Tag Archives: Syria

Norwich protests Donald Trump selective Muslim Ban, welcomes Refugees

Donald Trump Muslim Ban Protest in Norwich

Hundreds of people in Norwich turned out to protest President Donald Trump‘s temporary immoral executive order banning Muslims from 7 countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) entering the USA. One arrest was made, and the demonstration was otherwise peaceful with a diverse range of speakers and banners from the humorous to the very serious.

Judge me by what's in my head not on my head
Judge me by what’s in my head not on my head

Perhaps, the best said it simplest, a woman in a headscarf whose placard read “judge me by what is in my head not what is on my head”.

Nobody is saying that ISIL’s dangerous ideology shouldn’t be countered, or that terrorists should be denied entry, but to blanket ban seven nations, marking them guilty before a trial, particularly when they are not in the top 25 nationalities that have threatened or attacked US citizens is disproportionate and against the founding charters of America that welcome immigrants, and don’t discriminate based upon religion and race.

Nobody is saying that ISIL’s dangerous ideology shouldn’t be countered, or that terrorists should be denied entry, but to blanket ban seven nations, marking them guilty before a trial, based upon nationality and religion alone, particularly when they are not in the top 25 nationalities that have threatened or attacked US citizens is disproportionate and against the founding charters of America that welcome immigrants, and don’t discriminate based upon religion.

Norwich Donald Trump anti-racist Muslim ban protest
Norwich Donald Trump anti-racist Muslim ban protest

Two protests came together for this event, one organised by UEA student Lotty Clare of Movement for Justice, and the other by Julie Bremner of Stand Up To Racism. Other groups including Norwich Stop The War Coalition joined in and over 1,100 people signed to attend on a dark drizzly night in February.

The mood was far from damp, with resounding cries of:

“Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here”

If anything, it was the hundreds of comments on the EDP online and Mustard TV posts that made me realise why we do this. The spewing of hate and Britain first, echoing Donald Trump’s election manifesto of America first. I talked afterwards to two Donald Trump and Brexit supporters, teenage girls from City College, they had no problem with elitist, nationalist, selfish, protectionist policies, though our debate soon turned to mental health and we had a good conversation. 

Norfolk Welcomes All Folk
Norfolk Welcomes All Folk

I was interviewed by Robbie West of BBC Look East, Emma Knights of the EDP, and ended up on a Mustard TV live stream. ITV Anglia also reported on the event. Good coverage and continuing to remind me of how great Norwich is, in the main, and after so many political protests and pro-migrant rallies over the last year it shows the strength of feeling in communities, both pro and anti. 

Katy Jon Went speech text

The 7 nation Muslim visa and refugee ban was signed on Holocaust Memorial Day, a day when the Whitehouse chose to #alllivesmatter the victim list by not mentioning Jews and homosexuals at all.

The fear that LGBT people may have their Obama-won state protections removed has also been concerning people, even if that comes to nothing, people are living in fear and anxious times. America’s biggest terror massacre since 9/11 was by an American, albeit the son of an Afghan immigrant – but not on Trump’s ban list, who traveled back and forth to Saudi Arabia – also not on the list, before killing 49 people, mainly Latinos, in the Orlando Pulse club shooting. No connection to the seven nation ban list.

Despite the so-called British exemption, Iranian-born but raised in Italy and doing post-grad veterinary studies at the University of Glasgow, Dr Hamaseh Tayari was denied US-leg travel by the presidential executive order, the extra flights avoiding America cost £2600 however, public response raised more than double that via crowdfunding with the excess going to the Scottish Refugee Council. That is one way we can help. Similar to the folk providing food and funds, and many lawyers offering pro-bono free advice at airports across America. Lawyers are saying that “It’s not lawful to ban immigrants on the basis of nationality” but judges and others unwilling to enforce it are being replaced.

Speaking about the ‘Muslim’ travel block and its effect on the vet student, the University of Glasgow’s principal said:

“The free movement of people, of ideas, of intellect is surely the very hallmark of civilized society.– Professor Anton Muscatelli, Principal of the University of Glasgow

Introvert's Love greater than Hate, Truck Fump!
Introvert’s Love greater than Hate, Truck Fump!

