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Algeria’s presidential elections: a litany of failures by the political class has wasted a golden opportunity for change

8 hours 22 min ago
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pTaking place sixty years since the Algerian revolution, today’s presidential elections presented the perfect occasion for the country to turn a new leaf after decades of mismanagement and stagnation. Instead, a litany of political and moral failures by the political class./p /div /div /div pOn paper, Algeria’s presidential election, due to take place today, Thursday April 17, could plausibly be decreed the region’s most important in years. It is certainly treated as such in a number of a href= capitals/a, which have been sending discreet (and less so) water-testing missions for a while now. Algeria is a pivotal player on a number of key regional and international hot fronts: from counter-terrorism, to a href= security/a, to migration, to the environment, to the tribulations of global capitalism. What happens to the country in the coming few weeks, months and years, will likely have repercussions far beyond the tidy confines of an electoral window./p pAnd yet, anyone who has been paying attention to the April 17 countdown - particularly a href= circus histrionics of official campaigning/a since February - would be forgiven for thinking this was an inconsequential bit of provincial kabuki. The campaign has lurched from one farcical episode to the next, including a href= indiscretions/a by campaign managers, popular electoral gatherings a href= any people in attendance/a, surreal TV ‘debates’ where bemused political dissidents are asked to a href= between ‘Algeria’ and ‘Democracy/a', politically-estranged ministers criss-crossing the country in tandem a href= for the same candidate/a, not to mention a runaway favourite a href= public appearances are of such rarity/a they’ve turned into a href=, half-macabre/a happenings.nbsp;/p pOf course, rather than a credible contest pitting a href= viable pretenders/a, the 2014 elections were always destined to be a popular referendum on the past record - and future legacy - of the one candidate a href= have already accepted/a as the inevitable winner, presidential incumbent Abdelaziz Bouteflika. In power since his election to a first term in 1999, and already the country’s longest serving leader, the 77-year-old has had a rather eventful 12 months. Having suffered a minor stroke a year ago - which consigned him to a 3-month hospital stay in Paris - he has spent much of the period since his return in June 2013 trying to shore up his position at the helm of the Algerian governing ship. Seeing him as fatally weakened, many thought the prospect of a fourth term no longer thinkable, and the outspoken nature of such scepticism presaged a palace mutiny. Instead, a href= took everyone by surprise/a with a brutal and wide-ranging summer reshuffle at the heart of the state apparatus, chiefly an attempt to cut his key rivals within the DRS (secret services), the FLN and the army, down to size. Whatever Bouteflika’s plans for 2014 were, a side-door gentle exit was not one of them./p pMost of the traditional parties, of both Islamist and secularist tendencies have long ago announced their boycott of the elections, declaring them electoral frauds-in-waiting. However, the boycotters’ rallying cry has not been served by their past dalliances with the Bouteflika court, with both the a href=, a secular party largely anchored in the Kabylie region, and the MSP (the closest thing Algeria has to a Muslim Brotherhood franchise) having taken part in ruling coalitions during Bouteflika’s earlier terms in office./p pMeanwhile, Ali Benflis, Bouteflika’s former ally and only serious rival, has clearly refused to accept the emfait-accompli /emnarrative. The Benflis candidacy has proven especially hard to decrypt for analysts. An Algiers-based activist told me he thought Benflis was a em‘roue de secour’/em (a spare tyre) for the regime, “just in case”. However, everyone seems to agree that Benflis is a candidate with far too much pedigree to join a contest with a foregone conclusion. Indeed, he has been presenting himself in many ways as a “safe” alternative that would shake the nation’s political boat while ensuring it wouldn’t sink. Asked two days ago whether he a href= fomenting civil unrest with his warnings/a that millions would flood the streets if rigging took place, he declared a href=“emLa stabilité, c’est moi!/em”/a. In this light, one cannot exclude the possibility, however remote, of an upset.nbsp;/p pUnsurprisingly, Benflis’s message, and that of his fellow contenders, has been explicitly framed around the need for change – and his social media strategy has been openly, if rather ambitiously, mapped on Obama’s 2008 youth-courting triumph. However, having been Bouteflika’s campaign director in 1999 and his first prime minister before a famous falling-out, Benflis’s reincarnation as anti-system outsider has proved a tough sell for many, especially amongst the youth. He is hardly alone in this, of course. The vehemence of the disdain in which most of the population holds the political class is hard to exaggerate. One of the few consolations in an otherwise depressing political soap opera of bewildering mediocrity has been the emergence across social media of a vibrant and creative community of activists, artists and engaged citizens who have managed a href= channel their dissent/a into an entire countercultural ecosystem of spoofs, parodies and subversive political commentary that has captured the popular zeitgeist with its a href= inventive/a humour and youthful bravura./ppMeanwhile, the authorities have struggled to keep pace. Having used violence and intimidation a href= crush dissent for decades/a, it has found it especially difficult to adapt to a new era where a policeman’s wayward baton is likely to end up in a YouTube exposé. The dependable spectres of “destabilisation”, “foreign hands” and “enemies of the revolution”, staple ingredients of official propaganda for decades, have lost their sobering mystique, and can today hardly be mentioned without evoking self-parodic connotations.nbsp;/p pFaced with what seems like another meaningless electoral charade, with an outcome a href= both irrevocable and irrelevant/a, many in Algeria’s civil society - notably youth activists - have been trying their best to upset yet another coronation. March saw the first major street protests in the capital since 2011, with activists beaten and many arrested. a href= marched/a in the Kabylie towns of Tizi-Ouzou and Bejaia on Tuesday. Yesterday, another sit-in of the Barakat (“Enough!”) movement in central Algiers a href= violently repressed/a. Although Barakat has attracted most of the headlines, especially those in international coverage, the truth is that grassroots movements across the country have been gathering strength and members for more than a decade. Last year, a href= of thousands marched in cities across the South/a, demanding an end to regional economic injustice, in a movement that continues to grow.nbsp;/p pStill, with no significant political opposition – not least the fragmentation between those against a Bouteflika fourth term and those advocating a wholesale boycott - and no prospects of any such coalition to emerge from the traditional parties anytime soon, it seems that Algeria’s ruling power structure – emLe Pouvoir/em – the fluid but seemingly unmovable network of interests and alliances that has run the country since Independence, is destined to secure another victory by default. Whether by accident or by design, the decision by the Bouteflika camp to delay the announcement of his candidacy until the very last possible moment proved to be one of propitious political timing, leaving too little room for those opposing the fourth mandate to gather the necessary momentum to generate a meaningful opposition.nbsp;/p pBouteflika’s quest for a fourth term - in the face of precarious health troubles and mounting dissent from within - seems both mystifying and inevitable. Some have reached for cod psychological readings to explain such persistence, diagnosing a href= classic case of megalomania/a on the loose, a man so obsessed with his sense of historical mission that he is no longer capable, or willing, to see the writing on the wall - surrounded by ‘advisers’ with questionable judgement, who have their own vested interests to consider./ppHowever, the more mundane truth is that Bouteflika’s fourth mandate gambit is not the result of a consensual choice by Algeria’s warring factions at the centre of power but rather its deferral for another day. The country’s ageing leadership is well aware that time is running out for it to salvage its historical legacy, yet has been so bereft of imagination, political courage and a sense of moral obligation towards future generations, that its only strategy seems to be to press ahead a href= its defence of the status quo/a, regardless of the costs. A number of national figures, notably former premier Mouloud Hamrouche, have called on key national players to a href= the national interest and agree on a road map/a delineating a smooth transition towards democracy, a noble idea but one unlikely to be heeded anytime soon./p pLater this year, on November 1, Algeria will celebrate the sixtieth anniversary since the launch of its victorious armed struggle to overthrow 132 years of French colonial rule. With the country having enjoyed more than a decade of booming oil revenues, and foreign reserves at a healthy 200 billion dollars, the 2014 elections offered a golden opportunity for the old guard to present the country’s youth with the parting gift of a new beginning and a fresh start. Instead, that golden opportunity seems set to be a wasted one. Once again, Algeria’s rising generation, like that of its glorious forebears in 1954, will have to do the job all by itself.nbsp;/pdiv class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Algeria /div /div /div

In Israel, Rabbis for Human Rights address painful paradoxes

9 hours 6 min ago
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right 0'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src= alt= title= width=140 height=93 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xsmall style=//a span class='image_meta'/span/spanIn a world where so much blood is shed for religion, Rabbis for Human Rights believes that the Jewish faith must be a force for human rights. A contribution from Jerusalem to the openGlobalRights debate, a style=font-size: 13px; line-height: 1.5; href= target=_blank“Religion and Human Rights”/aspan style=font-size: 13px; line-height: 1.5;.em a href=ñol/a/em,nbsp;a href= target=_blankעברית/anbsp;/span/p /div /div /div pThere are days when I wake up and say, John Lennon was right. Maybe we really would be better off in a world without nationalism or religion. So much blood has been shed throughout history in the name of these beliefs, especially in my part of the world, the Middle East./p pHere in Israel, we have a thriving if imperfect democracy plagued, as are most democracies, by racism and discrimination. There is democracy in Israel proper, including for those Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. There is no democracy for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, however. Israelis are deeply divided on many key issues. Many support the positions of the organization I have lead for more than 18 years, a href= target=_blankRabbis For Human Rights/a, but ironically most supporting us on the human rights of non-Jews are secular. On issues of socioeconomic rights within Jewish-Israeli society, however, many religious Jews believe, as do we, that it is a Jewish obligation to build a society that cares for its weakest and poorest members. nbsp;spannbsp;/span/p pPainfully for me as a rabbi, however, polls consistently show that religious Jews in Israel are more likely to be racist, xenophobic and opposed to human rights for non-Jews. They are the ideological vanguard behind the settlement movement, believing that the religious obligation to settle the Biblical Land of Israel overrides our religious obligation not to oppress non-Jews. For some, the obligation not to oppress non-Jews is nonexistent./ppspanSo why not just acknowledge reality and work for a world without nations or religion, where we all speak Esperanto?/spanspannbsp;/span/p pHere’s why: Were we to eliminate all the divisions between us tomorrow, we would likely create new ones the very next day. Faith, moreover, is not something one simply turns on and off like a light. And finally, given religion’s tremendous power, it would be a terrible mistake to abandon the field to those who interpret it in xenophobic ways./p h2strongReligion as part of the solution/strong/h2 pSeveral years ago, I attended a conference co-sponsored by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry and an Oslo peace organization. The premise was that, while civil society and diplomats had for years thought that they must circumvent religion to solve conflicts, the diplomatic community had come to realize this wasn't possible, and that religion must become part of the solution./p pAt Rabbis for Human Rights, our first mandate is to prevent or redress human rights abuses. Our second is to introduce to our fellow Jewish-Israelis another way of understanding Judaism, an interpretation very different from that which currently dominates./p pThe dominant understanding is very different from the Judaism I grew up with. In Erie, Pennsylvania, it was simply assumed that a basic part of what it means to be a Jew was to be committed to universal human rights and social justice. This is what I learned from my parents, from my rabbis, from my community. a href= target=_blankPolls consistently show/a that a commitment to justice is a key component of North American Jewish identity./p pFor many years, almost all of Rabbis for Human Rights’ financial and moral support came from Jews in the United States and Canada, particularly from our fellow rabbis. I was truly shocked when I discovered that values axiomatic to me were not shared by all Israeli Jews, especially religious Jews./p pIncreasingly, religious Jews, particularly members of what is called the national religious camp, are socialized into a very problematic mixture of extreme nationalism and Jewish particularism.spannbsp;/span/p pParticularism means that the ultimate value is the survival and wellbeing of the Jewish people. It means that all of the wonderful humanist values and Jewish commandments flowing from the teaching in Genesis 1:27 – that humans are created in God's Image – apply only to our treatment of Jews. Some would not even apply them to all Jews, but only to their own insular community.spannbsp;/span/p pAt Rabbis for Human Rights, however, we note that Genesis doesn't say that only Jews, or only the wealthy, were created in God's Image. The Torah specifically states that both men and women – emall /emmen and women – were created in God's Image.spannbsp;/span/p h2strongCircling the wagons/strong/h2 pAmerican and Canadian Jews who are liberal on just about any other human rights issue are often defensive when it comes to Israel. Unwillingness to confront Israel's treatment of Palestinians is not just a function of religious belief but also of our collective consciousness. This consciousness stems from 2000 years of oppression, along with the ongoing enmity toward Israel in our region and beyond./p pI penned these words shortly before our Jewish holiday of Purim, when we read the Book of Esther, a story about the precariousness of Jewish life when our fate is in the hands of others. In April, the traditional Passover Seder contains the words, In every generation there are those who have risen up to destroy us. These lessons give rise to the strong feeling that Jews must circle their wagons to protect themselves against the non-Jewish world./p pMany Jews who have concerns about human rights issues in Israel keep their thoughts to themselves out of fear that their words will be twisted by those who wish to delegitimize Israel's very existence. They can see those who violate this taboo as traitors. We see this same tendency in many groups with a history of oppression./p pMany Jewish Israelis aspire to be moral and just. Most truly believe that the human rights abuses we talk about are isolated, non-representative incidents that the government is doing everything it can to combat and that we have the most moral army in the world. It is frustrating that they live in a bubble, but it is positive that they aspire to having the most moral army in the world./p pAt Rabbis for Human Rights, our task is to find a way of holding up a mirror to our fellow Jewish Israelis, and to tell them, We know that you aspire to be good and decent people, but take a look at what we are actually doing. Is this who we want to be?/p pEasier said than done, of course. To tell Jewish Israelis that we don't have the most moral army in the world, or that our human rights abuses are often intentional and systematic, is to burst one of their most cherished bubbles. People get angry and resistant when their bubbles are burst./p pRabbis for Human Rights have just completed our 25th anniversary as an organization, and I am proud of the many instances where we have prevented or reversed human rights abuses. Among them:/p olliIn 2002 Palestinians attempting to harvest their olives and those of us acting as human shields to protect them were being shot at, beaten, threatened, etc., without the Israeli security forces intervening. As the result of a 2006 Israeli High Court victory, the army is now protecting Palestinian access to places they couldn't previously reach for as many as 15 years. /liliSignificant tracts of land have been returned to their Palestinian owners. In 2009, Rabbis for Human Rights returned residents to the village of Bir El-Id, abandoned for almost 10 years because of settler intimidation. /liliRabbis for Human Rights helped end the Israeli Wisconsin Plan, a carrot-and-stick approach to returning the unemployed to the workforce that around the world has almost always increased poverty. /li/ol pspanWe have helped to improve the lives of both our fellow Israeli Jews and of the many non-Jews who are part of our society or under our control./spanspannbsp;/span/p pYet I must also acknowledge that few of our successes are connected to the fact that we are rabbis. On April 6, 2014, we marked our anniversary with a panel discussion on what is, could and should be the role of Judaism in the struggle for human rights in Israel. We are still searching for the answers and looking for new ways to better fulfill our mission.spannbsp;/span/p pRabbis for Human Rights was founded in 1988 by a group of Orthodox, Reform and Conservative rabbis led by Rabbi David Forman (may his memory be blessed). In the late 1980s, during the challenging days of the first Palestinian intifada, Rabbi Forman wrote an open letter to Israel's Chief Rabbis, asking why the religious establishment focused almost solely on Sabbath observance and emKashrut/em, our Jewish dietary laws. As important as these things are, Rabbi Forman said, where were rabbis on the burning moral issues of the day? We should not ignore the very real dangers we faced, Rabbi Forman said, but these threats should not be used as an excuse to behave immorally. In the words of Hillel the Elder, If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?nbsp; And if not now, when?nbsp; /p pToday, Rabbis for Human Rights number approximately 100 rabbis from various liberal and Orthodox streams of Judaism, with some 30 full- and part-time staff members. Many of these are rabbis, but some are secular, Christian or Muslim. The organization defines itself as Zionist. We believe, however, that true Zionism, and our self-interest, lies in working for an Israel that is not just physically but morally strong, one that lives up to our highest Jewish values. These values were part of what we dreamed of when we wrote in our Declaration of Independence that Israel would be based on Freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel, and that it would guarantee Total social and political equality for all, regardless of race, nationality or gender.spannbsp;/span/p pA key principle of my Zionism is that I can't ask for myself what I am not prepared to grant to others. This includes the human rights and national aspirations of Palestinians. Rabbis for Human Rights believes that the Occupation must end because it inevitably leads to human rights violations. However, it is beyond our mandate to take a position on a one- or two-state solution, borders, or various possibilities regarding what ending the Occupation might look like.spannbsp;/span/p h2strongA beacon for all/strong/h2 pOur organization is involved in protecting the human rights of both Jewish Israelis and of non-Jews who are a part of our society or under our control. We serve as a beacon for all those Jewish Israelis, religious or secular, who believe that their humanistic values are rooted in Judaism./p pThe national Orthodox community does not like us, and often has misconceptions regarding who and what we are. But they are quite aware that we throw a monkey wrench into the symbiotic relationship they have created between Judaism and all those political positions that are antithetical to human rights./p pRabbis for Human Rights’ work often causes cognitive dissonance, forcing people to reexamine their stereotypes and beliefs. Ironically, we may have been most effective in breaking down Palestinian stereotypes of religious Jews. Many times I have gone to rebuild a demolished home or defend Palestinian human rights, and find that Palestinian parents insist that their son, who wants to grow up and be a terrorist, meet us in order to understand that not all Israelis come with guns to demolish their homes and trample on their human rights.spannbsp;/span/ppspanspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src= alt= title= width=460 height=306 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge style= //a span class='image_meta'/span/spanspan class=image-captionCombatants for Peace, Rabbis for Human Rights and the Israeli Committee against House demolitions held a nonviolent demonstration alongside the inhabitants of Wallaje in Bethlehem province in January 2010.a href=;popup=1 target=_blankRichard Stitt/Demotix./anbsp;All rights reserved./span/span/p h2The one who acts with decency/h2 pFaith has helped me continue in this work for so many years, when many have burned out. We are taught, You are not expected to complete the task by yourself, but neither are you free to desist from doing your part.” We each need to play a role in the grand drama that is God's plan. We believe that the eventual outcome will be a world that honors God’s Image, in every human being./p pAs the Middle East and Israeli Jews become increasingly motivated by religious belief, we must struggle for Judaism's soul. We must find a way to introduce our understanding of the Jewish tradition into the intellectual universe of our fellow Jewish Israelis. We must make Judaism part of the solution, and not just part of the problem. The religious text, emPirkei Avot/em, teaches us, In a place where no one acts with basic human decency, you must be the person who does./p pI would add, In places where rabbis are strikingly absent, you must be the rabbi who acts as rabbis should.spannbsp;/span/ppspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src= alt= title= width=300 height=115 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large style= //a span class='image_meta'/span/span/pfieldset class=fieldgroup group-sideboxslegendSideboxes/legenddiv class=field field-read-on div class=field-label 'Read On' Sidebox:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pa href= src= alt= width=140 //a/p /div /div /div div class=field field-sidebox div class=field-label Sidebox:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pa href= target=_blank onMouseOver=document.Imgs.src='' onMouseOut=document.Imgs.src='' img src= width=140 height=auto name=Imgs border=0 //a/p /div /div /div div class=field field-related-stories div class=field-labelRelated stories:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd a href=/openglobalrights/larry-cox/human-rights-must-get-religionHuman rights must get religion/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/openglobalrights/nida-kirmani/religion-as-human-rights-liabilityReligion as a human rights liability/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/openglobalrights/jack-snyder/on-wing-and-prayer-can-religion-revive-rights-movementOn a wing and a prayer: can religion revive the rights movement?/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/openglobalrights/muhtari-aminukano-ayaz-ali-atallah-fitzgibbon/islamic-and-un-bills-of-rights-same-dIslamic and UN Bills of Rights: same difference/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/openglobalrights/marie-juul-petersen/muslim-ngos-aid-and-human-rightsMuslim NGOs, aid, and human rights/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/openglobalrights/wai-yan-phone/human-rights-abuse-in-burma-and-role-of-buddhist-nationalismHuman rights abuse in Burma and the role of Buddhist nationalism/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/openglobalrights/arvind-sharma/rights-in-hinduismThe rights in Hinduism/a /div /div /div /fieldset

