June 22, 2012
As California’s high-tech firms grew to become economic powerhouses in the American economy, they punched below their weight politically. For the most part, they are not very savvy about the ways of Washington — they came late to the lobbying game — and their political strategies were naïve compared with those of old industrial sectors like oil and automobiles.
That seems to be changing. In January, a group of high-tech heavyweights, including Google and Wikipedia, along with less prominent combatants (155,000 Web sites in all) and nonprofits such as Fight for the Future, joined in a massive online blackout to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Since the bill’s introduction in May 2011, a wide mix of representatives from the film, television, music, and publishing industries had been championing SOPA and its sibling, the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), two pieces of legislation designed to address international theft of copyrighted U.S. intellectual property.
But then something remarkable happened: After Wikipedia and others went dark in protest, petitions circulated, and Silicon Valley CEOs had their say, the other side blinked. Support on Capitol Hill evaporated, and SOPA’s lead congressional sponsor, Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), pulled the bill from the floor.
SOPA’s defeat has been held up as a triumph for Internet freedom. But in combination with a few earlier examples, including Google’s 2010 courageous but lonely stance against the People’s Republic of China, it represents something more transformational. January’s legislative battle marked the first time the major U.S. tech firms and their friends and followers came together and leveraged their political might like the globalized, information-age colossus that they have been for a long time.
Over the last 30 years, even as the United States transformed from a manufacturing economy into a service economy and the economic epicenter of innovation and progress shifted decisively toward high-tech frontiers such as Boston and North Carolina’s Raleigh-Durham Research Triangle, the technology industry’s political engagement remained paltry. Lobbyists were considered by many such enterprises to be The Man; lobbying was taboo. Tech firms were very slow to assign staff to Washington, and when they did, their numbers were puny relative to industrial-age companies that are not so politically retiring. Compare information-industry goliaths to those in the U.S. oil industry. In 2010, ExxonMobile employed nine in-house lobbyists and worked with 41 outside registered ones, according to a Center for Responsive Politics compilation. That same year, Apple employed three in-house lobbyists and worked with 13 others. Facebook worked with two, so it was telling when that number ballooned last year, pre-IPO, to 23.
Tech’s lack of engagement is curious, considering the sector’s role in the U.S. economy. In 2007, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, some 60 percent of total U.S. exports came from intellectual-property-intensive industries. In 2010, according to Forbes, 15 of the top 50 U.S. brands were in the tech sector; financial services and the food and beverage sectors were distant runner-ups, with six each among the top 50. The federal government estimates that the information sector’s contribution to the gross domestic product is a seemingly scant four percent, but experts such as MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson argue that even that figure is an underestimation, since today the worth of even an automobile may reside as much in its information technology systems as in its steel and other materials. Meanwhile, agriculture hovers at approximately one percent of the GDP and yet reaps and sows benefits from its long-past legacy.
The upshot is that the United States’ foreign economic policy has suffered. In the last decade, it should have been geared toward promoting fast-growing, innovative sectors. Instead, it sat by as Washington pursued a hodgepodge of uncoordinated, often ineffective efforts that did little to advance the economy and instead threatened to leave the United States behind more tech-supportive international rivals. This was all the worse considering that in every economic age, government taxation, employment, and capital access policies have been instrumental to companies’ competitive successes at home and in international markets. The United States will not be able to maintain its global advantages if the country fails to craft policies that maximize information-age soft and hard powers.
But before defining an ideal high-tech foreign economic policy, one has to recognize that, as often as not, the sources of most policy lay in particular economic interests. When the interests are as politically sophisticated, organized, and strategic as agriculture and energy, then they successfully articulate and lobby for their own agenda. That has not been the case with Silicon Valley…
Demir furniture store in the western German city of Recklinghausen is the go-to place for people in need of either inexpensive furniture or, for some Muslims, advice on how to handle a disobedient daughter.
In his 400-square-meter (4,300-square-foot) warehouse-like shop, Haj Nur Demir, a 61-year-old Lebanese man, sells items like used desks, washing machines and armchairs from estate sales. The furniture dealer is tall, slim, gray-haired and sports a mustache. He also exudes authority. It’s a good trait to have in his second profession.
Demir estimates that he has settled more than 2,000 conflicts in Muslim families in Germany and Lebanon since 1972. Sometimes Demir merely provides information on the phone, and at other times he practically has to throw himself between the parties to prevent them from coming to blows.
Demir’s typical clients are husbands whose wives have left them and fathers of couples who are having problems. They often complain about their wives and daughters, namely Muslim women who rebel against corporal punishment or want to free themselves from the confines of marriage, even if they have children.
First, Demir speaks with the fathers, and then with the couples. The ultimate goal, says Demir, is to keep the family together. He says that he tells the men they have to treat their wives better and to not use violence, and he explains to the women that as divorcees with children they will not be able to find a new husband in their community. At the end of Demir’s missions, the wife usually returns to her husband.
He has authority, but Demir has no legal training whatsoever. Men like him have established a parallel family justice system in Germany in recent years. Imams, arbitrators and so-called justices of the peace become active before German courts are even involved. They perform marriages and divorces, and they propose rules for child custody. They also try to convince women and girls who rebel against their families to return or stay.
An Imported Tradition
Immigrants from Turkey and Arab nations imported arbitration to Germany. It is based on a thousand-year-old Islamic legal tradition rooted in customs and the Koran. In cases of marital strife, for example, the Koran calls for “an arbitrator from his family and an arbitrator from her family.”
The Yazidi, Roma and Albanians have similar arbitration traditions. Sometimes there are months-long peace talks before the arbitrator makes a decision, which then has the effect of a court ruling. For example, a daughter who has fled to a woman’s shelter returns to her parents and is permitted to begin vocational training programs, while a pregnant daughter is required to marry and move in with her boyfriend’s family.
All of this is going largely unnoticed by the general public. Last week, German police made headlines when they conducted an operation against radical Islamists. Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, a member of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), said: “Salafists pursue the goal of overcoming the democratic constitutional state in favor of an order that, according to their standards, is ‘ordained by God.’” The Salafists want a theocracy in which Sharia is the rule of law.
People like arbitrator Demir are not aggressively fighting the constitutional state or the constitution. But is their parallel system of justice compatible with the German constitution? The Muslim shadow judges are mainly protecting the patriarchal structures of a culture whose proponents are not truly interested in becoming integrated in Germany. Most arbitrators tolerate restrictions of the basic rights of women, and they urge women to accept these constraints.
‘Two Legal Systems’
Arnold Mengelkoch, the official in charge of immigrant affairs in Berlin’s Neukölln district, is familiar with the “informal Islamic family justice system” in his neighborhood. He estimates that 10 to 15 percent of Muslims in the religiously conservative community use the system to resolve their conflicts.
“There are two legal systems,” says Sabine Scholz, a family law attorney in the northern city of Flensburg, “a German one and an Islamic one, which puts women at a disadvantage.”
For some Muslim immigrants, Islamic law is more important than German law. Mathias Rohe, an Islamic law expert in the Bavarian city of Erlangen, encountered cases in his field studies “in which Muslim parties performed marriages or divorces, for example, exclusively in accordance with traditional Islamic norms.”
Some Muslims mistrust government organizations, says Rohe, who sees himself as an intermediary between Islamic and German legal cultures. According to Rohe, some people are trying “to establish a religious parallel structure, because they do not want to submit to the institutions of a secular, non-Islamic state.”
As a result, imams and arbitrators in Berlin, the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia and the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein apply Sharia law on a daily basis, even though it is sometimes incompatible with the German constitution and German family law. In particular, Islamic law discriminates against women in the following ways…
June 22, 2012
War correspondent Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998) was a household name—epitomizing bravery, glamour, and political commitment—to previous generations of Americans, especially in the 1930s and ’40s when she covered the Spanish Civil War, World War II, and the Nuremberg trials for mass-publication magazines such as Collier’s. Gellhorn is no longer well-known outside of journalistic circles, but that may change due to a mini-revival of works by and about her. Her 1940 novel about the fall of Czechoslovakia, A Stricken Field, which Eleanor Roosevelt, admittedly a friend, called a “masterpiece,” has recently been reissued by the University of Chicago Press. Love Goes to Press, a play she co-wrote with fellow journalist Virginia Cowles, is currently playing at Manhattan’s Mint Theater on West 43rd Street. Perhaps most prominently, HBO recently aired (and continues to re-air) Hemingway & Gellhorn, which portrayed what the network called “the passionate love affair and tumultuous marriage” of the two writers (played by, respectively, Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman). The film was frequently ludicrous—see, for instance, the scene in which a young Chou Enlai, then a guerrilla (and looking, mysteriously, far more Amer-Asian than Chinese), tells Gellhorn and Hemingway that A Farewell to Arms was miscast. Still, it was nice to see a mainstream movie at least give lip-service to anti-fascism and show a real, live Communist as something other than the devil incarnate. There is little chance that the HBO film would have pleased Gellhorn, though: after her acrimonious divorce from Hemingway in 1945, he was her least favorite subject on Earth, and she bitterly resented being known as his ex-wife. “I simply never want to hear his name mentioned again,” she wrote to her mother. “A man must be a very great genius to make up for being such a loathsome human being.”
