Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Does Responsibility to Protect Extend to Syrian Refugees?

By Emrah Keskin
Twitter: @k13e

Since its initial formulation in 2001, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, adopted by the UN in 2005, has been a source of constant popular and academic debate. Opinions on R2P range from a noble humanitarian initiative that represents the first significant step to a solidarist vision of the international realm to a tool of the powerful states for legitimizing their self-serving expeditions or a well meaning but ultimately hallow liberal concept.
Over the past five years R2P’s fortunes in becoming a well-established norm of the international society rose and fell sharply, from its implementation in Libyan crisis in 2011 to its ineffectiveness in the face of the suffering in Syria. Here I will consider whether the Syrian case spells the doom of R2P and confirm the worst fears of the doctrine’s skeptics or whether R2P still has a contribution to make. I will argue the latter, and suggest that the moral principles that underlie R2P can and should be invoked to provide care for Syrian refugees.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Hope and Hopelessness: Unraveling the Connections Between Refugees and Terrorism

By Dr. John McCoy

Originally published in the Edmonton Journal, December 18, 2015.

Writing about terrorism and refugees is difficult. From a personal and normative standpoint and, given my own liberal internationalist inclinations and commitment to multiculturalism, humanitarianism and multilateralism, it is a challenging subject. But in light of the level of controversy, fear and unabashed racism that surrounds the current debate over the admission of Syrian refugees to Canada and other western states it is crucial that academics engage with these fears from a scholarly perspective. I believe that empirical, social-scientific study and a historicist’s perspective is supportive of my own normative biases and the case for “solving” the refugee crisis.

First the controversial endeavors: defining terrorism and exploring the connections between waves of political violence and a flood of refugees.  Here, I define terrorism as a particular method or form of political violence – one that explicitly seeks to have a psychological impact (primarily fear inducement) and/or send a message beyond the immediate target of a terrorist act. This definition draws on the work of Anthony Richards, it is “actor neutral” allowing for the inclusion of state and non-state actors, and it moves beyond the “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” cliché by including violence that we may sometimes approve of (e.g. in pursuit of a “just cause”).[1] This is not a definition that will satisfy everyone – that is not achievable. But it does allow us to view terrorism as something that is conceptually distinct.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Data-driven Microtargeting in the 2015 General Election

By Dr.  Steve Patten

If there was any doubt, the 2015 general election campaign confirmed the arrival of the era of database politics. All of Canada’s major parties now rely on massive databases, data analytics and predictive modeling, and data-driven microtargeting to maximize their opportunities for electoral success. More than ever before, parties are able to derive intelligence on the electorate from polling and data mining, and this research informs party strategy, including the crafting of messages that are likely to win the support of key segments of the electorate.
But, parties have also built their own voter databases, sometimes called voter management systems, and these databases are used to identify those individuals who are likely supporters or could be persuaded to become supporters. The process of targeted communication designed to influence and mobilize identified voters is known as microtargeting.

Monday, 23 November 2015

After Paris we must ask ourselves: What Motivates Violent Extremists?

By Dr. John McCoy
For many of us who watched the recent events in Paris with a combination of fear, horror and indignation, the inevitable question we come to is “why?” Why do these individuals participate in acts of terrorism? What attracts them to violent extremism in the first place? Many of us ask these questions in the hope that the answers will lead us to strategies that can prevent future acts and restore our collective sense of security. 
But after nearly a decade-and-a-half of experience with post 9-11 counter-terrorism and countless academic and policy-based studies on the subject of what causes political violence, definitive answers remain elusive. Are these individuals driven by “structural level” factors such as social and economic marginalization, and discrimination?  Do these experiences create grievances that can result in violent extremism, or should we look more to political explanations? When it comes to movements like the so-called Islamic State (IS), or Daesh as they are more derisively referred to, are these individuals simply the product of humiliation and persecution born of decades of foreign intervention and economic exploitation in the Middle East? Do young Muslims project their own sense of persecution onto historical experiences with political and social oppression and exploitation?

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Fear and Loathing in Anatolia

By Emrah Keskin
Twitter: @k13e

I never liked Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the current President of my country. Yet, for a long time, I was ready to give him and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) the benefit of the doubt. They seemed to have deserved it then, as the Army flexed its muscles for yet another bout of interventionism and the secular opposition remain obsessed about whether a head-scarfed first lady would taint Ataturk’s house that served as the Presidential residence.
Personally, I lost patience with Mr Erdogan upon hearing him during the budget talks in the parliament in 2010. He has a tendency to talk about government officials in possessive terms: “my mayor,” “my governor,” “my police” etc. I had optimistically assumed that such use was to express his sense of duty as the Prime Minister. Then, he refers to the mayor of Izmir –an opposition stronghold- by turning to the opposition’s seats and saying “your mayor.” It quickly became clear that Erdogan didn’t consider himself to be a servant of those citizens who don’t vote for him. He didn’t even consider us to be part of the nation. He kept referring to “those people.” “Those people” wanted unhindered internet because they wanted watch porn, “those people” opposed alcohol sale restrictions to get drunk all night, “those people” took to Gezi Park not to protect a lonely green space in a concrete megapolis but to stage a coup against the government.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

The Unfinished Project of the Arab Spring

The Unfinished Project of the Arab Spring: Why "Middle East Exceptionalism" is Still Wrong

University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada
September 25-27, 2015

The Fallacy of “Middle East Exceptionalism"

Dr. Mojtaba Mahdavi
September 21, 2015
Five years after the popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, the region remains in a deep and profound crisis. The rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the breakout of proxy war in Yemen and Syria, the chaos and collapse of the Libyan polity, the failure of Islamists in power and the subsequent return of a military regime in Egypt, and the survival of autocratic regimes in Saudi Arabia and other Arab monarchies have largely contributed to the revival of an old and naive cliché about the Middle East.

This cliché suggests the violent culture of the Middle East exceptionally resists democratic ideals and institutions. We often hear this line of argument, known as the “Middle East Exceptionalism,” in the media. However, this is a very simplistic reading of the current events in the region. Here is the counterargument:

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Making Settled Things Strange

The function of the imagination is not to make strange things settled, so much as to make settled things strange.
- G K Chesterton

The intellectual community in the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta is a rich source for research, insights and perspective on the pressing political issues of the day. Our department blog provides an opportunity to share those insights in a timely and accessible way, and to contribute to public and scholarly debate. The range of expertise that is housed in our department ensures that the blog will be stocked with a wide breadth of commentary, spanning contemporary electoral politics and political developments in Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Europe, the Middle East, and China, issues relating to global finance, trade, migrants, peace and conflict, sovereignty and cruelty, gender, sexual identity, and racial inequality, Indigenous politics, the environment, the media, health and social policy, and democratic deliberation. We are a highly interdisciplinary group of scholars, drawing from philosophy, sociology, history, law, cultural studies and economics to inform our research and analysis. 

We affirm G.K. Chesteron’s charge to use the imagination in the service of “making settled things strange;” an act we undertake in order to reveal common sense assumptions about why and how power operates as it does, and to consider alternatives. Readers will encounter fresh and challenging perspectives in these posts. We hope our contributions are good to think with, that they foster debate and encourage further reflection and investigation. 

Dr. Lois Harder is Chair and Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta. Dr. Harder's full profile can be found at: