Tag Archives: society

Could the Veneto and Lombardy referendums determine a stronger north-south division in Italy after the decisive vote?

IMG_1719
A poster with instructions about Lombardy’s autonomy referendum is seen at a polling station in Lozza near Varese, northern Italy, October 22, 2017.

By Chiara Valenti, a 3rd year International Relations Undergraduate at King’s College London. 

Abstract:

Throughout its 150 years of unification, Italy has suffered from a north-south divide based on an array of socio-economic shortcomings between regions. Regionalist parties in Italy have adopted this disparity to fuel their political agenda and back political claims. The most recent of European regionalist events has sourced from this issue, as the Lega Nord – Italy’s North-based regionalist party – called for a referendum in two of Italy’s most prosperous regions asking the respective populations if they wanted their regional representatives to move for greater regional autonomy. This request has fallen under criticism for different reasons, but a main concern is if the consequent vote will deepen the existing divide within Italy. This article will first examine the motivations for the referendums and their critiques; then analyse the Lega Nord’s political project and offer critiques; then examine the reasons for the economic divide between the North and South of Italy; and finally, conclude by arguing that the results of these referendums will not be what deepens this chasm between North and South but the rhetoric from which they stem and Italy’s inability to profit from the South’s undervalued resources.

Introduction:

On October 22, 2017, the latest of regionalist events in Europe took place, as the political party known as Lega Nord (Northern League) held referendums in the regions of Lombardy and Veneto requesting greater regional autonomy. Such autonomy would give the regions more control over their finances and administration. It is worth noting that unlike the Catalonian referendum, this referendum was legal as the Italian Constitution allows it. Nonetheless, the party’s move was brought under fire by a variety of criticisms. Firstly, the plebiscites costed 55 million euros, a cost that is essentially unnecessary as the Italian constitution gives each region the ability to expand their powers via dialogue with the central government without public vote. This process has recently been undertaken by the Emilia-Romagna region. Lega Nord’s Luca Zaia and Roberto Maroni, the party’s leaders for the Veneto and Lombardy regions respectively, claim that their attempts at dialogue with Rome have been ignored despite proof that says otherwise. Secondly, the call for the public vote is an evident attempt to bolster support for Lega Nord before the upcoming March 2018 elections, as greater autonomy has been a long-standing promise of the party. Finally, the party’s rhetoric behind the incentives for greater autonomy are a representation of the greater socio-economic chasms between the North and South of Italy that have plagued the country since its unification 150 years ago.

Lombardy makes up 20% of the country’s GDP with Milan as its economic capital, while Veneto makes up another 10% of the GDP as the main exporter of Prosecco[1].  Zaia and Maroni argue that in addition to their taxes, they each send 50 billion euros more than what they get in return in public spending because of their regions’ economic prosperity.[2] Consequently, the Lega Nord argues that as a result of bureaucracy and a biased central government the South reaps the benefits of the North’s hard work. The party claims that by achieving greater regional autonomy they would have greater economic freedom, in addition to more control over immigration, education systems, and industries within the region. Accordingly, the referendums were held to send a message to Rome that the people of the Lombardy and Veneto regions are determined to gain more autonomy. The result, 95% of voters who cast ballots, 57% being in Veneto and 39% in Lombardy, opted to vote “yes” to more autonomy, according to officials in both regions.[3] This result is not surprising as these regions have always been major supporters of the Lega Nord’s anti-South rhetoric and motion to detach from Italy to different extents. However, to understand whether or not, and why, these referendums could determine an even stronger north-south division in Italy, it is necessary to examine the reasons for this divide and the ways in which the Lega Nord has used and exacerbated these chasms.

The Lega Nord’s political project:

Lega Nord is one of the many regionalist political parties in Italy, and its demands for greater regional autonomy are part of a wider trend amongst regional parties across Europe. Lega Nord does differ from other forms of European regionalism, such as those in Catalonia, in that the party’s political project is not based in an area with historic claims to nationhood. Rather, the party has opted to invent an ethnicity for the North of Italy, based on the rejection of the concept of the Italian nation-state called Padania. Padania, the Latin term for the basin of the River Po, has never existed geographically or historically, but the Lega Nord has attempted to construct it so to justify its political claims for the protection of the region’s economic interests. The party has been successful in creating this ‘ethnicity’ by exploiting the issues faced by citizens of northern Italy, through interpreting and adapting their concerns to its own political project. Lega Nord’s argument is that the South of Italy is the bearer of all wrong within Italian politics and society, and Italy’s central government is corrupt, wasteful, bureaucratic, and biased towards the South.[4] This strong anti-Southern discourse is the main element within Lega Nord’s political agenda, and it is what allows it to create a socio-cultural identity for the North by using the South as the ‘other’ to fear.

Many of the claims the party makes in regards to the South are misleading and inaccurate stereotypes, but the party’s ability to reproduce such anti-South sentiment in the North is the reason for its growth.  One of the party’s main arguments throughout its existence, and one of the main push factors for the referendum, are the economic differences between the North and the South which the party ascribes to the alleged contrasts in culture and mentality, claiming that the north has a superior value system and culture than the lazy and egoistic South. “Although this clearly misses the real and full explanation for the socio-economic differences between the North and South of Italy, it is a powerful discourse for the party and one which is seen as a correct interpretation by a good deal of supporters and activists of the party.”[5] From these inaccurate identity depictions, Lega Nord has argued that the South maintains its languor as it reaps the benefits of the North’s high-producing economy, explaining the demand for greater regional autonomy to better reap the benefits of their economy alone. In othering the South the Lega Nord has managed to articulate a socio-cultural identity for the North. It has utilised racist ideology, based on cultural rather than biological differentialism, and accompanied it with a racist subtext through which negatively evaluated characteristics are attributed to the ‘other’.[6]

 

The origins of the North-South divide:

This chasm between the North and South of Italy has been a long-standing feature of the Italian nation-state from its creation. It developed after unification in 1861, and stemmed from the South’s inability to match the industrial progress of the north. However, it is an inability that is linked to a broader, national development failure rather than the inferior value system and culture tied to the South by the Lega Nord. After Italian unification the main factor that separated the North and South of the country was the process of industrialization. While the North was able to industrialize because of its natural endowments that attracted factories, the South did not. This is because Italy began industrializing through the second wave of industrialization instead of the first. Had the state developed the technological know-how correctly, Italian development would have been faster and more contemporary, as it would have depended on human resources, with proper training across the territory, leading to a more balanced development between North and South.

As the industrial divide became more and more evident in the post-WWII era the Italian government made massive policy interventions in favour of the Mezzogiorno, the South, through what was called the Cassa del Mezzogiorno. This policy’s goal was to promote economic development in the South through the creation of infrastructure via funding from the more prosperous Northern regions. However, this policy did not create the conditions for autonomous development. Rather, supporting capital-intensive activities instead of promoting tourism for example, in an area so abundant in labour as the South of Italy, turned out to be short-sighted—a mistake probably attributable to the economic milieu of the time. These mistakes became evident during the 1970s crisis, which involved the collapse of a large part of the new heavy industries in the South. Once the top-down strategy failed Italy lacked a new or consistent approach, and instead regional policy was redirected towards unproductive expenditures, in such a way that it probably even favoured the enforcement of organized crime and the decline of social capital.”[7] Nevertheless, the South was crucial to the economic development in the North, as it was the South of Italy which served the dual purpose of providing an extensive market for products produced in the North as well as a source of relatively cheap and skilled labour. Therefore, the economic development of the North of Italy was facilitated by its links to the South, a truth that the Lega Nord does not acknowledge in its political rhetoric.

Conclusion:

Thus, when asking whether the results alone of these referendums will determine a stronger north-south division within Italy it is evident the answer is no. This is because these referendums, although symbolic, hold no true political weight as it is up to Rome to make the final decision. Moreover, greater regional autonomy would not translate to an absolute secession from the nation-state as political and economic collaboration with the South would still be required to certain extents. However, it is the long-standing, racist, and inaccurate rhetoric behind Lega Nord’s reasoning for the referendums that is deepening the divide. This same rhetoric is what leads to an underestimation of the economic potential of the South in terms of agriculture and tourism alone. An underestimation that is based on a population’s ignorance of their territory’s potential, an ignorance which is then exploited by regionalist parties like the Lega Nord. The issue has always been the same – economic disparity between the North and South of Italy. Thus, the solution would be to reign in the South’s economic potential and make use of it, stripping the Lega Nord of its imperative discourse of how the North’s successful economies should not be used to fund poorer areas in the south of Italy.

 

Bibliography:

[1] Giuffrida, Angela. “Italian regions go to the polls in Europe’s latest referendums on autonomy.” The Guardian. October 20, 2017. Accessed November 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/20/italian-regions-go-to-the-polls-in-europes-latest-referendums-on-autonomy.

[2] IBID

[3] Masters, James, and Valentina Di Donato. “Two Italian regions vote overwhelmingly for greater autonomy.” CNN. October 23, 2017. Accessed November 2017. http://edition.cnn.com/2017/10/21/europe/italy-lombardy-veneto-vote/index.html.

[4] Giordano, Benito. “A Place Called Padania?” European Urban and Regional Studies6, no. 3 (1999): 215-30. doi:10.1177/096977649900600303.

[5] Giordano, Benito. “Italian regionalism or ‘Padanian’ nationalism — the political project of the Lega Nord in Italian politics.” Political Geography19, no. 4 (2000): 445-71. doi:10.1016/s0962-6298(99)00088-8.

