Avoiding the Next Ferguson

28 August 2014

Avoiding the Next Ferguson


Watching the events unfold in Ferguson, Missouri, I can’t help thinking about the Holocaust and post-war Germany.

As the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, I’ve spent years watching Germany wrestle with its dark past. It’s just one of many places that have made efforts to understand and compensate for a difficult history: For nearly three decades, countries as varied as South Africa, Rwanda, and the nations of Latin America and post-Communist Eastern Europe have been engaged in this process, often called “transitional justice.” That’s a broad term for the ways in which societies deal with the legacies of past injustice. Many believe that countries can only move forward once they have come to terms with their past in this way.

We’re accustomed to looking abroad for examples of such processes. But maybe—especially in light of racial tensions once again revealed in Ferguson—it’s time for us to begin thinking about what “transitional justice” could mean for the U.S.

Like many nations, Americans are reluctant to see ourselves in the same light as human rights abusers elsewhere. And yet our history includes a number of glaring atrocities, including the genocide of Native Americans and slavery and its aftermath.  But the United States lags behind other societies in its efforts to confront and make amends for that legacy.

A first step in the process seems simple: official acknowledgment.

What, exactly would that entail? Justice means more than putting perpetrators on trial. The transitional justice process  also encompasses methods focused on the victims and the wider society, such as truthseeking, memorialization, education, institutional change, and material compensation—that is, actions that seek not only to punish, but to encourage a shared historical understanding, begin to repair the damage done, and ensure that it can’t happen again.

A first step in the process seems simple: official acknowledgment. Yet societies are often hesitant to admit historical wrongdoing. Armenians have been trying for decades to get Turkish authorities to acknowledge that they were the victims of an organized crime. To understand what this means, I’ve tried to imagine what I would feel had Germany not accepted responsibility for the Holocaust. Official silence negates the experience of the victims, but it’s also damaging to perpetrator societies; it feeds denial and false narratives of history that allow tensions and resentments to persist.

More: These are the problems that charity can’t solve

Apology often accompanies acknowledgment. Both Australia and Canada have recently apologized to their aboriginal populations for decades of removing children from their families. German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s famous gesture in Warsaw in 1970, when he fell to his knees before a memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, enraged many Germans who preferred not to face questions of guilt and responsibility. But this spontaneous gesture of atonement was enormously important to Holocaust survivors. In recent years, the Polish government has reversed decades of denial under its Communist government by acknowledging the participation of some Poles in anti- Semitic atrocities during World War II. Even the U.S. has managed an apology—in 1988, after a long campaign by Japanese-Americans, president Reagan apologized for the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Yet the U.S. has never officially apologized for slavery or Jim Crow (and a 2009 “apology” to Native Americans, slipped into a Defense Appropriations Act, made little impact). Nor are there memorials to slavery or to the Native American genocide on a scale similar to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. That memorial, imperfect as it is, represents a conscious public acknowledgment by a perpetrator society of its own wrongdoing—both a rebuke to deniers and a purposeful statement that memory should not only be the job of victims.

One reason societies often resist officially acknowledging wrongdoing is the fear of being held financially accountable. Even years after the fact, victims or their descendants may ask for the return of confiscated property, bank accounts, or uncollected insurance claims, as they have in the case of the Holocaust, Eastern European communism, and the Armenian genocide. Reagan’s apology for our treatment of Japanese-Americans was accompanied by monetary compensation.

Financial reparations are in fact the most direct way to compensate victims for past suffering.

Germany was able to pay millions to survivors of the Holocaust who suffered quantifiable harm, and continues to do so (my father received a small monthly check that made an enormous difference, especially to a penniless new immigrant in the 1950s who had lost his entire family in the Holocaust; my mother, not a survivor, still receives a widow’s pension). Societies with fewer resources have offered other types of reparation: scholarships to victims’ children, affirmative action programs, and preferential housing, health care and other entitlements.

One of the most important aspects of successful transitional justice, therefore, lies in illuminating not only the victims’ suffering, but also the ways in which an entire society continues to  bear the burdens of history.

In the United States, however, we are more likely to insist that existing institutions already provide a sufficient foundation for improving conditions, as though we could erase the effects of past atrocity without undertaking any difficult changes. Except in the brief period following the Civil War, direct financial compensation for slavery and Jim Crow has never had a serious place on the national agenda. The most significant effort to compensate for the institutionalized legal, economic and social discrimination against black Americans that persisted into recent decades—a modern legacy of slavery and Jim Crow vividly described in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent Atlantic Monthly piece “The Case for Reparations”—was affirmative action, but it has largely been reversed by the Supreme Court. Very little has been done to directly address ongoing racial injustices such as the disproportionate incarceration of black Americans, which author Michelle Alexander has referred to as “The New Jim Crow.”

