Arguing for Catalan Independence

Posted by dianamuir on October 04, 2012
Calalonia / Comments Off on Arguing for Catalan Independence

The independence movement is not driven by hatred of Spain. Catalan nationalism is civic and cultural, unlike the ethnic nationalism that has so often plagued Europe. Indeed, most of the two million Spaniards who migrated to Catalonia in the 1960s and ’70s are today fully integrated and many of them have embraced secessionist ideals…

The growth of the secessionist movement is also a reaction to a renewed wave of Spanish nationalism. When Catalonia passed a more far-reaching autonomy law in 2006, some political parties and media outlets unleashed a fierce anti-Catalan campaign that included a boycott of Catalan products. This campaign caused an emotional rift, and many Catalans concluded that only independence would protect them. Once mutual trust was lost, other possible solutions, like a federal state, lost their appeal…

Spain’s Constitution may not permit regions to secede, but the principles of democracy and justice necessitate finding a political solution to Catalonia’s demands. In a world where deep-seated national grievances often lead to violence, Catalans offer the example that peaceful change is possible. Denying Catalans the right to self-determination would be an affront to the democratic ideals that Spain, and Europe, claim to embrace.

Excerpted form New York Times, Oct. 2, 2012

Ricard González is the former Washington correspondent for El Mundo and the Catalan magazine El Temps. Jaume Clotet is a novelist and former political editor of the Catalan newspaper Avui.


Mark Lilla on Nations

Posted by dianamuir on October 04, 2012
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“For more than two centuries the fate of decent and humane politics in Europe has been tied to that of the nation-state as the dominant form of European political life. And we can see why. If a moderately sized political entity is to attract the loyalty and the commitment of its citizens, it must find a way to bind them together; and among the ties it finds ready to hand are those of language, religion, and culture, broadly understood. Yes, those ties are artifacts of history, subject to manipulation and ‘invention’; they are not brute facts. But they are, politically speaking, extremely useful inventions, given that only the rarest of states could generate those ties by civic means alone. (Not even the United States or Switzerland manages to do so.) One of the long-standing puzzles of politics is how to wed political attachment (which is particular) to political decency (which knows no borders). The nation-state has been the best modern means discovered so far of squaring the circle, opening a political space for both reasonable reflection and effective action.”


Mark Lilla



Moab – When is a Nation?

Posted by dianamuir on September 30, 2012
Ancient nationhood, Nationhood / Comments Off on Moab – When is a Nation?

Moab was one of a number of small Levantine polities that  offer a series of case examples of state formation and in the 10th-9th century BCE, and, possibly, shed light on the question of When is a nation?

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I find John Brueilly’s assertion that “Ancient Greece and Israel were not cases in which nationalism could or did arise,”  problematic   his assertion that “the Hebrew Scriptures reveal a case like no other,” ignorant.  The Hebrew Scriptures reveal Israelite states in Judah and Israel that are portrayed as being very  similar to its west-Semitic speaking neighbors.   The archaeology supports the text, with many other texts.  If we want to know about nations and nationalism, we would be foolish to assert that nationalism “could” and “did ” not arise in the ancient Levant before carefully examining the evidence.

Archaeology has the great charm of constantly producing new evidence, even new literary evidence, for the 10th and 9th century BCE.  With funding, we can hope soon to know a great deal more not only about Moab, but about Edom, Ammon, Aram, Judah, Israel and the Phoenecian city states.

Two key facts pertaining to questions of nationhood  in this region are that much of the physical culture is continuous across state borders, and the languages are closely related.   A similar situation  faces  historians interrogating nationalism in 19th and 20th century Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Germany.

In 2004 Bruce Routledge examined state formation  in  Moab in the Iron Age: Hegemony, Polity, Archaeology.  Here, I will not review, but merely summarize those of his findings most relevant to to questions of nations and nationalism. 

Although Moab is mentioned in Bronze Age Egyptian inscriptions, it was not governed directly by Egypt even when lands west of the Jordan were.   From the Egyptian perspective, the exploitable resources in Moab were apparently not worth the trouble of exploiting.   The disruptions that mark the transition from Bronze to Iron age in the Levant are so well known that even Wikipedia covers them.    The settlers who founded the five Philistine city-states along the coast arrived during this period.   In the hill country,  the Iron Age emerges in the form of “pillared” or “four-room” houses.

Routledge: “The logic by which the community was organized changed in a relatively radical manner.  This transformation was not simply ideological or economic, as it involved changes in both modes of production and modes of identification.  If one were looking for operative symbols to characterize this transformation, it would be the shift from ‘palace’ to ‘house.'”p. 89

The shift is from a Bronze Age culture in which an upper class displays its ability to dominate in elaborate displays of prestige and imported goods in both palaces and tombs, all the way up to the level of a tomb in which a man in leg-shackles is killed to enhance the prestige of the grave goods accumulated in an elite tomb.  The Iron Age social landscape is dominated by family homes.   These are arranged, on both sides of the Jordan, in  agricultural villages of perhaps 100-400 persons, often built in naturally defended positions (perched on the rim of a wadi, fields in the bottom-lands) and surrounded by a stone fortification wall.

