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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Arie Perliger: "Terrorism is a Democratic Phenomenon"

perliger.jpgArie Perliger, Director of Terrorism Studies at West Point, described the antagonistic relationship between terrorism and democracy in the second edition of the Fall 2012 Human Rights and Terrorism Speaker Series. Adequate scholarship as to why groups turn to terror tactics and the best ways to respond to terrorism has yet to be done. Most interestingly, Perliger argues that effective counterterrorism policies do not necessarily detract from civil liberties.

Perliger is particularly interested in why democracies continue to implement ineffective counterterrorism policies. There is a lack of solid theory on how democracies can effectively respond to terrorism. The existing counterterrorism literature, asserts Perliger, focuses on the operational aspects of counterterrorism policy and neglects the political and legal dimensions of terrorism. Perliger cautioned the audience that it is important to remember that terrorism is the product of groups with political agendas. These groups have turned to violent means and scare tactics, but their aims are political in nature.
Often appropriate consideration is not given to the question of what makes terrorism effective. Terrorism is an effective tactic when the discourse around the conflict or issues in question changes. Terrorist groups rarely, if ever, have the capacity to defeat a traditional state military using traditional military tactics. As a result, terrorist groups must turn to a form of psychological or symbolic warfare. While the impacts of such a strategy are very real, the goals of actors involved are to make a psychological or symbolic impact. When policymakers better understand what makes terrorism an attractive strategy, they will be better able to draft effective counterterrorism policies.
Perliger argues, "terrorism is a democracy phenomenon," because only when engaging with democracies does it make sense to conduct a psychological war. In an autocracy, it does not much matter than the public buys into the narrative offered by their government. In a democracy, on the other hand, public perception matters a great deal. Terrorism as we know it is also a modern phenomenon made possible by the invention of dynamite and the development of mass media.
Perliger then argued that the traditional perception of counterterrorism policies as inherently in opposition to civil liberties is not exactly correct. It is possible, according to Perliger, to respect basic freedoms while implementing effective counterterror policies. He cited the Spanish treatment of the Basque separatist movement as an example, The Spanish government invested in Basque territories economically and allowed for a Basque-run Parliament and schools to be put into place. In this way, the Spanish government delegitimized acts of terror committed by the separatists rather than spurring them on. These policies also offered an alternative narrative, one that allowed for coexistence.
Written by Whitney Taylor.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Visual Economies of Sex Trafficking: Public Images and National Identity

hua1.jpgOn September 21, Julietta Hua, Associate Professor of Women and Gender Studies at San Francisco State University and author of Trafficking Women's Human Rights, kicked off the Feminist Studies Colloquium Series in honor of the Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies' 40th anniversary. Hua's talk was entitled "The Visual Economies of Sex Trafficking: Public Images and National Identity." She also gave the audience a preview of her latest work, which focuses on the broadening terms of what counts as a subject worthy of ethical intervention.


Hua's project revolved around two questions: how do some issues become legible as human rights issues while others do not, and why are human rights represented by certain figures and not others? For example, women's human rights tend to be cast in terms of trafficking or female genital mutilation. Hua contends that human rights issues are commodities, that media and advocacy attention give these issues value. Making an issue legible "helps imagine and police national belonging."
In this framework, Hua analyzed the case of sex trafficking in the United States. Public service announcements and other officially sanctioned documents about sex trafficking feature images of individuals construed solely as helpless victims. The stories of individuals who have been trafficked are made sellable by the construction of infantilization narratives. In other words, a dynamic of victim/rescuer is set up. When these narratives are constructed, however well meaning the authors are, they often refer to cultural stereotypes and oversimplify the complex reality that is human trafficking, which does a disservice both to those being trafficked and those working to combat trafficking.
Hua's next project, tentatively called "Affect, Ethics & Primates." Recently Hua visited a chimpanzee sanctuary in California. She interviewed the people working there and found that many spoke of their work in terms of ethics. Hua hopes to further investigate how these attitudes are challenging what we consider worthy of ethical attention.
Written by Whitney Taylor.

Monday, September 24, 2012

New Report from NIJC & Physicians for Human Rights Exposes Inhumane Use of Solitary Confinement in Immigration Detention System

Immigrants in detention facilities around the United States often are subjected to punitive and long-term solitary confinement and denied meaningful avenues of appeal, according to an investigation by Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). Continue reading...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Todd Hinnen Speaks to Human Rights Class About Electronic Surveillance

hinnensized.jpgKicking off the Fall 2012 Human Rights and Terrorism speaker series, attorney Todd Hinnen, a partner at Perkins Coie LLP, discussed the United States' electronic surveillance program with students in Professor Kathryn Sikkink's "Human Rights and Democracy in the World" class and members of the public on September 17. Hinnen has extensive experience working in the Department of Justice, including as the Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security.

