Friday, May 31, 2024

习近平, 深化合作,继往开来 推动中阿命运共同体建设跑出加速度 [Xi Jinping, "Deepen cooperation, carry forward the past and forge ahead Accelerate the construction of a China-Arab community with a shared future"]


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Chinese President and First Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping delivered remarks at the opening of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum in Beijing. 习近平, 深化合作,继往开来 推动中阿命运共同体建设跑出加速度 [Xi Jinping, "Deepen cooperation, carry forward the past and forge ahead Accelerate the construction of a China-Arab community with a shared future"]. In it Mr Xi elaborated on themes that have been in development since the end of COVID.

The American Press, now obsessed with the Israeli actions against Hamas in Gaza, filed to consider the raft of quite important potential strategic gestures that were also set put in the remarks. The Wall Street Journal reporting was perhaps typical of this unfortunate lens (at eats form the perspective of US long term interests):

In a speech opening the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated calls for a Palestinian state, called for a peace conference to resolve the Israel-Hamas war and pledged $69 million in humanitarian aid for Gaza and $3 million for a United Nations agency that assists refugees of the war. * * * The forum was established in 2004. Besides China’s expansive trade ties in the Middle East, it has increasingly sought to play a diplomatic role. In 2023, Beijing helped broker an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran to reestablish diplomatic relations. (Xi Makes Pitch to Arab Leaders at Summit in Beijing, Wall Street Journal 31 May 2024, print edition, p. A16; for similar coverage here, here, and here)

 But there was much more to the remarks than the flashy performance of Gaza tropes (and the small donation) for an audience that perhaps expected something along those lines, and global press organs desperate to have those tropes in quotable form to distribute. Among them the following:

1.   Mr. Xi reiterated the "Eight Joint Actions" ["八大共同行动”] as a basis for mutual engagement in a united front under the leadership of China. See "Xi Jinping proposed "eight major common actions" for China-Arab practical cooperation at the first China-Arab Summit (10 December 2022) [习近平在首届中国—阿拉伯国家峰会上提出中阿务实合作“八大共同行动”]. The eight joint actions include: (1) support the development of joint actions; (2) joint action on food security; (3) joint action on health; (4) joint action on green innovation; (5) joint action on energy security; (6) civilized dialogue and joint action; (7) young talents should act together; and (8) joint action for security and stability. None of this is new--many of these joint actions mimic those of the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Yet that is precisely what lends the "Eight Joint Actions" power--mimesis across sometimes overlapping clusters of States and other mass organs with similar interests--the structure remains the same, but each is modified to suit context and conditions.

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2. Mr Xi tied the foundations of Chinese Arab side cooperation to key elements of emerging New Era policy central to the evolving nature and approaches to the development of productive forces to overcome the principal contradiction of the current stage of historical development--an approach to analysis now transposed onto the global theater. These include five central organizing categories: (1)  a more dynamic innovation-driven pattern; (2) a larger investment and financial structure; (3) a more three-dimensional energy cooperation structure; (4) a more balanced pattern of economic and trade reciprocity; and (5) a broader pattern of cultural exchange. These were the critical thematic offerings at the heart of the remarks. They will likely serve as the basis for structuring cooperation that is meant to be both mutual beneficial and displacing of the group of States which occupied the place China now sees as its natural role--if only by reason of its success.  

3. Mr Xi ended his remarks with a reference to sunshine. " 阿拉伯谚语说,朋友是生活中的阳光。我们将继续同阿拉伯朋友一道,弘扬中阿友好精神,团结共创未来,让构建中阿命运共同体的大道充满阳光!" [An Arab proverb says that friends are the sunshine in life. We will continue to work with our Arab friends to promote the spirit of China-Arab friendship, unite to create a better future, and let the road to building a China-Arab community with a shared future be filled with sunshine!]. Sunshine has certainly been a significant element of life in the Arab MENA. But like everything else, sunshine is a thing onto itself and its semiotics might be well worth considering as both sides consider the way that sunshine can be harnessed positively. 

The text of the remarks follows below in both the original and in a crude English translation. 

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Film Zoom Webinar: "Cuba’s Forgotten Jewels: A Haven in Havana " 25 June 2024


 I am delighted to pass along information about a quite interesting webinar: "Cuba’s Forgotten Jewels: A Haven in Havana " 25 June 2024 from NOON to 1330 US East Coast Time. This from the announcement:


Link to film website here

Registration HERE

Journal of Law and Religion Volume 39, Issue 1 | January 2024 Free to read until June 30



 The new issue of the Journal of Law and Religion is now available. You will find the full table of contents and abstracts below. The articles are free to access through 30 June 2024.


Kierkegaard and Schmitt on the State of Exception
Joshua Neoh
This essay begins with a quotation from Carl Schmitt in which he quotes Søren Kierkegaard on the significance of the exception in political theology. The essay is an extended reflection on this quotation within a quotation. Through a comparison of Kierkegaard and Schmitt, the author presents two readings of the state of exception: the first centers on the figure of the sovereign, while the second centers on the figure of the martyr. The sovereign suspends the law from above, while the martyr suspends it from below. In the political sphere, there are two ways of becoming the exception: the sovereign versus the martyr.

