Category Archives: Politics / International Relations

Can the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict be studied objectively?

The assumption that any conflict between those with different ideological stances can be studied objectively is a fallacy.  This is no different of the Arab-Israeli conflict (Arzt, 1997, p.xv).  One of the greatest examples of this is undeniably the debate that has raged over the new/old historiography.  Whilst the New Historians position is reactionary this does not render it useless.  Rather it has provided a much needed shift in the orientation of the debate.  The New Historians, whilst having methodologically questionable work, have helped reframe what was becoming a stagnant and one-sided debate.  There can be no doubt however, that at best there are serious questions and misgivings about their approach to archival criticism and the accuracy of their data (Hirsch, June 2007, p.245; Karsh, June 1996, p.20).  Although, it could be argued that the methodology of the old historians does not stand up under serious scrutiny either – somewhat because the view was unchallenged in academia and politics for so long (Morris, 2007, pp.14-15).  Israel has been successful in putting forward its rendition of events for many years – amply more so than their Arab counterparts.  Shlaim further notes that the Israeli interpretation of events is, like any nationalist history, remarkably one sided and prejudiced (Shlaim, 2000, p.xv).

Neither side of this debate had entirely pure motives.  Both sides were driven, not primarily by ethical or groundbreaking research, but also by political agendas.  However, it remains that the debate needed reframing, and the fact that it could be reframed so significantly gives credence to the argument that obtaining objectivity in studying the foundations of the Arab-Israeli conflict is an impossible task.  The debate over new/old historiography and the implications, both in the academic and political world, of this debate highlight beyond doubt that there is not one objective narrative about the foundations of the conflict.  Furthermore, there can never be one objective chronicle of the conflict because different readings of the history are shaped by context which in turn shapes attitude.  Therefore the debate of old/new history has posed problems of context, attitude and ideology – three massive factors hindering an objective narrative being obtained.  Aside from this main contributory problem there are numerous other variables to be taken into consideration.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Balfour declaration, subsequent Western rule (under Britain as per the British Mandate) and mass return of Jews to the area all contribute to the reason why the origins of this debate can never be studied objectively.  The intervention from the League of Nations (LoN) from the beginning of the conflict has seen too many foreign actors invested in the conflict.  Mixed with turbulence in the region this has further led to debates of demography, religion and geography – all of which have bearing on the study of the origins of the conflict.  The violation suffered on both sides of the conflict and with such heavy investment both fiscally and in terms of mediation and governance from external actors leads to ambiguity surrounding the objective study of the origins of the conflict.


Arzt, D. E. (1997), Refugees into Citizens: Palestinians and the End of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, (Council of Foreign Relations Books: New York)

Hirsch, M. B. J. (2007), ‘From Taboo to the Negoitable: The Israeli New Historians and the Changing Representation of the Palestinian Refugee Problem’, Perspectives on Politics June 2007, pp.241-258

Hogg, M. A. and Abrams, D. (1988),  Social Identifications: A Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations and Group Processes, (Routledge: London)

Karsh, E. (1996), ‘Rewriting Israel’s History’, Middle East Quarterly June 3:2, pp.19-29

Shlaim, A. (2000), The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World, (Penguin: London)


A Decade of Centenaries

I doubt this will be the only time this is addressed not only because it is a contentious issue, but also because it is an issue that relates to my PhD studies and to my work with FMPCI.  I had been thinking of posting something about this since about November last year when I started giving the subject some critical attention after attending the Inter-Irish Church Meeting in Edgehill Theological College.  However, credit where credit is due – the reason I am writing about this today is because it was brought to my mind by Peter Stitt (writer at Liberal Meritocracy) after he wrote a very nonchalant piece that mentioned the issue.

First off, let’s not be too trite.  This is a big issue.  It will be a source of contention in Northern Irish politics for the coming decade – of that there is no doubt.  What is up for grabs however is how the contention is managed.  Historically, the Northern Ireland assembly have not been too great at dealing with these sorts of things.

