Sunday, April 12, 2015

Raymond Taras's "Fear and the Making of Foreign Policy"

Ray Taras's recent books include Xenophobia and Islamophobia in Europe and (editor) Challenging multiculturalism: European models of diversity.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Fear and the Making of Foreign Policy: Europe and Beyond, and reported the following:
What is the only thing François Hollande has done as President that has proved popular with the French public? If you’ve answered bombing Mali you’d be right. Why this decisiveness shown by Hollande in January 2013 was popular is explained on p. 99 of my book. But there are other reasons why I would like readers to look at page 99, and the 200 others, of my book.

“Fear’s a powerful thing” cautioned Bruce Springsteen on Devils and Dust; “It can turn your heart black.” I distinguish many kinds of fears in contemporary society – existential, official, cosmic, national, religious, hypopsic. Hypopsic? A fear and distrust of others is how Thucydides defined hypopsia, one of five words he used for fear in his History of the Peloponnesian Wars. Distrust is important to understanding why international politics are so fractious these days. Why there are so many academic books on trust and so few on distrust is puzzling.

My book is about Europe – and beyond. In his 2013 United Nations speech Iranian President Hassan Rouhani catalogued the world’s many fears: fear of war and of hostile regional and global relations; fear of violence and extremism; fear of aggressive religious, ethnic, and national identities; fear of poverty and toxic discrimination; fear of the destruction of life-sustaining resources; fear of widespread contempt for human dignity and rights; fear of disrespect for moral arguments. Paraphrasing Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie’s speech to the U.N. on war in 1963 (adapted in a Bob Marley song), we can say that all over there is fear - fear in the East, fear in the West, fear up North, fear down South.

Slavoj Žižek has chronicled other malign phobias today: fear of immigrants, fear of crime, fear of godless sexual depravity, fear of the excessive state. For him the menacing shark in the 1975 film Jaws represents a master signifier today. It foreshadowed the arrival of “waves” of immigrants, often also coming across the sea. Stranger danger. Foreigner fear. Xenophobia. All the subjects of my study. The consequences of these irrational but altogether natural phenomena – stranger anxiety appears in the infant at about six months when an unfamiliar person shows up in its life – are my concern. Specifically, how fears at home shape a country’s foreign policy abroad.

Back to the bombing of Mali. In my case study of France I argue that Hollande’s foreign policy behavior is connected with, though not caused by (as a short methods chapter makes clear) many French citizens’ fears of Muslims living in their midst. In a second case study, of Poland, I find that political elites more than the public have always been distrustful of neighboring Russia. But attributing chronic russophobia to this nation isn’t supported by the evidence we have. I ask: were Poles nevertheless prescient in being suspicious about the Kremlin’s grand strategy well before fears of Russia spread across the world in 2014 (opinion surveys show such a dramatic upturn)?

A third case I examine is Sweden where it is claimed that fear of fear itself is an influential norm. Despite a gold standard of humanitarian policies in both domestic and foreign policies there is a dark, unspoken side to the interconnected dimensions (as in a Stieg Larsson novel). The most recent scandal (not covered in my book) illustrates this well: a new Swedish foreign minister announces a feminist foreign policy but when she shows she is serious and chastises Saudi Arabia (with which Sweden conducts a significant arms trade) for its record on women’s rights, Margot Wallström is called in for a talking to by the King of Sweden himself. Does this foreign policy – fear of the Saudis among others – mirror the flawed record the country has at home on recognizing and empowering outsider groups like asylum seekers, the majority of whom today come from the Middle East?

Fear is just one prism through which we can observe the turbulent contemporary world. In the last chapter I ask if the U.S. is exceptional – once again – in engaging in foreign policy behavior that is marked less by fear than by fearlessness. That would distinguish it viscerally from the fearfulness permeating European states. I offer no conclusive answer to this question in the concluding chapter. But my modest hope is that I have captured some of the spirit of Thucydides’ meditation on fear that his History has been called and, in this way, helped explain the chaos and irrationality of our times.
Visit Ray Taras's website.

The Page 99 Test: Xenophobia and Islamophobia in Europe.

--Marshal Zeringue