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The Syrian Complex

Syria's borders are all fraught
Syria’s borders are all fraught

Six months ago, it appeared obvious that Bashar Al-Assad was on his way out of Syria.  What was less clear, however, was who was likely to succeed him. And it is this particular point – the absence of a clear opposition – that has kept him in place. The various countries that have an interest are both local and global, and the rationale of each bears thinking about.

Let’s start with the neighbours.  Immediately surrounding Syria are Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel.  Hizbollah – and therefore Lebanon – is supporting Assad, primarily one suspects because they think he will win. Syria has long been a friend of the Palestinians.  Assad himself put it thus in 2002: “As far as an occupier is concerned, there is no distinction between soldiers and civilians… There is a distinction between armed and unarmed, but in Israel everyone is armed. In any case, we adopted the following concept: resistance to occupation is a legitimate right.”

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Syria – a face of war

Astonishing photo from Syria by Harold Doornbos. Makes you think about why we fight, what we fight for, and what price is worth paying for so called freedom.



I took this picture recently in Latakya-countryside (Syria) at a house where rebels and their families live. This little girl was sitting between guns as rebels prepared to go to the frontline.

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Replacing Religion with…

Replacing Religion with…

Tom Chivers in The Observer laments the demise of religion for its impact on social cohesion – and challenges that secularism needs to replace it with something else that works.  I think that’s exactly what the Internet is for – new communities, new communications, new associations.  The Internet, in that social sense, is the new religion.

Gilley on Political Legitimacy

I stumbled upon a most excellent article called The Meaning and Measurement of State Legitimacy by Dr Bruce Gilley, formerly of Princeton University and now at Portland State.   One of the most useful pieces of the article is the definition of State Legitimacy, which from my first reading appears to be interchangeable with the term political legitimacy.  Gilley explores the subjects, objects and sub-types of legitimacy.  Gilley then proceeds to do essentially what I have been discussing – a ‘strategy to achieve replicable cross-national measurements of legitimacy is then outlined and implemented, including a discussion of data sources and three alternative aggregation methods.’  He also has a book (right), which I’ve ordered.

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Do Supranational Organisations Compromise State Legitimacy?

While globalization generally has an impact on the role and nature of the State, there are specific components of globalization – including communications technology and the impact on community, frequency and immediacy of travel and the impact on territorial integrity – that should each be dealt with independently.  One of those is the development of supranational institutions, and the extent to which they may have an impact on state legitimacy, and/or legitimacy.  This can be a very legalistic argument, as it concerns itself with Public International Law, but it is a necessary foundational consideration for this part of the State Legitimacy Economy.

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Feeling, Emotion, Attachment, and Twitter

Sebastian Faulks in the Guardian helps pull together a global visualisation (well, Global to the extent that the Globe is represented by Twitter) of sentiment.  Call me an old cynic, but I suspect someone in his publisher’s publicity team was probably more responsible than the grand old man himself.  Nevertheless, it stirs some interesting dirt from the bottom of our social media puddle.

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Reaction: The Constitution Project @ UCC

I attended the inaugural meeting of The Constitution Project last night, a new academic research unit at UCC, whose meetings are open to the public.  Groups and projects on The Irish Constitution and Irish Constitutional Law seem to be springing up in many places, some by the lunatic fringe, some deep in sheltered academia, and others – like this, it seems – trying to find a balance between the two.  It was a well organised, well chaired event, with a good range of subjects within a reasonably tight framework.  Kicking things off was the subject of the Referendum Process, with Mr Justice Gerard Hogan speaking on the history of referendums, or more accurately the amendment structure under the 1922 constitution and why it was bad. He was followed by Mr Justice Bryan McMahon (who taught me Tort in Galway 22 years ago) who had been chairman of the Referendum Commission in the two most recent referendums, speaking of how the commission works – a rare and insightful discussion.  Dr Theresa Reidy then outlined some opinion poll based research into why people voted as they did in the Oireachtas Inquiries referendum, which was very interesting, particularly in the context of Mr Justice McMahon’s comments.   And finally Dr Maria Cahill revisited the Crotty decision, one that began to get at why we have so many referendums (not just in EU cases).

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Assange: Secrecy and Sovereignty

Assange / Correa: Can this be a win-win for both of them?

Ecuador is tonight alleging that the UK authorities have threatened to arrest Julian Assange inside its embassy in London.  Mr Assange, Wikileaks founder and darling of the far left (and some moderates too) has essentially skipped bail following the rejection of his appeal against extradition to Sweden to stand trial for sexual assault.  It is of course part of a bizarre super-story that has been running for two years now, starting with the publication of diplomatic cables between and about governments, the imprisonment and alleged torture of US Marine Bradley Manning, who is accused of leaking the cables in the first place.  There is no small irony in the threat from British authorities to cast aside one pillar of diplomacy – the sanctity and sovereignty of the embassy – in order to prosecute the casting aside of another – the leaking of diplomatic cables.

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Liberty = Selfishness?

The tension between the collective and the indididual is probably one of the most important themes of modern political thought.  The isolationism that seems to inevitably follow from giving the individual, as it were, enough rope, is clearly something that society should seek to avoid.  But should society tell the individual what to do?  Kurt Anderson doesn’t take a view in today’s New York Times, though selfishness is a pejorative term, right?