In a career that spanned six decades, Gellhorn covered wars in, among other places, China, Finland, Israel, Vietnam, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. Some of her pieces can devastate us anew. “Behind the barbed wire and the electric fence, the skeletons sat in the sun and searched themselves for lice,” she wrote from Dachau in May 1945. Her words still sting; in another dispatch from a just-defeated Germany, she mocked the self-pity and denial of ordinary Germans: “I hid a Jew for six weeks. I hid a Jew for eight weeks. (I hid a Jew, he hid a Jew, all God’s chillun hid Jews).” The unadulterated fury of these pieces often shocks my journalism students—Gellhorn herself later termed the Germany articles “paeans of hate”—and it is doubtful that they would be published (or written) today. But there was nothing in her tone that would have shocked American readers at the time (or, for that matter, those in England, France, Holland, Greece, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Russia . . . the list goes on). And it is awfully hard to imagine how one could write a balanced dispatch from Dachau.
At a time when the perils of war reporting seem to be on the increase, as evidenced by the recent deaths in Syria of journalists Anthony Shadid and Marie Colvin and photojournalists Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros in Libya (not to mention the hundreds of journalists and media workers killed in Iraq since 2004 and the dozens in Mexico in the last few years), Gellhorn’s approach to journalism is fascinating to revisit. To read her work, and talk to contemporary war correspondents about it, is to understand a paradox: Gellhorn’s approach to war reporting was utterly modern, indeed prescient—and, at the same time, has become completely outdated.
Gellhorn arrived in Spain in 1937 with the explicit purpose of aiding the Republic. But she didn’t know how—much less how to be a war correspondent. Years later, she recalled: “What made a story, to begin with? Didn’t something gigantic and conclusive have to happen before one could write an article?” A journalist friend of hers suggested that she write about Madrid. “Why would that interest anyone? I asked. It was daily life. He pointed out that it was not everybody’s daily life.” She added, “What was new and prophetic about the war in Spain was the life of the civilians, who stayed at home and had war brought to them.”
The civilians who had war brought to them: could there be a better encapsulation of the twentieth century’s trajectory of armed conflicts? “That statement shows a real clarity on Gellhorn’s part,” says Jon Lee Anderson, a reporter for The New Yorker who has covered wars in Central America, Iraq, and Syria. Statistics confirm Gellhorn’s insight: the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, for instance, has estimated that in World War I, soldiers constituted 95 percent of casualties; in contemporary conflicts, most of which are intra-national, unarmed civilians account for 80 to 90 percent of casualties. In many of today’s wars, civilians are the deliberate—indeed, the primary—targets: think, for instance, of the Lord’s Resistance Army, the Ugandan group that enslaves children; of the militias in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who are systemic practitioners of mass rape and vaginal mutilation; of the Taliban’s bombings of schools and marketplaces; of Al Qaeda’s attacks on Iraqi mosques; of Al Shabaab’s assaults on medical students, teachers, and soccer fans; of the recent wars in Darfur, Colombia, Chechnya, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Political theorist John Keane has dubbed these conflicts “uncivil wars” whose perpetrators practice “violence according to no rules except those of destructiveness itself—of people, property, the infrastructure, places of historical importance, even nature itself . . . Some of today’s conflicts seem to lack any logic or structure except that of murder on an unlimited scale.” Mary Kaldor of the London School of Economics has written that these new wars replace “the politics of ideas” with “the politics of identity” and cannot, therefore, be understood in conventional political terms. Kaldor argues that whereas the traditional goal of modern wars, including guerrilla wars and liberation movements, has been to win over native populations and establish a new state, the new warriors seek to sustain chaos, sow “fear and hatred” among their countrymen, perpetuate failed or imploded states, and expel (or murder) civilian populations.
This shift in war-making has been echoed by a shift in war reporting. Christina Lamb, now Washington bureau chief for the Sunday Times of London, spent more than two decades reporting on wars; yet it is people, not battles, which interest her. “I’ve been doing this for so long, I know about weapons,” says Lamb, author of Small Wars Permitting. “But for me the real story is daily life, particularly for women. They have to feed their children, educate them—even living on the edge.” Kim Barker, former South Asian bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune and author of The Taliban Shuffle, agrees. “I don’t go out to the front and do the ‘bang-bang.’ The most interesting part for me is not how people die through war, but how they live through war.” Anderson, author ofGuerrillas and The Fall of Baghdad, remembers a seemingly inconsequential but revealing detail of civilian life as the war in Iraq began…