Trump Reminded Me Why I Am An Academic

“Why did you become an academic?” is a question that I’m frequently asked. For me, my path into this profession is pretty clear.

I was about fourteen and a freshman in high school in the early 1990s. A few of my friends joined the school chapter of Amnesty International, and I figured I’d go along. My world was changed. I learned of people being slaughtered because their ethnicity; political activists imprisoned for their beliefs; widespread torture and sexual assault; and refugees flooding across borders in search of safety. This was the era of massacres in Bosnia and Rwanda. CNN broadcast murder while the world just watched. The comfortable space of my childhood ended, and I began on a journey of human rights activism.

“My teens and early twenties were filled with passion and punk-fueled rage”. (This picture is for illustration, and otherwise unrelated to the author or the article). Photo: Mite Kuzevski. Creative Commons via Flickr

I became the president of the high school chapter, continued human rights work in college, and eventually took on a number of leadership roles with Amnesty International USA. Being the son of Iranian parents, I took a special interest in immigrant and refugee rights. I briefly worked for the International Rescue Committee and volunteered for a number of local organizations dealing with refugee resettlement. My teens and early twenties were filled with passion and punk-fueled rage. I was angry at the world for the brutality and callousness of its leaders, but I was also filled with hope that activists like myself could make a genuine difference.

My experience as an undergraduate student — first at community college, then at UC San Diego — helped me channel that passion and think more clearly about how to make an impact.

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Remembering Boris Nemtsov – and Reflecting upon Russian History

Five years ago, Boris Nemtsov, one of the leaders of Russian liberal opposition, visited Oslo and made his cause for several audiences, who now remember his passion and joy. There is indeed much to reflect upon in this recent Russian history – and in its older pages as well.

Late February not only marks a momentous anniversary in Russia’s long and difficult history, but also solemnizes a tragic event from its much more recent past. One hundred years ago (March 8, 1917, but February 23 on the Julian Calendar, still used by the Russian Empire), a peaceful revolution dethroned the Romanov monarchy, opening for Russia an opportunity to emerge out of the catastrophe of World War I as a democratic state.

Public enthusiasm, however, evaporated quickly: the Provisional government lost control over the crumbling state, setting the stage for the Bolshevik coup in late October (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, February 20).

And two years ago (February 27, 2015), Boris Nemtsov, perhaps the most appealing and daring of the leaders of Russia’s democratic opposition, was gunned down on a bridge over the Moskva River, steps from the walls of Kremlin. The authorities granted the intrepid opposition permission to stage a march on Sunday in downtown Moscow, toward the “Nemtsov bridge.” Clearly, the Kremlin considers these groups too marginalized to interfere with the master-plan for re-electing Vladimir Putin for yet another presidential term a year from now (Moscow Echo, February 24).Read More

Yemen is on the Brink

Most of the world’s attention has recently been directed towards Syria. In the shadow of Syria, the conflict in Yemen has been left to its own devices, and Yemen is now set to experience an even greater humanitarian catastrophe than Syria.

In Syria, we witness the beginning of the end of one of the bloodiest conflicts in many decades. In Yemen, the conflict has barely begun.

In 2011, Yemen was seen as one of the few success stories from the Arab Spring. Photo: Al Jazeera / Wikimedia Commons

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This Week in South Sudan – Week 8  

  Monday 20 February Further international reporting on the declared famine in parts of Unity State, South Sudan: Al Jazeera, Inside Story: “Who is to blame for famine in South Sudan?” Al Jazeera: “UN: $4.4bn needed to prevent ‘catastrophe’ of famine” New York Times: “Millions in South Sudan in Urgent Need of Food, U.N. Warns”… Read more »

With Orwell to the West Bank

The United States under President Trump is not the only place where the rule of law is currently being put to the test.

In early February hundreds of Israeli police officers battled on the West Bank with hundreds of determined young protesters armed with stones. Sixteen police officers were injured in clashes with the demonstrators, who had come to prevent the police and army from completing their task: the evacuation of Amona, a so-called “outpost” on the Palestinian West Bank.

