How comics can make the Arab world a better place

Most Arab countries today are governed by more or less authoritarian regimes that nourish a patriarchal social and political order. This order marginalizes young people, and particularly women.

There are moments when it is openly challenged. We saw it across the Arab world in 2011 and afterwards.

Several art forms contributed to this open conflict, and among them were independent adult comics – a cultural phenomenon that really took off during the Arab uprisings and afterwards.

I think this is a medium that deserves more attention, because it shows how central cultural products can be to make sense of political dynamics. But this post is not about comics as revolutionary art. I am going to look at less explicit – but no less interesting – ways in which comics challenge patriarchal authoritarianism.

Why less explicit? The space for criticism in the Arab countries is narrow, and the personal cost of crossing red lines may be very high. This applies to art, too. Just think about the court case against Lebanese comics collective Samandal, or the harassment of Egyptian cartoonist Islam Gawish, to mention to examples. Enter political theorist James C. Scott and his concept of “hidden transcripts” as an “art of resistance”.

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This Week in South Sudan – Week 17

Monday 24 April The Government of South Sudan (GoSS) is ready to reopen negotiations for drilling rights to oil blocks B1 and B2, after talks with Total, Tullow Oil and the Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Exploration Company broke down. Security service officials have advised Salva Kiir to remove and replace the Chief Justice, Chan Reec Madut…. Read more »

Collective Memories after National Traumas

I represented the NECORE project at a one-day seminar held in February, entitled “Collective Memories after National Traumas: 22 July in an International Perspective”. The seminar was highly relevant to the themes explored by NECORE, and among the most important points raised during the seminar was that of a national story.

Streets of Oslo following 22 July 2015. Photo: Jørgen Carling, PRIO

Does a national narrative about the 22 July atrocities exist? And if so, are we telling one single story, or many different ones? Who enjoys the privilege of telling it?

Perhaps more importantly, a theme discussed at the seminar was whether or not we need such a narrative.

Arguably, it is easier to create a consistent story when talking about internal enemies and external enemies. However, bringing forth one singular narrative also means excluding others, and puts us at risk of erasing important nuances – if not upscaling or downscaling established historical facts.

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Memory and Conflict

The relationship between memory and conflict is one of several themes highlighted by the NECORE project, and it has recently come into focus again in an emotional way, related to the tragic events of 22/7.

The bone of contention is the projected Utøya memorial.

The projected Utøya memorial. Photo: Jonas Dahlberg

Where should such a memorial for the victims and events at Utøya be placed?
And how imposing should it be?

The residents of the local residential area reacted sharply against the original proposal.

Firstly, they said it would be a far-too-present, up-close reminder of an event they wanted gradually to put behind them.

And secondly, they felt that their voices and concerns had not been properly heard, since the initial part of the process had taken place without their active participation. This feeling of being left out remains a key point of tension between the local residents on the one hand and the Norwegian government, the official project owner, on the other. Because of this conflict, the residents have decided to go to court over the monument.

The drama is far from over, although many believe that the case is moving closer to being resolved. Some are hoping that this will happen without a court case, although that remains uncertain.

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To ban or not to ban a terrorist organisation? That is not the only question

Lee Jarvis and Tim Legrand report on their research into how the UK Parliament debates whether or not to extend its list of proscribed terrorist organisations that is based on their article ‘I am somewhat puzzled’: Questions, audiences and securitization in the proscription of terrorist organizations’ published in Security Dialogue Vol 48, Issue 2, 2017 The United Kingdom… Read more »

‘Our Values’ in Times of Terror

Last fall I spent two months in Poitiers, France as a visiting researcher at Migrinter. The last time I lived in France before that was in 2008, just when the financial crisis fully hit. A lot has changed since then, some of it directly or indirectly linked to the financial crisis.

High unemployment rates; several terror attacks carried out by ISIS (sympathizers); the growth of the opposition party Front National, which still at the time of writing has a real chance to enter a government position in this year’s elections.

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

In this landscape, it is said that the primaries leading up to the presidential election in France have to a great extent circled around ‘identity’. And indeed, the ever so strong égalité, liberté, fraternité are a repeated mantra written in bold letters on public buildings, from town halls to schools and other institutions. They were also repeated references in the one-year commemorations of the November 2015 terror attacks in Stade de France, and in the Bataclan theatre and restaurants and bars nearby, killing 130 people.Read More

Is China helping Trump, or is Trump helping China?

When Chinese president Xi Jinping met US president Donald Trump in Florida on 6–7 April, Xi convinced his host that it is not easy to exert influence on North Korea, but apparently promised to help the United States to the best of his ability. In practice, it may be Trump who helps China.

POTUS & FLOTUS welcoming President of China, Xi Jinping, & Madame Peng Liyuan to the US. Photo via Donald Trumps Twitter account

Following the summit at his holiday paradise of Mar-a-Lago, Trump has said that he promised Xi favourable trading terms with the United States on the condition that Xi helps the United States against North Korea.

Many people are asking whether China can or will deliver. There are means of exerting forceful pressure, but using them is risky:

  • China could invade North Korea and take control of its nuclear facilities, but that could provoke North Korea to launch a nuclear attack on China.
  • China could stop supplying North Korea with oil or cut off food supplies, but that would affect ordinary North Koreans, cause famine and result in many people fleeing to China.
  • China could stop money flowing to Kim Jong-un’s business enterprises, but then North Korea would become even more desperate in its pursuit of hard cash and might sell its nuclear technology.
  • China could try to get someone to seize power from Kim Jong-un, but this could generate violent anti-Chinese sentiments in North Korea if it became known that China was behind such an attempt.

Xi also needs support within his own party for his actions.Read More

This Week in South Sudan – Week 16

Tuesday 18 April Inflation is increasing rapidly as the South Sudanese Pounds (SSP) depreciated further against the US Dollars (USD) in the black market, hitting a new low at USD$1 to 162 SSP, from $1 to 145 SSP the week before. Wednesday 19 April 16 MONUSCO staff were briefly held hostage by unarmed South Sudanese… Read more »

East Asian Peace: Telling Japan to be Proud

To a Tokyo audience of Japanese peace practitioners, academics, journalists and diplomats, I recently chose to address the Japanese as East Asians. I had three important messages to convey:

  1. You East Asians have a Peace to Defend
  2. The East Asian Peace is at Risk
  3. Please overcome your differences and aim for an East Asian Security Community

You East Asians have a Peace to Defend

… and you Japanese can be proud of your historical role in making that peace happen.

Colours of Peace. Students learn and construct Japanese origami cranes from a U.S. Navy Sailor as a symbolic gesture toward peace in Sasebo, Japan. Photo: Joshua J. Wahl, U.S. Navy

For 140 years, from the First Opium War in 1839 to the Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979, East Asia did not experience one single decade without a serious war somewhere: terrible civil wars, colonial wars, wars between states, not least between Japan and China, and wars of American intervention. East Asia was the main battlefield in the global Cold War. During 1946–79, 80 per cent of all battle deaths worldwide happened in East Asia, notably in Vietnam, Korea and China.Read More

This Week in South Sudan – Week 15

Tuesday 12 April Sudan, in collaboration with the World Food Program and the Government of South Sudan (GoSS), has opened a second humanitarian corridor between El Obeid in Sudan and Bentiu in South Sudan. Aly Verjee in African Arguments: “Why calling for a ceasefire in South Sudan can be a bad idea” Wednesday 13 April… Read more »