Working primarily within the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) system, Hinnen addressed the legality for government electronic surveillance following the September 11 terrorist attacks. Hinnen acknowledged the difficulty of balancing the government's interest in investigating potential threats and respecting an individual's right to privacy, as codified in the US Constitution and explicated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The checks and balance system found throughout the US government, Hinnen asserted, helps to maintain this balance.
The United States Congress initially passed the legislation to create the FISA mechanisms and has conducted investigations into intelligence abuses, including the Church Committee. The Department of Justice, which falls under the executive branch, conducts investigations and applies for FISA warrants. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret court, determines whether or not to issue warrants for electronic surveillance. The overwhelming majority of surveillance requests are granted.
Currently, Amnesty International USA, Human Rights Watch, The Nation Magazine, the Washington Office on Latin America and other organizations are seeking to challenge the FISA Amendments Act's legality. The organizations allege that the 2001 warrantless wiretapping program and 2008 program expansion gave the National Security Agency unconstitutional and almost unchecked power to monitor Americans' international phone calls and emails. On October 29, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for the case.
by Whitney Taylor

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Survey Project on Popular Opinion and Human Rights Underway

ron.jpgOn Tuesday, September 11, Professor James Ron, the current Stassen Chair for International Affairs at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs & Department of Political Science, detailed his current research for an audience of faculty members, undergraduate and graduate students, and the broader community. Joining Professor Ron via Skype were his colleagues David Crow of CIDE-Mexico and Archana Pandya of the Rights-Based Organization Project. Ron and his colleagues have been gathering data from around the world in an attempt to answer the question, what do ordinary people think about human rights and human rights organizations?

As part of a three-phase study, Ron, Crow, and Pandya are in the process of conducting extensive surveys in four countries: Mexico, Brazil, India, and Morocco. During an earlier phase of the project, Ron and Pandya interviewed individuals who are active in legally registered rights-based organizations from around the world. These new surveys are meant to test hypotheses about public opinion of human rights set forth in the interviews. In particular, Ron, Crow, and Pandya hope to test for the effects of religion and urban versus rural locale on trust of human rights organizations and human rights work generally. Data collected for this project will be made publicly available.
Written by Whitney Taylor.

Human Rights Fellow Participates in Conference in Ireland

cork1.jpgHuman Rights Fellow Corbin Treacy spent the first week of the semester in Ireland at a conference called "Imagining Contemporary Algerias." Read about Corbin's experience below:

Studying Algerian literature in the United States can, at times, make for pretty isolating work. When I present at conferences, I am often seated on a panel with fellow "Francophonists," which means that I might have a colleague on my left presenting on the Québécois pastoral novel and, on my right, a scholar of the Senegalese oral tradition. Fascinating though the potential connections between and among our respective projects might be, this system of classification (France over here, the rest over there) rarely leaves me feeling any closer to my chosen objects of study and more often than not, has me wondering if it was worth the trip.


Such was not the case at a conference I recently attended at University College Cork (Ireland), "Imagining Contemporary Algerias: Communities, Nation-State, the Maghreb and the Mediterranean." Organized by Patrick Crowley (Irish Research Council for Humanities and Social Sciences Senior Research Fellow) and Megan MacDonald (IRCHSS Government of Ireland Post-Doctoral Fellow), the conference brought together seventeen scholars from across Europe, Algeria, and the US. Conferences dedicated to the study of the Algerian cultural imaginary don't happen very often, and it was refreshing to have beside me colleagues grappling with similar questions, however varied our approaches and methods might be.
Keynote speaker Jane Hiddleston (Exeter College, Oxford University) applied pressure to theories of reading and literature in the theoretical writings of Derek Attridge and Jacques Rancière to rethink the political stakes of literature and the limits of reading as an act of engagement in her talk, "Algerian Literary Encounters: Reading and Writing in Two Novels by Tahar Djaout." Salim Bachi, the second keynote speaker, revisited his novels (particulary Le Chien d'Ulysse) to argue that authorship is above all an act of creating and proposing alternative worlds, a cartography of the unknown. Both presentations spawned thoughtful discussions that continued well beyond the walls of our conference room. My paper, "Aesthetics and Politics in Contemporary Algeria: Kamel Daoud and the Nouvel Engagement," discussed the fictional works of Kamel Daoud, an Algerian journalist, editor, and novelist whose writing leverages myth, fantasy, and formal innovation as an anti-representational and imaginative response to the violence, human rights abuses, and conflict of the past twenty years. The papers presented by my fellow panelists were provocative, rigorous, and highly original; I left with a long list of books to read, films to see, and new friends with whom to keep in touch.
I could not have attended this conference without the generous support of the Human Rights Program and the Institute for Global Studies, for which I am deeply grateful.