Muslim NGOs, aid, and human rights

9 hours 17 min ago
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pimg src= width=140 hspace=5 align=right /Drawing on studies of Muslim aid organisations in Britain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Bangladesh, the author explores how these organisations do and don’t engage with human rights. She identifies three potential areas of contention as well as some of the strategies the organisations adopt to overcome these dilemmas. a href= target=_blankemFrançais/em/a, a href= target=_blankemEspañol/em/a,a href= target=_blanknbsp;emالعربية/em/a/p /div /div /div pRecently, human rights have become very popular in the field of development aid, primarily through the so-called rights-based approach. This approach emphasizes an understanding of development and human rights as closely interlinked and interdependent, and aiming to incorporate principles of equality, non-discrimination, accountability, and participation into development aid./ppHistorically, the rights-based approach has been driven largely by secular development organisations. Apart from some a href= target=_blankWestern Christian NGOs/a, very few religious organisations have adopted the rights-based approach. In fact, among the more than 50 Muslim aid organisations that I have visited and studied over the years, very few had fully or even partially integrated human rights into their work. Why does this approach have so little resonance among Muslim aid organisations when so many secular organisations have embraced it?/ppIt probably comes as no surprise to most people that Muslim aid organisations have difficulties signing up to certain human rights. Many are deeply skeptical of women’s rights or rights of homosexuals, for example, which they see as highly normative expressions of secularist, individualistic values, and thus difficult, if not impossible, to align with conservative religious values of family and community. These accusations echo views of human rights as an imperialist project of the West, put forth not only by Islamic scholars but also reflected in the a href= target=_blankAsian values debate/a nbsp;and among the so-called a href= target=_blankTWAIL/a scholars (Third World Approaches to International Law)./ppWhile this is a relevant and necessary debate, there are other, equally important, conflicts at play in the relationship between human rights and Muslim aid./ppBased on studies of Muslim aid organisations in Britain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Bangladesh, this article explores the ways in which these organisations relate – or do not relate – to human rights, pointing to three potential areas of contention and identifying some of the strategies the organisations apply in order to overcome these dilemmas./ph2strong‘Ties of compassion and sympathy’ /strong/h2h2 /h2pOne conflict between Muslim aid organisations and the discourse of human rights centers on conceptions of relations between givers and recipients of aid. According to the rights-based approach, aid is the right of recipients, and as such, the relation between giver and recipient can be conceived in terms of a contract between equal parties. Muslim aid organisations, on the other hand, often conceive of aid as a gift to a grateful recipient from a generous donor, obliged by a religious duty towards God and the religiously defined community, the emummah/em./ppspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src= alt= title= width=460 height=305 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge style= //a span class='image_meta'/span/spanspan class=image-captionA woman receives alms in East Java, Indonesia. a href= target=_blankArief Priyono/Demotix./a All rights reserved./span/ppContrary to the rights-based approach’s emphasis on accountability and institutionalization, the notion of aid as a gift encourages a personal and intimate relationship between recipients and givers. Emphasising what one organisation describes as “ties of interdependence, compassion and tender sympathy”, some Muslim organisations see their aid is distinct from that of many others. “They don’t have the same feeling of family as we have, that the orphans are a part of our family,” says a staff member in a Saudi Arabian NGO, comparing his organization with secular ones: “For them, it’s routine, it’s just a job they need to do.” According to many people, personal care and compassion are more important qualities in aid provision than accountability and professionalism; in fact, such qualities may even be counterproductive to the ‘feeling of family’, injecting a sense of distance into the relationship between recipient and giver./ph2strong‘Solidarity between the sons of the Ummah’/strong/h2h2 /h2pA second reason for the reluctance of many Muslim aid organisations to adopt a rights-based approach may lie in the underlying rationale of solidarity shaping much Muslim aid, which is closely related to the ‘feeling of family.’ According to this rationale, Muslims are obliged to show solidarity and support one another because they belong to the same religious community. A a href= target=_blankstatement/a from a Kuwaiti NGO illustrates this:/pblockquotep[Charity] is one of the faith’s most effective tools for spreading the values of solidarity and support between the sons of the Ummah. It encourages them to remain united like one body; when one part of it suffers a complaint, all other parts join in, sharing in the sleeplessness and fever. /p/blockquotepUsing terms such as ‘Islamic society’ or ‘Islamic brotherhood’, many organisations seek to nurse a strong sense of solidarity between members of this community. The donor gives to a fellow Muslim brother (or sister) in a country far away, because they are both part of the same community, the umma. By receiving the gift, the recipient likewise aligns him- or herself with the umma, affirming its existence./ppContrary to the rationale of human rights, then, the solidarity rationale seems to prioritise the community over the individual. Likewise, this rationale also clashes with the human rights discourse’s emphasis on non-discrimination, insofar as it encourages a particularistic focus on fellow Muslims rather than a universalistic focus on humanity as such. This is reflected in most Muslim aid organisations’ choice of target groups, consisting primarily, if not solely, in Muslim countries and communities. As a staff member in a Kuwaiti NGO says: “A Muslim should help his brothers and sisters first.”/ph2strong‘Islam is the solution’/strong/h2 pThe third, and perhaps most fundamental, conflict between human rights and Muslim aid grows out of a particular interpretation of Islam, shaped by the a href= target=_blankIslamic resurgence/a and found in many contemporary Muslim aid organisations. Epitomized in the Muslim Brotherhood’s slogan ‘Islam is the solution,’ this understanding sees religion as an all-encompassing solution not only to moral and ethical problems, but also to economical, political and – not least – legal ones; what the historian of religion Bruce Lincoln calls a href= target=_blanka ‘maximalist’ religion/a. As the director of a Jordanian NGO proclaims: “Islam is a comprehensive system – it about politics, law, economy, social systems, culture, everything. You cannot just take a small part of it and leave everything else aside.”/ppIn this perspective, there is no need for additional legal systems such as the international human rights system, insofar as Islamic law already provides a comprehensive set of rights. “You can derive human rights from Islam,” says a woman from a Jordanian charity. In fact, international human rights law is not only superfluous; it is also potentially dangerous insofar as it establishes a parallel legal system to the Islamic one, challenging the authority of the latter./ppDespite the difficulties sketched in the above, some Muslim NGOs emare/em trying to integrate a rights-based approach into their work, in different ways and to different degrees re-interpreting Muslim aid traditions and principles./ph2strongZakat: A right of the poor/strong/h2h2 /h2pOne example of a relatively ‘mild’ reinterpretation of Muslim aid principles is the turn from an understanding of aid as a gift to a right, found in some Muslim NGOs. This is a reinterpretation that does not engage explicitly with discourses of human rights, but relies entirely on discourses of Muslim aid. However, it does so in ways that may facilitate implicit alignment with rights-based approaches to development./p pInstead of emphasizing conceptions of aid as a gift or a favour from the wealthy to the poor, this reinterpretation promotes an understanding of aid as a right endowed by God to the poor and a duty imposed by God upon the wealthy, drawing on Islamic traditions of redistributive justice. “God orders people to take from the rich and give to the poor. God also said that it is the right of the poor to receive this money,” one person tells me, quoting the Qur’an: “And those in whose wealth there is a recognised right for the beggar who asks and for the unlucky who has lost his property and wealth”. As such, this perspective encourages a contractual relation between equals, easier to align with a rights-based approach than that of gift-giving, but remaining squarely within well-established traditions of Muslim aid. /p h2strong‘We care about humanity, we don’t care about their faith’/strong/h2h2 /h2pOther organisations present somewhat more radical reinterpretations of Muslim aid traditions, engaging more explicitly with discourses of human rights and rights-based approaches to development. The shift from a rationale based on religious solidarity to one based on principles of universalism and non-discrimination is an example of this. /p pIn some organisations, the provision of aid is no longer restricted to fellow Muslims, but extended to “those in need regardless of gender, faith, background, or nationality,” as a href= target=_blankone NGO writes/a. Another organisation a href= target=_blankdeclares/a: “Muslim Aid believes that all humans have the right to development.” In concrete terms, this means that these organisations now include Christians, Hindus and other non-Muslims in their aid provision. “We even give our Ramadan food packages to non-Muslims!” a staff member proclaims. “We care about humanity, we don’t care about their faith.”nbsp; /ppReferring to Islamic sayings and Qur’anic verses, the organisations seek to justify this shift religiously. One person explains: “Most instructions from the Prophet Muhammad and the Holy Qur’an are about motivating people to help others, to support and help the poor. And they don’t mention what kinds of poor – they don’t say what gender, what race, what religion.” Another person says: “This is the humanitarian spirit of Islam.”/p h2strong‘We don’t need to raise the Islamic flag…’/strong/h2h2 /h2pSuch a href= target=_blankreferences/a to the ‘spirit of Islam’, ‘Islamic charitable values’ nbsp;and a href= target=_blank‘the humanitarian teachings of Islam,/a’ nbsp;denote an interpretation of Islam as an a href= target=_blank‘ethical reference’/a, nbsp;nbsp;rather than an orthodox, visible religiosity. And this points to a third, somewhat more general, example of how contemporary Muslim aid organisations seek to make room for human rights: /p pTurning away from an all-encompassing, ‘maximalist’ religiosity, influencing all aspects of aid provision, some organisations instead promote a more ‘minimalist’ understanding of religion, relegated to the sphere of organizational values, underlying principles and personal motivation. A person from a British Muslim NGO says: “We don’t need to raise the Islamic flag when we do humanitarian work, we don’t need to say that we are more humanitarian because we are Islamic.” /p pCompared to an understanding of religion as law, such a religiosity, concerned with values and morals, can much more easily encompass discourses of human rights and a rights-based approach to development. As the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion Heiner Bielefeldt a href=;uid=2amp;uid=4amp;sid=21103431495171 target=_blanknotes/a, “the principles of human rights can be connected meaningfully with the spirit of the shariah, provided that the shariah is primarily understood as an ethical and a religious concept rather than a legalistic one”. /p pspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src= alt= title= width=300 height=115 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large style= //a span class='image_meta'/span/span/pfieldset class=fieldgroup group-sideboxslegendSideboxes/legenddiv class=field field-read-on div class=field-label 'Read On' Sidebox:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pa href= src= alt= width=140 //a/p /div /div /div div class=field field-sidebox div class=field-label Sidebox:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pa href= target=_blank onMouseOver=document.Imgs.src='' onMouseOut=document.Imgs.src='' img src= width=140 height=auto name=Imgs border=0 //a/p /div /div /div div class=field field-related-stories div class=field-labelRelated stories:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd a href=/openglobalrights/larry-cox/human-rights-must-get-religionHuman rights must get religion/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/openglobalrights/nida-kirmani/religion-as-human-rights-liabilityReligion as a human rights liability/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/openglobalrights/jack-snyder/on-wing-and-prayer-can-religion-revive-rights-movementOn a wing and a prayer: can religion revive the rights movement?/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/openglobalrights/rabbi-arik-ascherman/in-israel-rabbis-for-human-rights-address-painful-paradoxesIn Israel, Rabbis for Human Rights address painful paradoxes /a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/openglobalrights/muhtari-aminukano-ayaz-ali-atallah-fitzgibbon/islamic-and-un-bills-of-rights-same-dIslamic and UN Bills of Rights: same difference/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/openglobalrights/wai-yan-phone/human-rights-abuse-in-burma-and-role-of-buddhist-nationalismHuman rights abuse in Burma and the role of Buddhist nationalism/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/openglobalrights/arvind-sharma/rights-in-hinduismThe rights in Hinduism/a /div /div /div /fieldset

One life in investigative journalism

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 8:00pm
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pA Qamp;A with a href= Sambrook/a, OurKingdom co-editor and co-founder of the ‘End Child Detention Now’ campaign. Interviewer: a href= Omonira-Oyekanmi/a, writer-in-residence atnbsp;span style=line-height: 1.5;Lacuna./span/p /div /div /div pspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src= alt= title= width=460 height=324 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge style= //a span class='image_meta'/span/span/ppspanstrongemWhat story or campaign are you most proud of?/em/strong/span/ppOne night, a few summers ago, friends of mine in York were disturbed by a loud banging on their door. There stood a Kurdish family —nbsp;men, women and children — distraught. A young relative of theirs in Cumbria, where I live, had been detained by the immigration authorities. Her two-year-old son was left parentless for four days. My friends found them a lawyer —nbsp;on the 31st phone call, and prompted letters appealing to the Home Office. I created a media campaign. After 26 days locked up at Yarl’s Wood detention centre, the family was released and, eventually, allowed to remain here. There had been no reason to detain them./ppOut of their damaging ordeal came our (unfunded)nbsp;a href= Child Detention Now/anbsp;campaign. We were amazingly successful at raising awareness about and combating the practice of locking up asylum-seeking families in conditions known to harm them./ppa href= Barnett/a at OurKingdom published our work relentlessly from the start. That relationship grew into the a href= A Light/a project, which continues to expose injustice and challenge official lying./ppstrongemWhy did you choose to become a journalist?/em/strong/ppI remember, when I was very small, my Mum saying: ‘You’re very inquisitive.’ Me: ‘What’s that?’/ppI have always wanted to know what’snbsp;emreally/emnbsp;going on./ppstrongemWhat path did you take?/em/strong/ppIt’s all a bit random. A bright kid, I got turned off education early. (‘Stop wriggling while Sister is hitting you!’ was one memorable phrase from my Catholic primary school.)/ppHome life wasn’t easy. I slouched through comprehensive school. To get into Sixth Form you had to achieve ‘O’ level As or Bs in the subjects you wanted to take at A-level. English apart, I had Cs and below. So I was heading for Scunthorpe Tech./ppBut then my best friend went to work on our school-teachers. She persuaded them that since I hadn’t done badly at History ‘O’ Level (I hadn’t taken it), couldn’t they let me take History A-level? My Art teacher agreed to waive his grade requirement if I’d spend lunchtimes drawing. So, with English, I had three A-Levels to study and a ticket into Sixth Form./ppExcellent teaching woke me up. I worked hard and soared. In Lower Sixth, my history teacher suggested I write an essay for the Vellacott History Prize. That’s a national competition judged by lecturers at Cambridge University. I won it. Then my teachers said,nbsp;emtry for Cambridge/em. Until that moment I had not considered university at all./ppspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src= alt= title= width=240 height=168 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'Clare accepts the Paul Foot Award from Ian Hislop, 2010/span/span/spanOn the application form under ‘parents’ occupation’ I wrote: ‘Father, unemployed.’/pp‘What business was he in?’ drawled the admissions tutor. My dad had been a school caretaker./pp‘I think we can consider this interview over, don’t you?’/ppNext interview: the History man. He asked me about Quentin Skinner and a few other writers who excited me back then, and he wasn’t remotely interested in my dad. I did their exam. They let me in./ppThis was the 1980s. I got the full student grant and free tuition. The College paid for me to travel around Italy and Egypt./pp Cambridge was a freaky experience. Anyone from the wrong sort of background can tell you that.nbsp;spanFor the first time I lived among people who were materially privileged. Some of them were emotionally cauterised, stunningly sure of themselves and totally ignorant of life beyond their tiny elite; the kind of people now remaking Britain for the rich./span/ppAfter Cambridge I applied for and failed to get loads of jobs in journalism, made the final board of the BBC News Trainee scheme, then rejection. I was a terrible interviewee. /ppI got a job at the John Lewis Gazette, then moved to Marketing Magazine (the Haymarket Group). On days off, under a pseudonym, I worked shifts on the tabloids (Daily Express, Sun, Mail on Sunday). By post I offered freelance pieces that were usually ignored./ppThe Daily Telegraph published one —nbsp;about riding a motorbike in London, with a picture of me in my leathers. That landed me a three-month contract on the Daily Telegraph financial pages, because the City editor rode a moped. /ppHe ran what he called a ‘tight ship’. In other words, he ruled by terror. After three months of that, he sacked me./ppBack home, tears. A wise friend offered this advice: ‘emGo back in, go into his office, kick his bin./em’/pp‘His bin?’/ppem‘Yes, kick the bloody bin.’/em/ppI washed my face, got on my motorbike, rode to the office, challenged the tyrant, got a 6-month contract that turned into a proper job and then promotion and very good money. I never did kick his bin. (That’s one regret)./ppA brush with meningitis reminded me that life is short. I turned freelance so that I could do investigations. I wrote about the Lottery and corruption in the Olympics. Then I wrote my first novel,nbsp;emHide amp; Seek/em./ppstrongemAre there set ingredients to success?/em/strong/ppJournalism is a lifelong apprenticeship. Be immersed in the craft. Study the best: ask,nbsp;emhow is this piece working?/em/ppIf something feels dodgy, get digging. Own up to what we don’t understand; clarifynbsp;emthat thing/em./ppDon’t talk too much.nbsp;emListen/em. Ask questions: ‘What are the questions?’ is a good one./ppSeek critique from good writers and from experts in your field./ppImagine the reader is an intelligent 12-year-old. (Brighter than we are but lacks information and context.)/ppAnger may drive us and direct our research; it doesn’t belong in the final draft. Rage diverts attention from the information./ppstrongemWhat have been the biggest obstacles for you in building a career as a writer?/em/strong/ppCharm, confidence and connections can take you a long way in journalism. I’m rather lacking in those./ppFinancial anxiety isn’t helpful./ppHaving children is the best thing ever. Not a smart career move./ppstrongemHow has the industry changed since your first job?/em/strong/ppAged 15 I did some work experience in a tiny office of the Lincolnshire Times: electric typewriter, 3 carbon copies, no Tippex. The copy was parcelled up in brown paper and string (am I making this up?), then driven across the Wolds to the Humber Ferry for the crossing to Hull./ppThese days I publish online from my home in rural Cumbria (in my pajamas)./ppThere is so much material online. That’s exciting./ppstrongemWhat is your advice for those considering getting into campaign journalism?/em/strong/ppspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-medium'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src= alt= title= width=240 height=195 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'SOAS Detainee Support Release Carnival London 2010 (Peter Marshall)/span/span/spanFocus. Find out who’s feisty (NGOs, campaigners, journalists) on your patch./ppLearn, volunteer, research, share material, be useful./ppOh, and . . . if an accident of birth has given you connections, don’t use them to get jobs or commissions ahead of other people. If you want to challenge injustice, challenge nepotism./ppstrongemIf you had to give a reading list to an aspiring journalist, what would the top three books be?/em/strong/ppOne very short book:nbsp;ema href= Way to Write/a, A complete guide to the basic skills of good writing,/emnbsp;by John Fairfax and John Moat, the poets who started the a href=http://www.arvon.orgArvon Foundation/a. The foreword is by their friend Ted Hughes./ppStephen King’s memoir and manualnbsp;emOn Writing/emnbsp;is warm and encouraging: he wants us to write well./ppAs writers we need to speak Human. So:nbsp;emThe Stories of Anton Chekhov/em. We may trawl documents and mine data, but the raw material is life./ppspanstrongemStories about injustice make the headlines one day, and the next day, very often, little changes: what, then, is the point of your work?/em/strong/span/ppDemocracy works only if people have got access to accurate information. Official information is so often unreliable. Exposing truths gives democracy a chance, informs our fellow citizens, helps and encourages campaigners and the dispossessed, gives ammunition to people who might use it./pp/phr /p/ppstronga href=http://www.claresambrook.comClare Sambrook/a/strongnbsp;exposes official lying, raises public awareness of inconvenient truths, and provides intelligence and ammunition to people trying to achieve policy change. In 2010 she won the Paul Foot Award and the Bevins Prize for outstanding investigative journalism. She was longlisted for the Orwell Prize in 2013. Clare is a freelance journalist, and co-editor at OurKingdom, the UK arm of OpenDemocracy. Her first novel, Hide amp; Seek, published in thirteen languages, was a New York Times Editor’s Choice./ppspanstronga href= Omonira-Oyekanmi/a/strong is a freelance journalist and writer-in-residence at Lacuna. Her reporting on immigration and asylum across the European Union was shortlisted for the 2012 George Orwell Prize for Political Writing (blog category). In 2012 Rebecca published Gardens, a collaboration with photographer Christina Theisen, which documents pockets of environmental and social activism in London./span/phr /pemFirst published at a href=, as part of a series illuminating the lives of storytellers including journalist a href= Snow/a,nbsp;spandocumentary photographernbsp;/spanspana href= McIntyre,/anbsp;playwrightnbsp;a href= Shannon/a,nbsp;/spanspancomedian/spanspannbsp;/spana href= Thomas/a,spannbsp;/spana href= Williams/aspan, author of 'A Very British Killing: the Death of Baha Mousa' andnbsp;/spana href= Ominira-Oyekanmi/a./em/pfieldset class=fieldgroup group-sideboxslegendSideboxes/legenddiv class=field field-related-stories div class=field-labelRelated stories:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd a href=/ourkingdom/anthony-barnett/clare-wins-again-investigative-comment-and-future-of-journalism-on-webClare wins again! #039;Investigative Comment#039; and the future of journalism on the web/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/ourkingdom/clare-sambrook/uk-border-agencys-long-punitive-campaign-against-children-helped-by-g4s-anThe UK Border Agency#039;s long, punitive campaign against children (helped by G4S and Serco)/a /div /div /div /fieldset

Why I'll move to Scotland after I graduate if it votes yes

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 7:11pm
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pOne Durham University student explains why he'll be moving north if it's a yes vote in Scotland./p /div /div /div pimg src= alt= width=420 //ppemWikimedia/em/ppI am English. I was born in London, and despite living in the US for several years as I was growing up, I have now returned to the country of my birth. Now I spend my time between Gloucestershire—where my family is now living—and Durham, where I am in my second year of a degree in history. /ppAnd in just over a year, as my graduation looms nearer, I will face the choice of where to go next with my life. The most obvious choice would be to find a job and settle down somewhere in England, but there are many difficulties that come with that. I will face the uncertainty of finding a job, as there are simply not enough jobs going around, and most of those available would involve zero-hour contracts or wages below the living wage. I will be weighed down by decades of debt from the student loans I have taken out to attend university, a victim of the marketisation of higher education. As the policies of austerity pursued by the main political parties—Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem and UKIP alike—continue and more benefits and services are cut, my future, like those of millions of others throughout this country, will be increasingly precarious. And due to the nature of the political system as it stands, I will be ‘represented’ in Westminster by a politician from a party I have not voted for and who will not represent my interests, but those of corporations and the wealthy. And I have to ask myself the question: is that really the sort of future I want? /p pIn recent months, I have found myself increasingly following the news and debate from north of the border, the discussion about whether Scotland should become an independent country. And I have found myself increasingly supportive for the possibility of an independent Scotland (an increasingly likely possibility, as the polls continue to narrow, and the yes campaign clearly holds the momentum), because it would give the people of Scotland—and potentially the rest of the UK—a crucial opportunity to engage with such central questions about what sort of future we want. Do we want a future where employment is precarious and finding a good job an uncertainty, or do we want to prioritise investment in creating good jobs? Do we want our system of higher education to be based around profit value for universities while creating a lifelong cycle of debt for graduates, or should education be valued as a vital service for society? Do we want a continuation of austerity, forcing millions more into poverty as they are forced to pay the bill for the financial crisis, or do we want a fairer alternative? Do we want political parties and politicians that are increasingly disconnected from their constituents or do we want them to truly represent the needs of people they serve?/p pThe people of Scotland face all of these questions as they confront the issue of independence, and an independent Scotland could pave the way for a better future for all. An independent Scotland would have the power to prioritise job creation instead of policies that would create further poverty and social inequalities. An independent Scotland would continue to value education as a public service and offer university degrees without pushing students into lifelong debt. An independent Scotland could show that an alternative is possible to the austerity politics of George Osborne and Ed Balls. And the political parties and politicians of an independent Scotland would be more answerable to the people of Scotland, as the Scottish parliament is elected through a fairer, proportional system, and Scotland would no longer be placed at the mercy of a Westminster government not voted in by the people of Scotland. /ppAll of these would be of great benefit to the people of Scotland, but an independent Scotland could also serve as a beacon of hope for the rest of the UK. An independent Scotland could serve to remind the rest of the UK that education can be valued as a public service free to all (as it is in much of Europe), that austerity isn’t the only solution to our financial problems, and that people can have more of a say in their lives as politicians are made more answerable to the people they represent. And with time, this progressive example of an independent Scotland could inspire positive change in the rest of the UK, as people in the rest of the UK must also engage with these same issues currently debated in Scotland. /ppBut to return to the topic of what I where to go next with my life after I graduate, the choice now seems clear to me. If the people of Scotland vote for independence in September, I will move to Scotland as it becomes independent. Of course this will not solve all the problems I face. But I would prefer to live in a country that values education as a public service, that could stand up to challenge the current political consensus of austerity politics, that would cut the Trident nuclear submarine system rather than jobs and public services. But above all, as a Scottish citizen, I would have a voice in the government of an independent Scotland, a voice that has been all but denied by the Westminster government system, built around an archaic and unrepresentative electoral system. I would have the chance to have a say in terms of what sort of future I want, and to feel that my needs are being represented. I would have the opportunity to help forge a new path for a new country—something I find exhilarating. Above all else, a vote for yes is a vote for democracy, and I would relish the chance to take part in the democracy an independent Scotland would bring. /ppemstrongspanOurKingdom needs to raise £5,698 to continue running our Scottish debate series until the referendum in September. /spana href= contribute here/span/aspan./span/strong/em/pfieldset class=fieldgroup group-sideboxslegendSideboxes/legenddiv class=field field-related-stories div class=field-labelRelated stories:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd a href=/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/scotland-isnt-different-its-britain-thats-bizarreScotland isn#039;t different, it#039;s Britain that#039;s bizarre/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/ourkingdom/gerry-hassan/scotland-isnt-playing-by-austerity-rules-and-london-media-arent-happyScotland isn#039;t playing by austerity rules, and the London media aren#039;t happy/a /div /div /div /fieldset