A Jewish settler struggles with Israeli security officers during one of the previous clashes in Amona. Photo: The Pulitzer Gallery via Flickr

An “outpost” is an Israeli settlement built without authorization from the Israeli authorities. The demolition of Amona was ordered initially by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1997, but the battle between the legal system and the religious nationalist settlers – and the politicians who protect them – has lasted much longer.

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Oslo: a Global Knowledge Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies

By entering into a new strategic cooperation agreement, the University of Oslo and the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) wish to contribute to solidify Oslo’s role as a global powerhouse for knowledge about the prevention and resolution of armed conflict.

  • Ole Petter Ottersen, Rector, University of Oslo
  • Kristian Berg Harpviken, Director, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)

Signing the cooperation agreement. Photo: Martin Tegnander / PRIO

The world is undergoing profound political change. After World War II, we have evolved from a period of Cold War dominated by two superpowers, to nearly three decades with a single dominant superpower and a strong commitment to the finding of shared solutions. Now we see the position of the United States being challenged by other powers, in particular China and Russia, while at the same time there are major forces within the United States pushing for a more isolationist policy. Nationalism, including its more intolerant forms, is on the rise in large parts of the world. International institutions are being weakened. There is a growing willingness to use armed force, political leaders are once again talking about the possibility of using nuclear weapons, and major wars between states are not unthinkable.Read More

After Man? From Singularity to Specificity

When we discuss artificial intelligence, the digital technology that makes it happen, and singularity – the idea that both of them will exponentially take over the progression of society – we refer to them in singular. This is not a coincidence.

Both, science and fiction have portrayed AI as a particular form of reason, digital technology as an autonomous driver of change, and singularity as a unidirectional technological revolution. However, none of them are necessarily as “singular” as they appear.

Singluarity represented by HAL, the rogue computer from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. PHOTO: Media

Rather, the different contexts in which digital technologies come to matter create a broad variety of knowledge and social effects. For example, digital technologies are currently used for predictions of any kind: from the spreading of pandemics to political elections and crime mapping. Not only does each of these predictions produce their specific societal effects: they influence whether or not we get vaccinated, for whom to vote or where to park our car. They also produce more complicated effects, some of which actually make us question their predictive power. Filter bubbles and fake news are just some of them. But what exactly makes these social effects complicated?

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Replication in International Relations

The integrity of science is threatened in many ways – by direct censorship; by commercial, political, or military secrecy; by various forms of publication bias; by exorbitant journal subscription fees that effectively deny access to the general public; by cheating and falsification of results; and by sloppiness in the research process or the editorial process prior to publication.

There isn’t a single antidote to all these problems, but transparency goes a long way in relation to many of them.

Created via

One important way to promote transparency and quality control in published research is to require that systematic data be made available for replication studies.

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This Week in South Sudan – Week 7

Wednesday 15 February The Government of South Sudan (GOSS) seeks to cooperate with the private sector and other stakeholders to reverse the deteriorating economy. Clashes between government forces and the SPLA (IO) in Yuai, Jonglei State, as well as the Tigitigi and Ambasa areas, Central Equatoria State. Al Jazeera, In Pictures: “Atrocities prompt mass exodus… Read more »

The Munich Security Conference Focuses on Russia – and Reflects on Putin’s Speech 10 Years Ago

The annual Munich Security Conference will take place later this week (February 17–19) with many prominent speakers, including Dan Smith, former PRIO director and presently SIPRI Director.

It was ten years ago at this forum that President Vladimir Putin delivered a famous speech detailing Russia’s deep dissatisfaction with the world order.

Vladimir Putin in Munich 2007. Photo: Antje Wildgrube, Wikimedia Commons

A decade hence, Russian official media is today full of commentary on the spectacular success the country has purportedly achieved by following the course set by that speech (TASS, RIA Novosti, February 10).

Although he did not, in fact, say much in his 2007 Munich address that had not been said by Russian officials before, Western participants fixated on the assertive way that Putin delivered Moscow’s complaints about the enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and objections to the United States’ global “hegemony.”Read More