Kenan Malik writes: Most first-time visitors to Cape Town are mesmerized by the majesty of Table Mountain, and wowed by the vivacity of the Victorian-era waterfront. As a new visitor myself last month, I was captivated by both. But what has lodged most in my memory is something very different.
Driving from the international airport, I was struck by the sheer wretchedness of Cape Flats: the series of black townships, comprising mostly shacks with corrugated steel roofs, that stretch from the highway almost to the horizon. Few people — tourists or locals — want to talk about the Cape Flats. But there is no better starting point for a discussion of the state of contemporary South Africa.
I was shocked by the degree to which the predominant emotions, 21 years after the end of apartheid, are not of hope and expectation, but of fear and despair.
“It’s not rosy,” a leader of the United Front opposition political movement in the eastern Cape city of East London told me, “but it’s not yet totally bleak.” That was about the most optimistic view I heard. [Continue reading…]
Roberto Foa and Yascha Mounk write: Signs of democratic dysfunction are everywhere, from Athens to Ankara, Brussels to Brasília. In the United States, the federal government has shut down 12 times in the last 35 years. According to the political scientists Christopher Hare and Keith T. Poole, the two main American political parties are more polarized now than they have been at any time since the Civil War. Meanwhile, a Gallup tracking poll shows that trust in the presidency and in the Supreme Court stands at historic lows — while faith in Congress has plummeted so far that it is now in the single digits.
Some citizens of democracies have become so unhappy with their institutions that — according to disturbing new studies of public opinion around the world — they may be tempted to dispense with partisan politics altogether. Would it not be better to let the president make decisions without having to worry about Congress — or to entrust key decisions to unelected experts like the Federal Reserve and the Pentagon?
According to a growing share of Americans, the answer is yes. Back in 1995, the well-respected World Values Survey, which studies representative samples of citizens in almost 100 countries, asked Americans for the first time whether they approved of the idea of “having the army rule.” One in 15 agreed. Since then, that number has steadily grown, to one in six. [Continue reading…]
Two things are especially striking about the massive movement of refugees into Europe: running for their lives from the fear and famine, rape and killing of the wider region, people seeking sanctuary are being greeted by the stinginess of states (“open door” Germany is the exception) and the warm hospitality of European citizens.
People with children on their backs and bottles of water and lumps of bread in their hands are facing untold episodes of state harassment, and state inaction. At Keleti train station in Budapest, the Hungarian government, lovers of barbed wire, “relocation camps” and border checks, in effect tried to impose martial law on several thousand stateless people hurt by torture, rape and barrel-bombing. That’s an obscenity. “Every state has the right to protect its borders,” tweeted the ill-named Justice Minister of the Orban government. Its spokesman, Zoltan Kovacs, said coldly that Budapest isn’t planning to send any more buses to Austria. Janos Lazar, government chief of staff, weighed in by emphasising that Hungary had to work to complete its new border fence, to stop further “illegal” entry of refugees. Otherwise, he added, many more such people would be encouraged to come the way of the motherland.
The shameless behaviour of governments extends well beyond the front lines from where desperate peoples are fleeing for their lives. Throughout the European Union, most governments are hiding behind the so-called Dublin Regulation, which places the burden of settlement and hospitality on the state in which refugees first arrive. Signed 25 years ago, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the Dublin Regulation is now a broken arrangement, even though you wouldn’t think so from the miserly statements and inaction of many heads of government. Saturday’s meeting of European foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg produced no agreement. The group’s foreign policy boss, Federica Mogherini, said the talks were “difficult” and Europe’s refugee crisis is “here to stay”. In Britain, where the government is deeply implicated in the state failure, violence, social chaos and human tragedy in the Middle East region, Prime Minister David Cameron has prevaricated. At first, he suggested Britain should not take refugees currently making their way through Balkan states or across the Mediterranean to Europe because this would help prevent others making the “hazardous journey”. Now he says Britain has a “moral responsibility” to accept up to 20,000 refugees from Syria – but over the next five years.
