TED lecture. Sheikha Al Mayassa: Globalizing the local, localizing the global

After watching a TED lecture by Sheikha Al Mayassa, a patron of artists, storytellers and filmmakers in Qatar, I had some questions.  First, she emphasizes how art and culture create a country’s identity — and how they allow every country to share its unique identity with the wider world.  While an interesting video, as usually happens in Islamic countries she refuses to acknowledge the fact that culture and art do not have to depend from the metaphysical foundations of any religious tradition.

Islam to her is Philosophy and Culture at the same time; and unfortunately she refuses to acknowledge the contradictions created by her religion by just ignoring them.  This is an interesting video that could help you identify how is it that philosophical contradictions are the root of our diferences with people that lives in areas of the world in which Islam rules.

As such, unless we want chaos it is necesarry that before “globalizing the local, localizing the global” we understand which are the philosophical contradictions that do not enable us (and them) to coexist in peace.

Here’s the video,

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The burning of a Library in Egypt and the Philosophy behind it

The damnation of this earth as a realm where nothing is possible to man but pain, disaster and defeat, a realm inferior to another, “higher,” reality; the damnation of all values, enjoyment, achievement and success on earth as a proof of depravity; the damnation of man’s mind as a source of pride, and the damnation of reason as a “limited,” deceptive, unreliable, impotent faculty, incapable of perceiving the “real” reality and the “true” truth; the split of man in two, setting his consciousness (his soul) against his body, and his moral values against his own interest; the damnation of man’s nature, body and self as evil; the commandment of self-sacrifice, renunciation, suffering, obedience, humility and faith, as the good; the damnation of life and the worship of death, with the promise of rewards beyond the grave—these are the necessary tenets of the [mystic’s] view of existence, as they have been in every variant of [mystical] philosophy throughout the course of mankind’s history. Ayn Rand

Yesterday December 17, 2011 during conflicts between some Egyptian protests, the Egyptian Scientific Institute which established in 1798 by Napolean Bonaparte was burned. The Egyptian Scientific Institute was the oldest scientific institute in Egypt and Middle East at all. It has the most rich and rare library in Egypt.

Eyewitnesses were reported to have seen protestors throwing a Molotov cocktail at stone-throwing soldiers at the Shura Council building, but the projectile missed the intended target and instead landed in the Egyptian Scientific Institute.

The library contains about 40.000 items of rare books and manuscripts, however it has unvaluable items, like:

  •  The original copy of the french book “Description de l’Egypte”
  • Atlas of Old Indian arts.
  • German atlas about Egypt and Ethiopia, 1842.
  • “Egypt: the mother of the world”, 1753.

Professor Mahmoud al-Shernoby, the general secretary of the institute, told state TV in a phone interview that the damage is a “great loss” to Egypt and that those “who caused this disaster showed be punished.”

Photos about burning the Egyptian Scientific Institute:

A Plan to Collapse Iran’s Central Bank and its Origins

The foreign policy of the richest countries has always depended in controlling the world’s monetary systems. As a continuation of the postcolonial systems, they continue holding the power to grant credits to poorer countries, to rescue their economies in periods of crisis and in pushing for an increase in world “reserves” and international “liquidity.” The end result of this policies resulted in creating world inflation and enriching those central banks that controlled the dice of this international game (just as it had been done in the previous colonial period).

Colonialism may seem to many an ‘old history’ that was overcome with the modernization of the world and the decolonization processes after World War II.  Nonetheless, in the following postcolonial period many already institutionalized strategies continued working and are still present today.  The IMF, for example, was one of the institutions born as a result of the decolonization process. Its results (far distant from their founding vision) were to keep the postcolonial countries in monetary and economic dependency.

For long the world’s centralized banking and monetary authorities, headed primarily by the International Monetary Fund, collaborated to initiate a period of surveillance, aid, and guarantees for the world’s financial markets as  and  explained in the post “The IMF and Moral Hazard“. However, the long-term results of theses policies fostered the dependency of postcolonial economies and, as such, empowered the populist leaderships in the former colonies that pursued expansive social programs that couldn’t be supported without their foreign aid and long-term indebtment.

Video: The Plan To Collapse Iran’s Central Bank

Today, I saw a video titled “The Plan To Collapse Iran’s Central Bank” in which analysts in the U.S.A. are evaluating the possibilities of collapsing Iran’s economy and disenabling them to continue researching their nuclear programs. Strategies as these may seem as “bogus” to many; however, the long history of international monetary intervention of the economies in postcolonial countries is long and influential (see: Pastor, Manuel (1989). Latin America, the Debt Crisis, and the International Monetary Fund. Latin American Perspectives).  The results of any of these strategies always end up creating inflation and as  mentioned in his essay “End the IMF” in the year 1963 the only solution for and end to inflation (an as such for peace and economic recovery) is to eliminate the IMF and the interventionist international monetary system that has proved, in practice, a gigantic machine for world inflation.