There are a number of issues to consider:

The Political Ramifications

The Alliance party seem to be the only ones dealing with the issue from a holistic perspective at the moment – at least realistically.  Unsurprisingly, and correctly, they want to use the coming decade as an opportunity to bolster economic and cultural development throughout Northern Ireland.  However, Alliance are not coy – they are acutely aware of how tenuous talk of this can be, and with their holding of the Justice ministry being called into question of late, their ability to affect change in a decade such as the one we are in is questionable and hangs in the balance.

There has ben posturing from Sinn Fein and the DUP, and they are making the right sorts of noises, but when push comes to shove are they really angling for a shared future, and a dignified look at the past?  If we are to look in any detail at their publication of Cohesion, Sharing and Integration document (PDF) there seems to be no inherenet plans, or agenda for how exactly they are going to achieve cohesion, sharing or integration.  It’s disappointing that this document, which could have been a signpost to a brighter future has been usurped by niceties, banalities and frivolity.

Everything for the coming decade rests on Politics.  It needs to be right here before it can be right elsewhere.  If there is a lack of clarity about the contentious celebrations (most obviously the Signing of the Ulster Covenant 1912 and the Easter Rising 1916) it could have disastrous social, cultural and future ramifications from which an emerging government like Northern Ireland could find it hard to recover.

Now, am I saying that this will make or break the devolution agreement?  Am I saying this will lead to the resuspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly?  No.  But, what I am saying is, it could add unnecessary weight and strain to a still young government.

The Social Ramifications

This decade has the potential to be commandered by extremists on both sides if it is mismanaged at the political level and it has serious ramifications for the future peace agenda in Northern Ireland if this is the case.  For this not to be the case it will require shrewd political management and innovative grassroots execution.  The Assembly must rely on ground level, community services to deliver these programs contextually and sensitively.

As a community worker myself, I have some cards in play here.  It’s important for the communities in which I work, and indeed, communities across Northern Ireland that this is done right.  An improper celebration of these events could be catastrophic on the ground where most of the tension still exists.

There is no doubt that Northern Ireland has come on leaps and bounds in the last number of years, and I for one hope to see that continue.  However, there is still a lot of ‘unknowing’ and fear on the ground.  No matter how much the Assembly and political parties have come on they simply must take the people with them, otherwise they are not leaders, they are merely innovators.  In 1971  an official Working Group on Peace Walls expressed its concern at the erection of interface barriers, that if they remained then the “abnormal becomes the normal”.  Unfortunately, this has happened.  Peace walls are normal.  Division is normal.  This is a problem for communities in Northern Ireland.  I would like to signpost at this point to a post on Slugger O’Toole highlighting the work of Dr Jonny Byrne who has written extensively and researched peace walls. He notes that division runs deeper than peace walls, indeed, from my own observations I would suggest that there is a bit of an identity crisis brewing beneath the surface in Northern Ireland.

In short, this decade needs to be managed properly at the community level.

The Futurist Ramifications

There seems to be a bit of snowball effect here.  Proper political management cascades into proper community management which will trickle down to a sense of hope and expectancy for the future.  This decade has the opportunity to secure a shared future and I hope it does.

Do you have any thoughts or opinions?

The Monday Retrospect

What is ‘The Monday Retrospect’?

This is a weekly collection of things that have caught my attention and imagination over the last week.  It is a chance to put into words what I have been doing, thoughts I have been processing, things that are happening.  It’s a bit of a mind dump really.

