Esteemed Committee Members,
Shabat Shalom from Tel Aviv! My partner Craig suggested that I actually write and tell you that I’m here, trying to gather a newspaper sample for my dissertation. This seemed wise, as I only had a chance to talk to Ellis about it before I left. Craig and I arrived about a week ago. I have spent my weekdays at the Arab Press Archive at Tel Aviv University.
The plan, you may recall, was to collect a sample of 2400 articles, 300 for before both civil wars, 300 for during and 300 for after. Each packet of 300 was to he half domestic policy articles and half were to be domestic policy editorials. I rigged a fun method that did not use a flash that I hoped would allow me to get a massive article dump while I was here. That mechanism, if you’re curious, is depicted at this link.
The Problem of Acquiring the Sample
Sadly, they are as intolerant of non-flash lighting as they are of flash lighting (although, curiously they allow photocopying and scanning, which also uses light) and have express rules against copying a whole page at a time. After a (nonetheless very pleasant) week here, it is apparent that my dream of doing a massive sample absorption that I can sort out once I get home is simply not going to happen. I have to select the articles and copy them while here. I’ll get the build-up to each civil war before I return to Seattle if I’m lucky. I’m going to have come back. This means that I still need to learn how to write an effective grant application before I graduate.
The Problem of Editorials
But other difficulties arisen. Empirical reality is regrettably messy. My initial plan was to look at domestic policy pieces and (1) tally how often pieces discuss community identity as opposed to sub-group identity and (2) look for objectifying language, outgroup derogation, etc. The problem is that I was very naïve in assuming that there would actually be domestic news and domestic policy editorials. This is not really the case in Jordan. I’ve read through several issues of ad-Difa`, a privately held Jordanian daily. Ad-Difa` doesn’t really cover much local news. Most news articles and virtually all editorials are foreign policy pieces.
What domestic pieces exist fall into three clear genres: (1) The Royal Watch Piece (i.e. the King or Prince Hassan Went Here and Did This Today—Isn’t That Exciting?), (2) The Development Narrative Piece (i.e., the government has built new roads and/or is trying to improve public education) or (3) General Announcements (people’s marriages, deaths, the names of all the students in the country who passed their tawjihi, etc.). There are occasional pieces associated with local government. What seems conspicuously lacking is really, any reference to conflict at the domestic level. Society, to the extent that society is depicted at all, it is, by and large, depicted as unified and unproblematic. Now, it’s not Syria. No one here is being made the mouth ridiculous truisms, i.e. “Hafiz al-Asad is nation’s best pharmacist” or show up in mass demonstrations chanting what they do not believe. Nonetheless, the country will have a civil war in 1970 and there is no trace of dissent in the news of 1967 and 1968.
Now, while ad-Difa` is a privately owned paper, it is one of the few privately owned papers that survived the 1967 War and did this mostly by toeing the government line. I imagine that, when I get to it, ad-Dastur, the state organ, is going to look a lot like ad-Difa`. Ad-Difa` certainly looks like recent copies of the English-language daily The Jordan Times. You can check them out at this link. It's depressing how little has changed.
I think the media in Jordan reflects a government line. It’s not Syria, don’t get me wrong. They don’t simply fabricate news. A limited civil society exists in Jordan. Public opinion is a limit of sorts on the monarchy. But clearly public discourse is limited and, ideally, the state shapes the discourse and not vice versa. It is clearly the intent of the state that most citizens be depoliticized. Pan-Arab issues such as the Arab-Israeli conflict probably distract from domestic policy and serve to unify the citizens the way local sports coverage unifies the fans.
While I haven’t started sampling it yet, I’ve looked through an-Nahar, one of Lebanon’s most famous newspapers. The editorials do occasionally talk about something other than foreign policy, although foreign policy is a great cause célèbre in Beirut, too. Nonetheless, domestic policy news pieces show up by page 2. Moreover, there is conflict. Lebanese politicians do have at one another. For what it’s worth, politicians are making consistent appeals for public support. An-Nahar does contain occasional domestic editorials, but these are more sparse. I don’t think I can get one from every issue I randomly sample.
I had initially wanted to include editorials because I thought that the language might get more objectifying there. But that will never happen in Jordan, which never disembarks from the unity bandwagon. Given these difficulties, unless any of you can suggest why I should keep them, I think I want to punt on editorials and focus on news coverage. I think my best shot at p<0.05 is in having a 300 article sample for each period. I think the genres are different enough that I'll skew the outcome if I make a single, split sample. Doing a sample of 300 each for each period is unrealistic, given my working constraints. Please tell me what you think.
The Structure of Civil Society and Its Impact on the Model
One of the elements that I find more difficult to deal with in this project is the conception of civil society. I talk about two methods of recognition. The first is consociational, where sub-groups are formally recognized as equal but separate communities. The second is universal, in which all individuals within the state are recognized as equal individuals without reference to other forms of identity. But both the United States and Jordan use the universal recognition. Their civil societies, however, are very different.
During my prospectus defense, Steve asked me if my theory could explain ethnic cleansing in Stalinist Russia. After a few months of reflection, I realized that my theory wasn’t particularly helpful for understanding ethnic cleansing in ultra-authoritarian states, because in those states a single leader had so much power that the decision to perform ethnic cleansing is essentially the personal decision of a largely unconstrained leader. That said, the more the political sphere was open to the participation of multiple persons, the more useful my theory would be. Simply put, my theory rests on the assumption that leaders have to “sell” something like ethnic cleansing to their followers. While civil war is indeed a time of crisis in which the usual rules do not apply, I’ve held that the “normal” condition is sort of an anchor for behavior. Yes, you exceed the normal during a civil war, but those actions are constantly judged against the normal. So the more power in the ruler’s hands, the more ethic cleansing is a personal preference and the less the recognition narrative matters. The more power is enmeshed in a civil society that requires consent, the more the recognition narrative matters, as the leader must be seen to live out the narrative.
After seeing the newspapers, I’ve wondered if Jordan is too authoritarian to be a viable model. Jordan does formally recognize citizens as equal individuals. But Jordan’s civil society is not exactly free or open, either. It may well be that Jordan doesn’t participate in ethnic cleansing because the king is very powerful and he personally isn’t into ethnic cleansing. That said, he won the civil war, but barely. He isn't powerful enough to be an al-Asad or a Saddam. Moreover, there have been other crises such as the 1989 fuel riots that forced a short-run pluralization in the state. While Jordan doesn’t have many policy debates, it does have a civil society that is occupied by more than just the king. I still balk at classifying it with Syria or Ba`thist Iraq. I feel that I can still sell this.
Any feedback? I could really use some.