[6] Bull, Anna Cento, and Mark Gilbert. “The Lega Nord and the Politics of Secession in Italy.” 2001. doi:10.1057/9781403919984, p. 174

[7] Fenoaltea, Stefano. “I due fallimenti della storia economica: il periodo post-unitario.” RIVISTA DI POLITICA ECONOMICA, March & april 2007, 341-58.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , ,

Catalonia: “Chronicle of a Coup Foretold

catalonia

By Alfonso Goizueta Alfaro, a first year History and International Relations Undergraduate at King’s College London, and author of the diplomatic history book “Limitando el Poder, 1871-1939: Historia de la Diplomacia Occidental”

The world was shocked on October 1st: many people were because the images of police charges against voters in Catalonia; Spain was because of the disloyal and rebellious course that a democratic institution, the Generalitat of Catalonia, had chosen to follow, stepping outside of any legal parameters. The world was shocked on October 1st: many people were because the images of police charges against voters in Catalonia; Spain was because of the disloyal and rebellious course that a democratic institution, the Generalitat of Catalonia, had chosen to follow, stepping outside of any legal parameters.  The independence referendum held by the Catalonian regional government has been the greatest challenge to Spanish constitutionalism since the failed military coup of February 1981: held without any guarantees or electoral census, the referendum wasn’t an expression of democracy but of disloyalty and treachery. The referendum, and the later proclamation of independence in Catalonia, was the sad finale of coup d’état organised by democratic leaders.   Yet this coup, disguised with democratic principles, goes far beyond October 1st: for over a month, democratic boundaries and freedoms were defiled by the regional government and those loyal to it. For over a month, those who claimed to be crusading for democracy, outraged the freedom and the liberties of the citizens of Spain and Catalonia: this is the chronicle of their coup foretold.

The origins of the coup Catalonia is the region with the largest self-government prerogatives in Europe: the Spanish Constitution of 1978 and the Statutes of Catalan Autonomy (1979 and 2006) give the Generalitat (Government) powers over Education, Treasury, Taxation, Commerce, Tourism, Health, Agriculture, Police…; these offices are held by the consellers (councillors or regional ministers).  The financial crisis of 2008 hit Spain badly, causing economic and social hardship. Catalonia, the second richest region in the country, also suffered greatly. In a policy of inter-territorial solidarity, Catalans felt their money was being increasingly taxed by the central government and used to support poorer regions of Spain: this was the genesis of the myth of “España nos roba” (Spain steals from us), created by the right-wing nationalistic president, Artur Mas, who was trying to cover up the precarious economic situation and several corruption scandals within his party (CiU). Thus, the sentiment of independentism started to mushroom once again in Catalonia: Mas’ government pledged to call for a referendum of independence with which to break from Spain. The Spanish Constitution provides with legal parameters and procedures to do so was any region to desire its independence: Catalans didn’t proceed by these legal parameters and several times denied debating their project in the Chamber of Deputies.  In 2016 the pro-independence coalition Junts Pel Sí won the autonomic elections and, thanks to the parliamentary support of the anti-capitalist party CUP, managed to form a government in Catalonia although Carles Puigdemont, and not Mas, was now in charge. His government started developing an anti-constitutional policy seeking a unilateral declaration of independence in October 2017, after a referendum was held. Amidst the growing tension between Barcelona and Madrid, Puigdemont refused to negotiate with the central government: his unilateral and illegal referendum was the immovable condition for any prior negotiation with Madrid.   Spanish government couldn’t accept.

k1

The Parliament of Catalonia after the Autonomic Elections of 2016: Junts Pel Sí had 62 deputies but needed CUP’s support to achieve absolute majority (68). Grey= Junts pel Sí (pro-independence); Yellow = CUP (pro-independence, anti-Capitalist); Blue = PPC (Conservative); Red= PSC (Socialist); Orange= Ciutadans (Centre); Purple=Podem (Extreme Left) (Wikipedia – Parlament de Catalunya, 28/3/2016)

The coup: the laws of Referendum and Political Transience

In early September 2017, Puigdemont and his parliamentary group began their coup, which was to culminate in a Unilateral Declaration of Independence of late October. Using their majority in the Regional Parliament and their control over the Chamber’s presidency (held by Carme Forcadell, member of Junts Pel Sí), Puigdemont started bypassing all of his constitutional obligations: the Parliament’s agenda was subsequently and suddenly changed to the convenience of Junts Pel Sí without informing any of the other parties in the Chamber, on-going commissions regarding Health, Education or other topics were suspended, and government refused to undergo the control of the Chamber – something it is obliged to do weekly. No longer would President Puigdemont answer the questions of the Opposition or intervene in Parliament, always under the aegis of loyal Forcadell. In the meantime, Puigdemont’s government allied with the pro-independence associations (Catalan National Assembly, of which Forcadell was a member, and Omnium Cultural), beginning to use coercive measures to promote independentism among Catalans – the leaders of these associations are currently imprisoned, charged with the crimes of sedition and intimidation.  The coup’s machinery began on September 6th, when Mrs Forcadell altered the Parliament’s agenda without informing the Opposition’s deputies: Parliament’s organisms, monopolised by Junts Pel Sí members, approved Forcadell’s petition to change the agenda and vote two laws proposed by the government: the law calling for a referendum on October 1st and the Law of Political Transience, which would proclaim a republic and open a constituent process after the referendum.

k2.PNG

The deputies of the Opposition leave the chamber in protest for the illegal modification of the parliamentary agenda. The laws were voted without the Opposition present in the Chamber (El País (6/9/2017) picture by Massimiliano Minocri)

After 40 years of dictatorship, in which the entrance to the Parliament of Catalonia had been walled, Junts Pel Sí had once again expelled democracy from the Chamber. Forcadell went through with the vote; the Opposition’s claims weren’t taken into consideration nor were the Chamber’s letrados (high lawyers) allowed to speak against the presidency’s illegal acts. Parliament’s Regulation was broken; Junts Pel Sí celebrated with a loud applause, claiming to be one step closer to freedom from oppressive and non-democratic Spain.  The following days, the Spanish Constitutional Court declared both laws illegal and outside constitutional parameters.

The referendum and beyond: Article 155

Despite the Constitutional Court’s verdict, Puigdemont and his allies continued to organise an illegal referendum using public funds.  On October 1st, the referendum was hold without any guarantees or electoral census. Having already been declared illegal by the Constitutional Court, judges ordered National Police officers and Civil Guards to seize the ballot boxes and close the polling stations illegally opened for the referendum. Many mayors of Catalan towns denounced having been threatened to open polling stations in their municipalities. In the meantime, Catalan autonomic police (under Puidgemont’s control) hindered National Police officers’ actions and refused to abide judicial orders: their captain, Major Trapero, ordered them to do so, under pressure from Puigdemont’s government.

k3.PNG

The pro-independence associations Puigdemont had been closely working with encouraged violent resistance against police forces. Amidst the chaos, many people took the opportunity to vote several occasions in different polling stations; later that day, the Catalonian government stated that means had been in place to avoid this situation and totally denied it. Once again, the referendum was declared illegal by high judicial organisms. Only Puigdemont and his allies recognised the result. King Philip VI addressed his people on October 3rd and delegitimised the referendum. No country or international institution recognised the results nor Puigdemont’s Declaration of Independence on October 27th. Supported by the Constitution, Mariano Rajoy’s government, after giving Puigdemont several opportunities of coming back to legality, implemented Article 155 which, with the support of the Senate, gave the government full powers to restore legality in a rebellious region. On October 27th, a few hours after the Declaration, Rajoy dismissed Puigdemont and his councillors, taking over the autonomic government and calling an Autonomic Election on December 21st.

The international community supported Rajoy and his government. Soon after their destitution, Puigdemont and four councillors fled to Belgium; the Vice-president and the remaining members of government were imprisoned, accused of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement. Puigdemont’s departure to Belgium accelerated the process by which Justice Lamela ordered the arrest of other government members, fearing they could also flee.  The political turmoil unleashed by Puigdemont has had catastrophic effects on Catalonia: not only has the economy suffered from the exodus of over 1000 firms since mid-September, but the society has been morally fractured between those for independence and those against it. In the midst of the crisis, the Catalan economy is growing at a slower rate and the whole of Spain’s economic recovery process has been endangered. Puigdemont had several occasions of withdrawing from his claim and calling and Autonomic election before Article 155 was implemented, yet he rejected these options and fled leaving his colleagues behind. Was this the president supposed to bring prosperity and international recognition to the Catalan Republic?  Spain has proved to be a strong democracy in which the rule of law is invincible. Puigdemont’s adventure was born cloven and without any possibility of success. The members of his government now await a firm judicial verdict which could sentence them to thirty years in prison, and he is under an international order of arrest.  Illegality after illegality, defiance after defiance, Puigdemont has pledged the greatest challenge to Spanish democracy since Tejero’s military coup in 1981. But, just like him, Puigdemont has failed to break Spanish democracy and its national sovereignty. What he though was a crusade against the oppressive Spanish state turned out to be a chimera: Spanish democracy remains strong and firm against anything which can endanger the rights and liberties of the Spanish people.

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

German General Elections: Europe – Quo vadis?

7

By Julia Huentemann, 2nd year International Relations Undergraduate at King’s College London and Editorial Assistant at International Relations Today.

The Results

Last Sunday 24th September, the German citizens elected a new parliament – the Bundestag – and decided to let Angela Merkel serve another four years as German Chancellor. Starting her fourth consecutive term, she now equals the record of her predecessor Helmut Kohl. Even though nobody actually doubted that Merkel respectively the CDU would make it, the result is far behind optimistic expectations and means a weakened position for Merkel.

Having run in office as German Chancellor for twelve years and being the leader of Europe’s largest economy since 2005[1], experienced “Mutti” Merkel tends to be seen as the ultimate safe option for stability in Germany and Europe in turbulent times on the political stages at home and abroad. But Merkel’s popularity plummeted significantly in 2015 as a result to her controversial immigration policies and the result reveals that her public support is less broad than assumed.

Even though the CDU gathered most votes with about 33%, this result means a loss of almost 9% compared to the elections in 2013. It would be ignorant to talk about a victory and it forces Merkel to find new partners for the required majorities to build a government, since the present coalition partner SPD is not willing to function as such any longer. Facing extreme losses of votes itself the SPD understands its role in the opposition working on a profile that significantly differs from that of the CDU. Moreover, there is to notice a growing resistance towards Merkel from members of the CSU (CDU´s sister party) who have been claiming a maximum limit of migrants and blame Merkel for the bad outcome.

