‘Every Unsavoury Separatist is Gloating’: Questions about Kosovo

Via Crooked Timber (and also 3QD), there is a learned critique by Pratap Bhanu Mehta in Indian Express, of the recent “engineering” of independence for Kosovo by western European powers and the U.S.

The key paragraph in the argument for our purposes (i.e., with South Asia in mind) might be the following:

In the 19th century, there was a memorable debate between John Stuart Mill and Lord Acton. John Stuart Mill had argued, in a text that was to become the bible for separatists all over, including Jinnah and Savarkar, that democracy functions best in a mono-ethnic societies. Lord Acton had replied that a consequence of this belief would be bloodletting and migration on an unprecedented scale; it was more important to secure liberal protections than link ethnicity to democracy. It was this link that Woodrow Wilson elevated to a simple-minded defence of self-determination. The result, as Mann demonstrated with great empirical rigour, was that European nation states, 150 years later, were far more ethnically homogenous than they were in the 19th century; most EU countries were more than 85 per cent mono-ethnic. (link)

In his Column in Indian Express, Mehta keeps his focus sharply on Kosovo’s status within Europe, and also considers the seeming double standard as the Western powers disregard Russian objections to Kosovo’s independence, on the one hand, while they go out of their way to accommodate China’s (unconscionable) policy on Taiwan, on the other.

But there is obviously a question for South Asia here as well, and India in particular. Mehta briefly alludes to the history of nationalism in the Indian subcontinent when he invokes Jinnah and Savarkar, but his column raises questions for us as we think about the present too — specifically the questions over the status of Kashmir and Assam (maybe also Manipur and Nagaland, not to mention Punjab in the 1980s).

The debate between Acton and Mill Mehta invokes isn’t so much a “conservative” versus “liberal” debate — John Stuart Mill is considered one of the architects of the philosophy of liberalism, but in this case his views come out as less “liberal” than Acton’s. Mill supports thinking of nations as defined by race/ethnicity, but that approach can reinforce ethno-religious differences, rather than leading to an environment where different communities have equal status in a diverse nation. I tend to favor Acton’s approach, except perhaps in cases where minority communities face imminent violence, or genocidal suppression.

(Incidentally, Mehta builds his arguments on an essay called “The Dark Side of Democracy” in New Left Review, by Michael Mann; for those who have subscriptions, you can find the article here.)

67 thoughts on “‘Every Unsavoury Separatist is Gloating’: Questions about Kosovo

  1. 49 · Ponniyin Selvan said

    Imagine if people with a similar mentality form a pressure group in Harvard and make the cafetaria that was serving all kinds of food before to now offer PURE VEGETARIAN only food for one day in a week, is that OK?

    Vegetarianism is seen by most Americans as a leftwing phenomenon. I think even meat-eating liberals in the USA see virtue in vegetarianism and would support making programs that make it easier to be vegetarian. The observation we’re making is that the left has long advocated a particular lifestyle and fights the American right tooth and nail to see that modern values prevail over so call traditional values. But, under the guise of multiculturalism, the left is willing to accept things they otherwise would not accept.

    Here in NYC, the left has been very suspicious of charter schools, arguing it can easily become a vehicle for religious indoctrination. However when a Muslim group organized an “Arabic” charter school staffed mostly by Muslims advocating Islamic education, the left was very receptive. In fact the left has accused those who oppose this charter school of being islamophobic. Traditional resistance to charter schools here is replaced by a multiculti embrace of diversity.

    If you want NY Times Editorial Page to support your ideas or programs get a spokesman w/ a foreign-sounding name and have him argue for it in multicultural terms.

  2. If you want NY Times Editorial Page to support your ideas or programs get a spokesman w/ a foreign-sounding name and have him argue for it in multicultural terms.

    BARACK HUSEIN OBAMA!!!!

  3. Not just restaurants, who would’ve thought that the university even supports self-segregation of students who are vegetarian into their own residences? Outrageous!