The politics of 'regeneration' in Euston

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 7:11pm
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pIt is absurd to replace inadequate housing for the poor with emadequate /emhousing for the poor - let's not repeat the mistakes of the past. Shiny regeneration will shift them out to somewhere they can afford and provide great opportunities for property speculation to boot. This is London, after all./p /div /div /div pspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src= alt= title= width=400 height=283 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'Flickr/The Integer Club/span/span/span/ppI walk along Eversholt Street most days. It’s a funny, tatty old road. There’s the chip shop out of which local schoolchildren are always pouring, paper parcels of chips in hand, a few small corner shops, a car rental place, two churches, some pubs and cafes (probably pronounced without the ‘e’ in these instances, with all the cheap plastic furniture and sugary tea that that entails), a Royal Mail delivery office, a strip club and a transvestite clothes shop. It runs from Mornington Crescent down to Euston Road, with Euston Station taking up much of the west side, and Somers Town the east./p pI like it. It feels tired and forgotten, a sort of inbetween place, but it’s always lively, and it makes a nice change to the polished gentility of most of the rest of central London, which you’ll rediscover within a ten minute walk in any direction./p pThere’s a lot of social housing in the area, which is home to a diverse community of Somali, Bengali and white working class residents. At the northern end are a couple of housing estates, including three tower blocks which are very uncharacteristic for Camden. /p pWith the exception of a wonderfully bizarre stepped L-shaped estate in red brick by Peter Tábori, architect of Highgate New Town and one of the big names in Sydney Cook’s Camden borough architect’s office of the 60s and 70s, Somers Town is mostly made up of early twentieth century neo-Georgian deck access mid-rise apartment blocks. It’s some of the earliest, and most lauded, social housing in London./p pIt’s a really good area, busy and full of people getting on with their lives. So I was a bit surprised a href= read recently/a that it is apparently considered a “lost quarter”. Although, given that I read that in the Homes amp; Property section of the Evening Standard, my surprise was perhaps naive./p pWhy is it regarded a lost quarter? Homes amp; Property never spells it out, but it gives some good hints. Somers Town is “now largely council estates”, and, it goes on to lament, when it was “first developed in the late 18th century it was envisaged as a middle-class address but suffered when the London and Birmingham Railway cut through the area in the 1830s.”/p pI think it is interesting how casually a poor working class or immigrant population has been described as a burden here, the visual representation of the area’s suffering. Not to fear though, because the area is being “targeted for new private housing” and so the end of its sufferings must be nigh as a new wave of middle class inhabitants gets ready to move in./p pI find it interesting the way in which this article, which is about a new proposal to redevelop Euston Station and the surrounding area, shines a light on how we presently measure value or worth in the built environment./p pThe council estates of Somers Town are contrasted with the “village square concept” of a nearby development which houses the offices of Unison, which brings together “an open public atrium, with glazed cafés (and I include the accent as it appeared in the article, which I presume one is meant to pronounce in this instance) and restaurants”./p pThis clear dichotomy, between continental chic, newness, glass, atria, plazas, and the private on the one hand and the suffering lost quarter of council estates on the other, is what is used to justify the sort of wholesale demolition presently underway at the Heygate Estate at the Elephant and Castle. It is an analysis of the built environment predicated entirely on surface appearances and lazily propagated connotations. It is a discourse which values the needs of a personified ‘city’, judged by its physical appearance, over any of the requirements or desires of those people who inhabit it. It is the reduction of the city to a consumer product to be perused on property comparison websites, and the equation of middle class with good, and working class with bad./p pThe article goes on to develop this discourse and follow it to its logical conclusion when it equates the proposal for the redevelopment of the Euston area with “the kind of radical makeover that has made King’s Cross a shining example of the power of regeneration.” In doing this it builds a link between tabula rasa redevelopment in a derelict former industrial area with the future of an area in which thousands of people presently live, in which it holds up the former as a model for the latter on the grounds that the council estates, like the unused post-industrial landscape, do not conform to our notion of the clean transparent good city./p pNote the use of the words emshining/em and emregeneration/em in the above quote. It’s clear at a glance that Homes amp; Property is entirely preoccupied with property development and speculation. With this discourse, of the positive connotations of newness, shiny transparency and regeneration, and of the commensurate need, therefore, to sweep away all of the tatty old stock that isn’t ‘period’, capital has a justification for the constant development and redevelopment of the urban fabric as even the newest new development necessarily dulls with age. An ever-thirsty sink for accumulated capital./p pSo, in the face of the behemoth of global capital hungrily trying to piggyback on London’s ever-rising property prices, and of a pervasive and uncritically accepted discourse which enables and justifies it, what alternative ways of looking at the city are available to us?/p pA glance at the last time Somers Town was redeveloped might be instructive. Ben Campkin, in his recent book emRemaking London/em, describes how residents of Somers Town in the 1920s and 30s, had “to cope without proper sanitation, in dwellings that suffered from rot, and were severely infested with various kinds of pests, including rats, fleas and cockroaches, as well as the minute but severely disruptive common bedbug, emCimex lectularius/em.”/p pDue to this infestation, and the unpleasant living conditions that it entailed, the St. Pancras House Improvement Society demolished all of the slum housing in the area and rehoused the inhabitants in newly built, humane and clean housing stock. This is the built environment being altered in order to make it more congenial for human beings to inhabit./p pVestiges of this discourse still lurk at the back of the contemporary debate about our cities. It’s there in the accusations of arrogance levelled at the architects who designed the streets in the sky of a href= Hood Gardens in Poplar/a and Park Hill in Sheffield, estates which have been damned as unsuitable for the habits and lifestyles of their intended inhabitants. What is depressing is that the new developments soon to go up in the stead of the condemned Robin Hood Gardens involve cramming a smattering of tower blocks onto the site as densely as possible, for obvious profit-margin related reasons, when exactly this approach has itself been discredited as inhumane since the 1960s, notably by the Camden architect’s office which flatly refused to build high rise towers in the borough./p pStill, at least it will look shiny and new for twenty years or so. Then we’ll just have to pull it all down again, I suppose./pdiv class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd UK /div /div /div

Polite people with guns

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 12:56pm
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pimg style=float: right; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px; src= alt= width=160 //ppFor 20 years Russians saw Ukraine as a parody of Russia, because 'Ukraine isn't Russia.' Now, our neighbours are suddenly our enemies; and nobody is laughing. How did we get here?/p /div /div /div pAt the moment I’m using an interesting document as a bookmark: an unused boarding pass for Ukraine International Airlines Flight 61 from Kyiv to Simferopol. I was supposed to fly at 7.30pm on 28 February, but at the time when the plane should have been taking off, an airline employee was explaining to passengers that the flight had been cancelled, ‘owing to the situation at Simferopol airport.’ Passengers were instructed to return to the ticket desk to receive a refund. I then had to spend $100 and 11 hours in a taxi-bus to get to Crimea, and only discovered the reason for the cancelled flight the next morning from reports in the Ukrainian media. Or to be more precise, from one a href= (in Russian), cited by every paper and news agency./pp class=pullquote-rightSimferopol airport had been seized by unknown armed men who ‘politely asked airport security officers to leave’/p pEvery journalist probably wants to write at least one article that will go down in history, but not many have their wish granted. However, an anonymous reporter from emNavigator/em, an obscure Kyiv internet newspaper, got lucky. On the night of 28 February - 1 March he managed to get through on the phone to Crimean police headquarters, where the duty officer told him that Simferopol airport had been seized by unknown armed men who ‘politely asked airport security officers to leave.’ /p pThis chance remark by an unknown policeman to an unknown journalist was enough to enrich the Russian language with a new catchphrase. These soldiers, in their green uniforms without any identifying insignia, had already been the main topic of Ukrainian politics for three days, but although everyone knew they were Russian troops no one could prove it. They appeared in the Crimean regional parliament building on 26 February, whereupon MPs, in their presence or even under direct pressure from them, speedily elected pro-Russian activist Sergei Aksyonov as the peninsula’s new Prime Minister./ppspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src= alt=Soldiers without insignia politely patrol Simferopol airport on 28 February. title= width=460 height=345 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'Soldiers without insignia politely patrol Simferopol airport on 28 February. CC Elizabeth Arott/span/span/spanspanAksyonov’s party had only won 4% of the vote at the last regional elections, but that was before the arrival of these mysterious people whose identity Crimeans had been struggling to define for three days. So, thanks to the emNavigator/em report, where they were described as ‘politely’ asking Ukrainian security forces to leave the airport, a new political definition was coined: they were ‘the polite people.’ The name caught on immediately among both supporters and opponents of Russia’s invasion of Crimea: ‘polite people’ is less insulting than ‘invaders’ or ‘occupiers’, but still has an ironic ring to it, since courtesy and submachine guns aren’t natural bedfellows./span/p pThree weeks later, when the USA introduced sanctions against businessmen close to Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, speaking on TV, pretended that he was bothered by them. Talking about Kovalchuk, Rotenberg and Tomchenko, the objects of the sanctions, he said, ‘I’d better stay away from them… after all, they are polite people with masks and submachine guns.’ As a joke it wasn’t up to much, but it confirmed the use of the new term in Putinist official-speak./ph2A PR-perfect invasion…/h2 pThe invasion of Crimea in general gave the impression of being planned not only by military and political strategists, but by talented marketing people as well. Apart from the ‘polite people’, the most prominent players in Russian Crimea are now public prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya and Aleksei Chaly, the leader of the pro-Russian activists. Poklonskaya, an attractive young blonde appointed by the new Crimean government (controlled by the ‘polite people’) as Prosecutor-General of the peninsula, immediately became the darling of the official Russian media, who have packaged her life story as a modern romantic fairy tale./ppspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src= alt=Natalia Poklonskaya at a press conference following Crimea's referendum. title= width=460 height=322 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'Natalia Poklonskaya at a press conference following Crimea's referendum. (c) RIA Novosti/Taras Litvinenko/span/span/spanspanAn assistant prosecutor in Kyiv, she refused to work with the new interim government and instead resigned and went to live with her grandmother in Sevastopol, but on her arrival in Crimea she discovered that none of the local prosecutors was willing to head its Public Prosecutor's Office/spanem /emspanand that she would have to leave her Grandma and take the heavy burden of duty on her own frail shoulders. No one will ever know whether this was all a matter of chance or whether it was the work of some cunning spin doctor, but in just a few days the young Prosecutor General’s /spana href=, done in the style of Japanese anime cartoon films, was appearing on anime fan sites and she was the object of a mass cult./span/ppspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src= alt=One of at least dozens of anime style fan drawings of Crimea's prosecutor at her press conference. title= width=460 height=345 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'One of at least dozens of fan drawings of Crimea's prosecutor, Natalia Poklonskaya. CC 薫/span/span/spanspanAleksei Chaly, on the other hand, was a well-known figure in Crimea long before he was elected ‘people’s mayor’ of Sevastopol on 25 February. His company, ‘Tavrida’, which is based in Russia, supplies electrical switches/spanem /emspanto industry in many European countries as well as the USA. Chaly, who is himself a Russian citizen, had obviously long dreamed of attaining political office, at mayoral level at least, and had bankrolled several monuments to World War Two heroes in and around Sevastopol. He also owns a TV channel in the city and a popular local news site./span/pp class=pullquote-rightThe young Prosecutor General’s portrait appeared on anime fan sites and she became the object of a mass cult./p pUnder Ukrainian law, Sevastopol’s mayor should be a presidential appointment, so Chaly’s election at a public meeting is not legally valid, but Russia, which suffers from a shortage of loyal Ukrainian politicians, recognised him immediately as chair of the ‘coordinating council for city government.’ And this was the guise in which he signed an agreement with Vladimir Putin in Moscow on the accession of Sevastopol to Russia, appearing at the official ceremony not in a suit, in accordance with protocol, but in a casual black sweater, which he evidently decided was more fitting for a man too concerned about the fate of his city to think about such trifles as dress code. /p pIn fact this grey haired, bearded man in his sweater, exchanging a hug with Putin, looked so charismatic that many Russian commentators suggested that he might even become the next president of Russia, a country traditionally so lacking in charismatic figures that it’s become a tradition that any new darling of the TV screen is immediately hailed as a possible future president./ph2…backed by the Russian public/h2 pThe official Russian media generally haven’t even tried to present the invasion and subsequent annexation of Crimea as legally sound, and indeed they have no particular need to do so. Their Russian audience has always found an abstract idea of justice preferable to any right based on law, and in terms of justice a public consensus on Crimea existed long before the events of February. The only real southern European region that for 200 years belonged to the great northern power, Crimea was where Russia’s rulers, from the Tsars through the Soviet period to Mikhail Gorbachev, had their summer residences. Chekhov lived in Crimea; Tolstoy fought in it; Pushkin wrote about it and Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill carved up post-war Europe in it./pp class=pullquote-rightCrimea is where Russia’s rulers, from the Tsars to Mikhail Gorbachev, had their summer residences./p pIn the years of the Cold War Crimea’s coast provided the only subtropical seaside resorts accessible to Soviet citizens (apart from Abkhazia, which has also become a de facto part of Russia again). Although more recently Russians have preferred to take their holidays abroad, in post-Soviet times Crimea was still for most people their most sensitive territorial loss and the fact that it belonged to Ukraine was regarded as an unfortunate historical accident. In 1954, after Stalin’s death, his successor Nikita Khrushchev, who for many years had headed the Ukrainian Communist Party machine, made changes to some of the USSR’s internal borders, and among them was the handover of Crimea from Russia to Ukraine, so that a region the majority of whose population was ethnically Russian, ended up outside Russia.nbsp; nbsp;/p pThe feeling of injustice that this produced among Russians was stronger than any international treaties about the permanency of frontiers, and even if incontrovertible proof emerges of irregularities during the referendum about Crimean reunification with Russia, this is unlikely to change their perception that Crimea is part of Russia. The Kremlin propagandists had no need to convince people about this./ph2The virtual reality of the Russian media/h2 pThe situation with Ukraine as a whole is considerably more complex. From the start of the protests in central Kyiv the official Russian media have devoted an unprecedented amount of airtime and newspaper columns to creating a totally virtual version of what has been happening. Here they have been aided by old stereotypes, such as traditional Russian hatred of the Ukrainian collaborators who worked with the Nazis during the Second World War. According to the Russian media it was the successors of these collaborators (known in Russia as Banderists, after the ideologist of Ukrainian nationalism Stepan Bandera, who incidentally spent all of WW2 in a Nazi concentration camp) who occupied the Maidan to overthrow President Yanukovych./ppspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src= alt=Russian television presenter Dmitry Kiselyov reminds viewers of Russia's nuclear deterrent. title= width=460 height=286 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'Russian television presenter Dmitry Kiselyov reminds viewers of Russia's nuclear deterrent. via youtube/span/span/spanspanNow that Yanukovych has fled the country, the Russian media claim a junta has seized power in Kyiv (‘junta’ is the standard term they use for Ukraine’s interim government) and that this junta is determined to subdue the mainly Russian-speaking eastern part of the country by force./span/p pAnother aspect of the story much stressed in Russia is the idea that the Kyiv junta is reliant on support from the USA and the EU, who will use it to help them weaken or even destroy Russia. In one of his shows Dmitry Kiselyov, the star presenter of Russian state TV, even put forward a theory that the main driver of Yanukovych’s overthrow was Sweden, which is seeking revenge for its defeat by Russia at the beginning of the 18th century, when Peter the Great led his forces to a resounding victory over the Swedes at Poltava, now part of Ukraine./pp class=pullquote-rightThe standard term used by the Russian media for Ukraine’s interim government is ‘junta’/p pIn other words, the Russian propaganda machine claims that all Russia’s enemies of the last 300 years, from the Swedes and the French to Nazi Germany, are closing ranks in support of the new government in Kyiv. There are supposedly even Islamists involved: for a long time notorious Ukrainian nationalist Oleksandr Muzychko featured regularly in Russian TV news programmes, thanks to having fought in Chechnya on the side of the separatists in 1994. More recently he had been closely involved with the ultra-nationalist ‘Pravy Sektor’ group; the lurid tales of his crimes, real and imaginary, only disappeared from the TV screens a couple of weeks ago when Muzychko, whose image had become a symbol of the new Ukrainian government on Russian TV News, was a href= dead/a by police during a raid on his gang./ph2The Banderists are coming!/h2 pOnce they seize Kyiv, these enemies will of course move eastwards through Ukraine into nearby Russian regions – that, at least, is what Russian TV is convinced will happen. The recent pro-Russian rallies in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv are nothing to do with separatism, but merely a pre-emptive defensive move against the ‘Banderists’ who are about to launch an attack on them. That is what the Russian-speaking inhabitants of these cities hear when they switch on their TV sets, since it’s Russian stations they mainly listen to./ppspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src= alt=Western Ukrainians greet the arriving Wehrmacht with flowers in 1941. title= width=460 height=300 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'Western Ukrainians greet the arriving Wehrmacht in 1941. Many Russians and Ukrainians have never forgiven such actions./span/span/spanspanOn 11 April I heard PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a boring economics expert, explain to foreign correspondents, in good English, how the Kyiv government would attract foreign investments to Ukraine’s eastern regions. After the press conference I went to the regional administration building, occupied by the pro-Russian activists, where people were chanting, ‘Yatsenyuk’s a Fascist!’ and one woman stood weeping in front of the stage: ‘Why has he come here? He’s a Banderist, he’s going to kill us.’/span/p pTwenty odd years ago, when the Soviet Union collapsed, Russians experienced their first wave of national reflection over the fact that Ukraine was now a foreign country. In the mid-90s there was a popular comic song that ran, ‘I can’t point my big gun at my Ukrainian wife’, and Russians laughed because Ukrainians weren’t foreigners, they were relations. And attitudes to this country have remained ironically patronising: ‘they’re just like us, but for some reason they pretend to have their own country.’ /p pFor 20 years Russians saw Ukraine as a parody of Russia, symbolised for many years by a book written by Leonid Kuchma, independent Ukraine’s second president, and entitled ‘Ukraine isn’t Russia.’ You can’t deny that there is something comic about a country whose sense of identity boils down to its not being Russia. Now the official Russian media are turning this comic ‘UnRussia’ into a dread and dangerous enemy. Twenty years ago Russians laughed at the idea of going to war with Ukraine. But now this idea has moved from the realm of satirical comedy to that of TV News, and the big gun is already pointed at Russia’s Ukrainian wife.nbsp; nbsp;/pfieldset class=fieldgroup group-sideboxslegendSideboxes/legenddiv class=field field-related-stories div class=field-labelRelated stories:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd a href=/od-russia/roman-kabachiy/stepan-bandera-divisive-national-iconStepan Bandera: a divisive national icon/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/od-russia/zbigniew-wojnowski/whose-crimea-is-it-anyway-soviet-khrushchev-historyWhose Crimea is it anyway?/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/od-russia/andrei-vasiliev/crimean-%E2%80%98army%E2%80%99The Crimean ‘Army’/a /div /div /div /fieldset div class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Russia /div /div /div div class=field field-rights div class=field-labelRights:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Creative Commons /div /div /div

Why are they protesting in Rome?

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 10:22am
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pApril 12 saw violence break out in the capital of Italy as protesters responded to new reforms proposed by current Prime Minister Matteo Renzi that would create significant reductions to public sector spending./p /div /div /div pspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src= alt=Protests in Rome against Renzi's economic reforms turn violent. Demotix/Stefano Montessi. Some rights reserved. title= width=460 height=306 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'Protests in Rome against Renzi's economic reforms turn violent. Demotix/Stefano Montessi. Some rights reserved./span/span/span/ppApril 12 saw violence break out in the capital of Italy as protesters responded to new reforms proposed by current Prime Minister Matteo Renzi that would create significant reductions to public sector spending. Russia Todaynbsp;a href=;that clashes between demonstrators and the police resulted in around 80 injured citizens on both sides, including one protester that lost several fingers from a prematurely exploded firecracker./ppThenbsp;a href=;-nbsp;a combination of workers, students and activists - gathered at Rome’s Porta Pia and marched throughout the city, chanting in unison and waving Italian flags. The crowd convened in order to demand that the government introduce economic reforms, provide access to affordable housing, and reduce the current unemployment rate, which stands at 13% as of February. Many of the attendees donned Autonome-styled black outfits, hoodies, and Guy Fawkes masks, a common symbol of the Occupy movement, and marched until reaching the Ministry of Industry where the protest became violent./ppThe incident was the most recent of demonstrationsnbsp;a href=;December 2013, in which supporters of the Forconi (Pitchfork) Movement assembled to protest Enrico Letta’s economic reforms which imposed further austerity, rising living expenses and taxes, and corruption within the Italian government and European banking system. Demonstrators blocked railway passages and governmental buildings in Venice, Bari, Milan, Turin and Palermo, and cities became embroiled in clashes between police and activists./ppItaly has seen, in recent months, a surge in protest and secession movements that have threatened the country from several positions, and Renzi, as Prime Minister, has inherited a host of problems from both the former Berlusconi administration and the global financial crisis.spannbsp;/span/ppJust recently, the northeastern region of Veneto voted in a referendum to secede from the country in defiance of Italian officials, which prompted police officers to arrest several “secessionists” on April 2. Alberto Mingardi of the Library of Economics and Libertynbsp;a href=, “You could describe Italy as a country where the North pays taxes and the South consumes taxes […] The gap between the two parts of the country has been there for ages, and it did not narrow, in spite of the fluxes of transfers. It is only natural that economic stagnation exacerbates the problem.”/ppRome has also seen severe difficulties after Renzi failed to secure a rescue package that would help prevent the municipality from defaulting on its current debt in a manner similar to that of Detroit. Regarding mayor Ignazio Marino’s lingering crisis, Z Newsnbsp;a href=, “the newly-elected mayor faces a budget deficit of 816 million euros ($1.1 billion) and the city could be placed under administration if he does not manage to close the gap with measures such as cutting public services.”/ppIn a foreboding February 28nbsp;a href=;from the Independent, the author illustrates the mayor’s sentiments. “Without the stop gap injection of €500m (£406m), Mr. Marino predicted chaos would ensue. ‘In March there won’t be money to pay 25,000 city employees, to pay for fuel for the buses, to keep the nurseries open, to collect rubbish or to organise the canonisation of the two popes, an event of a planetary scale,’ he [Marino] said.” Mayor Marino’s fears were realized with the outbreak of riots last Saturday./ppA Reutersnbsp;a href=;details Renzi’s economic reforms, which were outlined in his Economic and Financial Document (DEF) and included a rescue package of 6.7 billion euros funded by 4.5 billion in public sector cuts, higher VAT taxes, and “indirect” taxes on banks. “His DEF, approved Tuesday by cabinet, includes plans for annual income-tax cuts of 10 billion euros targeting low earners, a cap on the salaries of top public-sector managers and higher capital-gains tax for banks,” Gazetta del Sudnbsp;a href=’s new economic policies have come under extreme criticism from colleagues and opposition parties for further impoverishing the middle and lower classes, and exacerbating current austerity measures already in place from institutions such as the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund. Democratic Party (emPartido Democratico/em) member and former junior economy ministernbsp;Stefano Fassina complained that the DEF did nothing to change the current economic problems of Italy and would result in less growth, fewer jobs and more public debt, Gavin Jones of Reutersnbsp;a href= class=fieldgroup group-sideboxslegendSideboxes/legenddiv class=field field-related-stories div class=field-labelRelated stories:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd a href=/can-europe-make-it/arianna-giovannini/arrivederci-venetoArrivederci, Veneto? /a /div div class=field-item even a href=/can-europe-make-it/michele-barbero/matteo-renzi-italy%E2%80%99s-fake-revolutionMatteo Renzi: Italy’s fake revolution/a /div /div /div /fieldset div class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Italy /div /div /div

