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Welcome to Eurasia Strategy & Communications (ESC) and our site www.explaining-eurasia.com.
Although previously focused mostly on Eurasia, we are expanding coverage to take into account the rise of populism across the West and “unexpected” events such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.
Like millions of people across the West, many of us in the ESC network are deeply worried by the direction politics has been taking across the West in recent years, but we have also become appalled at amateur academics, businessmen behaving badly, juvenile journalists and puerile politicians – adjectival alliterations that highlight how each of these elite groups has contributed to our present state of Denmark.
We are even more shocked by the quality of “analysis” purporting to explain the rise of populism and “unexpected” events such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, a phenomenon long familiar elsewhere:
Analysis increasingly, I’m sorry to say, takes second place to assertion of the world as the observer “knows” it to be.
Mark Galeotti, Clinical Professor in Global Affairs at the Center for Global Affairs, NYU School of Professional Studies, New York University.
2 March 2015
Our 2016 series Before Fake News therefore drills down into trends which in some cases go back decades or even centuries to the very beginning of European modernisation to provide more insight.
We have also added a new rubric on Junk Education as an occasional critique of the staggering amount of bad thinking, emotion and often appalling general knowledge now regularly offered up by even “respectable” and “reputable” organisations and publications:
The discussion is the barest introduction to issues that deserve and have received innumerable longer and more detailed discussions — as well as brief and terrifying uninformed and opinionated ones in the mass media.” (our emphasis)
Alan Ryan, On Politics: A History of Political Thought from Herodotus to the Present, 2012, pp. 978-9.
- Professor of Politics, Princeton University, 1988-1996 & 2010-2014
- Professor of Political Theory, Oxford University, 1996-2009
- Visiting Professor, Stanford University, 2014-15
- Elected Fellow of the British Academy, 1986
The time-honoured principle of mastering the subject from all sides rarely applies nowadays:
You do not possess “perfect knowledge,” until you are able to answer, with unfaltering promptitude and consistency, all the questions of a Sokratic cross-examiner — and to administer effectively the like cross-examination yourself, for the purpose of testing others.
George Grote, Plato, And The Other Companions Of Sokrates, Vol 1. A New Edition, 1885
The Oxford debating tradition does possess one great strength, drawn indirectly from the Symposium. You are supposed to be able to give an honest account of an opposing or different worldview, and even as an exercise to be able to present it as if you believed it yourself.
Christopher Hitchens, Moderation or Death, London Review of Books, Vol. 20 No. 23, 26 November 1998
A spectacular example came at Harvard in March 2017:
[The Chinese have] read The Art of the Deal! Has anybody here? Put your hand up if you’ve read Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal? So it’s like… what are you people doing? Do you have no interest in the way this man thinks – he’s the most powerful man in the world!
Niall Ferguson, speaking at a presentation and discussion of the book Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? by Graham Allison at the Harvard Institute of Politics, Harvard Kennedy School.
Niall Ferguson is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, Senior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Visiting Professor at the New College of the Humanities, London, William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and contributing editor to the Financial Times
Streamed live on 22 March 2017, available from 1:00:00 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yghOc-lMIM
Disastrously, however, emotion combined with Junk Education have become part and parcel of the wider political and social “discourse” and conspired to vitiate understanding and solutions.
If the above caveats apply to Western domestic politics, they apply a fortiori to the rest of the world, and especially to Islam and Islamism. Nearly two decades after 9/11, Western ignorance of Islam and the Muslim world does indeed remain astonishing, but is often wrapped in pronouncements of near papal infallibility by people lacking the slightest expertise.
As Germany’s leading expert on Islamism points out,
… These regional and specific political and cultural processes [in the Muslim World] remain fully closed to Europeans and Americans, who think in globalized categories; some of them persistently refuse to understand them.
Bassam Tibi, Die fundamentalistische Herausforderung. Der Islam und die Weltpolitik, 3rd Edition, 2002, pp. 43-4.
Bassam Tibi is a Syrian-German scholar, Emeritus Professor, International Relations, Göttingen University and has been Visiting Professor at Harvard, Yale, UC Berkeley, Princeton and Cornell. He is Germany’s leading expert on Islamic fundamentalism and as a hafez has memorised the Koran.
Several ESC experts have lived and worked for years in various Muslim-majority countries in the Arab Middle East, Central Asia and Turkey and written on their politics and development based on practical experience rather than armchair expertise. Dominic Rubin’s study Russia’s Muslim Heartlands. Islam in the Putin Era appeared in 2017.