Climate-chaos migrants set to face increasingly closed borders

Open Democracy News Analysis - 5 hours 17 min ago

Climate change is set to trigger dangerously soaring temperatures this century, forcing many of humankind’s most vulnerable to migrate to survive. Yet the growing global obsession with border security will stifle their safe movement.

A protest at the Rafah border checkpoint. Flickr / Steve Rhodes. Some rights reserved.

Anthropogenic climate change is heating the earth ten times faster than natural changes over the last 65m years. Scientists concur that our current path could lead us to a 4C rise by the end of the century, which would be cataclysmic for humanity. Even avoiding such a global doomsday with a 1.5-2C rise, a widely accepted international aspiration, would still bring widespread catastrophes and a Day of Reckoning for many.

Amid environmental instability and threats, people migrate, as evident throughout human history. Due to current climatic changes, many are already silently migrating—from the Andes, the Himalayas, the Sahara. With a 2, 3, 4C rise or more, large-scale population shifts will be unavoidable, to find basic necessities to survive and to escape dangerous environmental threats. And yet still there are no effective or widespread mechanisms to safeguard the masses forced to move.

On the contrary, we are entering an equally unparalleled era of border securitisation, and thus restricted cross-border movement. When they picture heightened border security, most people think of Europe, alongside America. But the trend is global: there are five times more border walls than 25 years ago—from the UK to Ukraine to Uzbekistan to Pakistan to China to Malaysia, and much beyond. In the context of extreme and rapid climatic changes, this denial of human movement could prove disastrous.

Narratives in collision

West and north Africa are primes examples of this collision of narratives. Straddling the Sahara and pocketed with other smaller deserts, such as the Libyan and the Nubian, this region is one of the hottest in the world. Native peoples, such as the Tuareg, Amazigh and Fula, have over thousands of years learned to exist in this most hostile of environments, often through the wanderings of nomadic lifestyles.

The Sahara is already showing signs of warming and is predicted to warm considerably more quickly than the global average, as well as suffering from reduced and more erratic rain. This will push people’s ability to survive over the edge—indeed there is strong evidence to suggest it is already happening.

At the same time, due to intra-regional tensions and external political pressures, various states have been barricading their borders in recent years. The 1,559km border between Algeria and Morocco is permanently closed and a sandstone barrier divides Morocco and the Western Sahara territory. A few years ago Libya bought a contract to securitise all its borders and the EU is working bilaterally with states across the region to tighten controls.

Climate change is expected to affect the world’s most vulnerable first. That usually means those living in countries with weak governance whose finances, resources and infrastructure are meagre or poorly managed—as is true of much of north and west Africa. And from Egypt to the Gambia, climate change is already threatening people’s livelihoods, homes, water and food supplies. Adaptation may prove beyond the capabilities of many but increasingly impermeable borders also imply that safe passage into less threatening lands will become increasingly implausible.

Ancient landscapes

Similar developments are taking place in the Middle East—across the Levant, the Arabian peninsula and Mesopotamia, to the far east of Iran. This ancient and vast landscape is becoming increasingly adorned with man-made border structures, carving up swathes of arid and semi-arid lands to smother free movement.

Border walls and fences divide states across the western part of the Fertile Crescent, including at the borders of Egypt, Palestine, Israel, Jordan and Syria. Highly secured barriers are being built between Oman and the United Arab Emirates and between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. In 2009 Saudi Arabia also bought a contract to secure all its borders—a 9,000km security system.

Across an arc of conflict riddled with complex social and political tensions, conjured demons of drug smuggling, oil theft, terrorism and illegal migration instil mistrust and fear in many leaders, and so border-security initiatives proliferate. However, the global climate obeys no border.

In the Middle East, water scarcity is likely to befall many states, such as the severe drought in 2010 which affected Jordan, Israel, Syria, Iraq and Turkey, devastating livestock and crops and displacing millions. This drying trend, along with other environmental problems such as the diminution of the great Jordan river due to political recklessness, looks set to intensify this century. Water and food insecurity, as well as economic impacts and conflicts rooted in or exacerbated by climate, are highly likely in this volatile region.


Border-security choices made by political elites, often fuelled by nationalist self-righteousness, could lead to unfathomable and disastrous situations for those most vulnerable to climate change. And they are evident from rich to poor regions—from Fortress Europe to impoverished areas in South Asia—and from landlocked nations to isolated islands:  Central Asia to the UK.

Tuvalu looks exotic but life on the island is threatened by rising sea levels. Flickr / Tomoaki Inaba. Some rights reserved.

Take the prevalent attitude to immigration in the largest and wealthiest island in Oceania, Australia, a potent example of how exclusion can be deadly. The island is in close proximity to poor and underdeveloped islands, many of which are highly vulnerable to climate change. Floating in settings of serene allure, for several of these low-lying states which barely peak over the ocean’s surface—Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands—cyclones, extreme flooding and rising sea-levels present the terrifying prospect of complete submergence.

Yet Australia, the obvious destination for many due to its wealth and ample land, has a severe anti-immigration stance, with robust maritime surveillance of ‘infiltration’ of its waters, agencies which intercept ‘boat people’ and a thorough deportation system. This political decision to fortify shores and deny undocumented migrants refuge paints a desperate future for many in the Pacific who will seek safety from climate change.


Securitisation has become the buzzword, the quick fix and obsession of a growing number of rulers. And so today Earth is riddled with more fortified borders than at any previous point in history. At the same time, human activities are warming the planet at an unprecedented rate, likely to ignite critically dangerous situations for mankind’s ability to survive across the globe.

In such aberrant circumstances, it is essential that we provide assurance of free movement to safer and more habitable lands. States need urgently to readdress their concepts of borders, security and ‘self-determination’, recognising human mobility, humanitarianism and altruism towards their fellow man and neighbour—to allow for a more transient world and safe passage away from the threatening and violent impacts of climate change.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Climate summit, climate justice Trapped by borders, a global flotsam and jetsam
Categories: les flux rss

Boris Nemtsov: murder in an atmosphere of hate

Open Democracy News Analysis - 5 hours 22 min ago

The death of Boris Nemtsov, in the shadow of the Kremlin, is rooted in the atmosphere of hate that has been building for the past year. And Nemtsov was quite unlike the man often portrayed.

Boris Nemtsov, 55-year-old co-chair of the People’s Freedom Party (PNR-PARNAS), was strolling in the centre of Moscow with a friend, Anna Duritskaya, a Ukrainian model, when a car braked in front of the pair as they crossed a bridge over the Moskva River. Six shots were fired at Nemtsov. The politician died at the scene. The car sped away. According to information released by Russia’s Investigative Committee, the country’s main federal investigating authority, Nemtsova and Duritskaya were making their way to Nemtsov’s flat. The car’s licence plate is known to the police, but the car’s whereabouts are yet to be confirmed.

The murder was committed on Friday evening, ahead of a planned anti-crisis march on Sunday – the first such march to be permitted by the city authorities since last autumn. The march’s organisers had published their demands beforehand: reduce state expenditure on military and policing in favour of healthcare and education, end Russia’s involvement in the war in Donbas, and curtail the country’s isolation from the rest of the world.

Frenzied propaganda

Russian state television has been pushing frenzied propaganda for more than a year. Its targets: America, Ukraine and the Russian opposition. In March 2014, Vladimir Putin described leading opposition figures as ‘national traitors.’ And as the economic crisis set in, hysteria has only continued to grow.

As the economic crisis set in, hysteria has only continued to grow.

In recent months, the most virulent pro-Putin groups have united in forming the AntiMaidan movement, which has declared its support – to the point of violence – for the government. The scale of AntiMaidan’s public hate for its opponents would suggest a conflict on the cusp of civil war. AntiMaidan participants have been involved in several attacks on opposition demonstrations. Nothing good was ever going to come from the fanatical supporters of the regime, but the shooting of Boris Nemtsov was unexpected, nevertheless.

Leonid Gozman, a former leader of the Union of Right Forces party, however, thinks there is something else. ‘The authorities found Nemtsov annoying. He went for the holiest of holies – property. His numerous reports – on the Sochi Olympics, on Putin’s palaces – hit them where it hurt. But I’m not saying that they’re behind the murder,’ muses Gozman, who used to lead the opposition party together with Nemtsov.

Indeed, the scenario that Nemtsov ‘was killed on the orders of Putin’ seems unlikely. A new terrorist group acting independently – for example, one formed by veterans of the conflict in ‘Novorossiya’ – appears far more credible. The target of Nemtsov makes sense for this kind of attack. Since the late 1990s, Nemtsov has been the focus of placards, caricatures, and threatening anti-liberal newspaper articles by pro-Kremlin activists. These groups frequently caricatured Nemtsov as an ‘agent of America.’

In a press release on Saturday, the Investigative Committee confirmed the possibility of such a scenario: ‘A chain of events connected to the situation in Ukraine is under investigation. It is no secret that, on both sides of the conflict, there are radical individuals beyond the control of any authorities.’

The scenario that Nemtsov ‘was killed on the orders of Putin’ seems unlikely.

The Investigative Committee is also considering the possibility that Nemtsov was killed by radical Islamists – the politician made a public expression of sympathy for the journalists at Charlie Hebdo after the mass shooting in January. Although, it should be said, the Committee is also looking into the involvement of ‘external forces’, attempting to de-stabilise the situation in Russia. Pro-Kremlin activists have already discussed this scenario more openly: ‘Nemtsov was killed by his American controllers – a dead Nemtsov is more useful when it comes to manipulating the situation in the country.’

Political biography

Nemtsov came to politics in 1990. Previously a physicist, with more than 60 articles and several inventions to his name, Nemtsov had a potential scientific career before him.

‘At the 1990 elections, Nemtsov was supported by the Democratic Russia movement, which I helped create,’ remembers rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, a former aide to Andrei Sakharov, and who remains involved in opposition politics today. ‘He became known in Nizhny Novgorod after collecting signatures against the construction of a nuclear power station. He became a deputy [in the Congress of People’s Deputies] as a result.’

Nevertheless, Ponomaryov is certain that Nemtsov would have become a politician without the planned nuclear power station – by virtue of his temperament.

During the 1990s, Nemtsov was a deputy in the Russian parliament, a governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region, and first deputy prime minister under President Boris Yeltsin.

‘Nemtsov was a far more serious, systematic and thoughtful person than he portrayed himself,’ says Leonid Gozman, who worked with Nemtsov both in (since disbanded) Union of Right Forces and in government.

‘He prepared for all meetings very seriously – no half-measures when it came to solving problems. Though he behaved very differently: ‘Guys, I’ve been scratching my head – here’s a thought.’ But beyond that easy patter, he was seriously thinking things through.’

‘There was a time when Boris Yeltsin said in public that he wanted Nemtsov to take over after he left office. But that was in the first half of the 1990s. By the end of the decade, when Yeltsin wasn’t even really in charge anymore, the FSB managed to put Vladimir Putin in place,’ remarks Ponomaryov.

There was a time when Boris Yeltsin said in public that he wanted Nemtsov to take over after he left office.

The human rights activist tells me that the Union of Right Forces, a right-wing liberal party, which Nemtsov led in the 1990s and at the beginning of the 2000s, supported Putin as a presidential candidate – even though Nemtsov and several other influential members voted against this policy in an internal party meeting. From 2003 onwards, Nemtsov’s political activities were almost solely directed towards criticising Putin. Ponomaryov goes as far as to posit that Nemtsov felt a kind of ‘responsibility’ for Putin’s rise to power. The Union of Right Forces fell into increasing obscurity over the next few years, eventually losing all representation in the Duma in the 2003 elections. Nemtsov resigned from the party, which disbanded in 2008 after its new leader, Nikita Belykh, took up President Dimtry Medvedev’s offer to become governor of the Kirov Region

Until 2003, Nemtsov was a deputy in the Duma, and then started in business after losing his seat, moving into street protests in opposition to the Russian authorities. He financed many opposition events from his business earnings; and could be seen handing out leaflets on the streets. He was arrested on many occasions and spent several periods on short sentences in jail.

‘I once complimented him,’ remembers the political scientist and commentator Andrei Piontkovsky, who was a member of the anti-Putin political movement ‘Solidarity’ (formed in 2008) together with Nemtsov. The movement had been formed as a ‘big-tent’ protest group combining critics of United Russia from both the left and right. ‘I said: “I know all the leaders of the Russian opposition. You are the only one who one can disagree with, say something unpleasant to, but which won’t ruin your personal relationship.” This really was true. And he answered: “I don’t have any illusions about myself.”

‘For Nemtsov, political life was a second life – one where he was already successful. If he hadn’t gotten involved in politics, he could’ve continued a successful scientific career.’

His own man

While Alexei Navalny’s Progress Party is attempting to register, under resistance from the authorities, Nemtsov’s  PNR-PARNAS remains independent and liberal. Other opposition parties, such as liberal party Yabloko (founded in 1995) and Civic Platform, the party of Mikhail Prokhorov, a wealthy businessman, show themselves to be increasingly reticent when it comes to criticising the Kremlin.

Just a few years ago, PNR-PARNAS’s party registration was an important fact for the Russian opposition. For instance, thanks to the existence of PNR-PARNAS, Nemtsov became a deputy in the Yaroslavl’ regional parliament; and anti-corruption activist and opposition figure Alexei Navalny ran in the 2013 Moscow mayoral election.

But following fresh restrictions on party registration, as well as changes to the electoral procedures for city council elections, PNR-PARNAS, as a recently registered party, can participate in only a limited number of elections.

In spite of all this, Nemtsov was always at the core of Russia’s opposition; and he always would have been. 

Standfirst image: Boris Nemtsov by Ilya Schurov via Wikipedia. All rights reserved.

Sideboxes Related stories:  The tale of Boris and Vlad Who was Mister Putin? An Interview with Boris Nemtsov Rights:  CC by NC 3.0
Categories: les flux rss

Monday 2 March 2015

Open Democracy News Analysis - 9 hours 21 min ago
OD Show on Front Page:  Not Shown on Front Page Right Image Why Britain won’t talk about crucial elements of Jihadi John’s story Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ? Libya, containing the danger Iraq: the assault on minorities Has being gay influenced my view of the war on drugs? Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ? Putin still has plenty of friends in London Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ? Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ? Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ? Why does Germany insist on a failed programme for Greece? Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ? We feel that we found our self after we lost it in the war Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ?