Indeed, America and its innovations and inventions are built on immigrants, not just the last century or so, but even those that first came to America, those pilgrim fathers and conquering Catholic explorers of different faiths to the established indigenous inhabitants. Indeed 7 nations of foreign religious immigrants from the early Norse to the British, Dutch, French, Spanish, German, Irish and even Russians (Kodiak Island) came to America and populated it, and far from peacefully. 

Blocking immigrants now is hypocrisy and against its founding principles. Take the inscription on the Statue of Liberty:

“Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; … Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me…”

The Quebec mosque attack last weekend that left 6 dead and 8 injured was not by Muslims, but of Muslims. First reports drew attention to the fact that one of those arrested was from Morocco, another fake news story from a pro-Trump reddit said they were Syrian refugees, but not the truth that the sole perpetrator, killer, terrorist, turned out to be a far right, anti-feminist, anti-immigrant and Trump supporting white supremacist inspired by Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen of Front Nacionale of France:

“Friends and those who knew him online said he had extreme political beliefs, but was not known to be violent. Eric Debroise said he called police after the shooting and told them Alexandre Bissonnette is “very right and (an) ultra nationalist white supremacist,” the French-language newspaper Le Journal de Quebec reports. “He really liked Trump and had a permanent discontent with the left.”” 

Will Donald Trump now block Canadians visiting the US, or won’t it matter if the victims are other Muslims and the aggressors other American continent citizens?

11,000 are killed on US soil each year at the hands of US citizens, black and white, Christian and Muslim. More toddlers than terrorists kill Americans. Ban guns not Muslims.

ISIS kills more Muslims than Christians and more people from the seven barred nations than American citizens. How many Americans you ask?

The number of Americans killed by terrorists who’ve entered the US as Refugees? ZERO. No person accepted to the United States as a refugee, Syrian or otherwise, has been implicated in a major fatal terrorist attack since the Refugee Act of 1980. Prior to that only Cuban non-Muslims had.

Even if we include attacks and plots with no fatalities, then just 20 refugees out of 3 and a quarter million have been convicted over 40 years, that’s just 0.0006%, which is statistically zero anyway. An American is 250 times more likely to be killed or murdered by other means than by a foreign-born terrorist.

In a study of country origins of terroristsSaudia Arabia, UAE and Egypt topped the list. Trump’s nations only enter the list at places 25 and lower! 

Pennsylvania Republican representative Charlie Dent said,

“the order appears to have been rushed through without full consideration. You know, there are many, many nuances of immigration policy that can be life or death for many innocent, vulnerable people around the world.”

Even Donald Trump admitted it was a “ban”, announced in his best official and professional sounding statesman-like way on Twitter:

Another US Republican senator and former Presidential candidate, John McCain said:

“Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.” 

Even Mike Pence the Republican VP denounced it in 2015 when Obama was advised to do something similar but less extreme:

Yes we need to be careful calling this an “all Muslim” ban or saying it came only from Donald Trump, as Obama’s advisors first drew up the list but as amendmends to the pre-existing Visa Waiver Program. The new ban cancels the visa themselves, rather than requiring them.

Theresa the Appeaser
Theresa the Appeaser

Wherever it started, it’s where it ends that worries me. “Theresa The Appeaser” came back from America and Foreign Secretary Boris ‘the joke’ Johnson announced British exceptions to the rules – just like Chamberlain’s futile appeasement attempts in 1938.

“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” – Winston Churchill

We won't let history repeat itself
We won’t let history repeat itself

I can appreciate the irony of standing under Hitler’s favourite balcony, Norwich City Hall, protesting. We do need to attack the policies not the person, appreciate the complexities of their origins, and not demonise the man, reference mental health and little hands, that plays into the insecure dictator psyche and adds fuel to Trump supporters that we don’t hear their concerns.

Just as with Brexit true communal change can only come about with all parties engaged, remainers and leavers, Democrats and Republicans, Labour, Tory and the rest. We underestimated the fears of leavers and Trump supporters that led to them winning society changing votes that will affect the next 4-5 years or more.

I would commend peaceful and polite protest, therefore, but without passive appeasement. The women’s march saw millions gather because it was peaceful. Better to let Trump visit the UK and then have a protest he can witness the size of feeling at. Unrest and civil disobedience are always a later option.