Transitional justice demands recognition that fulfilling responsibilities to the past requires more than merely lip service from a perpetrator society. Crimes against minority groups in any society bring benefits to the perpetrator group, and compensating for them can necessitate material sacrifice. But remorse often ends where personal sacrifice begins. Marco Williams’ 2006 documentary, Banished, tells the story of several black towns in the American South that were ethnically cleansed in the early 20th century. A black family from one of these towns sought to have a father’s remains reburied near their new home and was met with sympathy from the white residents of the town—until they asked the town to pay the costs. As in Germany, where polls over the years have shown significant minorities that deny an ongoing financial responsibility towards the victims of the Holocaust, many fail to see why they should be held individually accountable for the acts of their parents or grandparents. The benefits accrued through the injustices of the past are not always apparent.

One of the most important aspects of successful transitional justice, therefore, lies in illuminating not only the victims’ suffering, but the ways in which an entire society continues to  bear the burdens of history. This helps elevate an important point: correcting injustice may require affirmative steps. The U.S. government and society need to recognize—and educate citizens on—the direct connections between continuing racial disparities in this country and the wrongs that gave rise to them, and to talk far more about the responsibilities we all share for  repairing the damage. Perhaps Ferguson – which has revealed what can happen when we suppress these conversations – will finally motivate us to think about how to address the harms, whether through material reparations or otherwise. If we’re willing to start talking, we’ll find no shortage of role models for transitional justice throughout the world to help us take the next steps.

About the Author

Belinda Cooper
Belinda Cooper is a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute and an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights and New York University’s Center for Global Affairs.

Mute the War Drums


It appears inevitable: The U.S. is preparing to expand its military campaign against ISIS from Iraq into Syria, where the extremist movement birthed its proto-state.

U.S. officials have argued that ISIS is an “imminent threat” to U.S. interests. In my trips to Gaziantep, Turkey, where many Syrian activists have been sheltering, I heard laments of their violent tyranny and vociferous calls for Western intervention.

Despite the very real ISIS problem, military action against the movement in Syria presents a far more complicated case than Iraq. Rushing to war without adequately shaping a strategy to account for the challenges could backfire – leaving fewer available options to counter it and potentially strengthening its grip.

More: How to contain ISIS

Beating ISIS – cash rich and well-equipped with heavy weaponry– would require an extensive air campaign with an effective, reliable ground partner and a political plan. At present neither exist.

In Iraq, the U.S. was able to deploy airpower to reinforce Kurdish Peshmerga forces, known for their fighting prowess and real commitment to routing ISIS. In Syria, there is no entity with similar standing. The Iranian-backed Assad regime, rejected by the West, has been committing its own appalling war crimes, including barrel bombing population centers, gassing citizens, and arresting and torturing innocent civilians on a scale that rivals ISIS. An about face on Assad would not only risk damage to American credibility but also alienate Gulf allies in the region and moderate Syrian opposition elements.

The U.S. and Iran may be able to find common ground on the need to defeat ISIS but achieving a political consensus on the future of Syria remains elusive.

The U.S. and Iran may be able to find common ground on the need to defeat ISIS but achieving a political consensus on the future of Syria remains elusive.

But neither can the U.S. rely on the current Syrian opposition, plagued by chronic divisions and severely weakened by its two-front war of attrition against ISIS and Assad. Some analysts argue that a U.S. air campaign combined with the proper arming of rebels would boost morale, reverse the attrition, and enable moderate fighters to do the job on the ground. But it is unlikely that in-fighting and social divisions could be resolved or managed without significant, multifold investments made over time, including at least some U.S. ground presence.

More realistic is a combined ground force operating within a strategic political framework premised on a power-sharing solution. Such an agreement is far off.

An effective strategy must also include regional powerbrokers – Saudi Arabia and Iran, the two main proxies in Syria. A regional alliance is necessary to successfully take on ISIS, but also to prevent a back slide into the sectarian contest that served as feeding ground for extremism in the first place. The US has been pursuing a reset with Iran on the nuclear file. Talks have thus far excluded formal discussions on Syria. The U.S. and Iran may be able to find common ground on the need to defeat ISIS but achieving a political consensus on the future of Syria remains elusive.

More: We asked 6 experts how to defeat ISIS.