My home Syria is a beautiful place, but war took it from us. As refugees in Amman, performing Euripides’ The Trojan Women gave us a way to explain our new lives, and what we have lost. 

Why we occupy: Dutch universities at the crossroads Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ?

Twin pressures of authoritarianism from above and neoliberalism from below mean we must develop the democratic alternative put forward by the movement for a new university.

Detaining the president’s daughter Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ?

A year on from her disappearance from public life, what does the treatment of Gulnara Karimova reveal about Uzbekistan’s rights crisis?

Hide in waterfall:  Do not include in section waterfall ?
Categories: les flux rss

‘Headbutt the bitch’ Serco guard, Yarl’s Wood, a UK immigration detention centre

Open Democracy News Analysis - 9 hours 28 min ago

For years women locked up inside Yarl’s Wood, a UK government lock-up in Bedfordshire, have complained of racist abuse, sexual abuse and shoddy medical treatment. Now there is video evidence. WATCH ‘INSIDE YARL’S WOOD’ CHANNEL 4 NEWS, TONIGHT 7PM

Yarl’s Wood, which holds nearly 400 detainees, is the UK’s most secretive immigration detention centre. It has been plagued by damning accusations about the behaviour of guards since it opened in 2001.

Cameras have never been allowed inside. Even the United Nations special rapporteur for violence against women was barred entry.

Tonight Channel 4 News will reveal footage shot undercover inside the facility over a period of months. Our investigation reveals:

  • Numerous incidents of self-harm
  • Questions over standards of healthcare
  • Guards showing contempt for detainees 

The management of Yarl’s Wood has been outsourced to Serco since 2007. The company has always robustly rebutted allegations of sexual abuse and degrading treatment that have emerged from behind the facility's high fences and barbed wire.

Serco says its focus is ‘decency and respect’ for the ‘residents’ of Yarl’s Wood. The Channel 4 News investigation suggests a different reality for the mostly female detainees. Most of them are failed asylum seekers who have committed no crime.

As a result of the allegations, the Home Office has ordered “thorough and immediate investigations into all matters raised by this programme” and told Channel 4 News that they “will not hesitate to take whatever action we think appropriate in response”.

Serco have also said that former barrister Kate Lampard will “carry out an independent review into our work at Yarl's Wood” in response to the investigation. (Lampard was the NHS and Department of Health’s choice to provide independent oversight on the Jimmy Savile investigation).  

“We will not tolerate poor conduct or disrespect and will take disciplinary action wherever appropriate”, Serco said.

“They’re all animals”

Staff at Yarl’s Wood are filmed referring to the detention centre’s inmates as “animals”, “beasties” and “bitches”.

“Headbutt the bitch,” one guard says. “I’d beat her up.”

A guard is also filmed saying: “They’re animals. They’re beasties. They’re all animals. Caged animals. Take a stick with you and beat them up. Right?”

Guidance from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) says staff at detention facilities must “promote a respectful and safe environment”.

HMIP says a healthy detention facility is one where: “Staff address women using their preferred name or title and never use insulting nicknames or derogatory or impersonal terms.”

The strain on the staff could increase further as a result of government cuts, as 68 guards will be made redundant at Yarl’s Wood. 

Channel 4 News put this to Serco, who said: “the new structure that we are putting in place will provide sufficient operational staff to cater fully for the needs of residents.”

Health care at Yarl’s Wood

Standards of health care at the immigration detention centre are also brought into the spotlight.

Holding pregnant women is one of the most controversial aspects of the government’s detention policy: pregnant women are supposed to be detained only if their removal is imminent.

The investigation heard about a pregnant woman who had collapsed in the facility’s dining hall and was taken to hospital. 

A still image from the Channel 4 News investigation

“They said she was bleeding,” one officer says. Later in the conversation another adds: “The technical thing is no concerns were raised.”

Channel 4 News learnt that the woman went back to the hospital the next day and was told she had miscarried her baby. She was sent back to the detention centre. 

Early the next morning the woman returned to the Yarl’s Wood healthcare suite, which is sub-contracted to another private company, G4S. She was bleeding, highly distressed and desperate to be sent back to hospital.

Serco documents seen by Channel 4 News say the woman was “spoken to” because she was “refusing to wait her turn” and tried to ring the ambulance service.

G4S told Channel 4 News the woman was offered pain killers and told to come back two hours later to see the doctor. But they could not confirm that appointment took place.

Eventually four hours later, just before midday, she was seen by a visiting midwife, who called an ambulance.

G4S told Channel 4 News: “While this resident's miscarriage was understandably a deeply distressing experience for her personally, she received an excellent standard of clinical care from both G4S medical staff and the pregnancy unit at the local NHS hospital.”

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons guidance says detention facilities must make sure: “pregnant women and those caring for children in prison are fully supported throughout their time at the prison by appropriately trained staff.” 

On health care it states the aim that: “Women are cared for by a health service that assesses and meets their health needs while in prison and which promotes continuity of health and social care on release.”

And: “The standard of health service provided is equivalent to that which women could expect to receive elsewhere in the community.”

“Attention seeking”

On February 24 of this year the Home Office Minister Lord Bates told Parliament that there had been no serious incidents of self-harm at Yarl’s Wood in the past two years.

When asked how many “suicides or serious attempts at self-harm” there had been in the centre in the past two years, he said: “the answer is, fortunately, none.”

However, Channel 4 News has obtained figures through the Freedom of Information Act that show there were 74 separate incidents of self-harm requiring medical treatment in 2013 alone.

Above: a still image from the Channel 4 News investigation

The details of these incidents have never been disclosed, but an officer is recorded saying: “They are all slashing their wrists apparently. Let them slash their wrists.”

Another officer asks why the women would self-harm. The first officer responds: “It’s attention seeking.”

Inmates are also reported to have jumped from a stairwell in the detention centre — with one breaking her back. 

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons says prisons should provide: “a safe and secure environment which reduces the risk of self-harm and suicide.”

It says detention facilities should ensure that: “vulnerable women are identified at an early stage and given the necessary support.”

“Then I jumped”

Channel 4 News interviewed Esther Izigwe who was released from Yarl's Wood at the end of January.

She had suffered years of sexual violence as a teenager in Ghana before fleeing to the UK. Already struggling with depression, she says her mental health deteriorated badly in detention. When guards said they were about to remove her by force to send her home she was desperate. 

She says: “I started running then they started chasing me then she was like ‘Esther, please, we need to go’ and I was like ‘I'm not going, I don't want to go’. Then she said ‘you need to go’ and then I stood by the stairs. I said ‘if you come near me I will jump’. And then she still came and then I said ‘one more step I will jump’ and then she still tried to come in and then I jumped.”

“We take all incidents extremely seriously”

In response to the investigation's findings on self-harm in Yarl’s Wood, Serco said: “We work hard to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all the vulnerable people in our care and last year the number of incidents of self-harm decreased. All incidents of self-harm are treated extremely seriously and any resident who self-harms is seen by a nurse, regardless of the severity of the act.”

Serco went on:

“In the last eight years, there have been three occasions when residents attempted to self-harm on stairs. We take all such incidents extremely seriously and on each occasion a thorough review was undertaken and actions taken with the individuals to prevent them repeating attempts at self-harm. As part of these reviews the option of placing nets or barriers was considered but rejected as they would not be effective in preventing acts of self-harm.”

In response to the Channel 4 News claim that there was a lack of empathy among guards for detainees who self-harmed, Serco said: “We expect the highest standards of behaviour from all our staff at all times.The vast majority of our employees consistently meet these standards and I am proud of the work that they do. Nevertheless, we recognise that there are rare occasions when those standards have not been met by a few individuals. This is always unacceptable and when it is proven to have happened we take swift and appropriate disciplinary action.”

Official response:

In response to the Channel 4 News findings, a Home Office Spokesman said:

“The dignity and welfare of all those in our care is of the utmost importance — we will accept nothing but the highest standards from companies employed to manage the detention estate.

“Last month, the Home Secretary commissioned an independent review of detainees’ welfare to be conducted by former prisons ombudsman Stephen Shaw, but these are clearly very serious and disturbing allegations which merit immediate scrutiny.

“Serco has already suspended one member of staff. We expect Serco and G4S to conduct thorough and immediate investigations into all matters raised by this programme, and we will not hesitate to take whatever action we think appropriate in response.

“All of our detention centres are part of a regular and rigorous inspection regime operated by Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons. Lapses in standards, when they are identified, are dealt with swiftly and effectively. 

“A sense of fairness must always be at the heart of our immigration system — including for those we are removing from the UK.”

In response to the investigation as a whole, Serco said: “We will not tolerate poor conduct or disrespect and will take disciplinary action wherever appropriate.

“We work hard to ensure that the highest standards of conduct are maintained at Yarl’s Wood and Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons has found the Centre to be a safe and respectful place.

“We are conscious that we are working in a particularly challenging environment at Yarl's Wood, looking after 300 women detained during the final stages of their removal proceedings.

“The public will want to be confident that Yarl's Wood is doing its difficult task with professionalism, care and humanity.

“Accordingly, we have asked Kate Lampard, who has immense experience and credibility, to carry out an independent review into our work at Yarl's Wood.”

Full details of the investigation will be released on Channel 4 News on Monday at 7pm. 
The investigation was undertaken by Channel 4 News and producer Lee Sorrell. This report, republished by permission, first appeared on the Channel 4 News site, headlined, "Yarl's Wood: undercover in the secretive immigration centre".

Sideboxes Related stories:  Child locked up ‘by mistake’ for 62 days at adult immigration jail Coroner finds Capita detainee died of natural causes at Manchester immigration lock-up Justice blindfolded? The case of Jimmy Mubenga The racist texts. What the Mubenga trial jury was not told Neglect and indifference kill American man in UK immigration detention Extraordinary things: visiting the women at Yarl’s Wood detention centre The national shame that is healthcare in UK immigration detention
Categories: les flux rss

New trend, old roots: “internationalization” in Amnesty’s history

Open Democracy News Analysis - 10 hours 29 min ago

For Amnesty International, the growing trend of “internationalization” has very old roots. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate, Internationalizing human rights NGOs: why, how, and at what cost?  Español

Amnesty International’s decision to experiment with new activist structures in the global South and disperse many of the functions of its London-based International Secretariat to hubs around the world has sparked lively discussion within and beyond the organization. The multi-year organizational project is in progress, and its results can’t be immediately assessed. But one thing is certain: “internationalizing” is not a new goal for Amnesty. The recent undertaking is on a larger scale, more ambitious and more dramatic than previous ventures, but it would be a mistake to view the “Closer to the Ground” project as discontinuous with efforts and commitments marking the organization for decades.

AI’s formal commitment to a worldwide presence dates to 1989, when delegates to AI’s International Council (the organization’s ultimate decision-making body) declared membership development an organizational super-priority. By the early 1990s AI was spending nearly 10% of its international budget to expand and support its federated membership structures beyond Europe and North America. Despite concerted effort over an extended period, however, results were disappointing. During the 1990s AI welcomed about a dozen new sections, including South Korea, Algeria, Nepal, Benin, Taiwan and Slovenia, but ultimately it had to close several sections in which it had invested heavily. Part of the problem was that demands placed on AI sections weren’t reasonable for a small pool of volunteers, in any country—especially without support of a locally based field organizer.

Another inherent limitation was that AI’s program was geared mainly toward abuses in other countries, a hard sell to volunteers who wanted to address pressing problems at home. Activists attracted to AI as a politically impartial international organization with a reputation for effective action gladly joined the global thematic campaigns, but they often found onerous the work of maintaining a volunteer governing board, raising funds and participating in AI’s internal policy discussions. The burden was even greater when these organizational tasks required translation to and from a local language. Growth tended to increase demands, expenses, and expectations, and local leadership in some sections openly resisted pressures to increase their numbers.

For the organization as a whole, that was not a satisfying response. Amnesty’s volunteer leadership and senior managers in the International Secretariat were committed to expanding the organization and helping to grow a local human rights presence around the world. The motivations were, and are, complex—a nuanced but important point in the current context. As a starting point, the notion of solidarity is deeply embedded in AI’s ethos and organizational culture. Amnesty was founded on a vision of human rights as a collective good, and for more than fifty years, its members have found meaning and motivation in the idea that ordinary individuals, wherever they live, share a stake in speaking out against human rights abuses, wherever they occur. From the beginning, AI’s members sought to be part of an international movement, and the original rule restricting work on one’s own country was one of the means by which the solidarity norm was reinforced.

Flickr/Amnesty International (Some rights reserved)

A 2009 Amnesty International demonstration in Bangladesh in support of global solidarity day for Iran. Amnesty International has promoted global solidarity as an essential tool in the continuous struggle for human rights since its inception.

As the organization grew, Amnesty members in different countries sought ways to engage more directly with each other, across national divides and cultural constraints. AI was eager to enhance its diversity internally, electing members from around the world to its international governing board, flattening the voting structure to weight the representation of small structures, mandating a minimum level of spending to support small AI sections, setting up translation units, and making travel support and other resources available to ensure that AI members from smaller structures had opportunity to influence the organization’s strategic plan and program of work.

While the proportion of members from non-industrialized countries remained slight, the organization’s extensive consultations and efforts to integrate the concerns of AI activists worldwide had a palpable impact on the nature and focus of its work. AI members from the global South thus helped the organization find its way to work on women’s rights, impunity, HIV-AIDS, and economic social rights, among other issues. As a poignant anecdote, I recall a debate at AI’s 1995 International Council meeting, where delegates from Africa made impassioned arguments that a failure to take up work on female genital mutilation would consign Amnesty to irrelevance in their societies.

By the time of the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993, AI understood that building up a global human rights movement was not just a reflection of cosmopolitan values. It had become a strategic imperative. By the time of the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993, AI understood that building up a global human rights movement was not just a reflection of cosmopolitan values. It had become a strategic imperative. The most convincing way to make the case for universality was to demonstrate support for universal human rights principles, all across the globe. The Paris Human Rights Defenders Summit that Amnesty and the FIDH co-sponsored in 1998 was thus intended to promote networking among local human rights organizations from all over the world, many of whom were only beginning to work with digital technology. Since that time there have been numerous opportunities to appreciate the strategic value of coordinated campaigning on issues as diverse as the International Criminal Court, the Arms Trade treaty, and the Millennium Development Goals. It has also become apparent that today’s struggles for human rights are better waged on home turf than from foreign capitals.

This, then, is the backdrop against which the current conversations unfold. Over the years AI has tried many strategies to expand its organizational footprint and encourage the spread of human rights activism. It has alternatively subsidized membership structures and promoted self-sufficiency with fundraising loans. It has invested in extensive training programs for member-leaders, developed comprehensive performance indicators and deployed diagnostic tools for organizational audits. For nearly a decade it experimented with singling out a few national structures for prioritized attention, and in the late 1990s it began to build up small-scale offices outside London.

All of these efforts have yielded results that are positive but not commensurate with the hopes and expectations. Over the past several years AI’s leadership has determined that nothing short of a radical overhaul will position the organization to meet challenges ahead. The costs have been high, particularly in terms of staff turnover. But just as there is more than one reason for an INGO like Amnesty International to “internationalize”, there is more than one way to assess costs.

An earlier generation of human rights advocates demanded “Human Rights Now!” and persuaded each other that human rights protection was something that could be secured once and for all. We now understand the quest for human rights to be a continuous struggle. The challenge is to find, and ever renew, appropriate means to carry it forward.

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Related stories:  Moving Amnesty closer to the ground is necessary, not simple How do we solve structural inequality in global networks? Coming together, or falling apart? Convergence towards the global middle: an emerging architecture for the international human rights movement To truly internationalize human rights, funding must make sense Don’t ditch the “local” when scrambling to “go global” Multiple boomerangs: new models of global human rights advocacy Transnational rights violations call for new forms of cooperation Human rights diversity goes beyond North-South relations A time for change? The future of INGOs in international human rights
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Britain's dysfunctional economy cannot last - but we can fix it

Open Democracy News Analysis - 11 hours 10 min ago

Because sterling is much too strong, manufacturing as a percentage of GDP in the UK has shrunk from 32% as late as 1970 to the unviable level of barely 10% now.


Most manufacturing operations, as is confirmed by the Office for National Statistics, (ONS) have a cost structure which clusters round about one third of charges being those for which there are world prices while two thirds are determined by local cost conditions. Typically there are world prices for raw materials and plant and machinery and locally determined prices for more or less everything else. The cost base comprises all of the charges which are incurred in the local currency. In our case, of course, this is sterling.

The cost base is made up of a very wide variety of charges – including everything from travel expenses to audit costs, from fuel bills to cleaning charges, from repair bills to postage costs, from insurance premiums to printing and stationery. It includes direct labour costs but also interest charges, rent and the need for a level of profitability. Rather more than half these charges are essentially labour costs because compensation for employment represents about 55% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The remaining 45% is made up of what is received as unearned income in the form of payments for inputs such as rent, interest and dividends.

There is a stark contrast between those costs which are determined by world markets and those incurred domestically. Measured in an international currency such as dollars, everyone all over the world has to pay more or less the same amount for inputs, particularly raw materials and plant and equipment, for which there are world markets. The charges for domestically incurred costs, however, can and do vary enormously, measured in international terms, such as in US dollars. The rate at which all these domestic costs are charged out to the rest of the world depends almost entirely on the exchange rate. If the currency is strong, measured in international currencies these costs will be high and the price for goods to be exported will seem to foreign buyers to be expensive and, conversely, if the domestic currency is undervalued they will seem cheap.

Some simple maths shows how powerful influence of the exchange rate is on export costs. Between 1977 and 1981, the UK’s exchange rate rose by about 60%. Measured in world prices, the costs of raw materials and new machinery stayed the same but all the cost base costs rose by 60%. This meant, as a first approximation, that UK export costs, measured in international currencies, rose by two thirds of 60% - about 40%. This did not affect some export industries very much because they were in non-price sensitive markets such as aerospace, arms, pharmaceuticals and perhaps vehicles. All these industries are protected by long and complicated supply chains, high levels of expertise and experience which take a long time to accumulate, patents and other forms of intellectual protection, strong brands and sometimes competitors in other countries, such as the USA, where exchange rates also strengthened enormously. It did, however, have a devastating impact on manufacturing which was not protected in these ways and where therefore sales were much more price sensitive.

The situation was then made much worse by what happened in the East. Whereas most countries in the West, heavily influenced at the time by monetarist doctrines, adopted policies which greatly increased their exchange rates, very different policies were adopted round most of the Pacific Rim. In China, there was a huge devaluation of the renmimbi, by about 75% between the 1980s and the 1990s, as the graph shows.

Big exchange reductions were also implemented by many other Asian countries, following the 1997 Asian financial crisis. The Korean won, for example, fell by about 50% and the Malaysian ringgit by 35%. Because, as the graph shows, countries such  as the UK, far from taking action to ensure that their economies remained reasonably competitive, allowed – or even encouraged – their exchange rates to become  ever higher; their industries exposed to price competition were completely unable to compete.  As a result, most countries in the West rapidly de-industrialised.

This matters hugely for three reasons. The first is that productivity in much easier to increase in manufacturing than it is in most service industries. If you replace a machine which makes one unit with one which produces two, you double productivity whereas changing organisations to make them even five or ten per cent more efficient is extremely difficult. Second, manufacturing produces a far better spread of high quality and well paid jobs both regionally and in socio-economic terms than is the case in services. Third – and perhaps most crucially – most international trade is in manufactured goods, even for a country such as the UK with a very weak manufacturing base, and if we do not have enough to sell to the rest of the world, we cannot pay for our imports. This is exactly what has happened to us.  We have not had a visible trade surplus since 1982 or avoided an overall balance of payments deficit since 1985 – now 30 years ago. The resulting deficits have sucked demand out of the economy causing slow growth, rising unemployment, increasing inequality and ever rising debt.

The consequence is that the UK economy is now almost incredibly unbalanced. As a result of slow growth feeding on itself the proportion of our national income which we invest in the future – at barely 14% excluding research and development – is now one of the lowest in the entire world, where the average is 24%. In China it is 46%. We now have too little manufacturing in the UK for us to be able to pay our way and as a result we have a massive balance of payments deficit - about £100bn in 2014 with a higher figure still expected in 2015. To make up for the national income which we enjoy spending but which we are not earning, we continue to sell off vast quantities of national assets and to borrow huge sums from abroad, which is why both the UK economy as a whole - and the government in particular - are getting deeper and deeper into debt. What growth we have is very largely driven by consumer demand, fuelled by asset inflation on a scale which is completely unsustainable and cannot last.

What can we do to remedy this situation? There are plenty of things which need to be done on the supply side of the economy – to improve our education and training, for example, and to upgrade our infrastructure, to install faster broadband, and to update our planning procedures. But we also need to act on the demand side. We need to provide the right economic incentives to get people to invest on a big scale where investment is really needed – and the place where the highest returns are to be found, given the right conditions, is in light relatively low tech industry. To make this occur, we need to ensure that investment of this type is highly profitable – and to do this we need to make sure that the cost base is low enough for UK pricing – both for exports and for import substitution – to be competitive.

How much lower would the exchange rate need to be to make this happen? It depends on what we want to try to achieve, and there is a simple trade-off. The lower the exchange rate, the more competitive the cost base will be, the more response there will be from both exports and imports, and the faster the economy will grow. Careful modelling of the economy shows that if the exchange rate stays at $1.50 to $1.60 to £1.00, the economy will barely grow at all for the foreseeable future. At $1.00  to $1.10 to £1.00, with an equivalent reduction in the exchange rate to other currencies such as the euro, within five years the economy could be growing at a sustainable rate of 4% to 5% per annum.

Is this possible? You have only to look round the world to see that it is. The common factor between all the economies which have grown fast since World War II has been that they have all had low exchange rates, competitively priced cost bases and successful exports. Outstanding examples include most of Western Europe during the 1950s and 1960s, Japan through until the 1980s, the Tiger economies (Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea) right up to now, and of course China, which has grown by around 10% per annum for every decade since the 1980s. Why has the UK missed out? Because we have always tried to keep our exchange rate as high as possible rather than realising how crucial it is to keep it down to a competitive level.

It is not an exaggeration to say that it is perverse attitudes to the exchange rate – either ignoring it completely or favouring it being maintained at completely unrealistic and uncompetitive levels - which have very largely been responsible for generating the chronic weaknesses from which the UK economy suffers. If we deliberately – or by default – continue to charge out our cost base to the rest of the world at levels which are far above the world average, then the consequence will be continuation of our all too obvious decline in share of world trade, constant balance of payments problems, slow or non-existent growth, rising inequality, increasing debt, and relative if not absolute national decline. Relatively developed and well diversified economies like that of the UK need realistic exchange rate policies just as much as they need stable fiscal and monetary strategies. When all three economic policy components pull in the same direction, spectacularly successful economic outcomes become relatively easy to achieve. When the crucial cost link between our economy and all the rest of the world is either ignored or misjudged in the way we have seen in the UK, the inevitable consequence will continue to be the kind of desperately poor economic performance we have seen as our political institutions slowly fragment under the strain of completely unnecessary austerity, stagnant living standards and the inability of our political leadership to achieve tolerably successful economic outcomes.


This article is part of the There is an Alternative series. An economist and entrepreneur, John Mills is Chairman of JML. He recently established The Pound Campaign to raise awareness of the uncompetitive exchange rate and the effect it is having on UK manufacturing and the wider economy. John Mills sits on openDemocracy's board and is a supporter of OurKingdom.

Categories: les flux rss

Why we occupy: Dutch universities at the crossroads

Open Democracy News Analysis - 11 hours 20 min ago

The Netherlands, a mere 10 years behind the UK, seems eager to catch up. Twin pressures of authoritarianism from above and neoliberalism from below make it necessary to develop the democratic alternative put forward by the movement for a new university.

Maagdenhuis occupation, Amsterdam, February 27,2015. Guido van Nispen/Flickr. Some rights reserved.It has been two weeks since the first occupation of the Bungehuis, one of the main buildings of the University of Amsterdam (UvA). The more recent occupation of UvA’s Senate House – the Maagdenhuis which was famously occupied back in 1969 – and the breadth of the grassroots movement for a New University exposes the problems of Dutch higher education. Increasing student/staff ratios, chronic underfunding, creeping micromanagement of research and teaching, and growing authoritarianism from university management are all conspiring to turn universities into a bureaucratic version of Walmart. The twin pressures of authoritarianism from above and neoliberalism from below make it necessary to develop the democratic alternative put forward by the movement for a new university.

The history of the Dutch university since the 1990s is the history of a market-inspired--or market-mimicking--authoritarianism. By the late 1970s most Dutch universities were committed to openness, democracy and equality for all their members. The university’s main constituency has always consisted of students, teachers, and staff. The descent down the authoritarian rabbit hole began with a set of structural and ideological commitments induced by unyielding government pressure in the mid-1990s.

Around that time, university bureaucracies and top management came to gradually substitute themselves for the university’s demos under the guise of ‘indirect representation’. At the same time, students were insidiously being transformed into consumers--with some needs attended to by the bureaucracy without any corresponding political empowerment--through the twin process of inter-university competition and the widespread introduction of market-inspired benchmarks.

This is what Stefan Collini, one of the most influential British critics of the privatization of higher education, calls ‘the paraphernalia of market simulation’. The upshot is the bureaucratic equivalent of a sausage-factory: the production of the knowledge-sausage at minimum cost for the maximum number of consumers. The process by which one arrives at knowing thus becomes insignificant and secondary: means (degrees) and ends (the free pursuit of knowledge) are completely inverted. It is typically university managers, indeed, in their ivory tower, who bafflingly claim that this leaves the university’s ‘product’ unaffected.

For all these reasons, Dutch universities today find themselves at a crossroads. They must perforce choose between further privatization and democracy. The first route leads to a degradation of university education in general, and an evisceration of the humanities in particular. The second route leads to a more egalitarian and more efficient public university. Those who question the starkness of this dilemma should think again, especially in light of recent British experience. The structural similarities are striking: in 1999 the Labour government of Tony Blair introduced tuition for university education, at the moderate level of £1000 (c. €1300). Within little more than a decade, undergraduate tuition in the UK had exploded to nine times its original level (c. €11000). This is privatization in all but name. At the same time, Blair installed broader structures of microbullying within universities, ostensibly for the purpose of assessment and quality control of teaching and research. This included bibliometry (citation counts of published work), numerical benchmarks for teaching on the basis of teaching evaluations, numerical targets for the number of publications per year, etc. The Netherlands is a mere ten years behind the UK, but seems eager to catch up.

Most Dutch universities already utilize some of these benchmarks for self-assessment purposes, largely for the purpose of disciplining sub-units like departments and their staff, but also in order to make tenure and promotion decisions. It is well-known that these modes of assessment are flawed: it is a category mistake to believe that the quality of academic work can be measured like beans in the sack. It can be evaluated. This is what widely-accepted practices of peer review, that is, the direct assessment of the quality of one’s research, are there for.

But no amount of quantitative indexing can substitute for peer review. No amount of citations---or indeed of successful grant applications---will be able to replace substantial assessment of the claims and arguments made in academic work. Inversely, no lack of citations can undermine the main tenets of Darwin’s theory of natural selection or Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language. Indeed, if Darwin and Wittgenstein were academics in the Netherlands today, they would be unlikely to get tenure (Head of department: ‘Mr. Wittgenstein, you’ve only published one book in 20 years, cited by a mere spattering of people in Vienna! Tenure application refused!’).

The movement for a New University contests this incessant drive to turn universities into supermarkets, with an unelected – and unaccountable – board of directors at the top, and a hapless army of consumers at the bottom. The students and teachers making up this movement are opposed to the opacity and authoritarianism at the helm of Dutch universities, to the hierarchies that the drive to privatization inevitably creates, and to the recent cuts in the humanities that threaten to destroy institutional structures of research and teaching that it took decades to create. It will also be extremely difficult, if at all possible, to recreate even a semblance of democracy were proposed reforms to go through.

These are all symptoms of the structure and direction given to the Dutch university since the 1990s. This is why demands for fully elected and accountable university boards, for a roll-back of cuts in the humanities, for a cancellation of the infamous Profiel 2016--a proposal that jeopardizes the jobs of dozens of teachers in the humanities and merges a number of subjects and disciplines in a way that is not driven by informed decisions but by ad-hoc attempts to save money--form the core of any reasonable set of transitional demands for a democratic university.

Thanks to the students and their protests we are now in a political moment where these questions are on the public agenda, where what seemed utopian and unrealistic two weeks ago has become a real possibility.

Country or region:  Netherlands Topics:  Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics Ideas International politics
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I shall leave as my city turns to dust: Queens of Syria and women in war

Open Democracy News Analysis - 11 hours 30 min ago

In ‘Queens of Syria’, ancient Greek tales of loss and dislocation in conflict echo through to the contemporary realities of Syrian women whose experiences of war and exile have often been ignored

 ‘Queens of Syria’, a film directed by Yasmin Fedda which had its UK premiere in Glasgow last week, seeks to redress the silencing of the experiences of Syrian women who have lived through the continuing war in their country.  In doing so, it also reveals the deeper universals of war the underpin but are frequently obscured by media headlines and graphic ISIS videos – the deep ache of loss for the homeland, and the exhausting task of rebuilding a life after you have watched your homeland burn.

The film follows the rehearsals and performance, by a group of Syrian refugee women now living in Amman, of Euripides’ ‘The Trojan Women. ’Produced in 415 BC during the Peloponnesian War, the plays themes of loss, dislocation, and the pain felt by women as war rips through their lives are made hauntingly universal by the rehearsals and the innovative stage production by the women in Amman in late 2013.  The chorus of women acting the lines from the Greek text are interspersed with monologues from their experiences in contemporary Syria, but the tones and themes are so closely linked that it is hard to tell which lines are from Euripides and which are from the lives of women who had fled the Syrian conflict

Photo via 'Queens of Syria'

“My fathers and brothers live in the land of the dead” the women proclaim in unison – a line from Euripides but also a fact of their experience in Jordan, where many households are now headed by women as a consequence of the numbers of Syrian men who have died or gone missing as a result of the conflict.  Similarly, in the play, the chorus speaks of women who are “allotted their masters…but all the Trojan women who have not been allotted are in these tents”, conjuring both ancient battlefields and the contemporary image of Zaatari, the refugee camp in northern Jordan where more than 100,000 Syrian refugees now live in temporary accommodation.

The film follows the group of around thirty women, none of whom have acted before, rehearsing for the play in Amman and talking about their experiences, as Syrians, as refugees, and as women adjusting to these new realities.  Several of the women involved make self-conscious parallels between their own experiences and the stories in Euripides’ play, with one explaining  as she cooks in the kitchen of her new, precarious home in Amman: “Hecuba is so close to me…she lost everything she owned. She lost her children and her family… It’s like us.  She was a queen in her house.  Her house was her kingdom, she ran it as she pleased. Hecuba says ‘I used to run this place but now I am nothing.’ That’s us now.”  Another woman performing in the play, more overtly political in her description of her experiences under the brutalities of Assad’s regime, says “the character of Cassandra is similar to me.  This is because I want to avenge what happened to me.”

Photo via 'Queens of Syria'

The film takes us into the internal dynamics and discussions of the rehearsal process, as the women engage in drama exercises such as each writing a letter to someone inside Syria who they want to see – letters which are then read on the stage throughout the performance of the play.  Fredda’s directorial choices, in interspersing footage from the final performance with scenes from the rehearsals and intimate conversations with the women contributes to the sense of the many interwoven stories, and the recurring themes of the female experiences of war that are so often sidelined.

As the women chant as a haunting chorus: “I will be a slave in the house of my enemies. I will have to forget my love and open my heart to my new husband. And then I will appear to be a traitor to the soul of my dead husband.”  The brutality of the Syrian conflict has played out in a gendered way reminiscent of the former Yugoslavia: initiatives such as the Women Under Siege project, and organisations such as Human Rights Watch, have documented “epidemic” levels of sexual violence as a result of the conflict, as well as torture, physical abuse and arbitrary detention committed upon them by Assad’s forces, pro-government militias, armed opposition groups and more recently by ISIS/Daesh.  The UN has described rape in Syria as a “weapon of war”, and its after-effects follow Syrian refugee women as they flee the conflict to neighbouring countries.  A women’s clinic in the Zaatari refugee camp opened in 2013 by Dr Manal Tahtamouni, who claimed she was seeing 300 to 400 cases a day, mostly from domestic violence and the after-effects of sexual violence, a subject which remains taboo and culturally coded with shame and stigmatisation on the part of survivors.

Photo via 'Queens of Syria'

Euripides’ recurring themes of dislocation and the warped purgatory of life in the aftermath of war echoes through to the experiences of female Syrian refugees, who face a series of difficulties even after they have managed to escape the fighting.  The women draw maps of their journeys from Syria to Jordan, and one woman explains she moved house a dozen times within a year.  As the Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan mushroomed from 2013, a bridal boutique shop sprang up to cater for the rushed marriages of young Syrian women – many of whom, according to UNICEF, were under eighteen years old, leaving them at increased risk of domestic violence and an increased likelihood that their education will be abrupted ended.  

Moreover, both in the Zaatari camp and in Amman where the women of ‘Queens of Syria’ have moved to, life as a refugee is stifling and laden with obstacles.  While Jordan has been praised for its efforts to accommodate displaced Syrians compared to the levels of discrimination that Syrian refugees have faced in Lebanon, even in Jordan both the official restrictions on the right to work for refugees and exploitations in daily life have left Syrians in the country with a continued sense of vulnerability.  In December 2014, the UNHCR recorded 640,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, although the government claims that the real figure is twice as high, and that public services have been strained beyond capacity.

‘Queens of Syria’ touches upon these realities while leaving it to the women performing the play to approach such topics in their own time and on their own terms.  During rehearsals, the women act out scenes of powerlessness, one recalling an incident from Syria as she acts out a memory: “fifteen armed masked men came in. You could only see their eyes.”  The play and the film together thus both speak to and for the women, as the final performance and film convey the struggles of women in conflict to the audience, the workshops and rehearsals provide a space for the women to explore and process their trauma through drama therapy.

Photo via 'Queens of Syria'

Although both the play and film carve out a space for Syrian women to articulate and enact their experiences, the theme of silencing also recurs, from Euripides to the narrative of the documentary itself.  Walking slowly together as a chorus on stage, the women place their hands in front of their mouths as they recite the lines from ‘Trojan Women’ “I have reached the end of my sorrows. I shall leave as my city turns to dust”, moving together both as a chorus and as a presence that shows itself as often voiceless – throughout drama, throughout history and in the present day. 

Silencing is also a more practical theme in the film, as the group of women rehearsing the play becomes smaller every week, starting with fifty women and ending with about twenty participants.  The play’s director, Omar, struggles to negotiate with the women who are concerned that appearing on stage will have negative consequences, either for their family lives and reputation, or for their connections back in Syria.  Some of the women attended the rehearsals but didn’t perform in the final play, others have their faces blurred on the camera, others face pressure from their husbands not to perform, and another explains to Omar “I have a brother in Syria. I’m scared this will affect him.” While the final performance of the play itself is deeply haunting, a collective cry of loss and displacement, these behind-the-scenes conversations captured on camera are somehow even more revealing of the intersecting forces that constrict women during and after conflict: fear of political forces, fear for their family, combined with personal family dynamics and their strain on an individual woman’s freedom. 

Both the play and the ‘Queens of Syria’ film perform a similar tightrope walk in terms of politics in the narrow sense, allowing the space for women who wish to articulate a specifically anti-Assad position to voice their position and their experiences of brutality by the Syrian government, whilst also broadening the scope of voices so that the play and film also speaks more universally of the human loss of war.  One woman, Suada, describes how “four hundred people were killed in a massacre where we lived and it wasn’t in the newspapers or television…so I want the world to hear our story.”  Another, Maha, says simply that as ordinary Syrians they are simply caught in the middle of politics, “lost in the middle”, and sings to her child “I am like a flower that has been pulled from the soil.  In exile you only feel oppression.”

From Euripides’ choruses to the contemporary stories the women tell of “snipers on our beautiful street” the tales of human suffering in war layer over one another, and build to the crescendo of the final performance, where the women’s many voices speak of all that has been lost.

‘Queens of Syria’ will be screened at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival in March

Sideboxes Related stories:  Syria: women, peacework, and the lesson from Bosnia Trojan Women in the twenty first century: women in war from Euripides to Syria
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We feel that we found our self after we lost it in the war

Open Democracy News Analysis - 11 hours 40 min ago

My home Syria is a beautiful place, but war took it from us. As refugees in Amman, rehearsing and performing Euripides’ The Trojan Women gave us a way to explain our new lives, and what we have lost. 

At twenty-three years old, today I live in Amman, far from my home in Damascus. Participating in the Syrian Trojan Women project, and later the Queens of Syria film, had a significant personal influence on me and on the other women who took part. My participation in this project made me bolder and more confident of myself and changed me for the better.  It gave me a way to cope with the difficulties of asylum experience. It also made me feel like I am doing something about what has happened, and is happening, in my home country.  Feeling that you have do something, anything, even if it is just to say the right word, is good feeling, for sure.  And I think the rest of the women who were with me in this project have the same opinion. None of us had ever acted before, but the workshops eased us into the process.

Photo via 'Queens of Syria'

Most of the women involved did not ever imagine that they may stand on stage and tell their stories to a live audience looking at them directly.  This experience earned them great courage.  One of the women told me that she has become stronger and more self-confident and she is very happy with this. Others also said that they always dreamed to be an actress and this experience gave them the opportunity to achieve one of their childhood dreams.

The impact the play had on the community of refugees in Jordan, and in our lives, is felt, but indirectly. In our society theatre in particular is not a very popular artform the same way it is in the West, but there is documentary about the project, directed by Yasmin Fedda and has won the best director award at the Abu Dhabi documentary Film Festival.  I think that the spread of the film across cinema screens or even television and which is the most popular will convey the idea of the project to the community – that is, that everyone can do something and nothing is impossible.

We have faced a lot of difficulties during this project. In particular, among the women there has been fear, dread, and a lot of problems because acting is not a popular in our society unfortunately, especially for women and society's perception of women who participate in the theatre. Unfortunately, we started with 50 women and just 25 women stayed to the end of the project for multiple reasons, including the dread and fear of the theatre and performing, or society's negative perception of theatre, and family problems – especially with husbands.  Many of the women left the training because their husbands prevented them from continuing, but many women faced this and insisted and eventually persuaded their husbands to stay and continued in the project and I think that the survival of 25 ladies until the end is a success in itself.

Still from 'Queens of Syria', via Queens of Syria

Being a refugee in a theatre production trying to perform a play can cause many problems, in addition to the difficulties of rehearsing the play itself.  We received invitations from the University of Georgetown and Columbia in America to perform the play there, but it did not happen, unfortunately, because half of the women do not have passports and even those who do have passports unfortunately had their visas to America rejected by the American embassy in Amman – without any apparent reason.  It was frustrating. But that did not stop us from continuing, the event happened and we were there via Skype and talked with the audience and answered the questions. It was a great experience, and after that we performed the play in Geneva, Switzerland after we received an invitation from two organizations, Tällberg and CERN.

For the last two years I have faced lots and lots of challenges here in Amman. All the other women have also suffered just like me, but this project was the best thing that happened for us since we came here to Jordan.  We feel that we found our self after we lost it in the war.

via Queens of Syria

After coming to Jordan our lives totally changed, with nothing but challenges, from finding a house to rent to trying to find a job.  It's illegal for Syrians to work in Jordan.  They have to get a work permit which is costs a lot of money, and if they work without the permit they may be arrested, or at least they would be exploited by employers. Trying to find a house is also difficult, now Amman has many Syrian refugees looking for housing.  But participating in the play, the workshops and the performances, made us forget this suffering and made us know that we can do something whatever the situation is. It made us stronger in facing the challenges that refugees face – but those challenges are still there. 

The importance of this project stems from being a projection of the epic of Euripides on to the Syrian tragedy through real life testimonies, told by women who were witnesses to what happened and who have suffered because of this war – to know that history repeats itself and that the tragedy of war does not change, even if the man has reached the development at all levels as it is now.  The fundamental part of war does not change. Unfortunately, despite the media, and the armies which are deployed on each satellite channel, the picture of what is happening in Syria is still blurry, vague and confused, so I think that this play may have to explain the truth about what happened in Syria and the fact that the Syrian people are very kind and peaceful one way or another, away from the storms of the media. 

via Queens of Syria

This is what I hope. Now when the people talk about Syria they talk about war, death, torture, rape, destruction and apprehension. So one of my biggest dreams is to make people around the world know that Syria is a beautiful place with kind people, but the war stole it from us. I love my home, Syria is my paradise. Don’t ask what it feels like to have to leave paradise.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Trojan Women in the twenty first century: women in war from Euripides to Syria Syrian women demand to take part in the peace talks in Geneva Syrian women refugees: out of the shadows Syrian Women's Rights: "the fight does not stop here" Syria: women, peacework, and the lesson from Bosnia
Categories: les flux rss

Women seeking asylum: closing the protection gap

Open Democracy News Analysis - 11 hours 55 min ago

Globally the British government is pushing for better protections for women, yet the same protections are unavailable to those seeking asylum. Asylum Aid is asking why a quarter of women’s claims are overturned on appeal.

Mariam has always been outspoken, an agitator, a nuisance, she says. Even now she speaks vigorously in sudden bursts of words, like somebody worried they won’t be given the chance to finish their point. In Eritrea, where she comes from, this is a lot more unusual in a woman, “We are raised to feel inferior to men” she says, “From the day we are born. If a son is born we celebrate with seven ululations, but if it’s a girl it’s only three. We have been taught, every day, not to speak up.”

But Mariam is speaking up, has been doing it her whole life, and as a woman in one of the world’s most brutally repressive states, this eventually led her into danger. “I had to flee because I dared to raise my voice against the unconstitutional actions of my government.” A pro-democracy activist, Mariam came to the attention of the authorities in Eritrea and was forced to flee for her life. Now, she is concerned for other Eritrean women in England, and the problems that they face in accessing their rights in a country where they are supposed to have them.