Neutrality helps the oppressor never the victim
Neutrality helps the oppressor never the victim

If anything similar were to ever happen here as some Brexit supporters and Nigel Farage have called for, then I’m with Madeleine Albright (a Czech immigrant to the US and former Secretary of State) and would register as a Muslim to demonstrate solidarity, before they list any other categories of people that need rounding up or banning.

Resist the ban, welcome refugees, and provide practical and legal support where you can, illegal support if it ever comes to it! It’s open mosque day this Sunday – go to one.

I am reminded of another of Churchill’s statements that diplomacy does not mean friendship with another state acting immorally towards its people and demonising groups within it. It reinforces the dangerous moral path Theresa May treads in appearing as Donald Trump’s greatest foreign ally.

“You must have diplomatic and correct relations, but there can never be friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi power, that power which spurns Christian ethics, which cheers its onward course by a barbarous paganism, which vaunts the spirit of aggression and conquest, which derives strength and perverted pleasure from persecution, and uses, as we have seen, with pitiless brutality the threat of murderous force. That power cannot ever be the trusted friend of the British democracy.”

View more photos from the protest here.

Fuck Trump anti-Fascist protestor
Fuck Trump anti-Fascist protestor

 

International Migrants Day 2016, Syria & the World’s Refugee Crisis

International Migrants Day 2016

December 18 is International Migrants Day, falling in the middle of yet another broken ceasefire in Aleppo, Syria. The combination of 4.5 million refugees and 6.5 million internally displaced people means that half of Syria‘s 22m population are technically migrants, making it the biggest humanitarian refugee crisis and migration exodus since the Nazi era. Half-a-million have been killed in the civil war/uprising and there are few signs of an end in sight.

Dignity for all migrants

Two years ago, the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon said in hope:

“On International Migrants Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to shape diverse and open societies that provide opportunities and lives of dignity for all migrants.” – Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, 2014

Two years later and the outgoing Secretary General, at his last press conference, sounded a depressing note, describing:

“the carnage in Syria” as “a gaping hole in the global conscience” and Aleppo as “a synonym for hell”. “We have collectively failed the people of Syria. Peace will only prevail when it is accompanied by compassion, justice and accountability for the abominable crimes we have seen.” – Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, 2016

Crisis, Displacement, Migration…Relief, Asylum, Refuge

Over a quarter-of-a-billion of the world’s population are migrants – people who have changed country because of war, disaster or famine, and the poverty or threat to life brought on by them. Globalisation and the resultant increased geographical mobility, not to mention trafficking and exploitation mean that some nations have seen 8-fold increases in net migration since the 1990s. If we recognise our international origins many more of us, if not all of us, are migrants too. 

If we recognise our international origins many more of us, if not all of us, are migrants too. Who is truly British or English when we are part Roman, part Saxon, part Viking, part Norman, part Dutch and many more besides.

Refugees from “forced displacement” recorded worldwide in 2015 numbered over 65 million according to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. That’s nearly 1% of the world currently homeless, nationless, fleeing wars, terror, persecution and the slow death and disease of refugee poverty from relying on handouts and the generosity of others, NGOs, international aid and agencies.

Around 53,000 migrants have died since 2000 just attempting to reach the shores of more free, safe, developed nations, over half trying to get to Europe – some 6,000+ each year, most recently. Hundreds die every year attempting to enter America, similarly with Australia. Even if they make it, hundreds of thousands end up detained (350,000pa in the US) and returned, or imprisoned. 

Sadly, the escalation of migrant deaths means that on average 20 die each day, with 2016 the worst on record at 7,200 deaths with 2 weeks left to run. It represents a 50% increase since 2014 which itself was double the figure for 2013. Some 4,800 deaths in the Meditteranean also represent a 33% increase over 2015, despite a 60% reduction in arrivals to Europe’s southern coasts. 

Migrant Arrivals and Deaths Mediterranean 2016
Migrant Arrivals and Deaths Mediterranean 2016

Back in 1990, on 18 December, the UN General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. In 1997, some Asian migrant organisations began to commemorate 18 December as the International Day of Solidarity with Migrants. In 2000, the UN proclaimed that date, henceforward, to be International Migrants Day.

In remarks to the UN, in October 2013, Ban Ki-moon said:

“Migration is an expression of the human aspiration for dignity, safety and a better future. It is part of the social fabric, part of our very make-up as a human family.” 

Resolutions but no Resolution

At a high-level meeting on migration at the United Nations in New York, 3-4 October 2014, Member States unanimously adopted a Declaration calling for “respect of human rights and international labour standards”, “commitment to fight human trafficking” and strongly condemning “manifestations of racism and intolerance.” 

The declaration set out to “Strongly condemn the acts, manifestations and expressions of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance against migrants and the stereotypes often applied to them, including on the basis of religion or belief.”

The need to “improve public perceptions of migrants and migration” was also stressed.

It further recognised, in the same declaration document, that “human mobility is a key factor for sustainable development”, something which many immigration reactive nations are seeking to restrict. 

In 2016, September 19, the UN General Assembly held its first ever summit on large movements of refugees and migrants to enhance their protections. The resultant commitments, known as the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (NY Declaration), reaffirm present international protections and pave the way for forthcoming new global compacts in 2018.

Political Breaking Point

Breaking Point World Refugee Day Refugees Are Welcome
Breaking Point – World Refugee Day – Refugees Are Welcome

In the UK, all the main parties bar the Greens at the last election in 2015 were in a race to the bottom to prevent economic migration, restrict benefits for 2-4 years, and tighten borders – despite the economic case for immigration. The EU Referendum in June 2016 saw migrant peoples both demonised and topping some people’s fears and reasons for voting. In the US, the Republicans and Donald Trump have lionised migrants and Muslims especially. Meanwhile, the city of New York, with its large immigrant communities has vowed to oppose any anti-migrant or Muslim registers or laws.

An issue for the world

It is not just Europe and America that are primary destinations, though. For instance, in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates is made up of about 84% immigrants – millions from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, among others. The population has grown by some 500% since 1990. Some of the UAE migrant workers end up being “beaten, exploited and trapped into forced labour, according to an October 2014 report by Human Rights Watch.” 

Migrant workers have also suffered greatly in Qatar during the building work of the 2022 World Cup football stadium with the tacit sanction of UEFA whilst it turns a blind eye to the poor human rights record on its immigrant workforce.

Amnesty International‘s Head of Refugee and Migrants Rights says:

“Political decision-makers need to show leadership by ensuring the human rights of migrants are protected, instead of taking cheap shots through scaremongering tactics. Poor migrants are the perfect political scapegoats – they have no money, no influence and they can’t vote. So if you’re a government whose policies are letting people down, you can blame it all on immigration.” – Amnesty International

Allowing and welcoming immigration is part of international development, yet we prefer to give aid and then say, “stay away”, cementing our “me first” attitudes and protectionist economic policies that are counter free market and prevent natural third world development. The longer we artificially maintain the global haves vs have-nots the more we encourage “desperation migration”. We need generous global action on poverty and economic opportunity, not selfish states. Anyone willing to risk life and limb to reach your borders is probably the kind of driven committed person who would be an asset to your country, community, and workforce.

Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
“Refugees Welcome” Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

 

Saving Syria’s Aleppo from War Crimes & Humanitarian Crisis, Norwich Rally

Save Aleppo, Syria – Norwich Rally

Lotty Clare, Save Aleppo, Norwich demo
Lotty Clare, Save Aleppo, Norwich demo

Movement for Justice and UEA student, Lotty Clare led a rally outside City Hall Norwich for Aleppo Syria with Tim Hughes of Stop the War Coalition, activist and writer Katy Jon Went, Norwich-based Syrian refugee Anas, and John Cowan. Cllrs Alan Waters and James Wright of Norwich City Council were among the gathered crowd to offer support and hear what could be done. Alan Waters said that the city’s MPs, Chloe Smith and Clive Lewis, would be written to.

What can you do?

