Friday, August 11, 2006

Slightly Off Topic

For the most part, today's post is a collection of comments I've left at Jeff Jarvis's BuzzMachine blog. It has little to do social entrepreneurship, but it does touch on a related humanitarian concern.

Jeff writes: Reuters reports that Muslims are “bristling” at the term Islamic fascists. Well, tough shit.’

So what is fascism?

British philosopher Roger Scruton in A Dictionary of Political Thought writes:

The anti-communist and anti-liberal stance of fascist movements. . .have made the fight against fascism a rallying point for the left and liberal cause, so that the label ‘fascist’ may be applied very losely, to denote almost any doctrine that conflicts left-liberal ideology. In this expletive use the term conveys no very clear idea, a fact which perhaps explains its popularity.’

In other words, 'fascism' is a catch-word - a term of propaganda. It is an emotive term that does little to help us understand our current predicament. Politicians love catch-words and phrases. Words they can use to deter honest discussion and debate.

Fascists worship the state and its leader. They embrace a devient form of socialism (national rather than international in outlook - National Socialism - Nazi) mixed with a repulsive racism.

Islamic terrorists are repulsive people, but I doubt that many are fascists. Islam, even terrorist Islam, is international rather than national in outlook, and it is not especially marked by racism.

My hunch is that many Islamic terrorists feel that they are the victims rather than the perpetrators of racism. That’s one reason why, in my opinion, the case for Israel shouldn’t be argued (as it is by some of Jarvis's fans) in terms of brown skinned Arabs and white skinned Jews. Such arguments only serve to validate the terrorist’s basic emotional assumptions. (And, of course, Jews may be white or brown skinned.)

In any case, no matter how satisfying one may find name calling, it is not likely to lead any workable solution to the problems we face. I prefer pleasing results to pleasing methods. Calling Muslims names may feel good, but it will produce little else that might be described as good.

I believe that the so-called war-on-terror now needs to enlist social entrepreneurs as much as it needs to enlist (more) soldiers.

In my opinion, Amanda Craig's comments in the Jewish Chronicle strike the right note. She writes:

I do not believe that terrorism can be countered by violence - it’s like cutting off the Hydra’s head, two more spring up in its place. Hizbollah is an evil organisation, and exploits the people it hides among. But terrorism, like religion, feeds off misery. If Israel really wanted to end terrorism, the best, most intelligent way of doing so would be to make its enemies prosperous.” Amanda Craig, author and journalist

The efforts of Jeff Skoll and Isabel Maxwell to promote peace and prosperity through social entrepreneurship are in keeping with Craig's suggestion. I hope their various projects encourage many others to fight terrorism with something more constructive than bombs, bullets and insults.

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Blogger Jeff Jarvis said...


peter beinart in his new book emphasizes totalitarianism. i think that is proper in some cases. but perhaps we dont have the right word for this stateless, murderous force.

i agree about the benefits and necessity economic relations. we should have been opening businesses in baghdad. but i dont' agree that will solve it all. hezbollah doesn't want jobs. it wants violence.

(btw, sorry your comment got caught in my spam filter; i've released the dolphin.)

8:02 pm  
Anonymous Jonathan Trenn said...


I have to say that I find the concept of making one's enemies prosperous, especially in a case such as this, as being hopefully naiive.

How can State A, in this case Israel, make an opponent or enemy 'prosperous' when ;

1) that enemy or opponent wants State A dead, wiped off the map

2) the ememy has largely been sponsored by two entities, in this case Syria (a corrupt dicatorship that is largely not concerned about its own citizens) and Iran (lead largely by religious fanatics who are more concerned with Sharia that economic development). Neither of those entities - espcially Syria - really care about Lebaneses.

3) the culture of those that often need the most help is not open to the things that create economic development

4) each state is primarily responsible for economic well being of its own people. How should Israel go about do they use capital, personnel, raw materials, know-how, to better another that has a large block of citizens that want to see Israel destroyed?

1:56 pm  
Blogger Tom said...


Thanks for your input.

The objective isn't to make one's enemies prosperous, but to turn one's enemies into one's prosperous friends.

That said, social entrepreneurship isn't a state based activity. The state might remove certain obstacle to doing business, but after that it's up to the entrepreneurs work on creating solutions that lead to peace and prosperity.

PS Social entrepreneurship (olive branch) is a compliment to the action of the state(arrow), not a replacement.

3:38 pm  
Blogger Tom said...