“When you come from a lawless country like mine, what you get is people who do not know the law. They do not know it can protect them; it has only been used to repress them in the past. To us, the government has always been just a bully, how can we know that things are different here? The women from my community have real difficulty trusting authority figures.

“When women come here from Eritrea, we do not know we have rights. We think it is normal to be disciplined by our husbands. I work in my community and I have seen how common this is. These women have been prevented from educating themselves. It should be compulsory to give women seeking asylum when they arrive here some information explaining to them that they have rights and they can be protected, what services there are for them.”

What Mariam has picked up on is the protection gap that faces the small numbers of women coming to this country from sexist and repressive cultures, seeking protection from human rights abuses and the chance to build safe lives. Such women, Mariam argues, are caught in a vicious cycle on arrival – unaware of laws against domestic violence and rape, but unable to trust figures of authority, stand up for themselves, and ask because of their trauma. 

It is ironic that while around the world, the British government is attempting to push for better protections for women in these regards, women like Mariam are not provided with them here in the UK. The Foreign Office’s much lauded current programme on violence against women seeks to introduce minimum standards for women reporting sexual violence in conflict zones. But these same standards are not offered at home, to the survivors who make it here to ask for help. Just last week, the Joint Committee on Human Rights reiterated this discrepancy in its report on violence against women and girls.

Still from new Asylum Aid campaign

Women and girls in our asylum system are not given clear information about the asylum system and their rights as women within it. They are not referred to counselling if they report rape or gender-based violence as part of their claim, leaving their mental health to suffer. Without psychological support, as Mariam has noted, it is difficult for these women to open up about their ordeals. They may hold back details that are particularly difficult to discuss because of this, and this could mean the difference between being allowed to stay and being refused and perhaps detained and sent back into danger.

Another barrier for women like Mariam, unbelievably, is motherhood. It is a matter of chance whether mothers who are seeking asylum will be sent to the part of the UK where childcare is provided during interviews. If they are not, then they could be forced to bring their young children along when they explain their ordeal, and obviously they won’t feel able to discuss how they have been abused in front of them.

For Mariam, who had managed to bring her son, then just two years old, with her, how he suffered when they arrived still haunts her. “I love my son, he is my world, but sometimes I still feel guilty about that time. I know I wasn’t able to provide for his emotional needs. The system is so demanding and I lost my energy. Sometimes I think that I emotionally neglected him because I was so overwhelmed, so unable to cope with the asylum process. He was just a little child, he hasn’t done anything to deserve this.”

Women seeking asylum are expected to give a full account of everything that has happened to them when they first arrive, or risk that any inconsistency or new information provided at a later date could damage their perceived credibility and their chances of being allowed to stay. Without the appropriate support to recover from traumatic experiences, is it any wonder that so many cannot share every detail right from the start? Without good quality information about their rights, how are these women supposed to know that the fact, for example, that their husband beats them, is something they should tell their Home Office caseworker? Furthermore how are they supposed to tell their caseworker about such things if their young children are in the room?

“I was drained,” says Mariam, the simplicity of what she says she needed a stark contrast to the complexity of the system she had to navigate, “I needed support. Mothers need to be supported to be able to support their children. We need counselling, we need information about how to deal with these things. We need someone to say, I know you are stressed, I know it is hard.”

Given the barriers facing women in the asylum system, the lack of basic humanity shown to them that would allow them to trust and to open up, is it then any surprise that the Home Office gets over a quarter of its initial decisions in women’s cases wrong? Asylum Aid’s research has shown that the rate of bad decisions is actually higher in women’s cases than in men’s, although the rate of poor decisions remains very high overall.

One explanation for this is that while both men, and women like Mariam, are persecuted for their political activities, and seek asylum on those grounds, it is overwhelmingly women who are at risk of persecution in the private sphere. Survivors of rape and domestic violence are often unable to prove their experiences – there’s no video of them at a demonstration, or membership card for an opposition party, there’s no certificate that’s handed out to women who have been abused. For this reason, women are more likely to rely entirely on their own testimony in their asylum application, and thus are at greater risk of being refused because they are disbelieved.

The very least we can do for women in this situation is to provide them with a fair chance to explain what has happened to them, so that the right decision can be made on their asylum application. In order to allow women to tell their stories, we return to the same basic standards that the Foreign Office is recommending in countries like Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo – childcare, counselling, the chance to speak to a woman who has been trained on how trauma can affect memory and good, clear information about the system and their rights. It is hypocritical that we are pushing these standards abroad when we do not offer them ourselves.

“I am lucky to be here now and to enjoy the freedoms of this country.” Mariam says, that defiance back in her voice, the speed of her words picking up again, “But I don’t simply want to enjoy them, I want to protect them. There is justice and there is peace in this country, not like mine, and for the most vulnerable women to benefit from those values, we must all raise our voices for them.”

Find out more about Asylum Aid’s campaign to close the protection gap for women seeking asylum.

Names have been changed in this article.

Sideboxes Related stories:  You faked your life? Towards a culture of protection in UK asylum Double standards: dispersal and pregnant asylum seekers in Britain Equal access to the asylum process for women Death at Yarl’s Wood: Women in mourning, women in fear Refugee women in the UK: fighting back from behind bars Refugee women in the UK: Pushing a stone into the sea The invisible migrant man: questioning gender privileges #SetHerFree: a spectrum of solidarity for refugee women Due diligence for women's human rights: transgressing conventional lines Country or region:  UK Topics:  Equality International politics
Categories: les flux rss

Harsh labour: bedrock of global capitalism

Open Democracy News Analysis - 15 hours 29 min ago

Global supply chains are not benign spheres of opportunity, but tools for increasing the exploitation of labour in both the Global North and the Global South.

Khmers work at their machines in a garment factory near Kampong Cham, Cambodia. John Brown/Demotix. All Rights Reserved.

In June 2014, The Guardian ran a story about how slave labour is used in Thailand to catch the prawns sold on UK and US high streets. The previous year it reported how child labour is employed in Apple’s factories across China. In April 2013, the collapse of the 8-story Rana Plaza in greater Dhaka, Bangladesh, killed 1,129 people, many of whom were women garment workers. These cases of forced, child and extremely dangerous labour are part and parcel of contemporary global capitalism. 

Global supply chains are frequently portrayed as generating win-win situations, not only creating new profit opportunities for multinational firms and delivering cheap goods to northern workers, but also creating employment and reducing poverty in the Global South. For example, Jeffrey Sachs, former director of the United Nations Millennium Project, argued in The End of Poverty: How We Can Make it Happen in our Lifetime, that the proliferation of sweatshops across the Global South should be welcomed because “sweatshops are the first rung on the ladder out of extreme poverty”.

The proliferation of global supply chains has taken place within the context of the rapid expansion of the global labouring class—from around 1 billion individuals in 1980 to over 3 billion today. At the same time, global wealth has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of a tiny minority. Indeed, Oxfam estimated in 2014 that the world’s 85 richest people were as wealthy as the poorest half of the world. 

Is there a relationship between highly concentrated wealth and mass, global poverty? Where does the proliferation of global supply chains fit into this picture? And what about highly exploited and forced labour?

Over the past four decades, transnational corporations have used global supply chains to obtain cheaper inputs from, and outsource labour to, lower cost regions of the world economy. This not only cuts overheads and boosts profits, but also pressures workforces in advanced capitalist countries to accept cuts in wages or face their work also being outsourced. Put differently, global supply chains have been used to raise the rate of exploitation of labour. 

Transnational firms have raised the rate of labour exploitation throughout their supply chains, north and south.  Downward pressure on wages and conditions in one part of the chain generates similar pressures elsewhere in the chain, ad infinitum. In the Global North, where trade unions, labour standards and state regulation of labour markets are still relatively robust, increasing the rate of labour exploitation occurs mainly through technological innovation, wage reduction, and the worsening of conditions. 

Robert Reich’s film Inequality for All shows the collapse of wages for the typical male worker: from US$48,000 a year in the late 1970s down to US$33,000 a year by 2010 (inflation adjusted). In terms of maintaining consumption, there are two ways in which this wage decline can be bridged. One is through debt (which led to the subprime mortgage crisis). The other is through forcing down the price of goods imported from abroad. The latter has been achieved—and generated huge profits for US firms in the process—through reliance upon harsh labour regimes in the Global South. 

Labour market regulation is weak in much of the Global South. Trade unions are, or until recently were, banned in many countries, or under tight state control (as in China). This has allowed the increased exploitation of labour to take different forms from those in the Global North.  Here there are opportunities aplenty for child and forced labour, harsh treatment, long hours, poverty pay, and minimal or no safety standards. For example, in 2014, a Cambodian working a minimum wage job in the country’s booming textile industry earned US$100 a month (USD in Market Exchange Rate). The Clean Clothes Campaign calculates that a living wage in Cambodia—enough to meet the basic needs of a family of four—is US$283 a month, almost three times the minimum wage.

Harsh labour regimes in the Global South ensure that workers obtain a tiny fraction of the value they create. In the above case in Cambodia, workers receive around 24 cents on an US$8 T-Shirt. 

Contemporary global capitalism is predicated upon an enormous and impoverished global labouring class toiling to generate wealth for a tiny, super-rich elite. The mainstream media and development industry portrays globalisation in benign terms, framing it as an opportunity for the world’s poor to access the benefits of the world market. In reality, large sections of the world’s labouring class are severely exploited by global corporations. This is the bedrock of global capitalism. 

There are numerous grass roots campaigns, by labouring class and non-governmental organisations, as well as by more responsible governments, to combat one aspect or another of harsh labour. However, many of these campaigns understand harsh labour as a consequence of corporate malpractice, rather than as a structural feature of the global economy. 

Moreover, these campaigns are hampered by a developmental discourse that portrays the world market as a benign sphere of opportunity, and sweatshops as pathways out of poverty. Such discourses and practices serve to reproduce harsh labour and to delegitimise campaigns against it. 

Hopefully one of the outcomes of this forum in Open Democracy will be to persuade a few people to question the portrayal of the global market place as a benign sphere of opportunity. Challenging such assumptions can also feed into the attempts by harshly exploited workers to ameliorate their conditions. 

Sideboxes Related stories:  Capitalism’s unfree global workforce What has forced labour to do with poverty? Free to stitch, or starve: capitalism and unfreedom in the global garment industry Introducing Beyond Slavery’s month on forced labour in the global political economy Time to get serious about forced labour in supply chains
Categories: les flux rss

Putin still has plenty of friends in London

Open Democracy News Analysis - 20 hours 29 min ago

If we take a brief look back at our history of “getting tough” with Russia, we can see where our political and financial elites really stand.

Still open for business. Flickr/Mariano Mantel. Some rights reserved.The House of Lords EU Committee has now joined British political leaders – and even reportedly the heir to the throne – in voicing concern over our alleged “appeasement” of Vladimir Putin. Its report, “The EU and Russia: before and beyond the crisis in Ukraine,” published on February 20, accuses Europe of “sleepwalking” into the crisis, with the Committee Chairman, Lord Tugendhat, criticising “the lack of robust analytical capacity, in both the UK and the EU,” which “effectively led to a catastrophic misreading of the mood in the run-up to the crisis.”

Unsurprisingly, the report has received plenty of media coverage (at home and abroad) and could provide ammunition for those in Washington and elsewhere calling on western countries to escalate the conflict further by selling weapons to Ukraine. Indeed, it seems to have already pushed David Cameron into a pledge of “non-lethal aid” for the Ukrainian military.

Its publication also comes amid a flood of sensational reports in the British press after the RAF scrambled to intercept two Russian military aircraft off the coast of Cornwall on the same day as Michael Fallon’s warning that Russia poses a “real and present danger” to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. With the BBC now telling us how to spot Russian aircraft in our skies, and Sir Adrian Bradshaw, second-in-command of NATO’s military forces in Europe, speaking of the possibility of a Blitzkrieg-style Russian assault in Eastern Europe, we could be forgiven for thinking that, after Estonia, we’re next.

Collective hysteria

Former defence chiefs added to the chorus: “They [the Russians] have got us more or less at their mercy”, claimed Sir Michael Graydon, while former Air Commodore Andrew Lambert told the Mail that “if the Russians turned up the heat, we would struggle badly.” In his opinion, “the modern generation of politicians has grown up in absolute security – they’ve never felt a threat to their existence, safety or security. They’ve taken peace for granted and decimated the Armed Forces. Let’s hope we don’t pay the price.”

Hopefully he will find consolation in the fact that the government still “spends 25 times more on Research & Development (R&D) for the military as it does on R&D for renewable energy”,  and continues to maintain the 6th largest military budget in the world (at £37 billion annually) in an era of deep public spending cuts. Nevertheless, it is concerning that despite these continually high levels of spending, the Armed Forces remain ill-prepared for what should be fairly routine tasks. Indeed, the Cornwall incident, and the laboured response to it, is not without precedent.

But it is worth keeping this in perspective: the aircraft never entered British airspace, only our “area of interest”, and – although Russian planes have increased their activity across Europe recently – these incidents don’t quite compare to, say, 2000 NATO troops undertaking military exercises in Eastern Europe, with the explicit purpose of demonstrating “our ability to project power,” and to “plan and conduct complex operations spanning different countries.” Moreover, if we take even a brief look back at our history of “getting tough” with Russia, we can see where our political leaders really stand.  

“Not support, for now, trade sanctions … or close London’s financial centre to Russians.”

This statement was photographed on a document being carried into a national security council meeting at Number 10 last year. It clarified what the government meant by “getting tough” on Russia. That is, appear tough, but don’t hurt financial or corporate interests. Russian money is actively invited into the City: tier-one “investor visas” – providing residency in exchange for investments in Britain of at least 1 million pounds – are ideal purchases for wealthy Russians seeking to make money from property or, more likely, avoid paying taxes.  

Reuters reported last year that while only two Russian companies were listed on the New York Stock Exchange, companies from Russia and former Soviet states were able to raise “$82.6 billion in London in the past two decades.” Ben Judah of the New York Times put it simply: “This is Britain’s growth business today: laundering oligarchs’ dirty billions, laundering their dirty reputations.”

