Speaking in Tongues
While language is used to promote beauty, express emotion, and convey vital information, it can also incite hatred and violence, tearing communities and nations apart. In our Spring 2012 issue, World Policy Journal explores the use and abuse of language, tapping leading scholars, journalists, and musicians to examine the policy challenges at the nexus of language and global politics. In South Africa, a popular South African politician is expelled from his own party after reciting controversial song lyrics. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez—taking rhetorical cues from former Cuban leader Fidel Castro—publicly berates his enemies by comparing them to flies, pigs, and worse. A Zimbabwean rapper describes his take on freedom of expression, and on the lighter side, World Policy Journal sits down in Paris with the first Arabic-speaking, African-born member of the “Immortals,” an elite group of academics charged with guarding the purity of the French language.
The issue also examines the European Union’s much-maligned bureaucracy, the problems with traditional economic metrics, the suffocating pollution of Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar, Nicaragua’s stagnant revolution, and the meaning of democratic internationalism. Photographer Diana Markosian documents the Islamicization of Chechnya, one of the poorest and most dangerous regions of Russia. Finally, World Policy Journal editor David A. Andelman analyzes the wave of elections in 2012, in which 82 countries will elect leaders.
Every nation limits speech. In Thailand, it’s a crime to disparage the royal family; in China, the government employs a sophisticated regime of Internet censorship to block politically sensitive words and phrases. In this edition of The Big Question, we ask our panel of global experts under what circumstances they believe language should be restricted. Lee Bollinger, Saksith Saiyasombut, Mahmoud Salem, and other leading thinkers respond.
Broader populations are increasingly privy to communication they would never have heard in the past. The internal language of disparate groups travels faster and further, quickly penetrating historic boundaries that once insulated communities and nations. This access to the often menacing language of others raises the stakes in linguistic battlefields, potentially sparking mass violence. World Policy Institute Senior Fellow Susan Benesch offers strategies for reining in such dangerous speech and develops a groundbreaking analytical framework for determining what language is truly threatening and what is merely repugnant.
Ancient Chinese has influenced languages across East Asia through conquest, trade, cultural diffusion, or a mix of all three. World Policy Journal traces the evolution and spread of the character for “horse” over 3,500 years of turbulent history to its present forms in a host of alphabets across the region.
Zimbabwean rapper Outspoken speaks with Verity Norman about President Robert Mugabe’s misuse of the term “freedom” and how it keeps the Zimbabwe’s youth indebted to fighters of the war of independence who now control the government.
With 131 endangered languages, Russia will soon become one of the world’s largest linguistic graveyards. Much of the blame goes to Soviet-era forced migrations that accelerated their declines. World Policy Journal highlights four languages: two on the ropes, one that exists only in memory, and another that now flourishes thanks to a little luck.
Across Europe, countries are passing laws requiring foreign spouses to possess language skills before joining their husbands or wives—creating ever more challenging barriers. James Angelos details the challenges facing Europe’s marriage immigrants, showing how these linguistic hurdles break families apart and alienate migrants in their new homes.
In Venezuela, Marco Aponte-Moreno and Lance Lattig describe how President Hugo Chávez has embraced the rhetorical tools of Fidel Castro to maintain power—subjecting audiences to nine-hour televised harangues, insulting his political enemies, and tying himself to the revolutionary hero Simón Bolívar. As U.S. influence wanes and Venezuela’s oil wealth grows, other Latin American leaders—Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua—are increasingly following suit. The U.S. is losing leverage, and Aponte-Moreno and Lattig predict that Chávez’s Venezuela will only strengthen its anti-American alliances.
World Policy Journal travels to Paris to speak with novelist Assia Djebar, an Immortelle of the Académie Française, about the differing global roles of her two mother tongues, Arabic and French. Djebar discusses how the Academy protects the purity of the French language from such unseemly Anglo incursions as l’email.
Photographer Diana Markosian chronicles the resurgence of Islam in Chechnya, while writer Judith Matloff, who accompanied her on some of her travels, describes a region filled with new cafes and boutiques yet still burdened by some of Russia’s highest unemployment. With the backing of the Kremlin, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov is imposing his own peculiar version of Islam, encouraging polygamy and banning alcohol. Kadyrov’s twin strategies of religious law and new construction give a veneer of stability to the region that masks a deeply disaffected population.
From codifying an acceptable banana to setting chemical safety standards, the European Union has inserted itself into the daily lives of every EU citizen. With a European economic crisis testing the EU’s ability to work together, the Financial Times’ Brussels correspondent Stanley Pignal documents how the Euro bureaucracy has slowly—albeit imperfectly—expanded its regulatory stranglehold over the Continent’s economy. Still, Pignal argues reducing EU bureaucracy during this recession would be detrimental for Europe. In this instance, less red tape means more constraints.
Peter Marber dissects the warped metrics of the world’s financial system, arguing that the use of faulty indicators like GDP and the unemployment rate is a major obstacle to curing the ills of today’s financial architecture. Instead, he argues, economists need to look at a greater diversity of metrics and stop relying on outdated standard-bearers.
One out of every four deaths in Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian capital, can be tied to air pollution, which is suffocating the emerging city and its fast-growing economy with tiny, carcinogenic particles. Isolated from other pollution sources, researcher Christa Hasenkopf argues that Ulaanbaatar is the ideal location to test strategies to reduce urban smog, providing life-saving lessons for developing cities everywhere.
Over 30 years ago, Nicaragua’s Sandinistas overthrew the corrupt Somoza regime, giving the country a new sense of hope. Since then, however, the country has stagnated. Forrest D. Colburn describes how former rebels have transformed themselves into mirror images of the dictators they battled years ago. The sobering lesson for Arab Spring nations and insurgent groups, he argues, is that bloody political revolutions rarely coincide with behavioral changes. “Whatever change takes place in the future,” Colburn says, “will likely just be a reworking, with contemporary flourishes, of the past.”
The New York Times’ David C. Unger argues that it’s time to reclaim and redefine “internationalism”—a term that he says is misused in the United States to wage unwinnable and unpopular wars. President Barack Obama’s “crisis management internationalism,” according to Unger, is an elitist, expensive, and often violent process with waning popular support. From global warming, nuclear weapons, and infectious diseases to the widening inequalities that support ideologies of hatred, Unger shows how taking on challenges from a global perspective—the true internationalism—can lead to lasting peace.
The world faces an unprecedented tsunami of voting. This year some 82 national elections will be held, and World Policy Journal editor David A. Andelman takes us through the unusual rules and statutes in a host of countries. Today, one constitutional and electoral system can boast supreme global influence, and it’s no longer from the United States. In the wake of the Arab Spring, the Canadian constitution, with its electoral system that guarantees minority rights, has become a document of seminal importance, inspiring new governmental and electoral structures across the globe.