Research Articles

Moses Mendelssohn and the Jewish Questions of Modern Natural Law
Meirav Jones

In the late eighteenth century, Johann David Michaelis criticized Moses Mendelssohn for bringing what Michaelis termed his native Jewish tradition into his thinking on universal matters. Yet leaning on Jewish sources had been a key feature of European natural law thinking from the onset of modernity. In this article, the author reads Mendelssohn’s natural law theory as conversant with early modern legal thought that was scrutinized in the enlightenment, shedding new light on Mendelssohn’s innovations and on what Mendelssohn was up against when he offered natural law foundations for toleration. The author finds that arguments for and against toleration of the Jews from the seventeenth century to the nineteenth were tied to the question of whether Judaism contained universal laws or laws particular to the Jews, and suggests that Mendelssohn’s approach, while rejected from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, may be newly relevant today.

Banning Islamic Veils: Is Social Cohesion (or Living Together) a Valid Argument?
Kaushik Paul

Islamic veiling has attracted a remarkable degree of international and domestic attention in the current political climate. In the popular and political climate, the argument for social cohesion (or living together) is frequently invoked to justify bans on wearing Islamic veils. For example, the social cohesion argument was widely used in parliamentary debates leading up to the bans on wearing Islamic full-face veils (such as burqa or niqab) in France and Belgium. In response to the French and Belgian bans, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that a ban on wearing Islamic full-face veils is justified on the grounds of living together, rulings that many academic circles have criticized. Yet in this extensive commentary on the bans of Islamic veiling, one important question remains unanswered: Is social cohesion (or living together) a valid argument for banning the wearing of Islamic veils? The author explores this question through the lens of the European human rights framework and analyzes the ECtHR’s approach to French and Belgian anti-veil legislation enacted on the grounds of social cohesion.

Shabbat and Shattered Dreams: Religious Accommodations for Public Exams in South Korea
Soojin Nam and Juhyun Park

Today in South Korea, individuals of certain faiths are unable to take a wide range of state-administered qualifying examinations due to their religious convictions. The Constitutional Court of Korea has repeatedly refused their request for religious accommodations, such as an alternative test date for Sabbath or holy day observers who are unable to take exams on their original dates. The authors analyze the series of Constitutional Court decisions rejecting the need for such accommodation by focusing on the court’s use of its main analytical tool, the proportionality principle. These decisions reveal important shortcomings in the court’s application of the proportionality principle, including challenges inherent to proportionality and more specific deficiencies in the court’s application of the general principle. The article thus sheds light on how the proportionality principle is applied in the context of Korean constitutional jurisprudence and the resultant deprivation of protection for certain fundamental rights in Korea. The authors compare the court’s approach with that of courts in Spain, Switzerland, and the United States. They then propose a number of ways to improve the court’s proportionality analysis and its constitutional reasoning.

Reconceiving Christianity and the Modern Prison: On Evangelicalism's Eugenic Logic and Mass Incarceration
Jason S. Sexton

In the aftermath of World War II, eugenics and the pseudoscientific base used to justify its practices are generally understood to have phased off the scene. If, however, eugenics never actually disappeared but has been persistent, and in turn becomes one of the best explanations for mass incarceration today, what role did Christianity—especially Evangelicalism—play in this unprecedented moment of imprisonment? Building on legal scholarship identifying the significant role of eugenic philosophy that manifests in penal policy and ongoing phenomena into the early twenty-first century, this article examines key figures in the backdrop of eugenics’ particular early developments, and leading figures—namely, Billy Graham and Prison Fellowship’s Chuck Colson—whose ministries operated in close proximity to the prison during the latter twentieth century and especially over the past fifty years as incarceration rates skyrocketed. After examining several important theological tenets reflected within Evangelicalism that are compatible with eugenic logic, a critical approach is developed drawing from more robust theological considerations that if appropriated earlier might have found evangelicals resisting the mass incarceration building efforts rather than supporting them.

Religious Freedom and Sacred Lands
Sonia Sikka

Taking Ktunaxa Nation v. British Columbia as a focal point, the author argues that the legal framing of Indigenous sacred land claims in terms of religious freedom carries significant costs. It impels courts to bracket consideration of sovereignty and territorial rights, while positioning Indigenous worldviews as nonrational rather than as dynamic intellectual traditions and ways of life that are respectably different from those embodied in settler systems of law. Genuinely fair adjudication of such claims requires not religious exemptions from general laws but recognition of the sui generis rights of Indigenous nations in relation to lands they never ceded (acknowledging historical injustice); deep differences between dominant European settler and Indigenous cultures (acknowledging that settler law is also cultural); and the validity of Indigenous environmental philosophies (acknowledging that they are no less rational than Western ones).

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Part 8 (Part II, Chapter 7 UNGP: State Duty to Protect Human Rights, Foundational Principles ¶¶ 1-2)--Vetting the Discussion Draft: "The United Nations Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights: A Commentary


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I fully understand and appreciate that there will always be legitimate differences in opinion about the appropriate role and most effective forms of legislation and other measures at national levels in implementing the UNGPs. But such debates need to be distinguished from assertions about what the UNGPs do or do not say—the text is there, 31 Principles with Commentaries. ('Letter from John Ruggie toSaskia Wilks and Johannes Blanenbach’ (19 September 2019) )

I have been working on the production of a comprehensive commentary of the United Nations Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights.  This is a humbling task. It follows the production of both an official commentary, written in tandem with the UNGP itself, and a collective commentary of the UNGP undertaken by some of the most distinguished students of other fields of human rights, business, and its related fields of academic  study ( The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: A Commentary (Barnali Choudhury (ed); Edward Elgar, 2023).  