When the head of the UK National Crime Agency states that “many hundreds of billions of pounds of criminal money is almost certainly laundered through UK banks and their subsidiaries each year,” it is easy to see the attraction for businessmen with plenty of cash and questionable pasts. To be fair, the House of Lords committee put two and two together – big sums of illicit money leaving Russia; big sums flowing through London – and argued for stronger anti-money laundering provisions in Britain (see pages 82-85).

Sanctions were, of course, tightened, but the impact of this is not exactly clear in London. If, for example, you are a student wealthy enough to afford accommodation with Pure Student Living, your new landlords will be “Mikhail Fridman, Russia’s second richest man, worth an estimated £9.3bn; German Khan, said by Forbes magazine to be worth about £6bn; and Alexei Kuzmichev, with a fortune of about £4.5bn.” Your monthly rent will also be up to £2,200 per room.

“We stand by it strategically”

And, then there’s BP, which has a 20% stake in Rosneft, the enormous oil and gas company majority-owned by the Russian government. Between the beginning of 2014 and the downing of MH17 last July, BP “raked in roughly $2.3bn from its links with the Russian company.” No wonder chief executive Bob Dudley, when pressed on his company’s continual involvement in Russia, stated: “we stand by it strategically… Russia is the largest oil and gas producer on the planet and the energy needs of the world are going to increase 40% in the next 20 years ago so from an investment perspective it makes sense to be there.”

Compare the wording of the document heading into Downing Street – “Not support, for now, trade sanctions” – and this statement from BP: “Further economic sanctions could adversely impact our business and strategic objectives in Russia, the level of our income, production and reserves, our investment in Rosneft and our reputation.”

This is not to claim the existence of a grand conspiracy – BP is now apparently suffering from the declining rouble and the deterioration of the Russian economy. But it’s not as if the company is shy when it comes to exerting influence in Westminster – like when it admitted to successfully pressuring the government into the completion of a faltering prisoner swap with Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya in 2010: “We were aware that this could have a negative impact on UK commercial interests, including the ratification by the Libyan Government of BP’s exploration agreement,” a company statement read. If, however, profits continue to slide, it might be time to arrange a dinner with an MP to avoid falling behind everyone else.  

The keys to the City

Finally, we shouldn’t forget the telling image captured in June 2013, when “two prominent Russians with connections to the Kremlin, including Vladimir Putin’s wealthy judo partner, were photographed chatting to David Cameron at the Conservative summer party, held in the City at Old Billingsgate.” Both were employed by a PR firm that advised the Russian government and donated £91,000 to the Conservative Party between 2009 and 2010. One is an honorary freeman of the City of London.

This sums up the reality that is buried beneath the media hysteria and thinly veiled war-mongering: our political class is far more interested in Russian money than they are in us or our "security."

Sideboxes Related stories:  It's no surprise Rifkind and Straw don't get it. Westminster's swimming in corporate influence The Finance Curse - introduction Ukraine and Europe: a fatal attraction City:  London Topics:  Conflict International politics
Categories: les flux rss

Intra-Arab discrimination in Dearborn

Open Democracy News Analysis - 1. March 2015 - 18:37

Arab communities in America can reproduce white supremacist racial hierarchies, whereby certain Arab ethnic groups are privileged at the expense of others, beginning with refugees.

Demotix/Gianluca Grossi. All rights reserved.

I have grown accustomed to the skeptical glances and displeased faces that accompany the “othering” question, “where are you from?” Whether I’m dealing with white America in Ann Arbor or intra-Arab hierarchy and Lebanese superiority in Dearborn, I am soon aware of a hierarchical, classist, and racist mentality that is left uninterrogated by our society.

Moving through Arab Detroit as an Iraqi hijab-wearing woman refugee, I have been unwillingly placed near the lower tiers of social constructs utilized to exclude and debase already marginalized groups. I call these identities “my layers.”

Arabs in the community are quick to locate themselves as oppressed by a white supremacist racial hierarchy, but few acknowledge the ways Arabs reproduce similar hierarchies that privilege certain Arab ethnic groups at the expense of others. I am constantly bombarded with negative experiences because of this unfortunate hierarchy.

Look for example at our community’s anti-Black racism or the ill treatment of Yemeni Americans that is so widespread in its acceptance. Remnants of white supremacy have partially created this hierarchy. Dearborn has taken on a Lebanese identity and is deemed a Lebanese space, but many immigrant groups have called it home for a long time. 

Iraqis compile ten percent of the population but are a third of all immigrants in the area. Within the next two decades, the number of Lebanese and Iraqi citizens will be approximately the same. And this will change the way in which Dearborn functions.

Both within and outside of the Dearborn context, the way Lebanese proudly repeat phrases that emphasize their connections to whiteness—like “Beirut is the Paris of the Middle East”— draws on a deeply embedded and internalized logic within our community.

Nationally, as well as in Dearborn, the powerful presence of Lebanese in political, business, and academic arenas, has helped them to successfully dominate the discourse on Arab identity in ways that other groups haven’t achieved. This is largely due to name swaps, a longer presence in the United States, and greater assimilationist abilities.

The ability of many Lebanese to pass as white is prized and used for political and economic gain in a world in which being Arab or Muslim carries negative notoriety. To distance Lebanese-ness from Arab-ness is to try to achieve white middle class acceptability at the expense of marginalizing other Arab ethnic groups. Bilal becomes Bruce, and the privilege can only truly be obtained if Mohammed can pass as Mike.

The intra-Arab hierarchy that privileges Lebanese is also defined by the ways Lebanese superiority and Lebanese hyper-nationalism are mobilized to “other” and marginalize Arab ethnic groups that are deemed of less value. This ideology has created obstacles for refugees and deepened their struggles of integration into the Dearborn community.

One of the most difficult of these struggles is overcoming housing discrimination. Lebanese homeowners discriminate and refuse to rent to Iraqis, to exclude them from majority Lebanese neighborhoods. Rather than facilitate the inclusion of immigrants, the Lebanese landlords diligently isolate marginalized communities, like Iraqis, by pushing them off to the South end or Detroit, making access to resources more difficult.

It is a shameful and gross exploitation of poor people. With language barriers, extreme poverty, and lack of knowledge about their legal rights, Iraqis are too often mistreated and taken advantage of—at times illegally.  This mindset permeates through our mosques, social service agencies, non-profit organizations, youth programs, and the groups they cater to.

We are teaching the younger generations these inequitable practices through lack of education and the historical decontextualizing of Arab history and migration. The Iraqi refugees who arrived in the second wave following the 2003 US invasion, hold commonalities to the Iraqis that arrived in the mid 1990s. They come from a background of severe trauma, occupation, and poverty. There’s a lack of understanding about the refugee intake process and how it sets up families to struggle for decades, as debilitating poverty and language barriers impede their ability to succeed.

A recent study of Arab households demonstrates the socio-economic position of the Iraqi community. As a community we need to historically contextualize the factors that lead to these type of economic outcomes. Rather than victim-blaming communities for their economic circumstances, we should hold the US accountable for the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, employment discrimination, language barriers and other roadblocks to social mobility.

Often, the dominant narrative thrust upon Iraqis is that they are lazy, poor, and unable to assimilate due to their own lack of effort. These stereotypes are also projected onto Iraqis by more privileged members of other Arab ethnic groups, including Lebanese, while other middle-class Arabs attribute their own material success simply to hard work, and fail to mention their proximity whiteness and other factors that also facilitated their inclusion.

There is a complete and intentional disregard for the power dynamics at play between Arab communities. The dominant narrative on Iraqi refugees makes no mention of the unequal power structure framing this unbalanced conversation. We fall into the same culture and religion blaming that we see on major news outlets.

The process of acculturation for Iraqis and building a home in Southeast Michigan is ongoing. This is difficult enough if you are deemed a problem by the majority of white America; it is made even more difficult when members of your own community accuse you of tainting the image of middle-class respectability that the Lebanese have worked so hard to cultivate, and undermining their progress in assimilating into the larger white American community.

Lebanese immigration starkly contrasts to that of other Arab groups, particularly Iraqis that have populated and rewritten the history of Michigan. Irai refugees didn’t come here for economic stability or to find a home of their own free will. They were violently uprooted and forced from their homes. They lived within refugee camps for years, have suffered extreme psychological trauma, and were left to try and piece their lives back together. Many of these refugees actually came from economically stable homes and positions of status in Iraq. 

This article was written six months ago, but my experiences lead back to my first day in Michigan. It is with hesitation, and some tactful warnings from my friends and academic colleagues, that I share this piece. This is a humble attempt to express views and experiences forged from a system that we as a community have partially created and perpetuated.  

It is a conversation that must happen because of the incoming Syrian refugees into Southeast Michigan and the problem of politicized sectarianism and nationalism that they will be facing, due to the polarizing conversation regarding the uprising in Syria. One can foresee the parallels between the experiences of incoming Iraqi and Syrian refugees, due to this selfsame hierarchy.

I have the privilege of writing this piece to contribute to the little bottom-up dialogue that we have done as a community. More importantly, it is in recognition of the many old and new refugees that have taken up a life of uncertainty and transformed it into a life of hope and inspiration - people we can learn from and support.

What is the Arab community, but an agent of white superiority and a supporter of the hegemonic American discourse, when it oppresses its own as a method to excel and attain white aspirations? Must we segregate and exclude members of our community on the basis of borders drawn by governments in a quest for power and territory?

The historical narrative is centered on dominance and we as a community have fallen into the trap of divide and conquer. Refugees did not endure years of living in tents, dirty drinking water, and lack of food, to get called “trash” by their own community members. In Dearborn in particular, we must appreciate and learn lessons from immigrant stories, whether they be a century old or a decade old. We have a unique history that binds us to one another. We have a plethora of rich and intersectional experiences and cultures that must be valued and shared, so that we may be able to continue to work towards a progressive community.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Anti-Syrian racism in Turkey (Syrian) black skin, (Lebanese) white masks Anti-Syrian sentiment in Lebanon Iraqi refugees from Mosul seek a home away from home Forever a refugee: A "Syrian-Palestinian" in search of identity “We are all brothers in the end”. Three conflicts, three generations; Syrian, Iraqi and Palestinian refugees in Jordan Race and racism in modern Turkey Relocation of Tel Afar Turkmen to Najaf Lebanon and the Syrian refugee crisis Turkey, the EU and Syria: reprioritising refugees’ rights and needs Humanitarian wars and rejected refugees
Categories: les flux rss

India: From a Politics of Hatred to a Politics of Hope

alternatives international - 1. March 2015 - 15:13

The Aam Aadmi Party has accomplished a stupendous political feat in India's capital. Not only has it won more than half the total vote and 95 percent of all seats, which even the luckiest of parties don't do in India's periodic referendum-style “wave” elections. More, by unabashedly championing the cause of the poor, and the interests of underprivileged social and religious groups, it has signalled the arrival of a new moral force in national politics.

It's the kind of force the Indian Left once was, but recently ceased to be—irreverent towards authority, militant in opposing hierarchy and privilege based on birth, passionately egalitarian, and ready to bring the tall claims of “the world's largest democracy” down to earth through expanded livelihood rights for people and greater public accountability for rulers.

The sheer magnitude of the AAP's victory cannot be explained by “positive” factors alone, including its mass outreach and appeal to local democracy, celebration of toiling people, commitment to providing better public services, sustained emphasis on fighting the kind of corruption that robs the poor of their hard-earned income, or Arvind Kejriwal's charisma. The AAP won because the electorate wanted to hand a stunning defeat to Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, which has strutted about since it won the national election eight months ago as if it were invincible, and displayed a hubris no other party can match.

Under Modi and party president Amit Shah, implicated in several criminal cases, the BJP seemed to have found the right recipe for election victories: polarise voters on caste, class and religious lines (where necessary, by inciting anti-Muslim violence), make crude appeals to Hindu-supremacism, sectarian identities and jingoism, capitalise on upper-caste-upper-class elite aspirations by citing the success of the skewed, inequality-enhancing and ecologically destructive “Gujarat model”, and run a dazzling multi-billion-dollar election campaign funded by corporate cronies, estimated to cost the equivalent of the US presidential contest.

The recipe succeeded in converting the BJP's 31-percent national vote into a clear parliamentary majority last May, but the Delhi election—where these methods were deployed in a concentrated manner—suggests it may be turning against the BJP. Modi has failed to live up to his promise of “less government, more governance”, higher growth, and more jobs, of which India needs to create more than a million every month just to absorb an expanding labour force. Each of Modi's grandiose schemes, including large-scale urban sanitation, cleaning up the Ganges, interlinking rivers, or creating “smart cities”, smacks of gimmickry and empty sloganeering.

Yet, more pertinently, Modi has cut funding for the National Rural Employment Guarantee programme, said to be the world's largest job-provision scheme, by 45 percent, and is about to severely restrict the public provision of foodgrains at affordable prices. He's bringing in a shamefully pro-corporate land acquisition law, which will displace millions of farmers without public hearings, and social or environmental impact assessment. This law is opposed by a majority of parties, including the middle-of-the-road Congress. More than a quarter-million farmers in agrarian distress have committed suicide since 1995. All these measures have antagonised the poor, who constitute a majority of the population, and are eroding the BJP's credibility.

Modi's government is waging a “silent war on the environment” by dismantling India's already-weak environmental regulations to promote industry and mining in forests and other sensitive areas, while displacing vulnerable tribal communities and causing yet more ecological degradation. Such destruction/degradation annually costs India 5.7 percent of GDP, higher than the growth rate of national income, according to the World Bank.

The government, with the BJP and its hardline-Hindutva allies, is messing with education and culture, and rewriting textbooks to reflect India's glorified “Hindu past” and “national pride”. Growing religious intolerance, including attacks on churches and forced conversions to Hinduism, recently drew critical comments from Barack Obama. As secularism is attacked, and Mahatma Gandhi's Hindu-fanatic assassin is lionised by BJP supporters, the religious minorities, over a fifth of the population, feel increasingly insecure. Modi hasn't yet been legally held culpable for the anti-Muslim pogrom on his watch in Gujarat in 2002, but his Hindu-hardliner image inspires little confidence.

