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Cultural Imperialism in Said’s Critical Thought: a Remembrance

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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Text too are worldly in as much as they have a way of existing that even in the most rarefied form are always enmeshed in circumstances, time, place, and society” -Edward Said in The World, the Text and the Critic

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] E [/yt_dropcap] dward Said, even 13 years after his untimely death, remains today a powerful, well-reasoned voice of the voiceless, as well as a courageous critic of cultural imperialism. His mind was like that of Leonardo: where others saw an abyss between East and West, he saw a bridge that needed to be constructed. His serene fair critique of cultures is very much needed as we weather the latest fierce storms in the Transatlantic dialogue and a resurgence of the Cold War.

While writing a Ph.D. dissertation on Vico at Yale University, some thirty five years ago, a book appeared which attracted my immediate attention. But it was not its author, still relatively obscure at the time, rather it was its title which urged me to buy Beginnings by Edward Said. To my mind, that title echoed immediately Vico’s notion of “origins.” And in fact, as expected, Said not only acknowledges Vico as the book’s inspiration and methodology, but dedicates a whole section to him. It turned out to be a kind of epiphany for me, in the same way that Ignazio Silone had previously been, not so much for what the book revealed about the problematic in the New Science that I was then grappling with (i.e., that of transcendence and immanence in Vico’s notion of Providence), but for what it said on the crucial role of the intellectual vis-à-vis the culture he lives and works in.

One of the most pregnant passages in that book is this: “The writer’s life, his career, and his text, form a system of relationships whose configuration ‘in real human time’ becomes progressively stronger (i.e., more distinct, more individualized and exacerbated). In fact, these relationships gradually become the writer’s all-encompassing subject” (p. 227).

Here was a writer who did not see his role as that of the neutral “objective” scholar but as that of the engaged “worldly” critic who refuses to separate his work from his life’s experience. In doing so, Said was able to speak truth to power, rather than merely analyze power. In effect he becomes the well reasoned voice of the voiceless, within the tradition of “the conspiracy of hope” initiated by Ignazio Silone (see his Pane e vino, Fontamara, or Il seme sotto la neve). He therefore succeeds in making his life work relevant to the general public, especially the culturally powerless.

Later on in his The World, The Text, and the Critic Said would assert that not only individuals, but text too are worldly in as much as “they have a way of existing that even in the most rarefied form are always enmeshed in circumstances, time, place, and society” (p. 35).

And indeed, even if Said is no longer with us in body, his powerful voice is still heard via his texts. He was born in Palestinian Jerusalem, studied there and in Cairo, then moved to the United States. He acquired a “Western” education (Princeton B.A., Harvard Ph.D.), becoming the Old Dominion professor of Humanities at Columbia in 1963. As a displaced Arab and an American citizen studying European literature in America, he became the voice of the voiceless and the dislocated and in as much as he understood well both East and West, he was eminently qualified to bridge those two disparate cultures.

This concept of bridging of cultures is vitally important, at a time when the transatlantic dialogue and relationship can best be characterized as one of mutual suspicion, misperceptions and near political disasters. A turbulent time when the very concept of multi-culturalism is being dismantled.

In one of his essays critiquing modern education, Said mentions that there was a passage on Leonardo Da Vinci by the French poet Paul Valéry which haunted him. In it Valéry describes the mind of Leonardo; its beauty and power and elegance and then says that Leonardo could only think of a bridge whenever he thought of the abyss. Metaphorically speaking, an abyss is the equivalent of what is presented to us as immutable, definitive, impossible to journey on. No matter how deep and problematic the scene that presented itself, Leonardo’s beautiful mind always had the capacity to think of some alternative, some way of solving the problem, some gift for not passively accepting what was given, any hopeless scene could be imagined and envisioned in a different more hopeful, way.

Then Said went on to say that he believes that education at its best should train students not so much in methods and skills but in the ability to see things differently and try ways of constructing bridges across the abyss. For Said knowledge is more than the amassing of information. He quotes Jean Paul Sartre who once said about a friend who had studied at a prestigious scientific college (Ecole Polytechnique): “my friend is really incredibly brilliant. He knows everything. But that is all he knows.” Echoes of Pascal’s “the heart has reasons that reason knows not?”

But let us go back to Said’s beginnings (also the title of his above mentioned book) from which continuities follow, and apply a non-linear conception of career to his own career. If we take a look at his Ph.D. dissertation we discover that it is concerned with a novelist of Western imperialism: Joseph Conrad. This gives us a clue as to where Said’s “beginning intentions” were in his life-long criticism. Three such can be discerned: 1) a desire to make critical work out of the fabric of one’s life experience, 2) a refusal to separate the imperialism of the mind from that of nations (an eminently Vichian concept), 3) a will to forge literary criticism into an act of political intervention in the production of cultures.

