America Must Manage Decline

October 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Gideon Rachman

Recently I met a retired British diplomat who claimed with some pride that he was the man who had invented the phrase, “the management of decline”, to describe the central task of British foreign policy after 1945. “I got criticised,” he said, “but I think it was an accurate description of our task and I think we did it pretty well.”

No modern American diplomat – let alone politician – could ever risk making a similar statement. That is a shame. If America were able openly to acknowledge that its global power is in decline, it would be much easier to have a rational debate about what to do about it. Denial is not a strategy.

President Barack Obama has said that his goal is to ensure that America remains number one. Even so, he has been excoriated by his opponents for “declinism”. Charles Krauthammer, a conservative columnist, has accused the president of embracing American weakness: “Decline is not a condition,” he declared. “Decline is a choice.” The stern rejection of “declinism” is not confined to the rabid right. Joseph Nye, a Harvard professor and doyen of US foreign policy analysts, regards talk of American decline as an intellectual fad – comparable to earlier paranoia about the US being overtaken by Japan. Thomas Friedman, a New York Times columnist, has just published a book that is subtitled, “What went wrong with America – and how it can come back”.

What is not permissible, in mainstream debate, is to suggest that there may be no “coming back” – and that the decline of American power is neither a fad nor a choice but a fact.

Admittedly, America’s relative decline is likely to be much less abrupt than the falling-off experienced by Britain after 1945. The US is still the world’s largest economy and is easily its pre-eminent military and diplomatic power. However, the moment at which China becomes the world’s largest economy is coming into view – the end of the decade seems a likely passing point. Of course, it is true that China has its own grave political and economic problems. Yet the fact that there are roughly four times as many Chinese as Americans means that – even allowing for a sharp slowdown in Chinese growth – at some point, China will become “number one”.

Even after the US has ceded its economic dominance, America’s military, diplomatic, cultural and technological prowess will ensure that the US remains the world’s dominant political power – for a while. But although economic and political power are not the same thing, they are surely closely related. As China and other powers rise economically, they will inevitably constrain America’s ability to get its way in the world.

That is why America needs to have a rational debate about what “relative decline” means – and why the British experience, although very different, may still hold some valuable lessons.
What the UK discovered after 1945 is that a decline in national power is perfectly compatible with an improvement in living standards for ordinary people, and with the maintenance of national security. Decline need not mean the end of peace and prosperity. But it does mean making choices and forging alliances. In an era of massive budget deficits, and rising Chinese power, the US will have to think harder about its priorities. Last week, Hillary Clinton insisted that America will remain a major power in Asia – with all the military expenditure that this implies. Very well. But what does that mean for spending at home?

Few politicians are prepared to have that discussion. Instead, particularly among Republicans, they fall back on feel-good slogans about American “greatness”.
Those who refuse to entertain any discussion of decline actually risk accelerating the process. A realistic acknowledgement that America’s position in the world is under threat should be a spur to determined action on everything from educational reform to the budget deficit. The endless politicking in Washington reflects a certain complacency – a belief that America’s position as number one is so impregnable that it can afford self-indulgent episodes such as the summer’s near-debt default.

The failure to have a proper discussion of relative decline also risks leaving American public opinion unprepared for a new era. As a result, the public reaction to setbacks at home and abroad is less likely to be calm and determined and more likely to be angry and irrational – feeding what the historian Richard Hofstadter famously called “the paranoid style in American politics”.

For the fact is that management of decline is as much to do with psychology, as to do with politics and economics. In 1945, the British task was made much easier by the afterglow of victory in the second world war. Britain’s adjustment was also helped by the fact that the new global hegemon was the US – a country tied to Britain by language, blood and shared political ideas. It will be tougher for America to cede power to China – although the transition will also be much less stark than the one faced by Britain.

These days the British have learnt almost to revel in failure. They buy volumes with titles like the “Book of Heroic Failures” in large numbers. It is quite common for the supporters of a losing English soccer team to chant, “We’re shit and we know we are.” This is not a habit I can see catching on in the US. When it comes to managing decline, self-abasement is optional.

Financial Times (UK)

Yalla Change Event

October 6, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

AAI and NNAAC coordinate leadership conference in Dearborn

By Adil James, TMO

PA010135Dearborn–October 1–The aftermath of 9/11 has been a trial for Arabs and for Muslims, but Arabs and Muslims have responded by stepping vigorously into the public arena and a reflection of that trend is this weekend’s “Yalla Change” leadership conference in Dearborn.

The event was co-sponsored by the Arab American Institute and the National Network for Arab American Communities and was attended by about 200 guests and speakers.  The event was held at the Doubletree Hotel in Dearborn.  Those in attendance appeared to be mostly professionals who had experience working as leaders in the Muslim and especially Arab communities, and it seemed as though the focus of the leadership conference was in building the capacity of the Arab community for involvement in the arena of public service.

Discussions that contributed to this capacity were a discussion by the “Center for Arab American Philanthropy,” “Maximizing Earned-Income Endeavors,” “Tapping Employee and Volunteer Motivation to Minimize Burnout,” “Telling Your Financial Story to Funders,” and “Innovative Practices for Nonprofits,” among others.  Each of these sessions was a full multi-hour discussion designed to increase the effectiveness of Arab organizations–the majority of the seminars at the event focused on this area.