    • Want to succeed as a PhD researcher…Thesis Whisperer reckons you need to become best friends with the Librarian.
    • The Alliance Party of Northern Ireland have put out their latest party political broadcast/party election broadcast.  I think it’s a visually stunning piece of work.  It uses all the right words, but for me, it lacks any tangible policy or plans.
    • I’m currently working on a paper that is exploring whether or not justice is necessary for peace.  If you have any opinions feel free to share them.
    • I was away at a wedding for the past few days.  It was nice to meet up with some friends that I haven’t seen for a while, and of course watch friends commit to each other in new ways.
    • 22 days and I’m outta here.
    • It is not the strongest of species that survives, not the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. – Charles Darwin.
    • I love this display of creativity.  Check out AmpleSample which challenges people to come with abstract uses for carpet samples.
    • Are we connected on Facebook?  Or Twitter?
    • Currently doing some reading around the Sunningdale Agreement (1973) and the Belfast Agreement (1998) for my dissertation.
    • And no, before you ask I am not relying on these Wikipedia articles!
    • #fact: Academia is expensive.

Derailing Peace in Northern Ireland

This post has been inspired by the conversation that was started by good friend Nathan Erskine.


The heinous murder of newly qualified Police Constable, Ronan Kerr in the last week has simply served to highlight that Northern Ireland’s history is anything but history in the minds of some people.  And, in the minds of those who are trying to keep the events of the past where they belong it simply recalls to memory some painful times in the legacy of this beautiful but complex piece of earth.

The way I see it is that there are a number of possible explanations of this attack.

– It is an attempt to derail the Peace Process in Northern Ireland

– Is it a way of subverting a perceived dominant and unwelcome force by a violent minority?

The death, tragic as it is, is not an isolated incident but it is an attempt at something much larger.  It is an attempt to create chaos and derail the peace process in Northern Ireland.  The murder was a chance to corrode the already tenuous relationship between government and peace.

The timing of this event is significant at election time.  The plan here was much deeper than misery for one family, unfortunately OC Ronan Kerr’s life was being used as a catalyst to spur a larger political crisis in Northern Ireland.  On the whole this objective was unsuccessful, many leaders stood in unity and faced, with dignity and courage the difficultly of leading a country through this terrorism, unfortunately however a few of the political parties showed narrow-mindedness and unwilling to move away from a political game and point scoring.

Is this the litmus test for Sinn Fein as peaceful leaders of the Republican movement?

Sinn Fein have been almost unanimous in their condemnation of this attack and similar attacks in the last few years.  This, however seems to be their chance to really step up to the plate and prove their mettle as peaceful leaders of a nationalist movement.


At the end of the day however, this attack is not simply affecting those in the political world.  Behind this carnage we must remember that Ronan Kerr was a real human bein, with hopes, aspirations and dreams.  It saddens me greatly that when we now talk about the ‘Omagh Bomb’ we will have to distinguish just what bombing we are referring to.


The Monday Retrospect

What is ‘The Monday Retrospect’?

This is a weekly collection of things that have caught my attention and imagination over the last week.  It is a chance to put into words what I have been doing, thoughts I have been processing, things that are happening.  It’s a bit of a mind dump really.

  • The Legislative Assembly and Local elections are well underway in Northern Ireland.  It certainly is a fascinating time in our country’s history.  Alan in Belfast has composed a list that ‘Charts the Assembly Elections‘ – it provides great insight into who’s who, what’s what, and where’s where!
  • If you’re serious geek like me you’ll want to read about the different types of dashes to use and when to use them.
  • The next month is going to be an absolute roller-coaster.  I love it.
  • “Here is a test to find out whether you mission on earth is finished or not: if you’re still alive it isn’t.”
  • Spring time weather does the soul good.  The essays not so much.
  • A few other people are following along in the same vein as The Monday Retrospect.  There is now a Thursday Retrospect being run by Clamorous Voice and The Friday Retrospect being curated by MetaphoraMetaphora.
  • I’ve just started reading ‘What the Dog Saw’ by Malcolm Gladwell.  It seems like a pretty fun book.
  • I heard Gladwell speak this past year on the subject of Serendipity – what a truly fascinating dude.
  • Yesterday I found my favourite pair of shorts.  I thought they were long gone but they were just hidden!  The summer is looking good!
  • I’ve still got some books available for sale on Amazon.  They’ll likely be available for another 3 weeks or so.  Click to go to my shop.
  • Rory McIlroy – I feel for him.  And, I’m not even that into golf.
  • I’m currently researching the differences (if any) in representative governance and democracy.  if you’ve got any thoughts feel free to jump in.
  • Do you guys often preorder books?  I think I’ve only ever done it once.  I preordered Tribes by Seth Godin.  What have you preordered and why?
  • Check out this awesome looking home library.