    What’s your point?. I don’t see a relation between the two cases.

    Owned by Harvard and watched over by Dudley House, the Co-op’s off-campus location and its self-governance by residents unite town and gown for a unique living experience on the literal and figurative fringes of the University. Dudley Co-op, founded in 1958 to provide alternative housing for low-income Harvard men, is a bargain, with students cooking dinners and cleaning up after themselves. Yet pinching pennies is only part of its appeal. “It’s mostly for people who want an intentional community,” says Linda Cuckovich ’02. “If it cost the same amount, I would still live here.”
  4. What’s your point?. I don’t see a relation between the two cases.

    Umm, Harvard subsidises this by providing only men who want to be vegetarian with their own housing. Far more of an investment than 6 hours out of 60 odd in a fringe gym. That’s my point.

  5. I don’t think anyone would object if Muslim women (or any other group who need a women-only gym) start their own gym and restrict it for women. It is the question of requiring others to accomodate your religious beliefs at their expense.

  6. I don’t think anyone would object if Muslim women (or any other group who need a women-only gym) start their own gym and restrict it for women. It is the question of requiring others to accomodate your religious beliefs at their expense.

    Ok, so the problem with the gym issue is that Harvard allowed these women to use an existing gym, instead of just building an entirely new one devoted exclusively to women. Good to know :)

    BTW, it is very common in India for gyms and swimming pools to have women-only hours (check out many of the gyms in the high rises in Bombay, for example), and this was true even without the clear Muslim oppression.

  7. Umm, Harvard subsidises this by providing only men who want to be vegetarian with their own housing. Far more of an investment than 6 hours out of 60 odd in a fringe gym. That’s my point.

    If you have read what I quoted, the report says it was founded for that purpose. There is nothing wrong in Harvard (being a private school) founding a Muslim only gym and permitting all kinds of restrictions.

    But. I don’t think you (or I) can decide what is a fringe gym and what is not?. I’d like to goto a nearby gym which is closer to my dorm trekking in footlong snow in the middle of Feb and if I was denied entry I’d get angry and (I think) rightly so.

  8. There is nothing wrong in Harvard (being a private school) founding a Muslim only gym and permitting all kinds of restrictions.

    So, what was wrong was Harvard dedicating (far less than) 5% of its gym resources (6 out of 60 = 10% of a small gym’s resources, which works out to less than 5% of the total gym resources) for this accommodation, instead they should have spent far more to build out a new gym, and somehow that would have been fairer? Personally, I do think blanket accommodation of random requests is a bad idea (and I also think religion, in general, is given more weightage than desirable in this respect), but this particular allowance seems pretty minor, and was attempted in a manner as to cause very little disruption, and it appears that they did a reasonable job given how little the students at Harvard (except one Mr. Nick Wells, it seems) seem to be upset by this (although there are all sorts of righteous upholders of liberty outside Harvard who are eagerly standing on principle) are complaining. And if the trial doesn’t seem to benefit enough of the student population, Harvard will rescind it in any case, so the policy will succeed only if the resources are being used efficiently.

    And the gym is not Muslim only, it can be used by all women during this time.

    I don’t think you (or I) can decide what is a fringe gym and what is not?.

    I agree, I shouldn’t have imposed my value judgment on deciding whether others’ demands are reasonable.

    I’d like to goto a nearby gym which is closer to my dorm trekking in footlong snow in the middle of Feb and if I was denied entry I’d get angry and (I think) rightly so.

    So, accommodation for laziness in picking a place to exercise – better not burn too many calories – is ok :)

  9. BTW, it is very common in India for gyms and swimming pools to have women-only hours (check out many of the gyms in the high rises in Bombay, for example), and this was true even without the clear Muslim oppression.

    I don’t see the point in comparing Bombay and Harvard. You could also argue that men are not allowed to see non-related women in Saudi arabia. What is the “culture” you want to be part of, (I think ) is the question. In order to accomodate other “cultures” I hope Harvard does not lose its “culture”.

