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History essay – Why did the Republican referendum of 1999 fail?

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In the lead-up to Australia’s referendum of November 6, 1999, the republican movement was beset on all sides by barriers historical, imposed and self-imposed. Seeking to overcome the challenges set by section 128 of the Constitution for any referendum proposal in Australia the movement fell short at both hurdles, failing to secure either a majority of the electors in a majority of States or a majority of all the electors voting. This does not make the republican referendum unique in the history of Australian referenda; rather it joins thirty-six other such attempts in the dustbin of Australian constitutional reform. These were the historical barriers – those that were imposed were due to the incredibly tight schedule required in order to put a question to the people by the proposed date. And although some of the self-imposed barriers came about because of this narrow time frame, many were due to shortcomings and failures in the conduct of the ‘Yes’ campaign itself, and specifically due to the attitudes taken by ‘Yes’ voters towards the ‘No’ coalition. Furthermore, it is also worthwhile considering the concept of a “compound republic” as described by Graham Maddox, and how this could have affected public support for the republican proposal.

The seeds of the 1999 referendum defeat can be seen as being sown almost a century prior to the vote, in the crafting of the referendum section of the Australian Constitution. Section 128 establishes that the Constitution can only be altered or amended through a popular vote, and a double majority of both electors overall and electors by State at that. As John Uhr surmises, the requirement of electoral acceptance is almost anomalous – and is certainly far removed from the US system, which is based on the federal and State legislatures rather than a direct appeal to the people.  Uhr links this need for a “special super-majority”  to Australia’s distinctive compulsory voting laws – supposedly to lessen the impact of disinterested voters. Furthermore, there is a suggestion that as well as the difficulties created by section 128, the Australian Constitution as a whole is notoriously resistant to change. However this is not because of unmanageable constitutional requirements but rather because it was advanced and “radically democratic for its time, being framed in a series of constitutional conferences…by delegates elected by the people of the various colonies.”
Whether or not there are barriers to reform inherent in the Constitution itself, there can be no doubting the historically “modest”  success of referendum proposals in Australia. Only eight of forty-four proposals have achieved the required double majority, the referendum immediately preceding the republican question saw four simultaneous proposals rejected with ‘Yes’ votes of below 40%, and all of the eight most recent proposals were also rejected.
There are many conflicting opinions as to the reasons for these numerous rejections: John Uhr believes the high failure rate “reflects more on the defective approach of initiating governments than on the alleged deliberative defects of voters”,  whilst also citing “the conventional interpretation holding that the referendum system gives too much weight to voter apathy and ignorance”;  Galligan and Wright specifically target “the quality of proposals” whilst also acknowledging that “some blame the ignorance and apathy of the people”.  However, perhaps the most important historical precedent to consider in regard to the republic referendum is Galligan’s and Wright’s explanation of the low success rate of referendum proposals in Australia: “the commonwealth government that controls the framing and initiation of proposals has often sought to expand its own powers or to put questions lacking popular support”. This historic suspicion of politicians and governments attempting to expand their own powers is borne out throughout the republican debate, and is an issue to be examined in greater depth when addressing both the imposed and the self-imposed barriers faced by the ‘Yes’ campaign.
One final historical barrier to be discussed involves the immediate history of the republican issue in the decade or so prior to the 1999 vote. From the very beginning of his time as Prime Minister, Paul Keating was passionate and vociferous when discussing what he saw as the absolute imperative for Australia to become a republic in order to escape its rigidly conservative past and take its place amongst the adult nations of the world. “It sometimes seemed”, writes Justice Michael Kirby, “that, by this issue, he was seeking to exorcise the ghost of Menzies’ dominance of Australian politics in the second half of the first century of federation”.  So passionate was he that “he effectively claimed the republic for himself and for his party”.  The difficulty this creates is that, historically, without bipartisan support at the federal level it is almost impossible to secure the required double majority. Keating made the republic a major part of his 1996 re-election campaign, and his promise of a referendum was quickly echoed by John Howard in an attempt to neutralise the issue in the general election. Keating’s eventual defeat in that election, coupled with Howard’s promise of a referendum, meant that the 1999 republican referendum was initiated and enacted by an avowed monarchist leading a party that did not support the referendum in the first place. This led to many of the imposed barriers referred to earlier, and it is to a more detailed examination of these that we now turn. But, in reality, by seizing the issue and making it partisan, Keating had almost certainly defeated the referendum before it had even been drafted.

Many of the most difficult challenges to overcome were, in fact, almost a direct result of Paul Keating’s passion and zeal for an Australian republic. A Commission had been created prior to 1988 and charged with reviewing the Australian Constitution in time for the Bicentenary, and in their final report  recommended that there was no sense taking steps towards a republic “as there was no significant movement”  pushing for the change. However, as Justice Kirby relates at length, once Keating became Prime Minister Australia’s progress towards a republic accelerated greatly. In 1992 Keating declared his intention to propose the necessary changes to the constitution in order to establish a republic, splitting the Liberal Party and giving a boost to the demoralised Australian Labor Party, which was at this time staring down the barrel of an unwinnable election. Following the remarkable Labor election victory in March 1993, Keating announced the establishment of a seven person Republican Advisory Committee in April, met the Queen in London in September to inform her of his government’s plans, and in June 1995 announced his government’s adoption of the Advisory Committee’s minimalist model – for the new Head of State to be detached from politics and “an eminent Australian, a widely respected figure who can represent the nation as a whole.”  At this same time Keating indicated that he aimed at a referendum on the issue “sometime in 1998 or 1999 with a view to acceptance of the referendum entailing a change to a republic in the centenary year of Australian Federation, 2001. ” However, in Justice Kirby’s assessment:

To change the Australian Constitution in such a significant respect, within the space, effectively, of five years, imposed requirements of comprehension and adaptation to change which proved unacceptable to the majority of the Australian electors.

It is easy, though, to understand the pressing urgency, especially when one is reminded of three hugely symbolic dates looming large in the hearts and minds of Australian Republicans circa 1995: the advent of the new millennium; the Sydney Olympic Games in September 2000 and the thought of who might represent the nation in opening and closing the games; and thirdly the centenary of Australian Federation in January 2001. Any and all of these events would provide powerful symbolism for a new age in Australia and the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the nation. Yet here we see that one of the greatest challenges to the ‘Yes’ movement – trying to convince the Australian people of the need for this fundamental constitutional and ideological reform – was simply not given enough time to be fully understood and accepted by the electorate.
Compounding this challenge was that Howard was certainly not going to allow any extra time for the republican cause to get its house in order, and so was perfectly willing to stick to the deadlines already proposed by Keating. The effects of this imposed brevity were especially evident during the Constitutional Convention in February 1998, when one hundred and fifty-two parliamentary delegates and appointed and elected non-parliamentary delegates were limited to just ten days to reach consensus on how best to proceed with the complex issue of the mooted republican referendum. Justice Kirby recounts that:

The republicans had to endeavour to secure a consensus in order to call up the fulfilment of the Prime Minister’s promise to have a referendum in those circumstances. Yet this imposed upon them the haste and unwillingness to explore and forge links with republicans of different persuasions, which produced the proposal ultimately put to the people.

As we shall see, the very nature of this compromise proposal opened itself up to charges of elitism and raised public suspicion. A proposal put together behind the closed doors of Old Parliament House (where the convention was held) immediately put the ‘Yes’ movement on the back foot, forcing them to expend a great deal of effort and energy explaining the proposed constitutional changes – something at which, ultimately, they failed miserably.
Almost from the outset this compromise platform was in serious electoral danger. As the Australian Constitutional Referendum Study  makes plain time and time again, the majority of support for a republic was based on the model of a directly elected president, not the parliamentary appointed president that was the Constitutional Convention’s platform. A majority of the sources,  too, cite the importance of direct election advocates in the ultimate defeat of the referendum, with David Charnock declaring “the votes of direct electionists were as important as those of monarchists in the defeat of the republic referendum.”  Charnock’s reasoning for this is simple: the three competing options (direct election, parliamentary appointed, and status quo) were each unable to secure an absolute majority in their own right, so inevitably the other two options will defeat it; creating what Charnock dubs a “ cyclical majority”.
Justice Kirby, in his article, goes on to reveal how the assembled republicans at the convention were unable to prevent Howard using “his position to undermine the referendum’s success”  quite so effectively:
In this respect, the republicans were probably outflanked by the strategy of Prime Minister Howard, whose unwavering support for the existing constitutional arrangements was never in doubt. His offer locked republican supporters into a time frame, and then a model, which was difficult or impossible to change in any material respect.
In this compressed constitutional convention we see both a barrier imposed by Howard and a barrier imposed by Keating. Essentially, Justice Kirby summarises, “neither side was willing to take the time which retrospect suggests essential if the proposal was to have a chance of being accepted.”  However, while Howard’s loading of the electoral dice was the last and most decisive of the imposed barriers to constitutional reform, Keating’s error of haste proved only to be one of the first of many self-imposed barriers put in their own path by the ‘Yes’ vote.

While there can be no doubt that the model of a parliament-appointed president which emerged from the 1998 Constitutional Convention was the less-preferred republican model for many voters, there were a great many errors made by the ‘Yes’ campaign that ultimately served to exacerbate the challenges already facing the movement. It may well have been the case that the parliament-appointed model was the one that would have caused the least upheaval to the constitution and indeed the established functions of government in Australia, but there was a noticeable failure on the part of the ‘Yes’ campaign to adequately make this case to the public:
A constant theme of explanations for the negative response to the change was the feeling that the electors were being taken for granted, talked down to, condescended with jingles but not provided with basic and detailed information of what precisely was involved in the change.
A perfect example of these condescending jingles and slogans were two aimed specifically at the youth vote: “Give an Australian the Head Job” and “Rooting for a Republic.”
Furthermore, those who retained affection and sentiment for the monarchy were often attacked and insulted in sections of the Australian media as being wrong, outdated and out of step with the rest of the country,  and belittled by some supporters of the republic as being somehow less patriotic and un-Australian.  Obviously, while the ‘Yes’ campaign could not possibly have controlled everything that the millions of republican supporters said or did, it is perhaps not unfair to suggest that, in the notable absence of a positive, substantive and detailed campaign for change emanating from ‘Yes’ headquarters, these negative, sensationalist attacks began to fill the void. Certainly, if having to convince a large number of voters of the substance, necessity and timeliness of the proposed model was already a significant challenge, these attacks were not helping the ‘Yes’ cause in the slightest.
Admittedly though, this was not solely the fault of the ‘Yes’ campaign, but one contributed to by the Australian media. That even the ABC was considered by some to be perceived as biased towards the republican cause  speaks to how total was the media push toward the success of the referendum in 1999. This media support was not simply limited to editorials and opinion pieces, but often, particularly with the News Ltd. publications, the aggressively pro-republic line carried through into supposedly factual reports, the coverage of the ‘No’ coalition, and even the photographs and cartoons. “Most of these”, Justice Kirby argues, “showed the Queen and her supporters in a bad light and the republicans as the only cause which real patriotic Australians could possibly support.”
Perhaps, though, the greatest campaign error made by the ‘Yes’ ticket was the practice of recruiting high-profile public figures to be used in promotional material and to be featured heavily in all coverage,  most notably former Prime Ministers Whitlam, Fraser and Hawke, former Chief Justices Mason and Brennan and even a former Governor-General, Sir Zelman Cowen. This error was greatly exacerbated by the choice to appropriate the “It’s Time” slogan from Whitlam’s historic election victory in 1972 – thus presenting a campaign to establish an apolitical head of state by using probably the single most famous and identifiably partisan election campaign in Australia’s history. This was an ill conceived, poorly considered choice that perhaps deterred as many voters as it inspired. It was, unquestionably, a massive failure of the ‘Yes’ campaign that no one foresaw the potential for formerly great public figures reappearing on the national scene to cause feelings of discomfort in the electorate, especially given that they were reappearing to support a constitutional referendum granting the Federal Parliament the power to elect the Head of State. As we have already seen, many referenda had failed that sought to expand the powers of politicians, and the re-emergence especially of these three former Prime Ministers was always going to arouse suspicion when one considers that the referendum model allowed parliament – the institution that Whitlam, Fraser and Hawke had dominated for many years not very long ago – to select the Head of State. There was, as Justice Kirby recounts, “a cynical view that their real motivation was a desire by them (or their contemporary equivalents) for the top job of President which the current constitutional arrangements safely denied them.

All of these errors, failures and self-imposed barriers to constitutional reform made by the ‘Yes’ campaign can all be related back to one great, overarching failure: what Justice Kirby dubs the elitist error. As he documents, post-referendum analysis showed that a typical ‘Yes’ voter was tertiary-educated, a higher-income earner and living in the capital city of a larger state, particularly NSW and Victoria. Outside of these two national centres, however, support for the referendum fell away among the less educated, the lower-income workers, those in smaller cities and town and those in the less populous states and territories.  “Clearly enough,” writes Justice Kirby,

In sufficient numbers to reject it, the alteration was seen by many as an unnecessary distraction from really important issues and one that was being pressed on the nation by an urban elite out of touch with the values and concerns of other citizens.

If one went seeking elitism in the 1999 referendum one could see it all the way from Keating’s seven member Republican Advisory Committee, the Constitutional Convention, the parliament-appointed model eventually adopted, and condescension and sloganeering from both the ‘Yes’ campaign and the media, to the presence of former Prime Ministers, High Court Chief Justices and a Governor General promoting the ‘Yes’ vote. At no point in this process was the wider public consulted or even invited to participate, and the entire campaign was detached from the vast majority of Australians. It is certainly true, as Higley & McAllister argue, that due to the constitutional and procedural requirements all referendum proposals in Australia are unavoidably elite as they must go through several stages of parliament before they are put to the people.  It is also worth pointing out that ‘elite’ means the best and brightest, and that having a referendum proposal initiated, engineered and orchestrated by the best and the brightest might, in fact, be preferable. However there is a world of difference between being ‘elite’ and being ‘elitist’, and that difference proved to be electorally fatal to the republican referendum proposal.

One final point to consider in assessing the failure of the republican referendum is the extent to which people felt there was need for change, and the extent to which the proposed changes were already perceived to be enshrined in both the Constitution and the practice of government in Australia. In his article “Australian Democracy and the Compound Republic”, Graham Maddox advances the idea of a “compound republic”,  which speaks to the importance of federalism in political culture and practice. Maddox posits that, prior to the 1999 referendum, many were of the belief that Australia was already a republic in many respects, and that “there was a strong opinion that Australia enjoyed all the benefits of republicanism under the constitutional monarchy”.  The importance of federalism in the Australian political system had led to other writers  considering Australia a compound republic, which leads us to an interesting consideration: if Australia is already thought of as republican in practice, then this precludes any attempt to change our system to a republican one. It must be noted, however, that Maddox shows no evidence that this concept of compound republicanism had reached mainstream public discourse in any meaningful way whatsoever, and so it would be incorrect to cite this concept as assisting in the downfall of the republican referendum. However it is certainly an interesting point to consider in and of itself.

As with any election, it would be wrong to attribute the 1999 republic referendum defeat to one single issue or concern. What can be said, however, is that the reasons for the defeat can be split into three broad categories. Firstly, the less than successful precedent of referenda in Australia and the requirements of the Constitution meant that the republic proposal faced significant challenges even before the formal process was begun. Secondly, once that process got underway the republican cause had barriers imposed upon it, deliberately and unintentionally, and from both sides of politics. Thirdly, following the adoption of a referendum proposal that was less popular than some of the alternatives, the ‘Yes’ campaign was unable to convince either those who supported the monarchy or those who supported direct election that a parliamentary-appointed president model was the most effective, or that there was a pressing need for change. While the election of Kevin Rudd and Labor in November 2007 has seen the republic issue tentatively put back on the table, it will be impossible for any proposal to succeed unless it learns from the mistakes of 1999.

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October 10th, 2008 at 5:41 pm

Elvis, Hound Dog and questions of intended meaning

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Elvis Presley’s death deprives our country of a part of itself. He was unique and irreplaceable. More than 20 years ago, he burst upon the scene with an impact that was unprecedented and will probably never be equalled. His music and his personality, fusing the styles of white country and black rhythm and blues, permanently changed the face of American popular culture. His following was immense, and he was a symbol to people the world over of the vitality, rebelliousness, and good humour of his country.”

President Jimmy Carter
August 17th, 1977 (the day after Elvis’s death)

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‘Hound Dog’ is often cited as THE song that precipitated the enormous generational, cultural and social upheaval that took place the in the 50s and 60s. It was the first song in history to simultaneously reach number 1 on all three Billboard charts – Pop, Country & Western AND Rhythm & Blues – and sold over 4 million copies. Clearly its status as cultural phenomenon is unimpeachable, but a close analysis of the music itself reveals very little that could be considered either revolutionary or explicit.

Instead, the entire song is geared towards dancing – hardly a novel concern, nor a dangerous one, not even in 1954. The twelve-bar blues structure is even, measured and perfectly geared towards dancing, especially when the tempo is as quick as it is here. The double bass provides a steady, constant backbone for the song, both through the chorus and the guitar solo section. The drumming is simple and unadorned, striking deliberately and precisely on the beat before exploding in tight, machine-gun bursts at the end of every verse, announcing the start of the next twelve bars. The lead guitar solo (anything but virtuoso) serves this same purpose of compelling people to dance simply by the fact that it is simple, rhythmic and does nothing to distract from the beat. The rhythm guitar is also working towards this goal of kinesis, providing a compulsive, driving impetus. Indeed, the rhythm guitar may be the most interesting aspect of the instrumentation as it is only being played for nine bars of the twelve bar pattern. When this rolling, strutting riff is being played it adds depth and body to the song as a whole, but when it isn’t being played it is conspicuous in its absence.

In considering ‘Hound Dog’ in light of its tremendous cultural and social impact, it is difficult to find a reason for this among the instruments mentioned. None are unique or particularly distinctive, the twelve-bar blues is already (by 1954) the basic structure for rhythm & blues, rockabilly and indeed most forms of what was considered ‘popular’ music, and there is nothing in the instrumentation that hasn’t already been heard at a slower pace in numerous Buddy Holly songs, or even at speed in Bill Haley’s hit ‘Rock Around The Clock’.
Of course, the one instrument that hasn’t been mentioned yet is Elvis’s voice. Perhaps the most distinctive voice of the 20th century it is the driving force of this song, with power, perfect control and just a touch of grit. It bounces, jumps, growls and rages in a way that Perry Como, Frank Sinatra and the rest of those 50s velvetine crooners couldn’t compare to.

And when coupled with his gyrating, thrusting, shaking dance moves, which Frank Sinatra attacked as being “deplorable…a rancid smelling aphrodisiac”, you could really understand why Ol’ Blue Eyes, along with most of suburbia, was so terrified of this man who “fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people”. If the estimates are correct, and 40-60 million people watched each of Elvis’ appearances on the Milton Berle, Steve Allen and Ed Sullivan shows, then the smack in the face with SEX that was Elvis Presley could never possibly have been stopped. This was music that didn’t give two hoots about Como and his cardigans, Russians, MAD, whitegoods or cocktail parties. This was music that wanted to dance and fuck. Elvis knew what time it was. The people promoting him knew what time it was. Milton Bearle, Ed Sullivan and Steve Allen knew what time it was – and they wanted to be riding whatever wave this doe-eyed boy from Memphis was on. It was swagger, braggadocio, cojones– and it was money.

‘Hound Dog’ isn’t a song with intended meaning. It is a song with intended feeling. A song that shakes, rattles and rolls like a one eyed cat peeping in a seafood store. It’s a song sung by a young, good looking white boy who sounds like a young, good looking black guy. It sounds dangerous, even with singing these nonsense lyrics. And that is the meaning that people took from it. Teenagers were coming. Sex was coming. And Elvis was already here.

Music analysis – I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

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I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

U2 and The Sensitive New Age Cowpersons

As Jean-Jacques Nattiez says, no matter how a song appears to those who made it (poiesis), it is impossible to predict how it will translate esthetically to each and every potential listener. However, by focusing on what is immanent in the music we can perhaps hazard a guess at what was intended by its producers.
U2’s ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ is a giant of a song – instantly recognisable and usually featuring prominently on any “Greatest Songs Of All Time” list. Throughout the song, as with much of U2’s music, Bono’s voice is the primary instrument – straining, yearning – hungry for what he has searched so hard for but to no avail. Whatever he is searching and yearning for is clearly desperately personal – Bono has perhaps the most distinctive (and ubiquitous) voice of his generation, and given that the lyrics are written in the first person certainly brands this search as Bono’s own search. However, from the very first chorus more voices join in, softly singing with the same phrasing and the same timing as Bono –suggesting that Bono’s unattainable goal is shared by countless others. The Edge’s guitar line compliments, rather than dominates the mix (another U2 trademark), but it is the bass and drum combination that keeps a constant rhythm, rolling along without ever changing tempo, reinforcing the meaning inferred from Bono’s voice and the voices of the choir – that this song is about something that, perhaps, can never be definitively found.

The Sensitive New Age Cowpersons version, though clearly dripping with affectionate irony, actually manages to highlight certain aspects of U2’s original that have perhaps been lost due to its status as an iconic, canonical rock song. The banjo is an unavoidably “folk” instrument, and furthermore can come across as “hokey” and slightly backwards. However, in this instance, it plays a similar role to the choir of voices in the original: it clearly underlines that this is a song about both an individual longing and the longing of a much, much larger group. The banjo is “folky”, but this merely serves as a reminder of the community-based nature of country/bluegrass bands, playing standards at town dances in the early twentieth century. This sense of community is only reinforced by the backing vocals, which adopt a call and response style reminiscent of Southern churches. Hearing Bono’s lyrics in this new form means that the lyrics are listened to, not just heard, and thus both the lyrics and their religious content are brought to the fore.

However, it would be misleading to state that the SNAC version is simply U2, but Now With Added Religion. Indeed, this religiosity seems an entirely unintended consequence, given that SNAC are a comedy troupe from Australia, and have built a career out of self-proclaimed “wacky” cover versions of everyone from ABBA to Hendrix. The poiesis of this song is perhaps aimed at extracting the greatest comic value out of the juxtaposition between the original classic and the new, irreverent cover. However, there can perhaps be no better justification for Nattiez’s argument about esthetics than this analysis of the song – that a bluegrass comedy band can be interpreted as bringing religion back to one of the classic anthems of rock and roll.

Arabic & Islamic studies essay – Iran

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What are the characteristics of society and politics and the evolution of political institutions in one of the following countries or regions in the Middle East?


IRAN

Iran has seen major changes to its government and indeed to wider society over the course of the twentieth century. The overthrow of the Qajar dynasty in 1921, Shah Pahlavi’s White Revolution and the Islamic Revolution have all had a tremendous impact on the political structure of the nation, but no less significantly led to widespread change in the everyday life of the people. Throughout this period the unique aspects of Iran are of constant importance – its fierce nationalist character, its geopolitical position between the Middle East and Asia, the value of its oil and its position as the only non-Arab Muslim state – and it is often the case that foreign powers, rather than Iranians, have huge sway over the direction of the nation.

The rule of the first Shah, Reza Khan, was marked both by this nationalism and by foreign intervention. During his sixteen-year reign the Trans-Iranian Railway was built, connecting Tehran to the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea. Furthermore, the University of Tehran was established as the centrepiece of a modern education system. It was also Reza Khan who established the use of the term “Iran” as the official name of the country, separating the new nation from its past connections to the Greek, Roman and British Empires. However, in one of the first clear instances of foreign interests trumping Iranian interests, the north-south line of the Railway that was constructed largely benefited the British, who used this line heavily to move troops through Iran to the subcontinent. Perhaps ironically, Britain and Russia invaded Iran during World War II in order to exploit the capacity of the Trans-Iranian Railway.
Further foreign intervention was evident in the removal of Prime Minister Mossadeq. By the time of his election in 1951 Iran had become the second-highest producer of oil in the world, but there was increasing dissatisfaction with how little Iran was receiving from the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Mossadeq’s plan was to nationalise the AIOC, and combat “poverty, disease and backwardness” among the Iranian people, and refused the British any involvement at all in the new system. In response, Britain placed an embargo on Iranian oil, and worked with the US to depose Mossadeq in 1953.

The rule of Reza Khan’s son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was dominated by the White Revolution, a large-scale series of social, economic and land reforms. The land reforms were perhaps the most revolutionary, as the government bought land from the traditional landed elites and resold it to peasants below the market value. Over a twelve-year period, the percentage of land occupied by its owner increased from twenty-six to seventy-eight percent, benefiting an estimated twelve million Iranian peasants. The White Revolution also saw the creation of the literacy corps, where instead of completing their military service in their army, high school-educated Iranians could work towards educating the illiterate two-thirds of the population.
The period of the White Revolution, and more generally the rule of the Shah, was characterised by increased alliances to the West, especially with the US. During this period Tehran became the Middle Eastern headquarters of the CIA, and a huge number of US military advisers, technicians and strategists were often present in the country, and were granted what amounted to complete diplomatic immunity. Within Iran this was seen as another piece of evidence that the Shah cared more about the opinions of foreign dignitaries than about Iranians, a sentiment underlined by inviting scores of foreign dignitaries to the celebrations at Persepolis, commemorating 2,500 years of continuous Iranian monarchy while much of the land was suffering from severe drought and famine.

The defining characteristic of the 1979 revolution was that it was an Islamic Revolution, a clear departure from the Shah and his father, who had in some ways attempted to secularise Iran – most notably during the Women’s Awakening (1936-41). Khomeini formed his Provisional Revolutionary Government on February 4, 1979, declaring that it was God’s government and a revolt against it was a revolt against God. Despite the seemingly autocratic nature of this declaration, it must be said that both the new “Islamic Republic” and the 1979 constitution for this republic were overwhelming supported in referenda, both receiving support from 98% of the population, with supposed high voter turnout. This contrasts greatly with the rule of the Shah who, although granting women the right to vote, never really presented the people of Iran with a great deal upon which to exercise said right.
The 1979 constitution institutionalised the role of the religious ‘ulama, establishing the velayat-e faqih and the power of veto of the Council of Guardians. This Rule of the Jurists was unprecedented, and unsurprisingly attracted heavy criticism, especially the position of rahbar – the supreme jurist who was owed the allegiance of all others. Many suggested that this blend of the religious and political was incompatible with Shi’ism, revering the rahbar in a manner that was usually reserved for the Prophet.

It is this blend of religious and political that has been one of the two most significant aspects to come out of the period of Iran with Khomeini as leader. That current President Ahmadinejad is the first Iranian president to come from a non-religious background clearly shows that there is an expectation, or at very least a general acceptance of religious leaders as political leaders – something that would be greatly unprecedented, and perhaps slightly worrying, for many other nations.
The second significant social change that came out of this period was the engagement of women in the social, educational and political process. While many may argue that the Revolution was a backwards step for women’s rights – especially in regards to segregation of the sexes, inheritance and other areas of the civil code – there can be no question that the number of women involved in anti-Shah demonstrations spurred increasing involvement. Further to this, the enormous number of Iranian men killed during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88 (estimated as high as one million) led to many women entering the workforce and the public sphere in great numbers, with a strong push for women’s education. In the 1996 Consultative Assembly elections, fourteen women were elected and the percentage of total enrolments at primary, secondary and tertiary levels were equal between men and women in 2007/8.

Iran’s history has been violent, turgid and deeply, deeply complex. Autocratic leaders and lame duck parliaments have been overthrown in revolutions and replaced  by more autocratic leaders and lame duck parliaments, and in nearly all of these “regime changes” there has been significant international involvement from the US, Britain, Russia and other Middle Eastern countries. And every time it seems as though Iran is headed towards reformation – the idealism of the White Revolution, the early days of Khomeini, Mohammad Khatami’s Dialogue of Civilisations – something happens that leads to a closing of ranks, borders and minds. However, there is no question that due to Iran’s immense size, increasingly significant geopolitical location, population and oil wealth, it will remain a major power, potential threat and incredibly important actor on the world stage.

Arabic & Islamic Studies essay – Lebanon

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What are the characteristics of society and politics and the evolution of political institutions in one of the following countries or regions in the Middle East?

LEBANON

Lebanon is almost unique among the nations of the Middle East, as it is one of the only nations established as a result of lobbying and politicking by an indigenous group – the Maronite Christians of Mount Lebanon – rather than by colonial decree. However, despite their strength on Mount Lebanon, the Maronites did not constitute a majority in the country that was eventually formed throughout its own supposed historical and cultural extensions. Instead, the Maronites were merely the largest minority among several others in a new nation markedly divided by ethnicity and religion. Despite early attempts to nullify this sectarian division, the Civil War revealed the extent to which they remained, and today Lebanon faces many of the same issues as other middle eastern nations; namely sectarian divisions, uncertainty as to their position in the world, and of course, the Israel question.

Lebanon’s past must be examined through the policy of confessionalism, the system of proportional representation for the major religious sects in parliament, the civil service, the judiciary and the military. Initially it was designed (at the instigation of the French) to give the non-Maronite Muslims some share in the government of Lebanon. However, the terms agreed to in the National Pact of 1943 constitutionally guaranteed the continued supremacy of the Maronites, according representation on a proportional scale, based on the 1932 Census. As a result, the Maronites were accorded 30 seats out of the parliament’s 90, with Sunnis receiving 20 seats; Shia 19; Greek Orthodox 11; Greek Catholic 6; Druze 6; Armenian Orthodox 4; and other minorities 4.
However, far from bridging sectarian divides, the National Pact constitutionally reinforced them. Although it did preclude bitter sectarian battles over each and every parliamentary seat, it entrenched the notion that one’s religious affiliation was the primary marker of one’s identity rather than, for example, their Lebanese nationalism. A further problem created by this conciliatory system was that people were given positions based on their religious sect, not necessarily on the basis of their ability. The ensuing administrative inefficiency is impossible to quantify, but potentially very high. The greatest problem with this system, however, is that it forever tied representation to the information gleaned from a national Census. And, as a result, all the Maronite presidents of Lebanon had to do to ensure their continued supremacy was simply to fail to conduct a census. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there has been no official Census since 1932.

This unresponsiveness to demographic shifts proved to be a huge problem for Lebanon’s government, and indeed one of the major catalysts of the civil war. The main demand of the coalition of Muslim opposition groups known as the Lebanese National Movement was the taking of a new Census and a more representative structure for the nation’s civil institutions. Ironically, the Lebanese military was unable to prevent war as the army was recruited on sectarian proportions, and proved incapable of operating once religious sects began forming their own militia.
The civil war itself, in reality a succession of wars over nearly thirty years, ending only in 1991, was a microcosm of the complexity of Lebanon, not only internally but externally as well. The conflict began as a dispute over sectarian representation in government, a very Lebanese issue, but various stages of the fighting saw Iraqi and Libyan support for Sunni militia groups, Syrian and Israeli support for Christian militia, UN Security Council Resolutions and significant involvement by the United States and the PLO. Nothing so explicitly shows the many influences and stakeholders in Lebanon as does this catalogue of the major players during the civil war years.

Despite the hundreds of thousands killed, crippled and displaced, perhaps the most significant outcome of the civil war was the establishment of Hizballah as a major force both within Lebanon and in the context of the Israeli question. Inspired by Khomeini’s Islamic resurgence in Iran, Hizballah has been both a blessing and a curse for Lebanon, but both good and ill stem from the fact that Hizballah has become stronger than the Lebanese government in almost all conceivable areas.
Firstly, Hizballah is far better positioned to attack and expel Israel from Lebanon, largely due to the fact that its military wing, Al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya (“The Islamic Resistance”) is not a national army, and furthermore is armed with long-range missiles, anti-tank missiles, anti-aircraft weapons and surface-to-air missiles. It has also been estimated that Hizballah has a standing army of one thousand full-time soldiers, with perhaps as many as six to ten thousand volunteers. As such, it is possible for Hizballah to attack Israel without incurring sanctions from the UN, NATO or EU, and is largely able to operate without fear of military retribution from these bodies. If any of these bodies were to attack Hizballah, or Al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya, it would be seen as a gross violation of Lebanon’s national sovereignty and as proof of anti-Arab sentiment in Europe and the US. Furthermore, it is impossible for any body or nation to attempt to wipe Hizballah out, as the civilian casualties could be enormous. It is estimated that during the 2006 war, one thousand of the 1,200 Lebanese killed were civilians, not Hizballah fighters.
Secondly, Hizballah is not just a military power. According to the UN Office for the Co-Ordination of Humanitarian Affairs report Lebanon: The many hands and faces of Hezbollah, it boasts an extensive social development program including four hospitals, twelve clinics, twelve schools, two agricultural centres, an environmental department and a welfare office. These social and health programs are estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars every year, money that Hizballah claims comes from donations from Lebanese people. However, both Syria and Iran are suspected of significant financial support to Hizballah
Furthermore, Hizballah are rapidly becoming a significant political party in their own right. Since 1989 there has been a noticeable adoption of a “political jihad” that resulted in their winning eight seats in the 1992 elections, fourteen in the 2005 elections, and gaining control of 21% of all municipalities in the municipal elections in 2004. Currently, following the most recent clashes and the Doha agreement, the opposition parties have been granted a “blocking third” in the Lebanese cabinet, making it possible for Hizballah members to veto any government decisions.

Arguably the most important issue facing Lebanon today is the position and influence of Hizballah. That Israel, the US, UK, Canada and Australia all officially consider Hizballah a terrorist organisation, having them play a greater and greater role in Lebanese parliament could be a step in the wrong direction. However, if Hizballah do devote their energies to Lebanese government, and begin to behave like actors within the system rather than separate from it, it could be greatly beneficial. There is no question that they are an imposing military force, especially given the weak, factitious nature of the Lebanese army, and they are undoubtedly a social force, often more able than the Lebanese government to respond to crises. However, if Hizballah are to truly become a part of the system, there is no way that they can continue to receive funding from Iran and Syria, and their military will become a great deal more accountable. Despite the continued conflict over proportional representation, Lebanon’s internal situation, as well as its position in the Arab world, the Middle East and the international community could well be resting on the shoulders of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

English essay – Simon Armitage

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How does Simon Armitage’s poetry ask us to think about the relationship between the local and the universal?

Simon Armitage’s poetry is inescapably inclusive, as it constantly pulls back from the specific scene to the universal theme. If the purpose of poetry is, as Hamlet once said, to hold the mirror up to nature, then Armitage’s enviable quality is his ability to make one thing reflect another, and to encourage his readers to recognise themselves in his poetry. Through his use of topoi, a starting point, Armitage’s poetry radiates outwards. Drawing more and more people in as he expands out. And it is these leaps, these juxtapositions and the enormous scope of his work that forces his readers to think about the connection between their small, local world and the grand, universal narrative that surrounds them.

The most obvious leap from local to universal occurs in the poem ‘Zoom!’ where, in the space of 29 lines Armitage takes the reader from house to black hole back to the supermarket, making our world and all the facets of our lives seem almost ridiculous in their minutiae. He zooms away from the banks, the football teams, the highways and the hemispheres with a mixture of inevitability (“before we know it it is out of our hands”) and amusement (“oblivious to the Planning Acts”), perfectly encapsulating many people’s response to the notion of the sheer size of the universe around us. And once he has made his point about our galaxy being “smaller and smoother than a billiard ball but weighing more than Saturn”, Armitage brings us, quite literally, crashing back to earth, to the street or the supermarket queue. It is an extraordinary poem which “cambers arrogantly” through the entirety of human existence and history in order to show the absolute tiny-ness of our world. It is this depth of perspective, this “zoom”, that so brilliantly contrasts the local with the universal, and this perspective is such that, inevitably, the reader must at least come to terms with when reading this poem.

This sort of perspective is common to many of Armitage’s poems, but never more so than in “Out Of The Blue”. Indeed, it could be argued that this poem displays the same sort of arrogance as was exhibited in ‘Zoom!’, attempting as it does to squeeze the most significant event of a generation into the experience of one man, “ninety floors up” in the World Trade Centre. However, Armitage is not trying to define the experience, nor is he trying to share the experience with his audience. 9/11 was the most documented event in the history of the world, and more hours and pages have been expended chronicling, documenting and analysing it than could ever possibly be counted. So, aware that his audience will inevitably be all too aware of the sequence of events, Armitage does not attempt to document them.
Instead, Armitage forces his audience to come away from the universal and focus on the individual. He ignores the reams of newspaper and piles of news reels, and instead presents a haunting, individual experience of the day. It is his focus on the little things, the personal touches, that forces his audience to ignore the cultural baggage and approach the work with new eyes. This focus on the minutiae is both terrifyingly immediate and reassuringly human, and Armitage manages to evoke intense emotion without ever seeming exploitative or callous. The image of a Pepsi Max jumping out of its cup as the first plane hits the neighbouring tower, or the lamps, coats, chairs flying past the protagonists’ window all force the audience to move beyond their memory of the planes smashing into the buildings, and instead focus on this smaller, miniature, largely discounted history.
Perhaps Armitage’s most effective weapon in the constant focus on the personal and local is the paraphernalia on the protagonist’s desk. However, at the same time as being intensely personal, these items are universal through recognition – the cricket ball, the map of the London Underground, the St George cross – these are universal and ubiquitous images of Britain, as synonymous with the country as if Armitage had placed the Queen in the very same room. However, this event was not a British one but rather a global one, and so we have the universally recognisable wedding photos, and the picture drawn by the child.
But perhaps the most effective tool Armitage utilises to extrapolate the local into the universal is his protagonist’s language and tone. Parts 6,7, 9 and 10 especially are almost detached in their descriptions, echoing the astonishing sense of disbelief and awe felt by all those watching the towers from the outside. And rather than attempting to describe a feeling that he could not possibly know, Armitage instead endows his protagonist with the same feelings thoughts that many of us possessed at the time – that sense that we were watching the trailer for the next Die Hard film, and that, eventually, someone would surely “they’ll wind back the film, / call back the plane”.

Simon Armitage constantly takes small, local, recognisable images and vignettes and mercilessly extrapolates them, stretching them to the very bounds of human experience, and indeed of our inverse. However, this never seems forced, but rather the most natural thing in the world to examine the minutiae of our lives through the grandness of the universe. By expanding the local occurrence to the universal setting, much like the two young boys in ‘The Shout!’, Armitage constantly walks his readers further and further back, but all the while making sure that they can still hear him.

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June 7th, 2008 at 3:02 pm

English essay – Neil Barlett’s Skin Lane

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HOW DOES NEIL BARTLETT’S NOVEL, SKIN LANE, CONTRIBUTE TO OUR UNDERSTANDING OF A HISTORY OF GAY LIFE IN BRITAIN?



Neil Bartlett’s novel Skin Lane is not a novel about gay life. It is not a novel about gay history. And it is not a novel about gay culture. In fact, Bartlett’s protagonist Mr F is almost constantly living outside history and culture, ignoring or failing to understand the events reported in The Evening Standard.  Instead of making assumptions of or drawing conclusions about social movements or government legislation, the novel focuses on one man’s routines, neuroses and nightmares, and also his profession. Quite tellingly the novel never once uses the words “gay”, “queer” or “homosexual”, but makes thinly veiled references comparing the fur trade to gay life. However, it is not homosexuality that is explained via reference to the fur trade, but rather the fur trade is explained and revealed to us via allusions to homosexuality. Bartlett assumes a certain knowingness of the reader, and exploits this to highlight the low profile, the secrecy and the close-knit community of the fur trade. However, while Skin Lane does not increase our knowledge of life as a gay man in London in 1967, it does contribute to an appreciation of unknown histories, of those who don’t fit the grand historical narratives, and makes clear that then, as now, lived people struggling to know, describe and understand themselves.

It is inevitable that Bartlett’s 21st-century audience is going to be unfamiliar with the fur trade, and the simple fact is that this is a world that we as readers are not really involved with. Instead, it is a world that the author knows intimately and has access to, but we only become included when the author includes us. It is his descriptions, his voice, his direct addresses to the audience that tell us most about where we are, who we are dealing with and the environment in which this story takes place. Indeed, so complete is the author’s access to this world that he refers to actual historical evidence in his descriptions, such as the photograph taken in 1962. Our knowledge of the atmosphere of the world in which the entire British Fur Trade seems to operate is, of necessity, constructed by Bartlett, who calls it “a secret one”, one which “few outsiders had any idea of the outlandish transactions and transformations that made up its daily business” (p.32). We, the readers, assume the role of the outsiders, and it is Bartlett’s place to make us familiar with the goings on of Skin Lane.
The way he does this is often by alluding to things that readers would have knowledge of, or at the very least a sort of cultural awareness of. It is with this knowing wink that Bartlett describes the door of Mr. Schneider’s building:

Looking at that door, at the top of its flight of dark steps, I get the distinct impression that, as with certain other highly specialised businesses that the City still considers are best conducted well out of sight, it was expected that anyone who needed to seek out the services on offer on the Lane would already be in the trade; in the know. If they were a customer, they would certainly have been given directions – if not a personal recommendation. I’m sure you know the sort of thing. (p.33)

We do, indeed, know the sort of thing. But what is interesting is that, in the 21st century, these highly specialised businesses are not conducted nearly so out of sight, and thus Bartlett’s allusion to them is made all the more explicit.

The knowingness of the reader contrasts greatly with the general failure and indeed reluctance of Mr F to know much that is going on around him. However, it is more than simply a failure to know; instead, it is a failure to identify. Bartlett points out that, if Mr F had paid more attention to his Evening Standard on a particular July afternoon, he would have known to use “we” instead of “I” and would know that he was not suffering alone. Although on that particular day Mr F shares the experience of reading the lead article on page 12 and looking around the train to make sure no one had noticed a change in his face, he immediately decides that this story is not about him.
The most revealing thing about this passage is that Mr F has already decided that, really, the story is about him. Part One of the novel ends with Mr F speaking of his love “for the very first time”, and it would not be unrealistic of the reader to assume that this, finally, was Mr F realising that he is gay. However, this episode on the train could not show more clearly that Mr F feels his love is entirely his own, and none of anyone else’s business, thank you very much. In speaking his love, Mr F does not realise that he is gay – he realises that he is in love with Beauty.
Here, as throughout the novel, Mr F and Bartlett both consciously reject classification and labels when describing emotions and sexuality. Indeed, not once is Mr F’s lusting after Beauty attributed to sexuality. It is just another fact, much like Bartlett’s use of historical artefacts and his pedantry for the correct street names and descriptions of the part of London that concerns the story.

Bartlett’s historical accuracy with place names, and his assertion that he is personally in possession of Mr F’s books, letters, clothes and furniture, underlines this separation between what is immutable fact and what is conjecture. The street names have labels, the fur trade has very specific names and practices, but Mr F’s love and sexuality do not. They are not definable, they are not able to be lumped together under a general umbrella that might be used to “explain” his behaviour. Instead, Bartlett makes it abundantly clear that while there are things that can be known beyond doubt, there are other things that can never be known, and only really guessed at. As Bartlett himself says, people will look back and agree that everyone knew that exciting things were afoot in London in 1967, and that the excitement and “hubbub” could not possibly be mistaken for anything else. But the fact is that you can never truly know what each individual is thinking, feeling or doing. And, in reality, as Bartlett declares at the end of the novel, you never really know anything about anybody, other than the story you were told.

Written by soundaffects

June 7th, 2008 at 2:51 pm