What follows isn't an example of SE, but it does illustrate the benefits of prosperity:

Bread and butter
by Paul Schemm

The cold peace between Egypt and Israel had long been one of the givens of Middle East politics. In contrast to former President Anwar Al Sadat's warm handshake with Israel, his successor, Husni Mubarak, kept relations cool and later, in 2000, positively glacial with the start of the latest intifada. Egypt pulled out its ambassador, trade dwindled and even agricultural cooperation was petering out between the two countries. The government made no effort to rein in the anti-Israeli rantings of the press corps and many analysts.

So it was with some surprise for Egyptians when this December, Israel and Egypt were suddenly not only engaged in intense negotiations over the future of the Gaza Strip, but exchanging prisoners and signing trade deals. The Egyptian government has made a major policy shift in the last month and decided to publicly improve its relations with Israel, despite continuing antipathy for the Jewish state in the general population. Part of the reason for this sea change is probably political and relates to worsening relations between Egypt and its chief patron the United States, but at its heart, it may have more to do with the bread and butter issues of business and economy.

For those looking for the signs, the events of December were not a total surprise. The Israeli press occasionally carried stories about plans to sign a Qualifying Industrial Zones (QIZ) trade deal with Egypt as well as ongoing negotiations for a major natural gas deal between the two countries. There had also been persistent rumors about the imminent release of Israeli Druze Azzam Azzam, who worked for an Israeli garment manufacturer in Egypt and was sentenced to 15 years in jail for espionage in 1997. The Egyptian press, however, was silent about these matters, concentrating instead on the ongoing violence against the Palestinians.

So it was an unprepared population that suddenly heard that Azzam was being returned to Israel only halfway through his sentence. Even though it was an exchange for several Egyptian teenagers who'd stumbled across the border as well as over 150 Palestinians released later that month, many newspapers and commentators denounced it as a betrayal. There was more to come, however, when on December 14, Egypt signed the QIZ agreement with Israel and the US. The country that had once been routinely pilloried, even in the state owned press, was now signing an important trade deal with Egypt.

Under the QIZ agreement, Egypt can export duty-free to the US, as long as products contain 11.7 percent Israeli content. A similar agreement in Jordan increased that countries exports (mainly apparel) almost a hundred fold in a few years.

Egypt needed the agreement badly because with the abolishing of global export quotas for textiles and apparel in 2005, China and India are set to push smaller textile producers like Egypt out of the market. Egypt can only remain competitive in the US market with duty free access. After the US refused to give Egypt a free trade agreement, the QIZ was the only route left. Without the QIZ, Egypt stood to lose $500 million in annual textile and apparel exports to the US, devastating one of its most important industries.

The release of Azzam can certainly be viewed in this context. As an employee of an Israeli apparel company working in Egypt, his continuing imprisonment might have sent the wrong message to potential investors. If the Jordanian case is anything to go by, Egypt stands to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign investment as Asian apparel companies seek to take advantage of its duty free access.

The decision is characteristic of the new cabinet governing Egypt. Composed largely of technocrats and given the task to get the economy moving again, it shows little interest in the ideological preoccupations of previous governments. Foreign investment has plummeted by two-thirds over the last five years and Egypt needs to get it back.

At the same time, the decision to move closer to Israel clearly has its political dimension. The US Congress (often encouraged by the pro-Israel lobby in Washington) has been particularly critical of Egypt in the last few years, while the US administration's supposed increased focus on democracy in the region is not popular with the Egyptian government. For the past several years many commentators have described the decline in the two countries' relations. By improving relations with Israel, Egypt suddenly gains the amity of many of those lobbyists once working against it. The Bush administration will also be more reluctant to criticize the human rights policy of a country being so constructive on the peace process and improving ties with its closest ally in the region.

Dealing with Israel is still a very sensitive topic in Egypt, not least because the government has done little to prepare people for its abrupt shift. Further violence and atrocities in the Palestinian territories could also easily derail this tentative thaw. However, the fact remains that Egypt has decided that, at least for now, it is in its best interests to get closer to the neighbor it has long held at arms length.- Published 13/1/2005 (c)

Paul Schemm is a Cairo-based freelance journalist

4:43 pm  
Blogger Tom said...

I think I should have written 'the benefits of doing business' rather than 'the benefits of prosperity'.

PS I urge all with an interest ME affairs to visit the bitterlemons site.

4:56 pm  

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