Democracy doesn’t stop at the election – and Britain’s is broken

By Colin Crouch, University of Warwick

It’s only after an election is over that real politics begins. The polls themselves are designed to preserve almost perfect equality among citizens in the electoral process.

But that’s just the formal side of democracy. Election campaigns have become almost liturgical, heavily choreographed events. And what takes place during the rest of the five years is the informal side – a much rougher affair, with no gestures towards equality at all.

The contrast between the two parts of politics has been stretched to breaking point as campaigns become ever more artificial, while inequalities of wealth and income grow more extreme and play an ever greater political role.

That rising inequality is creating economic and social problems is now widely understood, but there’s been far less discussion of the threats it poses to democracy. The issue really comes into focus when we recognise these differences between the formal and informal sides of democracy, and the very different ways in which they treat inequality.

In the electoral process, we quite rightly insist on important principles of perfect equality. We stick to one citizen, one vote and punish those who try to cheat, hold the parties’ broadcast presentations to strict fairness rules, ban party materials from polling stations, and closely limit individual candidates’ spending.

But democracy isn’t just about voting. It’s about campaigning, discussing, lobbying and imposing pressure – things that go on all the time, not just during elections. This is the informal part of the political system, and if it did not exist we could hardly say we lived in a democracy.

The problem is that these parts of our democracy offer no guarantee at all of equality among citizens.

[Read more…]

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Britain’s disproportionate representation

Much else can be said about yesterday’s elections in the UK, but these numbers are striking:

1,454,436 votes for the Scottish National Party (SNP) resulting in the election of 56 Members of Parliament;

1,139,682 votes for the Green Party of England and Wales resulting in the election of 1 Member of Parliament.

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Michael Gould-Wartofsky: The new age of counterinsurgency policing

In the part of Baltimore hardest hit by the recent riots and arson, more than a third of families live in poverty, median income is $24,000, the unemployment rate is over 50%, some areas burnt out in the riots of 1968 have never been rebuilt, incarceration rates are sky high, 33% of the homes are vacant (thanks to an ongoing foreclosure crisis), and water service is being shut off for people who can’t afford to pay rising water rates.  Residents, mainly black, live in what is really an unofficially segregated, hollowed-out Rust Belt city that just happens to be located on the East Coast.

As Max Blumenthal pointed out when the city’s mayor started denouncing “outside agitators,” more than 70% of Baltimore’s police force lives beyond the city limits, at least 10% of them out-of-state.  The Baltimore PD is also notorious for its brutality, for the numbers of (black) residents it seems to gun down, and for its give-not-an-inch “broken windows” policing policies.  In a city that is 62% black and 28% white, police officers are still 46% white and 80% outsiders heading into neighborhoods that are almost totally black.  Unlike the residents of such neighborhoods, Baltimore’s police lack for little.  Thanks in part to Pentagon and other government programs, the force is armed to the teeth in the increasingly military fashion that has become the post-9/11 state of things (and that TomDispatch has been covering since 2004.)  It acts as if it were, that is, an occupying army, not a neighborhood protector.  In this sense, “community policing” is now a joke in the U.S.

When the CVS stores go up in flames and local stores are looted, politicians denounce what’s happened and demand an instant return to law and order, while calling on police departments to wear body cameras and rethink their attitudes.  But there’s another reality that has to be faced.  Give some credit to Hillary Clinton.  In her recent speech on the police killings of black men from Ferguson to Baltimore, she included this single on-the-mark sentence: “We can start [building on what works] by making sure that federal funds for state and local law enforcement are used to bolster best practices, rather than to buy weapons of war that have no place on our streets.”  Put another way, you can’t arm and militarize the police, as both the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security have been doing since 9/11, and send them into impoverished communities as if for war, sporting a mind-set from the global war on terror, without getting what you’ve functionally wished for.  In a sense, in the arms race that is America today, you might say that you are what you “carry.”