I am at a point where I can start vetting portions of the draft. I hope to share those discussion drafts with a wider audience in hopes of getting feedback. In these posts I provide a short summary of the draft chapter and a link t access a 'pdf' version.  All draft chapters may be found on my Coalition for Peace & Ethics Website website at UNGP Commentary Page HERE.

With this post we move from Part I (On the Making of the UNGP), the five chapters of which introduced the reader to the background, context, and sources that contributed to the drafting and eventual endorsement if the UNGP. 
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Part II  (chapters 6-9) takes a deep dive into the substantive provisions of the UNGP--its General Principles and its thirty one (31) substantive principles divided into a State duty, a corporate responsibility, and a joint remedial obligation.  
Chapter 7 considers the Foundational Principles of the State duty to protect human rights. These consist of UNGP Principle 1 (the State duty) and Principle 2 (the State expectation of business respect for human rights).  With respect to each of these Principles the   text is first considered, followed by an examination of the official commentary as a means of adding some content to the text and perhaps suggesting intent. In both cases textual ambiguity and spaces for substantial interpretive scope are considered. Layered onto this is a consideration of authoritative interpretation and other glosses. 
The Chapter's conclusion may nicely set the tone for the much more detailed examination undertaken.

UNGP Principles 1 and 2 set out the foundational principles of the State duty to protect human rights. Those principles describe a set of mandatory duties (Principle 1) and a set of and urged practices (Principle 2) that would connect the State duty with the corporate responsibility through the guiding management of the State as the administrative agent of international law. Like the rest of the UNGP they are best not read as legal text. For lawyers that is hard. For functionaries in institutions—public, enterprise or civil society--this may be even harder, as the precision of legal text provides its own semiotics (a coded language with rules for interpretation and collective meaning making in an authoritative way) for embracing or avoiding duty or responsibility.[1] But neither are these foundational principles to be read as directions to public or private functionaries. They are expressions of policies—of political choice grounded in the expectations of a State’s legal and political culture, and overseen by those charged with the direction of the political apparatus of the State, on the one hand, and the management of business enterprises on the other. Policy documents may describe a set of preferred outcomes, but they tend to leave a sometimes significant space for determining the means by which that objective is to be reached. The SRSG made the objective of the UNGP quite clear—a "goal-belief that the imbalance between public and private sectors has created an imbalance in the impacts of economic activity on human rights, imbalances that need correction by better aligning private sector economic activity with public sector human rights guardrails.”[2] That goal-belief, in turn, is to be effectuated by “enhancing standards and practices with regard to business and human rights so as to achieve tangible results for affected individuals and communities, and thereby also contributing to as socially sustainable globalization.”[3]

Within that general objective that animates the UNGP as a whole, the State duty presents its own challenges—not as a cluster of legal commands and norms, but as a set of social norms that produce the foundational expectations through which systems of collective management become feasible. These were described by the SRSG in the 2008 SRSG Report 8/5:
The general nature of the duty to protect is well understood by human rights experts within governments and beyond. What seems less well internalized is the diverse array of policy domains through which States may fulfill this duty with respect to business activities, including how to foster a corporate culture respectful of human rights at home and abroad. This should be viewed as an urgent policy priority for governments - necessitated by the escalating exposure of people and communities to corporate-related abuses, and the growing exposure of companies to social risks they clearly cannot manage adequately on their own.[4]
It is within these premises that one can most usefully approach the foundational principles of the UNGP’s State duty to protect human rights. Those principles, in turn, are to be read against the general principles[5] that serve as the overall structure of the UNGP framework: (1) the State duty is undertaken, at a minimum, within a State’s specific obligations to do three things—to respect, to protect, and to fulfill human rights; (2) within that duty business enterprises are to be understood as specialized social organs functionally differentiated from other specialized social organs (for example civil society), all of which are required to undertake two sets of obligations—to comply with law and to respect human rights; (3) these obligations of the State and of business enterprises must be matched with appropriate remedy; (4) the duties and responsibilities apply to all States and business enterprises; (5) the principles are to be read as a coherent whole and interpreted to enhance standards and practices that achieve tangible results for rights bearers; (6) that the UNGP do not create but neither do they prohibit, and in some instance encourage, new international law obligations for States; and (7) the rights and duties described are to be applied fairly and to further apply the principle of non-discrimination.

Within those overarching premises, UNGP Principle 1 re-states the classical duty of States to undertake their duty to protect against human rights abuse. That duty of protection operates at its most acute within the State’s territory and/or jurisdiction. And it applies to human rights abuses by all third parties, with a specific emphasis on business enterprises. That duty is understood as requiring compliance with a State ‘s international legal obligation but also inviting a broader and more comprehensive view of the scope of the duty in every respect. That duty is not understood as a legal duty, though its sources are based, at a minimum, on the international legal obligations of States. Nonetheless, that duty is fulfilled by the taking of appropriate steps to undertake four inter-related actions with respect to such human rights abuse—prevention, investigation, punishment and redress. To those ends, the State is reminded that the duty is not fulfilled merely by the enactment and enforcement of law, but also by a combination of policy, legislation, regulation, and adjudication. The duty arises in law but is manifested in both the social language of politics, and in the formal disciplinary language of law.