North African diversities: Algeria in flux

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 9:30am
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pAlgeria’s circles of power and their relationship to a complex society and history are hard to grasp. Francis Ghilès describes his own route to understanding the country in the post-independence era, when the heavy legacy of the past mixed with the confident idealism of the present. /p /div /div /div pspanspannbsp;/span/spanA balmy Algiers evening in March 1977, during the reign of the country's stern commander Houari Boumediène, was my first encounter with an uninhibited side of Algeria that thrived in the shadow of power. I was then a regular contributor to the BBC World Service, and about to join the emFinancial Times/em as its correspondent in the region, but barely knew a country that was in those years outwardly dour and had little evident public nightlife.spanspan br //span/span/ppIt was a Thursday, and a weekend: Boumediène had recently switched the weekend from Saturday-Sunday to Thursday-Friday, much to the annoyance of many of his compatriots, because it upset their daily routines and family transactions with France (where millions of their compatriots lived). At the time, ordinary Algerians were not supposed to enjoy themselves. After all, they were building socialism./p pDuring this visit to a still unfamiliar city, I had been staying with friends at the Tour Dar el Kef, a stone’s throw from the presidency at El Mouradia on the hills which rise above the centre of Algiers and which command a breathtaking view of the Mediterranean. On returning that evening, I found that I had forgotten the keys of the flat, and my friends had gone out to dinner. I was condemned to wait several long hours at the foot of the building until they returned. /p pThe temperature dropped and I started to get hungry. A steady stream of pretty girls and handsome well-dressed young men were entering the tower-block. I assumed, rightly as it turned out, that one of the residents was giving a party and enquired as to whether I might get a drink and a bite, explaining the reasons for my request. I was invited to join and as I stepped out of the lift on one of the higher floors of the building, was ushered into a flat and warmly greeted by the host. Wine and whisky were flowing, every conceivable Algerian delicacy was piled high on the tables, rock music was blasting loud and young couples were dancing. I started talking to some of the other guests and soon realised that in some of the rooms more exciting goings-on were in full swing. I was puzzled: the giggles and screams of pleasure suggested, if not quite a Fellini film, a libidinous world far from the austere city I was becoming familiar with. As I ate and drank, the host approached me and asked who I was. To keep things short, I simply said the BBC. His jaw dropped and, after consulting one of the other revellers, he asked me to leave immediately./p pThe next day, I discovered from emLe Monde’s /emcorrespondent in Algiers, Paul Balta - who lived a few floors below - that I had inadvertently landed at a party hosted by young members of the much feared emSécurité Militaire/em. They had mistaken me for a emconfrére/em. A few days later, a minister told me that I had achieved a empremière/em of sorts - a foreign correspondent joining a party run by the SM for its own. “You look so much like a guy from Tebessa”, he told me - an eastern town from which many SM officers were drawn - “that they took you for one of them.” It was a glimpse into a world that I was to discover later, of lavish private parties held amid the luxurious colonial-era villas in the nearby Hydra, Paradou and El Biar residential districts, whose guests included foreign diplomats and well-connected Algerians./p pThis experience of mistaken identity, not the last, would have its advantages in what was very much a police state. My driver for many years would be a former emmoudjahidine/em who had fought the French during the war of liberation of 1954-62. Mouloud Moudjaheed had worked for executives of the state oil company Sonatrach for many years before going private and buying his own taxi. He would whisk me into ministries unannounced (albeit not the ministry of defence or the presidency). Everybody knew him. He considered me not a foreign journalist who had to be vetted at a ministry entrance, but an honorary Algerian, indeed an honorary Kabyle Berber. Mouloud was my guardian angel in Algiers./ppstrongA time of destiny/strong/ppstrong /strong/p pAlgeria, more than most countries, takes time to get to know. I had written a thesis on early French colonial rule there in the 1830s at St Antony’s College, Oxford, and visited briefly in summer 1972. This was the middle period of Boumediène's rule (which ended with his death in 1978, aged only 46) and both the radicalism and the diplomatic prestige of the post-independence years were evident. There was a surreal quality to Algiers which made it fascinating. (Even as Boumediène had staged his coup in June 1965, he used tanks which were already out on the streets - for the filming of Gilles Pontecorvo's emThe Battle of Algiers/em). It was still there in 1975, when I was able to revisit courtesy of the then Algerian ambassador in London, Lakhdar Brahimi. /p pAlgeria's foreign policy, marked by its backing for the African National Congress and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, won the admiration of western radicals disappointed by China and Cuba and prepared to switch their affection. Algeria's domestic record was mixed: the great achievement of its emrévolution agraire/em was to have turned a self-sufficient country into one that imported two-thirds of the food it consumed, its headlong rush into industrialisation was ill-thought, yet it had also granted universal education and healthcare to its people. Above all Algeria was proud of the respect, if not the fear, it commanded in the west. It believed in its destiny. /p pIt was right to be proud, but doubts had already set in about certain key aspects of policy, despite a tightly muzzled press. Algerians who had fought a bitter war against France were uncomfortable when I brought up the subject of torture, widely practised against opponents, or of the use the regime made of Islamist students whom it was happy to see fight it out on campus with peers belonging to left-wing and Marxist groups. /p pIndeed, an encounter in July 1976 outside Tizi Ouzou, the capital of Kabylia, evokes the atmosphere of the time. A group of students I were lecturing peasants about the benefits of the emrévolution agraire/em, and their leader scolded me for being a representative of imperialism. Before leaving, I asked an older farmer what he thought of the BBC Arabic service during the liberation war. “Was the BBC a tool of imperialism?” I enquired. He turned to the young student revolutionary who was in charge and said: “You are too young to understand”. The student, furious at what he perceived was an impertinent question, ordered me to get out of there. This was the period when an engineer working with the president's adviser on agriculture told me that the Soviet Union (he had studied in Kiev) was far more productive of food than the United States or Europe. I had visited both the USSR and the US, and knew (and said) that he was talking rubbish.strong br //strong/ppstrongThe Mandela connection/strong/ppstrong /strong/p pAlgiers in the 1970s was the capital of the third world. It hosted the Black Panthers, the PLO and assorted revolutionary and independence movements (including one which aimed to “liberate” the Canary Islands from Spanish rule). Many of its diplomats and army officers were deeply involved in the fight against colonial rule, notably the Portuguese territories. “Algeria made a man of me”, Nelson Mandela movingly recalled when he visited Algiers as part of an ANC delegation Including his then wife Winnie) in May 1990, three months after being freed from prison. On that visit he was accompanied by Robert Reisha, who had been ANC representative in Algeria after independence. /p pNourredine Djoudi is an emblematic figure of the period. A former officer of the emArmée de Libération Nationale/em (FLN), he embarked on a career in the Algerian diplomatic corps and in 1961 was put in charge of establishing contact with the ANC. Djouidi, born in the southern town of Laghouat in 1934, was studying for a university degree in English at Montpellier university in 1954 when he decided to move to London to improve his English. It was then, at the start of the revolt in his homeland, that he joined the FLN and busied himself explaining the cause to new friends and allies. In London, he had to match the influence of the rival Algerian nationalist emMouvement National Algérien /em(MNA) - which had been born from an earlier grouping, the emEtoile Nord Africaine /em(set up in Paris in the early 1920s and directed by Messali Hadj). The war of liberation of Algeria was a fight embetween/em Algerians and French, but also a civil war emamong/em Algerians and French. The MNA relays were Trotskyists, so Djoudi had his work cut out. Among the politicians who helped him were three Labour MPs: Fenner Brockway, the veteran pacifist, Anthony Wedgwood Benn and Barbara Castle (both of whom were to become cabinet ministers under Harold Wilson)./p pA few months before Algeria became independent in July 1962, Djoudi was called upon by the high command of what was by then the emArmée Libération Nationale /em(ALN) of Algeria to meet Nelson Mandela. (Djoudi spoke English, which few of his peers did, and ANC leaders did not speak French). The meeting took place near Oujda, a Moroccan town which abuts the Algerian frontier and where part of the ALN high command was based at the camp of Zghenghen. Two years before, the ANC had decided to set up an armed wing, called emUmkhonto we Sizwe/em; its leaders, notably Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo, had come to doubt the view that the fight against apartheid could win by using the methods of Mahatma Gandhi. A number of acts of sabotage had followed, such as planting explosive devices in mines, but to little avail; the ring of security was simply too tight./p pMandela travelled to Oujda by way of Dar es Salaam, Cairo (where he established contact with the FLN representative) and Casablanca, where he was met by the FLN representative Mustafa Chowki. The initial Algerian contact with the ALN had been with Robert Reisha, who joined Mandela for discussions with Chérif Belkacem (Si Djamal). The ALN then helped set up the emCongrès des Organisations Nationalistes des Colonies Portugaises /em(CONCP ), an initiative inspired by figures such as Amilcar Cabral and Mario de Andrade, whose aim was to help liberate the Portuguese colonies of Mozambique, Angola and Guinea-Bissau. The ANC representatives were folded into this organisation. During his stay near Oujda, Djoudi (by then a emcommissaire politique de l’ALN/em) and Chérif Belkacem were astonished to find out how much Mandela knew of Algeria’s history of resistance to the French in the 19th century, notably the legendary figure of Emir Abdelkader. A few weeks after the ceasefire concluded between the FLN and France on 19 March 1962, Ahmed Ben Bella (the future president, overthrown by his deputy Houari Boumediène in 1965) travelled to the FLN military-training camp Larbi Ben M’hidi to meet Mandela. /p pThe Algerians advised Mandela to abandon any idea of copying Algerian tactics against the French after 1954: the ANC lacked the embases arrières/em the FLN had in Morocco and Tunisia, safe havens to which it could withdraw to rest, rearm and retrain. They recommended him instead to begin a campaign to isolate the South African regime diplomatically, as the Algerians had done emvis-à-vis/em France after 1954, with some success. From inside Morocco, but very close to the country’s border with Algeria, Nelson Mandela was able to witness the fight the ALN was leading. He also met Mohammed Lamari, who would rise to become chief-of-staff of the Algerian army in the 1990s. /p pThe feared South African security services (BOSS) got no hint of Mandela’s presence in north Africa. After the ceasefire of 19 March 1962, Djoudi was appointed Algeria military attachéstrong /strongin Rabat; in 1963 he was sent to what was still Tanganyika with a mission to create training-camps at Moroforo in preparation for operations against the Portuguese colonial and South African regimes. He opened Algerian embassies in Kenya, Uganda, Madagascar and Nigeria, and chaired a new defence committee for Africa's liberation created by thestrong /strongOrganisation of African Unity; in 1973, he became the OAU’s assistant general secretary, following in the footsteps of his respected predecessor and compatriot, Mohamed Sahnoun. He stayed in that job for ten years, his only posting outside Africa having been in The Hague.strong br //strong/ppstrongA lost illusion/strong/ppstrong /strong/p pThe third worldism of the 1960s and 1970s seems lost in time today - hence the difficulty of recreating the atmosphere of the Algiers I got to know after 1975. European left-wing intellectuals projected their ideals onto the seemingly virgin lands of the newly independent, less developed nations - foremost among them (if not alone) China, Cuba and Algeria. A few decades earlier, the European left's predecessors had celebrated colonial expeditions in the name of universalism and as a prerequisite to the third-world’s own development. (Edward Said's striking analysis of emOrientalism/em, published in 1978, put this in the perspective of a western construction of the middle east and north Africa which had started with Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Egypt in 1798). /p pAfter 1962, Algeria enjoyed immense prestige - second only to Vietnam in the third-worldist historiography of sacrifice - owing to the ability of its poorly armed and ill-trained guerrillas to frustrate one of the world’s major military powers. It also played a leading role in calling for a new world economic order. Thousands of European revolutionaries flocked to the country, their own anti-colonial attitudes making them feel entitled to judge and even to formulate Algeria's national policy. When I met some of these people in Algeria in 1975-78, they quickly struck me as half-tragic, half-absurd - and at times half-farcical. Their hosts nicknamed them empieds rouge/em - a cruel label indeed, since the empieds noirs/em designated former French settlers in Algeria who had been the most steadfast defenders of colonial rule. /p pThe were also national differences within third worldism. At its height it struck me that French intellectuals took a great interest in dispensing political advice, whereas their European and America peers were more interested in charitable aid. French attitudes were also more passionate than British or American ones, maybe because French intellectuals had too often collaborated with the German masters during the second world war and then become enthusiastic Stalinists. A search for forgiveness, for redemption, may have been a factor. When in 1991 a majority of Algerians voted in favour of an Islamist party, such people were rendered speechless. /p pA striking figure of those years was Malika Abdelaziz, a committed communist (though no Stalinist) who became the companion of the exiled “Black Power” activist Eldridge Cleaver. Malika was talented, intelligent and beautiful. She would walk about Algiers barefoot, with flowers in her magnificent mane of hair, and dance in cabarets, yet also gradually made her way as a journalist. After 1989, when prime minister Mouloud Hamrouche oversaw major economic and political reforms, Malika turned her attention to questions of international finance and Algeria’s crippling foreign debt. Her articles in the weekly emAlgérie Actualités /emeasily outshone those of her better known peers in emLe Monde /emor emLe Figaro /emin Paris. After years of exile in Spain during Algeria’s bitter and deadly civil war of the 1990s, she returned to her homeland and resumed her investigate style of reporting with as much zest as she had shown in her earlier life. /p pBy the 1980s, third-worldism was already going out of fashion (though it lingered among Algeria’s elite for some years more). In the Anglo-Saxon world, where it was always dismissed as arbitrary political verbiage, economic liberalism and privatisation became a new dogma that spread widely. The financial crash of 2008 could do worse than act as a reminder that self-congratulatory adherence to any creed is always misleading.strong br //strong/ppstrongA great forgetting/strong/ppstrong /strong/p pSome of Algeria’s most distinguished diplomats were eloquent defenders of Boumediène's policies, and typical of a brilliant generation. Lakhdar Brahimi was Algeria’s ambassador to Egypt after 1962 and then to the UK for a decade after 1970; Mohammed Sahnoun was deputy secretary general of the OAU from 1964-73, then ambassador to Bonn, Washington and Paris; Reda Malek was ambassador to Moscow, Washington and London. Those who built the state oil company were no less clever, and advanced the creed they believed in with more than a little panache. Mohammed Mazouni built the oil-and-gas export terminal and LNG plants at Arzew in western Algeria; Nordine Ait Laoussine was Sonatrach's hard-hitting vice-president in charge of natural-gas exports. The goodwill towards Algeria was immense then; today it has been totally dissipated, and younger Algerian are very angry; for years they have despised those they call, sometimes a little unfairly, Jurassic Park./p pI soon came to understand that behind the official Algerian argument - the ruling emFront de liberation /emnational party represented a new beginning and all other parties a discarded past - was a single purpose: to discredit the party’s rivals and erase them from Algerian’s memory. History began in the faraway past, then made an enormous leap to 1 November 1954 when the war against France started. Since I had written a thesis on the first four years of French colonial rule (1830-34) and read a lot of history, I knew this to be a lie - and often said so to senior Algerians, who were not best pleased. /p pNor did Algeria's militant Arab nationalism strike me as particularly attractive: after all I bore a Berber name. The then minister of culture, Reda Malek, once told archeologists from Cambridge University who were presenting him with a summary of recent digs they had conducted in eastern Algeria (where they had unearthed the remains of a Berber palace): “emEn Algérie on trouve des monuments Arabes, pas Berbères/em.” Considering that eleven of the thirteen Algerians who launch the fight for independence were Berbers, such a degree of self-denial was bound to lead to trouble. So long as Algerian leaders refuse to accept that the anthropological bedrock of their identity is Berber, they will be unable to make sense of their history and build a future which makes sense for 38 million Algerians.strong br //strong/ppstrongAn inescapable past/strong/ppstrong /strong/p pMy origins often played unforeseen tricks on me. In August 1977, I visited a senior Algerian diplomat at the country’s embassy in Washington. The World Bank had just completed a confidential report on Algeria, one of the first of its kind, and I told my interlocutor of my regret that I would probably never get a chance to read it. At the end of a very instructive and friendly conversation, he swung his chair around, opened his safe, and handed me a copy of that very same report, murmuring “from one Berber to another”. When I got back to London, I wrote a summary of the report in the emFinancial Times/em. The deputy editor congratulated me and offered to pay the cost of my return flight to Washington (I had been there on a private visit). At the World Bank and in Algiers, I acquired a reputation which I scarcely deserved. /p pTwo years before, in 1975, I had travelled to my grandfather’s village for the first time. On my way to Tizi Hibel, I asked my driver - who was also the driver of the mayor of Tizi Ouzou, the capital of Kabylia - to stop in Benni Douala, the last (small) town before the village, to meet its own mayor. He accused me of being a spy, interrogated the driver and sent me back to Tizi Ouzou. The latter's mayor picked up his phone and proceeded to spend half an hour insulting his Benni Douala peer. He then turned to me and said: “Be my guest for five days, keep the car and the driver, I want a son of Kabylia to be welcome in the land of his ancestors.” /p pParanoia among the elite about the Berbers was at its height in those years. Some feared that emVava Inouva/em, a popular song sung by Idir, could endanger the state. During Algeria's football cup competition, Algiers police arrested supporters of the emJeunesse Electronique de Tizi Ouzou /emfor allegedly cheering on their team to chants of “emA bas Boumediène/em”; the young Kabyles retorted that they were shouting “emImaziren/em”, which is how the Berbers call themselves. The team's very name, JET, was an insult to the Kabyles: their team had played an important role in the fight against France - but as the emJeunesse Sportive Kabyle/em. (In the early 1960s, the financing of football teams was entrusted to the new state industries, hence the new name). /p pThis denial of history - mixed with simple ineptitude - was further demonstrated when in 1985 a tomb of the unknown soldier was inaugurated under three slabs of concrete costing $300m. Beneath the emMakam el Chahid /em(monument to the martyrs) there was - as under the emArc de Triomphe/em in Paris - an eternal flame; but Algerian leaders had simply forgotten that Muslims are not allowed to pray in front of a flame. Everyday Algerians promptly nicknamed the new monstrosity - which looks from afar as if it is going to fall off the hill on which it stands - “Houbal”, the name of a pre-Islamic Arabian divinity. /p pHistory lurked everywhere in Algeria. One winter day, driving across the snow-bound mountains in the Akfaddou forest, the Sonatrach driver stopped the car and asked me to come and look at the scenery. The men of the emkhatiba/em (unit) I was commanding in 1959 went up in flames here as napalm was dropped from French planes”, he explained. “I lost my faith that very moment” he said in a matter-of-fact way. Less than twenty years later, he was pointing to tree-trunks burned by napalm, which stood out against the white snow and the brilliant blue sky. emOperaton Jumelles/em, launched by General Maurice Challes, blanketed Kabylia with napalm; the forest showed its stigmata for decades./p pA virulent Arab nationalism, reinforced by self-denial about its own roots, was to cost Algeria dear. History however should incline the observer towards indulgence. That master of middle east and north African history, Jacques Berque, saw how far modern Arabism had sought to suppress or traduce the country’s Berber foundations: “emPeu importe que le gros du people algérien fut arabo-berbère ou que les premières lutes surgissent dans le massif des Aurès, ou on ne parlait que le chaouia: l’arabisme, alors ( in the 1950s) en plein essor a l’échelle internationale serait l’allié le plus tapageur. C’est tellement vrai qu’en 1956 notre gouvernement cru réprimer les insurgés kabyles en allant bombarder Suez. Que le fonds soit berbère, comment le nier? spanIbn Khaldoun au 14e siècle, titre son oeuvre du nom de ce people. Au fait, il a décrit la submersion par une invasion d/spanspan’/spanspanArabes. Mais de l/spanspan’/spanspanafflut des Orientaux chez les Imazhiren nul n/spanspan’/spanspanévalue ni la masse ni la proportion. /spanspanPas plus l’auteur des Prolégomènes que les Occidentaux/span/em.” /p pI continued to pay visits to this vast and beautiful land, as an FT reporter but also on private visits. The mixture of inferiority and superiority complexes was at times maddening; the sheer obstinacy of many Algerians infuriating; but the hospitality I encountered, the lifelong friends I made, left a mark. The more I wrote and broadcast about Algeria, the more I enjoyed its rollercoaster of rigid bureaucrats, argumentative intellectuals, true believers who liked nothing better than a good glass of emCuvée du Président/em; diplomats who defended Arab nationalism yet spent their holidays in Europe and sent their children to western universities; confident, luminous women professionals sure of their equal rights; brilliant oil-and-gas engineers, farmers with a black sense of humour about the ruinous effects of the emrévolution agraire/em. /p pAlbert Camus had expressed better than I ever could the exhilaration of being a journalist. In his emCarnets/em he wrote to his friend Pascal Pia: “emVous savez mieux que moi combier ce metier est décevant. Mais j’y trouve cependant quelquechose: une impression de liberté - je ne suis pas constraint, et tout ce que je fais me semble vivant/em.” (You know better than I how this trade can disappoint. But it has something else: a sense of freedom. I'm not constrained; everything I do seems alive).strong br //strong/ppstrongAn unwritten memoir/strong/ppstrong /strong/p pTwo men helped me understand the early years of Algerian independence better than most. John Cooley learned his journalism during Algeria’s war of independence - which proved to be an excellent training-ground to understanding the wider region part of the world. It was the foundation of a distinguished career, as he became one of the most respected reporters on middle east and north African affairs. I am deeply in debt to John’s professional generosity, his wife Vania’s cuisine and the number of introductions they afforded me in Washington, New York, London and Paris. They helped me forge the tools of my trade. /p pHafedh Ibrahim hailed from a secure middle-class family of the Sahel region in central Tunisia. After studying in Paris - he qualified as a doctor and worked at the emHopital Franco-Arabe /emin the suburb of Bobigny - he moved to Madrid and formed a company which was officially engaged in importing bulk chemicals. In fact this was a screen for more dangerous activities. This Tunisian's great cause was Algerian independence, and he used the proceeds from his business to start buying weapons for Moroccan and then Algerian nationalists. /p pHe soon got to know the dictator Francisco Franco’s inner circle, notably General Muñoz Grande, and ensured Spain's authorities would turn a blind eye to his activities. When I got to know him in the mid-1980s, Dr Ibrahim lived with his French wife in a vast house surrounded by a beautiful garden graced with peacocks. Old Masters hung on the wall, as well as a pencil portrait of one of Algeria’s great nationalist leaders, Larbi Ben M’Hidi (who was tortured to death by the French in 1956). /p pHafedh Ibrahim was bitterly disappointed by independent Algeria, but he knew every person in Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland and north Africa who had played a role in the drama. He was an invaluable fount of detailed information and a good judge of current affairs. He never wrote his memoirs, like many men of his generation: when he died it was as if a whole library of modern north African history had been destroyed. I have a reproduction of this portrait of Larbi Ben M’Hidi in my home. I often look at it and wonder what Algeria’s modern destiny would have been had men of that calibre led the newly independent country. As it was, Algeria was burdened with second-rate (at best) figures such as Ahmed Ben Bella, Houari Boumediène and Chadli Bendjedid. The struggle to free itself from the legacy of those post-independence years is still going on./pfieldset class=fieldgroup group-sideboxslegendSideboxes/legenddiv class=field field-read-on div class=field-label 'Read On' Sidebox:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pa href= target=_blankspan class=stBarcelona Centre for International Affairs (/spanCidob)/a/ppJames McDougall, a href=;amp;ss=copemHistory and the Culture of Nationalism in Algeria/em/aem /em(Cambridge University Press, 2006) /ppa href= Review/em/a/ppMartin Evans, a href= France's Undeclared War/em/a (Oxford University Press, 2011)/p pa href= East Research and Information Project (MERIP)/a/ppKay Adamson, a href= A Study in Competing Ideologies/em/a (Bloomsbury, 1998)/p /div /div /div div class=field field-sidebox div class=field-label Sidebox:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pFrancis Ghilès is a href= research fellow/a at the a href= target=_blankspan class=stBarcelona Centre for International Affairs (/spanCidob)/a. He was the emFinancial Times's/em north Africa Correspondent from 1981-95, and now contributes to newspapers such as the emNew York Times/em, emWall Street Journal/em, emLe Monde/em, emEl Pais/em and emLa Vanguardia/em. He is a specialist in emerging energy markets and their relationship to political trends, and has advised western governments and corporations working in north Africa/p /div /div /div div class=field field-related-stories div class=field-labelRelated stories:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd a href=/francis-ghil%C3%A8s/north-african-diversities-algerian-tales-maghrebi-dreamsNorth African diversities: Algerian tales, Maghrebi dreams/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/francis-ghil%C3%A8s/north-african-diversities-moroccan-odysseyNorth African diversities: a Moroccan odyssey/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/francis-ghil%C3%A8s/north-african-diversities-tunisian-odysseyNorth African diversities: a Tunisian odyssey/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/francis-ghil%C3%A8s/north-african-diversities-algerian-odysseyNorth African diversities: an Algerian odyssey/a /div /div /div /fieldset div class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Algeria /div /div /div div class=field field-topics div class=field-labelTopics:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Democracy and government /div div class=field-item even International politics /div /div /div