One of the hardest things is feeling so powerless in the face of the humanitarian disaster, but there are actions that can be taken:

  • Writing to MPs
  • Writing to international embassies about the United Nations Responsibility to Protect to which all member nations signed up in 2005 to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity
  • Writing to Syria’s embassy as responsible for the wellbeing of its own people and to uphold the 16 UN resolutions regarding atrocities and human rights abuses in Syria
  • Supporting Syrian and international aid charities
  • Helping Médecins Sans Frontières as a medic or with money
  • Joining Amnesty International
  • Welcoming Syrian refugees – offering spare rooms. Half of Syria have been forced out of their homes, the biggest refugee and displacement crisis since the Second World War, 11 million people
  • Keeping yourself informed to maintain international pressure on the parties responsible for perpetuating the situation
  • Attending rallies to keep Syria in the public and media eye
Norwich Save Aleppo Rally
Norwich Save Aleppo Rally

My own contribution evolved out of a facebook rant I wrote earlier in the day about the escalation of terror and atrocities in the weeks before Christmas, the supposed season of goodwill and peace to all mankind.

Text of my speech

We hear you Aleppo
“We hear you Aleppo”, placard by Laure Ollivier-Minns

A year ago, as the UK Parliament was considering joining the by then year long US & 13 nation coalition of bombing Syria, I attended a Don’t Bomb Syria rally. A year later and the situation is worse, not only in Syria but also in surrounding nations. 15 years of invasions, interference, and increased radicalisation by bombing the bombers, has not stopped or solved a single middle eastern crisis.

Christmas sees no let up in world chaos and terror, no salam, shalom, peace toward all men…an Advent calendar of death mostly meted out on non-combatants, mother and child, drone strike “collateral damage”, innocent victims of men’s rush to conquer and dominate, or to solve problems with swords rather than ploughshares, bombs rather than words.

Use your power for peace, Save AleppoOn Sunday, IS killed 25, mainly women, in Cairo’s Coptic Cathedral, the same day Boko Haram forced two 7-year-old girls to act as suicide bombers in a Nigerian market. In the first 2 weeks of December alone, IS have executed 100 people, so have Syrian pro-government forces, and suicide bombs have gone off in Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, Turkey, Yemen.

Meantime the humanitarian disaster that is Syria and Aleppo continues to escalate with over 450,000 killed, and some 4.8 million refugees (along with 6.6m internally displaced, that’s half of Syria’s 22m population forced out of their homes), cities flattened, hospitals destroyed, children killed (up to 50,000). The current raids on Aleppo have been called by the UN this afternoon, in all probability a war crime. If the battle for Aleppo is over, then for Assad the victory is Pyrrhic as the city is demolished and its people dead and devastated.

Great progress world, congratulations on continuing to be a right royal fuck up 2016 years after baby Jesus/Yeshua/Isa was apparently born. Extremist and fundamentalist religious interpretations, repressive political regimes, and “proxy wars” are not on my Xmas card list, Syrian refugees are – an airdrop of aid, peaceful passage out of conflict zones, a welcome in the West, but better still – stop the bombing so they can stay, live and rebuild their land.

Save Aleppo not inactionInstead, we continue the bombing, and breaking of ceasefires 2 hours after they are put into effect – even bombing the very roads the evacuations were due to take place on. Bombing escalates terror, and is a failed strategy, that even Donald Trump now admits! Indeed, Boris Johnson, against political and Tory party advice, has called a spade a spade, and for an end to proxy wars of geopolitical games carried out by Saudi Arabia, but perhaps also: Iran, Russia, Turkey and the US.

Each religion or political cause can be twisted to apparently justify slaughter, but that comes from man’s inhumanity to man, not faith or ideology per se. Equally, most faiths can be quoted from to encourage love, mercy and kindness. At this time of year, and every day, we need to be encouraging community, compromise and communication, not escalating conflicts creating mass casualties as the collateral toll of other people’s battles.

Save Aleppo

Save Aleppo

“Save us, people. Save us, people, world, anyone who has even a bit of humanity,” said one doctor in a voice message from a besieged district. “We beg you, we beg you, the dead and wounded are in the streets and people’s homes have collapsed on top of them. Save us. Save us.”

Postscript

Shortly after the rally, it was announced that the ceasefire had been restored, but for how long? By Friday morning it was off again. A UN official says the evacuation is “redolent of the Nazi evacuation of the Warsaw ghetto” as thousands are bussed out down the 21km corridor, 6km of which is controlled by Government forces. 