In his very first book titled Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography Said shows how the past was re-narrated (another Vichian concept: history as narration from the beginning) in Conrad’s writings as a remedy of sort for his fear of personal disintegration. Then in Beginnings Said continues his study of the narrativization of personal experience tracing the changes culminating in the modern novel. Eventually he arrives at Orientalism, and culture and imperialism as history through which Western scholars have fictionalized the Orient, in collusion with their governments, to arrive at fictions such as “Arabs” and “Islam.” Those books are now considered by many scholars as foundation documents in the history of post-colonialism. In any case, one thing that stands out in Said’s writing is the notion that the history of cultures and personal histories are hardly separable.

All of the above begs the question: what exactly was the main topic of Said’s life-work? Were I to choose one, it would be Eurocentrism, especially as manifested in imperialism. In the above mentioned early book on Conrad, Said shows that Conrad’s identification with “Europeanism” was an act of secular salvation by which he rescued himself from “the heart of darkness.”

But a shift occurs in Beginnings. Although apparently a history of the modern novel, the book is more properly a history of the imperialism of the mind reducing human subjects to functions of systems. In this respect Said is uncannily similar to Levinas. Be that as it may, in his subsequent Orientalism, Said explores the relation between the production of knowledge and the invasion of territories. He points out that imperialist history is the precondition for European imperialism per se; that is to say, Orientalism precedes the European Empires in the Orient. There was indeed a cultural preparation to Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt at the end of the 18th century, just as there must be one before forbidding Moslem women to wear a scarf in public schools. In other words, the imperialism and colonization of the mind must precede that of the physical territory.

A careful reading of Orientalism can teach one how to understand other nations for themselves, rather than through the distorting lenses of Western imperialism. But Said is not just an observer of cultures happy to merely offer a diagnosis of what hails them. He considers it a responsibility of a critic to intervene in the formation of cultures which he sees as a mixture of pre-texts, texts, and para-texts just as Vico saw history as a mixture of pre-narrations, narrations and para-narrations. Genuine intellectuals should be “oppositional” and not mere observers and analyzers.

Beginnings is permeated with this issue of the critic’s responsibility not only to analyze but also to intervene in the discursive formation by retelling its history; retelling the story, so to speak. Said does exactly that in Orientalism. In so doing, much as Foucault had done before him, he intervenes to show how a discourse is formed, thus offering an alternate view of the media’s coverage of Islam. Said is convinced that it is the critic’s responsibility to challenge the hegemonic power of cultural formation because of its “elevated or superior position to authorize, to dominate, to legitimate, demote, interdict, and validate: in short, the power of culture to be an agent of, and perhaps the main agency for, powerful differentiation within its domain and beyond it too (The World, the Text, and the Critic, p. 9).

In a world of political and cultural “correctness,” it was a veritable tragedy to lose a very public intellectual like Edward Said. But I have no doubt that his legacy, like that of a Silone or a Havel, will be an ongoing one. He will continue to be the voice of the voiceless and the dispossessed, in any culture.

Many intellectuals, even among Palestinians themselves, will continue to resent his frankness and his calling a spade a spade. But that is nothing new, it begins with Socrates being branded a gadfly. It behooves us not to forget that truth is an equal opportunity critic. If they were sincere with themselves those critics would acknowledge that Said, as a quintessential humanist, has taught us how to see the foreign Other as oneself instead of constructing him/her as one needs him/her to be for one’s own self-justification. That would by itself constitute a signal contribution to a Western imagination sick with extreme rationalism, positivism and reductionism. Some sicknesses are unto death unless the courage is summoned to reverse them with a reclamation of the very concept of truth. Said can certainly help us do that.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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New Social Compact

The Secret Gender plague: How The World’s Men Hate Women

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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In the now famous and well-recognized #MeToo era in America, the call to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace and beyond has brought much needed new attention to gender issues in the United States, with more than a few prominent firings and public humiliations of celebrities within media and entertainment. While there is no doubt this movement was long overdue in high-level boardrooms and executive ladders across America (and still needs to continue its corrective cleansing), it is not a misdirection to remind people that the fight for gender ‘decency’ still remains woefully under-covered and under-recognized by most of the Western world. This is not a misnomer: before we can begin to discuss gender equality, there are still too many places that do not even come close to having gender decency.

