Sunday, April 24, 2011

Scholarship on Yemen?

Recently, I’ve come across a couple of studies on Yemen that both purport to add to the ongoing dialogue on Yemen. Specifically, they seek to shape western understandings of this oftentimes misunderstood nation. One study is written under the auspices of the Canadian Defense & Foreign Affairs Institute (CDFAI), is entitled “The New Terrorism: Understanding Yemen,” and is written by David Carment, a professor of International Affairs at Carleton University and a CDFAI research fellow. The other is entitled “2011 Yemen Stability Survey,” and is authored by Glevum Associates, a company that currently has DoD contracts in both Afghanistan and Iraq and, one would assume, is looking for funding to do research in Yemen.

I’d like to comment on the Carment piece first. While the article brings many of Yemen’s problem’s to light and may indeed be entirely factually correct, the author draws some interesting conclusions from assertions that are entirely undocumented within his paper. Carment claims that “Saleh’s government is heavily influenced by al-Qaeda Arabs: jihadists who fought for him in the 1994 civil war after their return from Afghanistan.” While it is true that “al-Qaeda Arabs” did support Saleh in crushing the southern secessionists in 1994 and General’s such as Ali Mohsen are widely known to be sympathetic to the salafist-Sunni trend, Carment in no way substantiates the contention that “Saleh’s government is heavily influenced by al-Qaeda Arabs.” Instead, he goes on to further assert that “today, Bin Laden supporters are thought to be in positions of influence in the military and the government.” Who thinks so?

The other assertion Carment makes is that “transitioning Yemen towards a more democratic system will only mean a hardening of tribal divisions and a deepening of the corruption, clientelism and cronyism that are rife throughout the country.” This claim is also undocumented and offers little in the way of potential solutions. What does Carment suggest with this statement? That Yemen should transition towards a more authoritarian government?

In sum, it is a piece that should have shown up in the op-ed pages of a newspaper, and not under the pretense of a scholarly report. To be a scholarly work – whatever its length – an author should always seek to substantiate his or her claims though documentation that directs the reader to where the author found the information that allowed him or her to draw their conclusions. This allows the readership to draw as objective an understanding as possible – especially if the claims made are as important as the un-sourced ones looked at above.

Objectivity draws my attention to the Glevum Report which, by the way, references the Yemeni peaceful protests that began on January 18, 2011 as “protests and riots.”

I would only like to address one question Glevum put to a polled group in Yemen. Question 14 asks “From what you know, or have heard from others, do the people in this area strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose: the establishment of an Islamic Emirate in Yemen?” 86% of those polled believed that other Yemenis either somewhat or strongly supported this statement. What was their motive for answering this way? Why wasn’t the question put directly to those polled? As a second order question (asking how one perceives the thinking of another), the data allows for too wide an interpretation. Do those polled believe the idea of an Islamic Emirate to be akin to what many Americans believe when they see the US as a “Christian Nation?” Are those polled more secular and making assumptions about their less secular brethren? Are Yemenis conditioned to this response regardless of their inner feelings and potential actions?

I could go on and on with similar questions. The truth is that the polled question is incredibly unclear and it is potentially dangerous to be disseminating (unqualified) information of this nature towards a western audience: information that (inadvertently?) plays upon the ongoing western public fear of the Muslim World and its efforts towards “Islamic Emirates.”

Whatever that means.

No comments:

Post a Comment