The Delhi result has halted the BJP juggernaut and created the hope that a new people-centred, participatory, secular politics could have great resonance among the majority; the poor can acquire agency through it. It's not clear if the AAP leadership will draw this lesson and grapple with the issue of defining a broad ideological-programmatic framework for its politics, which it has hitherto evaded. But the result has electrified public awareness and energised India's political opposition in ways that seemed inconceivable until now. Whether it leads to a broad-ranging national-level political realignment against the BJP remains an open question, but it has at least been squarely posed.

11 February


Categories: les flux rss

A Surveillance Society And Criminalize Dissent

alternatives international - 1. March 2015 - 15:10

New ‘anti-terrorism' legislation proposed by the Conservative government, Bill C-51, is a clear assault on free expression, creating an extensive legal framework for state authorities to criminalize dissent.

Under the proposed Conservative law, the promotion of ‘terrorism' becomes criminal, in a legal context where the definition of ‘terrorism' remains extremely broad and relatively undefined. Today, Canada's Criminal Code defines ‘terrorism' as acts already defined as illegal under existing laws, but committed for “a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause.”

This all creates clear political and legal space for an abusive and politically motivated application of the ‘anti-terrorism' law.

Under the new legislation could road or rail line blockades lead by First Nations activists, taking place as part of a campaign against the construction of oil and gas pipelines over their traditional territories without consent, be construed as ‘terrorism' by state authorities?

Could a person, or an organization, publicly defending the right of Palestinians to fight back militarily against the Israeli military siege in Gaza, be construed under the legislation as ‘promoting' terrorism? Given the fact that Hamas, an organization democratically elected in Palestine, but defined as ‘terrorist' under existing laws in Canada, is also deeply connected to and involved with the Palestinian armed resistance.

Will social media posts expressing support or sympathy for the actions of groups or movements defined as ‘terrorist' by Canada, which also includes the major Lebanese political force Hezbollah, quickly become reason for a person to face a ‘terrorism' charges in Canada?

In real terms this legislation also equals an incredible amount of political space for the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) to systematize and normalize a surveillance society in Canada, all taking place with Liberal backing.

Discussing and challenging this new anti-terrorism legislation and CSIS needs to also look at and investigate the growing powers of the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), or NSA-north, a shadowy organization engaged in mass data collection of Canadian communications with an annual budget now sitting at around half a billion dollars.

Moves to embolden CSIS, a largely unaccountable organization clearly linked to devastating human rights abuses, like in the case of Abousfian Abdelrazik, also takes place as part of broader political efforts to normalize Canada's embrace of torture.

In parallel the state-funded CSIS oversight body, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), an organization not with a great deal of political teeth, but has in the past issued relatively strong critiques of CSIS practices, is now facing debilitating budget cuts. Ironically Conservative operators and politicians, specifically Steven Blaney the minister of Public Safety, consistently cites the existence of SIRC when claiming that the newly extended powers for CSIS will be kept in check.

To justify these authoritarian moves, that really are an extension of the anti-terror legislation brought in under the Liberals post 9/11, Harper is delivering apocalyptically toned colonial sermons, pushing an inherently manipulative discourse, strongly rooted in utilizing fear as a cynical political tool.

Harper's words do really echo the discourse of George W. Bush post-9/11, “a great evil has been descending upon our world,” stated Harper recently, going on to say describe the Islamic State group and associated networks as “one of the most dangerous enemies our world has ever faced.” This is bombastic and totally unreal, yes there is an active confrontation with the Islamic State group, but those paying the most are people and communities in Syria and Iraq, not people in Canada.

By extension any basic political analysis on understanding the political origins of the Islamic State group, needs to draw a very clear link to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, that created a great deal of the context for the political violence today. Is additionally US-driven military action in the region, today strongly supported by Canada, really a solution to the Islamic State crisis?

If only the Conservative government in Ottawa would work with such diligence on the actual most extreme danger facing our world today, that is directly linked to Canada, global warming and climate change.

Overturning this new ‘terrorism' legislation is essential. The law clearly points to the authoritarian vision for Canada that the Conservative government is pushing down on all of us. It is without question that the legislation, as well as the expanded powers of CSIS, will be used to target grassroots activists and communities engaging in actions opposing the neo-colonial, fundamentalist capitalist vision of colonial Canada being forced on us without consent.

Feb. 11, 2015

Categories: les flux rss

Terrorism on Both Sides of the Mediterranean

alternatives international - 1. March 2015 - 15:07

On 6 February 2013, the Tunisian leftist leader Chokri Belaid was shot dead. Belaid had been very critical of the Islamist-led troika government and of violence perpetrated by radical Islamists. More than one million people took to the streets on that Wednesday, protesting against the murder and violence, and asking for the whole truth about the murder to be unveiled. Despite arrests of some suspects and security sweeps that led to the killings of some of Ansar Alsharia extremist members, a certain ambiguity about the circumstances of the assassination remains about the persons-or the parties- who participate, instigate or execute.

Less than two years later, terrorism struck at the very heart of Paris, leaving 17 deaths and about 20 people injured. Once again, up to about two million people were estimated to have taken to the streets, led by about fifty world leaders, denouncing terrorism and the attack on freedom of expression and that of conscience.
The two terrorist operations, although they took place in two different countries, have common links that go beyond Islamist extremism that has become a real danger, not only in the Middle East and North Africa where the political and security situation is precarious but also around the world, including countries with strong institutions, stable political environment and an extensive sophisticated security apparatus.


On January 8th, 2015, barely twenty-four hours after Charlie-Hebdo terrorist attack, the investigative judge of Tunis put Abdelkarim Labidi , a police officer who had been given exceptionally rapid promotions under the Troika government to end up as chief brigade at the Carthage airport, under arrest. Labidi had often been accused of his close relations with extremists and had been seen with Abubaker Alhakim, a now famous leader of Daesh who prides himself on being responsible for the killing of Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, in a Tunis Air Company Car on the eve of the Brahmi's assassination. (Ashourouq daily newspaper 27-12-2014)

Curious coincidence! Alhakim, the mastermind of political assassinations in Tunisia had close contacts with Said and Cherif Kaouachi, the two brothers who attacked Charlie-Hebdo. ( 11-1-2015)

They had been together in the “19th arrondissement Iraqi cell” in Paris and they spent weeks in Tunisia “the promised land for international terrorism between 2012 and 2013” (previous source).

The two brothers would have stayed two months in Tunisia, performing their training skills in handling arms, before joining Abubaker Alhakim in Libya.

Tackling the roots of terrorism

The course followed by the Kaouachi brothers and Alhakim is the same followed by thousands of extremists all over the world: born in torn apart families, they were involved in delinquent behavior before being recruited by Jihadists. In the absence of social and cultural integration, the universe of terrorism gives meaning to petty criminals, promoted to the rank of “heroes in a holy war.” (see Adam Shatz, moral clarity)

No “value” could justify terrorism that deliberately targets the fundamentals of democracy: freedom of expression, the right to be different, religious and cultural diversities…

But that does not prevent us from taking account of limits of successes against terrorist cells in Tunisia.We need to peer into the forces that attract so many youths to the world of terrorism. And a large number of them have a high educational attainment. For instance, among the 3000 suspected terrorists arrested in 2014, 90% have had a university degree. (As-sabah daily newspaper,04-02- 2015)

In other words, high impact operations, arrests and confiscations of firearms could be only reassuring to the Tunisian population. And so much the better. But the major challenge remains on how to disentangle the relationship between terrorism, trafficking on the borders, the crisis of secular and religious education, poverty and despair. If such issues are not handled head on, security operations would just be symptomatic treatments of a deep-seated crisis.

The October 2014 International Crisis Group report, while emphasizing the Tunisian success of the political transition, was less optimistic concerning the purely security approach when dealing with the terrorist scourge. It issued two key recommendations: sustainable development policy for frontier zones and taking into account the social and intellectual dimensions of terrorism. We couldn't agree more.

Committee for the Respect of Liberties and Human Rights in Tunisia

Categories: les flux rss

Terrorizing Teesta Setalvad

alternatives international - 1. March 2015 - 15:03

The case of Teesta Setalvad is a chilling example of what can still happen to even highly acclaimed and well connected persons in this country if they take on those in authority

The case of Teesta Setalvad is a chilling example of what can still happen to even highly acclaimed and well connected persons in this country if they take on those in authority, and especially if the person you have taken on becomes the most powerful person in the country. It is also a sad commentary on how a supposedly independent judiciary does sometimes appear to get influenced by executive authority.

For the last 13 years Teesta has fought a valiant and sometimes lonely battle to bring the perpetrators of the 2002 Gujarat carnage to justice. In this battle, she produced considerable evidence to demonstrate the role of Narendra Modi in abetting the carnage, and kept raising her courageous voice against him.

In retaliation, the Gujarat police registered several cases against her and repeatedly tried to arrest her. But in earlier cases the courts came to her rescue and stayed her arrest and investigations against her.

But now, in a complaint of misappropriation of trust funds filed by a purported resident of Gulbarga society (not by any member or donor of the trust), a single judge of the Gujarat high court has not only dismissed her application for anticipatory bail, but has also urged the police to arrest her and subject her to “custodial interrogation”.

The court has also made sweeping and prejudicial allegations against her by relying only on allegations of the Gujarat police and completely ignoring explanations provided by Teesta.

Personal expenses incurred from her personal account are taken to amount to misappropriation of trust funds, merely because some reimbursements of trust expenses incurred from her personal account for the trust were made to her.

The judge says that she must not be granted anticipatory bail because she must undergo “custodial interrogation”, which everyone knows is a euphemism for torture.

In India, as in most civilised countries, the right to silence is a constitutional right of everyone accused of a crime. Though Teesta had answered every question put to her by the police, they cannot compel any accused person to answer questions.

They can draw an adverse inference, but cannot compel answers by “custodial interrogation”. Unfortunately, however, courts in India have not understood this simple constitutional principle and still continue with the antiquated practice of rendering accused persons to police custody and thus to police torture.

Another unconstitutional and illegal practice of the police, which unfortunately is also being sanctioned by courts, is allowing the arrest of accused persons merely because there is an allegation against them. The police think that merely an FIR against a person gives them the licence to arrest him.

This has become an easy weapon in the hands of the police to terrorise and torture innocent persons, who might be falsely accused of offences.

Unfortunately the lower courts have been sanctioning this practice too, despite clear judgments of the Supreme Court to the effect that the mere fact that the police have the power to arrest does not mean that they can exercise that power just because there is a charge.

The apex court has said, “No arrest can be made merely because it is lawful for the police officer to do so. The existence of the power to arrest is one thing. The justification for the exercise of it is quite another.”

Arrest during investigation is justified only if the accused if not arrested may flee from justice, or he might tamper with evidence, or he has committed a heinous offence and arresting him is essential for instilling a sense of security among the community, or he is a habitual and violent offender and is likely to repeat such offences unless arrested.

None of these factors are normally present in most cases, especially not in the one against Teesta. Yet the police habitually resort to arresting anyone accused, particularly if they have a motive to do so or if the powers-that-be want it.

Despite the Constitution makers having gone to great lengths to protect independence of the judiciary, and the judiciary having withdrawn even the power to appoint judges to itself, we are witnessing the continuing influence of the executive over the judiciary.

This influence is exercised in multiple ways, which include post-retirement jobs, sanctioning of foreign trips, medical treatment in foreign countries and so on.

More distressingly, however, we are also seeing increasing social consanguinity between politicians and judges. Gone are the days when judges kept aloof from politicians.

We now have the common spectacle of ministers and sundry politicians attending weddings of judges' children and vice versa. If the judiciary also allows itself to get influenced by a powerful and fascist executive, our rights and liberties are truly in dire straits.


Categories: les flux rss

Disinformation and Repression Against BDS

alternatives international - 1. March 2015 - 15:00

Palestinian Civil Society Condemns Canadian Government Disinformation and Repression Against Boycott Movement

The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the largest coalition of Palestinian civil society organizations that leads the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, has condemned the Canadian government's ramped up disinformation campaign and repressive measures against the BDS movement for Palestinian rights.

BDS is a global, Palestinian-led nonviolent human rights movement that aims to apply pressure on Israel, as was done on apartheid South Africa, to fully comply with its obligations under international law.

Canada and Israel signed a series of cooperation agreements recently, one of which included an unprecedented commitment to work jointly to counter the continued growth of BDS.

On January 22, Canadian public safety minister Steven Blaney gave a speech at a meeting on anti-semitism at the United Nations General Assembly, convened in the wake of the Paris criminal attacks, that smeared the BDS movement as “anti-semitic.”

BNC Responds

Rafeef Ziadah, a secretariat member of the the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the broad coalition of Palestinian civil society organizations that leads the BDS movement, said:

“Rather than seeking to hold Israel to account for its war crimes during the recent military assault on Gaza and its intensified colonization of the occupied West Bank, particularly in Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley, the Canadian government is further deepening its collaboration with Israel's occupation and launching a shameful, propagandistic attack on free speech in the process.

“The Canadian government's continued unconditional support for Israel's colonial policies and its smear campaign against BDS highlight the deeply ideological and reactionary character of this government. Canada is sending Israel the message that it can act with total impunity in violating human rights and international law.

“Sadly, while claiming to defend free speech the current Canadian government is among the most repressive in the west; it has gone farther than most in suppressing free speech and infringing the rights of its own civil society, including trade unions, community and faith groups, to participate in human rights campaigning, as in boycotts against Israel's injustices.”

As a matter of principle, the BDS movement has consistently and categorically opposed all forms of racism, including anti-semitism and Islamophobia. The movement's anti-racist, human rights platform is growing into the western mainstream and attracting growing support among Canadians, including many Jewish Canadians who join conscientious and progressive Jewish Israelis in rejecting Israel's claim to commit its atrocities in their name.

In her 2009 article endorsing BDS against Israel's regime of occupation and oppression, the world best-selling author Naomi Klein wrote:

“It's time. Long past time. The best strategy to end the increasingly bloody occupation is for Israel to become the target of the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa.”

The award-winning Canadian filmmaker John Greyson, who has produced some of the BDS movement's most creative videos, has justified his support for BDS and boycott of the Tel Aviv queer film festival saying:

“[BDS] is the only peaceful means right now that can have an effect on the Israeli state that has gone completely out of control. ... A line in the sand has been drawn.”