Perhaps even more disturbing, when one does a simple but powerful examination across many different human rights, philanthropic, and security organizations, is that we find a plethora of ratings in which the horrible plight of women around the world have been categorized and assessed. What has not been done up to now is an amalgamation of many of these rankings to try and give a more complex and holistic 50,000-foot view of women around the world. Unfortunately, this amalgamation paints a rather stark picture that few people seem to be aware of. Even more depressing, when the ranking categories are allowed to be truly diverse, the dark richness of countries represented is shocking: most in the West will not be surprised to find certain countries in sub-Saharan Africa or Islamic authoritarian states to make lists that lament the plight of women as concerns gender equality. But the following rankings show that this problem is by no means an African or Arab-dominated issue. It is truly a global plague that seems stubbornly resistant to remedies, let alone cures. So, let us take a view at the dark side of the gender fight, for only in recognizing the severity of the problem will true resolutions ever come to light.

One of the more famous human rights organizations in the world, this Amnesty International ranking was a good place to start simply because it emphasizes the most explicit and disturbing form of gender inequality: direct violence perpetrated against women. This list is also something of a ‘Western conventional wisdom’ baseline, in that the so-called usual suspects are on it, including Afghanistan, the DRC, Pakistan, and Somalia. Perhaps the one ‘surprise’ on the list for those not truly investigating the issue would be the inclusion of India. It is an important inclusion, however, given the sexual and family violence issues that still plague many areas of India, especially rural and semi-rural areas. It is also good for people to realize that the worst places for women are not just automatically the places torn apart by war, anarchy, or corruption.

Amnesty International (via Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Gender violence

1.Afghanistan

2.Democratic Republic of Congo

3.Pakistan

4.Somalia

5.India

A relatively new but influential player on the gender issue scene is Georgetown’s Institute for Women. Its ranking for health and safety is important because it is more inclusive of female health problems in their totality. Not surprisingly, these rankings reflect countries that have seen a total breakdown of societal welfare because of war, internal strife, corruption, and health epidemics.

Georgetown Institute for Women – Health and safety

1.Syria

2.Afghanistan

3.Yemen

4.Pakistan

5.Central African Republic

The Global Citizen political freedom rankings are interesting because of two entries that do not often make the usual discussions: Honduras and Egypt. When you examine the details of why these two countries made it, it is clear that both have for too long been excluded from serious gender discussions. It is also important, as we shall see below, to know that many countries within Latin America need a brighter light flashed upon them for their increasingly shoddy treatment of women across numerous categories.

Global Citizen – Political freedom

1.Yemen

2.Honduras

3.Democratic Republic of Congo

4.Egypt

5.Saudi Arabia

While most are familiar with Marie Claire as a women’s magazine with a long history of less-serious discussions, it did nevertheless come out recently with its own gender equity ranking for countries around the world. It was included simply because of its rather novel interpretations of how to recognize and evaluate inequality, focusing on more subtle discrimination rather than on more direct and explicit forms. With this done, a rather fascinating list emerges, with countries like Nepal, Peru, and Turkey making the list (something we rarely see for any of these countries in other rankings).

Marie Claire – Gender Equity

1.Pakistan

2.Nepal

3.Peru

4.Turkey

5.Sudan

While few know about the WEF organization, its focus on education and how it impacts gender issues and female opportunity is especially pertinent. The ability for women to grow, prosper, and lead independent financial lives is a crucial element often neglected around the world because of more pressing immediate concerns for physical safety and political equality. But when the issue of education is examined through a gender lens, we once again find a mix of the usual suspects with relative newcomers not often found on gender watchdog lists, in this case Chad and Iran.

WEF– Education

1.Yemen

2.Pakistan

3.Syria

4.Chad

5.Iran

World Atlas’ female political representation rankings were fascinating largely because of the fact that it was the one list that was largely made up entirely of countries very few people know about and rarely see connected to major gender issues. Of the six below, only Yemen is a common entrant (and honestly some might find that entry somewhat mitigated by the internal war going on there which has resulted in an almost complete shutdown of regular governmental and societal welfare institutions/services), with Qatar being joined by countries from the South Pacific: Palau, Micronesia, Tonga, and Vanuatu. Most depressing, it does not mean regions like the Middle East and Africa are doing a great job at female political representation. It just means another region of the world few know about is doing even worse.

