Europe


British politics&Europe&Middle East&Religion06 Feb 2006 09:00 pm

Muslim protest against Prophet cartoons Some Muslims have been protesting violently about the publication of some cartoons depicting the Prophet negatively. Embassies have been torched. Property has been destroyed. Threats have been made. Our newspapers are full of words and pictures about it. Our society is outraged.

Belief

Several Muslims have died as a result of the protests. (Not the hundreds that were killed during this year’s Hajj, admittedly, but then some Muslim deaths are more interesting than others.)

Muslim protesters rage not merely against this single act of blasphemy, but against what this act symbolises. They rage against European arrogance, Western governments’ mafia-style looting of Arab lands, media campaigns demonising anyone in a beard or hijab.

Great anger does not necessarily need great provocation. Anger is cumulative. Ills are totted up until their number is too great to bear. Like breakage of the proverbial camel’s back, after a while, a single straw will be enough.

The media is so saturated with this story, it whips the storm to ever greater intensity. More violence, better story. More coverage, more mileage for incensed non-Muslim columnists. More debate. More invented “Sensible Freedom-loving West vs. Archaic Tyrannical East” binary oppositions. More hate bred on each side.

The more the story is prodded, the angrier it gets.

Politics

In Westminster, an unpopular prime minster consults expensive public relations advisers as to how best to break the news of military action in Iran to a jaded public. The scene is replicated in European and American ministerial chambers.

The problem is that the general public do not see Muslims as “other”. The public are unable to perform the emotional detachment necessary to sanction another aggressive campaign. The ‘C2/D/E’ demographic are still open to manipulation without too much trouble, but the broadsheet readers are currently off-message. Their feeble ethical rebellion cannot stop progress, but it makes the job of presenting a benevolent veneer slightly more demanding.

If only a way could be found that would stop the leftists and pacifists from obstructing the path of Western corporate power. If only we could damage the reputation of Islam and those who follow it. If only something could be done to back Muslims into a corner and create the illusion that the wildest extremists speak for all. If only Islam could be portrayed as unreasonable, backward, dangerous, subversive, unpleasant, stupid.

If only followers of Islam could be hanged by the zeal of its most extreme adherents, in a way that would carve a deep chasm between ‘them’ and ‘us’, between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. We know their weakness. We know which buttons to press. If only we could find a way to use that knowledge to our advantage.

If the flames of such a campaign could be fanned, it would give us the moral high ground. It would hush the whine of middle class pinko indignation and deflect pundits’ attention to such laughably naive concepts as “free speech” and “science versus religion”. While the dinner party set’s attention and sympathies are diverted elsewhere, we’d have just enough leeway to start our Iran campaign and tidy up the dregs of Iraq and Afghanistan. As a bonus, we’d probably win the “Are Hamas terrorists or freedom fighters?” argument too.

Of course, expensive public relations firms and governments do not need to ask “if only”. They just need to orchestrate an appropriate story and appropriate coverage. It is easy to guide public thought, and these men and women are experts.

Muslim woman praying Communication

For their part, the media will run any story released to them at any angle required, provided it does not conflict with the needs of their advertisers or shareholders.

Fait accompli

… Well, whaddya know. Pure luck and good timing, of course. Perhaps God is an Englishman after all.

American politics&Asia Pacific&Europe&Human rights25 Jan 2006 09:36 pm

Chinese dog characterGoogle have joined Microsoft and Yahoo in capitulating to the Chinese government. They are offering a censored version of their search engine for use by Chinese citizens.

A lot has been said about this by Westerners of all political persuasions, but what surprises me most is that it surprises anyone. ‘BUSINESS MAKES DECISIONS BASED ON PROFITS RATHER THAN ETHICS‘ is hardly going to trouble the front pages.

What’s more unsettling, and increasing every day, is the volume of articles about how China’s emerging economy will be the ruin of the planet. Sanctimonious articles by supposedly left-leaning writers like this one are everywhere.

Apparently the environment is going to collapse under the strain of the entire world consuming at post-industrialist levels, and it’s all China’s fault for zooming up to Western levels of consumption.

The jawdropping hypocrisy of this viewpoint seems never to be questioned by any editor. China’s speedy adaptation to a Western-esque lifestyle is quite likely to be the last straw, survival-wise. But how can any Westerner argue that the problem is China? Europe, America and Japan rampaged across the planet’s resources long before China and India got anywhere near our rapacious behaviour. Now they are close behind, but the problem is not seen to be Ours or Everyone’s. It’s Them. It’s Their fault. They are worse than Us now, so They should be the ones to cut back.

Year of the Dog The Guardian article says:

The western economic model – the fossil fuel-based, car-centred, throwaway economy – is not going to work for China. If it does not work for China, it will not work for India, which by 2031 is projected to have a population even larger than China’s. Nor will it work for the 3 billion other people in developing countries who are also dreaming the “American dream”.

The implication here must be that our disgustingly wasteful consumerist economic model “works” for us.

As must be obvious to anyone with a basic grasp of arithmetic, it does not. It “works” only to deplete our planet to the point of collapse. The “American dream” – which is not too far ahead of the western European dream when it comes to consumerism – is fundamentally flawed. There is no such thing as endless growth. There are no more Earths to ransack.

So no, rampant capitalism won’t “work” for China or India, any more than it “works” for us. The difference is that China and India will probably never have the ultra-consumerist experience, however short-lived, because we’ve already used up most of the earth’s resources. Surrounded by riches beyond the wildest imagination of most of the world, and aware that the earth cannot even sustain our extravagance for much longer, we now begrudge anyone who might forshorten our reign of luxury.

Chinese lanterns “Sorry mate, we ate the last slice of cake. Hands off the crumbs though, you greedy pigs! Have you no SHAME?”

That’s about the size of it.

So any commentator who claims the earth’s impending destruction is the fault of China and its new-found Western-style materialism cannot be thinking clearly. Or they must be employed by a large corporation that has a vested interest in keeping the global status quo exactly as it is.

CORPORATE MEDIA SEEKS TO MAINTAIN SOCIAL INEQUALITIES TO MAXIMISE OWNERS’ PROFITS

No, that one won’t be troubling the front pages either.

British politics&Europe&Human rights23 Jan 2006 07:00 pm

Pregnant Midge doll by Mattel Today, the High Court ruled that Sue Axon’s campaign to ban confidential medical treatment for children under sixteen is unlawful.

Mrs Axon is a mother of five. She wanted the law changed so that girls under sixteen can no longer be given advice, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases or an abortion without their parents being informed. One of her own daughters is due to give birth this March on her seventeenth birthday.

Mrs Axon claims that not being informed of the intimate details of her children’s sexual health appointments “undermined” her as a parent. She believes that if medical professionals respect her child’s privacy and grant him or her the same rights to medical privacy as a legal adult, her own human rights under the European Convention are being violated.

Here’s a direct quote:

“Having endured the trauma of abortion, I brought the case to ensure that medical professionals would not carry out an abortion on one of my daughters without first informing me. I could then discuss such a life-changing event with her and provide the support she would need.”

Hmm. “Having endured the trauma of abortion”. Not exactly a neutral perspective. It doesn’t take Miss Marple to work out that her “support” would come with a very firm agenda.

She also says she wished to change the law so that “our children can be protected from potentially damaging advice offered by professionals who do not know them.”

The very fact that members of the medical profession do not have a personal relationship with their patients means they can be as objective as any person could possibly be. Let’s not delude ourselves: the average age for loss of virginity in Britain is well under the legal age of sixteen. Fourteen is a closer bet. If a child of fourteen or fifteen – or even younger – is having sex, they need access to contraceptive advice, sexual health screening and emergency measures (such as the morning after pill or abortion) if they conclude, after considering all options carefully, that this is what they need.

If they’re old enough to have sex and mature enough to seek proper medical advice, they are old enough to decide who to talk to about it.

If a nurse told a 14 year old boy that they had to call his mother before dishing out his monthly allocation of free condoms, they’d scarcely have time to look up before he pelted out of the door at top speed. Result? Well, if he’s unlucky, perhaps a local flurry of STDs and another teen pregnancy, easily prevented if that embarrassment factor had not been introduced. Any child responsible enough to seek contraceptive advice should be applauded, not humiliated.

If a doctor told a 15 year old girl that her parents had to be involved before she could gain access to abortion advice, she may well attempt to take care of matters herself with a few of the old bottle of gin/hot bath/throw yourself down the stairs type ‘remedies’. Worst still, there may once again appear a market for backstreet abortionists, for girls whose religious or fiercely moral parents would forbid them to undertake the medical procedure of their choice.

Midge and crib I’m sure Mrs Axon would not want to think of any girl taking her chances with a thug and a knitting needle. I’m sure she would prefer to convince herself that a parental right to be told would have no effect on the numbers of children who seek legitimate medical treatment in a responsible, adult way. But I believe she is wrong.

Luckily, so does the High Court. Kids, go and get yourselves kitted up with contraceptives. Get yourselves checked for STDs. Remember you can always talk to someone in confidence if things go wrong. This is your business and yours alone, and it’s going to stay that way. Just as it should.

The real tragedy here is not that Mrs Axon lost her fight, or that she considers her own “human rights” eclipse her child’s right to impartial advice, but what it says about her experience of parent-child relationships. Many children are so emotionally close to one or both parents that they would seek help and advice from them as a first resort. They would trust their parents to do the best for them. They may ask a parent to accompany them to a medical appointment, or ask them for input in the decision making process, without fearing that the parent would seek to impose their own rigid views on them. I can’t help feeling that a parent who demands a new law to allow her to barge uninvited into her children’s bedrooms is clearly not very close to her children at all.

Europe&Human rights&Writing16 Dec 2005 10:23 am

Today, a brilliant writer called Orhan Pamuk goes on trial in Turkey.

Orhan PamukHis novels include the astonishing My Name Is Red, Istanbul and The Black Book. He is undoubtedly the most internationally renowned living Turkish novelist.

Pamuk was prosecuted by the Turkish authorities because he mentioned in a media interview the slaughter of Armenians and Kurds by his own country.

According to Turkey, these deaths were not genocide and Pamuk has committed a crime by suggesting they were. The crime is classified in Turkish law as “insulting the country”.

Pamuk repeated his claims in October when collecting a German peace prize. His trial date was already in the court timetable by then. That “let them see” strategy drew European attention to the case and now an intense media scrutiny has fallen on Turkey and its attitude towards human rights.

The political background to this case is significant. Turkey wants desperately to join the European Union. Many sections of the existing EU feel it should not join. Some commentators think this unwelcoming behaviour is plain old anti-Islamic prejudice. Some blame Turkey’s poor human rights record for the chilly reception. It’s probably a combination of both.

Europeans are notoriously disapproving of what could be seen to be heavy-handed draconian tactics. So Orhan Pamuk’s trial in Turkey may well have a strong effect on European public opinion. The authorities may decide to be lenient to reduce resistance to the bigger economic prize of EU membership. Or they may decide to make a high profile example of him. It’s impossible to say. But it will have long lasting political implications, whichever way the judgment goes.

Outside the framework of social context, this is the story of one artist’s right to free speech. Those of us who support that cause will be with him all the way. Orhan Pamuk, stick to your guns. Turkey, think carefully. We will be watching.

UPDATE: The trial has just been suspended for the time being, minutes after starting. Turkey is buying time to find a way out of this PR disaster, perhaps…

Europe&South Asia25 Aug 2005 01:58 pm

Europe is flooded. At least 42 people have died.

South Asia (most recently Mumbai) is endlessly struggling with floods.

Still, global warming’s just a myth apparently, so lucky Bush didn’t waste anyone’s time signing the Kyoto agreement. Phew.

How many more generations will exist after ours, do you suppose? I can’t help but wonder.

Soundtrack to this post: Secret – Madonna
[it started off as Drowned World, but had mutated by the end of the post… a bit like river fish exposed to oestrogen-mimicking chemical byproducts of the plastics industry. Ka-boom-tish.]

American politics&British politics&Europe&Strangeness&The art of blog21 Apr 2005 01:48 am

The Pope post comments below appear to have spontaneously combusted. Perhaps it is a sign?

*auctions divinely mutilated web page on eBay*

EDIT: No, they’re back again. They were just moving in mysterious ways for a while.

Speaking of Condoleezza Rice, as we recently were, it appears she’s still obsessed with states of the former Soviet Union. This time it’s Belarus, one sixth of the “axis of evil”. Perhaps it would be less work for her if she just let us know which countries America doesn’t plan to remodel?

In other news, it appears the unpleasantly arrogant George Galloway (Respect party) has a good chance of ousting the sycophantic careerist Oona King (Labour party) from her Bethnal Green seat. Whoopee. Yawn.

Lastly, here’s what George Monbiot has to say about why reluctant tactical voting is unnecessary. You can make up your own mind about whether he’s right or not.

Right, that’s the politics out of the way. Now we can talk about religion again. Wait, where are you all going?

Europe&Gender&Religion20 Apr 2005 02:13 am

We are now officially With Pope, and he:

  • is 78 years old;
  • wants to “stamp out” anti-liberation theology (which mixes Catholicism with the not unreasonable belief that capitalism may have a few negative points);
  • wants to bring about the “re-Christianisation” of Europe and argues against Turkey joining the EU because it is a Muslim country;
  • insists that women are not fit to be choristers or altar servers, let alone priests; and

Are the cardinals following the teachings of some other Jesus? I can’t help wondering if there’s been a mix-up somewhere along the line.

“Excuse me, Father. Have I got the right edition of this book? I can’t find the part where Jesus says I should hate pretty much everyone.”

“On your knees for 200 Hail Marys, you wicked heathen. You dare to question The Word Of God?”

[etc]

American politics&British politics&Europe&Gender&Global politics12 Apr 2005 05:55 pm

Andrea Dworkin, probably one of the most controversial social theorists in recent history, has died aged 58.

I always thought I disagreed with the majority of her theories. I thought she was an extremist, a woman whose attitude to men was an equal, opposite counterpart to the misogyny she deplored.

I’ve just spent much of the afternoon browsing her major work online, to find proof of this unworkable extremism. And I’ve discovered to my surprise that I can finally understand what she was saying. Not just that, but her views were not really what I (or a lot of people) initially thought. We mistook her uncompromising attitude for vengeful militance. Or, at least, I did. Now I still might not agree 100%, but I at least see what she was getting at.

In memoriam, then, here’s an excerpt of one of her feminist texts:

“I renounce masculinist art. It is not art which illuminates the human condition–it illuminates only, and to men’s final and everlasting shame, the masculinist world–and as we look around us, that world is not one to be proud of. Masculinist art, the art of centuries of men, is not universal, or the final explication of what being in the world is. It is, in the end, descriptive only of a world in which women are subjugated, submissive, enslaved, robbed of full becoming, distinguished only by carnality, demeaned. I say, my life is not trivial; my sensibility is not trivial; my struggle is not trivial. Nor was my mother’s, or her mother’s before her. I renounce those who hate women, who have contempt for women, who ridicule and demean women, and when I do, I renounce most of the art, masculinist art, ever made.

As feminists, we inhabit the world in a new way. We see the world in a new way. We threaten to turn it upside down and inside out. We intend to change it so totally that someday the texts of masculinist writers will be anthropological curiosities. What was that Mailer talking about, our descendants will ask, should they come upon his work in some obscure archive. And they will wonder–bewildered, sad–at the masculinist glorification of war; the masculinist mystifications around killing, maiming, violence, and pain; the tortured masks of phallic heroism; the vain arrogance of phallic supremacy; the impoverished renderings of mothers and daughters, and so of life itself. They will ask, did those people really believe in those gods?”

Andrea Dworkin, Our Blood: Prophesies and Discourses on Sexual Politics (1974)

British politics&Europe&News media09 Mar 2005 01:26 am

Too tired to write a real post. Sorry. How about I give you a hastily-typed Quote of the Day – no. 3 instead? It came to mind when watching a TV news reporter comparing Labour’s/Tories’/Lib Dems’ identikit electioneering as though their disagreements are anything but superficial.

“What luck for rulers, that men do not think.”
Adolf Hitler

Nice cheery one, for bedtime… Right, I’ll be back when there is less danger of me falling asleep on my keyboard and typing a load of skdjkdjfskdjhhfrjb.

Africa&American politics&Europe&Human rights01 Feb 2005 02:10 am

“70,000 dead and 1.6m homeless, but the UN says it’s not genocide”

What’s in a name? Is 70,000 enough murders to count as genocide? If it is, it legally obliges the UN member countries to take action in Sudan. Under the 1948 Genocide Convention, UN members must actively “prevent and punish” other countries who systematically murder people. Seems fair.

Yet the UN has not conclusively stated that the Sudanese military slaughter campaign is genocide.

But the label is the least of the issue. Britain, France, Denmark and Greece want the Sudanese government to be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court. Kofi Annan is also pushing for this course of action. The majority of the 15 Security Council members will support this view.

An open and shut case? Nope.

The USA opposes a prosecution, because it sees the International Criminal Court as “a threat to its national sovereignty… The Bush Administration revoked President Clinton’s signature of the Rome Treaty, saying that it feared that the court would be used for political prosecutions of American soldiers and officials.”

Afterthought:
Would 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians count as genocide*, just out of interest?

(* Is it ever called genocide when we do it?)

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