File:50000 IRR obverse.jpg
50,000 Iranian rial

Republican Debate Highlights on Foreign Policy and National Security

Its been long since the last time I heard a candidate from the GOP really defending the values of fiscal conservatism, respect for individual freedom and a non-interventionist foreign policy for the US in a debate. I have heard it in some Democrat candidates from past debates but never in a Republican debate.  Luckily, I was happy to hear Ron Paul doing so and getting my support and applauses.

Last night, November 23th 2011, CNN, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation sponsored a debate on foreign policy. I leave you now with an interesting summary and some notes done by CBS of the most relevant candidates:

  • WINNERS:

Ron Paul

This was the Texas lawmaker’s strongest debate, getting lots of airtime and challenging many of his rivals about U.S. foreign policy. His views are not in the mainstream of Republican orthodoxy, but he is consistent in his beliefs and not afraid to tell voters what he really thinks. His fundraising numbers could go up in the short-term, based on his debate performance Tuesday night, even if long-term it may be hard for him to broaden his support.

Newt Gingrich

Success begets success. Newt has done well in past debates and it has helped him in the polls. With his polling success, moderators gave him more airtime, which allowed the one-time afterthought and current front-runner to show off his debating skills. He took a risk by going against conservative Republican orthodoxy on immigration, and that could backfire, but overall Gingrich showed that he has been thinking about these issues for decades. And since it was a debate focused on foreign policy, no one asked him about his relationship with mortgage giant Freddie Mac and the $1.6 million he earned, which also helped the former House speaker.

Jon Huntsman

As the former ambassador to both China and Singapore, Tuesday’s national security debate was Jon Huntsman’s moment to shine. And for the most part, he succeeded: Huntsman, who touted throughout the debate his experience living abroad, presented clear policy positions on Pakistan and Afghanistan – at one point getting into a heated debate with Mitt Romney over the Afghan troop drawdown ¬- and even managed to bring the conversation back around to the American economy. Perhaps for the first time in the campaign, the former Utah governor was able to set himself apart from the rest of the GOP crowd.

Michele Bachmann

Despite having largely been written off as a major player in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Rep. Michele Bachmann delivered a strong performance in Tuesday’s debate, demonstrating her confidence discussing policy issues, and taking her competitors to task when they faltered. In a heated exchange with Rick Perry over providing aid to Pakistan, the Minnesota lawmaker blasted the Texas governor for what she described as his “highly naïve” take on the issue; later, she sparred with Newt Gingrich for his stance on immigration. Whether or not Bachmann’s performance was strong enough to get her back in the game remains to be seen – but she certainly earned more screen time than in recent debates.

Mitt Romney

Romney had one of his worst performances of the 11 debates so far, but he still managed to do fairly well. Romney is a front-runner for a reason: he has been running for president for five years and that practice has paid off for the former Massachusetts governor. Romney skillfully turned questions about foreign policy into answers about domestic issues where he was able to contrast his own positions with those of President Obama, cementing the idea that this race is going to come down to Romney and one other candidate.

Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum is still widely considered a long-shot candidate, but he earned his fair share of airtime in Tuesday’s debate. And while the former Pennsylvania senator may not have said much to change how America feels about him – he endorsed racial profiling Muslims and mistakenly referred to Africa as a country – he made his best effort to make his way back onto the public’s radar.

  • LOSERS

Herman Cain

Herman Cain did not have the standout moment he needed to prove to voters he has a command of foreign policy. After surging in the polls, Cain’s campaign has lost momentum in recent days, most notably after stumbling over a question regarding Libya. The only memorable moment from Cain in this debate came when he flubbed debate moderator Wolf Blitzer’s name, calling the CNN anchor “Blitz.”

Rick Perry

The Texas governor took some bold positions during this debate, but his policy stances were vigorously challenged by his colleagues. Perry almost seemed to immediately backtrack on the tough stance he took against foreign aid to Pakistan after Michele Bachmann called his position “naive.” Perry was also on the defense when other candidates — Mitt Romney, Herman Cain and Ron Paul — said they disagreed with Perry’s assertion that the U.S. should consider a no-fly zone over Syria.

Finding the secret of the Prince of Persia in Weimar

Video: Placido Domingo interprets “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s opera Turandot

One of the most wonderful events that a human being could get to see in his lifetime is the opera Turandot. And for the first time in History, in October 14, 2011, the Middle Eastern citizens had the opportunity to attend to a presentation of Turandot at the Royal Opera House Muscaz; Oman‘s premier venue for musical arts and culture last  with a production by Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo1

The decision of choosing Turandot was also specially significant to the history of such a wonderful region because the opera tells a story from the famous Persian collection of stories know as The Book of One Thousand and One Days in which the character of the princess of “Turandokht” was found.This princess was to marry the prince who would solve her three riddles; failing was to result in the death penalty.  First, The Prince of Persia tried to win Turandot, and failing he was going to be executed. in his way to Death he gets to meet Princess Turandot and falls profoundly in love who manages to free himself and make evident his intentions to take Turandot’s challenge. He wins her challenge by answering her riddle but Turandot doesn’t wants to marry him.  In exchange, the prince says to the princess that he doesn’t wants to force the prince to marry him; and that, if she guesses his name before sunrise, he will let her kill him.