“We are all brothers in the end”. Three conflicts, three generations; Syrian, Iraqi and Palestinian refugees in Jordan

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 9:25am
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pMadaba is a large town in central Jordan and host to many of its neighbours' refugees. There has been some tension between Syrian refugees, Palestinians and Jordanians. But what is the current situation between the new Syrian arrivals and the local people?/p /div /div /div pspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=Madaba Campimg src= alt=Madaba Camp, originally a semi-permanent Palestinian Refugee camp, it now houses a large Syrian population. title=Madaba Camp width=460 height=307 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'Semi-permanent Palestinian Refugee Camp in Madaba. It now houses a considerable Syrian population. Image: BenGe Photography/span/span/span The Syrian conflict enters its fourth year and 600 Syrians arrive in Jordan every day, according to UN estimates. The relationship between Jordanians and its varied refugees is tested out in the town of Madaba - Jordan’s fourth largest ‘city’ - 30km south-west of Amman and 100km of the Zaatari refugee camp. Established in 1956 for the Palestinians, Madaba refugee camp, together with the town of Madaba itself, now shelters close to 9,000 Syrian refugees according to figures by the UNRWA. Its newest arrivals are from Damascus, Homs and Daraa. /p pFollowing the sharp increase in Syrian refugees, CARE reported in April 2013, “a rise of community tensions due to the large number of poor Jordanian households with whom Syrian refugees compete for access to assistance and other services. An Iraqi-Kurd begging outside Madaba’s central bus terminal alludes to Jordan’s refugee-stricken past. The Iraqi refugees – of which 25,000 were to stay – fled the fighting in 1991 and again in the mid-2000s. Previously, it was the Palestinians. Now it is the turn of the Syrians. /p pEconomist Khalid Wazani reckons “the cost on the budget is $3,500 per year for each refugee.” The claim of additional burden on the treasury is echoed by the World Bank: “[The Kingdom’s fiscal strains] have been deepened by the influx of Syrian refugees to Jordan.” /p h2The struggle for employment and a rare case of integration /h2 pTariq, a shopkeeper originally from Damascus, has experienced firsthand deteriorating relations between Jordanians and Syrian refugees in Madaba. “At first, people helped me with money for rent. But refugees kept coming; it was impossible for Jordanians here to keep giving.” Tariq’s is a success story; after struggling for over one year, he is now the proud owner of a Kanafeh shop. Splitting the business’ proceeds with a Jordanian owner, Tariq is building a sustainable living in Jordan. /p pHowever, the majority of Syrians who actually work - “about 160,000” according to Ministry of Labour – are doing so illegally. “I tried to get a work permit, but was refused. Everyone here works illegally,” explains Tariq. “I worked when I got here, but in the end, didn’t get paid,” Tariq smiles, his hands open. According to a report published by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in June, 2013, “a work permit is required which in practice is not granted to Syrians.”/p pAn UNRWA worker at Zaatari elaborated on Tariq’s experience. “Many Syrians are skilled professionals. Some find work in their field. In the end, their employers often choose not to pay them. What can the refugees do?” Without work permits, refugees are not subject to Jordan’s employment rights and are held hostage in the bureaucratic tangle./ppspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=Tariq and his employeesimg src= alt=Tariq, a Damascene, between two of his Syrian employees. He splits the ownership of the Kanafeh shop with a local Jordanian title=Tariq and his employees width=460 height=307 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'Tariq between two of his Syrian employees. He splits the ownership of the shop with a local Jordanian. Image: BenGe Photography /span/span/span/p pInability to find work is one of the reasons forcing Syrians into isolated communities. Relying on each other’s support, friends and family connections, contributes to refugees clustering in the same area. On a street in Madaba Refugee Camp - previously a Palestinian-only area of Madaba - a Syrian refugee shrugs his shoulders: “Why come here? I already had some of my family come here before me.”/p h2Inside Madaba /h2 pNail Al-Mulhan is a Bedouin originally from Al Lubban in Jordan. Even with a Master’s Degree in Agricultural Engineering, Nail is finding it increasingly difficult to feed his family of five. “There is increasing competition for jobs, housing, and resources.” Nail’s family occupies one of nine apartments in a building, the other eight are rented by Syrian refugees. /p pVisiting Tariq’s Kanafeh shop with Nail, Tariq reiterates Nail’s estimates: “All the workers here are from Syria”, says the Damascene shopkeeper, while Nail throws a quick glance at me. However, according to CARE’s report published in April, 2013, 61% of Syrians in Madaba are unemployed./ppspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=Nail Salameh Al-Mulhan, holding his master’s thesisimg src= alt=Nail Salameh Al-Mulhan, holding his master’s thesis. Economic hardship makes him consider a move to the USA title=Nail Salameh Al-Mulhan, holding his master’s thesis width=460 height=307 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'Nail Salameh Al-Mulhan, holding his master’s thesis. He is considering a move to the USA. Image: BenGe Photography /span/span/span/p h2Conflicting values /h2 pTariq is sceptical that Syrian refugees can culturally integrate into Jordanian society. The contrast between community norms means that, “not all Jordanians respect or accept Syrians.” The more progressive communities of Syria and Jordan are seen as a threat to the traditional and conservative way of living in the region - the cultural divisions permeate the society regardless of nationality. However, Nail is quick to conclude: “The Syrian community is open-minded (more than the Jordanian); the culture is different. The relationship between women and men is not the same. I don’t like it; many Jordanians think the same.” /p pAs with many stereotypes, views tends to be formed by Syrian cultural exports and media portrayal. Mohammed Dawabsheh, a Palestinian living in Amman, is more critical about such perceptions. “Jordanians’ view of Syrian culture and society is based on films and television dramas like Bab Al-Hara or Al Eshq Al Haram.” Raduan, a Syrian from a traditional family in the south of Damascus, adds: “In fact, the culture in the southern areas of Syria is also conservative./p h2From the Palestinian diaspora to the Syrian conflict/h2pspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=Palestinian and Syrian children by the Madaba Campimg src= alt=Palestinian and Syrian children run among the grass and heaps of trash. “You like kites, yeah?” smiles a passing youth title=Palestinian and Syrian children by the Madaba Camp width=460 height=307 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'Palestinian and Syrian children run among the ankle deep grass and knee high heaps of trash. Image: BenGe Photography/span/span/span/p pAbu Khalil, a Palestinian from Bethlehem, remembers coming to Madaba in 1967. “It was hard back then; we lived in tents and we didn’t get much help. But it was easier to integrate. Jordanians and Palestinians are the same people.” Jordan controlled the West Bank, one of the Palestinian territories, until 1967. But Abu Khalil appreciates the challenges Syrians experience today. “They have all come with big families, so it’s hard to survive.” /p pLiving on the outskirts of the Palestinian’s semi-permanent refugee camp, he voices the concerns of local Palestinians. “Everything has become more expensive here because of the Syrian refugees - the food, the accommodation. Everyone is complaining. But in the end, we just have to live with it.” Motioning to his son sitting by his side, “my son wants to marry, but can’t afford to rent an apartment here any more.” /p pRemembering the time when people helped the Syrians to find food and shelter, he now shakes his head. “It’s stopped now. There are too many.”/ppspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=Syian man and his daughterimg src= alt=Syan man with his daughter in Madaba Camp, one of many who have reported use of chemical weapons by Assad's forces title=Syian man and his daughter width=460 height=307 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'Syrian man with his daughter in Madaba Camp. He has reported chemical attacks by Assad’s forces. Image: BenGe Photography/span/span/span/p h2“We are all brothers” /h2 pA Jordanian shopkeeper, surrounded by businesses owned by Palestinians and Syrians in Madaba is quick to dismiss any disagreement: “we are all brothers here.” A recent survey, conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI), concluded that only “seven per cent cited the Syrian refugee influx” as the cause for Jordan “heading in the wrong direction.” /p pSyrians, Palestinians and Jordanians shake hands over plates of Kanafeh and regional sweets in the shop in the far corner of Madaba. “Problems?” laugh the people inside, “there are absolutely no problems between us”. /p pIf the Syrian communities do become more isolated as some signs indicate, Jordan faces a new problem. Unable to access wider distribution of services and opportunities, many will remain confined to such self-formed enclaves. /p pNaji Al-Roahma, a Jordanian police man serving in Amman and living in Madaba, smiles, “everything is OK between us. We are all poor”./ppspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=Naji Al Roahma with his two children and Syrian neighborsimg src= alt=Naji Al Roahma – Jordanian police officer, living on the outskirts of Madaba Camp, with his two children and Syrian neighbours. title=Naji Al Roahma with his two children and Syrian neighbors width=460 height=307 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'Naji Al Roahma, who lives on the outskirts of Madaba Camp, with his two children and Syrian neighbours. Image: BenGe Photography/span/span/span/p

Hawaii and Crimea

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 8:26am
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pIn 1898, Hawaii was officially annexed to the US illegally under a joint resolution of Congress, with the US using the excuse of ‘military necessity’ in the advent of the Spanish-American War./p /div /div /div pThe United States government and the United States press have been up in arms over what they perceive to be Russia’s illegal annexation and occupation of Crimea, formally part of Ukraine. a href= US Press Secretary/a summed up the official line ,‘’The United States has steadfastly supported the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ukraine since it declared its independence in 1991.’’ /p pThe US and the EU are looking for ways to discredit the secession of Crimea on the grounds that thea href= referendum held was illegal/a. Whilst this is all well and good in presenting the US as a benevolent world power, dedicated to upholding the integrity of international law and defending the sovereignty of fellow nations, there are clearly other factors at play apart from the self-determination of the Crimean people./p pThe use of the word sovereignty by the US government and also their references to occupation are both interesting and hypocritical. Not only does the US’s foreign policy contradict this stance but their domestic policy is also in contravention of their own official stance with regards to the current occupation of the sovereign Kingdom of Hawaii, a href= is a de facto colony of the United States/a. /p h2The US occupation of Hawaii/h2 pWhilst most people outside of the US recognize Hawaii as a state of America, an idyllic holiday destination and the place of birth of current US President Barack Obama, few people are fully aware of how all this happened./p pAccording to a href= law professor Mathew Craven/a, the Hawaiian state still exists and thus the extension of US law onto Hawaii is a contravention of international law. Craven extensively shows in his study that Hawaii fulfilled all the requisite criteria to be regarded as a sovereign state during the nineteenth century, citing various diplomatic agreements that the Kingdom of Hawaii had at the time (that are technically still in existence) as well as the fact that Britain and France declared in 1843 that Hawaii (The Sandwich Islands) was an independent state./p pDespite that, in 1898 the islands were officially annexed to the US illegally under a joint resolution of Congress, with the US using the excuse of ‘military necessity’ in the advent of the Spanish-American War. The rogue Republic of Hawaii (that attempted a coup in 1893) accepted the ‘’annexation’’ and Hawaii has been under US occupation ever since./p h2The movement to reclaim Hawaii/h2 pIn 1993 the US stoked the fires of independence through issuing the ‘Apology Law’ which admitted to the fact that the US illegally participated in the seizure of the Hawaiian Kingdom back in 1893. a href= joint resolutionnbsp;/aemacknowledges that the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii occurred with the active participation of agents and citizens of the United States and further acknowledges that the Native Hawaiian people never directly relinquished to the United States their claims to their inherent sovereignty as a people over their national lands, either through the Kingdom of Hawaii or through a plebiscite or referendum/em. This clearly indicated an acceptance of wrongdoing on the US’ part and furthered claims for Hawaiian independence, by accepting the fact that Hawaii was a sovereign state prior to the illegal annexation. That being said, the US have never built on this apology or assisted attempts to reconcile past wrongs through consideration of ending the occupation. /p pThe movement have been going down a legal route in an attempt to regain their state recognition. In 2000 for example a case that was heard at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague (the World Court) which involved a subject of the Hawaiian Kingdom and the government of the Hawaiian Kingdom itself. a href= the words of Leon Sui/a, the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Kingdom of Hawaii, this ‘established that both parties - the subject and the government - had standing in an international court’ essentially, the World Court regarded the Hawaiian Kingdom to be a sovereign state under international law, which set a precedent for wider debate on the legality of Hawaii. /p pCurrently, the State of Hawaii remains an administrative branch of the United States government, rather than a means for the indigenous Hawaiian people to gain sovereignty. The critical point is that the Kingdom of Hawaii never ceased to exist and thus has been under occupation since the illegal annexation that the US subsequently apologised for. /p h2US hypocrisynbsp;/h2 pObama has spoken about the a href= of Russia’s occupation and subsequent annexation of Crimea,/a yet he, Hawaiian born, has failed to acknowledge his own hypocrisy in ignoring the US’ own illegal annexation and continued occupation of Hawaii. The US claim they will never recognize Crimea’s secession, despite the fact that there is an argument to be made that people in Crimea do a href= closer to Moscow than Kiev/a, which adds some legitimacy to the case for Crimean secession, even in spite of Vladimir Putin’s heavy handed tactics and irrespective of his motives. /p pThe double standard seems lost on the President and on the United States press. The media in the US are singing from the same hymn sheet in support of the US government position and spouting anti-Putin rhetoric, without ever picking up on the case of the Hawaiian people and the obvious breach of their a href= to self-determination/a. Some might of course argue that this shows some consistency, as the US clearly seem to be a href= the Crimean right to self-determination/a, whilst also being against the right to self-determination of the Hawaiian people.nbsp; This is despite the fact that article I of the UN Charter notes that the purpose of the UN is to ‘develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples’ something alluded to by a href= Republican Representative for Texas, Ron Paul/a. /p pWhat is clear is that the USA are not concerned with the sovereignty of fellow nations, nor are they fussed about extending the right to self-determination to people of all over the globe. In the interim period there needs to be more attention given to the occupation of the Hawaiian people and the failure of the US to respond in the light of the 1993 apology.nbsp;/pdiv class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd United States /div div class=field-item even Russia /div /div /div div class=field field-topics div class=field-labelTopics:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Conflict /div div class=field-item even Democracy and government /div div class=field-item odd International politics /div /div /div

Affirmative action: friend or foe?

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 7:05am
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pAffirmative action refers to policies and legislative measures that take into consideration factors such as gender, religion, race or colour, and that tend to correct certain social imbalances by promoting an underrepresented group using different tools./p /div /div /div pIn today’s literature and discussions, the concept is regarded as either a justice seeking device or a failure in the system due to the fact that “it results in reverse discrimination and lowers the qualifications of those selected under the policy”.nbsp;In a search for a definition, one easily stumbles into labour law issues, since affirmative action is mainly associated with the establishment of quotas, by which a certain percentage of jobs must be allocated to women, members of a certain ethnic group, people with a certain nationality…etc. /ppMoreover, these policies also affect education. In Romania, for example, a certain percentage of admissions to higher education is reserved for the Roma people. nbsp;These practices can be observed also in Brazil or the United States, although in the latter, the situation is obscure due to constitutional challenges that were invoked in certain cases such asnbsp;emGrutter v. Bollinger./em/ppThese corrective policies are partially legitimate due to the lack of limitations in the definitions that arise in differentnbsp;international instruments. Although they are generally regarded as temporal, the specific limitations of affirmative actions were never defined and neither were the social areas of their effective impact. In theem Handbook on European Non-discrimination Law /emit is mentioned that affirmative action should “function as a short-term and exceptional mean”./p pIt is said that today, affirmative actions are insufficient, due to:nbsp;/p ulliThe absence of a legal definition in international treaties/liliThe absence of legally determined prerequisites and conditions/liliThe inexistent clarification and limitations of the operating time-frame/lilispanThe lack of a prototype for measuring the results and effects of these policies/span/li/ulpIt is my personal belief that corrective policies should not interfere with fundamental rights and criminal law but should be characterized by socio-economic interference. It appears to me that the best interpretation that could limit states'margin of appreciation is one linking the need for differential treatment to a scarcity of goods and rights. The prerequisites of affirmative action should then be:/p ulliA situation of quantitative imbalance for a certain underrepresented group, determined by a disproportionate distribution of rights and goods/liliAn objective legal impossibility of accessing those goods and rights by the underrepresented group or an impractical legal machinery to help them access such goods and rights/liliA casual link between the differential treatment to be accorded and the shortcoming of the legal system that should be corrected by the policy./liliSufficient proof based on sociological predictions that the policies would be effective in assuring an equal access to rights and goods./li/ul pAffirmative action has brought a wide recognition of the separation between women’s work life and private life and in the employment areas, incentives and trainings helped smooth the progress of including women in the labour market./p pThe debate regarding the implementation of the policies and their reversed discrimination effect as well as the compatibility with the principle of equality before the law remains open on a transnational level. We can’t know for sure for how long these measures will be taken and what long-term impact they will have on the contours of a new definition of differential treatment, whether domestic or international./p pWhat we do know is that affirmative action is becoming part of modern international law and unlike during the classical period, this one is characterized by the international organizations’ endorsement of differential treatment.nbsp;Since affirmative action is present mostly in General Comments and Recommendations that are not treaties and therefore, do not possess a legally binding character, it is questionable whether states will achieve the non-discrimination goals set in different treaties. /ppFor those states who decide to follow the guidelines contained in these non-binding documents due to their interpretative authority, it is necessary to create a strict set of rules that would determine when such measures arenbsp;emobjectively needed and justified/em./p pClearly defined and lawfully implemented, corrective policies have the ability to change the discriminatory landscapes of states. Maxwell Chibundu argues in ”emAffirmative action and International Law”/emnbsp;that there is a need for the codification of affirmative action as to make it part of the international law doctrine, for it possesses “pragmatism and moral strength’’ along with the traits of a just logic of redistribution. He also warns us of the fact that the ability of these policies to influence change depends on the power struggles and relationships that delineate each society./p pAnother problem that is yet to be addressed relates to the social support and information revolving around affirmative action. There are no sufficient national surveys to reflect attitudes towards racial or gender corrective policies or the difference between those and any meritocracy. In the US, a small number of studies have concluded that women and African-Americans are more likely to sustain the ideology of the state’s corrective duty but there is not enough data to predict gender-related positive action positions./p pIf affirmative action becomes anbsp;emfair distribution/emnbsp;tool and is properly promoted by international law, not only will it shape non-discrimination but it has the power to consolidate development strategies that are more likely to generate economic equity and respect for social, economical and cultural rights./ppnbsp;/p