    Personally, I do think blanket accommodation of random requests is a bad idea (and I also think religion, in general, is given more weightage than desirable in this respect), but this particular allowance seems pretty minor, and was attempted in a manner as to cause very little disruption, and it appears that they did a reasonable job given how little the students at Harvard (except one Mr. Nick Wells, it seems) seem to be upset by this (although there are all sorts of righteous upholders of liberty outside Harvard who are eagerly standing on principle) are complaining

    So far everyone (atleast in this blog) who defended the idea qualifies it with a caveat that personally they think it is a bad idea. :-) I think people come out of their “politically correct” blinkers they would see how ridiculous this idea is.

  10. Getting back to the topic at hand, though, the essay is indeed very well written. Thanks for the post, Amardeep. I had a question about one sentence though:

    But the truth is that the birth of Kosovo is also a profound testament of the failure of the nation state form in Europe to accommodate ethnic diversity.

    I am, by no means, a political scientist, but isn’t the nation state formulation (as opposed to a pure state construct) inherently inimical to ethnic and cultural diversity?

    This is one of the big reasons why I have always thought that thinking based on national boundaries is completely arbitrary, and that fact has become even more marked in the last century with the haphazard drawing up of lines in the middle east, South Asia, and Africa, in the frenzied leap to independence as the imperial powers lost their hold. Of course, the next frontier will be the evolution of countries as non-native cultures become prominent participants through waves of immigration, as is happening most markedly in the US, and to a lesser, but still significant, extent in Europe.

    The acceptance of democracy and rights as a system of governance has raised to the fore the question of how the conflicting tugs of political unity and humanitarian demands for self-determination will be resolved. And how this will play out against the spectre of poverty, which is often the leading reason for rebellion against real or perceived discrimination/neglect by the ruling powers. I guess this will be the next broad evolution of political systems over the next 500 years or so (will Babylon V be the answer?) – if some loony doesn’t unleash a nuclear bomb before then.

  11. I don’t see the point in comparing Bombay and Harvard.

    It is a slightly more pertinent comparison than saying that this would mean that Harvard now has to schedule Muslim only classes. That is not what they are doing.

    So far everyone (atleast in this blog) who defended the idea qualifies it with a caveat that personally they think it is a bad idea. :-)

    That’s not what I said.

    What is the “culture” you want to be part of, (I think ) is the question. In order to accomodate other “cultures” I hope Harvard does not lose its “culture”.
    I think people come out of their “politically correct” blinkers they would see how ridiculous this idea is.

    Americanofascism is the answer.

  12. Americanofascism is the answer.

    New term in town.. “Americanofascism” on the lines of “islamofascism” / “islamophobia” . people who want to have both males and females working out in the gym at the same time are “Americanofascists”. :-)

  13. Universities do a whole lot of things to make things comfortable for a variety of student lifestyle choices: keeping libraries open at odd hours, running shuttles for students who work late, setting up support systems for women and minorities, and so on. I see this accommodation as similar, if something can be done that actually and tangibly helps a reasonable number of students without inconveniencing the rest of the student body (hence the trial period), there is no harm. (Even though, I know that the looming specter of Islamism scares the boldly politically incorrect. But not Nick Wells, what he wants really is for Harvard to do more for Muslim women, not less).

  14. 64 · Rahul said

    People who refuse to entertain the request because it is made by people with “foreign sounding names” and might be supported by the Times editorial page are the Americanofascists.

    I’m not opposed to women’s only hours in gym. Its a very good idea grounded in commonsense.

    I think its absurd to oppose Conservative sensibilities when it is advocated by the right but to support it, if it is couched in multicultural rhetoric.

  15. I’ll be interested to see the reaction at the gym when the Muslim women are working out if a blind woman member turned up with a guide dog.

  16. Guys, this is way off topic.

    I’m also disappointed that the thread has turned into the usual Muslim-baiting crap.