openDemocracy, an editorial report

David Hayes
22 June 2007

The two months from 17 April - 19 June 2007 at openDemocracy have been the occasion of a strong body of accumulating work on several editorial fronts. The regular output of commissioned articles and columns has been accompanied by diversifying material in the shape of the evolving "federative" elements (or "sub-domains"), the weekly podcast, and customised blogs reflecting the editorial priorities and partnerships of the moment.

All this took place against the backdrop of the patient, detailed work by the technical team - led by Felix Cohen and Hamza Khan-Cheema - to create the new, long-awaited openDemocracy site. Now, editorial initiatives must fuse with the creative potential of the revamped site and the input of our valued community of authors, readers, partners, and supporters to begin to serve openDemocracy's emerging imperatives of self-sustenance and growth.

The shift from Madrid11 to terrorism.openDemocracy.net is making possible an extension of the range of an already impressive project under the guidance of Kanishk Tharoor. The OurKingdom blog has under Anthony Barnett's leadership made great strides from a standing start in its nurturing of a conversation about the future of Britain that involves voices from all corners and across a range of themes.

David Hayes is deputy editor of openDemocracyThe applications of the 50:50 initiative, relevant to the whole of our output, have included in this period partnership with and reportage from the Nobel Women's Initiative conference in Galway (attended by Jane Gabriel, Isabel Hilton and Siobhan O'Connell); and a focus on "women and the G8" involving a series of articles, a special blog and audio features (with Patricia Daniel present at Heiligendamm). The "renga" (multivoiced storytelling) experiment, with parallel stories told respectively by authors and readers, was also brought to a successful conclusion, with Sarah Lindon wrapping up with an article on lessons learned.

The openDemocracy Quarterly, a collection in print form of articles on a particular theme, approaches its third edition with plans to gather some of our best material on the European Union's visions and realities.

In the period covered by this report, we have published 161 articles across every category (ie including items published as articles, such as Book of the week). These have appeared at a time when major real-world events have included escalating crisis in the middle east (including problems for the United States "surge" strategy in Iraq, tensions between the US and Iran, and troubles in Lebanon and Palestine); the G8 summit in Germany; the French, Nigerian and East Timorese presidential elections; and a political transition in Britain that is opening up new spaces of debate.

Commissioned articles

The mix of regular analysis and commentary on selected big stories with one-off articles and debate-clusters on particular themes has continued to mark our regular editorial offering.

  • Democratic politics

openDemocracy's attention to African matters continued with Godwin Nnanna's not-quite-despairing take on the Nigerian elections, which Christopher Albin-Lackey & Ben Rawlence (of Human Rights Watch) went on to excoriate as irredeemably flawed. In Latin America, Jenny Pearce wrote a brilliant account of the hollowing of Colombia's state; Julia Buxton defended with gusto the radicalism of Hugo Chàvez's "Bolivarian revolution", and sought to explain the incomprehension of its critics; Rodrigo de Almeida measured the religious sociology of Brazil on the eve of Pope Benedict XV1's visit; John Crabtree looked at the central-regional tensions of Peru under Alan García; and Fred Halliday completed our mini-series on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Falklands/Malvinas war.

Patrice de Beer's regular dispatches from France as Nicolas Sarkozy headed for victory were particularly illuminating on the crisis of the left, while a piece on the ousting of Le Monde's editor by the paper's journalists was in advance of anything else published at the time. Henri Astier too provided a comprehensive account of the political splintering of the intellectuals under the impact of the "Jurassic left's" implosion.

The troubles on Europe's eastern flank were ably tracked by Andrew Wilson (on Ukraine's elite disorder), Neven Andjelic and Vicken Cheterian (on Serbian reactions to Eurovision victory and the prospect of losing Kosovo), and Tom Gallagher (a brilliant portrait of Romania's compromised polity).

A reviving Russian power that also saw a narrowing of the room for dissent at home was explored in articles by Zygmunt Dzieciolowski (which addressed the plight of central Asian immigrants in Moscow as well as the legacy of Boris Yeltsin), the civil-rights activists Oksana Chelysheva and Tanya Lokshina, and the media analyst Floriana Fossato.

The long goodbye of Britain's prime minister collided with significant shifts in electoral allegiance in Scotland and Wales, and political breakthrough in Northern Ireland, to produce the sense of an ice-melting moment. Neal Ascherson offered a subtle assessment of the new balance of forces in Scotland, and followed with a refreshing perspective on the real ground of the new constitutional argument. Roger Scruton matched this on the anniversary of the Treaty of Union with a statement of the neglected English dimension and interest.

John Jackson excavated a hidden precedent of modern violations of civil liberties, while Ian Kearns and Chris Abbott sought to apply new understandings of security to elaborate the kind of sustainable and national security strategy that Britain might really need in the 21st century. Simon Berlaymont (the pseudonym of a writer with extensive knowledge of European policy) weighed the balance of Tony Blair's successes and failures in Europe.

In the United States, Sidney Blumenthal continued to subject the Bush administration to forensic analysis in his fortnightly column; other powerful contributions on its political or legal infractions came from Bob Burnett and Aziz Huq, while Godfrey Hodgson wrote a buoyant account of elite America's emotional entanglement with British royalty.

In the arena of global governance, Bob Rigg and Ron G Manley gave sharply differing perspectives on the tenth anniversary of the chemical-weapons convention.