In contrast, UNGP Principle 2 speaks to a “best practice” or “preferred course” (the "should") for States is to solidify their connection to and adherence of the UNGP Second Pillar Principles touching on the corporate responsibility to respect human rights.  That connection is neither fixed nor specified beyond the recommendation of the core expectation that business enterprises respect human rights everywhere they operate. Yet the Principle provides a quite road scope of discretion in setting the expectation details, and in the way that the State will guide compliance with those expectations, if only as a matter of policy, or as a matter of law. State may, consistent with Principle 2 merely express a preference for compliance, or they may adopt a comprehensive set of legal measures to ensure that a specific form of that compliance is undertaken. Principle 2, then, serves both as an invitation to draw States into global economic activity as agents of international law and norms, and to more tightly connect the markets driven social norm and private law grounded corporate responsibility with the compliance and law/policy accountability structures of public law. Even if the invitation to project national international obligations outward through the operations of locally domiciled enterprises, UNGP Principle 2 might serve as a means of more consciously coordinating the public duty of States and the private responsibility of enterprises each within their spheres of action, and each in accordance with their respective social functions.

With respect to both Principles, though, it is worth emphasizing that neither posits a single best or correct approach against which State action or choices may be measures. State duty, to the extent the State undertakes the narrowest approach, is limited to its international legal obligations, but it need not be. That is for the State to decide. Likewise, the setting out of State expectations that all business respect human rights may take contextually differentiated forms, though it need not. The State duty can apply with equal force to organizations of human rights defenders as it does to business enterprises, and even State organs, though it need not. The nature of appropriate steps to prevent, investigate, punish and redress may take on a vastly different set of forms, guided by the ruling ideology of a political-economic system, and the contextually variegated approaches to judging these tasks in themselves and against each other. The same applies to the choice of effective measures.

Reduced to their essence, though, there is a core set of expectations around which coherent structures can be developed. The object of duty are human rights abuses. The sources of those abuses are third parties, that include business enterprises. The toolkit for protecting against human rights abuses by third parties include prevention, investigation, punishment and redress. The means by which these tools can be invoked include the whole of the palette of State or public power—policies, legislation, regulation, and adjudication. And the measure against which all of this is to be judged is effectiveness. Likewise, best practice suggests an alignment between the 1st and 2nd pillars. This can be achieved through the development of a set of expectations that all business enterprises that a State may assert public power respect human rights. That expectation may reach the entirety of the business enterprise’s operations. Yet each of those terms may be understood and applied in quite distinct ways. All of this variation is plausibly consistent with the intent of the foundational principles. The rest is advocacy, ideology, politics, and power.
The Chapter 7 discussion draft may be accessed directly HERE (where revisions earlier chapters may also be accessed). The text of the draft of Chapter 7 as of the time of this posting also follows below along with its table of contents.

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7.1 Introduction

7.2 UNGP Principle 1

7.2.1. UNGP Principle 1: Text

7.2.2.UNGP Principle 1: Textual Commentary

7.2.3 UNGP Principle 1: Official Commentary

7.2.4 UNGP Principle 1: Authoritative Interpretation/Commentary

                           The Travaux Préparatoires and the 2010 Draft

                           Pre-Mandate Text

7.2.5 Other Glosses

7.2.6 Applications

7.3 UNGP Principle 2

7.3.1. UNGP Principle 2: Text

7.3.2.UNGP Principle 2: Textual Commentary

7.3.3 UNGP Principle 2: Official Commentary

7.3.4 UNGP Principle 2: Authoritative Interpretation/Commentary

                           The Travaux Préparatoires and the 2010 Draft

                           Pre-Mandate Text

7.3.5 Other Glosses

7.3.6 Applications

                  7.4 Conclusion


Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Religion May be Forever--But Not Among Peoples: Johan Elverskog, "A History of Uyghur Buddhism" (Clumbia Universoty Press 2024)


People sometimes tend to think of Religion in Human terms; and humans in terms of ethno-collective categories. Humans, however, are not Religion; nor is it necessary identical to its human structures (Religion As Object And The Grammar Of Law). Likewise, peoples have tended, as eras of human development pass from one stage to another, to slip into and out of the embrace of a particular religion to suit the times. Roman pagans used to be Christians; Syrio-Palestinians used to be Christians before most became Muslim, and most were pagan before that. Iranians used to be Zoroastrians to a large extent. And those who inhabited in ancient Arabia were both Jews and pagans. Religion sometimes attaches and sometimes detaches form a people; but that has more to do with the character and conditions of the human than with the character and content of religion--that is, Religion remains true to itself even as humans do the same, each in their own way. 

It is with that in mind that one might approach the quite fascinating history of the Uyghurs, now identified with Islam; once a Buddhist people. Thsi is the object of Johan Elverskog in his recently published work, "A History of Uyghur Buddhism" (Columbia University Press, 2024).  The abstract provides an excellent summary:

Today, most Uyghurs are Muslims. For centuries, however, Uyghurs were Buddhists. By around 1000 CE, they, like many of their neighbors, had decisively turned toward the Dharma, and a golden age of Uyghur Buddhism flourished under the Mongol empire. Dwelling along the Silk Road in what is now northwestern China, they stood at the center of Buddhist Eurasia, linking far-flung regions and traditions. But as Muslim power grew, Uyghur Buddhists converted to Islam, rewriting their past and erasing their Buddhist history.