"We hear you Aleppo", placard by Laure Ollivier-Minns
Supporters at the #SaveAleppo rally in Norwich. More photos here and also pics by Emma Pamplin here.

 

Highest Numbers Ever on World Refugee Day as Humanitarian Crisis Escalates

World Refugee Day, Record Numbers

Refugees from “forced displacement” recorded worldwide in 2015 numbered over 65 million according to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. That’s nearly 1% of the world currently homeless, nationless, fleeing wars, terror, persecution and the slow death and disease of refugee poverty from relying on handouts and the generosity of others, NGOs, international aid and agencies. So far, this year, over 3,500 have died on their migrant journeys to apparent safety. World Refugee Day highlights the plight and peril of people seeking safety amidst an escalating humanitarian crisis.

“At sea, a frightening number of refugees and migrants are dying each year; on land, people fleeing war are finding their way blocked by closed borders. Closing borders does not solve the problem.” – Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Refugees & Migrants are People Too!

But numbers, percentages, records, are not facts or statistics, they are people too. They are not just migrants, often prefixed with the dehumanising word “illegal”, or trafficked by exploiters and transporters of vulnerable people with nothing left to risk except their life itself. They are desperate migrant peoples, refugees, asylum seekers, human beings, not cattle or ballast to be bounced around from port to port, dragged back out to sea, or denied entry based upon the decision that they may harbour an ISIL terrorist.

It’s a humanitarian crisis because they share a common humanity with the 99% of people that have settled homes and domestic security. Whilst 1% of the world control half its wealth, another 1% don’t even have a dollar a day because they are stateless, which in some countries means they officially don’t exist, being without permanent address or social security numbers. 50% of the world has access to just 1% of the world’s wealth. Global economic disparity and inequality are an injustice demanding those that have, to aid those that don’t. It’s a moral crisis as well as a humanitarian one.

Definition of a Refugee

Article 1 of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, as amended by the 1967 Protocol, defines a refugee as:

“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” 1951 UN Refugee Convention

Will you stand #WithRefugees?

Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
“Refugees Welcome” Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

A Global Community & Worldwide Village

The benefits of global bodies like the United Nations and regional socio-economic communities like the African Union or European Union are that they can act as greater than the sum of their nation parts when they pull disparate national interests into international focus on issues facing the world as a whole, for which we a have a common responsibility.

Immigration and the EU Referendum

Whilst the United Kingdom votes this week to Leave or Remain in the EU, thinking little England rather than Great Britain, the world has bigger issues than one nation’s sovereignty or solvency. Immigration has become one of the most divisive issues in the EU Referendum campaign and the responses have turned ugly. Campaign posters have been called racist, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, has admitted that we cannot control EU migrant numbers, however, nor would we be able to if we adopted a Norwegian or Swiss-style model of European Economic Area affiliation rather than full EU membership.

“Immigration has overtaken the economy as the most important issue to how the public will vote…[it] is now the most critical issue, cited as very important to their vote by 33%, up five points in a month, including just over half (52%) of leave supporters…which coincides with the official Vote Leave campaign focusing more strongly on immigration.” – Evening Standard

Opinion polls consistently show that immigration is one of the key Referendum issues, but one that is closely aligned with geography, age and gender. The majority of men and people over 65 would vote to Leave and the majority of women and people under 35 would vote to Remain. It’s often the areas with the least impact of immigration that would vote most against it. Those, such as London, with the greatest cultural diversity, are more likely to vote Remain. Integration and acceptance take time but then do bring community benefits and positivity.

It’s about perception, integration, insecurity and fear. A Guardian piece included the words of Chantelle, a young mother from Leigh, near Manchester, who despite 96.% of local residents being British thought that “80%, maybe 90%” of locals were immigrant foreigners!

Controls on Immigration or Contributions from Immigration?

At the last UK election, most major political parties except the Green Party were calling for controls on immigration despite its long term benefits.

