Tag Archives: society

Venezuela and Democratic Authoritarianism

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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

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The Fruits of a Popular Presidency

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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.

 

 

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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

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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.

 

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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.

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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].

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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.”

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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.

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 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.

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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

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