The Contradictions and Contentions of InternationalismSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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Globalization makes it simple. By invoking the term, one can immediately define the university‘s international mission around the consequence of technological transformations in information and transportation, neoliberal visions of the world economy and increasing multilateralism in the governance of world affairs from human rights to international trade. Terrorism is an interruption unfortunately made more common by globalization‘s own tools.
Anti-globalization also makes it simple. By mobilizing against the term, one can define globalization as a means by which the ruling class increases its power through its multinational corporations, their supporting states and particular forms of transnational governance. Rather than organize vanguard parties for a universal proletariat, anti-globalization coalitions can identify globalization‘s effects on public health and environment with growing inequalities both within and across societies to define a new stage of imperialism. Most in these coalitions will condemn the violence of terrorism, but will also interpret it as a consequence of the system itself; some wretched of the earth have now risen up, if with an unanticipated ideology and means, to challenge the hegemony of the core.
These visions differ dramatically on normative grounds, but they both depend on understanding globalization as a coherent system. I am not confident, however, that assuming globalization‘s essence prepares us well for the political choices that move the world in these times. It may be more appropriate to illuminate those contradictions that animate contentions so that publics can be better informed, and more capable of recognizing alternative futures Indeed, one might consider a number of projects underway at the University of Michigan, some of which are elaborated in this issue of the Journal, to appreciate the value of recognizing contradictions.
THE CONTRADICTIONS OF DEVELOPMENT, DEMOCRACY AND WAR
For some time, many US universities defined their internationalism in terms of development. Partnerships with the Agency for International Development have driven many programs, especially in those universities with substantial programs in agriculture. Whether in developing new strategies for increasing crop yields or bringing more and better education to the disenfranchised, universities put themselves to the service of “nation building .”
Both Bradley Farnsworth and Linda Lim suggest the challenges of this work. Lim is right to point out that the research analyzing and strategy confronting corruption are far from adequate, in part because of the ways in which corruption is so deeply implicated into the economies and power relations both of particular sites and of global relations. Rather than overlook corruption‘s embeddedness, universities should invest their own resources in researching and rethinking this problem. Unfortunately for the world, this is not any discipline's principal expertise and therefore unlikely to get the sustained academic attention it deserves.
Given the depth of the problem, it's also critical to step around corruption and develop new partnerships and possibilities to address public goods directly. The partnership Farnsworth describes is one of the most compelling examples of how to create a new kind of education appropriate to the world‘s challenges. It connects various U-M units in collaboration with a private donor, NGOs and locally owned businesses in Bangladesh to train undergraduate and graduate students. Some of the best scholarship can be applied to address real problems in the world, but it often requires more of a focus on problems than on the extensions of academic discipline to maintain that public engagement. At the same time, without the rigors of peer review and the patience of scholarly schedules, applied work can miss the academic point about knowledge production.
In this nexus, universities should work to create those hothouses of scholarly innovation and applied work where collaboration across disciplines might be applied to global issues, and where students might find inspiration to devote their lives to putting scholarship in service of new publics. The contradictions of development won't disappear, and we are unlikely to transcend those tensions between scholarship and its implication beyond the academy. But we might also find greater intellectual innovation and public consequence by living with those contradictions. Indeed, the contradictions of development look almost simple in comparison to those associated with democracy and war.
More than one colleague from abroad reminded me that we should have had foreign observers oversee the Florida presidential elections in 2000, a point I introduce to say that we need not look too far from home to find problems of democracy. However, the challenges of post-revolutionary Algerian democracy and of recent elections in Turkey suggest that we should not overlook the contradictions that make problematic the reproduction of international alliances and democratic transformations. William Zartman suggests that Algeria faces a profound identity crisis, one that is not unique in the region or among developing societies elsewhere. With open debate about the contradictoriness of this necessarily inadequate but commonly invoked opposition between modernity and tradition, Zartman finds reason for optimism. As Murat Tezcur points out, one might also find optimism in the outcomes of Turkey's recent elections, especially notable in the efforts by its new leadership to assure Islam‘s compatibility with accession to the European Union. War, however, is less assuring. Without Turkish support, a war in Iraq will be difficult for the United States and its allies to support. At least in the short run, therefore, the Turkish military winds up being far more important to American foreign policy than the Turkish public. But how long can that public be kept at a distance? And how long can oil be kept out of the conversation?
As the contributors to our recent symposium on the costs of war and the risks of peace around Iraq point out, oil is central to the concerns of American foreign policy in pushing for war in Iraq. This does not mean that there are no weapons of mass destruction or violations of international law or of human rights in Iraq. Few seem to dispute it, but what is rarely put on the table – is it because it seems unseemly? – is that oil mixes with these violations to make the region combustible.
Central Asia is obviously implicated in this crisis, not only as another staging ground for war but also as a relatively untapped source for oil. War will reshape the alliances of the region in fundamental ways, as it creates new conditions for the production and shipment of oil. Globalization‘s proponents have argued that implication in the world economy creates more opportunities for democratization and human rights. That, however, might be less an artifact of oil shipments than of those other globalizing currents committed to extending democracy and human rights. It's not so clear, however, who is carrying those commitments.
THE CONTRADICTIONS OF WORLD CULTURE
Even if oil is at the root of the struggle over Iraq's future, the war will have profound implications for the development of world culture. The 1991 Gulf War was already motivated by the quest to control oil, but its implications extended far beyond who controlled the price of a barrel.