For several years, on the margins of Europe, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and other local states have been shouldering the massive refugee burden. You would think that richer states well beyond the region, especially those deeply implicated in Middle East dynamics, would be pitching in, especially given the scale of the developing catastrophe. Think twice. So far, the uncivil war in Syria alone has produced more than four million refugees. Many more people are coming. Yet how many Syrian citizens have so far been accepted as refugees by the United States and its allies at war with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq? The figures are shocking, and shameful: 4,980 in the United Kingdom; 1,500 in the United States; 1,074 in Stephen Harper’s Canada; and 2,200 in Tony Abbott’s Australia. Up until last year, Australia was still trying to return asylum seekers to Syria. Now the Abbott government, under mounting public pressure, says it “will step up to the plate”. The fine words are fabulations: its talk of an increased intake of Syrians is contradicted by plans to reduce refugees from other parts of the world, to ensure Australia’s overall refugee intake would remain unchanged.
In striking contrast to this hypocrisy and pusillanimity (invade Iraq and Afghanistan, bomb Syria, refuse entry to its fleeing victims), European citizens on the ground have taken the lead in welcoming the homeless. Rising xenophobia throughout Europe has for some time been the only mainstream media story considered newsworthy by journalists. Now we’re seeing a different and more charitable side of Europe: churches, trade unions, mosques, community groups and families are springing into action. Citizens hold welcome signs in English, German and Arabic at train stations. Bystanders clap. There are handshakes, flowers, smiles. Citizen volunteers offer food, hot drinks, toys for children. More than a few are offering their homes to the homeless. Petitions call upon the EU and its member states to act decisively, for instance by setting up a special ferry service from the Turkish cities on the Aegean Sea to Greece and a direct special train service from Thessaloniki to northern Europe. A week ago, 20,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Vienna in support of refugees now on the move; a few days before, a similar march took place in Dresden. And six days ago, a petition directed at the Westminster website hit 100,000 signatures, enough to require a parliamentary debate on increasing the number of people granted refuge in the UK. A few hours later, the number of petitioners had doubled, to nearly 200,000.
The hospitality, the big-hearted openness to the world, the cosmopolitanism of these citizens of the world is remarkable. It’s a reaffirmation of the principle of citizenship famously outlined just over two centuries ago by the English political writer Thomas Paine (1737 – 1809), in an exchange with his friend Benjamin Franklin. “Where liberty is, there is my country,” Franklin reportedly said. “Where liberty is not, there is my country,” Paine quipped in reply. Citizenship of any country implied for him the duty of citizens to take an interest in the fate of others. [Read more…]
The New York Times reports: A dozen police officers, one with an assault rifle across his knees, guard the presidential mausoleum in this seaside resort, easily outnumbering the foreign visitors on a recent morning.
It was here, the hometown of Tunisia’s first president, Habib Bourguiba, that a teenager once tried to blow himself up amid a group of tourists. The attack failed — his bomb did not explode and a tour guide tripped up the would-be bomber as he tried to escape — but it was only by luck that disaster was averted.
That was two years ago. More recently, despite ample warnings, Tunisia has had less luck in the face of a growing terrorist threat. Gunmen trained in Libya and linked to the Islamic State and Al Qaeda killed 22 people at a national museum in the heart of Tunis, the capital, in March and 38 tourists along a beach in the nearby town of Sousse in June.
Those attacks have provoked a widening security crackdown, and left Tunisians wondering if their country can withstand the onslaught of terrorism without giving up the tentative freedoms they — alone in the region — earned with their revolution that set off the Arab Spring more than four years ago. [Continue reading…]
Wired: Imagine an election — a close one. You’re undecided. So you type the name of one of the candidates into your search engine of choice. (Actually, let’s not be coy here. In most of the world, one search engine dominates; in Europe and North America, it’s Google.) And Google coughs up, in fractions of a second, articles and facts about that candidate. Great! Now you are an informed voter, right? But a study published this week says that the order of those results, the ranking of positive or negative stories on the screen, can have an enormous influence on the way you vote. And if the election is close enough, the effect could be profound enough to change the outcome.
In other words: Google’s ranking algorithm for search results could accidentally steal the presidency. “We estimate, based on win margins in national elections around the world,” says Robert Epstein, a psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology and one of the study’s authors, “that Google could determine the outcome of upwards of 25 percent of all national elections.” [Continue reading…]
In a speech he gave on Monday, Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, outlined his government’s five-year strategy for tackling extremism. He noted:
For all our successes as [a] multi-racial, multi-faith democracy, we have to confront a tragic truth that there are people born and raised in this country who don’t really identify with Britain – and who feel little or no attachment to other people here. Indeed, there is a danger in some of our communities that you can go your whole life and have little to do with people from other faiths and backgrounds.
So when groups like ISIL seek to rally our young people to their poisonous cause, it can offer them a sense of belonging that they can lack here at home, leaving them more susceptible to radicalisation and even violence against other British people to whom they feel no real allegiance.
In Britain or any other democracy where there are citizens who lack a sense of belonging, to view this as a condition conducive to the growth of extremism is to underestimate the significance of the problem.
This isn’t just a security problem — it is a failure of democracy.
Where there is a commonly held sense that everyone’s life matters and that equality trumps privilege, there is little risk that individuals will lack the feeling of belonging.
But those who feel they don’t belong, commonly experience a state which fails to represent their interests and a society in which they are treated like outsiders. They often live in neighborhoods where agents of the state (police and other security services) are experienced as intrusive forces which thus commonly meet resistance.
By Cameron’s reckoning, the handful of individuals who end up joining ISIS, never became sufficiently anchored in British culture, but as Tam Hussein describes it in a fascinating essay from which I quote below, these are young people who are culturally adrift in a different way — products just as much of Western mass culture as they are of an extremist ideology.
At Syria Comment, Hussein tells the story of Fatlum Shalaku who came from a Kosovo Albanian family, grew up in London and earlier this year, two weeks after cancelling a holiday in Spain, went instead to Iraq where he died as a suicide bomber during ISIS’s assault on Ramadi.
Hussein grew up in the same part of London — Ladbroke Grove — where Shalaku, “Jihadi John,” and several other ISIS recruits came from. He says:
It is clear that neither foreign policy nor ideology are solely responsible for motivating European youth to go on Jihad. My essay argues that the reason many of these men went to Syria and join specifically ISIS is due to the subtle interplay between religion, foreign policy and gang culture and modernism.
A term that crops up repeatedly in this detailed report is roadman, for which the Urban Dictionary offers this definition:
British word for a young male (14-21). Typically wears a 5-Panel cap and doesn’t give a fuck. Always out with his mates who are normally roadmen as well. Academic knowledge is usually low but street credibility and knowledge is above average.
These young men, in typical post-modern style comfortably mixed iconic images of Jihadica with Call of Duty. Sitting in an Italian cafe, Ali, a student who grew up in and around Ladbroke Grove told me even more bluntly what he thought the problem was; “There’s more to it, you have a high percentage of Roadmans who don’t know anything about the faith and they discover Anwar Awlaki on Youtube and it’s a disaster. On top of that everything they watch from Lord of the Rings to 300, to Saving Private Ryan to Black Hawk Down everything about the Western culture celebrates heroism and self sacrifice. Some of their fathers also fought in Afghanistan, they have a fighting mentality because of the streets and once you put religion into it; which says helping the weak and oppressed is good, you got a Jihadi Roadman. It’s so predictable. Notice that most of these Roadmans joined ISIS; the rest with any sense of the faith didn’t.”
Fatlum’s friend Mohammed Nasser was a case in point; going through his twitter feed you notice that Grand Theft Auto Five is mentioned in the same breath as martyrdom, even though GTA is probably the most antithetical to the Islamic moral ethic. On his twitter feed. He flitted from talking about his friends, to messaging Pro-ISIS disseminators like Shamiwitness and talking to the brother of Iftekhar Jaman, the Portsmouth ISIS Jihadi. The connections they were making, the culture they were creating was one particular to their generation. They had their own terminology, they wore their Salafi-Jihadism on their robes, blended it with rebellious Roadmannism, garnished it with a bit of Anwar Awlaki, Quran, Sunnah and a bit of thug life. They could yearn desperately for forgiveness and paradise, and in their youthful ardour want a sense of belonging and adventure. West-side hyperbole turned into “the land of the Muslims have to be defended.” The new generation Jihadi Roadmans short circuited the Salafi-jihadi tradition for just Team Muslim-no matter what; the response was not un-similar to the American patriot who cried Team America: no matter what. These men no doubt sincere in intention had become a law unto themselves and could wreak havoc and go against well established Islamic principles. These men joined ISIS. [All the links in this passage have been added by me for the benefit of readers. PW]
Read Tam Hussein’s complete essay here.
The Intercept reports: Retired general and former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark on Friday called for World War II-style internment camps to be revived for “disloyal Americans.” In an interview with MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts in the wake of the mass shooting in Chatanooga, Tennessee, Clark said that during World War II, “if someone supported Nazi Germany at the expense of the United States, we didn’t say that was freedom of speech, we put him in a camp, they were prisoners of war.”
He called for a revival of internment camps to help combat Muslim extremism, saying, “If these people are radicalized and they don’t support the United States and they are disloyal to the United States as a matter of principle, fine. It’s their right and it’s our right and obligation to segregate them from the normal community for the duration of the conflict.”
The comments were shockingly out of character for Clark, who after serving as supreme allied commander of NATO made a name for himself in progressive political circles. In 2004, his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination was highly critical of the Bush administration’s excessive response to the 9/11 terror attacks. Since then, he has been a critic of policies that violate the Geneva Convention, saying in 2006 that policies such as torture violate “the very values that [we] espouse.” [Continue reading…]
Rami G Khouri writes: The dramatic events surrounding the intense negotiations for a deal on Iran’s nuclear industry and the sanctions on it deserve immense attention because of what they tell us about two pivotal dynamics in the Middle East, namely the role of Iran in the region and the world and the more mature attitude of the United States towards countries and movements that it disagrees with, like Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and others. Yet, despite the momentous impact of an agreement on Iran, the dynamic this week that I am watching much more closely is the offensive launched Monday by the Iraqi government to retake Anbar Province from the hands of “Islamic State” (IS). Anbar Province’s convoluted and fast changing condition in the past decade is a sign of wider stresses that plague Iraq, including the province’s successive anti-American, anti-Islamic State in Mesopotamia, and anti-Baghdad rebellions, its gradual loss to IS during the past year, and Baghdad’s current strategy to return it to the fold of the Iraqi state.
What happens in Iraq in the coming months and years matters dearly to the entire Arab world because Anbar’s turbulent recent history and its current condition manifest the most fundamental and crucial issues that still challenge most Arab states, and are likely to determine if they persist as sovereign, stable states. These issues relate to the ability of citizens and state to negotiate a social contract that ensures good governance and equitable participation and life opportunities for all citizens, which in turn would guarantee stability and security, and probably also prosperity, given Iraq’s immense natural and human resources. A social contract that meets these criteria has evaded every single Arab country in the past century — only because not a single Arab country (before Tunisia since 2011) ever attempted to credibly engage its citizens in the process of shaping public life, governance, participation, accountability, national values, and state policies. The test that Iraq and all Arab countries face is how to allow populations composed of several different ethnic and religious groups to work together within the context of the institutions and national integrity of their state. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: When the reporter Jason Leopold gets ready to take on the United States government, he psychs himself up by listening to the heavy metal bands Slayer and Pantera.
Mr. Leopold describes himself as “a pretty rageful guy.” He argued recently with staff members at his son’s preschool because he objected to their references to “Indians” and they objected to his wearing family-unfriendly punk rock T-shirts to school meetings.
Mr. Leopold, 45, who works for Vice News, reserves most of his aggression for dealing with the government. He has revealed about 20,000 pages of government documents, some of them the basis for explosive news stories. Despite his appearance — on a recent day his T-shirt featured the band name “Sick of It All” — his secret weapon is the opposite of anarchic: an encyclopedic knowledge of the Freedom of Information Act, the labyrinthine administration machine that serves it and the kind of legal judo often required to pry information from it.
His small office, just off the kitchen in his home here, is littered with envelopes from various branches of the government and computer disks filled with secrets. His persistence has led to numerous revelations — some in documents that have been released exclusively to him, and others in documents that have been released to multiple reporters after pressure has been brought by Mr. Leopold. [Continue reading…]
Jack Murtha writes: When the documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras filed a complaint under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) against three US government agencies this week, most media outlets ran stories on the details that built her argument, overlooking the issue of public records.
After all, who could resist the story of a bitter and burned federal government hounding a journalist who appeared to have crossed some unspoken line? More than 50 times between 2006 and 2012, her lawsuit alleges, security forces targeted the journalist for intense rounds of detention and questioning. Government officials had, at one point, even confiscated her laptop, cellphone, and notebooks. Poitras’ films had largely focused on the rotten fruits of post-9/11 America, both at home and abroad. She went on to win top-notch awards for her work with Edward Snowden, the former government contractor who in 2013 leaked National Security Agency files on hidden mass-surveillance programs.
It’s an important story with profound implications for the press. Yet lost in the narrative was the legal spine of her case, a second threat to journalism in this country: the worrisome way the federal government handles FOIA requests. [Continue reading…]
Almost as soon as the Greek deal was agreed, it began to come apart at the seams. Passage of the necessary legislation through the Greek parliament led to Syriza splitting in two as Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, drew on the votes of the right to force through a deal which is worse than anything that was on offer before the referendum on July 5.
Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, revealed that many in the German government actually want Greece to leave the euro, effectively admitting that the deal was deliberately designed to be as tough as possible to force Tsipras to reject it. The deal’s passage through the German parliament will not be straightforward, and Finnish politicians have also expressed deep scepticism.
Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been engaging in a propaganda battle against its European partners in the Troika, leaking a memorandum in which it argues that Greece’s debt is unsustainable and implying that the agreement will fail.
Jennifer Rubin writes: The largest pro-Israel organization, with a membership of more than 2 million passionate voters, Christians United for Israel, will be forming a lobbying and political entity (a 501(c)(4) group, in IRS parlance), CUFI Action Fund, that aims to do for Israel what the NRA does for Second Amendment rights. It will announce the move to more than 5,000 members who have gathered in Washington for its annual national conference.
The operation will be headed by evangelical heavyweight and longtime pro-Israel advocate Gary Bauer. “Gary Bauer is someone that has the respect and confidence of the evangelical community,” CUFI founder Pastor John Hagee tells me in an exclusive interview. Bauer says he will have a multimillion-dollar budget and a staff of a dozen to lobby Congress, run independent ads, support pro-Israel candidates and target those who do not put support for the Jewish state at the top of their priority list.
For Bauer, CUFI Action Fund is needed more than ever. “It is needed because the West is under severe attack,” Bauer tells me. “Israel is an outpost of [Western] civilization in one of the most dangerous and hostile parts of the world.” He continues, “Because Israel and the U.S. are attached at the hip and the heart,” Bauer argues, the fate of Israel and the U.S. and the necessity to defeat Islamic radicalism are essential, lest we “sink into another Dark Ages.” [Continue reading…]
What happens when policy is made by corporations? Your privacy is seen as a barrier to economic growth
Evgeny Morozov: With all eyes on Greece, the European parliament has quietly passed a non-binding resolution on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the controversial trade liberalisation agreement between the United States and Europe. Ironically, it did so a few hours after lecturing Alexis Tsipras, the Greek leader, about the virtues of European solidarity and justice.
If enacted, TTIP, along with two other treaties currently under negotiation– the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) – will considerably limit the ability of governments to rein in the activities of corporations; all three treaties have predictably triggered much resistance.
The European parliament’s resolution seeks to eliminate the main point of contention between the US and Europe. While many Europeans object to the very idea of creating an international tribunal, where corporations can sue governments for passing business-unfriendly laws, the European parliament has proposed to turn this tribunal into a public European institution. Some such institutions do have teeth – consider the recent “right to be forgotten” judgment from the European court of justice – but this can’t be taken for granted. [Continue reading…]
George Monbiot writes: Had I been asked a couple of years ago how I would vote in the referendum on whether or not the UK should stay in the European Union, my answer would have been unequivocal.
The EU seemed to me to be a civilising force, restraining the cruel and destructive tendencies of certain member governments (including our own), setting standards that prevented them from destroying the natural world or trashing workers rights, creating a buffer between them and the corporate lobby groups that present an urgent threat to democracy.
Now I’m not so sure. Everything good about the EU is in retreat; everything bad is on the rampage.
I accept the principle of sharing sovereignty over issues of common concern. I do not accept the idea of the rich nations combining to crush the democratic will of the poorer nations, as they are seeking to do to Greece.
I accept the principle that the EU should represent our joint interests in creating treaties for the betterment of humankind. I do not accept that it has a right to go behind our backs and quietly negotiate a treaty with the US – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – that transfers power from parliaments to corporations.
I accept the principle that the EU could distribute money to the poor and marginalised. I do not accept that, as essential public services are cut, €57bn (£41bn) a year should be sloshed into the pockets of farmers, with the biggest, richest landowners receiving the largest payments. The EU’s utter failure to stop this scandal should be a source of disillusionment even to its most enthusiastic supporters.
While these injustices, highly damaging to the reputation of the EU among people who might otherwise be inclined to defend it, are taking place, at the same time the EU’s restraints on unaccountable power are in danger of being ripped away. [Continue reading…]
George Monbiot writes: Greece may be financially bankrupt, but the troika is politically bankrupt. Those who persecute this nation wield illegitimate, undemocratic powers, powers of the kind now afflicting us all. Consider the International Monetary Fund. The distribution of power here was perfectly stitched up: IMF decisions require an 85% majority, and the US holds 17% of the votes.
The IMF is controlled by the rich, and governs the poor on their behalf. It’s now doing to Greece what it has done to one poor nation after another, from Argentina to Zambia. Its structural adjustment programmes have forced scores of elected governments to dismantle public spending, destroying health, education and all the means by which the wretched of the earth might improve their lives.
The same programme is imposed regardless of circumstance: every country the IMF colonises must place the control of inflation ahead of other economic objectives; immediately remove barriers to trade and the flow of capital; liberalise its banking system; reduce government spending on everything bar debt repayments; and privatise assets that can be sold to foreign investors.
Using the threat of its self-fulfilling prophecy (it warns the financial markets that countries that don’t submit to its demands are doomed), it has forced governments to abandon progressive policies. Almost single-handedly, it engineered the 1997 Asian financial crisis: by forcing governments to remove capital controls, it opened currencies to attack by financial speculators. Only countries such as Malaysia and China, which refused to cave in, escaped. [Continue reading…]
Yanis Varoufakis writes: The referendum of 5th July will stay in history as a unique moment when a small European nation rose up against debt-bondage.
Like all struggles for democratic rights, so too this historic rejection of the Eurogroup’s 25th June ultimatum comes with a large price tag attached. It is, therefore, essential that the great capital bestowed upon our government by the splendid NO vote be invested immediately into a YES to a proper resolution – to an agreement that involves debt restructuring, less austerity, redistribution in favour of the needy, and real reforms.
Soon after the announcement of the referendum results, I was made aware of a certain preference by some Eurogroup participants, and assorted ‘partners’, for my… ‘absence’ from its meetings; an idea that the Prime Minister judged to be potentially helpful to him in reaching an agreement. For this reason I am leaving the Ministry of Finance today.
I consider it my duty to help Alexis Tsipras exploit, as he sees fit, the capital that the Greek people granted us through yesterday’s referendum.
And I shall wear the creditors’ loathing with pride.
We of the Left know how to act collectively with no care for the privileges of office. I shall support fully Prime Minister Tsipras, the new Minister of Finance, and our government.
The superhuman effort to honour the brave people of Greece, and the famous OXI (NO) that they granted to democrats the world over, is just beginning.