World Atlas – Female Political Representation

1.Qatar

2.Palau

3.Micronesia

4.Tonga

5.Yemen and Vanuatu

Perhaps the most controversial ranking was left for last, the Small Arms Survey for femicide (the purposeful and blatant murder of women on account of gender). While it may not surprise everyone to finally see the Russian Federation appear on this list, given common Western media portrayals of that society as being particularly harsh and unforgiving towards women in general, it should be a shock to see so many Latin American countries dominate the list. The reality is that countries like El Salvador and Guatemala are not alone, with many other Latin American countries making the list in the 6-15 spots. But perhaps most disheartening of all, this ranking achieves the greatest global diversity, with Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa all represented by individual countries.

Small Arms Survey – Femicide

1.El Salvador

2.Jamaica

3.Guatemala

4.South Africa

5.Russian Federation

In a way, the femicide rankings are a microcosm of the gender issue overall: it is truly a global affliction that needs more recognition and more serious warriors willing to engage the fight. This affliction knows no geographical boundaries and is not exclusive to a particular culture, religion, economic status, or political system. It seems uniquely universal, in that men the world over seem united in expressing their hatred or disdain for women in devastatingly rich and comprehensive ways. Ultimately, our failure to produce these new gender warriors (and they need to be from both genders, not just women, to be sure) is not just a failure for women or for gender equality. It is a failure of us all as a society when it comes to human compassion and dignity. It is a core failure of human decency. It is the failure to be human.

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Work or Family: Sri Lankan Women Shouldn’t Have to Choose

MD Staff

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photo: World Bank

Only 3 years separated the births of Fazeela Dharmaratne’s son Nethwin, and her daughter Pravindi. However, in just that time a lot of things changed for their mother. “When I had my kids, I somehow managed to devote a lot of quality time to my son, but when it came to my daughter, I was so busy I felt I ended up neglecting her a little.”

As a young woman, Fazeela joined a bank in Colombo straight out of school, securing a position as a banking assistant. Over the course of 17 years on the job, she climbed up the ladder till she was a Regional Manager, responsible for a cluster of branches.

In 2012, determined to spend more time with her children, she eventually opted for a voluntary separation scheme and went to work on something new – she bought her first preschool and day-care. It was a small home-based operation with only four or five children, but it was a start. It gave her a chance to learn the business from the ground up.

Reliable Childcare Makes a Huge Difference

Today, Fazeela is the director of the CeeBees pre-school and childcare centres and operates corporate crèches for clients like MAS Kreeda, MillenniumIT and WSO2 in Colombo.

The crèches allow employees to access childcare services so that mothers can breastfeed their infants, or stay late to participate in a conference call; when the school holidays are on, the crèche lets the older siblings join in and the staff are willing to accept kids who aren’t regulars during emergencies, such as when a caregiver at home falls ill.

Fazeela offers these uncommon services because she understands intimately what working parents have to deal with. “I have gone through the same thing, holding down a position with a lot of responsibility and having to manage while trying to not feel guilty about my kids,” she says.

In fact, so great are the pressures, that having a child under age five at home makes Sri Lankan women 7.4 percent less likely to join the labour force than women without young children. A 2017 World Bank report Getting to Work: Unlocking Women’s Potential in Sri Lanka’s Labor Force, noted that this association is larger than it was in 2013, when childrearing meant women were 6 percent less likely to participate in the workforce.

Revealingly, the same study found that having young children had no significant effect on men’s prospects in the labour market.

Societal Attitudes Do Not Favor Working Mothers

At just 36.6% percent, Sri Lanka’s female labor force participation rate—a measure of the proportion of females above 15 working or actively looking for work—is discouragingly low.

Among the many challenges experienced by Sri Lankan women, household responsibilities, and especially childcare, remain significant deterrents.

As nuclear families become more common, women are less likely to have extended family living with them who can help raise their children. In addition, societal attitudes often do not favor working mothers.

“It can be a cost-benefit thing for women,” says Dileni Gunewardena, a Professor of Economics at the University of Peradeniya, adding, “sometimes the costs are not monetary – for instance a woman might have to deal with in-laws who disapprove of her working or she might be afraid of leaving her children with strangers.” Dileni thinks one solution is to challenge traditional, deep rooted ideas of what is seen as men’s work and women’s work, and to find ways to share the load.

Families also have to be able to trust crèches and day care centers enough to leave their children for the day. Sri Lanka’s expanding program of early childhood development centers could offer some women short-term relief, and a good accredited system could allay concerns around the quality of childcare offered.

What the Business Community Can Do  

At MAS Kreeda Al Safi-Madaba in Jordan, absences due to sick leave have fallen by 9 percent after only 8 months since the on-site crèche was opened, according to IFC’s Tackling Childcare research. MAS co-founder Ajay Amalean says that providing childcare facilities has helped retain experienced employees, reduced absenteeism, and boosted employee satisfaction and loyalty, helping make his company a preferred employer for men and women both.

