Opinion

War, Debt, and Democracy

NEW YORK – As the United States takes up the decision to lift its self-imposed debt ceiling, we would do well to remember why America’s public debt is as large as it is, and how it matters. With the rise of the Tea Party, Republicans may rail against raising the debt ceiling, but they are likely to back down in the end, because, among other things, debt-funded wars – say, in Afghanistan and Iraq – are easier to defend than pay-as-you-go wars that voters must finance up front with taxes.

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Global Justice and Military Intervention

MELBOURNE – The world has watched in horror as Libya ’s Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi uses his military to attack protesters opposed to his rule, killing hundreds or possibly thousands of unarmed civilians. Many of his own men have refused to fire on their own people, instead defecting to the rebels or flying their planes to nearby Malta , so Qaddafi has called in mercenaries from neighboring countries who are more willing to obey his orders.

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The Health Challenge in Emerging-Market Cities

OXFORD – Emerging markets – Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, Turkey, and some 15 other countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America – account for a rapidly growing share of the world’s population and economy. But their governments now face one of the major challenges of the twenty-first century: creating public-health solutions that match the speed and scale of urbanization.

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The Cultural Contradictions of Multiculturalism

State-sponsored multiculturalism has failed. That proclamation by British Prime Minister David Cameron, following hard on the heels of similar renunciations of multiculturalism by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, suggests that a page is being turned in European society. But is it?

Cameron’s attack on multiculturalism minced no words. “Frankly,” he said, “we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and a much more active, muscular liberalism.” He was not criticizing ethnic and cultural pluralism, but the idea of “state multiculturalism,” which applies different moral standards to various social groups. In the future, Cameron declared, Muslim groups that do not, for example, endorse women’s rights, defend freedom of expression, or promote integration would lose all government funding.

It is not just official multiculturalism that has failed in Europe, however; so has the multiculturalism endorsed by large parts of European civil society. Sweden, one of the most liberal countries in the world, but also one that has recently seen a surge in extremism, is a case in point.

Sweden has long been known for its lifestyle liberalism. Swedes are overwhelmingly secular and indifferent toward the Swedish church. Homosexuals have been able to register civil partnerships since 1995 and marry since 2009, and the country is one of the most radical in its understanding of women’s rights – as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can attest. Moreover, Sweden’s far-reaching freedom of expression is one reason why Assange located WikiLeaks’ servers in the country.

But Sweden’s freedom of expression was also one of the motives behind a grisly suicide attack in Stockholm in December of last year. According to a last testament left behind by the attacker, a Swedish citizen named Taimour Abdulwahab, Christmas shoppers in downtown Stockholm had to die in retaliation for “the Swedes’ support” for Lars Vilks, an artist who stirred outrage in the country with drawings of the Prophet Muhammad as a dog. Vilks argued that his work was a provocation aimed at revealing the selective liberalism within the Swedish intellectual establishment – its multiculturalism, one could say.

The Stockholm suicide bombing was not the first act of violence linked to Vilks. Two young men were recently sentenced to prison for trying to set fire to the artist’s home. During a lecture at Uppsala University last summer, a mob attacked Vilks, a professor of art history, while crying Allahu akbar. The then 64-year-old artist was head-butted, but escaped serious injury thanks to heavy police protection.

What is remarkable is not just the violence and threats against Vilks – anyone who doubts the determination of Islamist extremists in Sweden should watch the YouTube clip from that lecture – but also the reaction from the otherwise radically secular Swedish establishment. A number of influential Swedish intellectuals and politicians have directed their harshest criticism against Vilks, not against those who have called for censorship and even incited violence.

Only a few of the country’s newspapers and political magazines published Vilks’ drawings. Like murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh and the British novelist Salman Rushdie before him, Vilks was criticized by liberals and the left for causing unrest with his art. In this respect, Vilks’ work must be regarded as having succeeded in exposing moral double standards – no matter what one thinks of the drawing itself.

In Sweden, just as in similarly liberal Holland and Denmark, right-wing populists have profited from liberals’ failure to stand up for their values. The Sweden Democrats (SD), a party with roots in the country’s white-supremacist movement, entered the parliament for the first time in September 2010, with the support of 5.7% of the Swedish electorate. The SD has sought to position itself as the sole defender of gays and Jews in the face of intolerance stoked by large-scale Muslim immigration in the past two decades. Swedes who stand far from the SD’s original platform are apparently willing to be represented by a party that until recently was full of neo-Nazis.

Thus, the lack of “muscular liberalism” in one of the world’s most liberal countries has paved the way for both Islamists and right-wing populists. Europe’s leading politicians have spoken out, and now it is time for European civil society – its newspapers, critics, curators, academics, and publishers – to declare the failure of multiculturalism and show some courage in defending the values they claim to embody.
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Paulina Neuding is the editor in chief of Neo magazine

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.
www.project-syndicate.org

A Balanced Look at Sino-American Imbalances

BEIJING – Before July 2007, most economists agreed that global imbalances were the most important threat to global growth. It was argued that the United States’ rising net foreign debt-to-GDP ratio – the result of chronic current-account deficits – would put a sharp brake on capital inflows, in turn weakening the dollar, driving up interest rates, and plunging the US economy into crisis.

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Poverty’s Cancer

GENEVA – Cancer is an enormous – and growing – global public-health problem. And, of the 7.6 million cancer deaths every year, 4.8 million occur in the developing world. A disease formerly considered more pervasive in affluent countries now places its heaviest burden on poor and disadvantaged populations.

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The Economic Future of Egypt’s Revolution

CAMBRIDGE – For Egypt, the question of the day is whether the country will build an open, democratic political system or relapse into some form – new or old – of autocracy. But an equally important question – above all for Egyptians, but also for other developing countries (and for development experts) – is the economic impact of its revolution.

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And Free Flows the Nile

NEW DELHI – For 18 days, during the ebb and flow of protest, it did not seem possible that the end of the Egyptian Revolution would come so suddenly, in a terse announcement that lasted no more than a half-minute: “President Hosni Mubarak has relinquished office….” With that, amidst roars of victory, an era was ended, reaffirming the old saying that “the graveyards of the world are full of those who considered themselves indispensable to their nations.”

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Can Egypt Become a True Democracy?

WASHINGTON, DC – Hosni Mubarak’s resignation as President of Egypt marks the beginning of an important stage in that country’s transition to a new political system. But will the political transition ultimately lead to democracy?

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Human Rights and Leprosy

PRAGUE – At the end of last year, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution approving principles and guidelines to end discrimination against people affected by leprosy and their family members.

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