This book presents the first comprehensive history of Buddhism among the Uyghurs from the ninth to the seventeenth century. Johan Elverskog traces how the Uyghurs forged their distinctive tradition, considering a variety of social, political, cultural, and religious contexts. He argues that the religious history of the Uyghurs challenges conventional narratives of the meeting of Buddhism and Islam, showing that conversion took place gradually and was driven by factors such as geopolitics, climate change, and technological innovation. Elverskog also provides a nuanced understanding of lived Buddhism, focusing on ritual practices and materiality as well as the religion’s entanglements with economics, politics, and violence. A groundbreaking history of Uyghur Buddhism, this book makes a compelling case for the importance of the Uyghurs in shaping the course of both Buddhist and Asian history.

The Semiotic Ideology of Harmonizing Civilizations as Moving Contructs: Ibrar Bhatt, "A Semiotics of Muslimness in China" (Cambridge Elements; Applied Linguistics, 2023)


 For with with an interest in linguistics and semiotics, applied to notions of collectove inter-penetration within a political herarchically shaped space, a book recently authored by Ibrar Bhatt (Queen's University, Belfast),  A Semiotics of Muslimness in China" (Cambridge Elements; Applied Linguistics, 2023) may be of some interest. The publsihed abstract nicely states the problem and premise:

This Element examines the semiotics of Sino-Muslim heritage literacy in a way that integrates its Perso-Arabic textual qualities with broader cultural semiotic forms. Using data from images of the linguistic landscape of Sino-Muslim life alongside interviews with Sino-Muslims about their heritage, the author examines how signs of ‘Muslimness’ are displayed and manipulated in both covert and overt means in different contexts. In so doing the author offers a ‘semiotics of Muslimness’ in China and considers how forms of language and materiality have the power to inspire meanings and identifications for Sino-Muslims and understanding of their heritage literacy. The author employs theoretical tools from linguistic anthropology and an understanding of semiotic assemblage to demonstrate how signifiers of Chinese Muslimness are invoked to substantiate heritage and Sino-Muslim identity constructions even when its expression must be covert, liminal, and unconventional.

The opening of the Introductory chapter sets out the overarching sensibilities of the work:
Both the Islamic and Chinese civilisations might appear, to the casual onlooker, to be very distinct and with their own histories and propensities to grow and assimilate other peoples. What happens, though, when elements of both cultures converge over an extended period in a single location? And what kinds of semiotic phenomena might one discover in such a context? When it comes to harmonising their faith within an historically Confucianist and Taoist milieu, as well as more recent Sino-nationalist and even Sino-Marxist sensibilities, the non-Turkic and largely Sinophone Muslims of China have, for many, come to demonstrate a process by which a community can adapt and integrate elements of very different cultural identities in their everyday practice with language and materiality. In this Element, I examine how this kind of plurality is embodied in the semiotic practices of Sino-Muslim heritage literacy. (Bhatt, supra, p. 1).

One of the most interesting aspects of the work is the application of notions of semiotic ideology (W. 'On Semiotic Ideology' (2018) 6(1) Signs and Society,' 64–87). Professor Bhatt describes it this way: 

What becomes important, therefore, in a study such as this is the agency and awareness of Sino-Muslims to create, interpret, emplace, and/or valorise signs that are constitutive of heritage. The notion of ‘semiotic ideology’ thus lies at the heart of this research, and is defined by anthropologist Webb Keane as ‘people’s underlying assumptions about what signs are, what functions signs do or do not serve, and what consequences they might or might not produce’ (Keane 2018, p. 65). A semiotic ideology is a system of meanings, norms, and values, whether consciously recognised or not, associated with particular modes of signification.(Bhatt, supra, p. 10, see examples p. 36 et seq(Muslim Street in Xi'an; and branded food).
This sort of semiotic ideology is not unique in this context, though its exploration here is fascinating.  It borrows from the mimesis of code, and has been an especially powerful tool for solidarity for centuries if not longer. NOr are its flourishes and signalling unknown to the larger community. The level of tolerance, and the barriers that signification may not cross without push back or response, makes for another interesting element in the coding,the mimetic signification expressed in this context, even as an expression of vernacularization that Professor Bhatt explores. Professor Bhatt's conclusions 70-73, nicely draw the the study together in a quite thoughtful way. 

The table of contents follows below.

Friday, May 24, 2024

(South Africa v. Israel) Order of 24 May 2024 on a Request for the modification of the Order of 28 March 2024; (Afrique du Sud c. Israël) Ordonnance du 24 Mai 2024 sur Demande tendant à la modification de l’ordonnance du 28 mars 2024


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Upon consideration of South Africa's request for the modification and the indication of provisional measures submitted 10 May 2024, the International Court of Justice has issued it order of 24 May 2024 modifying its order of interim measures of 24 March 2024. Bu votes of 13 for and 2 against, the ICJ

Reaffirms the provisional measures indicated in its Orders of 26 January 2024 and 28 March 2024, which should be immediately and effectively implemented;

Indicates the following provisional measures: The State of Israel shall, in conformity with its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and in view of the worsening conditions of life faced by civilians in the Rafah Governorate--

(1) Immediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah Governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (2) Maintain open the Rafah crossing for unhindered provision at scale of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance; and (3) Take effective measures to ensure the unimpeded access to the Gaza Strip of any commission of inquiry, fact-finding mission or other investigative body mandated by competent organs of the United Nations to investigate allegations of genocide;

Decides that the State of Israel shall submit a report to the Court on all measures taken to give effect to this Order, within one month as from the date of this Order (Press Release)

Of course, none of this will happen.