Broad international commitments, including numerous states, including Turkey and European nations, are also essential to stem the tide of foreign recruits and end illicit trade with ISIS.

Most significantly, any military intervention must minimize civilian suffering in a region already overburdened by horrific violence and massive Syrian displacement. Addressing Syrian needs and interests is not a minor issue given that the humanitarian catastrophe in the country is in part what has allowed ISIS to flourish as it swept into conquered territory delivering services and imposing order to wanting populations. And any sound stabilization plan must account for Syrian – and Iraqi – grievances that led to the national conflicts ISIS has been exploiting.

If, as is anticipated, the White House seeks out Congressional approval for an expanded campaign against ISIS, it will need to account for these gaps. The tragic execution of American journalist James Foley presents an opening to begin making a case, but given President Obama’s standing policy of retrenchment and the challenges of acting in Syria, it will take a much more developed policy to garner – sustain – public support for the kind of campaign needed to make a difference against ISIS and for the people of the region.

About the Author

Leila Hilal
Leila Hilal is Director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation. She focuses on Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and issues related to U.S. foreign policy, community-based change, constitution-making, and transitional justice in the broader Middle East and North Africa.

A New Coalition of the Willing


As the Islamic State continues to conquer territory in both Iraq and Syria, the United States has responded with targeted airstrikes intended to roll back Sunni extremists in Iraq. Although ISIS has become a potential threat to Europe and the rest of the Middle East, many of these same nations may be unwilling to fight ISIS with the United States. Some have other problems like the continuing crisis in Eastern Europe, or slower than expected economic recovery, and others fiercely criticized the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

We asked 5 experts:

Is an international coalition necessary to defeat ISIS, and if so, is the international community willing to help?


Emma Sky- Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute and Former Political Advisor to U.S. General Ray Odierno

There is increasing pressure on the U.S. to react to the dramatic rise of ISIS. The U.S. first needs to identify its national interests. If the U.S. determines that ISIS is a threat to national security, it will need a carefully calibrated long-term multi-faceted regional policy – working with allies. U.S. action in the region will inevitably have unintended consequences – but non-action is also fraught with risk.

Sunni Arabs in the Levant and Iraq are key to defeating ISIS. As ISIS took control of vast swathes of territory, tens of thousands fled in its wake. Others, however, remained, often tolerating ISIS as the lesser of two evils when compared with the Assad and Maliki regimes.

Sunni Arabs in Iraq and Levant will stop supporting ISIS once they see that it cannot win, does not deliver stability, and there are better alternatives.

Military containment. Accurate airstrikes and support to local ground forces can help contain ISIS and stop its advances. However, if not done correctly, this can increase refugee flows and push Sunni Arabs to seek ISIS’s protection.

Better government. The new Iraqi government should be encouraged to be inclusive, address Sunni and Kurdish grievances, and radically decentralize power. Saudi – and other Sunni powers – need to embrace it and show goodwill to Shias. Iran needs to be pushed to accept power-sharing negotiations in Syria.

Outreach to Sunni armed groups. Support should be increased to carefully identified Sunni Arab groups to help them fight ISIS.


Peter Mandaville- Director of Middle East & Islamic Studies at George Mason University and former member of the Policy Planning Staff at the State Department

It’s likely that several international partners and regional allies would join the U.S. in any enhanced effort to strike ISIS targets with air power and sea-launched cruise missiles. But the central point to make here is that ISIS cannot be defeated by kinetic power alone. It is a product of—and thrives on—the instability and absence of effective governance found in both Syria and Iraq today. ISIS therefore can only be eliminated by altering the political environment in those countries.

In Iraq there is a chance of international military action being able to achieve some meaningful tactical success against the Islamic State. Its momentum, which has already slowed considerably, can be halted and its capabilities significantly degraded in order to give the Iraqi army the time and breathing room needed to mount an effective counteroffensive. But any such success will be ephemeral if Iraq’s government does not rise to the challenge of providing better and more inclusive governance  in these areas.

In Syria, the situation is more complex insofar as there are a wide range of Islamist militias operating on the ground, some of which actually oppose ISIS, but they are not always easy to distinguish for purposes of target selection—hence the new U.S. reconnaissance efforts. There is also the question of how international armed action in Syria would alter the military balance in that country, with the risk of handing Bashar al-Assad a decisive upper hand if he no longer has to worry about ISIS.

While some measure of international cooperation may help the U.S. to put a broader face on any new military action, the fact remains that the real prospects for eliminating ISIS lie with actors in the region itself.


