All posts by cfenske

Af “gang” istan

For over 50 years, Afghanistan has seen conflict ranging from wars to dysfunctional governments. The region’s instability can be partially attributed to the structure of the Afghan government. Shortly after Soviet occupation in Afghanistan ended, the Taliban, an extremist Muslim group, seized control. In the early 2000s, a series of corrupt elected leaders intensified tensions. Hamid Karzai wasted billions of dollars in aid while earning money for himself through illegal businesses, solidifying the precedent for corruption in Afghanistan. The Afghan government tries to steal as much money and gain as much power as possible for the top leaders while many citizens live in extreme poverty and unsafe conditions. The Taliban’s presence in most of Afghanistan further undermines the influence of the government. The Afghan government structure, foreign policy, and governing methods closely resemble that of an institutional gang bent on enriching its members at the expense of Afghan society.

The Afghan government is directly involved with powerful families, the private sector, and terrorist groups, making positive change difficult or impossible. The goal of the Afghan government is not to govern, but to use the people for their own benefit. Corrupt governments, including Afghanistan, send the majority of their money and resources outside the country, which benefits the top leaders, but increases poverty. This structure is very similar to that of an institutional gang. Furthermore, similar to a gang, the Afghan government does not have a clear separation of powers, which would otherwise limit the power of individuals. In addition, kleptocracies, such as Afghanistan, are more susceptible to corruption. Citizens who travel within Afghanistan must pay bribes to the Afghan police at every checkpoint in order to pass. The lack of real police presence may force citizens to turn to the Taliban for protection, increasing their power. In fact, many people see the Taliban as a favorable alternative to the government. The Taliban provides loans, protection, and collects taxes more reliably than the actual government. Even though this appears to be a viable solution, both the Taliban and the Afghan government treat their citizens poorly, which is similar to how gangs treat their people. Relations between the Taliban and the Afghan government resemble wars between gangs for territory, resources, and power. Therefore, 80% of the Afghan people support neither the Taliban or the government. Support for the Taliban would shrink significantly if the undecided 80% trusted the government. This would decrease the Taliban’s influence and stabilize the state without military intervention.

The Afghan government closely resembles gangs in their domestic governing method. This correlation is clearly shown in the government’s control over the opium industry. The government first accommodates the opium farmers, then cooperates with them, and finally becomes a predator, eventually taking complete control of the business. This cycle shows how the Afghan government slowly transitions from a government to a gang when interacting with the opium farmers. In addition, the farmers must pay “taxes” to the government in order to grow opium even though its cultivation is technically illegal. The Taliban also instituted a similar taxation system for their land. The government seems to be very effective at taxing the opium farmers. The tax rates, which are dependent on the number of acres, rain, and crop yield, seem more reasonable than many US tax laws. Afghan officials are becoming more involved with the opium trade. They are competing with the Taliban for money and their competition can resemble that of drug gangs. Everyone in government, including the president, is involved with the opium trade. Using illegal businesses and sending money upward are two main determinants of institutional gangs. Opium cultivation benefits both the farmers and the government in the short term, preventing corruption from ending.

The Afghan government structure, foreign policy, and governing methods closely resemble that of an institutional gang. The Taliban and the Afghan government resemble two competing gangs with similar motives. This situation could be improved by directly supporting the people rather than giving aid money to the government.

Marine Le Pen: The New French Conservatism

After the fall of the French empire, Charles de Gaulle gave foreign people in the colonies French citizenship or special status even though they did not live in France. As a result, 10% of France’s current population originated from a French colony. Recent French policies, such as the ban on wearing religious symbols, have aimed to uphold France’s secular constitution. However, an increasing number of French citizens want to preserve French secularity by rejecting cultures that do not fit into the current national consciousness. Marine Le Pen, president of the far-right National Front Party, has become the leader of this movement and is against the absorption of Islam into French culture, stating that they are incompatible. A classic populist, Le Pen believes that only having one cultural religion in France would enable the country to move forward in one direction without political gridlock. Even though a portion of French culture is built on immigration and connections with the world, Le Pen’s version of secularism means isolation.

Ever since the National Front was founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen’s father, the Party has been associated with anti-semitism, xenophobia, and reactionary policies. Most French parties refuse to work with the National Front, limiting its expansion. Supporters of the National Front are traditionally male blue collar workers. In 2011, Marine Le Pen took control of the party in an effort to appeal to moderate voters. Since the National Front has gained more support, the French political center shifted rightward.

Marine Le Pen is a strong articulate speaker who can easily convey her views to the people. Le Pen knows that the effects of the propaganda are most important, not the facts. Populism relies on assumptions and denial; many voters reject long analyses, preferring to read forceful headlines. For example, Le Pen blurs the line between Islam and Islamic terrorists. She establishes a fear among the French people that all Muslims are connected to terrorists, which is not true. The recent terrorist attacks in Paris strengthen her arguments. Le Pen rejects that there is anything radical about her party today, but has compared French Muslims praying on French streets to Nazi occupation.

Le Pen’s leadership is similar to that of the growing list of populist leaders in the world. She met Vladimir Putin in Moscow and supported the annexation of Crimea. Le Pen maintains that she puts French citizens first by cutting connections with the outside world, a reactionary policy to recapture past economic success. She has proposed policies that shun global companies in an attempt to grow the national economy. Le Pen also wants to leave the European Union and revert to the Franc as a currency. These nationalist ideals may sound promising to the desperate voter. However, leaving the European Union would most likely cause the Euro to collapse, throwing the world into a recession. Despite these disadvantages, Le Pen presents her arguments as the only solution to “revive” France. Le Pen’s supporters think of her as a “savior” who can break through competing interest groups. Even though this type of popularity can lead to authoritarianism, France has a checks and balances system and Le Pen is currently not in a high enough position to have a significant influence on government legislation.

In the recent 2017 presidential election, Marine Le Pen beat Emmanuel Macron in the first round, but was defeated in the second. Many French citizens were surprised that Le Pen and the National Front almost won the election. Part of Le Pen’s campaign strategy was denouncing Macron’s elite status, a tactic used by many populists.

The problem with far-right parties is that if their policies gain support, they can be easily  adopted by the mainstream right. Far-right parties, which have fewer resources and less support lose popularity, forcing them back to the fringes. This may have a self-limiting effect, preventing the National Front from ever gaining enough traction to become a leading party. In addition, in order to stay relevant, the National Front must constantly adopt more radical policies as the political center shifts rightward. This trend can be seen across Europe and is likely to continue.