With the main centre parties CDU and SPD both enjoying considerably less popularity, the actual winner of the 2017 General Elections is clearly the hard right “Alternative for Germany” (AfD), the first nationalist party to win seats in the Bundestag after 1949. This development is alarming and reveals that nationalist and thus anti-European tendencies are also very popular in Germany, especially in Eastern Germany, which makes further European integration – as recently claimed by the French Premier Emmanuel Macron – more difficult.

22070298_1976980865872162_2064013964_o

The political landscape in Germany

Led by Angela Merkel, the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) is Germany’s main centre-right party and has been advertising its election campaign with the slogan “For a Germany where life is enjoyable”.  It is said to rather represent employers´ interests and its dealing with the recent Diesel affaire can be taken as an example for this claim. The Conservative Party is most likely the equivalent in GB. Despite having lost ca. 9 % compared to 2013, the CDU remains the strongest party with about 33 %. It needs to be considered that this result is the sum of CDU´s and CSU´s (her sister party) votes.

Its main competitor on the political landscape is the SPD (Social Democratic Party), Germany’s main centre-left party. According to its slogan “It is time for more justice: securing the future and strengthening Europe” the SPD is focusing on justice and equality in a strong Europe. It is said to rather represent the employees´ interests and can be seen as the pendant to the Labour Party in GB. Led by the former president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, whose candidature had sparked an initial rise in support that subsided shortly after, the party has experienced a severe defeat with only 20,5 % of the votes compared to about 25,5 % in 2013.

The third popular party with almost 13 % nationwide became the right, nationalist, Euro-sceptic AfD (Alternative for Germany). Having welcomed Brexit and Trump, the anti-immigration, anti-Islam party is now represented in 13 out of 16 state parliaments and in the Bundestag as the National Parliament. Ever since 2015 with the constant influx of migrants, resentment and fear towards Merkel’s welcoming migration policies had been rising, feeding into the AfD’s plan of attracting support. Having increased ca. 8 % in votes since 2013, AfD leading candidate Alexander Gauland claimes that the AfD is “going to reconquer our land and our people”[2]

There are three more parties represented in the new Bundestag having exceeded the threshold of 5 percent: The FDP (Liberal Democratic Party) enjoying a support of 10,7 % (+ 5,9 %) of the votes, The Green Party focusing on environmental issues with 8,9 % (+ 0,5 %) and the Left Party standing for anti-Capitalism and women´s rights with 9,2 % (+ 0,5 %).

In this new parliament the two main centre parties unite just about half of the votes while the other half is shared in almost equal parts by four smaller parties. This distribution of seats is unprecedented in the German Bundestag and means a challenge to find a governing majority.

The Reasons

Of course, this is mere speculation, but taking into account the findings of political research AfD´s performance can be understood as a kind of protest against the establishment and especially against the “GroKo” (Great Coalition) which obviously has been experienced as a political standstill. Only a minority of those who vote for AfD are actually convinced of its program, but rather wanted to demonstrate resistance against current political practice. The fact that there hardly seems to be a significant difference between the program of the established parties also might have fostered the seduction to vote for the AfD. [3]

It is most likely that this result also reveals dissatisfaction with Merkel´s immigration policy. Obviously, politicians in office have failed to recognize public fears and worries and to take them seriously enough. I strongly believe that most of my German fellow citizens are willing to help refugees and welcome them as valuable members in our society, provided that they are willing to live according to our western democratic values and do not violate our laws. Unfortunately, some of them did and to the annoyance of the victims they mostly went unpunished. This is a policy hard to understand and a clampdown might have helped to avoid this development. I am confident that 13 % for the AfD is not an expression for anti-refugee or anti-European attitude but rather an expression for dissatisfaction about how politicians deal with the challenges coming across with refugee influx and European integration.

 The Consequences – for Germany and for Europe

Merkel needs to form a coalition and without the SPD the only realistic option is CDU/CSU with FDP and the Green Party. The CDU/CSU is also referred to as ‘black’, the FDP as ‘yellow’ and the Green apparently as ‘green’, which is why this combination is called the ‘Jamaica-Coalition’ relating to the Jamaican flag.

Even though there seems to be a general willingness to cooperate, content-related overlaps need to be identified and especially in terms of the European process this could become a matter of dispute. While the Green openly professes a strong Europe, the FDP is more reserved, especially when it comes to a shared fiscal policy. Inspired by the idea of negotiating the impossible (‘Fluch’ = ‘curse’), DIE ZEIT (a serious German weekly paper) titled as follows:

8

It will be interesting to see, if, respectively how, the three of them will negotiate a compromise, because this will not only determine Germany´s but also Europe´s future.

Emmanuel Macron already expressed his worries that a coalition with the Liberal Party might cause problems for his plans concerning the European development. It is just smart and fair that he brings forward his claims before the coalition negotiations start, because they should be part of the negotiations.

And finally I don´t want to miss mentioning that the SPD as the leader of the opposition in Parliament inevitably stands for a pro-European course and will hopefully provide some positive impulses whatever the government brings forward. This could be one of the issues where the SPD could differentiate from the CDU/CSU in its next campaign. And as we have learnt from Macron: it is actually possible to win an election with pro-European claims against all odds.

Bibliography:

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/24/germanys-general-election-all-you-need-to-know.

[2] http://www.tagesschau.de/newsticker/liveblog-bundestagswahl-101.html#Reaktionen-bei-Union-und-SPD.

[3] http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/btw17/index.html.

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

What Interventionists get wrong about Venezuela

Venezuela IR Today Photo

Carly Greenfield is a third year International Relations student with an interest in non-wartime violence, gender theory, and organized crime, especially in Latin America.

The ongoing crisis in Venezuela has received mass media attention across the West, particularly in the United States (US). The crisis began following a Supreme Court attempt in March to dissolve the legislative branch and the subsequent protests against this decision. This event is seen as the origin of the crisis, with the death toll for the following five months amounting to around 130 people. The death toll, human rights violations, and lack of access to basic commodities has caused outcry from countries in the Americas and Europe and supranational organizations like the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations (UN). Some human rights advocates have even gone so far as to call for humanitarian intervention, or for the UN to invoke Responsibility to Protect (R2P). US President Donald Trump, in particular, has not shied away from the possibility of military intervention, even while others in the administration show a level of caution. This brash language shows a misunderstanding of R2P, a misunderstanding of the crisis and of the political landscape in Venezuela.

R2P

R2P relies on three pillars, the first being that the state holds the primary responsibility to protect its population from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. For pillars two or three to be fulfilled, one of these crimes would have to be occurring. Analyzing these four atrocities, it is clear that the violence in Venezuela has not reached the threshold to move past the first pillar. War crimes require the state to be in a time of war, which Venezuela is not. Acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing both require the targeting of a specific population, with ethnic cleansing specifically requiring the targeting of an ethnic or religious group, which has not been documented in Venezuela. While some may argue that a particular political group is under threat, political affiliation or orientation is not a ‘protected’ status under the 1948 Genocide Convention. The only crime which R2P advocates may utilize as evidence of a breach of Pillar One, then, is crimes against humanity, but crimes against humanity have a less established definition than the three other crimes. To prove that crimes against humanity should not be the defining term used for the violence in the Venezuelan crisis, it is important to understand the cases where it already has been used.

Officials have been prosecuted for crimes against humanity in multiple trials, starting with the infamous Nuremburg Trials. The definition of the crimes has shifted over time, particularly following the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and has therein reached a broad definition under customary international law. Crimes against humanity span murder, rape, enslavement, imprisonment, disappearance, persecution, and other heinous crimes. The requirement that has been repeated across all three trials was that the crimes were systematic and widespread. This is the main problem with defining the violence, specifically state-led violence, as crimes against humanity. While murder, disappearance, and imprisonment have all been utilized by the Venezuelan government, these crimes have not occurred in the past five months at a widespread level. The 130 deaths include pro-government protesters and police officers, not only counter protesters killed by their government. Although the majority of the deaths are citizens, it does not constitute a level that could be conceived as widespread. Given the bulk of killings committed yearly by government forces across the globe, particularly in this region, it seems odd for Venezuela to be such an outstanding case of crimes that it merits intervention. While this should not be a case of what-about-ism, finite resources should bring into question which countries are worth intervening in and where the largest human rights abuses are occurring. Is Venezuela the worst current global humanitarian crisis?

It is important to note that the lack of existence of crimes against humanity does not make these deaths any more bearable by the deads’ loved ones or by the citizens of Venezuela. Criticism and protest of this government should be expected when governmental use of force is excessive and violence fills the streets. What it does show, instead, is that these murders do not constitute any crime that R2P is based upon. Intervention based on R2P, therefore, seems a moot point.

Some sources have seen evidence of widespread and systematic violations of human rights. For instance, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein lambasted the Maduro regime with accusations of torture, arbitrary detention, and the responsibility of at least 70 murders during the crisis.

Yet even if the international community were to decide that there is proof of crimes against humanity in Venezuela, collective use of force would be unlikely to succeed—the general crime rate, separate from the government’s crackdown, has skyrocketed over the last two years, making it difficult for forces to adequately enforce a peace between the government and its citizens. Indeed, Caracas was named the most violent city in the world outside of a warzone in both 2015 and 2016. The inability to predict a successful intervention should cause pause for those advocating intervention as a stoppage to the violence.

US Intervention in Latin America

While the US is unlikely to intervene in Venezuela unilaterally, the history of US intervention in Latin America does not bode well for a positive response to intervention by the Venezuelan public or by other countries in the region. Since the US sits on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as one of the permanent five (P5) members, the US would explicitly vote in favor or against military action in Venezuela, most likely voting in favor. This would send a clear message to US allies and non-allies alike in the region that the US is not done meddling in regional affairs. For context: the US has supported, financially, militarily, and with clandestine intelligence, paramilitary groups and governments that have been accused and, in specific cases, convicted of genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, including forced disappearances, extrajudicial murders, massacres, and political persecution. This includes, but is not limited to, the Dirty Wars under Argentina’s military regime, the murderous Pinochet regime in Chile, the genocidal military counterinsurgency mission in the Guatemalan Civil War, and countless other exposed covert operations. This pattern has made Latin American governments, particularly Leftist ones, hostile to US involvement in their countries.