Suzanne DiMaggio- Senior Fellow and Director of the Iran Initiative at New America

Any attempt to defeat ISIS will require the U.S. to cooperate with a broad coalition of governments. Given Iran’s influence in both Iraq and Syria, the U.S. would be well-served by exploring the potential of working with Iran as part of or in parallel to such a coalition.

Cooperation with Iran to thwart a common extremist threat has a notable precedent. Following the 9/11 attacks, converging interests against Al-Qaeda led to Iran’s direct collaboration with the U.S. to establish a democratic government in Kabul.

Direct bilateral exchanges between the U.S. and Iran on Iran’s nuclear program — which were first conducted under-the-radar beginning in 2012 and now occur on a regular basis within the context of the P5+1 nuclear talks — have led to a reduction in tensions, making the idea of U.S.-Iran coordination to counter ISIS a real possibility.

U.S. and Iranian officials have confirmed that they have been discussing ISIS on the sidelines of the nuclear talks over past months. The relatively smooth transition in leadership from Nouri al-Maliki to Haidar al-Abadi, coupled with Tehran’s muted response to American air strikes on ISIS in Iraq, suggests that at least some coordination between Washington and Tehran has already occurred.

Working with an “adversary” that supports other groups employing terrorist tactics will not be easy. But current and emerging circumstances in the region, including the rise of ISIS, demand Washington’s full exploration of  cooperation with Tehran on carefully selected shared objectives. As shared interests go, degrading ISIS is as compelling as they come.


Sharon Burke- Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy; Senior Advisor at New America

As I’m writing this, it’s one of those improbably mild days, like a cosmic gift in what is usually the armpit of the summer.  And all I can think is that it reminds me of the weather on 9/11.

Now, maybe I internalized that day to an unusual degree, but I hope all Americans did to some degree. Because it’s not realistic to think we can hunker down inside our own borders, nor that we can deal with global challenges unilaterally.

So, yes, of course ISIL is our problem and of course we can’t solve it alone.

No nation can stand alone in this age of mobility – of moneywordspeople, and weapons. That means we need a mix of formal coalitionspop-up partnerships, nations acting on their own, and even involuntary cooperation (including forgiveness rather than permission for crossing airspace). That’s a matter of efficacy, but also just of resources. The United States lacks the assets to be all things to all threats, and we don’t have the luxury of choosing whether to deal with Ebola or ISIS. Both can come home to roost.

Will other nations, in turn, be willing to help?  Yes. Maybe not always when we want or in the ways we want. Sometimes it will be below the waterline or involve distasteful compromises. But it will happen. It is happening.

What worries me more is that all the cooperation and support in the world isn’t going to be enough if we have none here at home. And I’m a lot less sure about that.


Carla Anne Robbins- Adjunct Senior Fellow at CFR and Clinical Professor of National Security Studies at CUNY

The swift and brutal rise of ISIS should provide two lessons for the U.S. and our allies: First – no matter now much we want it – there is no easy exit from the Middle East. Second, if the U.S. doesn’t engage responsibly, the results are rarely good.

The battles to defeat or more likely contain ISIL will have to be fought on the ground by Iraqis, Kurds, Syrians and others. They need support—airstrikes, intelligence, weapons, training, and goading toward political settlements. But if Washington is the only one providing that support and doing that goading it will feed the extremists’ narrative and popular resentments in the region and here.

Is the international community willing to step up? Some European leaders get the danger. We were all horrified by the videotaped execution of James Foley, but the fact that the masked jihadi wielding the knife spoke with a British accent had to be especially searing for the Brits. Whatever the Europeans will be willing to do, it will be a lot less than the U.S. And so far it’s not clear how much President Obama is willing to do.

An even more difficult question is how much support the U.S. can expect from regional players given the many rivalries and competing interests. The most cynical move so far (it won’t be the last) was the suggestion by Damascus that the U.S. and Syria coordinate air strikes against ISIS. As laughable as that sounds, the U.S. is going to have to figure out how to weaken ISIS without strengthening Bashar al-Assad. It is going to be hard. But we have already seen what happens when this country doesn’t act.


About the Author

Justin Lynch
Justin Lynch is the Social Media Coordinator at the New America Foundation. Outside of New America, Justin is the Youth Ambassador to the United Nations for Voices of African Mothers, where he works to promote gender equality and educational opportunity in West Africa.

Don’t Be a Cash Cow


Do master’s degrees do anything more than shore up a university’s bottom line? In The Washington Monthly Kevin Carey discusses how “boot camps” might give students more bang for their buck than traditional graduate schools. Read an excerpt of the piece below.