Among the illusions of our age, there’s this: the idea that the U.S. can fight wars in whatever fashion it pleases, year after year, in distant lands without changing our society as well.  In fact, those wars have been coming home for a long time in myriad ways, and never more obviously than with American police forces and their practices.  It’s not just that the police (and SWAT units) are now filled with vets from the war on terror, or that they are armed with weaponry directly off its battlefields, but that the mentality that has made those wars such disasters has come home with the troops and weaponry.

As Michael Gould-Wartofsky, author of the new book The Occupiers: The Making of the 99 Percent Movement, suggests, thoroughly militarized, surveillance-heavy forces are bringing counterinsurgency thinking from Iraq and Afghanistan back to this country.  The record of such thinking abroad brings to mind a question first raised by State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren about Washington’s new war in Iraq: What could possibly go wrong? Tom Engelhardt

The wars come home
A five-step guide to the police repression of protest from Ferguson to Baltimore and beyond
By Michael Gould-Wartofsky

Last week, as Baltimore braced for renewed protests over the death of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) prepared for battle. With state-of-the-art surveillance of local teenagers’ Twitter feeds, law enforcement had learned that a group of high school students was planning to march on the Mondawmin Mall. In response, the BPD did what any self-respecting police department in post-9/11 America would do: it declared war on the protesters.

[Read more…]

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Corruption is legal in America

Paul Blumenthal writes: The issue of big money in politics is receiving increased attention as the country barrels toward a presidential election cycle where all spending records are expected to be smashed. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have spoken out on tackling the problem, as have a handful of Republican candidates.

What is this problem, exactly? Represent.Us, a group that supports campaign finance reforms and is advocating for them at the city, municipal and state levels, presents an answer in a new video.

Pulling from a study by political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, the video explains how legislative actions taken by politicians in Washington do not reflect the priorities of the broader population, but instead are moved by the opinions of the wealthy elite.

These elite have the means to influence government through lobbyists, campaign donations and public relations campaigns. And studies by the Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Responsive Politics have shown that wealthy elites dominate political spending. A study released Thursday by these two groups found the percentage of donations made by the .01 percent rose to nearly 30 percent in the 2014 elections, up from 25 percent in 2012. [Continue reading…]

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Black lives matter: Premature deaths skew U.S. election results

New Scientist reports: Dead men cast no votes. A new study has found that the premature death of millions of black voters in the US has affected the outcome of several elections.

“We are talking here about deeply entrenched biases and prejudices in the operation of the economic, political and socio-cultural system which place blacks at a severe and systematic disadvantage,” says Chik Collins of the University of the West of Scotland in Paisley, UK. “It is a very well-founded challenge to the claims of America to be a ‘decent’ – let alone a ‘democratic’ – society.”

This week saw protests in Baltimore and across the US touched off by the death of Freddie Gray, an African American man who died of a spinal cord injury sustained in police custody. His death has now been ruled a homicide and six police officers involved will face criminal charges.

Overall, in the US, the mortality rate for blacks, across age and gender, is almost 18 per cent higher than the rate for whites. [Continue reading…]

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Iranians cannot build democracy in the shadow of war

Akbar Ganji writes: The vast majority of the Iranian people aspire to have democracy and, thus, want to make a peaceful transition from an Islamic theocracy to a democratic state. They deserve to have democracy and no one should put obstacles in their way. The Iranians know that they must build democracy in Iran. They also know that they cannot walk on water, or create a peaceful democracy in the shadow and threat of war.

But there are western governments, as well as members of the Iranian opposition in diaspora that want Iranians to go through hellfire to achieve their aspirations. More Iranians reject this, because they have closely followed the experiences of other nations in their region over the past decade or so, and see that the Middle East is soaked with blood. They know the fates of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen – nations that were either invaded by the United States, bombed back to the Medieval age (Libya) or destroyed by a sectarian war instigated by US allies in the Middle East (Syria).

None of these nations has become a democratic state. The state of human rights in all of these nations is far worse than before their crippling wars. Their national security systems have collapsed and terrorism has spread. The only “fruits” of the military intervention in the Middle East and North Africa over the past 15 years have been civil wars, terrorism and disintegration of nation states. Since the attacks of 11 September 2001, at least 1.3 million people have been killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. Millions of people have either been injured or have become internal refugees within their own countries or abroad.