1. It is not clear that Israel and other States (or their governments) view the decision and these measures as legitimate (the two dissenting opinions hint at this but not in any way that is likely to have impact among those already committed to the result reached by the ICJ). In the absence of effective appeal, other than to the political apparatus of the U.N., these States might well take their chances acting on their conviction of illegitimacy or error. The foundations of error, from that perspective might be based on impunity as a function of effective risk shifting; that Israel is made to bear the legal effects of Hamas now exceptionally valuable tactical decision to place military assets and operations in places that would ensure substantial civilian casualties.

2. The military offensive is unlikely to be halted; the military objective--to cripple the ability of Hamas to repeat the success of its 7th October operations, and then the cognitive warfare thereafter--is unlikely to be affected by the legal reasoning of the ICJ. Moreover, the signalling effect of a halt is a factor that could not be taken into account within the four corners of the jurisprudence but which is likely very much on the minds of the Israeli military that must consider the situation at its Northern borders and the beyond them. Juridical reasoning grounded in a more abstracted engagement with text--however plausible--may have little relation to the calculus of risk and loss from the Israeli side.

3. It is at the moment unclear that Israel and its allies view elements of the UN apparatus as neutral or disinterested in a specific outcome or objective. From that perspective, some UN officials have been viewed as active participants in the events of 7 October, and if not directly involved to have facilitated and served as leverage for the military and cognitive operatives of Hamas before that operation. In addition, from the religious point of view, it is likely that Israel will continue to view the criticism as just another episode in millennia old patterns of dealing with a substantially despised (and sometimes feared) population  Whatever the realities, that produces a singularly low level of trust in whatever assurances or performances of (especially critical) States with long histories of unfortunate relations with "their" Jews. 

4. The Rafah border crossing measures are an interesting proposition--one that manages to all but eliminate Egypt  from the picture. As such, it might be possible that the measure might be viewed, at best, as a half measure without some sort of mandatory measures directed against a State not party to the proceedings.  On the other hand, the Israelis would do well to heed the message embedded in the jurisprudence--civilians must be taken care of when under one's control--however angry one might be about the circumstances that brought them to that state. And it was a missed opportunity that fueled the jurisprudence--to aid civilians, detect and detain everyone else.  

But that is not the point. The point is the jurisprudence, in part. The point is also the suffering, death and destruction, that this conflict has generated since the Hamas operation was put into action on 7 October 2023, in part. There can be no denying that conflict in this case especially since 7 October has been brutal. And it has fallen on individuals who are not primary combatants (though at some point the issue of combatants under conditions of total war will have to be addressed as other than a propaganda trope).  This is a conflict as much about this brutality and its imagery as it is about the underlying normative, historical, and religious animosities the fuel it.  The aligned mimesis of physical combat and its recording in virtual, digitized spaces, has reshaped the nature and scope of combat in ways that have yet to be understood (though its exploitation is already better understood).  But the magnitude of suffering tends to hide the harder issue--the issue of the allocation of responsibility.  And within that question rests another, more thorny one--the question of impunity for strategies grounded in the deliberate or reckless or negligent use of civilians as buffers ad shields. Perhaps too much blood has been spilled, and too much suffering recorded at the moment to think about the issue in helpful ways.  But the jurisprudence appears to be tilting toward a standard in which constructing a military strategy premised on the critical role of human shielding effectively shifts the responsibility for civilian causalities to the opposing force. Human beings, according to this jurisprudence, effectively make an impregnable military fortification. That cannot be right; yet for the moment it appears to be the effective operating assumption of the jurisprudence in the sense that the better the human shield strategy is operationalized (that is by maximizing casualties and damage to breach the shield) the more likley that the opposing force will bear responsibility for its breaching. Either new strategies will have to be developed; otherwise it may be harder for States to resist the temptation of human shield strategies may be irresistible.  All combatants have the responsibility to avoid or minimize harm to civilians and their surroundings; but its application to modern context where fortification strategies are built around  human shielding appears underdeveloped and at least for the moment uninteresting to those with engaged in the development of the jurisprudence of managing war. And noncombatants under one's control require a minimum of care.

And that brings us back to the jurisprudence around which the reality of this combat is constituted. With respect to the jurisprudence, and the legal structures around which it has been "activated," it might be useful to recall that this is a jurisprudence the legitimacy of which ought not to be undervalued. Nor should the legal structures which well meaning people and institutions have fought hard to establish be dismissed lightly. hat critical judicial role and of actors in other bodies clothed with the performative aspects of the judge, are essential social instruments for constituting the framing of a reality within which collective and individual action is received, analyzed and judged (considered here, here. It is where people's are constructed and their characteristics assigned; where storytelling becomes fact and fact presumption (considered here). South Africa appear both conscious and adept at the art of the cultural instrumentalization of judicial and quasi judicial spaces; the Israelis much less.