An interesting aspect of the  villages in Moab as Routledge reads them is that they were founded, grew, and declined in population over the course of as little as a few decades, with the more important houses inhabited first and abandoned last.  He reads this as evidence of a kind of frontier settlement that has been described in parts of Africa. (p. 111)   When arable land is plentiful, men can stake claims to leadership roles by recruiting settlers, leading them into new territory, and successful  defending productive land.   There is a social fluidity here that is not the sort traditionally understood by tribal, but based (as attested by the houses) on the option of families to choose affiliation.

In this context, the Semitic word house (byt) acquires a series of meanings encompassing not only the residential building, the family, and the temple, which, unlike the Bronze Age freestanding temples of the region, was at first a dedicated room within the house.  House (byt) could also refer to the the descendants and  of  the kind of leader who might found a village or who had founded the ruling ‘house’ of a kingdom, which would come to be known as “The House of….”

It was, of course, the gap between regional domination by  great empires centered in  Egypt and Mesopotamia that permitted the formation of Levantine kingdoms known as the House of Ammon, the House of Hazael (Aram-Damascus), the House of Gush, the House of Omri and the House of David.

“I am Mesha son of Kemosh(yat) king of Moab the Dibonite…”

These are the opening words of the  Mesha stele , a remarkable document discovered in Moab in the late 19th century and now in the Louvre.   Unlike, the Bible, we don’t have to wonder how old the various parts of the text are.   The dating is tight, ~840BCE.     We can of course, quibble about the interpretation.  Routledge argues that the stele is more or less a campaign document in  the  9th century Moabite daily plebiscite.

Mesha’s father was a Dibonite,  ruler of Dibon,  in the northwest corner of Moab.  In the stele Mesha is promoting his claim  and that of this particular House to unify and rule a dozen “houses” in geographical Moab under his kingship.   Many aspects of his claim are familiar.

Mesha argues that he has liberated Moab from an oppressive imperial power, Israel under King Omri.   Kemosh, god of Moab, favors his claim.   He has expelled occupying powers, expanding  the territory   Moab controls.  He has made it prosper, built a reservoir, cisterns, roads, a palace,  temples, and defensive walls for the cities.   Therefore the leaders and people of the various parts of the land should unite under “the centralizing triad of Moab, Kemosh and Mesha.” p. 151

Routledge does not focus as much as others have on the evolution of Moabite as a distinctive “national” language, implying, perhaps correctly, that this can be overdone in a situation where aside from the Mesha stele, inscriptions are few and almost all discovered by the destructive illegal digging for artifacts to sell on the antiquities market that is sadly rampant in Jordan.

Routledge is not arguing for a highly centralized state.  Iron age Dibon was a “regal-ritual” center, with public buildings.  More The Hague than Amsterdam.  Which is not to say that it did not exercise real power.  There was a series of border fortifications on the eastern frontier.  (p. 193)  Nor were the boasts on the stele mere royal hot air.  Thea 9th century reservoir and royal palace have been unearthed. (p. 162)  Moab, with its proto-aeolic column capitals and other royal accouterments certainly was  a kingdom in the style of the neighboring Kingdoms that flourished before   the Levant when it was conquered by Assyria.

We can hope for more light to come from new digs (and, unless the world changes, from the destructive activities of antiquities robbers.)   But the Mesha stele speaks with the voice of the Iron Age and stakes a strong claim to Moab as a unified kingdom that sounds oddly like the voices  Susan Reynolds brings us from the kingdoms of Europe.







Peoples drift apart, Singapore and the Chinese, North and South Korea,

Posted by dianamuir on July 27, 2012
American nationhood, Nationhood / Comments Off on Peoples drift apart, Singapore and the Chinese, North and South Korea,

Long-time Singaporeans resent new immigrants form China despite the fact that Singapore’s carefully controlled immigration policies insures that most immigrants are ethnic Chinese (i.e., not ethnic Malay or ethnic Tamil; the government favors immigration of Straits Chinese).

The fact is that peoples drift apart, most Americans have an ancestor from somewhere in the British Isles, and Uncle Sam is an English-speaking grandson of John Bull.  But we are very different from the equally English-speaking people of Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.  David Hackett Fisher’s new book Fairness and Freedom is a deeply insightful look at how and why the British colonies in American and New Zealand evolved into such very different nations.

The most dramatic examples of how rapidly peoples can drift apart are Germany and Korea.   East and West Germany were divided for a mere three decades; but the substantive differences between the German governments on the eastern and western sides of the Iron Curtain produced significant cultural differences.  The reunion was  smoothed by the economic boom.