On the 13th of August US Vice President Mike Pence traveled to the region to meet with Latin American leaders. President Trump’s commentary on intervention in Venezuela loomed large. The response could not be clearer. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, a regional ally, candidly said:

“Since friends have to tell them the truth, I’ve told Vice President Pence the possibility of military intervention shouldn’t even be considered. The Latin American continent, every country in Latin America, would not favor any form of military intervention and that is why we are saying we are intent on looking into other measures some of which are already underway and others to be implemented in the future.”

A US-associated intervention would begin at a deficit in popularity with the local population and regional governments, making the future for peace even more arduous. The current administration’s stance on the crisis is unlikely to create any real change, either.

Divisive Venezuelan Society

One of the main barriers to understanding the crisis is the current narrative, which propagates a bifurcated choice between the Maduro regime and the innocent population. The Maduro regime has made steps to consolidate power socially and politically. It has shut down independent press organizations, most recently two Colombian news channels, and with its newly founded Constituent Assembly has begun stripping the Opposition-controlled legislature of its powers. Earlier this month, Mercosur suspended Venezuela indefinitely on charges of breaching democratic norms and the deepening crisis. The ongoing food and medicine shortages have caused crises within hospitals and multi-hour queues at state-run grocery stores. Basic commodities, like bread, are difficult to find. Corruption charges continue. Neighboring countries Colombia and Brazil have seen large migration flows, Colombia seeing hundreds of thousands in the last two years.

And yet three million people still voted in the constituent assembly election for pro-regime candidates. A lack of support for Maduro is not a lack of support for socialism, nor a condemnation of Chavismo. This is the main sticking point. Much like young Cubans fleeing Cuba in search of opportunities in the US, the majority of Venezuelans are not fleeing oppression but rather fleeing hunger. The lack of food and the radical levels of inflation, leaving the bolivar worthless, are the primary reasons for migration and discontent. As Opposition lawmaker Gaby Arrellano has recognized, missteps by the political class, both Left and Right, has not given the Venezuelan population much choice.

While the Opposition gained a majority in the legislative branch in 2016, the first time in 16 years, it was swept in on anti-regime sentiments, not necessarily pro-Opposition ones. This distinction means that an intervention that would replace the Maduro regime with an Opposition controlled regime would not be inherently more popular. The Opposition has not stayed fully unified throughout the crisis, either: the group fractured over whether to take part in the constituent assembly. In the end, they held their own unofficial plebiscite, but still did not take part in the Constituent Assembly. The ongoing political crisis is not simply a difference between the Maduro regime and the Opposition’s governing decisions.

So?

The crisis in Venezuela has not bettered through the battering of the Venezuelan economy. The Maduro regime has only further dug in its heels, making cries of US imperialism and threats to Venezuela’s sovereignty to the public. An intervention that seems almost inherently based in regime change would not be welcome by the Venezuelan population nor by countries in the region. The focus should be on mitigating widespread suffering, primarily on medical cases and cases of starvation.

The Venezuelan-Colombian border is already very porous. While the Maduro regime will not accept aid from the United States nor make any major economic shifts, regional leaders and the UN could assist by creating food banks on the Colombian side of the border so that Venezuelans could have access to necessary goods without paying for them. Furthermore, medical camps in neighboring countries could also begin to help the sick. Concerns of the expanding crisis could be further mitigated by financially supporting neighboring states so they are better able to handle the influx of Venezuelans looking to temporarily migrate or access the market.

The upcoming October election should also be a focal point: the UN and regional leaders should look to negotiate with the Venezuelan government so as to support a free and open election that could see the possibility of peaceful and democratic regime change. There is much more that can be done to support those suffering from the crisis without the cost of intervention.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Equality – irrespective of sexual orientation. A privilege of the developed world?

gay-pride-flag.jpg

By Lukas Jansen, a second year International Relations Undergraduate at King’s College London.

On the 29th July 2017, 43 men were arrested and charged for homosexuality in Lagos, Nigeria. This is one of the latest events which shows the institutionalized anti-gay resentment in Africa. This is the continent where most countries criminalize homosexuality [1]. In 2014, Uganda signed into law the ‘Anti-Homosexuality Act’, which condemns homosexuals to life in prison if caught for ‘aggravated homosexuality. [2]’ However, there are exceptions such as South Africa, which has legalized it. Uganda is ranked 151st on the Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International[3] and one of the poorest economies in the world, while South Africa is 64th[4] on the index and was ranked as an upper-middle income economy by the World Bank.[5] One may wonder if there is a relation between economic development and the acceptance of gay rights. Interestingly, it has been found that there is indeed such a relation. Different school of thoughts have been debating how that causality can exist. And this brings us to the question, whether gay rights should be at the forefront of national agendas or if, in the first place, political and financial elements should be considered in order to bring about change.

The two schools of thoughts, this article will be inspired by, are the post-materialistic values approach and the human capita approach, which contrast in their view of minority rights.[6]

The former states that political and financial development leads to a long term increase of minority rights as the economy. Having guaranteed survival of its individuals with the help of its economic development one can focus on other matters such as minority rights and the expression of individuality

The example of South Africa may be summoned as the expression of this theory. The Apartheid government used a sexual discrimination policy in order to further ground its racial discrimination so that the ‘white nation’ be ‘sexually and morally pure’. [7]  Thus some lesbian and gays group also joined the fight against Apartheid and lobbied the African National Congress (ANC) in order to include rights for gays in the newly established constitution. Consequently, in 1992, the ANC officially recognized gay and lesbian rights.[8] Thus this may be a clear example of minority rights being attained through the development of political rights leading to the post-apartheid period.

While South Africa may be summoned as a successful expression of Inglehart’s theory, it may also be argued that the Apartheid movement was quite unique for its time and was made into a world problem through the internationalization of the issue. Certainly, some ANC leaders who were critical of the gay rights movement, met protest from the international anti-Apartheid movement, which may also have contributed to the acceptance of the gay right movement within the ANC[9].  Thus it may be argued that the international involvement in the rights issue led to its acceptance rather than the sole political development of the country.

In contrast, the “human capital theory” states that human capital (a collection of traits of an individual which gives its economic value) gains from adopting minority rights first[10]. Thus, an individual which will feel completely at ease within society will expand his opportunity to broaden his human capital through increased access to health or education. Meanwhile, the individual will be more productive as a labor force as it will work in an environment where he will not fear any discrimination. When considering all  individuals who will gain from the institution of gay rights its cumulated aggregate of human capital will be a pushing force for the economy and will lead to an increase of the economy on the macro-level. [11]

In 2016, businesses all around the world came together to make a stance for LGBT inclusion, making the case that LGBT rights were better for the economic growth of the state[12]. While the study is business-biased, it still shows how the institutionalization of gay rights may lead to an increase in trust from major companies, which will have less hesitation to invest in a gay friendly country, boosting the respective country’s economy.

However, the interest of major groups may go against the collective sentiment of the respecting society. Developing societies are faced with a large part of the population having religious faith. Most developing Islamic countries condemn homosexuality with heavy sentences and sometimes death penalties such as Nigeria or Mauritania[13], while local Imams may not often accept of gay rights. Meanwhile Christian missionaries in Africa, such as the American activist Scott Lively[14], who is outspokenly anti-LGBT, also try to shift the balance on the continent to be critical of gay rights. Religious faith having a major influence, unpopular measures may lead to a further decrease in state authority, which developing countries, who do not have the same power of centralization and fiscalisation as their European counterparts, already try to get to grips with.

Adding to the religious element of developing societies, the belief that giving in to gay rights is a form of new colonialism coming from the West. A speech by president Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe in 2000 may be considered an expression of this: ‘We have our own culture, and we must re-dedicate ourselves to our traditional values that make us human beings. … What we are being persuaded to accept is sub-animal behavior and we will never allow it here’[15]. The belief that accepting homosexuality is giving in to the West may also lead to a difficult acceptance of gay rights by people, and comes as an addition to the religious factor.

Consequently, one can argue that in the case of Africa, political and financial measures should be taken first in order to boost economic growth, which in turn will lead to a higher acceptance of gay rights. While major businesses may be interested in investing in gay friendly countries, the backlash for policymakers may not be worth the cost as they are faced with an increasing religious population which does not trust government and gets under influences. Indeed, accepting gay rights may be a positive sign for the economic wealth of a country in the long run but the political short term might be destructive for the power in place. Furthermore, Africa being faced with a very unstable political climate, the institutionalization of gay rights may be used against its nations’ leaders by other political groups.

 

Bibliography:

[1] http://ilga.org/downloads/07_THE_ILGA_RIWI_2016_GLOBAL_ATTITUDES_SURVEY_ON_LGBTI_PEOPLE.pdf

[2] http://edition.cnn.com/2014/02/24/world/africa/uganda-anti-gay-bill

[3] https://www.transparency.org/country/UGA#

[4] https://www.transparency.org/country/ZAF

[5] http://data.worldbank.org/country/south-africa

[6] M.V. Lee Badgett, Sheila Nezhad, Kees Waaldijk, Yana van der Meulen Rodgers; The Relationship between LGBT Inclusion and Economic Development: An Analysis of Emerging Economies (Los Angeles: The William Institute, UCLA School of Law)

[7] Gustavo Gomes da Costa Santos, Decriminalising homosexuality in Africa: lessons from the South African experience Chapter 11, pp. 313–37 of Corinne Lennox & Matthew Waites (eds.) (2013) Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in The Commonwealth: Struggles for Decriminalisation and Change (London: School of Advanced Study, University of London).