But the empire of law, like other forms of empire, evolves, and sometimes not in a straightforward manner. The jurisprudence, either way,  provides a necessary cover to undertake measures that might otherwise raise issues of legitimacy (or at least legality). One is reminded here of the situation in Honduras in 2009 (Democracy Part XX: Democracy With or Without Elections in Honduras). More important may be the triggering effect of the decision, and the response (or lack of it by Israel) where domestic law may be triggered by international findings. In this case, the ICJ actions may either force or incline States otherwise wiling to advance to tolerate Israeli objectives against Hamas and to maintain their economic, military, and political relations, to reduce or end their "facilitation" of Israel. That would be the ideal objective--beyond, of course, using the ICJ to force some sort of cease fire in the absence of a willingness by the party combatants. The value added would be the delegitimation of Israel as it is currently constituted which would then make other, and perhaps bolder, political objectives possibly more plausible.  That effect is unlikely in the short run.

The value of all of this effort at the ICJ, in the longer term, might also include the effort to (finally) realize, if only on a discretionary basis, another step toward the legalization of war. It provides a quite fascinating window into the ancient categories of civilian and combatant that while quote important may require some thinking at its edges in an era of total war or in the context of wars of liberation. Certainly there are a number of other places where populations might be watching the  results closely. Understudied, for the  moment, are the economics of undertaking the sort of actions--on the ground and within the battlefields of international organizational apparatus, in social media, in the deployment of effective propaganda strategies and the like--which are essential components for successfully waging these sorts of campaigns. 

In any case, all of this is speculation, and of very little consequence.  Far more interesting will be to watch and understand the way that the consequences evolve. This is merely one  small part of a much larger effort, through the organs and mechanisms of law and international institutions, to develop a play book for the management of States. Of course, if at the end of all of this a sui generis narrative is developed, one suggesting that all of this effort and all of this jurisprudence, and the actions it will legitimate  are unique to the singular circumstance presented by this context, without any application elsewhere, then one will be faced with a much more ancient and well worn reading of the efforts and its conclusion. Otherwise, the global implications elsewhere may be quite profound, indeed. 

Virtually all of the documents relating to these proceedings may be accessed here in English and French: Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the Gaza Strip (South Africa v. Israel).

The order may be accessed here: English; French

The press release may be accessed here: English, French.

The Summary may be accessed here: English; French

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Common Understandings Between China and Brazil on Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis 23 May 2024

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Between 2008 and 2010 I wrote a number of essays about the political and ideological tutelege of Lula da Silva by his friend and mentor Fidel Catro Ruz. In that context (in 2010) I wrote:
Brazil has been seeking to re-make its place within the Hemispheric pecking order since the ascension of Lula to the Brazilian Presidency. Brazil, rightly, sees itself as arriving at a point in its development that it might assume some of the role traditionally exercised solely by the United States in Latin America. It seeks to assert its hegemony in concert with or opposition to that traditionally exercised by the United States. The recent efforts at exclusionary clubbiness with the construciton of the Comunidad de estados de América Latina y el Caribe. The almost successful efforts to dominate the settlement in Honduras in the wake of the removal of Mr. Zelaya all attest to Brazil's self conscious willingness to chart a new courser and finds a new place in the hierarchy of states within the Western Hemisphere.

These efforts have put Brazil and the United States on opposite sides of a number of issues. See, e.g., Larry Catá Backer, Brazil and the Washington Consensus, Law at the End of the Day, Nov. 10, 2008. From the efforts to export carrier technology to the Chinese, to the opposition to Hemispheric trade on terms originally conceived by the United States, to intrusion into everything from climate change to the Jewish-Muslim war in the Middle East, Brazil has sought to have its influence felt more acutely in international affairs. That effort was unimpeded during the Presidency of George Bush, whose ideological foundations were irreconcilable with those of Mr. Lula. It has been a bit more difficult, but not impossible, with the Administration of Mr. Obama, who some in the Lula Administration might have thought would be easier to manage with respect to Latin American affairs.

Yet Brazil does not mean to step into the role of opponent, in the style of Cuba. Instead, Lula has meant to serve as a bridge and mediator between the interests of Latin America, which it seeks to dominate, and those of the English speaking peoples of the Western Hemisphere, which it cannot. Critical to that role has been the relationship between Lula and Fidel Castro. It joins Castro, the Sandinistas, and the ideological consequences of Liberation theology as a political ideology with continuing relevance in Brazil and the Caribbean region. I have suggested some of the contours of that relationship in the past. See, Larry Catá Backer, Cuba and Brazil, Part I: Castro Lectures Lula da Silva, Law at the End of the Day, Jan. 26, 2008; Larry Catá Backer, Cuba and Brazil Part II: Castro Continues His Wooing of Lula, Law at the End of the Day, Feb. 10, 2008; Larry Catá Backer, Cuba and Brazil Part III: Cuba and Brazil in Parallel Strokes, Law at the End of the Day, Feb. 24, 2008; Larry Catá Backer, Cuba and Brazil Part IV: Bringing Lula Into the Cuban Orbit; Bringing Cuba Into the Brazilian Orbit?, Law at the End of the Day, March 7, 2008. One was recently reminded of the strength and importance of that relationship in a recent essay posted to Fidel Castro's blog: Fidel Castro Ruz, El Último encuentro con Lula, Relexiones del compañero Fidel, Grandma, March 1, 2010. (The Cultivation of Brazil: Lula Between Castro and Obama)

Very little has changed in the fundamental orientation since the start of the Obama administration.  Mr. Lula, is now joined byAMLO (Andrés Manuel López Obrador) of Mexico and others. The objectives, however, and the context in which solidarity is performed has changed substantially.  No longer Venezuela and Cuba, but China now provides, through the BRISs collective, provides the necessary outlet for Mr. Lula to continue applying the lessons of his earlier tutelage under Mr. Castro.  BRICS provides a better stage, and the leadership and guidance of its most prominent member fills the void that was once located in Havana.