That’s it for this week.  What’s going on with you?

Dissertation Supervision

I had my first official supervision appointment with Prof. Stefan Wolff on Wednesday.  It was really beneficial.

I explained to him the approach that I was hoping to take for the next month in terms of reading and structure.  He seemed really happy with my methodological approach and proposed direction.  He gave me some valuable food for thought regarding the underlying assumptions about ‘power-sharing’ governance in post-conflict societies.

We also chatted a little bit about doctoral studies.  If I haven’t already announced it yet Prof. Wolff has also agreed to be my PhD supervisor.  Obviously this is great news.  I’ve managed to bag a well-respected scholar in my chosen field and I’m really looking forward to seeing how the relationship unfolds.

Now I begin the task of starting to piece together this work.  I’ve added a tracker to let you all know how I’m getting on with the word count.  It’s looking a little bit meagre at the moment, but it will get better!  I promise.

126 / 13500 words. 1% done!

The Monday Retrospect

What is ‘The Monday Retrospect’?

This is a weekly collection of things that have caught my attention and imagination over the last week.  It is a chance to put into words what I have been doing, thoughts I have been processing, things that are happening.  It’s a bit of a mind dump really.

  • I have been deeply saddened by the news of PC Ronan Kerr’s death this week.  This is a futile attempt to derail a complex peace process with which the people of NI are engaging.  Thoughts and prayers are with the family and community at this time – they have all shown such grace in the face of adversity.
  • For further information about the complexities and meaning of this attack check out this erudite account ‘Why the dissidents kill’ by Ross Frenett at ‘Human Rights in Ireland’ and an impassioned account about ‘Getting Serious about Peace’ by Nathan Erskine.
  • Comparative study (in Politics/IR) is important and useful, but perhaps a little bit overrated?
  • Harvard Referencing or Chicago Referencing?  Which do you prefer?  Me?  I prefer Chicago.  Personally I think Harvard referencing is one of the most god awful things to enter academia.
  • Is there any difference between representational governance and democracy?  Let me know your thoughts?
  • First say to yourself what you would be; then do what you have to do.” – Epictetus
  • I am looking forward to watching ‘The Event’ tonight!
  • Some of the most awesome offices ever!

    Beauty Office

  • I’d like to take this blog onto someday – I just don’t quite know if I’m there yet!  Who knows…maybe I am.
  • Inspiration and Genius–one and the same.” – Victor Hugo

That’s it for this week.  What’s going on with you?

Terrorism: How to Respond

The POLSIS department at The University of Birmingham run a weekly seminar which is normally led by a guest speaker on a topic relating to Political Science or International Studies.  The seminar this week was something special.  We had Prof. Richard English the esteemed ‘Northern Ireland terrorism’ specialist and Director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St Andrew’s University.

Prof. English delivered the seminar based on his book ‘Terrorism: How to Respond’.  As a student of Northern Irish politics it was a particular honour for me to hear Prof. English speaking.  I found him to be a pleasant and affable man who approached his subject with sensitivity and personality.

Prof. English has recently joined the faculty at St. Andrews after a 20 year career at Queen’s University Belfast.  Alongside other incredible scholars this makes St. Andrews one of the best places for the study of Terrorism and Political Violence in the UK.

Whilst this talk was undoubtedly brilliant I did have one time niggling question relating to Prof. English’s thesis.  Please remember, as with everything else context is King.  If you weren’t there don’t jump to any conclusions, rather read the book and formulate your own thoughts.  I would also like to suggest checking out my post on ‘Academic Etiquette’.  I am challenging one of Prof. English’s ideas, not him!  Therefore, this is just one of my observations.