[8] Gustavo Gomes da Costa Santos, ibid

[9] Gustavo Gomes da Costa Santos, ibid

[10] M.V. Lee Badgett, ibid

[11] M.V. Lee Badgett, ibid

[12] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/lgbt-rights-open-for-business-coalition_us_56d07514e4b0871f60eb199d

[13] https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/world/gay-rights/

[14] https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/scott-lively

[15] https://southernafrican.news/2014/03/20/africa-rejects-cultural-imperialism/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Venezuela and Democratic Authoritarianism

17918957_1462042380482674_517359125_n.jpg

By Victoria Noya, a Venezuelan 3rd year International Development student, currently studying abroad in East Asia.

On December 2015 many Venezuelans gained new hope and optimism for their country, as the Opposition party secured three fifths of seats at the National Assembly, the legislative branch of Venezuela’s government. This was arguably a democratic victory that countered the government’s long standing authoritarian behaviour. However, as many expected, that optimism was short-lived. The Supreme Court, which abides by every whim and fancy of the central government, would go on to prohibit the legislature from naming a handful of members of the electoral council. Nevertheless, since the Venezuelan government has been playing a hybrid regime of authoritarian action with democratic facade and discourse, it came as a huge surprise when on March 29th, under the pretence of the National Assembly’s “contempt”, the Supreme Court decided to usurp the National Assembly[1], ruling that all the National Assembly’s powers would go to the Supreme Court. This has been interpreted by many as a “self-inflicted coup d’état”[2], since what was once a political body that kept the authoritarian regime in check, would no longer continue to do so.

For about 15 years Venezuelans have been living under a de facto dictatorship. At least in the sense that all democratic activity is in some way either restricted or influenced by the government. For example, freedom of speech, a right that goes hand in hand with democracy. Although the government has never spoken against it, it just so happened that throughout the past 15 years, news agencies that are anti-Chavez have been bought up one by one, by entities with Chavista agendas. This type of corruption seeps into essentially every industry that Venezuela has left. Additionally, it is the vox populi that elections are rigged. The subtlety of the government’s totalitarianism was key to establishing Venezuela’s government as a hybrid regime, and it allowed the president and his party to legitimately remain in power. March 29th wouldn’t be the first time the Supreme Court had abused its power, but it would be the first time that their grasp for power was so blunt.

Since March 29th, many peaceful protests led by the opposition have  turned violent, an occurrence that for the past couple of years, is no longer unusual. The blunt decision sparked outrage, since Venezuelans have never actively, perhaps not even knowingly, supported the government’s authoritarianism. This is why the interpretation of “self-inflicted coup d’etat” isn’t quite accurate, it’s more like the government was being honest about what they are: an authoritarian dictatorship. Whether it be because of international or internal pressure, President Maduro later urged the Supreme Court to reverse their decision[3], which only means that the government is back to being dishonest, and that nothing is going to change in the future.

Before I go on, it is important to expand where Venezuela finds itself now. With the progression of Chavez’s presidency, so grew a new political ideology: Chavismo. This populist anti-US ideology gained much popularity among the lower classes, who were told that the government would support them and that their hardships were at the hand of the upper classes as well as US “imperialism”. This repeated discourse over more than 15 years created a social divide that had never existed before. The divide is exemplified in political elections, where Chavistas are extremely loyal to Chavez and his legacy, and society is divided by an intense hostility between die-hard Chavistas and Opposition followers. After Chavez’s death, his legacy remained. The government has targeted the passionate loyalty of Chavistas to ensure power, which means that even under Maduro, a widely unpopular president, Chavistas are unlikely to turn to the Opposition. Insanely high crime rates add to the heightened tensions and fear that has become part of Venezuelan’s daily life, to the point that all new cars being bought are bulletproof – that is, if there even are cars to sell and enough money to buy them, given that inflation is at 800%[4]. Venezuela’s chaotic wasteland of an economy depends on oil exports. The 2014 drop in oil prices had a drastic effect on the economy, but only because decades of high oil revenue with mass deprivatization and virtually no investment in industry or infrastructure, meant the country was not equipped to deal with a sudden drop in government revenue. Today, shortages and scarcity has become the norm in Venezuela: there is no food and no medicine, and prolonged water and electricity cuts are more likely than not. Protests are a regular occurrence, most often for food and medicine shortages, and most recently expressing their disappointment at the Supreme Court.

Given the state of Venezuela today, it is easy to see why the Supreme Court chose to solidify the government’s power. The government likely felt they were losing their grasp on the country due to the economic and social turmoil it faces. That being said, I fear that President Maduro’s demand that the Supreme Court reverse its decision means that any change in the social or political sphere of the country is very unlikely. Firstly, the Venezuelan people may interpret the National Assembly’s regained control as a victory, even though it is not. While the National Assembly was and is able to keep the central government in check to some extent, the Supreme Court and central government have always had more power and could play the National Assembly like a chessboard. Secondly, since it was President Maduro who publicly stated his disapproval of the Supreme Court’s actions, the “blame” is shifted from the central government to the Supreme Court, thus shedding the government in a false democratic light, and solidifying its popularity among voters. Furthermore, banning the leader of the Opposition[5], Henrique Capriles, from candidacy in the upcoming 2018 elections is the same behaviour displayed by the central government since the Opposition began gaining recognition, long before Chavez’s passing. It is with a heavy heart that I give a pessimistic prediction of Venezuela’s future, regardless of any external factor, the core problem is the central government’s reluctance to give up power no matter the cost to society.

Bibliography:

[1] The Economist, Venezuela leaps towards dictatorship, March 2017

[2] Luis Almagro, secretary-general of OAS, The Economist March 2017

[3] The Economist, The Venezuelan Government’s Abortive Power Grab, April 2017

[4] Reuters, CNBC, Venezuela 2016 inflation hits 800 percent, GDP shrinks 19 percent: Document, Jan 2017

[5] Ulmer and Ellsworth, Leading Venezuela Opposition figure barred from office 15 years, April 2017

PHOTO: JUAN BARRETO / AFP

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Fruits of a Popular Presidency

us-constitution

Matthew Shoemaker is an analyst for BAE Systems at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Matthew specializes in nuclear war strategy as well as American, British, and NATO security issues. He holds a BA in Political Science and International Affairs from George Washington University, an MA in Philosophy from Mount St. Mary’s University, and is completing his Ph.D. in War Studies from King’s College London.

Admiration for the office of the American presidency, though perhaps not for the present incumbent, would seem, at face value, to be nearly universal amongst practically all sections of the American populace. In the era of 24 hour news, the press minutely reports the comings and goings, agenda, and even the wardrobe of members of the first family. Broadcasters tirelessly and even unctuously described the dresses and gowns of Melania Trump and her consort at the Inauguration Day festivities. President Trump’s children Ivanka, Tiffany, Eric, Donald Jr., and Barron have already become public figures. They became front page news even before President Trump raised his hand to take the oath of office.

There ought to be little doubt that all this attention evinces an authentic public interest. Editors at CNN and MSNBC will likely assume that features about the Trump family, however tired and repetitious, will restore their falling ratings. Exposés of Melania Trump and her supermodel career or humble upbringing will assuredly never fail to increase clicks for the news agencies. It would be fair to speculate that in time Ivanka’s driver or Barron’s former teacher could command for their reminiscences sums which any mortal might envy. Even if the new president’s politics and personality divide American public opinion, tourists to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will be sure to stare through the iron railings like that of pious old women who shuffle through dark, deserted churches.

The particular expressions in which popular esteem for the presidency and for the person inhabiting that office have evolved and adapted through the centuries. The first presidents exercised significantly weaker power than their contemporaries do today yet they monopolized the American consciousness during times of upheaval. Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln in particular enjoyed relative popularity during their presidencies: Jackson as a war hero, whereas Lincoln eventually was held in awed regard by the end. At the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, The Washington Times wrote on the occasion:

‘The President breathed his last at 2:15 o’clock this morning. Words of consolation to his wife were the last that passed his lips. They came as a gentle farewell to the American people whom he loved so well, and of whose manhood he was so fine a type…Only three times from the moment he received his death wound did he speak of him who so wantonly struck him down, and it was characteristic of the President’s magnanimous character that in each instance his words were those of pity for what he, in his broad charity, regarded as the delusion of a misguided youth.’

The obituary continues in the most prolific and glowing terms of the late president’s saintliness. His memory was accorded the sonorous adulation which had and has even at the present age come to be regarded as due to a deceased president.

It was during the presidency of Bill Clinton that the popular presidency as we know it today took shape. In previous administrations, presidents were at the mercy of voter sentiment during election season; however, the Monica Lewinsky scandal thrust the president’s personal life into the homes of American citizens to examine, debate, and gossip over well beyond the slated election cycle. The effect was that the president had become the star in an American soap opera.

At the time of his impeachment proceedings, Bill Clinton is said to have told his advisors that he was contemplating resigning as Richard Nixon had in 1974. Nevertheless, he confronted his political adversaries and defeated the impeachment accusations. For this, his party was rewarded in the 1998 midterm elections with gains in the House and Senate. As events unfolded, he realised that the voters held him in affectionate regard as a man, as distinct from holding him in respect, or even awe, as a president.

From an outsider’s view, one could easily be forgiven for expecting demonstrations of hostility or at any rate ridicule against a president who cheated on his wife with a 22 year old college intern in the Oval Office. Instead, to the political establishment’s amazement, he was acclaimed with delight in American homes. If the majority of people sympathized with and took the president to their hearts in spite of, or perhaps because of, the similarities in American marital and sexual mores, then, surely, it might be confidently assumed that the whole population were solidly behind the president. Louis XIV of France made the claim: ‘L’état, c’est moi”. I and the state are one and the same. Bill Clinton found himself in a position to claim: ‘I and the people are one and the same.’