Washington, D.C., is a college town. Georgetown, American, Catholic, Howard, and George Washington Universities all have sprawling campuses with dorms, lecture halls, athletic fields, and tens of thousands of students. But one of the most interesting higher education organizations in D.C. has none of those things. It’s called General Assembly. The entire “campus” is located on one end of the eighth floor of an office building on 15th Street, in a space that looks like a Silicon Valley startup, complete with cappuccino machines and lots of youngish people pecking away on their MacBooks. It’s like the whole university is the student lounge.

The differences don’t stop there. GA uses a business and learning model that departs radically from established colleges and universities. Instead of enrolling in the expensive one- and two-year master’s degrees that are increasingly becoming the norm for people trying to find a foothold in the job market, students at General Assembly’s twelve campuses in America, Europe, Australia, and Asia take intense, eight- to twelve-week programs in high-demand fields like computer programming and designing the user experience for high-traffic commercial websites. The goal isn’t to teach them everything they need to know to be great in a job. The goal is to teach them just enough to start a career. Because when it comes to learning and work, the most important thing is work itself.

More: Beware of the D.C. summer internship

To enroll, students go through a job interview-like process designed to gauge their commitment to the $9,500 course.* Many for-profit colleges will accept virtually anyone who can sign their name on federal student loan documents. The worst for-profits simply pass students through, imparting virtually no useful skills. GA doesn’t take federal aid. The first page of its application says, “In addition to the 9am-5pm class time, you will spend 10+ hours a week building your portfolio and honing your skill set outside of class. Do you anticipate any barriers that would prevent you from devoting this time to the program?”

Kate Tikoian, one of the students taking the user experience (UX) course in the D.C. office this spring, is a D.C. native who earned a Spanish degree from Emory University in 2002. Since the recruiters weren’t lining up to hire Spanish majors, she moved back to her hometown and became a self-taught IT person for a couple of small startup companies. That was enough to earn a living. But keeping the servers running and the email system from crashing was a technician’s work, not a career. Kate wanted to do something more creative, complicated, and lucrative. That would require skills she couldn’t pick up on her own.

In her first week in the course, Kate and a partner student presented one another with a problem to solve by designing a mobile app. Kate’s partner and her spouse had recently moved in with her father-in-law, which meant that their household now had two, sometimes overlapping and redundant, weekly grocery lists. Kate’s solution was to create an app called Already Got Spinach, a home pantry manager that generated automated shopping lists based on unavailable food.

Kate conducted “user interviews” with family members to get more specific information on their shopping habits, created “user flow” analyses that tracked how people would progress through the application, and sketched out app designs. This led to “content mapping,” a synthesis of the visuals and the user experience, a prototype app on paper, and then usability testing. The results were then presented to the rest of the class. All of this was done in the first four days of the course. The rest of the UX class was built around a series of projects, each taking students in greater depth into skills like researching user preferences, designing friendly, intuitive interfaces, prototyping and testing products, and working with teams and clients.

Related: What will the future of education look like?

The UX course was project based because skills are acquired through practice. While some theory is important, learning to work does not primarily involve the accumulation of facts and abstract concepts—unless, as with traditional academic subjects like history, dealing with facts and abstract concepts is the actual job. Reporters become better reporters by reporting, with the guidance of an editor. Chefs become better chefs by cooking. If you want to learn UX design, pick a problem and get started with an experienced UX designer looking on.

The UX students come to General Assembly every day during the week, where they split their time between attending classes taught by industry experts, working on projects in teams, and studying on their own. The atmosphere is quiet, informal, and collaborative, with a lot of huddling around laptops and sketching out ideas with markers on whiteboards. Nights and weekends are spent refining projects and working online. The educational model itself is not particularly dependent on technology. Much of the learning takes place as students and faculty interact in person.

The course length and intense workload are also no accident. There’s a reason the Marine Corps doesn’t send fresh recruits straight to the front lines: they need basic training. But there’s also a reason boot camp takes only twelve weeks—not coincidentally, the length of the longest course at GA and many of its competitors. Marines don’t leave Parris Island with the full complement of knowledge and skill needed to be the best soldier they can ever be. They leave with enough knowledge and skill to make a positive contribution to the organization, and to get started learning everything else they need on the job.

