Le’ Notes #33: The bureaucratic polity and consociational democracy

This post takes a look at two political systems which once described several countries in Southeast Asia: the bureaucratic polity and consociational democracy.

Introduction

The political development of countries in Southeast Asia began after a long period of colonisation. Except for Thailand, after escaping from colonial rule, the newly decolonised countries had to devise their own political system. The way they achieved them differed significantly from one another. Although many of these countries practice some form of democracy — say, Malaysia’s consociational (or some may say, ethnic) democracy — the type of democracy is shaped by unique cultural, social, and economic factors.

This time, I’ll look at two political systems that have been present in Southeast Asia: the bureaucratic polity, which once described Thailand and Indonesia; and consociational democracy, which once described Malaysia.

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Le’ Notes #32: Intelligence, the basics

This post covers the basics of intelligence: what it is, why it’s important, and how it works.

What is intelligence?

James-Bond.jpg

When the word “intelligence” is brought up, you might have vivid images of a savvy English spy, drinking a martini (“Shaken, not stirred”) and conversing with a drop-dead beauty while surreptitiously listening in to the big bad mob boss on the other side of the club. Most likely, the word is associated with espionage and sabotage, the work of CIA spooks in third world countries like Jason Bourne (Bourne series) or Michael Westen (Burn Notice). But that is often the exception, rather than the norm. Most of the time, intelligence analysts are quietly sitting behind a computer and staring at a screen, occasionally yawning and adjusting his buttocks, waiting for a ping to come up. Covert action, like depicted in Hollywood movies, are also included in the activities of intelligence, but they arguably make up a very small piece of the overall pie.

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Le’ Notes #31: Theoretical interpretations of Indonesia’s politics

This post discusses the theoretical interpretations of Indonesian politics from the New Order to the ongoing Reformasi era.

The first leg of my journey starts with understanding the different theoretical interpretations of Indonesia’s political system. Most of the scholarly work on Indonesia is focused on the New Order: its genesis, peak, and violent crumble. The market for Indonesian history is practically saturated with New Order stuff with a bit of Sukarno on the side and the colonial and ancient times (the lattermost nobody really cares about at this point, but is slightly important nonetheless). In this summary, I’ll go through the various schools of interpretation, which were mostly conducted by Western academics.

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Le’ Notes #30: The hard and soft of counter-terrorism efforts

This post briefly discusses the two major approaches to addressing terrorism, the “hard” and “soft” approaches.

“We could do this the easy way or the hard way,” said the CIA officer, preparing the standard operating kit for waterboarding.

If you’re a fan of the 24 TV-series or Zero Dark Thirty and the many other terrorism-related movies out there, you’d pretty much have a glimpse of how the United States handles terrorism: showing the terrorists who’s boss. The Bush administration was notorious for launching the War on Terror, a move which did kill Osama Bin Laden, but gave us ISIS with a vengeance and a century’s worth of problems in the Middle East.

Despite some of the successes of the War on Terror, it has often been criticised as being “counter-terrorist” rather than “counter-terrorism”. The former suggests a focused obsession on killing terrorists as opposed to addressing the larger, structural issues that gave rise to the “illness” in the first place. Thus, in the recent years, we’ve seen a “softer” approach to counter-terrorism. As opposed to invading Iraq and ordering drone strikes, the soft approach attempts to address terrorism as an issue that stems from extremist ideology. What needs to be attacked is the ideology, rather than the terrorists themselves.

Both approaches have their own merits and shortcomings, and that’s what I attempt to briefly discuss.

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Le’ Notes #29: Networks and social groups in radicalisation

This post discusses the role of networks and social groups in the radicalisation process.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege to attend a screening of Noor Huda Ismail’s latest documentary, Jihad Selfie. He documented the life of 17-year old Aceh boy, Akbar, who got a scholarship to study in Turkey and was inspired to join ISIS, highlighting the role of the internet and social media in expediting the recruitment process. It did open my eyes to the infinite potential of social networks as a pathway towards radicalisation.

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Le’ Notes #28: Why is it so hard to buy military transformation?

This post discusses the factors that make buying military transformation so difficult.

Why doesn’t the military get with the program? Why does the government seem so reluctant to buy those shiny new Gen-5 planes and ships? These are some of the questions I had when I was a snot-nosed undergrad aspiring to solve all of the country’s defence problems. I thought we could buy our way out of being a big country with a meagre defence force. I thought the government was stupid because it didn’t (or was too slow) to embrace the technological marvels that were on sale. The truth is, defence acquisition may be one of the most convoluted processes within the government, aside from implementing neoliberal macroeconomic policies.

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Le’ Notes #27: Culture as an enabler of radicalisation

This post discusses how cultural exposure can enable radicalization.

In the last post, I discussed how our basic human nature can be prone to manipulation through ideology. Now, let’s see how cultural influences can enable radicalization. Of course, this is not to say in a deterministic way that “culture causes radicalization”, but rather, several cultural traits enable certain ideologies to take root easier than in other circumstances. Another caveat would be cultural influences may vary depending on the individual; otherwise, everyone sharing the same cultural traits would be a terrorist by now.

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Le’ Notes #26: The role of human nature in terrorism

This post discusses the role of human nature as a basis of a “group tent” and how it can lead to violence.

What makes a normal person undergo the process of radicalisation? In the debates discussing the process of radicalisation, there’s a perspective that holds human nature as a principal starting point. This view is grounded in human psychology, particularly, the study of evolutionary psychology. Its main assumption is simple enough: humans have inherent traits that can be “ignited” to allow radicalisation to take place.

It is worth noting that here, the role of ideology has yet to come into play. Ideology amplifies these inherent traits and funnels them into action.

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Le’ Notes #25: Challenges in studying terrorism

This post discusses the conceptual, methodological, and moral issues in studying terrorism.

Despite being a popular area of study, the study of terrorism itself has encountered many conceptual, methodological, and even moral issues. For starters, there are as many as 100 definitions of terrorism which differ from scholar to scholar or even institution to institution. It’s one of those problems that everybody knows what it is, but can’t agree on the exact details. The same goes for the terrorism “spin-offs”, such as radicalisation, violent extremism, non-violent extremism, etc. Aside from conceptual problems, the field also faces a number of methodological problems. There are many frameworks abound, but we still can’t pinpoint a near-exact formula of what leads to terrorism and what doesn’t. The same goes for the “spin-offs”. Furthermore, there is also a moral problem regarding the entire field. By studying terrorism and trying to explain it, are we not also morally implicated in condoning the acts?

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