If Bill Clinton found himself the unexpected object of authentic popular affection, Barack Obama was idolised as few men ever have been. For millions of Americans, he was more than the inhabitant of the White House—the most powerful office in the world. He represented their own hopes of a better, kinder, more left-wing way of life than they had hitherto known. His personality became a sort of utopian drama against which global events and world leaders were measured. His fame and the time in which he became president were indissolubly connected. After the extraordinarily contentious Bush years, Obama, like so many of his contemporaries, was apt to confuse aspiration and achievement—to assume that human ills would all dissolve in the sunshine of good intentions. When he said, in the course of a visit to depressed areas of Detroit, that “something” must be done, everyone fallaciously assumed that something would be done. Had his presidency been more prosperous, he might have achieved Kennedy-esque stature, but he lacked the humility to be a president who turned thoughts and intentions into reality. Instead, he basked in the spotlight as his people’s idol, unwilling to upset the apple cart and risk unpopularity by getting into the muck of governing.

Yet, in attempting not to upset the cart, upset it he certainly did. In leaving his people and relinquishing the destiny upon which he so dazzlingly embarked, he confronted the presidency with what seemed an insoluble problem of how to transition from an idolised man by the establishment to a brusque billionaire, an arduous septuagenarian. To the surprise of the American establishment, the transfer as we have seen over the past months, was achieved without significant difficulty, though perhaps raucous grumbling. The new president attended what has become a de facto coronation and is beloved by Middle America. President Trump, along with his wife and family, held the center stage. Despite Obama’s withdrawal from the cast as its leading actor, the show went on playing to a packed house. Today, a solid majority, nearly 60%, of the American populace approves of President Trump according to a Rasmussen poll.

For months, President Trump and his supporters announced that a new Age of Trump was to be expected. Such a prospect, in the circumstances of minimal economic or foreign policy successes, was alluring and Trump and his consort fit well into the expectation of a new springtime in public affairs. President Trump alone constitutes a kind of a presidential soap opera unto himself, whose interests never seem to flag even though the successive installments might be somewhat monotonous. Sophisticated observers might marvel at the appeal of so invariable a theme, but the general public continues to be enthralled almost to the point of hysteria.

Such is the popular presidency. It has its charm and utility. A largely materialistic society like ours has a natural propensity to hero worship, and the image of a presidential family is not a bad way of satisfying it. The presidency in a way provides a sort of substitute or ersatz religion. One could almost be forgiven for thinking the president practically ruled through divine right. Today, with the imperial presidency creeping into legislative affairs via pens and phones, Congress struggles to remind presidents that Congress does not advise but rather legislates. However, in an era where presidents are hailed as ‘The Anointed One’, he is practically God’s viceroy, and, as such, is not susceptible to interference by mortal men. When a president rules over the hearts of men, it is inevitable that the focus of interest should be transferred from the office to the person.

For the current occupant of the White House, it is Trump, himself, his family, and his way of life which holds the public attention. The presidency has amassed such power both socially and constitutionally that the person inhabiting the office becomes, in himself, wondrous. If he were ordinary, he would be nothing. Almost two dozen Republicans ran against Donald Trump in the primaries and quickly melted away when they were deemed mundane or banal by the public. Now, President Trump’s raison d’être is to be president and presidential. That is to say, he must be alluring, removed from the necessities and inadequacies of ordinary men—a creature of this world in the sense that he has a home, a wife and children, and yet not quite of this world in that he is president.

Yet it would be a mistake to assume from the adulation shown the presidency, the security of the office. Popularity, like patriotism, is not enough. Any earthly image is an extremely unsound focus for hysterical feeling. History shows that institutions survive only to the degree that they fulfill an authentic purpose. The American presidency indeed fulfills a purpose though perhaps too large a purpose in a system with coequal branches of government. Conversely, the presidency theoretically provides a head of state transcending the lower politicians who tend to ‘ebb and flow by the moon’ as King Lear so wonderfully said. The past three presidents all won second terms which expresses that continuity which has enabled America to survive the French and Russian Revolutions, a civil war, and two ruinous world wars without being torn asunder. But the function of the presidency must not only be fulfilled, it must be seen to be fulfilled. The president, in other words, must be put across not only as an effective businessman who is able to win hearts through his achievements. He must be put across, as well, as a useful unifying element in a society full of actual and potential discord.

Are his present advisers and his own temperament capable of doing this? In all fairness, it is too early to pass judgment. He will, however, need men and women who understand what the twenty-first century is about and what the role of a president at such a time ought to be; men and women who can deal with the internet and news cycle side of his existence subtly and sensibly, without losing sight of the great symbolic utility of the institution he embodies; men and women who are living in the present age which has been shaped by the fleeting desires of the populace. The American people are the authors of their own leadership; they anoint their own ruling class. They need only thank themselves for the fruits of a popular presidency.

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Black and Blue: Repairing the Bruised Relationship Between the Police and African-Americans in America

by Derek Eggleston, a second year International Relations student. He is currently interning on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. and focuses on U.S. Foreign Policy. Connect at https://www.linkedin.com/in/derekeggleston

20150305-race-and-police-630x420

 

As an African-American student in Europe, I am always asked about the apparent racial animus that permeates news from my country. Experiencing the recent events from a place of juxtaposition—one who fiercely loves his country but as a black person is painfully aware of its shortcomings—I have been forced to reconcile what I see on the news with the supposed ideals of liberty and equality that America has stood for. These seemingly contradictory ideals can be reconciled, however, if we take the time to listen and articulate a path forward. This article will first outline some of the problems with the legal system before analysing the shortcomings of movements such as Black Lives Matter (BLM) before discussing a possible framework for the advancement of civil rights in the U.S.

Time and time again, the black community is thrown into mourning. Whether it is over to the countless lives lost in urban America centres like Chicago, or the lives lost to those meant to be serving and protecting us, our present is not hopeless but is to an extent the continuation of the plight we have lived through in America’s history. The personal experiences of racism I have encountered as well as the extreme rates of poverty, incarceration, and police brutality appear to paint a bleak picture for a society founded upon its ideals of inclusiveness and liberty for all.

How is this allowed in the U.S. justice system? The answer is that laws are largely based on perception—the cop’s perception, that is. The cop’s perception of danger—substantiated or not—is, in the current legal system, a legitimate defense to avoid prosecution in many instances [1]. However, perception is clearly an arbitrary concept that is open to bias: “When almost 90 percent of white people in America who take the Implicit Association Test show an inherent racial bias for white people versus black people, that means something” [2]. These numbers make it very plausible that when a cop performs his routine duties, interactions with black citizens will be perceived as more threatening than they may be. This perception is then accepted as a legal defense. Effectively, racial bias is indirectly accepted as a legal vindication of the actions of cops.

The other issue is that of proportionate responses—or, the lack thereof. This one is not just a legal issue, but is a mindset one as well. In an international student orientation event with the UK police, one key thing we were told about all interactions with others and the cops is that the response must be proportionate. Seems reasonable, right? In the minds of many in the U.S. regarding cop interactions, this does not exist. Whenever a black man is gunned down there seems to be this false dichotomy that we must determine whether he was completely innocent or guilty and these are black and white. In some instances, such as Philando Castile, the court of public opinion decides he did absolutely nothing wrong therefore did not deserve his fate. However, in other situations people look at the smallest shortcoming as justification for brutality. In response to Mike Brown people said, “He may have stolen a cigar, he should have been following the law”. For Walter Scott people said, “He shouldn’t have run from the cop and should have complied”. And for Laquan McDonald, they say, “He shouldn’t have had a knife”. I am sorry, but since when did theft, running away, or simple possession of a knife warrant the death penalty? Common discourse is seriously flawed and needs to discover a sense of respect for proportionate responses. These scenarios are not black or white where either the suspect is innocent or deserves to die. There are many shades of grey in-between the two, which justly represent a way to deal with black Americans who are doing something they should not be—other than unloading a gun into their body.

These are the problems, so why don’t we fix them? The answer is, we are trying, but not doing so effectively. The problem has to do with the structuring of society which allows for innate biases to permeate society so greatly that they can be present in numbers at 90%+ and can give way to legal justification of murder. However, to combat this, movements have largely gotten it wrong. There are plenty of motivated, brilliant, loving members of BLM who want to see a better future. I myself support the movement in theory: Black Lives Matter and the way our society is structured does not always recognise this fact. However, the movement gets it wrong on many fronts. First off, we must ask: why do so many people disagree with BLM or respond with ‘all lives matter’? People believe the movement is a collection of angry individuals with no end goal in sight, a guise for anti-cop hatred. In the 1960’s extremist groups such as the Black Panthers existed but were not able to drown out the peaceful and just cause of civil rights under Dr. King, so why today is it that concern over the extreme, anti-cop wings of the movement have over-shadowed the legitimate calls to action by millions of sane minorities with legitimate grievances? The movement lacks: moments, leadership, and end goals. Dr. King shook the nation and mankind when he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and proclaimed to the world his dream of equality. Moments like this and leadership which relentlessly worked with government ultimately manifested itself in clear end goals: most notably The Civil Rights Act of 1964. Who is that voice today for BLM? Who will step up and take a place in the halls of history to firmly proclaim and echo the sentiments of famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison that we will not equivocate a single inch until equality is recognised? Leadership in BLM is unorganised at best and, furthermore, there is a refusal on the part of many to engage with mainstream institutions. Advancement for our people in history has not come through shying away from the mainstream institutions we perceive to be the oppressor but rather through direct engagement with these institutions. BLM cannot turn its back on law enforcement and politicians if it is to achieve any of the goals it claims to have.

Then what is the way forward when the country has a clear racial bias, and those on the wrong end of this stick have been failed by the movements of social change which seek to rectify their oppression? First off, clear reform is necessary. Cops have a hard job and a dangerous one. As Obama noted recently, the fear blue families have for their loved ones is not dissimilar to the fear black mothers and fathers feel when their teenage son goes out at night. However, the danger of the job should not be a justification for a legal system based on perception. Furthermore, the perception in the first place needs to change, 90% of Americans should not hold intrinsic bias against African Americans. If those numbers exist, how can we get fair treatment when applying for a job or putting our hands on a cop car? However, this bias cannot be dealt with until it is accepted. People stipulate we have come a long way, but this should not be a catalyst for stagnation. We came a long way from 1860 to 1960 but it did not justify Jim Crow laws. We have come a long way from 1960 to 2016 but it does not justify the bias and discrimination our data trends indicate. We must accept this bias to combat it structurally. Furthermore to accept it people have to believe that the message of change isn’t an extreme, Panther-like one but is a peaceful, King-like one. To do this BLM and similar groups must organise and take centre stage. Make clear your demands and demand them.