The development of international legal culture in the wake of that war and Saddam Hussein‘s refusal to follow UN guidelines offer powerfully contradictory implications. Many argue that the United States requires UN Security Council support to invade Iraq in order to remain within international law, but given the commonness of violations of UN Security Council declarations, it's hard to assume that the United Nations has realized that legal foundation in practice. For diplomatic reasons, the US is now working more closely with the UN than many had anticipated, but this surprising development itself reflects the uncertainty of international law in these times, and the contradictoriness of UN authority in its definition.
One might define these contradictions simply as unintended consequences of various national policies, most especially of the US. After funding the Islamic resistance in Afghanistan, and after defeating the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the United States found itself confronting a well armed, strategically savvy and ideologically mobilized resistance created in the wake of the growing political hegemony of the US allies in the Middle East. Now, however, this contest is no longer organized on the terms in which the US might define its leadership. It‘s not just about democracy or development.
The meaning of Islam is now at the heart of the global war against terrorism. President Bush mobilizes all rhetorical resources and considerably more to argue that this is not a battle against any religion, while Osama bin Laden and his allies, and Saddam Hussein and his allies, make new common cause in defining this as a conflict between Islam and the West. The United States marshals the magic of Madison Avenue to publicize America's appreciation for Islam, while others emphasize US policies in the Middle East that work against the Arab world and Islam.
At the heart of this contest is the conflict within Israel and Palestine. Extending now to the US university itself in the debates over university divestment from companies doing business in Israel, debates over anti-Semitism now appear at fever pitch. Is it simply a matter of ending Israeli occupation or is this a debate about terrorism? Is this a question about defending democracy, or is it about how the politics of democratic contest make peace a losing electoral strategy? Is it a political question, or is it about fundamental moralities? It‘s tempting to define this as a simple matter, while universities are themselves inclined to make everything subtle and complex. By bringing the challenges of Palestinian state building and Israeli public opinion to the heart of academic discussion are we preparing a public better prepared for a politics that itself debates the transparency of the problem?
I don ‘t know the answer to these questions, but they must be addressed and we are doing our best to do it. The American authorities‘ and public‘s focus on the Muslim world should not be the only object of our concern for internationalism‘s contradictions, however. Indeed, we should take our lessons from the last period in which national security dominated international affairs. The US focus on Russia during the Cold War prepared authorities poorly for the polycentric world that followed. Internationalism defined by the most recent geopolitical conflict is not only bad for American foreign policy in the long term, but it's also devastating for the university. The articles reporting on conferences regarding memory in Africa and Argentina or the exhibitions on Asia in the Museum of Art show just how much we miss by overlooking those marginalized by war talk.
I can articulate these concerns most clearly by speaking from within my own world region of expertise. Focused in the 1980s on the conflicts and contradictions surrounding communist rule, I only recognized in the early 1990s the cultural brilliance associated with St. Petersburg. In anticipation of the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg's founding, we all can find a new place in this city whose character too many Americans once viewed only in the shadows of the Cold War. After attending the opening of this US-wide anniversary celebration in New York City, I look forward to our own university's focus on the Mariinsky Theater and the collections of the Hermitage Museum and the ways in which these and other treasures of one particular place help to signal a different kind of world culture. Instead of considering how oil, religion, violence and democracy articulate, one might consider instead how the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue, the legacy of the choreographer George Balanchine and the artistic tastes of the Romanov dynasty resonate.
THE CONTRADICTIONS OF UNIVERSITY WORK
Of course this resonance is itself not without contradiction. Hermitage Director Mikhail Piotrovsky recognized the appropriateness of the St. Petersburg celebration‘s start at an artistically ambitious Saks Fifth Avenue, given the growing prevalence of commercially inflected survival strategies for world class museums. This New York celebration also led me to appreciate even more the historical significance of President Bush‘s subsequent meeting with President Putin in St. Petersburg. Tensions once animated by the prospect of the Baltic countries‘ admission to NATO appeared to disappear in the presidents‘ common cause to end terrorism emanating from the Islamic world. As Russia looked West under the Romanovs to resolve (while magnifying) some of their own contradictions of identity, Russia was also extending its imperial claims in conquest of the adjoining Muslim world.
To reduce this global culture to its political economic contradictions is, however, to miss my point about embracing contradictions. Within these nodes of cultural creativity, new identities can be found and new visions realized. Balanchine ‘s significance in extending the artistic accomplishment and diversity of American dance exemplifies that creativity that can inspire. Salman Rushdie ‘s gifts as a writer, translated to the stage, help us appreciate the horrors of the Indian subcontinent‘s partition, and the enduring responsibilities of all religions and publics to recognize their culpability before violence. As we ourselves work with artists from abroad in the analysis of their audiences and their conditions of cultural production and innovation, we also work to extend our own performative possibilities and to try new identities. We might even find the innovations we seek not in the hollows of our existing niches, but in the middle of those dissonances that strain our ears and complicate our common sense about the systems we build or seek to transform.
By helping to produce a public better attuned to the contradictions of our world, we all might be better prepared to transcend those problems destined for delivery by those for whom the suspension of doubt is a way of life. At least by attending to those contradictions, the unities we construct could be grounded in a greater humility before the awesomeness of what we do not know and of what we still might learn.
For some of the talks and other publications associated with this initiative, see http://www.umich.edu/%7Eiinet/iisite/events/religion_security_violence.html
For guidance to those initiatives across the United States, visit the CEC International Partners website – www.cecip.org.
Information on these programs celebrating St. Petersburg will be found at www.umich.edu/stpetersburg/.
Identities on trial is a major new initiative of the Center for World Performance Studies. For an update on their work, see http://www.umich.edu/~iinet/cwps/