North Korea has been far more successful in cutting off contact with the outside world than East Germany ever was.    South Korea’s highly educated, prosperous  population, with its strong Buddhist traditions and one of the world’s most dynamic  Christian communities is light year’s away from the impoverished farmers and laborers kept in ignorance  world by the elite, totalitarian  rulers of  North Korean Communism.    Whether the peoples of these two now very different countries choose to unite as a single nation some day is an interesting question, but they certainly demonstrate how rapidly circumstances can produce dramatic cultural change.

Singaporeans, even the majority of the native-born population that has Chinese ancestry, understandably finds the sudden influx of hundreds of thousands of mainland Chinese unsettling.   Many Singaporeans do not speak Chinese as a native language, and many are from Straits Chinese families that left the mother country generations and even centuries ago.   Singapore was  a prosperous, British colony for over a century and has been one of the worlds’ most prosperous polities for the last generation.   Singapore’s combination of efficient government and lack of democracy is unique, and it has produced something of a unique local culture.

British rule and the remarkable regime run by the Lees, père et fils, has produced a culture that is different form Britain, different from China, one with a greater sense of trust, as one recent Chinese immigrant told the New York Times, “it is great to live in a country where you can trust people and trust the government.”

Singapore ranks # 5 in  Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.  China ranks #75.

That, and the fact that Singaporeans think that spitting on the sidewalk is gross, are among  the more glaring reasons why Singaporeans are less than enthusiastic about the huge influx of immigrants from the mainland.

Resentment of immigration is not necessarily bigotry.




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Time for Population Separation in Syria

Posted by dianamuir on July 20, 2012
Nationhood / 7 Comments

If the international community wants to do something useful in Syria, it could assist an orderly population separation into ethnic nation states.

A massive population separation is already underway; Kurds are fencing off their northeastern corner of the (erstwhile?)  Syrian state,  Alawites are fleeing to their historic coastal province, Armenians are fleeing to Armenia, the Druze have a refuge in Jabal Druze, but Syria’s one and a half million Christians are caught between a rock and a hard place.  The rock is the grim prospects for Christian life under either a Sunni or an Islamist regime.  The hard place is Lebanon.

Armenians are the most interesting case.  Some Armenians have lived in what is now Syria since time immemorial, but most are descended from refugees who fled the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Young Turks in 1915; they are finding refuge in Armenia, a poverty-stricken, resource-poor  country created on a patch of territory between the Caspian and the Black Sea and not on very good terms with the neighbors.  Syrian Armenians are fleeing to Armenia not because it is an attractive place to go, but because, if, as Robert Frost has told us, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there. They have to take you in.”

Armenia recognizes a Right of Return for Armenians because it anticipated situations like the Syria civil war.   The Armenian refugees from Syria will have citizenship, but they will have little else.   Syria in 2012 is a minor ethnic refugee crisis compared to millions of ethnic refugees created by the 1948 partition of India, to name just one example   But, like almost all earlier victims of ethnic cleansing, the Christians fleeing Syria will get no compensation for the homes, farms, and businesses they will be forced to leave behind.

The Armenians are fortunate; they will have some assistance from the ethnic kin state of Armenia, and they will have citizenship.

Lebanon, the closest approximation  to an ethnic kin state that the Arabic Speaking Christians of Syria have, is a much harder place.   A colossal French error of judgment combined with Maronite hubris resulted in the creation of a Lebanese state without a secure Christian majority; now is the moment to correct that error.

The peoples of the former French colony of Syria could be given justice, citizenship, and an opportunity to create the kind of state that enjoys the rule of law and even economic opportunity if the international community seized this moment to support the creation of a series of ethnic nation states, a small Alawite state, a Christian, Arabic speaking Lebanon, Kurdistan, and a Sunni dominated Syria.  Each of these fledgling states would have a demos, a people with sufficient cultural unity to have a chance at producing decent government.

The Twelver Shia who created the Iranian-backed rogue state of Hezbollah in south Lebanon could be exchanged for the Christians who have already been expelled from Iraq.   This would replicate the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne in which over a million Greeks who had already been expelled from the new Turkish state were given a measure of rough justice by the League of Nations when a few hundred thousand Muslims were legally required to leave Greece (and the remnant of the Greek Christians to leave Anatolia).

The idea was that the Greek Christians who had been brutally “cleansed” from their ancient Anatolian homeland could at least have the homes and farms of Muslims.   The poverty and human suffering was appalling, and Greece has not made a particularly good job of self-government.

But, and this is an important but, except in Cyprus (exempted from the population exchange because it was a British naval base) the Greek-Turkish population exchange meant that for the first time in over half a millennium Turks stopped massacring Greek Christians.   Nor has there been a Greco-Turkish war since 1923.

The United Nations could do better this time.   It could compensate the exchangees with a fair market price for their homes, lands and businesses.  (I suggest sending the bill to France on the you-broke-it-you-pay-for-it principle.)

Population separation; because it’s time  to think about a solution capable of producing peace.



Detailed French Mandate map:

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