Sunday, July 11, 2010

Local Empowerment From Outside: Kimberli Morris on Law Library Development in Iraq

Wars tend to produce great changes in technology, culture, politics economics, law and the  theories used to support their frameworks.  Like other wars, the American invasion and occupation of Iraq during the first decade of 21st century has produced great changes that are only now beginning to be felt in law, culture, military strength and tactics, and law.  All of these changes have been tested and tried within the great laboratory of human change under conditions of stress that has been Iraq since Mr. Saddam Hussein fled Baghdad.  Of great interest to most people interested in the mechanics of these changes--and their control, has been on the possibilities for using positive law and its processes to effect fundamental changes on the political culture of a polity, even one as tentatively formed as Iraq.   See, Larry Catá Backer, God(s) Over Constitutions: International and Religious Transnational Constitutionalism in the 21st Century. Mississippi Law Review, Vol. 27, 2008. Others have seen in the Iraq war a useful laboratory for the examination of possibilities of changing religion and religious culture, bending either or both to a particular objective.   See discussion in Amitai Etzioni, Mosque and State in Iraq, Policy Review, Hoover Institute, Oct.-Dec. 2003. Others have sought to affect the construction and operation of a host of Iraq institutions what, in the aggregate, tend to define the parameters of Iraq social, economic and political life from the bottom.  Many of these efforts have been undertaken for the best of all reasons--local empowerment, recipient centered aid, capacity building and the like. These efforts are worthy of considerable attention and praise.  Many have sought to fill in gaps left by war and the inability of more big picture organizations from providing the sort of assistance necessary.  See United Nations Efforts for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs,  Expanded Humanitarian Response Fund (ERF)m and NGO Mico Grants, Bulletin No. 7 (April 2008).

My Colleague, Kimberli Morris, a Reference Librarian at Penn State Law School, was part of one such project. Her work was recently described.  Kimberl,i A. Morris, "The Spirit of Law Librarianship: Legal Education Reform in Iraq," in The Spirit of Law Librarianship:  A Reader  (Roy M. Mersky and Richard A Leiter, compilers, Chicago: Alert Publications 2005); Kimberli A. Morris, "A Law Library Development Project in Iraq:  Looking Back Two Years Later," Documents to the People 37(2):19-22 (Summer 2009).  Her work was part of a larger project to help rebuild three Iraqi law faculties undertaken through DePaul University's International Human Rights Law Institute headed by Professor Cherif Bassiouni. See Raising the Bar: Legal Education Reform in Iraq Project (2003 – 2005). 

The goals of Morris' team were ambitious--to restore and upgrade the libraries of three Iraqi universities and research technologies support services.  That would require a four stage program of physical plant renovations,equipment procurement and installation, staff training and development, and lastly acquisitions and collections development.  Kimberli A. Morris, "A Law Library Development Project in Iraq:  Looking Back Two Years Later," Documents to the People 37(2):19-22 (Summer 2009), at 19.  Each of the universities faced different challenges.  In Baghdad, for example, looters burned part of the collection, the rest saved by the quick work of staff.  The University of Basra had been cut off since 1985.  Id.   And the Kurdish University has little access to materials sibnce the sanctions period.  

These good intentions and plans soon bumped up against the reality of a turbulent occupation 21st century style, in which the usual brutality of the occupying force, useful in the interests of maintaining order and applying overwhelming force to the reconstruction of the defeated state, is substantially transformed by notions of self actualization.  Still, each of the objectives were met in some form by the end of the program finding period.  Book shelves and air conditioning were installed, computer workstations were set up, and staff training started.  Id., at 20.  Acquisitions, especially of electronic materials was started.  Id. The staff training provided an example of the difficulties of  intervention at the nexus of political. cultural and religious systems.    The training was coordinated among a number of universities and held in Jordan.  because many of the staff were women, religious and cultural rules made more complex transaction--acquiring the permission of responsible males, appropriate letters from institutions and dealing with occupation governments and host states.  Id.    Even meetings of the staffs of the three universities within Iraq proved to be daunting.  Id. A planned trip to the United State sproved impossible--ironic in the context of the American funded project, run by Americans to build capacity and win hearts and minds" funded by the American government.  Id., 20.-21.  But again, operating between a variety of rule systems--occupation government, religious authorities, U.S. authorities, employers, aid organization, project contract rules, etc., many of which were autonomous and among which communication (structural coupling) was imperfect almost guaranteed failure.  "As I left Iraq, I felt the library program had been a very narrow success.  There were some major disappointments. . . .  And the successes, while real, were barely a drop in the ocean of what was needed."  Id., at 20.  

Morris' discussion and analysis provides a valuable window on the nature of capacity building at the operational level.  It suggests both the prospects and limits of such interventions.  It serves to remind us that development is not the product of the application of a set of theories and hypotheses tied to a prevailing ideology in an elegant way.  Development aid is a messy affair; all the more so in the context of capacity building and local empowerment where there might exist significant cultural differences between donor and recipient.  Morris reminds us that a key to success is the ability of both to begin to work together as colleagues, yet the essence of aid projects is to retain the hierarchy inherent in the donor-recipient relationship.   This was, as Morris suggested, the key to creating effective relationships with Iraqi librarians.  The work of people like Morris, and programs like that  of the efforts to rebuild Iraqi university libraries suggests both the value of "narrow successes" and the complexity of managing polycentricity in global governance, especially on the ground.  As globalization produces more distinct governance units that overlap in dynamic and flexible ways, inter-systemic coordination will become an increasingly important factor in  the development of global interactions.  These issues enrich Morris' analysis. And it suggests the close connection between work at the "product delivery" level and that at the level of high "theory".  That connecition  ought to be considered not merely by those seeking to engage in similar capacity building work, bit also by the big picture theorists who tend who think of projects like these as bloodless abstractions. 


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