Iranian people want democracy, but they are keenly aware that security and peace are the prerequisites for building democracy and respect for human rights. Iranians rejoiced after the joint political statement by Iran and P5+1 was read in Lausanne, Switzerland by Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, outlining the framework of the agreement between the two sides over Iran’s nuclear programme.

Why were the Iranian people so happy and celebrating in the streets? Was the announcement a great victory for their nation? It surely was not politically, because Iran made many concessions, and received comparatively little in return.

But it was indeed a great victory for Iran and Iranians, if we look at it from a democracy angle. In the view of Iranians, the negotiations between Iran and P5+1 was a “wrestling match” between war and peace. War was defeated by peace, and its threat was destroyed. It was a hopeful sign for Iranians everywhere.

When a nation such as Iran is threatened by the US and Israel for over two decades, and suffers from the most crippling economic sanctions in history, democracy becomes an impossible dream for its people, who live instead in terror and fear of war. Even now, after the announcement of the Lausanne agreement, Israeli leaders continue to threaten Iran with military attacks. [Continue reading…]

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Russian propaganda exploits Western weakness

Andrew Kornbluth writes: It is becoming clear that certain authoritarian models of government are capable of matching and, in some respects, even exceeding the accomplishments of their democratic counterparts. Whether Russia, with its dependence on energy exports and otherwise undiversified economy, should be counted among them is debatable, but there is one area in which the Russian state has so far demonstrated a clear mastery over its Western opponents: its propaganda or, to use the public relations term, its messaging.

But impressive as the information component of Russia’s current “hybrid war” over Ukraine has been, its success arguably owes less to its ingenuity than to ingrained flaws in Western democratic culture for which there is no simple solution.

The effectiveness of Russia’s spin is difficult to deny; in addition to the almost 90 percent of Russians who support their president and, albeit passively, his expansionist campaign, a large part of the Western public, especially in Europe, remains convinced that Russia bears little or no responsibility for the war in Ukraine.

Ironically, Russian messaging has worked by exploiting vulnerabilities in precisely those mechanisms of self-criticism and skepticism which are considered so essential to the functioning of a democratic society. The modern Western culture of self-doubt has proved particularly susceptible to manipulation in a 21st-century confrontation that strongly recalls its Cold War origins.

Four assumptions popular in contemporary Western democratic discourse have been co-opted by Russian messaging in the present crisis. The first is that all sides in a conflict are equally guilty. Never far beneath the surface, Europe’s suspicion of the leader of the Western alliance, the United States, has been reinvigorated by successive scandals over the war in Iraq, torture and eavesdropping. Everyone has committed crimes — so the thinking goes — so how can the West possibly reproach Russia?

Likewise, in this confused moral landscape, the “illegality” of the Ukrainian revolution is blithely juxtaposed with the illegality of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, while the enormous differences in nature, scale and motive between the subjects under comparison go unmentioned.

The second assumption is that there are “two sides to every story.” The desire to consult multiple sources and the unwillingness to accept just one narrative are part of a healthy critical outlook, but the system breaks down when one side is a fabrication. There is no middle ground, for example, between the claim that the Russian army is fighting in Ukraine and the claim that it is not. [Continue reading…]

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Meaningless work is a scar across our collective soul

The Guardian talks to the anarchist author and academic, David Graeber: In 2011, at New York’s Zuccotti Park, he became involved in Occupy Wall Street, which he describes as an “experiment in a post-bureaucratic society”. He was responsible for the slogan “We are the 99%”. “We wanted to demonstrate we could do all the services that social service providers do without endless bureaucracy. In fact at one point at Zuccotti Park there was a giant plastic garbage bag that had $800,000 in it. People kept giving us money but we weren’t going to put it in the bank. You have all these rules and regulations. And Occupy Wall Street can’t have a bank account. I always say the principle of direct action is the defiant insistence on acting as if one is already free.”