Out of a list of seven ways to respond to terrorism and political violence Prof. English suggested one way was to ‘Learn to live with it’.  My understanding is that Prof. English is suggesting that over response to terrorism simply legitimises the cause of those perpetrating the horrible acts – but this suggestion was seemingly out of kilter with some of the arguments towards the preservation of human dignity and human security.  I’ll try to give some background to the discussion that went on here.

The first suggestion of Prof. English in response to Terrorism was ‘Not to have an overmilitarised response’.  There was a question fielded on this topic.  An attendee at the seminar questioned Prof. English’s rationale for this.  The attendee noted that in fact a heavily militarised response had been extremely effective in some cases – citing the examples of Sri Lanka and some parts of Russia and the Caucasus’.  Prof. English gave a great response to this based on argument of human security, protection and dignity and said that an overmilitarised approach jeopardises this.  I agree.  But, it seems to me, that there is a tension between this argument and the argument that an appropriate response to Terrorism is to ‘learn to live with it’.  I’m not sure these ideas are entirely compatible.

Prof. English did recognise that the book on which his talk was based was a short work and therefore there was only so much that could be addressed fully.  So perhaps it is simply the case that this tension has not been appropriately debated yet. 

In theory both ideas have credibility.  Giving legitimacy to Terrorists is a dangerous thing to do and having a heavy-handed response is dangerous for all parties and, indeed, innocent citizens.  it’s a hard argument to ratify and I’m not sure either theory is necessarily full or correct as a lone-standing argument.

Overall, the talk was provactive, challenging and interesting – much like the person delivering it.

What do you think?

 Purchase Prof. English’s book Terrorism: How to Repond.

MA Dissertation Begins

As of yesterday I have a dissertation supervisor in the form of Prof. Stefan Wolff as well as a working title to play around with and work towards.

My dissertation is about governance structures and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and my dissertation has the working title:

Consociationalism and Polarisation: The Viability of Peace in Northern Ireland.

The core of this thesis is essentially threefold. Firstly, to analyse the efficacy of government consociations as a regulator of ethnic conflict and explore possible ramifications of national self-determination under the wider banner of peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction. Secondly, to analyse the theoretical and practical framework of consociationalism in Northern Ireland. Thirdly, to address recent developments in the Northern Ireland community towards depolarisation, cohesion and integration.I’m really happy to have Prof. Wolff supervising me for this dissertation as he is a pretty big fish in terms of security studies, peace building and consociational governance.  I’m looking forward to seeing how the supervisory relationship develops over the course of the dissertation but I imagine I will learn a lot.

I will be tracking the progress of my dissertation with a fancy tool that Alex Pryce has used in the past.  I will also be adding a page specifically devoted to collecting together posts related to my dissertation and how it is going.

It’s been a great start to the week and hopefully I can keep the momentum going to close out my last week of classes on a high note.

PhD proposals and Peace Walls

Peace Walls in Northern Ireland

I am in the midst of finalising my PhD proposal.  I am proposing research into post conflict governance in Northern Ireland, analysing their chosen system of consociationalism in light of sustainability as a regulator of ethnic and religious conflict.  I will be exploring the viability of the peace process and whether or not the post-conflict management has simply promoted a culture of toleration (a la John Locke) or whether or not it has quelled conflict and promoted national self-determination.

Today, after catching up with some blogs this morning I am greeted with the reality that I will have to update my proposal with some information that, whilst it will undoubtedly strengthen the necessity and originality of my proposal, is saddening.

More peace walls have been proposed and approved for construction in (London)Derry.  I’m in full agreement with Slugger O’Toole‘s writer Turgon (Original Article from Slugger) who has noted that ‘The fact that these peace lines are needed so long after the supposed end of The Troubles is of course a bit depressing.‘  Turgon goes on to say that they are, nonetheless, needed.  Ethnic and religious conflict has not quelled, it has not stopped, and it is, in fact as strong and entrenched as ever.  I’m not sure I would go as far as that – but the fact that this is a sad yet necessary event remains the same.

%d bloggers like this: