This biography of Malcolm was more than a decade in the making. It was written by Manning Marable, who died on April 1, 2011, shortly before the publication of his reevaluation of Malcolm’s life and politics. Marable was one of the foremost scholars of Black politics in the United States. Here Marable has crafted a compelling intellectual history of Malcolm in which he shows how Malcolm’s thoughts grew out of social and religious movements that first emerged within the black community during the nineteenth century.
A Critical Reevaluation
Marable structures his reevaluation of Malcolm X’s life, as a critical deconstruction of Malcolm X’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As told to Alex Haley. Marable’s reevaluation required questioning the redemption story that forms the heart of The Autobiography. The story of the Autobiography, fashioned in partnership with the liberal republican Alex Haley and released after Malcolm’s death, often falls into motifs of decline and then salvation, which date back to earlier slave narratives and stories of Christian redemption, examples ranging from Olaudah Equiano to Frederick Douglas. When Malcolm agreed to work on the Autobiography in 1963 his objective was to present to the reader “the transformative power of the apostle Elijah Muhammad, who had taken him from a life of criminality and drugs to one of sobriety and commitment” (p. 260). In contrast, Marable historicizes Malcolm’s intellectual development, showing not only the disjunctions but also the commonalities between Malcolm’s earlier beliefs and his later insights. Marable also firmly locates Malcolm’s ideas within the wider African American intellectual tradition.
In the United States, and much of Western Europe, the 1990s have often been remembered as a decade of triumphant stability, while the expected somnolence of the 2000s too often appeared marred by crises and upheaval. Consequentially, there has been a lot of handwringing amongst historians of the recent past and other political and social prognosticators searching for the moment of change. Questions about whether or not there was a tipping point, when it occurred, and what the transition from stability to instability consisted of, continue to plague writers looking at the last two decades. Yet a partial answer to questions about the location and nature of the point of inflection between stability and instability after the Cold War begins to emerge in Daniel Yergin’s latest book, The Quest.
The Quest for All-encompassing Theories
Enshrouded in the fog of the present, observers turned to competing theories about the nature of great politics within the labyrinth of international relations, to define the sources and to prognosticate the longevity of Western ascendency at the end of the Cold War. Arguments about the durability of the Pax Americana and the triumph of liberal democracies in general were initially framed as a contest of ideas between the triumphalism of Francis Fukayama, best articulated in his 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man, and his fierce debate with his critics from within the political science community, Samuel Huntington and John Mearsheimer.  On the one hand, Fukayama argued that the success of an alliance of liberal democracies, which emerged out of the wreckage of the Second World War, in their decade long struggle with Communism showed decisively that a fundamental truth of human nature was the quest for freedom and the realization of respect for the individual, and that these values could best, and perhaps only be actualized in capitalist, liberal democracies. One of the core implications of Fukayama’s argument was that the very human quest for self-realization would inevitably compel individuals, and consequentially whole societies, to build liberal democratic states, which shared a universal set of core values out of which a new harmonious and cooperative international order could be constructed. 
Read Mike Woldemariam’s, assistant professor at Boston University, new post at African Arguments about the origins of the simmering conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Mike argues that the conflict between the fraternal parties ruling in Ethiopia and Eritrea traces its origins to the sense of betrayal felt by each party, as well as, differing recollections of the ways in which Eritrea’s partition was won.
For several years, combat along the tense Eritrean-Ethiopian frontier has been entirely rhetorical. This changed on March 16th, 2012 when the Ethiopian government boldly announced that it had crossed into Eritrean territory in an attack on three military installations. Citing Asmara’s role in the January death and abduction of European tourists in Ethiopia’s Afar region, Ethiopia’s retaliation represented the first direct military confrontation between Eritrea and Ethiopia since the 1998-2000 border war.
Coincidentally, these events came one month before the 10th anniversary of the delimitation decision of the Eritrean Ethiopian Boundary Commission. The EEBC was the product of the Algiers Accord, which formally ended the Eritrean-Ethiopian war by referring the border dispute to arbitration. The EEBC’s findings should have been the final chapter in the bloody border row between the two countries, but instead, gave the dispute new momentum. The crux of the problem was that Ethiopia rejected the EEBC’s decision when it realized that Badme, the small piece of disputed territory that triggered the border war, and which it had acquired at a high human cost, had been awarded to Eritrea. Addis later accepted the decision “in principle,” but demanded negotiations on the normalization of relations before it would permit the disputed border to be demarcated (and return Badme to Eritrea).
Looking at events since January 2012, it has at times been hard to tell if we are witnessing a simple pricing dispute or a total divorce between the newest neighbors in northeast Africa.
There is some truth to Alex De Waal’s recent statement at the Royal Africa Society that “it all looked so good just over a year ago.” A year ago there was a euphoria of independence, but few hard decisions had been made about the future relationship of the Republic of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan. Omar al-Bashir, and a cadre of his close associates within the National Congress Party, surely believed that they would be rewarded with a peace dividend for their decision to allow the South to progress smoothly towards independence; while, the leaders and people of South Sudan, nestled securely within the warm glow of international applause celebrating the victory of their liberation struggle, undoubtedly believed that the exercise of sovereignty was the first step on a long journey towards a better standard of living and national self-respect. Continue reading →
As we gear up for the long winded and jingoistic zeal of the American electoral season, there are plenty of reasons to worry that international conflict could once again break out in the Middle East. After all 2011 and long Arab Spring have revealed new fault lines throughout the Middle East, and the very fragility located at the core of the regional pax Americana established by the signing of the Camp David Accord in 1979. As Americans rejoice in the relative success of their involvement in the Libya mission, fidget nervously about the outcome of Egypt’s elongated electoral season, ignore the internal political conflicts playing out in Iraq after our withdrawal, and fret indecisively about the ongoing civil wars festering unattended in Syria and Yemen, to say nothing of the border conflict between the two Sudans, most Americans attention has shifted to the Gulf and America’s standoff with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. The ongoing reality television series that the Republican debates have become, feature nightly invocations about the existential danger that Iran poses to this nation, even as bluster over new sanctions targeting Iran’s petroleum industry and saber rattling in the Straits of Hormuz highlight the danger of war.
In early December of last year, the UN Security Council passed a resolution strengthening existing sanctions on the State of Eritrea. UNSC 2023, which passed by a vote of 13-0 with two abstentions, was the direct outcome of a scathing report published by the UN’s Somalia Monitoring Group in July of 2011. The report chronicled, in some detail, the full gambit of Eritrea’s destabilizing activity in the Horn of Africa, including Eritrea’s material assistance to Somalia’s Al-Shabaab.
Critics of the resolution have focused their attention on the veracity of the SMG’s claims, and by extension, the fairness of the UNSC 2023. While the truth of Eritrea’s activity in the HOA remains difficult to discern, it is clear that the UNSC resolution was somewhat arbitrary: Al-Shabaab has a number of external supporters, of whom Eritrea is likely the most marginal. But the discussion of “fairness” is beside the point, as such principles, though often invoked in international politics, are rarely of consequence. Power matters on the international stage, and for Eritrea, it is a commodity in short supply. Continue reading →
See an activist from within Syria and my colleague at Princeton Karam Nachar describe the state of war which exist inside of Syria today. Listen to this video and find out more about the role of international monitors, the Syrian protest movement, social media and the role of the Syrian diaspora and exile communities. Both analysts provide precious insights into which communities have moved away from the regime and which communities remain loyal.
As 2011 comes to a close it is time to reflect on the year. What have we learned about world politics and what still eludes us? Without a doubt the principle dramas of 2011 concerned revolution and political turmoil. And the unrest unfolding throughout the year has again and again caught even the most sure-footed analysts off balance. While, we all knew that the Mubarak regime had to end, who last January could predict that the regime would crumble so easily and so soon?
Why were we so often wrong and caught off guard? What about the ways in which we see the world has held true and what has been proven false? One way of getting at this problem is to refer back to the questions and assumptions we asked about the revolutions and uprisings of 2011 during the year that has just ended. We have to ask how and why we framed our discussion of the events of 2011 in the ways we did? Continue reading →