He quotes with approval the anarchist collective Crimethinc: “Putting yourself in new situations constantly is the only way to ensure that you make your decisions unencumbered by the nature of habit, law, custom or prejudice – and it’s up to you to create the situations.” Academia was, he muses, once a haven for oddballs – it was one of the reasons he went into it. “It was a place of refuge. Not any more. Now, if you can’t act a little like a professional executive, you can kiss goodbye to the idea of an academic career.”

Why is that so terrible? “It means we’re taking a very large percentage of the greatest creative talent in our society and telling them to go to hell … The eccentrics have been drummed out of all institutions.” Well, perhaps not all of them. “I am an offbeat person. I am one of those guys who wouldn’t be allowed in the academy these days.” Indeed, he claims to have been blackballed by the American academy and found refuge in Britain. In 2005, he went on a year’s sabbatical from Yale, “and did a lot of direct action and was in the media”. When he returned he was, he says, snubbed by colleagues and did not have his contract renewed. Why? Partly, he believes, because his countercultural activities were an embarrassment to Yale.

Born in 1961 to working-class Jewish parents in New York, Graeber had a radical heritage. His father, Kenneth, was a plate stripper who fought in the Spanish civil war, and his mother, Ruth, was a garment worker who played the lead role in Pins and Needles, a 1930s musical revue staged by the international Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.

Their son was calling himself an anarchist at the age of 16, but only got heavily involved in politics in 1999 when he became part of the protests against the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle. Later, while teaching at Yale, he joined the activists, artists and pranksters of the Direct Action Network in New York. Would he have got further at Yale if he hadn’t been an anarchist? “Maybe. I guess I had two strikes against me. One, I seemed to be enjoying my work too much. Plus I’m from the wrong class: I come from a working-class background.” The US’s loss is the UK’s gain: Graeber became a reader in anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London, in 2008 and professor at the LSE two years ago. [Continue reading…]

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‘If Tunisia fails, you can say goodbye to democracy in the Arab world for a century’

In the wake of last week’s attack at the national museum in the heart of Tunis, Nicholas Noe writes: Tunisia is, quite simply, a country unable to protect the real progress it has made over the last four years. Its people are not familiar with violent conflict, its army isn’t ready, and its body politic is deeply and often personally divided, despite the statements over the last 24 hours about national unity.

Most crucially, however, the security services in general — especially when it comes to the preponderant Interior Ministry — are ill equipped and ill trained for the kind of conflict that they are now likely to face. Perhaps the commanders directing today’s attack were betting on this. A heavy-handed response on the domestic scene (which is likely, largely as a result of the neglect of security sector reform over the past four years) will probably entail a violent counter-reaction within Tunisia, even though the real enemy lies in its strategic depth, waiting for the right moment, just beyond the country’s borders.

In one particularly prescient speech, the recently defeated president of Tunisia warned Europe and the United States about neglecting Tunisia and specifically about the core need for rebooting and building-out the security sector. “The military didn’t have any training or any arms for 30 years,” former President Moncef Marzouki told a conference last summer. “We need about 12 helicopters, Blackhawks, and we need them now. We also need devices for night vision and communications” to allow Tunisia to get through the upcoming elections. “If Tunisia fails,” he concluded, “you can say goodbye to democracy in the Arab world for a century.” [Continue reading…]

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Ferguson and the criminalization of American life

David Graeber writes: The Department of Justice’s investigation of the Ferguson Police Department has scandalized the nation, and justly so. But the department’s institutional racism, while shocking, isn’t the report’s most striking revelation.

More damning is this: in a major American city, the criminal justice system perceives a large part of that city’s population not as citizens to be protected, but as potential targets for what can only be described as a shake-down operation designed to wring money out of the poorest and most vulnerable by any means they could, and that as a result, the overwhelming majority of Ferguson’s citizens had outstanding warrants.

Many will try to write off this pattern of economic exploitation as some kind of strange anomaly. In fact, it’s anything but. What the racism of Ferguson’s criminal justice system produced is simply a nightmarish caricature of something that is beginning to happen on every level of American life; something which is beginning to transform our most basic sense of who we are, and how we — or most of us, anyway — relate to the central institutions of our society, in ways that are genuinely disastrous.