The selective awareness of Wisdom 2.0

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 6:04am
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pTake an ancient practice, remove it from its context, strip away its ethical imperatives and sell it for a profit. Is the goal of the corporate mindfulness movement to comfort the already comfortable?nbsp;/p /div /div /div pimg src= alt= width=460 //pp class=image-captionCredit: a href= All rights reserved./p pspanEvery February or thereabouts, representatives from tech companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and PayPal gather in San Francisco for /spana href= 2.0/aspan, a conference that aims to unite mindfulness with technology. Over the course of several days, high-profile digerati interact with spiritual luminaries like /spana href= Tolle/aspan, /spana href= Kabat-Zinn/aspan and /spana href= Halifax/aspan, to explore topics such as ‘mindful management,’ ‘conscious leadership,’ and ‘wisdom in the workplace’ through speeches, dialogues, and group sessions./span/p pspanFounded in 2009 by /spana href= Gordhamer/aspan, the conference is a heady stew of the digital and the spiritual that leaves some attendees satisfied, and others feeling severely malnourished, keenly aware that important ingredients are missing. As Amanda Ream, a community activist and longtime meditator writes on /spana href=, a popular Buddhist website:/span/p blockquotepspan“Most of the workshops offer lifestyle and consumer choices that are meant to help people heal from the harm, emptiness, and unsustainability associated with living under capitalism, but it does so without offering an analysis of where this disconnection comes from. The conference presents an evolution in consciousness of the wealthiest among us as the antidote to suffering rather than the redistribution of wealth and power.”/span/p/blockquote pspanIn terms of audience demographics, the people who Wisdom 2.0 could benefit most directly - namely stressed-out, hyper-connected ‘techies’ - are vastly outnumbered by smiling, smartly-dressed meditation teachers and life coaches hoping to snag some nbsp;high-paying clients. Yet this imbalance merely accentuates a much more conspicuous absence: people of modest means who can’t afford the ticket prices that approach $1000 apiece./span/p pspanAddressing the affluent audience of Wisdom 2.0 in 2013, best-selling author, speaker, and /spana href= politician/aspan Marianne Williamson spoke truth to privilege with the following words:/span/p blockquotepspan“Let me tell you something ladies and gentlemen: no spiritual leader person is going to come here and be a dancing monkey to help a bunch of rich capitalists talk about the fact that they can have a more compassionate workplace and meditation rooms while not dealing with the moral calling and the moral invitation of our species to deal with the fact that we have so much and so many have so little…/spanspanOnly in modern America could we come up with some ersatz version of spirituality that gives us a pass on addressing the unnecessary human suffering in our midst./span/p/blockquote pspanLater in her fiery sermon, Williamson invoked the phrase “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable,” which /spana href= Lang/aspan, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, upheld as the goal of religion. If this is true, one wonders whether the goal of Wisdom 2.0 is simply to comfort the comfortable, a question that could be posed about the corporate ‘mindfulness’ movement as a whole./span/p pspanPerhaps the suffering Williamson was referring to concerned the thousands of people (mostly of color) who were being forced to flee San Francisco, where rents and no-fault evictions have /spana href= in recent years/aspan due to an influx of wealthy employees from technology companies. Or perhaps she was reminding these same designers, programmers, and users of digital devices about the people overseas who mine the precious metals required for electronic gadgets, or who assemble them. Whatever the context, the elephant in the room - /spana href= disparity/aspan - was dragged from the shadows into the spotlight. Perhaps not coincidentally, Williamson did not appear on the roster of speakers for Wisdom 2.0 in 2014./span/p pspanNor did this year’s conference contain any talks or workshops on gentrification, despite this issue being front and center in San Francisco at the time. In the months prior to Wisdom 2.0, a /spana href= of demonstrations/aspan had been directed at the buses that transport Google employees from their homes in San Francisco to their jobs in Silicon Valley. In an apparent response to this glaring omission from the program, several anti-gentrification activists /spana href= the stage/aspan during a panel entitled “3 Steps to Build Corporate Mindfulness the Google Way.” They unfurled a banner reading “EVICTION-FREE SAN FRANCISCO” and shouted “Wisdom means stop displacement! Wisdom means stop surveillance!”/span/p pspanAs the protestors were being ushered offstage, panelist Bill Duane (the Senior Manager of Google’s “Well Being and Sustainable High Performance Development Program”) asked the audience to “check in with their bodies,” saying, “Let’s be with what it’s like to experience conflict…with people with heartfelt ideas who may be different than what we’re thinking.” Although conference organizers praised the presenters for handling the situation with grace and compassion, one of the protestors described the reaction as a “/spana href= study in spiritual bypassing/aspan.”/span/p pspanIn a /spana href= article/aspan, Katie Loncke, a supporter of the protest, wrote that “This is not true mindfulness. It’s selective awareness, optimized for pleasure. In other words, ignorance.”/span/p pspanSuch selective awareness has also been described as “McMindfulness” - a kind of ‘fast food for the soul’ that provides a quick hit of relaxation, while offering little in the way of lasting spiritual nutrition, challenge or self-growth. Take an ancient practice, remove it from its context, strip away its ethical imperatives, and sell it for a profit. This seems to be the brand of mindfulness that is spreading throughout the corporate world, where the focus is almost necessarily on boosting productivity, maximizing efficiency, and ultimately /spana href= the bottom line/aspan - not on raising consciousness or alleviating the suffering of all creatures great and small, both human and nonhuman./span/p pspanIn fact, one could argue that corporate profits come at the direct expense of many of these creatures, from disappearing animal species to displaced communities to underpaid workers. In this sense, corporate mindfulness serves mainly to reduce the stress and assuage the guilt of powerful and wealthy people - to ‘comfort the comfortable.’ nbsp;/span/p pspanOf course, a counterargument could be made that even a diluted meditation practice holds some transformative power, at least for those who are dedicated to venturing beyond relaxation. Delving into /spanemdis/emspancomfort, and confronting questions about our own identity are fundamental aspects of authentic spirituality. Yet any such benefits to a select few elites must be weighed against the terrifying speed at which human communities and natural ecosystems are being ravaged by global capitalism, with its need for endless exponential growth./span/p pspanEchoing the concerns of climate scientists, a recent /spana href= study/aspan warns that “global industrial civilization could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.” Although the technology industry rests heavily on information and other intangibles, considerable resources are required to manufacture and ship computers and smartphones, and to maintain the millions of servers to which they are connected, not to mention the mountains of electronic waste that are generated through planned obsolescence./span/ppspanHow the global ecological crisis will be addressed in Gordhamer’s most recent venture, /spana href= 2.0 Business/aspan, remains to be seen, but it seems unlikely that many guest speakers will advocate a de-growth economy or speak out against capitalism itself./span/p pspanWhat’s missing from Wisdom 2.0, and much of the broader mindfulness movement of which it forms a part, is an ecological and sociopolitical awareness that can confront the converging crises of our day./span/p pspanThe stakes are high, as are the moral standards to which influential people should be held, especially those who gather under the banner of “wisdom.” In the face of the largest challenges ever faced by humanity, we need an ethical operating system that’s decidedly more robust than Google’s famous slogan, “Don’t Be Evil.” This is little more than a cartoon commandment rendered Orwellian by a giant corporation with /spana href= ties/aspan to the global military-industrial-surveillance complex./span/p pspanIs a more positive injunction like “Be Mindful” any better? Not when mindfulness excludes a comprehensive sense of compassion and social justice, without which wisdom is all but meaningless./span/pfieldset class=fieldgroup group-sideboxslegendSideboxes/legenddiv class=field field-related-stories div class=field-labelRelated stories:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd a href=/transformation/michael-edwards/welcome-to-transformation-0Welcome to Transformation /a /div div class=field-item even a href=/transformation/alessandra-pigni/practising-mindfulness-at-checkpointPractising mindfulness at the checkpoint/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/transformation/mary-evans/love-in-time-of-neo-liberalismLove in a time of neo-liberalism/a /div /div /div /fieldset div class=field field-topics div class=field-labelTopics:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Culture /div div class=field-item even Ideas /div div class=field-item odd Internet /div /div /div div class=field field-rights div class=field-labelRights:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Creative Commons /div /div /div

Counting the cost of conflict

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 4:46am
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pCasualty recording has redefined efforts to protect civilians in conflict, and provide aid and accountability to victims of violence. But with an absence of political will to respond to conflict, what good are the numbers?nbsp;/p /div /div /div pThe comprehensive and systematic recording of casualties – including details about what happened, to whom, when, where, and why – is a key tool in protecting and assisting civilians living in conflict: without knowing who the victims of violence are, their needs for material assistance and redress, both during and after conflict, cannot be met./p pYet, in most areas affected by conflict and high rates of armed violence, there is no authoritative record of casualties.nbsp; As a result, there can be no justice for those killed and injured. Those responsible cannot be held accountable, their family members cannot seek justice or redress, and the international community cannot respond effectively to those still struggling to survive./p pMore and more, however, states, civil society, and particularly the United Nations are beginning to appreciate the essential benefits of recording the deaths and injuries from armed violence./ppOn 27th March, states at the a href=;LangID=EHuman Rights Council voted/a for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to investigate possible war crimes and abuses committed by both the state and the Tamil rebels in the final stages of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war. The negative reaction to this from Sri Lanka, which rejected the resolution as a violation of state sovereignty, was foreseeable./p pThe UN’s engagement with Sri Lanka both during and after the conflict, which ended in 2009 with the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), has been particularly difficult. a href= 2012 internal Petrie report/a reviewing UN performance at the end of the war identified a number of failings. One of the most damning findings was the UN system’s failure to effectively use local UN knowledge of mass civilian casualties in northern Sri Lanka to push for action – either from UN Member States or conflict parties – to prevent further harm to the civilian population./p pYet, while it is clear that the UN should have been more vocal about the loss of civilian life at the end of the conflict, ensuring Member States and conflict parties act on casualty data to protect civilians is a challenging task, one affected by political power dynamics often beyond the UN’s control./p pConsider Syria, where the a href=;NewsID=13447OHCHR’s very public reporting of casualty figures/a throughout the conflict has done little to spur UN Member States to action to protect civilians. As the death toll continues to rise we must ask whether information about casualties collected and reported on by the UN makes any difference at all. Can credible and impartial information on casualties ever really help to protect civilians living through conflict?/p h2strongCasualty recording and the protection of civilians in conflict/strongspannbsp;/span/h2 pThe UN’s experience in Afghanistan shows that when it is used effectively, systematic and credible information about civilian casualties can indeed help save lives. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan’s Human Rights unit (UNAMA HR) has a href=;language=en-USsystematically recorded civilian casualties since 2007/a. UNAMA HR analyses casualty data to identify the tactics and policies that cause the most harm to civilians, and uses it to support evidence-based dialogue – based on irrefutable data and analysis - with conflict parties, including the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Taliban. By demonstrating the impact on civilians of particular tactics, UNAMA HR’s data has encouraged policy changes that protect civilian lives, including a href=’s forbidding of the use of airstrikes on civilian dwellings/a in 2012 (except in exceptional circumstances).spannbsp;/span/p pIn the wake of its self-identified failures in Sri Lanka, the UN, through the newly introduced a href= Up Front/a initiative, aims to change the way it coordinates and acts on information about abuses and casualties. The a href= has recommended/a establishing a common information system covering civilian casualties within the UN. Oxford Research Group’s a href= report/a shows that more effective use of casualty recording by the UN would benefit the work of UN agencies and offices in their efforts to protect civilians in conflict and provide more effective humanitarian assistance../p pORG’s research underlines how casualty recording can help the UN and other humanitarian actors to identify effective responses to conflict emergencies, and in the longer-term to act on new threats to civilians – in UNAMA HR’s case for example, the increased use of mortars in civilian-populated areas, and the dangers of explosive remnants of war in old firing ranges. There remains a great deal of work to be done in the UN on this front: in the Central African Republic, for example, there is currently no credible casualty toll, and the UN is not attempting comprehensive and systematic documentation. This work, however, is vital.spannbsp;/span/p pIn Sri Lanka, a comprehensive record of casualties would have assisted the UN’s post-war humanitarian and relief programme planning. It also would have aided the state with any medical, social, or livelihood assistance that it might choose to give to those affected by the war. With no such documentation available, Sri Lanka’s Department of Census and Statistics has – following the recommendations of the national a href= Learned and Reconciliation Commission/a - a href= undertaken a household survey/a that aims to identify the scale of death, injury, and property damage from the entire civil war. The first results are due to be published within weeks – how these will impact on the aspects of post-war recovery identified here remains to be seen./p h2strongCasualty recording and victim assistance /strong/h2 pspanIn other contexts, casualty recording both during and after conflict has already been seen to be key to the provision of victim assistance and to accountability procedures, including trials for war crimes and human rights abuses./span/p pAfter decades of conflict, the Colombian government passed Law 1448 in 2013, known as the Victims and Land Restitution Law. This law provides for financial reparations and social services for victims, recognising their right to truth and justice, and allowing for the possible return of land lost during the conflict./p pThrough this law, the Colombian government appears to have recognised that peace is not achieved simply by negotiating a peace treaty, but by ensuring that people’s claims for truth, justice and reparation are properly addressed. By providing victim’s names and other relevant data, casualty recording is the cornerstone of this process./p pAs of 1 March 2014, the a href= of the Colombian Victims’ Unit/a, charged with ensuring the implementation of Law 1448, had recorded over 6,000,000 victims of the conflict in Colombia since 1985. While the vast majority (over 5,000,000) are those displaced by the conflict (the country now a href= the list/a of Internally Displaced Persons), 700,000 were victims of homicide. In instances where the direct victim of the conflict was killed, the law recognises spouses, long-term partners, and immediate family members as victims themselves. This approach reflects international developments around the concept of ‘victim’ that move away from a definition that considers exclusively the ‘direct’ victim of violence towards a more comprehensive approach that also includes families and communities.spannbsp;/span/p pHaving identified over 6,000,000 victims is in itself a laudable undertaking, but what will ensure the success of the initiative is the proper implementation of the law, requiring financial capacity, properly trained staff, and perhaps most importantly, political will. For while knowing the identity of people affected by conflict is an essential first step to assisting victims, how governments and the international community respond to these facts is what truly has an impact./p pDespite Colombia’s impressive efforts to create an accurate accounting of conflict, victims, most states are less interested in transparency and often actively subvert efforts to gather accurate casualty data./p pIn Sri Lanka, it is now evident that UN staff had a deeper understanding of the numbers of civilians being killed at the end of the war than they initially let on. The Petrie report analysing the UN’s failures to protect civilians points to “the [Sri Lankan] government's stratagem of UN intimidation, including control of visas to sanction staff critical of the stateem./em a href= officials have since confirmed that casualty records were not divulged at the time because/a “the organisation's staff felt bullied by the Sri Lankan government, and that there was a genuine fear for their safety”.spannbsp;/span/p pAction on Armed Violence’s (AOAV) recent research into a href=’ practices to record casualties/a found similar dynamics occurring in southern Thailand. While protests in Bangkok make front-page news, very few speak out about the on-going conflict in the south where explosive weapons are used daily and over a href=,000 people have been killed and injured since 2004/a.spannbsp;/span/p pAlthough casualty figures are regularly published by local organisations that receive their data from daily reports provided by the army and police, experts interviewed by AOAV point to the fact that international journalists are forced to renew their visas every few months, drastically limiting their access to the region and their ability to report on the death toll. Consequently organisations reporting on casualties are almost entirely reliant on figures issued by state controlled forces.nbsp;spannbsp;/span/p pConsidering the rather obscure criteria used by the police and army to determine whether a violent incident was the result of the insurgency or simply common crime, it becomes highly difficult for any external actor to use the data in order to understand the dynamics of the conflict or to inform their approach to address the violence./p h2strongCasualty recording and post-conflict accountability/strong/h2 pOne area where the international community emhas/em reacted strongly to evidence of casualties is in criminal tribunals and post-conflict accountability processes. Indeed, the use of casualty records to try individuals for war crimes is often a driving force behind a state’s reluctance to take a formal accounting of victims./p pIn Guatemala, forensic evidence provided during the trial of the ex military leader José Efraín Ríos Montt ensured that he was convicted for genocide and crimes against humanityem /eminem /emMay 2013, responsible for the massacre of indigenous people in 1982 and 1983. Although the Guatemalan Constitutional Court later overturned the ruling due to procedural issues, the casualty records that helped condemn Ríos Montt remain valid and are now being used to seek a ruling by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights./p pIn the case of Slobodan Milošević, evidence of mass casualties was used to dismantle the arguments used by his defence team. Using commissioned research on the patterns of death and migration in Kosovo, the Office of the Chief Prosecution found that the Yugoslav forces were indeed responsible for a systematic campaign of killings and expulsions, resulting in numerous deaths among the civilian population./p pIt is clear that in Afghanistan, Colombia and Southern Thailand, just as in Sri Lanka, casualty recording is, and continues to be, a necessary and vital aspect of any serious effort to address conflict and support long-lasting peace. Yet the numbers alone will not be sufficient. How this information is used, whether to address the rights of victims, serve as evidence in criminal trials, or spur international action relies not only on the proven evidence but also on our collective political will to respond to conflict and atrocity, reinforce our commitment to protecting civilians in conflict and halt the spiralling victims of violence.nbsp;/phr /pemORG and AOAV published a href= results of a wide-ranging study/a into the casualty recording practice of states and the UN on 16 April 2014. A joint summary can be found a href=;/em/pfieldset class=fieldgroup group-sideboxslegendSideboxes/legenddiv class=field field-related-stories div class=field-labelRelated stories:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd a href=/opensecurity/annabelle-giger/why-casualty-recording-mattersWhy casualty recording matters/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/paul-rogers/every-casualty-human-face-of-warEvery casualty: the human face of war/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/opensecurity/james-denselow/syria-from-corridor-diplomacy-to-humanitarian-corridorsSyria: from corridor diplomacy to humanitarian corridors/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/opensecurity/niran-anketell/hijacked-justice-truth-and-reconciliation-in-sri-lankaHijacked justice? Truth and reconciliation in Sri Lanka/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/opensecurity/sheila-varadan/still-searching-for-justice-victims-in-sri-lankaStill searching for justice: victims in Sri Lanka/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/opensecurity/raksha-vasudevan/international-engagement-in-post-conflict-sri-lanka-lessons-from-suppoInternational engagement in post-conflict Sri Lanka: lessons from the supposedly “powerless” women of the north/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/opensecurity/hameed-hakimi/left-behind-rural-youth-in-afghanistan%E2%80%99s-electionLeft behind: the rural youth in Afghanistan’s election/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/opensecurity/ivan-briscoe-timo-peeters/back-to-basics-for-colombias-rebelsBack to basics for Colombia#039;s rebels/a /div /div /div /fieldset div class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Afghanistan /div div class=field-item even Colombia /div div class=field-item odd Sri Lanka /div /div /div