Ron Lin, chief technology officer and co-founder of the prepaid Visa card company Card.com, says he likes to hire GA graduates because they represent “the convergence of aptitude and commitment.” He knows that the admissions process selects for students willing to do demanding work. And because the project-focused GA curriculum produces a detailed portfolio of work that is easily displayed electronically, he can evaluate candidates’ skills and abilities directly. In the end, he said, “whether or not someone has a college degree is predictive of certain things, but it’s not the primary qualification. I want to know: What do you know? What have you done? How do you work?”

Lin isn’t the only one who thinks this way. According to the company’s self-reported statistics, over 90 percent of students get a job within three months of graduation. The number of GA graduates increased from 3,000 in 2013 to a projected 8,000 in 2014.

Ron Lin’s three questions have become incredibly important for young adults struggling to launch their careers. General Assembly and companies like it live in the growing chasm between the end of college and the beginning of meaningful work, a gap that exists because neither colleges nor businesses are willing to give students the training they need.

Click here to read the full article.

About the Author

Kevin CareyEducation Policy Program Director
Kevin Carey is director of the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation. An expert on Pre-K-12 and higher education issues, Carey has published articles on education and other topics in The New York Times, Slate, The New Republic, Washington Monthly, The American Prospect, and Democracy, among others. He writes a monthly column for The Chronicle of Higher Education and edits the annual Washington Monthly College Guide.

We Interrupt This Broadcast

New America President Anne-Marie Slaughter and guests explore the ideas and policy challenges that not only dominate today’s headlines, but will shape our future. Subscribe to the Weekly Wonk Podcast in iTunes.

No, you’re not imagining things: news media today is dominated by white male voices. Lauren Bohn wants to change that. The co-founder of the startup Foreign Policy Interrupted explains what we lose when we don’t hear the perspectives of women and minorities on the news – and how she’s planning to disrupt the same old talking points and talking heads.

Turning Protesters into Terrorists


Are political protestors terrorists? Under a new law in Pakistan, police there might start treating them that way.  That has major implications for the future of democracy in Pakistan – and broader regional stability.

So far, the protests of Imran Khan and Tahir al Qadri – the leaders of two Pakistani political parties – have been relatively peaceful. But if tensions boil over and police are forced to crack down as justified by the newly enacted Protection of Pakistan Act, there’s little legal recourse for the protestors who may be hurt or killed.

By now, you’re asking, how could a law call for that? Here’s how. Start in July when Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain signed the Protection of Pakistan Act into law, granting Pakistan’s security forces and judicial officials acting under the law immunity “for the acts done in good faith during the performance of their duties.” That’s nearly carte blanche for bad police behavior.  Add in the fact that the law is meant to “provide for protection against waging of war against Pakistan [and] the prevention of acts threatening the security of Pakistan.” Since the parties of Khan and al Qadri are calling for the prime minister to resign, the law’s vagueness might allow many actions that would qualify as freedom of speech to be prosecutable and reverses the burden of proof.  The list of possible examples throws an absurdly wide net, including “crimes against computers including cyber crimes, internet offenses and other offenses related to information technology.” This means that police officers can arrest a person suspected of committing these offenses without having to first obtain a warrant, essentially reversing the burden of proof. The law also allows security forces to shoot suspects on sight, as long as they have the permission of a top official.

Related: Obama doesn’t want an Afghan peace deal, he wants a peace process.

It smells even by Pakistani standards. The law, which has a two-year mandate, violates fundamental human rights as enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that Pakistan ratified in 2010, according to Phelim Kline, deputy director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch.

The law hasn’t had a chilling effect just yet, as the thousands of protestors who are still gathering in Islamabad show, but how the political crisis is resolved — peacefully and diplomatically or violently and under the shroud of the new law — will affect the future of freedom of expression in the country.

The future relies not just on how rowdy the protesters get, but also on how the courts interpret the new law.

Ironically, Pakistanis could look to their next-door rival, India, if they want to see an example of what could happen under this new law. There, security forces in the region near the border with Bangladesh and Myanmar have a similar immunity for their actions under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958. Since the law was adopted, law enforcement in remote places like Kashmir has included torturing, raping, and executing citizens with impunity. Christof Heyns, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, called the powers granted under the law “broader than that allowable under a state of emergency as the right to life may effectively be suspended.”

According to The New York Times, human rights advocates have called for the repeal of the Indian law for years in vain. Just this month, Irom Sharmila Chanu, a human rights advocate, gained international media attention when the state of Manipur ordered her release from prison. She had been jailed since 2000 on charges of attempted suicide since beginning a hunger strike almost 14 years ago in protest of the Armed Forces Act. But even after her release from prison, where she was fed through a nasal tube, her brother said she planned to continue her hunger strike in protest of the law. In spite of her valiant efforts — and the brief international attention they garnered — India has kept immunity for its soldiers in place. The justification? According to Defense Minister Arun Jaitley, the security situation is still unstable and there’s no way to tell when it the region will be secure enough to repeal the law.