The DOJ’s report has made us all familiar with the details: the constant pressure on police to issue as many citations as possible for minor infractions (such as parking or seat-belt violations) and the equal pressure on the courts to make the fines as high as possible; the arcane court rules apparently designed to be almost impossible to follow (the court’s own web page contained incorrect information); the way citizens who had never been found guilty — indeed, never even been accused — of an actual crime were rounded up, jailed, threatened with “indefinite” incarceration in fetid cells, risking disease and serious injury, until their destitute families could assemble hundreds if not thousands of dollars in fines, fees, and penalties to pay their jailers.

As a result of such practices, over three quarters of the population had warrants out for the arrest at any given time. The entire population was criminalized. [Continue reading…]

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Spitting in the face of Israel’s Arab citizens

Haggai Matar and Yael Marom write: Nearly one quarter of Israeli voters cast their ballots for a prime minister whose central message to the public on election day was that Arab citizens of Israel are the enemy.

An almost equal number of people cast their votes for: the guy who joined him in delivering that message, the head of the most right-wing party in the Knesset (Naftali Bennett); the guy who based his entire campaign on incitement against Arabs (Avigdor Liberman); the guy who said he would not sit in a government that relies on the votes of Arabs (Moshe Kahlon); and, the guy who rejected an outstretched hand from the Arab parties offering to form an alliance of the oppressed (Arye Deri). Their levels of support are even higher if you look only at the Jewish voting public.

Meet the 34th government of Israel, ladies and gentlemen.

Do not discount the message delivered at the ballot box on Tuesday, especially considering the massive victory of the Joint List, the third-largest party in the next Knesset. With 14 seats representing over 400,000 voters, and with above-average voter participation, the success of the Joint List is the Palestinian public in Israel’s message to its Jewish compatriots, which was the antithesis of the message it got in return.

For weeks, Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh has been all over Israeli television, radio, newspapers and every type of online media. He broadcast a message of openness, of partnership, of striving for equality, of democracy, of a struggle for social justice — for all Israelis. He spoke of reconciliation and of turning a new leaf. [Continue reading…]

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Why Ernesto Laclau is the intellectual figurehead for Syriza and Podemos

Dan Hancox writes: When Ernesto Laclau passed away last April aged 78, few would have guessed that this Argentinian-born, Oxford-educated post-Marxist would become the key intellectual figure behind a political process that exploded into life a mere six weeks later, when Spanish leftist party Podemos won five seats and 1.2m votes in last May’s European elections.

Throughout his academic career, most of which he spent as professor of political theory at the University of Essex, Laclau developed a vocabulary beyond classical Marxist thought, replacing the traditional analysis of class struggle with a concept of “radical democracy” that stretched beyond the narrow confines of the ballot box (or the trade union). Most importantly for Syriza, Podemos and its excitable sympathisers outside Greece and Spain, he sought to rescue “populism” from its many detractors.

Íñigo Errejón, one of Podemos’s key strategists, completed his 2011 doctorate on recent Bolivian populism, taking substantial inspiration from Laclau and his wife and collaborator Chantal Mouffe, as he explains in this obituary. To read Errejón on Laclau is to take an exhilarating short-cut to understanding the intellectual forces that are shaping Europe’s future. Syriza’s victory in Greece, for one, has been directly driven by the ideas of Laclau and an Essex cohort that includes among its alumni a Syriza MP, the governor of Athens, and Yanis Varoufakis. Syriza built its political coalition in exactly the way Laclau prescribed in his key 2005 book On Populist Reason – as Essex professor David Howarth puts it, “binding together different demands by focusing on their opposition to a common enemy”.