A few of the sessions focused on broader issues, namely the red herring issue of anti-Shariah legislation and a presentation by Wajahat Ali on the coterie of anti-Islam zealots such as Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, who appeared recently on the national scene but who have garnered disproportionate influence in the wake of September 11th and have, amazingly, by the strength of only a few shrill voices, polarized the American climate in relation to Islam to attempt to deny Muslims even the peaceful enjoyment of good relations with their neighbors.

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The Tender Plants Of Our Society

August 20, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Sara Yousuf

483px-Handicap.svg July fourth, 2009. A Saturday at ISNA in Washington D.C. on an Independence Day morn. But not just any Saturday at the ISNA bazaar in Washington D.C., where my family and I manning a booth for HelpHandicap Foundation, a non-profit organization enabling people with disabilities in India. It was a Saturday that would mean so much to my family and I, and, I think, also to various Muslims with disabilities who would attend it and go home with a spark of hope amongst them.

It was the day the first panel discussion on disability would take place in ISNA history. There would be four speakers, one of whom would be my father, Mr. Mohammed Yousuf. Also featured would be, a psychiatric doctor, Mona Amer, who had done research on the inclusion of Muslims with disabilities, the general topic of the panel, the distinguished Imam Zaid Shakir, and Mr. Mobin Tawakkul, who had written with my father a chapter in a book about the lives of people with disabilities, along with Ms. Isra Bhatty, who would be serve as the moderator in the discussion.

My brothers, my mother, and I were really excited about the discussion. After handing out brochures all of Friday, and having trouble getting to sleep out of over-excitement, we were up in a flash Saturday morning. My mother and father had given me camera-duty. At first I thought, “Oh, what a snap this will be, only five-ten minutes here and there.” Later did my mother tell me that I had to videotape the entire discussion, which would last for two-hours plus, when I noticed that maybe my task would not be such a delicious piece of cake.

Well, my five- and nine-year-old brothers and I took our seats, three rows down from the stage. When asked why, I merely told the older of my brothers that though my hand may ache, I would not like to crane my neck. I turned on the camera before the panel started; in fact, I started it when I spotted my father talking to one of the speakers. Enjoying myself blissfully, I did not notice the time left on the camera before the memory was full.

The discussion started—finally! I thought. Of course, I couldn’t wait to hear my father speak, as I am sure neither could my brothers nor my mother. The first speaker was Dr. Mona Amer, and I really liked the way she started off. She asked the audience why most of them had come to the discussion: because they, someone they know, or someone in their family has a disability, knew a speaker in the discussion, were interested in the topic, or had just heard about the discussion; or because they were interested in the topic or had heard about the discussion.

Though I am not an adult, I wanted to be a part of the panel, too, so I raised my hands for the first two reasons. As I had predicted (I’ve always understood human feelings, and this I could feel in the crowd), most hands were in the air for the first reason: because they themselves had a disability or knew someone with a disability. From that moment, I was hooked in the discussion as I watched it through the screen of the camera.

Halfway through the doctor’s speech, my hand ached to be in another position. By this time I was so into the panel that I was only thinking, seeing, hearing the panel, and nothing else. Well, I did also notice my throbbing hand. For a second I thought, “Well, when you take pictures, you can turn the camera sideways and the pictures come out vertical.” Flipping the camera, I said to myself, “By the way, the video looks better vertical.” So I kept on switching the camera every five minutes or so.

Imam Zaid Shakir started his speech then, and he, along with the doctor before him, really started emphasizing and I really started to think, not just listen. Why was I here? Was I a part of this? How could I, an ordinary preteen from the mid-north of America, work towards the “inclusion of disability in North America”, when I was only a child? What could I do to change my corner of the universe? Now wait a minute……change the universe? Ha! That was long-term! How would I even begin to change the lives of those with disabilities? Moreover, what could I do? Could I, a single kid, amend the way the common society overlooks these people with disabilities???

I, an eleven-year-old, sat there amongst the couple hundred of people in Conference Room D in the Mount Vernon Place Convention Center, in Washington D.C., thinking.

Next, a video was to be played about the issue of including people with disabilities. I shut off the camera while watching, and I can tell you that though my brain was working, my face was totally frozen, struck by awe. In the movie, a part was entitled to the problems in the masjids in their local areas. One brother stated that yes; his masjid’s bathroom was made into an accessible bathroom for wheelchair use, but had been turned into a storage area for janitor supplies and boxes! To myself, I think: why is this happening, happening that the masjid’s handicap features are being changed?

It was like the video sent me flying. Thinking I began about everything in the video. How could I help? Donations? Articles? Words? Actions? HOW?!?! Answers I needed, not questions.

I turned the camera back on for my father’s speech. The projector screen displayed the image of cupped hands holding rich brown soil in which was growing a s mall, two-leafed, lime-green plant, about the size of your average thumb.

My father explains that those with a disability in our community are like this plant. Tender, small, totally dependant. It needs sunlight, water, and air.

Now I completely understand what my father means. Those hidden in our communities need sunlight—love and attention, water—knowledge to nourish them, and air—friends, people around them.

Who can give them these three necessities of basic living? Who? Who is responsible for this amongst us?  

Us.

We.

We are.

We are the ones responsible. We can change the way Muslims with disabilities are excluded in their local masjid and our societies. We can try to include them in every way possible. You’re the one who can change your corner of the universe. You, yes, you!

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