Listen: What was the American invasion like in the eyes of Afghans?

It is that type of model that Pakistan is mirroring – only Pakistan’s provision applies to the entire country, not just select regions. It’s a devil’s brew in a country with a history of non-democratic upheaval, including multiple coups. You’ve got twitchy law enforcement that’s been under siege for years, an unpopular government and a law that permits both to over-react to political threats.  The future relies not just on how rowdy the protesters get, but also on how the courts interpret the new law.

Using the law to protect security officers who injure civilians during protests could anger a public that is seeing for the first time around the world what large-scale social engagement in politics – and taking grievances to the streets –  can do.  If the government does over-reach, it would further alienate the Pakistani public from a civilian government that refuses to keep the military’s power in check, potentially setting the stage for a coup. Waiting in the wings and happy to see chaos: the Pakistani Taliban. The law, which only plays into the hands of those who oppose democracy, is a potential detonator to a region already on the brink of a power vacuum, as U.S. and NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan.

About the Author

Emily SchneiderResearch Associate
Emily Schneider is a research associate for the International Security at New America.

Populists, It’s All About Populists


Contrary to conventional wisdom, Yascha Mounk argues in Foreign Affairs that we’re experiencing not a populist moment but rather a populist turn, one that could have a big impact on policy in the years ahead.

Since Roman times, virtually every type of government that holds competitive elections has experienced some form of populism — some attempt by ambitious politicians to mobilize the masses in opposition to an establishment they depict as corrupt or self-serving. From Tiberius Gracchus and the populares of the Roman Senate, to the champions of the popolo in Machiavelli’s sixteenth-century Florence, to the Jacobins in Paris in the late eighteenth century, to the Jacksonian Democrats who stormed nineteenth-century Washington — all based their attempts at mass mobilization on appeals to the simplicity and goodness of ordinary people. By the mid-twentieth century, populism had become a common feature of democracy.

Far from reflecting a temporary crisis, the rise of populism stems from a set of long-term challenges that have diminished the ability of democratic governments to satisfy their citizens. These problems, including a long-term stagnation in living standards and deep crises of national identity, will not go away anytime soon — not even if the economies of the Western democracies experience an unforeseen boom in the coming years. The fact is that the past two decades have represented not a populist moment but rather a populist turn — one that will exert significant influence on policy and public opinion for decades to come.

Click here to read the full article.

About the Author

Yascha MounkNew America Fellow
Yascha Mounk is a fellow at New America, where he writes about technological solutions to the political and environmental challenges of the 21st century, and how confused attitudes about nature are making us overly hesitant to embrace them.

Why Some Gays Are (Still) Losing


“And then he told me that I’m cute, for an Asian.”

I’d just met the guy who said this to me. It was a Tuesday night, when many a gay at Oxford go to club Baby Love for its weekly GLBT night. Though he was then a stranger, we had one obvious thing in common, beyond our sexuality: We’re both people of color. But that was more than enough for us to strike up a friendship. Gay men are eager to scoot over and offer their own a seat at the table. This stranger and I knew, however, that being white is a big help.

Right now you’re slapping your head, asking, “Seriously? In one of the most enduring outsider communities, there’s an inside and an outside?” That’s right, you can hear in a club in what doesn’t seem like 2014 that you’re cute, for an Asian. Stories like this aren’t rare. But they’re little discussed when the gay community itself is talking about tolerance.

One way to make this plain, and maybe even a bit painful, is that I, for instance, never had to “come out” as black. No need to remind anyone how my skin color can produce pain for us all, but for me, racism wasn’t really a problem until graduate school, when I finally conjured up enough courage to get involved in the gay community. It’s not that those of us who are double outsiders aren’t noticed by those who take center stage in the main gay narrative. It’s that when we are, we’re usually disregarded. We’re there. We’re just not that important. In other words, we’re cute, for an Asian. The next chapter of the gay rights movement is to hold itself to its own standard of inclusion, however tenuous it may be.

How could a community that’s built partly on the shared experiences of isolation and narrow-mindedness be blind to similar behavior?

How to do that? First, ask the right questions: How could a community that’s built partly on the shared experiences of isolation and narrow-mindedness be blind to similar behavior? I have my doubts that the spirit of exclusion within the gay community is malicious. The importance of compassion isn’t lost on your average gay man, who most likely endured quite a bit of awkwardness and self-consciousness on coming out.

