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Despair, Decay and Politics of Impasse

Session XII-12, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, December 4 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
  • This paper considers the extent to which the Sahrawi and Palestinian national movements, in their legal personifications as the Frente Polisario and PLO, respectively, had agency over changes to their internal orientation and external projection; and to what extent these changes, conversely, were compelled by shifts in the legal, political and cultural judgments bearing upon their self-determination claims. The paper builds upon a series of essays by Professor Nathaniel Berman which explore how the world community has framed and regulated questions of nationalism since the Concert of Europe frayed in the late nineteenth century. Berman’s work demonstrates that the international legal order has created, repudiated, and revived classifications of group identity and has repeatedly realigned its preferences among these classifications. These ruptures demarcate the eras in the international law of nationalism, which Berman defines as “a historically contingent array of doctrinal and policy options for deployment by a contingent embodiment of international authority on nationalist conflicts whose protagonists are designated by a contingent set of legal categories”. His account transcends the duality of Continental legal positivism and American legal pragmatism, “de-dogmatizing” both traditions so as to observe the law’s “historical, psychoanalytic and cultural dimensions”. Adopting Berman’s framework and his commitment to deconstruction rather than prescriptions, this paper considers how these realignments in the world community’s conceptualization and regulation of group identity and national aspirations have impacted the Sahrawis and the Palestinians in their pursuit of self-determination. It explores the cultural judgments inscribed on both peoples before decolonization, when they emerged as protagonists in this legal constellation. It examines how the Polisario and PLO framed their group identity and national aspirations (or had them overdetermined) during the decolonization era. And it considers how they sought to adopt to the late- and post-Cold War eras, during which the normative force of anti-colonialism was eclipsed by a renewed preference for geopolitical stability and renewed cultural judgments on group suitability for responsible self-rule. I conclude that while the Polisario and the PLO maintained certain ideological commitments beyond their utility, the impact of these missteps is generally overstated. Different choices at various inflection points in the recent history of the Sahrawi and Palestinian national struggles are unlikely to have yielded different outcomes. When viewed in the context of the epochal changes in the international law of nationalism during this period, I argue, the array of choices available to these groups appear narrower and less consequential.
  • Turkey is at the vanguard of a global trend in democratic backsliding. The ruling party and its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in power for nearly two decades, have transformed a partially consolidated democracy into a system of one-man rule. How did these changes come about and how were they constitutionalized? From 1982 to 2017, Turkey was widely understood, by the EU and other actors, to be amending its constitution in ways consistent with liberalizing, civilianizing and/or democratizing reforms. By contrast, the constitutional amendments adopted by referendum on April 16, 2017 represented a radical break. Bringing to an end Turkey’s tradition of parliamentary government, these amendments introduced a new presidential system lacking checks and balances. By constraining the autonomy, authority and even basic competence of the judiciary, the legislature and the administrative organs of the state, while concentrating power in the executive, Turkey has produced a blueprint for how a democracy can be systematically dismantled from within through what is best described as abusive constitutionalism. In this paper, I use the Turkish case to explain the purposes of constitutional amendments and referenda and how and why these mechanisms are uniquely vulnerable to authoritarian capture in a nominally democratic order.
  • On October 17th, 2019, hundreds of thousands of people around Lebanon poured into the streets, demanding an end to the sectarian-clientelist regime. The promise of collective action, however, soon buckled under the weight of state repression, economic collapse, and global pandemic. More importantly, the apparent unity of the protestors gave way to antagonisms, exposing the diversity of people’s affectively charged political commitments, desires, and fears. A year later, many Lebanese believe the revolution has failed, having failed to accomplish a change in the political structure of the nation. Interestingly, this disillusionment condemns collective politics for even trying to transform a country that was and will always be controlled by foreign powers. In fact, the notion of Lebanon as a “chessboard” for broader geopolitical games is one that has become quite prevalent and popular in explaining the “failure” of the Lebanese Revolution. Here, politics is imagined as only existing in an international state of nature, where the material interests of interested great powers are executed in Lebanon through a sectarian regime that is itself a client of foreign nations. This de facto proxy status of Lebanon is one that is lived and imagined in the everyday, constraining the possibilities for political action in the country, while producing myriad affects and discourses through which subjects experience and interpret their political helplessness. The following paper/presentation will explore these discourses and affects, with a focus on the subject’s imaginary relationship to geopolitics, the structures of feeling that mediate this relationship, and the consequences of this relationship on the possibility of political transformation. More, this paper aims to theorize political helplessness as part of the affective architecture of political sectarianism, while also theorizing Lebanon’s “proxy condition” as a particular, 21st century manifestation of globalization and empire.
  • This paper explores ideological change within violent sub-state actors, specifically focusing on the processes through which groups become more secular or more religious. Challenging existing depictions of such groups as possessing static and unchanging “secular” or “religious” ideologies, it answers the following questions: How and why do violent groups and sub-state actors undergo processes of religionization / secularization? What factors promote or forestall such changes, and why do some factors have more influence than others? Despite extensive research which has analyzed differences between secular and religious terrorism and political violence, studies have tended to treat actors as following a monolithic worldview, essentializing groups as being statically “secular” or “religious” in order to analyze differences among them. Furthermore, while such groups holding religious agendas have been shown to be deadlier and broadly more violent compared to secular groups, the process whereby groups become religious (or secular) has remained surprisingly understudied. Recognizing that over time religiosity – just like any other ideological construct – may be adopted to greater or lesser extents within a group’s worldview, I draw on social movement theory’s frame analysis in order to disaggregate groups’ ideologies into more nuanced components, analyzing how conflict dynamics influence variations in the relative dominance religion has within the groups’ ideological position. Conducting a process-based paired comparison of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Hamas, I analyze the communiques and leaflets each group disseminated throughout the six-year period of the First Intifada, tracing religionization / secularization processes each group underwent in response to shifts in Israeli repression, international / regional certification, internal competition among groups, and regional political realignments. The results demonstrate that group religiosity should be understood as a dynamic rather than static construct, increasing and decreasing within groups' perceptions in response to emerging political change. Furthermore, and somewhat contrary to expectations, the more religiously-inclined Hamas showed higher sensitivity to emerging conflict developments, shifting more extensively between secular and religious perceptions compared the secularly-inclined PLO. The paper concludes by exploring the applicability of these findings, extrapolating them further and suggesting avenues for future development and policy-related analyses.