US position over Iran’s ambassador generates confrontation with UN

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 4:42am
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pIf the UN does not act to reject this precedent, it will contribute to an international erosion of faith in its own integrity and independence -precisely the kind of behaviour which the carefully crafted ‘headquarters agreement’ was designed to prevent./p /div /div /div pJust a few weeks ago a handful of far-right Republican Senators alleged that Hamid Aboutalebi, the senior Iranian diplomat designated to be Iran’s ambassador at the UN in New York, had been amongst the young Iranians who had occupied the US embassy in Tehran in 1979. They also held 52 US diplomats and others hostage for 444 days. Aboutalebi had, they alleged solely on the basis of unsubstantiated evidence, participated in the occupation of the embassy, and was undoubtedly a “terrorist”./p pIran steadfastly stood by its man, pointing out that he was a very competent senior diplomat with a wealth of international experience. Aboutalebi denied that he had occupied the embassy, saying that his participation had been limited to translating a few documents. He was attacked, in a process of demonization which some Americans seem to reserve for Iran’s hostage takers, amongst other things as a “terrorist mastermind.” In ideologically heated situations US congressmen can fall prey to wild generalisations mobilising latent stereotypes, as we also see with regard to Ukraine at present. Does the increasing narrowness, insularity and intolerance of US political life make it unsuitable as a home for the UN?/p h2The hard right in Congress goes on the offensive/h2 pAt first this looked like another unsuccessful attempt by a fairly predictable group of ultra-conservative senators, backed by AIPAC and Fox News, to destabilise the negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program. But barely one month later, in the week April 7 - 11, both the House of Representatives and the Senate unanimously carried resolutions aiming to prevent Aboutalebi from taking up his post./p pThe Iranians refrained from the inflammatory rhetoric proliferating on the American side, simply stating that if the US government prevented their designated Permanent Representative from taking up his UN post, this would contravene “the inherent right of sovereign member states to designate their representatives to the UN”. In the meantime Iran has initiated the internal UN appeals process which is open to it./p pFar from intervening to stamp out this brush fire, the White House prevaricated, hoping that Iran would make the problem go away by withdrawing its nominee. However, both the Iranian and US governments are under severe pressure from ultra-conservative legislators to dig in. Withdrawing and replacing its initial candidate was accordingly ruled out as an option for Iran, while the White House was unable to ignore GOP catch-cries soon attracting a broad spectrum of congressional support, including from Democrats. Obama was being deserted by his own party. Not a single Democrat recorded a “no” vote./p h2Both houses of Congress adopt decisions in the absence of legal advice/h2 pUS Congressmen assumed from day one that current US immigration law, “allows broad rejection of visas to foreigners and, in many cases, officials do not have to give an explicit reason why.”nbsp; There is no evidence that any congressional bodies were offered professional advice by appropriate authorities on the legal options open to them.nbsp; Why did neither the State Department nor the Attorney-General front up with legal advice? nbsp;Why did Congress not request legal advice?/p pAlthough there were subtle hints that the White House may have been aware of legal problems associated with the non-recognition of designated representatives of UN member states, any such concern was apparently not shared with Congress, which has now unanimously committed itself to non-recognition.nbsp;/p pThe White House then saw no option other than to embrace Congress’s position, although it was well aware of its possible consequences for the nuclear negotiations involving the US, Iran, and others. In the words of Jay Carney, the White House spokesman: “We will bar Aboutalebi anyway. We have informed the UN and Iran that we will not issue a visa.”/p h2Ban Ki-moon dives for cover/h2 pPerhaps more damagingly, Ban Ki-moon, a UN Secretary-General notorious for diving for cover whenever humanly possible, publicly declined to set the record straight by expanding on the legality of the options under consideration by members of Congress. He did, however, reserve the right to comment later, when his opinion would no longer be of any consequence. nbsp;/p pIf Ban Ki-moon had, two or three weeks ago, circulated a formal opinion on the legal implications of the US not recognising an ambassador designated to represent his member state at UN headquarters, both Houses of Congress might well have found themselves unable to adopt their resolutions on this matter./p pThe die is now cast. Neither Iran nor the White House especially wants a confrontation at this point, with the nuclear negotiations now in their trickiest phase. But the abject failure of Kerry’s attempt to impose a US peace on Israel and the PLO, coupled with Obama’s health insurance debacle and the approach of end-of-year US mid-term elections, has deprived Obama of the ability to firmly shape the direction of US politics for the remainder of his presidential term. Obama is becoming a lame-duck president delivered up to a Congress increasingly dominated by a rampant Fox News GOP, with all the fatal implications of that. Even if Obama’s team can negotiate a tentative nuclear deal with Iran, will it be ratified by Congress?/p h2Agreed legal definition of UN sovereignty and independence/h2 pWestern media have, as usual, been completely absorbed in their own take on the UN controversy, and have omitted to display even the most rudimentary curiosity regarding Iran’s appeal, which is based on the Headquarters Agreement between the United States and the United Nations, initially signed by the UN Secretary-General and the US Secretary of State on 14 December 1946, and ultimately approved by the UN General Assembly and the US Congress. This agreement has defined the legal basis for interaction and cooperation between the US and the UN headquarters in New York./p pA geographical district called the ‘headquarters district’ is set aside for exclusive use by the UN. While certain US laws may apply in this district the agreement explicitly states, in section 8, that “no federal, state or local law or regulation of the United States which is inconsistent with a regulation of the United Nations authorized by this section shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, be applicable within the headquarters district.”/p pAny dispute as to whether a regulation of the UN is authorized or as to whether a federal, state or local law or regulation is inconsistent with any regulation of the UN is to be promptly settled, through either negotiation or referral to a tribunal of three arbitrators. Either the UN Secretary-General or the US Secretary of State may ask the UN General Assembly to solicit advisory opinions from the International Court of Justice on such matters. The agreement stipulates that, until such disputes are settled, the regulations of the UN shall apply, and US law shall be inapplicable in the headquarters district to the extent that the UN claims it to be inconsistent with the regulation of the UN. Should an advisory opinion be solicited from the ICJ, the appeals process would be anything other than prompt./p h2Some Secretaries-General undercut the agreement, to please the US/h2 pInstrong /strongNovember 1988 the head of the US delegation to the UN stated on record that the US had, on rare occasions, declined to issue visas to persons entering the US for UN purposes in order to protect national security. She went on to assert that UN practice confirmed that the US had the right to decline the issuance of visas and that the UN, “on a number of occasions since 1954”, had “acquiesced” in such a practice. It emerges clearly from this that at least some Secretaries-General and other senior UN staff must have cut informal deals with the US to exclude from international meetings and consultations individuals who were deemed a security risk by the US.nbsp; The US would exert political and economic pressure on the UN and their governments; their knowledge that neither the UN nor their governments were fiercely defending their right to participate would have predisposed them to subside quietly, without any fuss and bother.nbsp;/p pDag Hammarskjold was one Secretary-General who forcefully intervened to address and resolve such issues. The US formally undertook to consult closely with him about such cases and then, according to the UN Legal Counsel, simply bypassed him./p pThe US exclusion of Yasser Arafat from the work of the forty-third session of the General Assembly in November 1988 blew up into a major but short-lived controversy highlighting the US view that, in contravention of the headquarters agreement, it was entitled to deny visas to persons who, in its estimation, were a risk to national security./p pIn denying a visa to the designated Permanent Representative of a demonised state, the US is shifting up a gear, and is seeking to establish a precedent striking at the heart of the sovereignty of the UN and the independence of its member states. If the UN does not act to reject this precedent, it will contribute to an international erosion of faith in its own integrity and independence./p pThis was precisely the kind of behaviour which the carefully crafted headquarters agreement was designed to prevent. Perhaps the UN General Assembly should instruct the current Secretary-General, in conjunction with the Office of Internal Oversight, to submit a comprehensive and detailed historical report on any such practices, and on their compatibility with the headquarters agreement?/p pThis is a complex issue which can be thoroughly debated only when the UN Secretary-General and the Office of Internal Oversight submit a detailed history of all identifiable incidents involving the refusal of visas to individuals deemed empersona non grata/em by the US.nbsp;/p pBecause the US was the host country, it was meticulously consulted about the content of the headquarters agreement, which was initially signed by the Secretary of State. When the UN General Assembly then unanimously approved the agreement, the host country neither expressed nor implied any reservation about it, and embraced it. This would have weighed very heavily with the General Assembly at the time. In the absence of any formal proposal by either the US or the UN Secretary-General to amend the agreement, it stands as it was in December 1946./p h2Iran plays it cool/h2 pBy resorting to the UN appeals process Iran is able to firmly challenge the US decision in this case, while also keeping the issue out of the public eye, thus minimising the political damage. Even if the appeal is promptly pursued, it is unlikely to be resolved before the end of June – the initial deadline for agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue. In the view of this author Iran will almost certainly win its appeal, for reasons outlined elsewhere in this article. The US will be publicly humiliated, either by eating humble pie and backing down, or as a consequence of a ruling by UN arbitrators./p pSection 11 of the agreement specifies that US authorities “shall not impose any impediments to transit to or from the headquarters district of representatives of Members …”. Fascinatingly, under the present circumstances, section 12 states: “The provisions of Section 11 shall be applicable irrespective of the relations existing between the Governments of the persons referred to in that section and the Government of the United States.” Section 13(a) continues: “Laws and regulations in force in the United States regarding the entry of aliens shall not be applied in such manner as to interfere with the privileges referred to in Section 11. When visas are required for persons referred to in that Section, they shall be granted without charge and as promptly as possible.”/p h2UN has right to exclude US from UN headquarters district/h2 pInterestingly, if the UN objected strongly to the US decision to nullify Iran’s right, under the headquarters agreement, to designate its Permanent Representative to the UN, it could exercise its exclusive power, under section 13(f), to bar designated representatives of the US government from entering the headquarters district. The US would in this way discover at first hand what it means to be excluded from UN decision-making processes. Such an approach might encourage the US to rethink its position on non-recognition of Permanent Representatives to the UN./p pThe essence of the headquarters agreement is to guarantee the inviolability and sovereignty of the UN and its proceedings from attempts by the host government to inappropriately influence representational and decision-making processes. When Congress and the White House empowered themselves to exclude a person designated as the Permanent Representative of Iran to the UN in New York, they were unthinkingly challenging the very sovereignty and independence of the UN, and were buying into a fight with the General Assembly. Even governments that normally kowtow to the US will be compelled to align themselves against the US on this issue of fundamental importance to the UN. nbsp;The many members of the UN who are sick and tired of American exceptionalism will support Iran because, if this precedent goes unchallenged, it can later be invoked to inhibit or block their right to choose their own diplomatic representatives.nbsp;/p h2Has the US bitten off more than it can chew?/h2 pThe thoughtlessness of the US government and its absolute lack of concern for legal and political propriety have propelled it into a confrontation with the normally disunited nations. However attractive the prospect of a UN populated by ambassadors hand-picked by the US might be to the US, the sovereign member states of the UN will unite in opposition to this medieval concept of power-sharing and control. Many are already unsettled enough by the knowledge that every whisper, conversation and keystroke of classified diplomatic communication in New York is being routinely intercepted by the NSA, an agency of the US government./p pOnce it dawns on Obama’s political advisers that he will share the fate of General Custer at Wounded Knee unless he strikes a deal with Iran, this could give Iran political leverage in the ongoing nuclear negotiations./p h2High time to relocate the UN headquarters to a more suitable location?/h2 pSome UN member states already feel that, if the sovereignty of the UN is to be guaranteed in future, the UN headquarters should be moved away from New York. Maybe to Geneva, Beijing, New Delhi, Brasilia or Havana?/pdiv class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd United States /div div class=field-item even Iran /div /div /div div class=field field-topics div class=field-labelTopics:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Conflict /div div class=field-item even Democracy and government /div div class=field-item odd International politics /div /div /div

From Skouries to Athens, the struggle of Greek women against austerity

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 3:59am
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd p class=BodyAs Greece’s protracted crisis disappears from the international headlines, violence against women is both exacerbated by and mirrors the structural violence of austerity. The resistance of Greek women takes place on several fronts./p /div /div /div p class=BodyIn the past few months, and particularly after the a href=;rct=jamp;q=amp;esrc=samp;source=webamp;cd=1amp;ved=0CDEQFjAAamp;;ei=O6k1U6D9K5OUhQef6YGIAgamp;usg=AFQjCNESWSsjKWhw_ZSwekw4Y6yRDgYCbAamp;sig2=mFPgmEWbGkyvkg4NZyW0Rgamp;bvm=bv.63808443,d.ZG4crackdown against the neo-nazi party Golden Dawn/a, the world has taken its eyes from Greece. A mixture of positive news on the economic front and lack of spectacular rioting for some time now, has both deterred journalists from spending time on the ground and convinced editors that there is nothing newsworthy that can’t be covered from abroad. Even the BBC correspondent in Athens, has recently been moved to the Ukraine. It could be that the primary budget surplus announced by the government spells the end of Greece’s adventures, and a href=;rct=jamp;q=amp;esrc=samp;source=webamp;cd=8amp;ved=0CHEQFjAHamp;;ei=a6k1U6W3Os6AhAfo6IEYamp;usg=AFQjCNEcqWVDsx6dNnmpp027-RVY1ifXcQamp;sig2=-f6VHz64kVutVMj9XmiPBQamp;bvm=bv.63808443,d.ZG4as Business Week notes/a, the beginning of a real recovery./p p class=BodyUnfortunately, as in many instances in the recent coverage of ‘austerity’ Greece, these reports are a href=;rct=jamp;q=amp;esrc=samp;source=webamp;cd=1amp;ved=0CDIQFjAAamp;;ei=rqk1U76TOoPQhAezkIDwDwamp;usg=AFQjCNGYqRsFv03-2rIz0WLsHZPLljiVcwamp;sig2=hNG5eEV2xFq7HW7QClKuQwamp;bvm=bv.63808443,d.ZG4evidently wrong/a. Not only is the country’s financial situation is dire and getting worse, but the state’s oppression has intensified in the past two years under the New Democracy/Pasok coalition. In the place of generalised disturbances in the streets, this is a much more diversified and nuanced aggression from the side of the state. Forget about tear-gas and molotov cocktails, we now must to look at Greece in a different way./p p class=BodyThis new situation should be described as a financial war, waged by the government against the people, combined with a bio-political side, that sees state violence unleashed against smaller and more clearly defined groups that may not necessarily enjoy the public’s sympathy at all times. It’s a kind of violence that carries distinct socio-economical markings, and indeed, gender ones. And it’s by no means isolated to Athens, or any other area of Greece in particular./p p class=BodyA few months ago in North Greece, protesters a href= the opening of a gold mine in Skouries/a, were attacked by the police. But these weren’t random protesters. After a demo moving through the forest reached a riot police squad blocking their path, the men of the group decided to look for another way up the mountain, while the women stood in front of the police, waving banners and shouting chants against the Canadian multi-national El Dorado and its Greek subsidiary Hellenic Gold, who have already started destroying chunks of the ancient forest of Skouries. After a while, the police brutally attacked them, broke their lines, and people were injured. The same story was repeated not two weeks ago./p p class=BodyIf anything, it looks like the police in Skouries – used by the extractive industry almost like a private army and one they apparently donate fuel and technical support to – has been especially brutal towards women. In another incident, during a demonstration in spring 2013, an elderly woman was dragged out of her car, made to kneel on the ground, and was repeatedly hit on the knee by a riot police officer. And unfortunately, this kind of targeting vulnerable groups, has only increased in intensity since./p p class=BodyIn the past month, Greek news have been flooded with the images of 595 a href= protesting their redundancy/a outside the Ministry of Finance in Athens. The (almost) six hundred women lost their jobs as part of the deal between the Greek government and the Troika.nbsp; Alongside cuts in Health, Education and administration, the support staff of ministries and other public bodies is to be drastically reduced. Many believe this to be a necessary reform, and in many ways it is. But how is the state is handling the very real grievances of these women who now face unemployment in a country were almost 30% of the active adult population is entirely out of the job market with little prospects of return? With riot police and mockery of course./p p class=BodyOne of the Prime Minister’s advisors, while in conversation with the head of the cleaner’s union on live television tried to downplay the violence employed by the police against women who were demonstrating in characteristically unthreatening fashion. He was silenced by her response: “You should see our bruised arms and bodies, that’s the truth of how the state is treating us”. While this was taking place in the streets, the minister in charge of their case was refusing to even meet with them. After they tried to occupy the building last week, the state’s facade went out the window, as images of fully armoured police officers carrying middle aged women out like potato sacks flooded the media. One was seen crying outside the building as her knee was injured. Some of them were later made to pay 25 euros to be seen in a hospital, the fee being part of another policy this government has implemented./p p class=BodyThe worst aspect of this new situation is that it seems to be working for the government. By isolating groups and interests and attacking them individually, the coalition has managed to keep the general population from mobilising against their catastrophic policies. But it is clear that they are targeting the most vulnerable portions of the population: The sick, the women, the old, those leaving outside the major urban centres. It’s a particularly dark strategy, and a highly successful one, as it works on more than one fronts./p p class=BodyThere is no part of Greek life right now that is not seeing a form of violence hovering above it like a spectre. Domestic and sexual violence a href= on the rise, as is addiction and suicide/a. The government is celebrating the dramatic drop in wages and quality of life as a success. The EU rewards these policies. And the Greek people are left to deal with this never ending death-spiral. But in this new situation, crucially, there are specific groups being targeted by the state and the police. It is not an accident that were men are tear-gassed, women are beaten up. This is nothing but an extension of an age old problem, endemic in the Greek society, that of domestic violence. It is not by accident that all protesters get it bad, but it is well known that the younger a protester, the more brutal the police will be against them./p p class=BodyThe EU-sanctioned government is quite simply attempting to make dissent very expensive, both physically and mentally. It has found that painting each group in a different light serves their purposes better. In order for this to succeed, they’re tapping into pre-existing notions inside the Greek mentality: apathy, misogyny and a phobia towards the youth. There is only one way to highlight this: We must stop being tear-gas hounds and treating these incidents as minor outbreaks./p p class=BodyspanThere is a greater context to this new situation, and oppression deployed against specific groups is much more dangerous than wider crackdowns against demonstrators. These are attempts to demonise individual citizens and groups. There is even a level of anti-communist hysteria whipped up by the government spokesmen every time one of these incidents makes the news, and the protesters or promptly labelled as “communist and left-wing crazies”./span/p p class=BodyspanIf we accept that this is how we do things in Europe now, we’re heading down a very dangerous path, a path we all know the end of. If we don’t stand up for these groups, we will quickly find ourselves amongst one./span/pfieldset class=fieldgroup group-sideboxslegendSideboxes/legenddiv class=field field-related-stories div class=field-labelRelated stories:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd a href=/5050/dawn-foster/from-heart-attacks-to-maternal-care-human-cost-of-austerity-in-greeceFrom heart attacks to maternal care: the human cost of austerity in Greece/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/5050/heather-mcrobie/austerity-policies-in-europe-are-fuelling-social-injustice-and-violating-human-Austerity policies in Europe are fuelling social injustice - and violating human rights /a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/openglobalrights-blog/margot-salomon/austerity-human-rights-and-europe%E2%80%99s-accountability-gapAusterity, human rights and Europe’s accountability gap /a /div div class=field-item even a href=/ourkingdom/aoife-nolan/is-governments-austerity-programme-breaking-human-rights-lawIs the government#039;s austerity programme breaking human rights law?/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/ourkingdom/aisha-maniar/show-me-money-can-human-rights-offer-alternative-discourse-of-resistance-to-Show me the money: can human rights offer an alternative discourse of resistance to austerity?/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/5050/heather-mcrobie/austerity-and-domestic-violence-mapping-damageAusterity and domestic violence: mapping the damage/a /div /div /div /fieldset div class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Greece /div /div /div

Human rights abuse in Burma and the role of Buddhist nationalism

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 3:00am
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pimg src= alt= hspace=5 width=140 align=right /Myanmar is taking significant strides towards political and economic liberalization after decades of military dictatorship, yet a series of violent attacks against Muslims is shaking confidence in the country. Surprisingly, Buddhist monks support much of the violence, notes Wai Yan Phone. ema href=การละเมิดสิทธิมนุษยชนในพม่าและบทบาทของชาตินิยมแห่งพระพุทธศาสนา target=_blankภาษาไทย/a, a rel=tag href= target=_blankမြန်မာဘာသာnbsp;/a/em/p /div /div /div pBuddhism is widely perceived as a fundamentally peaceful religion. Thus, it has been a shock for many to see Buddhist monks in Myanmar (also known as Burma) take a prominent role in violence against the country’s minority a href=;_r=0 target=_blankMuslims/a. /p pAfter all, it was less than a decade ago -- in 2007 -- when tens of thousands of Buddhist monks and other anti-government demonstrators a href=;_r=0 target=_blankpeacefully assembled/a on the streets of big Burmese cities in defiance of the Burmese generals. More recently, the world watched with astonishment and hope as Myanmar began to gradually emerge from decades of military dictatorship following elections in 2010 and a href= target=_blank2012/a. Yet the rise of right-wing religious nationalism is posing a serious obstacle to the country’s democratization process. Buddhist monks are again in a lead role -- this time their target is not a repressive regime, but the religion of Islam./p pWhile Burma’s Buddhist Sangha (the community of monks) technically stays aloof from secular affairs, the Sangha’s role has evolved into a strong institution that is a driving force in the political and social fabric of Burma. The Sangha has stepped into politics because it thinks monks are responsible for protecting the country’s Buddhist identity. /p pBuddhism and nationalism have long been connected in Burma. The Sangha, which plays a leadership role for the monks, also has an overwhelmingly influential role in Burmese Buddhist society./p pMonks have had a role in civic life since Britain annexed Burma in the 19th century. Some of the changes that have impacted Buddhism over the decades include the loss of patronage from the king (who was removed by the British), the growing popularity of Christian missionary schools among wealthy families, and a href= target=_blankincreased migration of Indians and Muslims/a from India and Bangladesh into Burma./p pThe trend prompted an increase in anti-Indian sentiment that is both economic and social. Buddhists have claimed that Indians are monopolizing jobs, and social tensions increased when Muslims from India’s Bengal state began to marry Burmese women. Intermarriages with Burmese became a common practice among Muslims, whose religion permitted polygamy. Burmese women who married Muslims converted to Islam; hence, their children became Muslims. These are some of the claims cited by nationalist monks who worry about growing Muslim influence, although it is worth noting that Muslims are a tiny fraction of the population vis-à-vis the significant Buddhist majority. /p pThere have been anti-Indian and later anti-Muslim riots in Burma since the 1930s, when as much as half the population of Yangon, then the capital city, was Indian. There was bloodshed in Rakhine state, in the far west of Burma bordering Bangladesh, during World War II. More recently Buddhist monks participated in riots in Mandalay (1997), Taungoo (2001), and Kyaukse (2003).nbsp; The unrest flared on an unprecedented scale in Rakhine state in 2012. In almost all these riots, there are claims that Buddhist monks were involved a href= target=_blankin attacking mosques/a and Muslim-owned properties. /p pa href= target=_blankThere have been claims that members of the Sangha/a played a central role in fanning these anti-Muslim flames. The Sangha in general does not endorse violence, but members of the Sangha have spread anti-Muslim concerns, such as the view that Muslims are stealing Burmese women and are rumored to be paid to marry Buddhist wives. Given the monks’ high social status in Burma, neither successive governments nor the majority of the population has openly questioned these views.nbsp;nbsp; The 1982 a href= target=_blankCitizenship Law/a, which disqualifies nearly 1 million Rohingya Muslims and other Burma-born ethnic Indians and Chinese from citizenship, is evidence that the government shares concerns about non-Buddhists. /p pThe monks’ anti-Muslim discourses range from extreme to milder approaches. Monks like Wirathu, abbot of the large Masoeyein monastery in Mandalay, are extremists. The regime jailed Wirathu in 2003 for inciting anti-Muslim riots in Mandalay and he was released in 2012. He denies links with violence and says he is simply preaching to protect and defend Buddhism, but his sermons call for discrimination against Muslims, such as boycotting their shops and shunning interfaith marriages. emTime /emmagazine labeled him a href=,9171,2146000,00.html target=_blank“the face of Buddhist terror”/a. /p pOther monks take a softer approach to the perceived threat, though some have suggested that Buddhism could disappear from the country if preventive measures are not taken. They point to the demise of Buddhism in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Indonesia. a href= target=_blankScholars contest/a the argument that Islam is to blame for the demise of Buddhism in these countries, yet monks in Burma cite them as examples of Muslim persecution of Buddhists. They also voice concerns that the Muslim population is growing faster than the Buddhist population, and about illegal migration from neighboring Bangladesh.nbsp; Radical or liberal, monks agree that Burma and Buddhism must be fortified against Islam. /p pspan class=image-captionspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src= alt= title= width=460 height=306 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge style= //a span class='image_meta'/span/spanThousands of Buddhist monks protest over the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) opening an office in Myanmar.nbsp;a href= target=_blankHtoo Tay Zar/Demotix/a. All Rights Reserved./span/ppAmid mounting fear and growing nationalist sentiments, the Sangha, Burmese authorities and general public are becoming united in combating the Muslim influence. Some members of the government, such as religious affairs minister Sann Sint, have defended Wirathu and other anti-Muslim monks. In a country that has long been tightly controlled by the government, it is also notable that officials give the monks tacit backing by allowing them to give anti-Muslim speeches. /p pEven monks who have criticized the government in the past have thrown themselves behind this Buddhist nationalist movement. Among them is the Ven. Thitagu Sayadaw, a revered monk who oversees the Thitagu Buddhist Missionary University near Mandalay and is involved with many charity programs. He courageously condemned the junta after it violently broke up anti-government demonstrations in 2007 yet also supports Burma’s widely-criticized Citizenship Law. As cited in the emRathapala Meint Khun Mya, /ema book published in Burmese, the Thitagu Sayadaw has said publicly that when it comes to survival of a nation, “human rights come only second to national security,” noting that “even the United States puts national security above human rights norms.”/p pA monk’s conference in Yangon last year suggested that parliament pass a law requiring non-Buddhist men to convert to Buddhism if they want to marry a Buddhist woman, with a prison sentence if they fail to convert. Though many educated women in Burma opposed the suggestion as a violation of human rights, a href= target=_blanksupporters claim that millions of people have signed a petition/a to show parliament their support of the proposed law./p pNot all Burmese monks agree with their colleagues’ involvement in politics. In an interview with the media, Badanta Panna Wuntha, a leading monk from the 2007 Saffron Revolution, observes: “We can’t always think with a religious slant. If we do … [we]’d become a theocratic nation. … We’d be right back at the feudal age.” Yet such voices are drowned out by the radical monks, who have influenced not only members of the public but also members of parliament – including lawmakers planning to submit the interfaith marriage law with the blessing of monks. /pp There will be doubts about the prospects for of Burma’s peace and prosperity as a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society as long as fear, hatred and discrimination are wrapped in the disguise of nationalism. Both the Sangha and lay society have to ask themselves what sort of national identity they want. In a country with such diverse ethnicities and cultures, a peaceful, prosperous and democratic nation will not result from building national identity around the majority ethnic group and religion. In the future, Burma’s national identity should encompass its unique multi-ethnic and multi-cultural characteristics, yet need not discount Buddhism’s important influence on many aspects of Burmese culture./p pspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src= alt= title= width=300 height=115 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large style= //a span class='image_meta'/span/spannbsp;/pfieldset class=fieldgroup group-sideboxslegendSideboxes/legenddiv class=field field-read-on div class=field-label 'Read On' Sidebox:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pa href= src= alt= width=140 //a/p /div /div /div div class=field field-sidebox div class=field-label Sidebox:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pa href= target=_blank img src= border=0 alt= width=140 height=auto //a/p /div /div /div div class=field field-related-stories div class=field-labelRelated stories:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd a href=/openglobalrights/larry-cox/human-rights-must-get-religionHuman rights must get religion/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/openglobalrights/nida-kirmani/religion-as-human-rights-liabilityReligion as a human rights liability/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/openglobalrights/jack-snyder/on-wing-and-prayer-can-religion-revive-rights-movementOn a wing and a prayer: can religion revive the rights movement?/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/openglobalrights/muhtari-aminukano-ayaz-ali-atallah-fitzgibbon/islamic-and-un-bills-of-rights-same-dIslamic and UN Bills of Rights: same difference/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/openglobalrights/arvind-sharma/rights-in-hinduismThe rights in Hinduism/a /div /div /div /fieldset

