Responsibility in Crisis: Knowledge Politics and Global Publics

Unfinished Nations

36-Patterson: Central to much of the literature and thinking on nation-building are issues of citizenship. With the knowledge that most of the terrorists involved in the September 11 attacks entered the U.S. under legitimate circumstances, a new concern with citizenship and assimilation has emerged along with the increased surveillance and regulation in place at our international borders and airports. In addition to the increasingly difficult process of securing entry into the U.S. for non-citizens in general, and citizens of the so-called "rogue states" in particular, this new belligerence has manifested itself in the relations between the U.S. government and many Arab communities in the United States.

There is now a sense that along with unfinished nations, unfinished citizens (or false ones, for that matter) threaten the nation. Much attention has been paid to the fact that it was not merely a group of al Qaeda members who made the terrorist attacks possible but also a broader network of funders and supporters, some of whom are based in the United States.

In his recent article on otherness and identity in Arab Detroit, Andrew Shryock offers an interesting counterpoint to this discussion of unfinished nations by using a more localized unit of analysis, namely Arab citizens residing in the United States. In many ways, the events of September 11 and the national response to them served to "undo" the citizenship of the members of these communities, for some in a quite literal way and for others more figuratively. [35] The imagined or idealized endpoint of the finishing process for immigrants to the United States is often conceived of and marked in terms of "assimilation." Not all of the markers of this finishing/assimilation process are achievable through action. They include the language one speaks, place (country) of birth, dress, religion, and what may be described as one's politics, views, or ideology.

As Shryock writes, "On September 11, 2001, Arab Detroit entered its own state of emergency. Its image as 'an immigrant success story,' as 'the capital of Arab America,' changed within hours of the attacks; suddenly, it wasPage  90 a scene of threat, divided loyalties, and potential backlash" Literally overnight, "a resurgent imagery of Otherness and marginalization, increasingly Muslim in focus, is now the backdrop against which Arabs in Detroit are struggling to (re)define themselves as 'good citizens.'" [36] The markers of assimilation were sought and read with a new suspicion, not only by government agents, but by accepted American publics whose citizenship or loyalty to the United States was not questioned.

37-Gebert: The use of the English term "nation," which can designate both "ethnic group" and "State," is the source of much confusion in the writings on historical and political events. Its current usage is embedded in the political development of the United States, where a nation of immigrants built a non-ethnic state. This confusion is currently seen in the debate on "failed nations," in which often the correct diagnosis of some states (e.g. Somalia, Afghanistan, at a point Albania, etc.) to function as such, is followed by the ambiguous postulate of "nation-building" as a remedy. This implies not only the reconstruction—or construction—of a functioning state, but also the development of a "nation," made of one or several ethnic groups, of which that state would be the institutional expression.

This latter postulate, however, is one that most probably can never be implemented. The experience of colonialism shows that such "nation-building" (admittedly, never a primary objective of the colonialist enterprise) not only fails to meet its mark, but often is in fact counterproductive. Later non-colonialist ventures, such as trusteeship (say, Britain in Palestine) or, more recently, international community administration (e.g. Bosnia) seem to validate that conclusion, though in this last case it is arguable that it is yet too early to tell. What does seem to be possible is the reconstruction of states, through the reimposition of a state's primary attribute: the monopoly of legitimate violence. This has in fact been seen in Bosnia and Timor, and might prove true also in Kosovo. The objective here would not be the construction of democracy (though in Bosnia this goal seems well within reach), but the elimination of plural agents of violence, by enforcing a uniform system of obligations, safety and compliance. In other words, it is preferable for inhabitants to live under a predictable system of rewards and punishments rather than under one in which these dramatically vary from place to place and over time.

Needless to say, such a system almost certainly can be neither just norPage  91 fair, nor will it be permanent. Its main objective is to ensure that most people can be reasonably sure to be safe from arbitrary detention, violence or death if they abide by a relatively clear system of rules, uniform for all. By the same token, a monopoly of violence in the interest of one (usually ethnic) group alone would fail to meet the test. Once the power of warlords is abolished, a modicum of safety established, democratic development may, though by no means must, follow.

In particular, it does not seem to be useful to export the American model of "nationless nation" to countries where the state has failed, the civic bond is weak or nonexistent, and ethnic or tribal bonds are dominant. Such an attempt is usually doomed to failure, and thus may in fact compromise the very ideals on which it is based. This is not to endorse of the spurious concept of non-universality of human rights, but to admit that human rights implementation is a process, not a one-time act. Furthermore, it is feasible only in places where people can be reasonably sure their lives are not routinely under threat, and where basic solidarity exists between all or most of the inhabitants. Failed states meet neither of these criteria; rebuilding "nations" (as opposed to "states") does not help either. For the process to begin, a state needs to be able to function again. International intervention cannot be expected to achieve much more, at least in the short run.

38-Patterson: Several critics have suggested that the contemporary United States may be best understood as an empire among nations, increasingly exerting its disproportionate power through the use of force to consolidate, extend, and maintain its influence over the rest of the world. [37] United States involvement in shaping and determining the outcome of nations is very selective, however. The nation building process is now seen as one that not only leads to secularism and democracy (including cases in which the United States puts a leader in power), but the establishment of favorable trade relations and economic ties to the United States.

In his article "The Arrogant Empire," Fareed Zakaria examines the character and consequences of the United States' unique position in the world. [38] Prior to the outbreak of war in Iraq, he noted that "in its campaign against Iraq, America is virtually alone. Never will it have waged a war in such isolation. Never have so many of its allies been so firmly opposed to its policies. Never has it provoked so much public opposition, resentment and mistrust.Page  92 And all this before the first shot has been fired." He argues that the war has much larger ramifications for the United States than regional concerns: "The debate is not about Saddam anymore. It is about America and its role in the new world. To understand the present crisis, we must first grasp how the rest of the world now perceives American power." The unilateralism that now defines U.S. foreign policy has undoubtedly impacted the way that Americans are perceived and treated. But it has also had and will continue to have devastating consequences for many Afghanis, Iraqis, and Americans. Responding "on a scale that was almost unimaginable" to the September 11 attacks, the United States demanded international compliance. As Zakaria observed, "Suddenly terrorism was the world's chief priority, and every country had to reorient its foreign policy accordingly." Arguably, however, the world is now less secure and less amenable to rule by law than before the tragic events of September 11.