks, saying he wasted the opportunity to hold peace talks. Instead, Opondo advised Kony to surrender to government armed forces or apply for amnesty and denounce rebellion before time runs out.

Futile peace talks

The Juba peace talks between the GoU and the LRA, which began on July 14, 2006 and were mediated by the then recently instituted quasi-autonomous government of Southern Sudan (GoSS), were initially presaged as the best hope to end this armed conflict since it began. In particular, these talks were considered crucial to both the GoSS and the LRA (whose commanders feared International Criminal Court (ICC) warrants issued against them in October 2005 and saw these peace talks as a possible way to evade arrest. However, Ronald Atkinson argued that even though the ICC warrants surfaced as an issue for the LRA during the Juba peace talks, there is little evidence that they were a major factor in the LRA’s decision to enter talks, for it had increasingly become part of accepted wisdom from a range of people inside and outside Uganda to secure LRA cooperation in order to end the war, at the expense of ICC prosecution. Hence, both the GoSS and the LRA were unwavering in their commitment to the peace process in the face of often expressed skepticism by the GoU and the international community; shockingly, “hopes were reinforced when the talks produced relatively quickly a Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) Agreement on August 26, 2006”— the first ever formal bilateral accord signed by representatives of both the LRA and the GoU.[2]

Furthermore, on  June 29, 2007, the two sides signed what Atkinson termed “the even more wide-ranging” agenda on accountability and reconciliation in a bid to identify and/or establish a combination of local and national justice mechanisms designed to promote reconciliation and address issues of accountability for wrongs committed by both LRA fighters and the Ugandan Peoples’ Defence Forces (UPDF), “with hints that this combination of mechanisms might satisfy the ICC”.[3] Nonetheless, following frequent hiatuses resulting from divisions between the two sides over mediation procedures and more especially from instigated dissensions within the LRA delegation and fighters, LRA leader Kony—who was scheduled on April 10, 2008 to add his signature to the Final Peace Agreement (FPA), with President Museveni to sign four days later—did not sign, ostensibly because he wanted further clarification about the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) of LRA fighters and the mix of “traditional” and “formal” legal proceedings that he and his fighters faced, including the role of the ICC.  Given the unresolved dispute over issues of restorative and retributive justice, coupled with the deep-seated commitment of one party to the conflict (GoU together with its regional and international supporters) to end this conflict militarily, the Juba peace process—which had yet produced landmarked agreements—was relegated to futility.

Learning from the Juba peace talks

Impediments to peace differ in different contexts, but it is no exaggeration to state that peaceful communities have many things in common. By and large, avoiding the dangers of othering would be one of the most promising ways to secure durable peace in the aftermath of violent conflict. The rationale for avoidance of othering—searching for characterization in terms of some “us” as opposed to some “other”—is that othering tends to bestow social acceptability on a call for retribution or punishment to members of the “out-group” (considered offenders) as opposed to those of the “in-group” (considered victims) following a convoluted manifestation of violence. In fact, throughout this two-decade armed conflict, hegemonic discursive structures by one party to the conflict (GoU) have either caused compliance or inhibited disagreement with perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors that eventually rendered and continue to render military offensives against the other party to the conflict (LRA) a legitimate form of action in the search for peace.

Perhaps Oresteia—the celebrated classical trilogy of plays by ancient Greek writer Aeschylus in which the author narrates three tales that focus on the events following the Trojan War—subtly reiterates the need to reconsider the notion of lex talionis  (an eye for an eye) in the quest for righting past wrongs. Movingly, Suren Pillay recapitulated Aeschylus’ lesson in the following words:

The first story commences with the Greek King Agamemnon’s victorious return from the battle for Troy along with his prize, the Princess Cassandra, and the unfortunate chain of events that this sets off. It is a compelling tale that sets out in staged dramatic form the generational intrigues that destroy the House of Atreus. In this famous story successive acts of injustice beget new acts of injustice and unleash a cycle of turmoil unforeseen by the central protagonists when they began their original quest for justice. The central lesson for Aeschylus is that the manner in which we right wrongs may impact on the future in ways that we might not have intended or desired.[4]

Against all odds so far registered in bringing this protracted armed conflict to a definitive end, dialogue in lieu of further confrontation ought to be reconsidered as a key option to address the deep-seated forces that continue to fuel this armed conflict beyond the confines of Uganda. Agreeing to dialogue with diverse histories and circumstances, memories and experiences, views and beliefs, could widen the horizons of those who have been a party to the conflict—whether involved directly (LRA and GoU) or indirectly (South Sudan, Sudan, Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo)—beyond protractedness.  Even more insightfully, Paulo Freire’s notion of dialogical relations underpinned this possibility:

Dialogue is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world…dialogue is thus an existential necessity. And since dialogue is the encounter in which the united reflection and action of the daloguers are addressed to the world which is to be transformed and humanized, this dialogue cannot be reduced to the act of one person’s ‘depositing’ ideas in another, nor can it become a simple exchange of ideas to be ‘consumed’ by the discussants…Because dialogue is an encounter among women and men who name the world, it must not be a situation where some name on behalf of others.[5]

Pillay finally underscored that if justice and reconciliation are in tension, then the balance between the two is best judged according to the criteria of what most effectively creates lasting peace and stability in a divided political community.[6] By and large, the demands of justice in today’s LRA-affected region go far beyond what any retributive endeavor—whether under the auspices of the ICC or otherwise—can deliver. Assuredly, the less conspicuous but more pertinent concern for the majority of vulnerable members from the LRA-affected region consists of a fuller restoration of their psychosocial as well as economic tissues torn apart by this armed conflict. Away from the need for a military victory and/or internationalized criminal prosecution against the LRA (now operating as armed rebels beyond Uganda), a context-specific restorative justice has huge potential for building lasting peace by addressing both the material discrepancies and psychological legacies of conflict. The main objective of such pursuit of justice should consist of creating a fresh political community from a fractured historical experience. Only then can a more nuanced understanding, as well as a much more appropriate application of justice with peace, be achieved. Does such nuanced understanding of justice not begin with the imploration of “forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors”?

David-Ngendo Tshimba (ISSRPL 2009, 2012, EPA 2012) is Assistant Lecturer at Uganda Martyrs University and a Research Fellow with International Alert.


References

[1] Waseka, A., “Kony asks for mercy, blames Museveni for S. Sudan woes” Daily Monitor, 27 January 2014. Available online at http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/Kony-asks-for-mercy–blames-Museveni-for-S–Sudan-woes/-/688334/2161498/-/8ivihg/-/index.html (viewed on 27 February 2014).

[2] Atkinson, R. R. “From Uganda to the Congo and Beyond: Pursuing the Lord’s Resistance Army” International Peace Institute (IPI) Publications, December 2009. New York: IPI, 11. Available online at www.ipinst.org, accessed April 25, 2014.

[3] Atkinson 2009, p.12.

[4] Pillay, S. “Conclusion” in C. Sriram & S. Pillay (eds.) (2010) Peace vs Justice? The Dilemma of Transitional Justice in Africa. Durban: University of Kwa-Zulu Natal Press, p.348.

[5] Freire, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. [Translated by Myra Bergman Ramos] London: Penguin Books, pp. 69-70.

[6] Pillay (2010).