America has come a long way in 240 years. Nothing worth fighting for in its history has ever been achieved through abandoning the principles which make us American. The founders wrongfully left out many groups of the civil society they created; however, it was the methodology employed by the founders which could be used as a framework to later expand these rights, that they wrongfully limited, to new groups [3]. Citing the Constitution, loving American ideals and engaging with society is how suffragettes got women the vote, abolitionists got freedom and civil rights supporters got legal recognition. We must embrace these things ingrained in who we are and the foundations of our institutions. We must engage with society around us and not isolate ourselves. We must be forceful, persistent, and not equivocate a single inch in order to heal the bruises that plague America today and the bruises that have plagued us African Americans for so long.

Sources:

[1]Goldstein, Joseph. “Is a Police Shooting a Crime? It Depends on the Officer’s Point of View.” The New York Times. July 28, 2016. Accessed August 06, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/29/nyregion/is-a-police-shooting-a-crime-it-depends-on-the-officers-point-of-view.html?_r=0.

[2] Nesbit, Jeff. “America Has a Big Race Problem.” US News. March 28, 2016. Accessed August 02, 2016. http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-03-28/america-has-a-big-race-problem.

[3] Stein, Jeff. “The American Revolution Was a Huge Victory for Equality. Liberals Should Celebrate It.” Vox. July 03, 2016. Accessed August 02, 2016. http://www.vox.com/2016/7/3/12062334/american-revolution-liberals.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

With Yemen, “one step away from famine” according to the UN, what prospects are there for the Saudi & Iran led coalitions in the conflict?

By Nahil Nassar, a 1st Year IR Student in King’s College London from Egypt.

yemen-children

Since before my lifetime, the Middle East – once home to some of the greatest minds and civilizations in history – has generally been no stranger to the poison of political corruption, veiled agendas, and a general disregard for human rights. The Arab Spring of 2011, however, began leading the region into an optimistic era that would put an end to political oppression. It would be a time remembered for inspiring dormant voices to awaken, finally free to sing their songs of liberty. That was, until shit hit the fan. The lethal civil conflicts in states such as Syria and more recently Yemen, being key examples of revolutionary hope gone horribly wrong.

Both conflicts not only share a past in tyranny, but an equally shaky future which seems to rest in the hands of everyone except the liberty singers. In the special and recent case of Yemen, Saudi Arabia (supporting the Sunni pre-revolutionary government) and Iran (continuously affiliated with the Shia Houthi “rebels”) seem to hold the most tangible interests in keeping their (alleged) allies in power, some even going so far as to claim that the people’s war is not for the people at all, but a proxy war for both historically adverse countries.

Nonetheless, with the growing humanitarian concern regarding the lives of those stuck in the crossfires, international actors grow increasingly uneasy at the impending possibility of this war being dragged on any longer, people like Johannes Van Der Klaauw, UN Humanitarian Coordinator, labelling the situation a “humanitarian catastrophe.”[1]

Will the exponentially growing number of children orphaned or dead be enough to end the internationally led bloodshed? Will Tehran and Riyadh finally be able to put aside its long-lasting competition to save the lives of millions of Yemeni families?

Probably not.

How Yemen turned into a political battlefield

In March 2015, a sea of citizens swarmed the streets of Yemen, having built the strength in 2011 to revolt against any government unable to meet their expectations. Following the capture of beleaguered President Abdrubbah Mansour Hadi by Shia rebel forces – known as Houthis – the majority of north Yemen fell under Houthi siege. However, shortly after, Hadi fled to his hometown of Aden, located in the south of Yemen, where he nationally broadcasted his legitimacy as president and public opposition to the Houthis, escalating an already unstable national situation into a chaotic clash between supporters and armies of both political parties[2].

gasghk

Naturally, as a Sunni leader, Hadi was immediately backed by Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), among which are most other Arab countries, such as Egypt and Jordan. Seeing this, the international community has grown suspicious of Iran’s role in the civil war, due to their religious ties to the Shia Houthis and long standing “regional Cold War” with the Saudi Kingdom[3]. However, no known evidence has been released and denial of any military support to Houthi armies has been repeatedly insisted by Iranian officials, despite prevalent verbal condemnations of Hadi and his supporters publicized by the Iranian government.

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is a different story.

After little, if any, diplomatic attempts to return Yemen to Hadi’s government, Saudi Arabia began air strikes in areas controlled by the Houthis, taking little consideration for “collateral damage” along the way. Though the air strikes were officially terminated in April 2015, they continue to this day under different “operations”, in an attempt to discourage Houthi efforts of sieging southern Yemen and withdrawing their forces from Yemeni soil all together[4].

While a total of 9 countries around the GCC and Middle East have created a coalition with the kingdom, countries like Oman[5] have attempted to bridge the gap between the two adversaries through peace plans. With their efforts unsuccessful, one must ask…

Why is Yemen such an investment to either country?

As with most international interventions in areas of conflict, the intentions overtly displayed by outsiders often fail to show the full story. Though Iran and Saudi Arabia may claim to have dug their feet into their political positions in this conflict on the notion of doing what they believe “right” by the Yemeni public, it is clear to most political analysts that there may be more behind this than meets the eye.

In the case of Iran, their interest is simple; location, location, location. With a Shia government in power, Yemen would become a key asset in Iran’s power struggle within the region. With an ally so near to Saudi Arabian borders, Iran would have instant influence in the kingdom’s political decisions in conflict zones such as Syria and Iraq, unlocking doors to friends in high places[6].

To Saudi political leaders, the very thing that could drive Iran to power could be the beginning of their end. Such close proximity to the monarchy’s territory could lead to a contagion of AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) support within Saudi Arabia, thanks to their abundant presence within Yemen. Furthermore, as recent statistical evidence attests, weapon smuggling between members of Houthis and Iran seems to be a growing industry, an unquestionable security threat for Saudi Arabia, who shares a “porous 1,770km southern border with Yemen”, and who considers Yemen to be “easy prey for Tehran to penetrate and manipulate”[7].

With such high stakes and opportunities for each respective country, it would appear that the prospect of an end to Saudi and (theoretically) Iranian coalitions is virtually non-existent. However, could growing international concern for the humanitarian consequences change Yemen’s apparently terminal destiny?

“4/5 Yemeni’s Now Need Humanitarian Aid.”

vfhhdk

One does not need more than a beating heart and a glimmer of conscience to realize that human suffering should never be warranted, that a mother watching her bundle of joy dying of starvation is never okay. But being so far removed from the Yemeni conflict, it can be easy to trick ourselves into thinking “16 million”, “7,655”, “8,875”, “14.4 million”, “2 million”, “70” and “90” are just numbers on a piece of paper. But think again.

Almost 16 million were in need of humanitarian aid before conflict had even begun[8]. According to the UN, 7,655 are the number of civilian causalities recorded between the 26th of March and 16th of October 2015, at least 505 below the age of 18[9]. 8,875 are the number of human rights violations reported as of November 18th[10]. 14.4 million are how many Yemeni citizens are now considered food insecure, 2 million acutely malnourished[11]. 70 are the number of humanitarian organizations attempting to gain any access into Yemeni borders and waterways to provide the aid that is so desperately needed[12].

90% is the percentage of food import Yemen once relied on to feed its people. After the air strikes began and fighting around the port of Aden became prominent, all but a few ships were allowed into Yemeni waters, halting imports of food and destroying any chances of mass nourishment, thus placing the Yemeni population near famine[13].

And the numbers continue to rise.

Will Enough Finally Be Enough?

With numbers rising as fast as they are, it becomes harder to block out the eerie similarity between conditions in Yemen and Syria today. The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross seemed to find it difficult as well, for after returning from a visit in August, it was observed that “Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years”[14].

And guess who have their fingers in that war too?

Saudi Arabia and Iran’s refusal to place their petty power games on hold, despite international pressure for a resolution to be found for all parties, leaves no point of reference to indicate that either country has any intention of backing down from their respective support in Yemen either – at least not for the sake of humanitarian concern.

While eager talks between Iranian and Saudi foreign ministers have been at play with the possibility of a more fruitful relationship blossoming, events like the Saudi ordered execution of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr in January of 2016[15] suggests the opposite.

Attempting to stay optimistic in the wake of the Kingdom’s recent economic downturn, all hope may not be lost. Though the air strikes may not end for the sake of humanity, the thinning number of royal paychecks might. In 2015, Saudi Arabia managed to gather the highest budget deficit in decades at nearly $100 billion, constituting 15% of its GDP, and this is only getting worse[16]. With the increasing instability of oil markets, and lacking investment into other industries, the former richest country in the region may need to resort to taxing its people, who would then get to have an actual say in national matters. Gasp! Needless to say, Saudi Arabian leaders may not be loving that idea. Thus, dropping the costs inflicted by the civil war may be the only solution for now.

As for Iran, with no real evidence of any coalition happening with Houthi forces, not much can be questioned as of yet.

We’ve Lost Sight of What Matters

Yemen has been cursed with turmoil for decades, with a weakly calculated attempt to unify a marginalized south and heavily populated north in the First Gulf War era, a weak economy, and a relationship with Saudi Arabia on thin ice.

Today, Iran and the Kingdom’s interests in Yemen are political, economic, and strategic. It doesn’t seem to be the one thing it should: Humane.

As governments that claim to be international leaders in the Islamic faith – known to most as a moral faith – it is disheartening to see such immoral priorities in action; money and power are placed above peace and compassion. It appears that we’ve lost sight of the people who need support in the first place: Yemeni families fighting for the future of their children.

sds

 Saudi Arabian and Iranian differences need to be pushed aside if we want to actively put an end to disorder in the Middle East. As Anwar Sadat, a loved Egyptian leader of a better time, quoted:

“There can be hope only for a society which acts as one big family, not as many separate ones.”[17]

Sources:

[1] “Yemen Crisis: How Bad Is the Humanitarian Crisis?” BBC News. BBC Newsnight, 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

[2] “Yemen Crisis: Who Is Fighting Whom?” BBC News. BBC, 26 Mar. 2015. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.