The big issue is privilege.

I get that my being male is an advantage, and an unearned one. I don’t worry about hitting my head on a big chunk of glass ceiling, for instance, though it’s not like I did anything to earn the perks so often afforded men. (I should mention that privilege isn’t the same as guilt. Gender isn’t something that anyone has a say in, so feeling guilty about it doesn’t make too much sense.) Moreover, I’m happy that sexuality is far less of a hurdle than it used to be, thanks to the fact that it’s now framed largely in terms of freedom and rights, not merely awareness and pride. I also get that my being black is a disadvantage, and will probably continue to be one.

I get it.

But it’s galling that something as superficial as race remains something of a shortcoming in a community that understands the importance of inclusion, or ought to. On his own experiences as a gay, black writer, James Baldwin said to his white audience: “You give me this advantage. Whereas you never had to look at me – because you have sealed me away along with sin and hell and death – my life was in your hands, and I had to look at you. I know more about you than you know about me.” Those who craft our society’s central plot are privileged such that they don’t have to think about the supporting cast. And Baldwin called them out on it.

In many ways gays are viewed as a monolith as much by themselves as they are by others.

This isn’t to wax poetic about race, though. It’s a broader perception problem. In many ways gays are viewed as a monolith as much by themselves as they are by others. Take Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project, for instance: It shines a light on teenagers who are bullied because they’re gay, assuring them through gay adults’ own stories that life is worth living. But for all of the ink that’s been spilled on the project, its message is lost on some gay men:

[Others] have noted that privilege does play a large and unspoken role in many of the [It Gets Better] project’s narratives; especially for GLBT folks who are also facing other forms of oppression, leaving their home towns and entering an accepting GLBT community may be much harder and more complicated than it looks.

I realize, of course, that the project can’t remedy every social ill, and that it’s a hard-fought victory toward a wider acceptance of gays. However, a win for gays, on the whole, shouldn’t twist the fact that even within our own diverse enclave, some gays are still losing. For someone who’s bisexual or older or overweight or transgender, exclusion isn’t unusual. The takeaway point: It hasn’t gotten better for a lot of GLBT folks.

But some programs are bringing attention to this. The “We Got Your Back” project provides a platform to start “conversations about the importance of inclusion within [the GLBT] community,” particularly by addressing biphobia, transphobia, and racism. Still, this isn’t the victim Olympics, seeing what group has it worse. It’s about being mindful of our actions, because a movement in which some people aren’t heard, in which many stories are flattened into one, misses the point. Identity isn’t clear-cut. But, certainly, it’s intersectional. English novelist Zadie Smith describes people as having “complicated back stories, messy histories, multiple narratives.” It’s through this wider lens that we should view gays. Or, we should all check our privilege. No one would question the fact that gay rights have made great strides. For a mature movement, however, they’re not where they should be because the community is fractured.

We GLBT outcasts could build our own table, but it’d be better to see that privilege doesn’t in fact trump respect. On Baldwin’s relationship to race, critic F.W. Dupee explained that “[Baldwin] wears his color as Hester Prynne did her scarlet letter, proudly. Believing himself to have been branded as different from and inferior to the white majority, he will make a virtue of his situation. He will be different, and in his own way better.”

We all have more than one scarlet letter. We should wear them, proudly.

About the Author

Brandon Tensley
Brandon Tensley is an M.Phil. candidate in European Politics & Society at the University of Oxford and an editorial intern at New America.

Techno Sapiens: The End of Serendipity Edition


Welcome to Techno Sapiens, a biweekly series of six podcasts hosted by Future Tense fellows Christine Rosen, senior editor of the New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology & Society, and Marvin Ammori, a First Amendment lawyer who has worked for Google, eBay, and Dropbox, among others. Each podcast will examine how technology—now and in the future—will impact us as a species, and how we relate to each other.

On today’s episode, Christine and Marvin discuss online ranking with Tom Vanderbilt, journalist and author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). The hosts ask whether we’ve let our obsession with grading everything from restaurants to books on sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Amazon is undermining expertise and serendipity, or whether we’re finally getting the facts rather than the overrated opinions of critics.

Here are some of the links and references mentioned during this week’s show:

This article is part of Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, New America, and Slate. Future Tense explores the ways emerging technologies affect society, policy, and culture. To read more, visit the Future Tense blog and the Future Tense home page. You can also follow us on Twitter.