“Immigration to the UK since 2000 has been of substantial net fiscal benefit, with immigrants contributing more than they have received in benefits and transfers. This is true for immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe as well as the rest of the EU.” – The Economic Journal

A CEBR report on world economic ranking data said of the UK’s growth and dynamism:

“The United Kingdom is forecast to be the best performing economy in Western Europe … likely to overtake Germany and Japan during the 2030s … becoming the world’s 4th largest economy for a short time … The UK’s strength (though mainly in London) is its cultural diversity and its strong position in software and IT applications. Its weakness is its bad export position and unbalanced economy … It also runs the risk of breakup, with Scotland and possibly Northern Ireland seceding and will have a referendum on its continuing membership of the EU in 2016 which might prove at best disruptive and at worst lead to a more insular and less diverse culture which in turn would generate slower growth.” – CEBR

Surely, then, the UK – currently the world’s fifth largest economy, should accept a substantial share of supporting the world’s refugees rather than turning a blind eye and walking on by as the selfish ‘neighbours’ in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

The country taking by far the largest number of migrants is Germany, down to Angela Merkel’s so-called “open door policy”. Germany is currently the fourth largest powerhouse economy in the world, aided rather than restrained by its immigration policy:

“Germany’s influx of Syrian immigrants is expected to keep the country ahead of the UK for a few further years as skill shortages are alleviated, wage growth restrained and profits boosted.” – City A.M.

EU Migrants a drain on Benefits?

EU benefits claimants are the smallest group receiving either working age benefits or tax credits, according to economic and statistical data. Some 92.5% of benefit claimants are British, 5% are non-EU immigrants, and just 2.5% are EU migrants. Whilst those from outside the EU are more likely to be on benefits than EU migrants, we have a degree of control over non-EU immigrants, albeit an international responsibility to refugees and asylum seekers. Even the Daily Telegraph which is essentially pro-Brexit said this:

“…whatever the arguments for and against reducing the number of EU migrants receiving British benefits, delivering such a reduction wouldn’t make a significant difference to the overall welfare bill…and seeing as the take-up of benefits among migrants is so small, it’s also worth asking how big of a draw Britain’s welfare system really is.”

Migration Breaking Point?

Breaking Point the EU has failed us all, UKIP, Vote Leave, EU Referendum
Breaking Point the EU has failed us all, UKIP, Leave.EU, EU Referendum

UKIP’s ‘breaking point’ immigration poster calling for a Leave vote and taking back of border controls has been compared to 1930s Nazi propaganda by George Osborne and even criticised by other Brexiters, not to mention being reported to the Police for inciting racial hatred. Nigel Farage has defended the poster even saying he is the victim of hate!

Even Michael Gove “shuddered” after seeing the UKIP migrants poster based upon a photo taken of migrants crossing the Croatia-Slovenia border in October 2015, apparently of refugees arriving from Syria – a route now all but shut. Boris Johnson, who heads the official Vote Leave campaign also distanced himself from the poster and announced he was in favour of an “illegal immigrants” amnesty for those that had been here 12 years.

Far from immigration being the ‘breaking point’ for the UK, we are cruising it compared to many other austerity-hit nations, growing off the back of net contributions to the treasury from migrants of the past and present. Migrants are far more likely to start businesses than British nationals, nearly half as likely to be on benefits, pay more in taxes than they take out, and more likely to take the jobs others don’t want to do that keep the economy growing – over three-quarters are in employment, more than their British counterparts. They are not “taking our jobs” just more willing to do them.

JeSuisBrussels, Iskandariya, Lahore, SickOfThisShit, Everyday Terrorism

Everyday Terrorism & its Global Reach

First Brussels, now Iskandariya and Lahore, no wait, where are they? Iraq and Pakistan, so not Europe, well that’s okay then! It shouldn’t be normal to be unaffected by terror so long as it’s not in our back yard. The suicide bombs in a football match crowd south of Baghdad on Good Friday, killing 29, and on Easter Sunday in Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park, maiming hundreds and leaving at least 70 dead including 29 children, show that terrorism respects no religion nor nationality, sex, age or combatant status, since along with the bombs in Belgium, the victims were all civilians, women and children included. Whilst the Islamic State-supportive Taliban splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility and that the target had been male Christians, the bombs did not discriminate.