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All of this, perhaps, may be reflected in contemporary form in an intervention by the Brazilian foreign affairs apparatus when, in aligning with their Chinese counterpart, they advanced a Common Understandings Between China and Brazil on Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis. There is little new here.  But À la recherche du temps perdu can be a powerful analytical lens. . . and an iterative trope--cognitive and automatic. "Common understanding" in the present, then, provides a powerful window to a past the present form carries with it wisps of the mustiness of a world the recapture of which is possible only in the dreams of the aged. Yet, again, there is a reminder that old lessons, well learned, remain effective against an opponent who remain s stubbornly obtuse to the implications.  The Common position follows below. But the Chinese vanguard is not Fidel; and Cuba has fallen on hard times as a consequences of its unwavering commitment to the Caribbean Marxism of  the founding leadership. China is a loose collar, though perhaps, when it matters, with a short leash. And of course, all international politics is ultimately local. "To expect Brazil to fully align with the West on the war in Ukraine is, of course, naïve. From a Global South perspective, Lula’s stance makes sense. He is not only defending vital national interests related to Brazilian agribusiness, but is also ideologically consistent with the neutral position Brazil occupies in global politics." (here).  And in the shadows, the long and complicated history with Lula's neighbors to the North--one sentimental and ideologically compatible, the other much less so. Neither can be ignored.

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Announcing Webinar: " Latin America and the Caribbean Overseas Foreign Direct Investment in China" 27 May 0900-1300 Mexico City Time


I am delighted to pass along this invitation from Enrique Dussel Peters:

I would hereby like to invite you to assist to the webinar (in Spanish) on the latest book (in English) on "LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN OVERSEAS FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENT IN CHINA IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY" (that can be fully downloaded for free here); the webinar will include most of the authors of the book and two great commentators (Dr. Mauricio Mesquita Moreira/Senior Consultant IADB and Dr. Jorge Basave Kuhnhardt/UNAM).

The webinar will take place next Monday, May 27th from 9am-13pm (Mexico City time), the program and Zoom details are available here.

My summary of that excellent work may be found here:  Latin America and the Caribbean Invest in China: Just Published--(Enrique Dussel Peters (ed)) "Latin American and Caribbean Overseas Foreign Direct Investment in China in the 21st Century" (Unión de Universidades de América Latina y el Caribe, 2023).


Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Jean Christopher Mittelstaedt: "The grid management system in contemporary China: Grass-roots governance in social surveillance and service provision" China Information (2022) 36(1):3-22


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Though I come to this sort of late, I was delighted to have had a chance to read Jean Christopher Mittelstaedt: "The grid management system in contemporary China: Grass-roots governance in social surveillance and service provision" which appeared in China Information (2022) 36(1):3-22.  The object is the grid management system (网格化管理). That, in turn, has become a semiotic foundation for the organization and operation of Chinese Leninism, building on the insights and practices of China from nearly its earliest efforts to manage the masses by the management of physical--and then political, social, cultural, and economic spaces. Mittelstadt's abstract introduces the subject:

How should we understand the formation of the grid management system (网格化管理) of grass-roots governance in China? In this article, I argue that the grid system is an extension of existing governance structures. Facing conflicting central messaging, local grid development encountered isomorphic pressures, leading grids to resemble higher-level administration and to inherit a top–down and stability-focused mode of operation. To support this argument, I analyse five aspects: shifts in elite-level discourse, the proliferation of the grid system, recruitment standards for grid members, grid members’ tasks, and their assessment. Showcasing wide local variety, the grid system retains a managerial approach while collapsing service provision into security.
What had been a physical object--the city grid, has also signified place (social., economic, political), function, and utility--is also a sociospatial ecology, one in which the physical and intangibel are aligned and reinforce each other. That is the point that is developed , in the New Era, and for its evolution as a form of Leninist semiotics, in the grid management system (网格化管理).

it can primarily be understood as an extension of the existing bureaucratic system to the grass-roots level. Responding to conflicting signals from the Centre in Beijing, local authorities adopted a top–down management approach to their grids. This has important consequences. First, it blurs the barrier between ‘stability maintenance’ and ‘service provision’. The grid system relies on a variety of techniques, such as information gathering, daily patrols, evaluations of people’s satisfaction levels, as well as liaising with political-legal agencies such as the police, judiciary, procuratorate, and the wider administrative system. Here, the invasive management of grids by functional departments and grid members renders service provision indistinguishable from stability maintenance. The state becomes inseparable from the people. The second consequence of the management approach is the gradual suffocation of grass-roots autonomy where people are administered rather than given the space to resolve their own issues. Instead of being included in the governance of their own communities or the assessment of grid members, citizens are subject to rather than part of local governance. ( "The grid management system in contemporary China, p. 4).

What is old is new, and what is new is built on old foundations. " Within this system, locally recruited grid members are critical since it is they who engage in the everyday administration of the grid. All of the agents involved thus have the dual role of providing essential services to citizens and social control, which often are indistinguishable from each other." (Ibod., p. 4).