Amalean understands that having a crèche works for both parents, and even more so for single ones. Aside from the losses associated with absenteeism, high staff turnover is also a costly affair. Companies routinely underestimate the cost of replacing a trained and experienced employee, failing to account for separation, recruitment and selection, training and productivity costs such as the loss of institutional and client-network knowledge.

To address this, companies like Mindtree in India, have chosen to offer a range of childcare solutions. As a result, over 90 percent of Mindtree’s female employees return after maternity leave and over 87 percent of mothers are still with the company a year after their return, even though India has one of the lowest labor force participation rates for mothers in the world, including for highly educated women.

What can Sri Lankan corporates learn from such success stories?

Chiranthi Cooray, Chief Human Resources Officer, Hatton National Bank and Chairperson, Prime Minister’s Task Force for the FLFP Strategy pointed out that going forward it is critical for both the private and public sectors to implement regulations and provide incentives for the provision of high quality crèche and childcare services.

The task force noted that the law should be amended to allow for both maternal and paternal leave after childbirth, while public-private partnerships were essential to make sure that employers did not have to bear the full burden of the costs of offering such benefits. Research shows that where governments publicly provide or subsidize childcare for children under the age of primary education, women are more likely to receive wages. Support for parents—such as tax credits and the availability of childcare for young children—can increase women’s participation in the labour force.

Meanwhile,   Ceebees is in its fifth year of operations. Fazeela says when a corporate client first approaches her, she tells them that supporting working parents needn’t be complicated. Companies can set up an infant crèche, for instance, that just takes one  room but allows mothers to visit and feed their kids during the working day.

“There’s a lot that can be done. It’s just that decision-makers have to be passionate about supporting diversity,” says Fazeela. “It can’t be just about looking good on your HR awards application, you have to genuinely want to make a difference.”

World Bank

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Study: At least 2.5 million migrants were smuggled in 2016

MD Staff

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According to the first ever Global Study on Smuggling of Migrants, released by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on Wednesday, at least 2.5 million migrants were smuggled during the course of 2016.

Migrant smuggling occurred in all parts of the world, generated an income of up to $7 billion – equivalent to the amount the United States or the European Union spent on humanitarian aid that year – according to the UN agency that fights drugs and crime.

“This transnational crime preys on the most vulnerable of the vulnerable,” said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, UNODC Director of Policy Analysis and Public Affairs.

“It’s a global crime that requires global action, including improved regional and international cooperation and national criminal justice responses,” he added.

The study describes 30 major smuggling routes worldwide and finds that demand for smuggling services is particularly high among refugees who, for lack of other means, may need to use people-smugglers to reach a safe destination fleeing their countries of origin.

Data suggests that many smuggling routes include unaccompanied or separated children, who might be particularly vulnerable to deception and abuse by smugglers and others.

According to the UN migration agency IOM, smuggling results in thousands of deaths each year.

Many smuggled migrants die from drowning, whereas others perish due to accidents or extreme terrain and weather conditions. The Mediterranean appears to be the deadliest route, statistically, accounting for around 50 per cent of the total number of deaths.

Not only have some migrants been murdered along smuggling routes, they are also vulnerable to a range of other crimes, including violence, rape, kidnapping and trafficking in persons.

Turning to the gender composition, the study found that smuggled migrants are often influenced by the conditions they faced at home. Although most on the move are relatively young men, in parts of South-East Asia a large proportion are women.

According to the report, smuggling networks often engage in systematic corruption ranging from the local to the international level, and operate a range of schemes, including fake marriages or employment rackets; counterfeiting travel documents and the corruption of senior officials.

Smugglers often advertise their business in diaspora communities, refugee camps or through various social networks online, involving migrant groups.

Smaller-scale smugglers are either ethnically linked to their operating territories, or share ethnic or linguistic ties with the migrants they smuggle. Moreover, some successfully smuggled migrants, then become smugglers themselves.

Moving forward

When it comes to better strategies for reducing migrant smuggling, the report recommends that a holistic approach must go beyond geographical measures, and include making legal migration opportunities more accessible in origin countries and refugee camps; tackling smuggling networks; and raising awareness in origin communities are just a few ways to combat the scourge.

While data collection, analysis and research on migrant smuggling remain in their infancy, there is a clear need for a solid international body of knowledge to support policy making on migrant smuggling, along with improved data collection systems at the national, regional and international levels, according to the study.

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