[3] Reardon, Martin. “Saudi Arabia, Iran and the ‘Great Game’ in Yemen.” AlJazeera. N.p., 26 Mar. 2015. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.

[4] Gatehouse, Gabriel. “Inside Yemen’s Forgotten War.” BBC News. BBC Newsnight, 1 Sept. 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

[5] “Oman Offers Seven-point Peace Plan for Yemen.” Alarby. N.p., 24 Apr. 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

[6] Reardon, Martin. “Saudi Arabia, Iran and the ‘Great Game’ in Yemen.” AlJazeera. N.p., 26 Mar. 2015. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Yemen Crisis: How Bad Is the Humanitarian Crisis?” BBC News. BBC Newsnight, 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] “Yemen Crisis: How Bad Is the Humanitarian Crisis?” BBC News. BBC Newsnight, 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

[15] Sinclair, Harriet. “Nimr Al-Nimr Execution: Former Iraq PM Al-Maliki Says Death Will ‘topple Saudi Regime'” Independent. N.p., 2 Jan. 2016. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.

[16] Nasser, Amal. “How Long Can Saudi Arabia Afford Yemen War?” Al Monitor – Gulf Pulse. N.p., 21 Jan. 2016. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.

[17] Cochran, Judith. “VII. The Educational Open Door Policy 1970-1983.” Educational Roots of Political Crisis in Egypt. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2008. 76. Print.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Divided European Society and Why Defeating ISIS is Not Good Enough

by Nora Bohlin Andersen and Millie Radovic, both second year BA International Relations students at the War Studies Department of King’s College London.

12272922_10207768361387820_1583723157_n (1)Radical. The Oxford Dictionary has many definitions for this term, but arguably one is most appropriate here: ‘A person who advocates thorough or complete political or social reform.’ If you agree with the OD, and think we fit into this category, please feel free to expose us for what we are.

It is radicalisation, the process of adopting extreme political, social, and/or religious ideals and aspirations, that we want to discuss. According to some scholars this word is arguably “code for ‘that which cannot be spoken about’”. It is precisely this taboo-like character that arguably drives it in the first place, which is exactly why we feel it must be addressed.

In contrast, terrorism, or ‘the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims’, according to the OD, is notoriously the most easily thrown around word, associated blindly by ill informed civilians with concepts and practices not related to it.

Evolution of threats

Frankly speaking, terrorism is a physical consequence and manifestation of radicalization itself. Terrorism in our (Western) societies is today almost exclusively a practice employed by the radicalized, whether these are islamic fundamentalists or right wing extremists. Originally it was conceptualized as a practice of asymmetric warfare, most often used by inferior actors in a conflict. It is indeed easy to see it is a tactic employed by insurgents, separatists, and even some civil rights movements as it still at times is. But, today, from where we’re standing – yes here in London, terrorism used by radicalized individuals is the largest danger our society faces today.

We’ve seen this in 2004, 2005, 2011, 2015, and frankly in smaller doses in every other year of the 21st century.

Following the Paris attacks last week, it is more clear than ever that our policy, to defeat ISIS because of its zero-sum fundamental aspiration of eradicating all that don’t comply to its extremist practices and views, moreover our general policy to ‘destroy terrorists’, is simply not good enough.

We have been right to recognise socio-economic problems as factors that breed terrorism.

But, we must remember not to geographically associate terrorism in our back yards with issues in the Middle East. Yes there are domestic problems in Iraq, Syria,Yemen, Libya, Egypt and many other countries that breed terrorist action there (whether by the so called Islamic State, separatists, or insurgents).

However, this is not the case with Europe. Our chief threat in terms of terrorism comes from within. It is homegrown terrorism that has been most prominent in the form of lone wolf attacks. And problems in our society are the ones we must address to deal with this, not just those abroad. Not because issues abroad are less important or European lives are more ‘valuable’, but because action abroad can only get us so far. ‘Destroying’ ISIS as a physical entity would arguably not be difficult. But it certainly would not destroy the idea it champions and how much it resonates with individuals in Europe. It might as well just increase its prominence. We have to look within our societies and examine the reasons why someone ends up conforming to a radical ideology, whether it’s right wing extremism or islamic fundamentalism.

Switching off

Arguably, “radicalization starts from social disengagement” and hence “a rejection of mainstream culture, ideas and norms”. How so?

Kenan Malik has convinced us in arguing that detachment of individuals from society has lead to the loss of an identity and hence those without a feeling of belonging to their communities identifying themselves with radical movements in the darkest possible ways. Radicalization does not happen within the epicentre of society, it happens somewhere else. Within the walls of someone’s apartment, on forums in social media, or maybe in complete solitude on a farm somewhere in rural Norway.

Radicalization can most certainly spread in different directions. The most prominent example of right wing radicalization follows the same narrative as the ones described by Malik. It starts with a man living his life largely isolated and interacting mostly with others over the internet develops a fucked up view on society. He writes a manifesto calling for putting a stop to multiculturalism, opposing Islam and getting rid of all immigrants. He then decides to translate his views into action and goes on a rampage ending up killing 77 innocent people.

How did we get here?

Whether through aggressive assimilation, overt political correctness, or crude separatism – we, Europeans, have collectively made mistakes with our social policies. The failure of multiculturalism as a policy is seen in: ‘fragmented societies, alienated minorities, and resentful citizenries’. This is most certainly not a critique of Europe’s multicultural body, but of the social policies its governments have put in place to manage it and the resulting process within civil society that has left Europe as a society divided. This tension connected to an increasingly pluralistic society only seems to get reinforced every time an act of violence occurs.

And hence, right wing populism is on the rise in Europe. Recently, we have seen an increase in support for PEGIDA, increased violence where refugees are the victims or actions like setting reception centres in Sweden on fire.

While the aims of their violence appear political, certainly Kenan is right in saying that ‘politics of ideology have given way to politics of identity’. Society has become more about individuals defining ‘who they are’ and conforming to one already set out identity instead of moulding their own.

But again, why are we talking about all of this?

It is easy to see that these deep-rooted problems in the region we call our home are helping the so called Islamic State, even Boko Haram, recruit foreign fighters; they are spurring lone wolf attacks such as the above (which make up most of the terrorist attacks within the Western world) all because they facilitate if not breed fundamentalism.

Increased air strikes, reform within our intelligence communities, and especially multilateralism in terms of our policy on Syria’s civil war, are all justifiable concrete steps in dealing with what is becoming a defining problem of 21st century’s international relations. But they are not good enough on their own. We must look within our own back yards too. If not first, then simultaneously.

Ok, so we’ve identified radicalisation as the key cause of homegrown terrorism in Europe. What will blocking borders, increasing surveillance, and censoring anything we deem politically incorrect do to address this? Nothing. What we need for starters is more openness and dialogue.

We understand that contemporary efforts at fairly controversial counterterrorist practices such as mass surveillance, mass censoring, profiling of potential state enemies and much more are human responses to the feeling of perpetual insecurity. But surely, it is not difficult to notice that suppressing radicalisation simply breeds more of it, which breeds more populism and so on in a vicious cycle.

Speaking freely, debating ideas, expressing grievances, and protesting inequalities – whether they are political, economic, social or cultural for that matter – are what modern day Europe was built on. Turning our back on these liberal practices is what facilitates the dark process of detachment and radicalization in the first place. This is exactly why we must not allow for it to keep happening and why we must encourage dialogue, arguments, criticism, and all that comes from completely natural diversity.

Fixing a broken society?

Malik argues that ‘Europe needs not so much new state policies as a renewal of civil society’. He recognises mistakes in different states’ immigration and social policies, yet puts the responsibility not only onto governments, but those that they serve. We, those that make up the civil society, and especially we, the generation of social networks, globalization, and third culture prevalence, are most responsible for our society’s future path.

We don’t need to reiterate that migration is not just an inescapable, but a fascinating and impressive consequence of globalization worth celebrating. That we hope those reading are aware of by now. It is not the process which we must halt or fix, but how it is managed, and concretely how societies are justly integrated. Successful integration, Kenan argues, is shaped by ‘the individual bonds that people form with one another, and by the organizations they establish to further their shared political and social interests’.

The only way these bonds may begin and continue to form in such a way that strengthens our society, and decreases the room for radicalization is through open dialogue, through policies celebrating multiculturalism’s actual diversity (not its tendency to institutionalize differences), and harnessing assimilationism’s resolve to treat everyone as equal citizens, not generalised groups, (not its tendency to construct national identities by marking certain groups as alien to nations).

It is certain that globalization has unintentionally fostered the current identity crisis on individual, local, and international levels. Social media has facilitated detachment from society of those who feel they don’t belong, financial crises have left some feeling hopeless, and the Internet has opened up a Pandora box giving all those using it access to all the good, and all the horrible that faces of humanity have to offer. But this does not mean that we should reject it. Let’s harness the products of globalization that have divided our society and use them to create a U-turn and some sense of legitimate civil society that can withstand the perils of the likes of ISIS.

Lastly, we realise our article does not come with outlined policy recommendations. Frankly, no scholar we follow has come up with any concrete ones, and countless hours of talking about this have still left us without much. However, here we seek to point out these deeper societal issues, to encourage a dialogue that can eventually lead to policy recommendations and progress we speak of above.

 

SOURCES:

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/terrorism

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/radical#radical__2

http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/06/27/can-france-fix-its-homegrown-terror-problem-lyon-yassin-sahli/

https://kenanmalik.wordpress.com

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/western-europe/2015-03-01/failure-multiculturalism

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-34832512

http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/11/17/frances-real-problems-are-getting-lost-in-the-fog-of-war-paris-airstrikes-islamic-state/

http://www.visionofhumanity.org/global-terrorism-index#/page/our-gti-findings

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,