Religion as a human rights liability

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 3:00am
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pimg src= alt= hspace=5 width=140 align=right /Although many human rights movements have religious underpinnings, explicitly linking religion to human rights can lead to the exclusion and persecution of minority groups. To protect the rights of those minorities, we must work to keep religion separate from human rights. A contribution from Pakistan to the openGlobalRights debate, a href= target=_blank“Religion and Human Rights”/a. ema href= target=_blankEspañol/a/em, ema href= target=_blankاُردُو‎/a,nbsp;/ema href= target=_blanknbsp;emالعربية/em/a/p /div /div /div pIt is no secret that many human rights have an inherently religious dimension, as Larry Cox a href= target=_blankrecently argued/a on openGlobalRights. But do religion and human rights really need each other, as he suggests? While many of history’s greatest human rights movements have been inspired by religious ideals of justice and equality, the explicit linking of religion and human rights can be highly problematic for particular people groups, especially women and sexual and religious minorities. /p pAlthough Cox argues that faith-based action is an important force in undermining repressive political regimes, women’s movements in the Indian and Pakistani contexts have generally operated from a secular platform, arguing for a clear distinction between religion and matters of the state. In fact, women’s movements in both countries are acutely aware of the dangers of combining religion and government, precisely because the interpretations adopted usually favor the interests of powerful (male) groups.nbsp; In India, an officially secular state, religious pluralism provides a separate set of family laws for each religious “community,” an approach that is itself problematic because it denies the complexity, divisions, and hierarchy within religious communities.nbsp; In the case of a href= target=_blankMuslim personal law/a, women are at a particular disadvantage in matters related to divorce and maintenance. For sexual minorities, the recent reinstatement of Section 377, which essentially criminalizes homosexuality, was at least partially due to pressure from religious conservative groups, who came together in a rare case of a href= target=_blankmulti-religious cooperation/a. /p pIn the Pakistani context, where Islam is the official state religion, a host of religiously justified laws were introduced under the regime of Zia-ul-Haq. These laws included the a href= target=_blankHudood Ordinances/a, which made it nearly impossible for women to prove a rape in court without the testimony of four male witnesses. Also included was the a href= target=_blankLaw of Evidence/a, which reduced the testimony of all women and non-Muslim men to half that of a Muslim man.nbsp; While the Hudood Ordinances have since been somewhat reformed, women’s rights continue to stand on shaky ground largely because religious conservative groups have significant lawmaking power.nbsp; For example, despite years of struggle, the a href= target=_blankDomestic Violence Bill/a has not been passed because some religious groups see it as an assault on their conception of the family.nbsp; Even less progress has been made in terms of sexual minority rights in Pakistan, as no LGBT movement has yet emerged.nbsp; In fact, in a href= target=_blankJune 2011/a, as an indication of what such a movement would incite, several religious groups vocally protested the US embassy’s “gay pride” event as an attack of “cultural terrorism.”/pspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src= alt= title= width=460 height=306 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge style= //a span class='image_meta'/span/span pem class=image-captionAnti-US Protests Over US Support for Pakistani Homosexuals a href= Ali/Demotix/a. All Rights Reserved./em/p pThe amalgamation of religion and the state has also been extremely detrimental to religious minority groups in both India and Pakistan.nbsp; In India, the rise of the Hindu Right, which views India as an essentially Hindu nation, has had exceptionally negative consequences for members of minority communities, including Muslims and Christians. This movement has led to horrific episodes of communal violence, from the riots across India in 1992-1993 following the destruction of the a href= target=_blankBabri Masjid/a, to the pogroms in a href= target=_blankGujarat/a against Muslims in 2002, to the violent clashes in a href= target=_blankMuzaffarnagar/a in August and September 2013.nbsp; /ppIn Pakistan, the blending of religion with the nation-state has had even more explicit negative consequences for members of religious minority groups.nbsp; The official identification of the a href= target=_blankPakistani state as ‘Islamic’ in 1949/a has led to all non-Muslims being automatically given second-class status as citizens.nbsp; This political marginalization has also provided tacit justification for countless episodes of violence against religious minority communities.nbsp; Because blasphemy is a crime punishable by death, Christians have been attacked both as individuals and as a community, with entire neighborhoods, such as a href= target=_blankBadami Bagh in Lahore/a, being burned to the ground.nbsp; Both the state and Islamic groups have also developed a progressively narrow definition of “Muslim,” which began with the Ahmadi community being a href= target=_blanklegally declared “non-Muslim” in 1974/a.nbsp; This quest to define the “true Muslim” has led to a steady increase in sectarian violence across the country.nbsp; The a href= target=_blanktargeted killings of Shia professionals/a across the country, and the attacks on the Hazara community in a href= target=_blankQuetta/a, are some of the worst examples of such violence in recent years. /p pIn both the Indian and Pakistani contexts, then, the dangers of emnot/em taking a secular approach to human rights are all too clear. Cox argues that human rights movements should harness the power of religion in order to build support.nbsp; Yet the question remains, which religion will be harnessed and whose version of that religion will be preferred? In multi-religious societies, an explicit use of religion as a mobilizing force means the exclusion of minority religious communities, as well as a denial of internal hierarchies and tensions within religious communities.nbsp; In India, where Hindus are the majority, any attempt by the women’s movement to use Hindu religious symbols, such as the goddess Kali, has alienated non-Hindu women.nbsp; In Pakistan, where Muslims are the vast majority, an appeal to Islamic ideas of justice and equality also means an exclusion of women from minority communities./p pWhile one cannot deny that ideas about dignity, equality, and justice are enshrined in all of the world’s religions, the interpretation of these terms differs greatly amongst and within religious traditions.nbsp; In addition, all of the world’s religions contain strands that are clearly unsupportive of human rights. Even the most progressive interpretations of most major religions eventually hit a brick wall with certain rights, particularly regarding gender and sexuality.nbsp; Therefore, while it is tempting to pick and choose aspects of religion that support human rights, the complications and risks that arise from doing so are simply too great./p pAt the same time, we should not ignore the importance of religion as a motivating force to achieve human rights, and we should not deny people the right to express their religious beliefs, provided that such expression does not also deny the rights of others. nbsp;However, there is a difference between being personally motivated by religion, which can be a powerful driver, and religiously identifying as a movement, which can exclude non-believers and provide space for more fundamentalist religious interpretations to thrive./p pFor human rights activists, it is important to remember that protection of human rights is the bottom line.nbsp; Bringing religion back into human rights can be appealing, particularly at a time when the human rights movement seems to be lacking “soul” as Cox implies, but including religion in the debate is also dangerous.nbsp; For women and other minorities, it can quite literally become a matter of life and death.nbsp; nbsp;nbsp;/p pspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src= alt= title= width=300 height=115 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large style= //a span class='image_meta'/span/span/pfieldset class=fieldgroup group-sideboxslegendSideboxes/legenddiv class=field field-read-on div class=field-label 'Read On' Sidebox:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pa href= src= alt= width=140 //a/p /div /div /div div class=field field-sidebox div class=field-label Sidebox:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pa href= target=_blank img src= border=0 alt= width=140 height=auto //a/p /div /div /div div class=field field-related-stories div class=field-labelRelated stories:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd a href=/openglobalrights/james-ron-archana-pandya/introducing-openglobalrights%E2%80%99-newest-debate-religion-and-hIntroducing openGlobalRights’ newest debate: Religion and human rights/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/openglobalrights/larry-cox/human-rights-must-get-religionHuman rights must get religion/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/openglobalrights/jack-snyder/on-wing-and-prayer-can-religion-revive-rights-movementOn a wing and a prayer: can religion revive the rights movement?/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/openglobalrights/muhtari-aminukano-ayaz-ali-atallah-fitzgibbon/islamic-and-un-bills-of-rights-same-dIslamic and UN Bills of Rights: same difference/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/openglobalrights/arvind-sharma/rights-in-hinduismThe rights in Hinduism/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/openglobalrights/wai-yan-phone/human-rights-abuse-in-burma-and-role-of-buddhist-nationalismHuman rights abuse in Burma and the role of Buddhist nationalism/a /div /div /div /fieldset

Keeping alive the spirit of Greenham Common

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 8:00pm
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pAs Britain commemorates the First World War a writer seeks out and listens to some of the women who created Britain's most compelling peace movement./p /div /div /div p class=BodyAspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src= alt=talking...about cruise missiles, non-violent direct action . . . as if the weather was completely irrelevant. Lesley McIntyre title= width=460 height=365 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'Women At Greenham, 1983 (Photo Lesley McIntyre)/span/span/span/pp class=BodyAspanCruise missiles left Greenham Common in March 1991, but Sarah Hipperson continued to protest until the land was returned to the people of Newbury nine years later. The 87-year-old campaigner was one of the last women to leave the peace camp at Greenham Common. I interviewed her at home in East London for an article on the legacy of the women’s peace protest./span/p p class=BodyAspanBorn in Glasgow in 1927, Sarah had raised five children and worked as a nurse for several decades when she happened upon Greenham in 1983. “When Greenham came on it offered me the perfect work. I have always been a worker. I have worked since I was 16. I didn’t go into higher education or anything like that./span/p p class=BodyAA“Greenham came on the scene and I decided that would be for me. I wanted to be part of this strong group, which I had great hope for. I had always believed that if people organized themselves, they would get further. But you needed to commit yourself to something long term. Greenham came up and it rang bells in my head.”/p p class=BodyAASarah has worked for decades on one cause or another relating to Greenham Common. First, during the 1980s when she joined the women-only peace camp outside the United States Army Airforce nuclear base located on the Common. Then, once the missiles left, Sarah continued to campaign for the return of the Common to the people. /p p class=BodyAAIn 1997 Newbury District Council acquired the Common from the Ministry of Defence, and in place of the nuclear airbase there is now a business park. But on the patch of land where the original Greenham women proclaimed their demands and refused to move, is a peace garden. The small square of heathland flourishes with wildflowers and surrounds a sculpture of a campfire engraved with the words, You can’t kill the spirit./p p class=BodyAASarah finally left the camp in 2000, and ever since has sought to establish a space for Greenham women within British memory. One of the first things she did on leaving the camp was to write a book. emGreenham: Non-Violent Women v The Crown Prerogative /emdocuments the “serious work women did” which Sarah says she had to write because no one else would./p p class=BodyAAThe way Greenham Common is remembered is a recurring bugbear. Sarah says the protest has been dismissed as a joke, to be forever recalled with a slight sneer. Why else do journalists call her up to ask about where she went to the toilet, rather than eliciting her views on nuclear disarmament? She says:/p blockquotep class=BodyA“Why has it [Greenham Common] never quite had the publicity it should have had had? I think to myself, it came at a time that women, and I’m not sure that it would be better today, that women weren’t supposed to be that clever.” /p/blockquote p class=BodyAspanWhat exactly was Greenham Common? Think of any major protest in the West since 2008: Occupy, UK Uncut flash mobs, the fracking protests, Greenham Common was all of these. Except, it was mostly women involved, and they doggedly occupied a military space for nearly 20 years./span/pp class=BodyAspanspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'a href= rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src= alt= title= width=460 height=318 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'Greenham women dragged by police officers. (Picture Lesley McIntyre c1983-4)/span/span/spanbr //span/p p class=BodyAspanSarah was initially pleased about Occupy, but then: “I turned round and they had packed it in, they had gone.” I start to talk about legal case, the City of London, the eviction... “/spanemWe/emspan got evicted,” she interrupts, her fading Scottish accent becomes pronounced. “I can’t remember how many times we got evicted. We just sat with our stuff. The police got fed up. That happened once every couple of years. You don’t get up. That is what you do. You wear their system down. ”/span/p p class=BodyAspanI interviewed many Greenham women, some Sarah’s age, for a long-form article in /spanemLacuna /emspana new human rights magazine. All /spanspansomehow retained an unrelenting belief that the world could, and should, be changed for the better. Women went to Greenham to protest against nuclear weapons and left liberated.nbsp;/span/p p class=BodyAAGreenham Common peace camp created a generation of women ready and willing to commit their lives to challenging social injustice, whether through non-violent direct action for the disarmament of nuclear weapons, the campaigning for the rights of disabled children or providing practical support to refugees. Thirty years on, its legacy is still felt keenly by those involved. /p p class=BodyAAIn 1984 the writer Angela Carter urged women to join Greenham and “rage as if again the dying of the light”. For a decade women raged. They protested against the bombing of Libya, supported the miners, raged against Section 28, the first Gulf War, and would go on to mobilise support for women in the Balkans. They stormed Parliament, and stood for Parliament, staged sit-ins, occupied buildings, defaced war machines, wrote letters, books and poems, danced and sang songs. They travelled to Europe and Russia, gathering ideas and inspiring others. They left home, school, and work to live in the open under great sheets of plastic where they plotted the end of the nuclear age. /p p class=BodyAAemnbsp;/em/phr /pemRead the full Greenham Common piece a href= /ememand watch a a href= film/a about one Greenham woman over at Lacuna.nbsp;Lacuna is a new online magazine that challenges indifference to suffering and promotes human rights. It aims to fill the gap between the immediacy of daily journalism and long-term academic analysis.nbsp;/em/ppnbsp;/p pnbsp;/pfieldset class=fieldgroup group-sideboxslegendSideboxes/legenddiv class=field field-related-stories div class=field-labelRelated stories:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd a href=/5050/rebecca-johnson/occupy-movement-and-women-of-greenham-commonThe Occupy movement and the women of Greenham Common /a /div div class=field-item even a href=/5050/rebecca-johnson/standing-on-threshold-banning-nuclear-weaponsStanding on the threshold: banning nuclear weapons /a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/5050/rebecca-johnson/feminist-peacebuilding-courageous-intelligenceFeminist peacebuilding - a courageous intelligence /a /div div class=field-item even a href=/5050/rebecca-johnson/standing-on-threshold-banning-nuclear-weaponsStanding on the threshold: banning nuclear weapons /a /div /div /div /fieldset

The many legislatures under Westminster's wing

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 7:11pm
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pThere are around 18 legislatures responsible to Westminster, spread across the world and with a whole plethora of constitutional arrangements. /p /div /div /div pimg src=// alt= width=420 //ppWestminster is responsible for eighteen other legislatures and more land in the southern hemisphere than the northern. As we debate the independence of Scotland and proposals within that for some continued sharing of power, it's worth, perhaps, reflecting for a moment on the current plethora of quirky constitutional relationships various lands have with our current sovereign parliament. /ppThe first three legislatures under Westminster's wing are obvious: Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. These each have their own, different constitutional status and emerging traditions – with Wales only securing law making powers in 2011. /p pThere are also complex differences in the roles of local government in each of the home nations. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are reasonably simple with, respectively, 26, 36 and 22 local authorities (though the former two use the Single Transferable Vote and the latter First Past the Post)./p pEngland's a bit more of a mess. It has has 55 a href= authority councils/a, 36 a href= borough councils/a, 32 a href= borough councils/a, 27 a href= councils/a and, just to make it more complex, separate arrangements for both the a href= of London Corporation/a, and the a href= of the Isles of Scilly/a. Finally, there's the unique status of the London Assembly. But of course none of these can make laws./p pThe Crown Protectorates, on the other hand, do define their own legislation. The Tynwald on the Isle of Man (the oldest parliament on earth) and the parliaments of Jersey, Guernsey, Aldernay and Sark on the Channel Isles represent the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh legislatures for which Westminster is in some way responsible: each of these is independent but for foreign and defence policies. /p pTo find the rest, we need to look further afield, to the fourteen British Overseas Territories ('British Dependent Territories' until 2002 and 'Crown Colonies' until 1983), though, in fact, they are all a bit different, with individual variations in their arrangements. /p pLet's start with those which don't have their own law making powers. First, and by far the largest by area, is the 1.7 million square kilometre British Antarctic Territory – about seven times the size of the UK (though its boundaries are disputed by Chile and Argentina). It's one of two territories, along with South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, with no native or permanent population, and is run from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by a London based Commissioner – the career civil servant and a href= head of PR for the London Stock Exchange/a, a href= Hayes/a. /p pAlso without a permanent population for a very different reason are the Chagos Islands (AKA the British Indian Ocean Territory), whose inhabitants we a href= off the islands/a between 1968 and 1973 so we could set up a military base, along with the Americans, on the biggest island - Diego Garcia. They're also run by Peter Hayes. /ppimg src= alt= width=420 //ppemDiego Garcia - wikimedia/em/p pDiego Garcia isn't the only Overseas Territory which is a military base. But unlike the other thirteen territories, a href= and Dhekelia/a isn't the responsibility of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but the Ministry of Defence. When it was proposed that the UK may wish to retain ownership of the Faslane Nuclear Weapons base in Scotland after a yes vote, most commentators drew an a href= with Guantanamo Bay/a - in Cuba, but owned by the USA. Perhaps we can credit the West Wing with encouraging us to learn so much about American politics even before we've understood our own. These two chunks of Cyprus are owned by the UK and like Guantanamo, formed a vital role in the war on terror. When Tony Blair claimed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction which could reach British targets within 45 minutes, he wasn't talking about London. It was these outposts of the ministry of defence a href= which he was referring/a./ppimg src= alt= width=420 //ppemAkrotiri and Dhekelia - wikimedia/em /p pThose living under military rule in the territories a href= approximately/a 7,700 Cypriots, 3,600. Service and UK-based contract personnel, and 4,400 dependents, all of whom are accountable to the laws dictated by a href= of Defence Senior Posts.pdfMajor General Richard J Cripwell/a and the former of whom are the only citizens of the various territories who didn't become British citizens a href= 21 May 2002/a. They use the Euro./p pThen there's the Pitcairn Islands. Inhabited by the a href= descendants/a of mutineers of HMAV Bounty and their Tahitian companions who were dumped there in 1790, this is the least populous national jurisdiction in the world. In 2004 a significant portion of its male population, including its mayor, were tried in New Zealand courts and a href= guilty of sexual assault/a and a new constitution was introduced in a href= Islands Constitution Order 2010.pdf2010/a. It has a ten member chamber and an elected mayor responsible for the day to day running of the island. Legislation has to be approved by the Governor, who is also the High Commissioner to New Zealand and appointed by the British government – currently Victoria Treadle. I have counted it in the eighteen, but perhaps this is tenuous? The island uses the New Zealand Dollar and is worth taking a moment to explore on a href=,-130.088704,3a,75y,79.92h,100.98t/data=!3m5!1e1!3m3!1skDdVOJ8wmdyyCrBHwoyMDA!2e0!3e5?hl=enGoogle Street view/a. /ppimg src= alt= width=420 //ppThe Falkland Islands had 2932 people at the last count. Unlike Pitcairn, they have their own legislature and their own currency, the Falkland Islands Pound, which is pegged to Stirling. When people mock the idea of an independent Scottish currency, this is worth remembering. Under the a href= constitution/a, they elect their own government but have their foreign policy administered by the UK, which is represented on the islands by the Governor General, currently the former Consul General in Basra, Nigel Haywood (who is also Commissioner for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands). Whilst most Overseas Territories are the responsibility in government of Mark Simmonds, the Falklands, uniquely, have a href= Swire/a representing them. /p pSaint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha is Britain's second oldest colony, and got a new constitution in 2009 after a fracas in 2007 which included a href= resignation of six of the seven councillors on the Ascension Islands/a who said that they were legitimising a sham democracy. The territory uses the St Helena pound, which is pegged to Sterling and has between its widely scattered islands around 7700 people. Domestic affairs are dealt with by an elected Legislative Council while specific governance of the smaller partners - Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha - is led by Administrators which are advised by elected Island Councils. The latter of these meets in the pleasingly named Edinburgh of the Seven Seas which is about as far from the nearest other village as its Scottish namesake is from Corsica, making it the a href= remote human settlement on earth/a. /ppimg src=// alt= width=420 //ppemEdinburgh of the Seven Seas, Tristan da Cunha/em -em wikimedia/em/p pa href= and a href= both use the East Caribbean Dollar – meaning that while Westminster may claim to deplore currency unions, it is responsible for territories which are members of three different such agreements (the Pound, the Euro, and the East Caribbean Dollar). The a href= Virgin Islands/a uses the dollar and the a href= Islands/a has its own Cayman Islands Dollar – the 9th most expensive currency on earth. All four territories have basically the same model, with elected chambers who in turn appoint a government, and a governor from the UK who is responsible mainly for international affairs. Gibraltar has a similar arrangement but that, uniquely, it is a member of the EU, voting in the South West region of England in European elections./p pBermuda is the most populous and oldest of the territories and uses the Bermudan dollar, which is pegged to the American dollar while a href= and Caicos /ause the US dollar. Both have considerable responsibility for their own affairs though, in 2009, the UK government a href= to suspend self rule/a in the latter over allegations of corruption. Ultimately the head of the government resigned, protesting that this amounted to re-colonisation. There have been discussions about the islands joining themselves with Canada. Finally, of course, until 1997, Hong Kong, with a bigger population than Scotland, was also a British territory./p pWhat Scotland is aiming for is nothing like any of these colonial relationships. Perhaps the closest analogy will be Ireland. The Republic is, of course, independent. But it's worth noting that it's defined in law that it's “a href= a foreign country/a”. It kept the pound for eight years after independence and then kept its currency pegged to the pound for another fifty years after that. It is, along with the Crown Protectorates, a part of the a href= Travel Area/a meaning there aren't routine passport checks at borders. /p pLook around the world and you'll find endless examples of different types of constitutional arrangements and negotiated sharings of powers, including free travel areas, currency unions, shared heads of state and all manner of things. Some of these relationships are problematic, others are fine. What they tell us is that there's not really any such thing as normal, and if it exists, it's got absolutely nothing to do with the various constitutional arrangements in which Westminster is currently embroiled./ppemstrongspanOurKingdom needs to raise £5,698 to continue running our Scottish debate series until the referendum in September. /spana href= contribute here/span/aspan./span/strong/em/pfieldset class=fieldgroup group-sideboxslegendSideboxes/legenddiv class=field field-related-stories div class=field-labelRelated stories:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd a href=/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/many-languages-native-to-britainThe many languages native to Britain/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/many-parliaments-of-our-archipelagoThe many parliaments of our archipelago/a /div /div /div /fieldset div class=field field-rights div class=field-labelRights:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Creative Commons /div /div /div