In this part, the opera takes you to the most wonderful scenes on Earth while Turandot is trying to guess the Prince’s first name. The Prince manages to kiss princess Turandot she realizes that she also loves The Persian Prince. In an emotional act he tells her his first name is Calaf waiting for her to love him more; however, she is full of anger and arrogance and thinks that he had just revealed the secret she so eagerly looked for. She goes to her father and addresses the Imperial Court; she reveals that the name of his lover is: love.

I remembered this story today while walking alone in the beautiful streets of Weimar seeking for an epiphany. I found it and cried in front of a copy of Auguste Rodin‘s sculpture L’âge d’airain (The Age of Bronze). And just as the Princess Turandot did, I found love today.

Auguste Rodin - The Age of Bronze

Recommended links:

Analysis and Background
Libretto, Discography, and Listenable Media

1 Check the list of all the performances of the Royal Opera House Muscat. Performances

Egypt and the first modern factories

Today I had an epiphany in Economic History thanks to Ph.D. Isa Blumi who gave a lecture on “The Ottoman Legacy: Socio-Economic Dynamics and the Origins of Modern Politics” emphasizing the economic history of Egypt and The Ottoman Empire during the 18th. and 19th Centuries.

The first great argument was rooted in how Egypt had been already transforming its economy and society long before The Napoleonic French Campaign (1798-1801).  As well, he made very clear how Napoleon’s interest in acquiring Egypt’s wheat was much more important than posing for a picture in front of the Sphinx. He explained the consequences of this invasion and the resulting liberation of Egypt by the genious of Muhammad Ali Pasha.

The epiphany to my research interest came when he localized the first modern factory 2,500 miles away from the cities of Derby, Birmingham and Manchester. Most surely, researching this argument would surely enlighten the current historiography of Economic History and establish more roots of entrepreneurial activity, innovation and mass production in the Middle East.  Doing this will also disentail the roots of the creation of Wealth from the Eurocentric historigraphy that has been in fact characterized by its antipodes: mercantilism, patrimonialism and altruism.

If you are interested in learning more of this subjects here are recommended readings that Professor Blumi shared with me:

Syria on the road to chaos?

Last night I attended a lecture titled “Syria on the Road to Democracy or Chaos?” by Ph.D. Candidate Mohammad Maghout hosted by the Institute of Oriental Studies in Leipzig University.  The lecture was an overview of the last 20 years of political oppression and autocrat government in Syria.  The speaker emphasized how Bashar al-Asad was an exact continuation of the government his father, Hafiz al-Asad held in Syria from 1970 to 2001.

Maghout explained that in Syria the government was not only feared but that a cult of reverence toward the al-Asad regime had being built.  He explained that in the 40 years of autocratic regime the regime had amassed its power upon a pyramidal network of tribal, religious and economic leaders that belonged to different ethnic groups and tribes.  In Maghout’s reasoning, it was these ethnic and tribal differences one of the key elements that allowed for the Syrian government to control the population while confronting them every time political tensions appeared.  Indeed, these confrontations were evident after the the 2011 Syrian uprising (from January 26th to March 15th of 2011) and as Salman Shaikh wrote yesterday in the NYTimes (Preventing a Syrian Civil War. NYT. October 12th, 2011), it is these ethnic confrontations and sectarianism that could bring Syria into chaos.

One thing was left without a clear answer from Maghout’s lecture.  It was the question on “why didn’t Syrians react to all the lies, political oppression and corruption of the al-Asad regime previously”.  Maghout explained that Syrians were not only divided in ethnic groups that conflicted within their understanding on “Who Syrians really are”, but that it had passed already too many years of fear for government’s power that brought the population to fear political activity and the use of freedom of speech to protest against government.  While this is true, I consider it not to be sufficient reason.

It may be necessary to understand which was the role (or lack of it) of the economic leaders during the unrest.  I am sure that understanding how crony capitalism works could bring some interesting tools to understand what is the effect of privileges in a society. And as such, could be a valuable tool to understand how can the results of these social movements be differentiated.  The participation of crony capitalists protecting corrupt governments and the participation of entrepreneurs is psycho-epistemological different because of the goals they aim to achieve.  It is entrepreneurs who most often support (economically and logistically) social movements that demand freedom of speech, equality of rights, an end to corruption and the respect of private property.

Photograph: AFP/Getty Images