On the Mediterranean side of austerity Europe, the common enemy is not hard to discern. During Spain’s massive indignados protests and encampments of summer 2011, one of the principal slogans was the quintessentially populist “We are neither right nor left, we are coming from the bottom and going for the top”. It is, in Laclau’s terms, “the formation of an internal antagonistic frontier” like this, between a broadly defined sense of “the people” and a ruling class unwilling to yield to their demands, that readies the ground for a populist movement like Podemos.[Continue reading…]

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America’s Constitutional paralysis

Daniel Lazare writes: Americans have succeeded in modifying the Constitution only 17 times since ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1791. Since amendments tend to come in clumps during periods of exceptional turmoil, this means that decades can race by without any change at all. For instance, the US was constitutionally frozen for nearly 60 years prior to the Civil War, and then spent another 40 years in a constitutional deep-freeze during the Gilded Age that followed. Only one amendment, the 27th, concerning the scheduling of Congressional pay raises, has been approved since the civil-rights revolution of the 1960s and early ’70s, and that one was drafted in 1789 and then gathered dust in various state legislatures for more than two centuries. Excepting this unusual amendment, the present constitutional ice age could wind up outlasting the first.

Arguably, this Constitutional paralysis is the real source of American exceptionalism – not America’s military or economic clout, but its basic political structure, so unlike that of just about any other country on Earth. It’s certainly the source of its exceptional political psychology. One might think that Americans would be impatient with a Constitution that frustrates any and all efforts at reform, yet the response has been the opposite: instead of growing angry, people have reassured themselves over the years that immobility is all to the good because anything they do to change things can only make them worse. In effect, they’ve taken the old adage, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ and turned it around. Since a fix is impossible due to the system’s deep-seated resistance to change, then it must not be broken at all. In fact, it must be perfect and therefore divinely inspired. And if the Constitution is divinely inspired, can the US be anything other than divinely inspired as well? [Continue reading…]

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Global democracy is in retreat

The Guardian reports: Global democracy is at greater risk than at any time in the past 25 years, according to a landmark report by the independent watchdog Freedom House.

In the annual report, Discarding Democracy: Return to the Iron Fist, the Washington-based group said 61 countries were going backwards as far as democracy was concerned, compared with only 33 moving forwards. Moreover, some of the transgressors, including Russia, Egypt, Thailand, Nigeria and Turkey, are global or regional powers setting a bad example to others, it said.

Its findings come despite the fact that 2014 was a record year for democracy, with more people casting votes in national ballots than ever before. But holding elections does not always translate into healthy democracy. As the authoritarian Hungarian leader, Viktor Orban, put it: “A democracy does not necessarily have to be liberal.”

“Acceptance of democracy as the world’s dominant form of government – and of an international system built on democratic ideals – is under greater threat than at any other point in the last 25 years,” said Arch Puddington, vice-president for research at Freedom House. [Continue reading…]

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Follow your convictions — this could be the end of the politics of fear

George Monbiot writes: Here is the first rule of politics: if you never vote for what you want, you never get it. We are told at every election to hold our noses, forget the deficiencies and betrayals and vote Labour yet again, for fear of something worse. And there will, of course, always be something worse. So at what point should we vote for what we want rather than keep choosing between two versions of market fundamentalism? Sometime this century? Or in the next? Follow the advice of the noseholders and we will be lost forever in Labour’s Bermuda triangulation.

Perhaps there was a time when this counsel of despair made sense. No longer. The lamps are coming on all over Europe. As in South America, political shifts that seemed impossible a few years earlier are now shaking the continent. We knew that another world was possible. Now, it seems, another world is here: the sudden death of the neoliberal consensus. Any party that claims to belong to the left but does not grasp this is finished.

Syriza, Podemos, Sinn Féin, the SNP; now a bright light is shining in England too, as the Green party stokes the radical flame that Labour left to gutter. On Tuesday morning, its membership in England and Wales passed 50,000; a year ago it was fewer than 15,000.

A survey by the website voteforpolicies.org.uk reports that in blind tests (the 500,000 people it has polled were unaware of which positions belong to which parties), the Green party’s policies are more popular than those of any other. If people voted for what they wanted, the Greens would be the party of government.