South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, a great supporter of the BDS movement, after presenting a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council about an Israeli war crime in the occupied Gaza Strip in 2008 said:

“I think the West, quite rightly, is feeling contrite, penitent for its awful connivance with the Holocaust ... . The West is penitent, the penance is being paid by the Palestinians. … I just hope that ordinary citizens in the West will wake up and say, ‘we refuse to be part of this'.”

Rafeef Ziadah concluded,

“At a time when people of conscience the world over are joining the Palestinian BDS movement for freedom, justice and equality and connecting it with their own struggles for social and economic justice, equal rights, indigenous rights, minority rights, and environmental protection, the Canadian government is standing on the wrong side of history, supporting a pernicious regime of Israeli occupation, colonialism and apartheid.”

Categories: les flux rss

The Casino Republic

alternatives international - 1. March 2015 - 14:57

Who is the ruler of Israel?

Prime Minister Biyamin Netayahu, of course.


The real ruler of Israel is one Sheldon Adelson, 81, American Jew, Casino king, who was rated as the world's tenth richest person, worth 37.2 billion dollars at the latest count. But who is counting?

Besides his casinos in Las Vegas, Pennsylvania, Macao and Singapore, he owns the US Republican party and, lately, both Houses of the US Congress.

He also owns Binyamin Netanyahu.

ADELSON'S CONNECTION with Israel is personal. On a blind date, he fell in love with an Israeli woman.

Miriam Farbstein was born in Haifa, attended a prestigious high school, did her army service in the Israeli institute which deals with bacteriological warfare and is a multifaceted scientist. After one of her sons (from her first marriage) died of an overdose, she is devoted to the fight against drugs, especially cannabis.

Both Adelsons are fanatical supporters of Israel. Not just any Israel, but a rightist, supremacist, arrogant, violent, expansionist, annexationist, non-compromising, colonialist Israel.

In "Bibi" Netanyahu they found their man. Through Netanyahu they hope to rule Israel as their private fief.

To assure this, they did an extraordinary thing: they founded an Israeli newspaper, solely devoted to the furthering of the interests of Binyamin Netanyahu. Not of the Likud, not of a specific policy, but of Netanyahu personally.

Years ago I invented a Hebrew word for papers which are distributed for nothing. "Hinamon" translates, roughly, into "ragratis" or "gratissue" and was intended to denigrate. But I did not dream of a monster like "Israel Hayom" ("Israel Today") – a paper with unlimited funds, distributed every day for nothing in the streets and malls all over the country by hundreds, perhaps thousands of paid young persons.

Israelis love getting something for nothing. Israel Hayom is now the daily paper with the widest distribution in Israel. It drains readers and advertising revenue from its only competitor – Yedioth Ahronoth ("Latest News"), which held this title until then.

Yedioth reacted furiously. It became a ferocious enemy of Netanyahu. Yossi Werter, a commentator of the center-left Haaretz (which has a far lower circulation) even believes that the present election boils down to a contest between the two papers.

That is vastly exaggerated. Judged by political and social content, there is little to differentiate the two. Both are super-patriotic, war-mongering and rightist. That is the journalistic recipe for attracting the masses anywhere in the world.

Yedioth is owned by the Moses family, a business-minded clan. The present, third-generation publisher is Arnon ("Noni") Moses, the publicity-shy boss of a large economic empire based on the paper. The paper serves his business interests, but he has no special political interests.

Adelson is unique.

IN ISRAEL, betting is forbidden by law. We have no casinos, and secret gambling dens are raided by the police. In our early youth we were taught that casino moguls are bad people, almost like arms merchants. They take the money off poor addicted people, throwing them into despair, even suicide. See Dostoyevsky.

Israelis read Israel Hayom (it's something for nothing, after all), but they don't necessarily like the man and his methods. So some members of the Knesset were encouraged to enter a bill forbidding gratis newspapers altogether.

Netanyahu and the Likud party did everything to obstruct this bill. But in the preliminary vote (necessary for private members' bills) they were beaten in an amazing way. Even members of Netanyahu's governing coalition voted for it. The cameras caught Netanyahu literally running in the Knesset plenum hall to gain his seat before the voting started.

The vote was 43 to 23. Almost half the Likud members absented themselves. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his party voted for the bill. So did ministers Ya'ir Lapid and Tzipi Livni.

From the preliminary vote to the final adoption, such a bill has to pass several stages. There was plenty of time to bury it in one of the committees. But Netanyahu was furious. A few days after the vote, he dismissed Lapid and Livni from the cabinet, causing the government coalition to break up and the Knesset to disperse.

Why did Netanyahu do such a foolish thing less then half way through his (third) term of office? There can be only one logical explanation: he was ordered to do so by Adelson, in order to prevent the adoption of the law.

If so, Adelson is now our chief lawmaker. Perhaps he is also our chief government-maker.

MONEY PLAYS an ever-increasing role in politics. Election propaganda is made on television, which is very expensive. Both in Israel and the US, legal and illegal funds pour into the campaign, directly and indirectly. Corruption is abetted or tolerated by the courts. The very rich (known euphemistically in America as the "wealthy") exercise undue influence.

In the last US presidential elections, Adelson poured rivers of dollars into the contest. He supported Newt Gingrich, and then Mitt Romney, with huge sums of money. In vain. Perhaps Americans don't like to be ruled by captains of casinos.

For the next US presidential elections, Adelson has started early. He has summoned to his Las Vegas casino HQ all leading Republican candidates, to grill them on their allegiance to him - and to Netanyahu. Nobody dared to refuse the summons. Would a Roman senator refuse the summons of Caesar?

In Israel, such rituals are superfluous. The Adelsons – both Miri and Sheldon – know who their man is.

The Israel Hayom newspaper is, of course, a big propaganda machine, totally devoted to the re-election of Netanyahu. All quite legal. In a democracy, who can tell a newspaper whom to support? We are still a democracy, for God's sake!

IT SEEMS to be strange for a country to allow a foreigner, who never lived in the country, to have such enormous power over its future, indeed, over its very existence.

That's where Zionism comes in. According to the Zionist creed, Israel is the state of the Jews, all the Jews. Every Jew in the world belongs to Israel, even if temporarily residing somewhere else. A few days ago, Netanyahu publicly claimed to represent not just the State of Israel but also the entire "Jewish People". No need to ask them.

Accordingly, Adelson is not really a foreigner. He is one of us. True, he cannot vote in Israel, though his wife probably can. But many people, including himself, believe that he, being a Jew, has a perfect right to interfere in our affairs and dominate our lives.

For example, the appointment of our ambassador in the US. Ron Dermer is an American, born in Miami, who was active in Republican politics. To appoint an American functionary of the Republican Party as ambassador of Israel to a Democratic administration may seem strange. Not so strange if Netanyahu acted under the orders of Sheldon Adelson.

It was Adelson who prepared the witches' brew that is now endangering Israel's lifeline to Washington. His stooge, Dermer, induced the Republicans in Congress – all of them dependent on Adelson's largesse or hoping to be so – to invite Netanyahu to give an anti-Obama speech before both Houses.

While this intrigue was in preparation, Dermer met with John Kerry but did not tell him of Netanyahu's coming. Neither did Netanyahu inform President Obama, who, in a fury, announced that he would not meet with the Prime Minister.

From the point of view of Israel's vital interests, it is sheer madness to provoke the President of the United States of America, who controls American's flow of arms to Israel and the American veto power in the UN. But from the point of view of Adelson, who wants to elect a Republican president in 2016, it makes sense. He has already threatened to invest unlimited sums of money to prevent the reelection of any Senator or Representative who is absent from Netanyahu's speech.

We are nearing open warfare between the Government of Israel and the President of the United States.

Is someone playing roulette with our future?

Categories: les flux rss

Why Low Oil Prices Could be a Great Thing

alternatives international - 1. March 2015 - 14:55

May Boeve, executive director of, recently interviewed Naomi Klein, activist and author of the book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (and a 350 board member), as part of a web workshop ahead of Global Divestment Day. You can watch the whole conversation. Or you can read our three-part edited transcript, starting with part one today.

May Boeve: There's a lot of talk right now in the news about falling oil prices. Can you speak to the role that falling oil prices play in energy and climate politics in particular, and what we should be thinking about in this moment?

Naomi Klein: That's something I've been thinking a lot about, because the book I wrote before was called The Shock Doctrine, and the message of that book was that these moments are often catalysts for the wrong kind of change. It is not preordained that low oil prices will either hurt or help the climate movement.

If we do nothing, then it's more likely that low oil prices will work against sensible climate action, just for simple economic reasons. When oil is cheap, people feel able to buy more of it. Already we're hearing these stories, like the comeback of the SUV. All of these incentives toward efficiency for reasons of financial strain — people were leaving their cars at home, taking public transit, carpooling and doing these things that were good for the environment, but for financial reasons — we've lost that.

But I think on the whole, if we look at this in the context of this rising movement that we're a part of, if we look at it in the run-up to [U.N. climate talks in] Paris and the fact that climate is going to be very much in the news and top of mind, if we also look at it in the context of the renewable energy sector, with prices falling rapidly, the fact that we can all now point to a country like Germany that has moved so rapidly toward having 20-25% of its electricity coming from renewables, this is definitely a moment.

[Look at this recent] Economist cover. This is a figure leaping off a pyramid of oil barrels, and the headline is “Seize the day.” The editorial that accompanies this — and this is a quote from the Economist, not from — is saying that this is a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to dramatically transform our energy system, to kick the oil habit. We've been using this slogan internally: “Kick it while it's down.”

There are various reasons why, if we get the right set of incentives in place — both political and economic — it can be a really, really good time to get off fossil fuels and push very aggressively toward a decentralized, renewables-based economy.

One of the things that has really struck me, as I've been thinking about this price plummet over the past couple of weeks, is that we've been living with an oil price between $80 to $100 per barrel or more — even reaching $120 per barrel — for over a decade. It went up to $100 a barrel after the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, that's when things really took off.

I wrote a column [in 2007] and the headline was “Baghdad Burns, Calgary Booms.” It was about the fact that the turmoil in the market that was linked to the invasion of Iraq, which had sent oil prices soaring, was leading to the boom that was happening with the Alberta tar sands. Calgary is ground zero for those profits. We had known for a long time that there were vast oil deposits in northern Alberta, but those oil deposits weren't counted toward the global fossil fuel reserves because they were considered uneconomic. It wasn't that they discovered oil in Alberta in 2003, it was that when oil prices were $30 a barrel it didn't make sense to count it, because it costs so much to dig it up.

What's been striking to me is understanding that it really kind of makes sense why, despite all of the consciousness-raising around climate change that has taken place over the past decade — An Inconvenient Truth, the IPCC winning the Nobel Prize, all of these various moments — why this hasn't translated into action. It's because we have been working against the titanic power of enormous profit that comes with oil at such a high price. Because that kind of pricing, with oil at $100 per barrel, it makes people crazy. It's irresistible. So, even as we've had scientists raising the alarm, we've been barreling down the wrong road. We've been barreling into extreme energy, drilling in the Arctic, tar sands, fracking. And this is all linked to high prices.

Now, we find ourselves in this kind of reprieve. It's not permanent. What goes down can go back up, and will go back up. But I think what this has given us is a little bit of breathing room, because suddenly a lot of these projects that we've been working so hard to stop, many of them are shutting down on their own. I mean, not completely, but a lot of investors are pulling their investments out of tar sands, or suspending their investments because it's so expensive. There's less of a push for Arctic drilling. That's a context in which it's easier to win political victories.

When you're going head-to-head with the richest companies on earth, and they're dying to get into the Arctic, and you're saying, “no” — well, that's not a fair fight. But when their own investors are going, “Wow, is this really a good idea?” I think that's a moment when we can win some really big victories to close off fossil fuel frontiers.

Of course, this is very tied to the whole logic of the divestment movement and the need to leave this carbon in the ground. But we all know we're not going to win this one divestment fight at a time. We're going to win this by building the arguments that will then lead to big demands, like no new fossil fuel frontiers, country-wide bans on fracking, closing off the Arctic to drilling permanently, and those types of policies.

One of the reasons that it's been difficult to win and sustain victories to put a price on carbon, a carbon tax (and I don't think a carbon tax is a silver bullet, but I think a progressively designed carbon tax is part of a slate of policies that we need to make this transition happen), is that when consumers are hurting — and we've been in the midst of an economic downturn, recession, or crisis depending on where you live — it's hard for politicians to increase the price of energy. When suddenly oil is way cheaper and your energy bill is dropping, that's a good time to introduce a progressive carbon tax.

Between the capacity to win some big keep-it-in-ground fights in the midst of falling prices, and the ability to fight for a progressive carbon tax, and that we now have these great examples of what a rapid renewables transition might look like — I think it is an extraordinary moment, to be honest.

May Boeve: Yeah, I couldn't agree with you more. And extraordinary moments can pass.

Naomi Klein: They can and do pass. I am haunted by the long shadow of 2008, when the financial crisis hit and we all witnessed this huge transfer of wealth from public hands into the hands of the banks. And this was a moment when it could have been a real leap forward, especially in the U.S., because Obama had just been elected with a clear mandate to act on climate change. It was also a moment when the car companies were bankrupt, and it was possible to write a really big stimulus bill, and we could have told the banks what to lend — they could have funded the energy transition. But that became this period of demobilization for people as they sort of waited for what Obama would do.

And now I feel like we're being given a second chance. When that happened and we didn't seize that moment, I thought, “Am I ever going to see another moment like this, with this amount of potential?” And here we are now, with this opening.

And we're also seeing some big political shifts. Syriza just won in Greece, that's a big message. Podemos is rising in Spain. These political parties need a vision for what the next economy should look like, and I believe that the climate movement should be very much a part of that conversation.

… You know, I've been making these arguments around economics, but there is nothing more powerful than a values-based argument. We're not going to win this as bean counters. We can't beat the bean counters at their own game. We're going to win this because this is an issue of values, human rights, right and wrong. We just have this brief period where we also have to have some nice stats that we can wield, but we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that what actually moves people's hearts are the arguments based on the value of life.


9 Feb 2015

Categories: les flux rss