  • Conflicts

The middle east - from Lebanon to Iraq, Palestine to Turkey's Kurdish borderland - is burning. Paul Rogers's careful, cool and cumulatively devastating reports focused both on United States policy in Iraq and the region, and the problems of global security in a world out of control; his 300th consecutive weekly column was reached with an eighth "SWISH report" containing advice from management consultants to al-Qaida. Tareq Y Ismael saw Saudi Arabia's newly active diplomacy as significant, and Zaid Al-Ali read the political calculation behind the American construction of a separation wall in Baghdad.

The military build-up around Iran gave Sanam Vakil and Nasrin Alavi material to judge the impact of external pressure on Tehran's internal balance of forces, while Rasool Nafisi and Omid Memarian looked more centrally at the strategy of a regime which was arresting visiting Iranian-American scholars such as Haleh Esfandiari.

The anniversary of the June 1967 war between Israel and Arab states was commemorated by Hazem Saghieh, Rosemary Bechler, Ghassan Khatib, Yossi Alpher and Fred Halliday. Mary Kaldor & Mient-Jan Faber, and Pierre Schori, looked to Europe to provide progress between Palestinians and Israelis today; Laurence Louër noted the changing allegiances of Arabs in Israel; Robert G Rabil examined the Syrian factor; Thomas O'Dwyer read the Winograd report that anatomised the failings of Israel's Lebanon war; and Eóin Murray wrote about his friend, the kidnapped BBC journalist Alan Johnston. Omar Al-Qattan explored the realms of memory in Palestine, and Tony Klug traced in the sand an ideal-but-just-conceivable set of steps that might bring peace to a region in desperate need of it.

Gèrard Prunier followed his analyses of Darfur and DR Congo by dissecting the complex interplay of conflicts involving Chad, the Central African Republic and Sudan. Harun Hassan and Tom Porteous tracked Ethiopian and US involvement as a key factor in the continuation of Somalia's endemic war.

Gunes Murat Tezcur assessed the kaleidoscopic set of troubles in Turkey that seem to confirm the pivotal geopolitical position of the country. Loro Horta took the measure of a difficult period in East Timor's history and asked whether the 2007 election cycle was the last chance for independence heroes Xanana Gusmao and new president Josè Ramos Horta to bring stability to the country. Sumantra Bose looked at the factors preventing or facilitating conflict resolution in "contested lands", and applied his conclusions to a detailed consideration of one remorseless such conflict, that in Sri Lanka.

Pakistan's decline into repression and disorder was the subject of powerful articles by Irfan Husain and Maruf Khwaja, while the defence specialist Ayesha Siddiqa bravely recorded the degree of economic and political power wielded by Pakistan's military apparatus.

Li Datong's column continued to provide cool, sceptical insight into contemporary China by contrasting official claims with real social developments, leaving the reader engaged, better informed and eager to learn more. Marcus Noland & Stephan Haggard gave a riveting account of how North Korean citizens reacted to famine by developing their own market mechanisms in the mid-1990s, and the lessons for the next calamity; Sophie Quinn-Judge defined the predicament of modern Vietnam through the fate of two recently deceased intellectuals.

  • Ideas and debates

The more dialogic features during this period included work on the future of the knowledge economy, the G8, and the state of multiculturalism.

The iCommons summit in Dubrovnik provoked a number of articles - from Tom Chance, John Buckman and Tony Curzon Price - looking at the possibilities and tensions of the "creative commons". Tony's argument that the reinvention of scarcity might better facilitate community-building than unlimited shareability followed his reflection on the conditions needed to make the "invisible mouse" roar down Google's power over human understanding.

The end-date of this report coincides with the departure from openDemocracy of commissioning editor Sarah Lindon after almost five years.

Sarah, who started as an intern, was a deeply respected and valued member of the openDemocracy team with many fine accomplishments across the range of our thinking and output - most prominently in the area of participation.

We wish her well in the next stage of her career. Thank you, Sarah!The mix of elements in our women-centred G8 coverage included articles by Roselynn Musa, Susana Fried and Tina Wallace. Meanwhile Paul Collier, author of The Bottom Billion, lambasted the G8's concentration on aid as a sideshow and outlined three better ways for Africans to escape poverty.

Tariq Modood's revised view of multiculturalism, which incorporated topical concerns over national identity and Muslim difference, was the trigger of a vigorous debate. This started with a lengthy essay by Modood himself, drawing on his new book; among the respondees were Yahya Birt, Sunny Hundal, Paul Kelly, Nira Wickramasinghe and Sami Zubaida, before Tariq Modood replied in a further substantial contribution.

Stephen Browne of the International Trade Centre concluded our mini-series on the twentieth anniversary of the Brundtland report with a critical review of changing views of "development". Charlie Beckett marked the publication of the BBC Trust's report on impartiality as well as his own Polis's report on the media and Africa with a pointed survey of how the portrayal of the global south can serve the public ill.

Among our other articles were Patricia Crone's four-part series excavating the linguistic and theological journey of jihad; Richard Barbrook's account of how "imaginary futures" are intimately linked to the skewed technophilia and power-politics of the present; Michael Thieren's meditation on public health and medical ethics in dark times; Roger Scruton's critical reflection on the philosopher Richard Rorty (which stimulated lively and challenging comments from readers); and Lisa Appignanesi's defence of the honour awarded to Salman Rushdie.

The columns of KA Dilday and Jim Gabour continued to develop their singular character, adding to a diverse portfolio of voices and subjects. We are glad to share them all with our readers and community.

Live discussion: Peter Oborne and ‘The Assault on Truth’

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