There are many reasons for this surge, but one of them must be a sense of popular ownership. Green party policies are determined democratically. Emerging from debates led mostly by younger members, they feel made for their time, while those of the major parties appear trapped in the 1980s. [Continue reading…]

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Who can become a head of state?

A new Pew Research analysis finds that 30 of the world’s countries (15%) belong to a unique group of nations that call for their heads of state to have a particular religious affiliation. From monarchies to republics, candidates (including descendants of royal monarchies) in these countries must belong to a specific religious group.

This list includes Lebanon, which requires its president to be a member of the Maronite Christian Church. On Wednesday, Lebanon’s parliament will make a ninth attempt since May at filling the office.

More than half of the countries with religion-related restrictions on their heads of state (17) maintain that the office must be held by a Muslim. In Jordan, for example, the heir to the throne must be a Muslim child of Muslim parents. In Tunisia, any Muslim male or female voter born in the country may qualify as a candidate for president. Malaysia, Pakistan and Mauritania also restrict their heads of state to Muslim citizens.

Two countries, Lebanon and Andorra, require their heads of state to have a Christian affiliation. Lebanon also has a religious requirement of its prime minister, who must be a Sunni Muslim.

Two other countries require the heads of their monarchies be Buddhist: Bhutan and Thailand. And one country, Indonesia, requires the official state belief in Pancasila to be upheld by its head of state. Indonesia is a Muslim-majority country; Pancasila is a summation of “common cultural elements” of Indonesia, including belief in God.

A handful of countries do not require a particular religious affiliation for heads of state, but do limit candidates for the office to laypersons. Eight countries, including Bolivia, Mexico and El Salvador, specifically prohibit clergy from running in presidential elections. In Burma (Myanmar), the president is prohibited from being a member of a religious order.

Countries where the head of state is a ceremonial monarch.In addition to the 30 countries in this analysis, another 19 nations have religious requirements for ceremonial monarchs who serve as their heads of state. Sixteen of these, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, are members of the Commonwealth of Nations with Queen Elizabeth II – also known as the Defender of the Faith – as their head of state. The other countries in this category are Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

Before Americans start feeling too smug about the secular traditions of this country, it’s worth being reminded about one of the most irony-laden clauses of the U.S. Constitution: the natural-born-citizen clause.

Only a “natural born” American can become president — a native American, one might say, so long as it was understood this didn’t actually mean a native American.

Only a nation of immigrants invested deeply in an a relentless denial of its own history could fabricate such a contrived definition of what it means to be a real American. “Natural born” is really just another name for xenophobia.

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‘We are going to destroy the Greek oligarchy system’

Yanis Varoufakis, expected to become Greece’s new finance minister, tells Paul Mason what his party, Syriza, plans to do if it wins today’s election.

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French PM says ‘apartheid’ is leaving minorities on the fringe

The New York Times reports: Prime Minister Manuel Valls of France on Tuesday cited a deep divide in the country, likening it to a state of “territorial, social, ethnic apartheid” that has left part of the population on the cultural fringe.

Mr. Valls, often regarded as the most popular politician in the leftist government of President François Hollande, has been known for his outspokenness and tough stance on radical Islam. A day after the end of the attacks in the Paris area that left 17 people dead at the hands of three Muslim extremists from France, Mr. Valls spoke of waging a war “against terrorism, against jihadism, against radical Islam, against everything that is aimed at breaking fraternity, freedom, solidarity.”

But during a traditional New Year’s speech on Tuesday, Mr. Valls acknowledged that France had a deeply rooted problem that, he implied, had resulted in a divided society.

“These last few days have emphasized many of the evils which have undermined our country from within, or challenges we have to face,” he said. “To that, we must add all the divisions, the tensions that have been brewing for too long and that we mention sporadically.”

“A territorial, social, ethnic apartheid has spread across our country,” he said.

Mr. Valls avoided singling out Muslims, but it was clear that his remarks were a response to the terrorist attacks this month and addressed growing concerns about the situation of “two Frances” that, he said, has relegated the poor and heavily immigrant population to ghetto-like suburbs of Paris, where many Muslims from North African backgrounds live. [Continue reading…]

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