“Christians were not the specific target of this attack because the majority of the dead are Muslims, everybody goes to this park.” AFP report

Pakistan’s experience of Terrorism

Pakistan sits unenviously 4th on the Global Terrorism Index, having suffered some 27,500 deaths to terrorist attacks since 2003. Three-quarters of those, over 21,000, were civilians. In December 2014, the Taliban parent group (TTP) killed over a 130 children in a Peshawar school, in Pakistan’s worst terror attack.

Increasing Terrorism?

Everyday terrorism in Iraq flag
Everyday terrorism in Iraq, over 200 dead in a dozen attacks so far this year

We’ve witnessed nearly 2,000 deaths to terrorism in the first three months of 2016, over half were innocent civilians. One index suggests that there is one casualty from terrorism every 15 minutes – you are still 36x more likely to die in a car accident.

2014 saw a 172% increase in civilian deaths as well as an 80% rise in overall deaths from terrorism compared to 2013. Since 2000, deaths have risen nearly ten-fold from 3,329 to 32,685 in 2014, almost entirely accounted for by attacks in these 5 nations: Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria, where 78% of all attacks take place. Over 20% of the attacks were accounted for by Boko Haram alone.

Fewer than1% of all attacks occur in peaceful, democratic nations, around 0.5% in western nations – and of that, just 20%, i.e., 0.1% of the world total, is down to Islamic extremism in the West.

So far, in 2016, 14 attacks were of similar or worse scale to Brussels, especially in Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, and Turkey. How many profile pictures campaigns or social media check-in options were there for nations outside of Europe? Actually, having friends in Turkey and Pakistan, in each case Facebook did activate the “marked safe” check-in feature for those atrocities. Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, and others, experience terrorist incidents like Brussels on an almost daily basis, for them it is already sickeningly normal.

Is Terrorism the new Normal?

Peter Neumann, director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisationsays that “we [Europe] will have to get used to a constant terror threat”. He blames the easy recruitment of disaffected peoples by extremists on “migrant ghettoes” and their economic and social abandonment by the state:

“the more profound failure was to basically allow this situation to grow in the first place: to not engage with parts of the Belgian population that clearly were being abandoned. You essentially allowed a vacuum to rise in your own country. And that’s the root cause of the problem: Where you have a vacuum, that vacuum will be filled.

If you have a vacuum that consists of alienated, marginalized people from migrant backgrounds who are socially and economically deprived, then it is only a question of time. Of when extremists go into that, take advantage, and push their narrative — which is basically that society is against you, and you need to engage in war.” – Peter Neumann, Vox interview

The Washington Post, which also cites Neumann, is wrong on two counts suggesting thatterrorism [might] become the new normal in Europe“. Firstly, this is nothing new, the 70s and 80s were far from bloodless, even before the rise of Al Qaeda (1988), the Taliban (1994), Boko Haram (2002), Islamic State (1999/2014) and others. Secondly, the focus should not be on Europe alone, that only exacerbates our imperialistic western, first world, detachment from what happens elsewhere.

Tragedy World Map

Tragedy World Map - Mapamundi Tragico, Eduardo Salles
Tragedy World Map – Mapamundi Tragico, Eduardo Salles

The Mapamundi Tragico or “Tragedy World Map” was first created by Mexican designer Eduardo Salles, in April 2015, but epitomises the way we feel about terror in nations distant from our own. We are disengaged from anything but either the closest western victims or stray white holidaymakers killed abroad. Black lives, African lives, Syrian or Iraqi lives, just don’t matter.

By way of example, the Daily Telegraph report of twice as many people as Brussels killed in Lahore, was relegated to page 13 of a bank holiday edition of its paper.

Eurocentric (dis)ease

The very luxury of our European contentment -peace since 1945, and living a version of the American dream, is some of what has simultaneously attracted mass migration and extremist condemnation of the alleged ungodliness of enlightenment modernism.

Globalisation of Terror

France, Belgium terror, what about Turkey
Terrorism sympathy from France for Belgium. What about Ankara and Istanbul in Turkey? Or Syria, Iraq, Nigeria etc?

Less than a century ago we were still redrawing maps with colonial carte blanche or war-victor spoils, with total disregard for the ethnic and religious civil wars that might later ensue. The new normal is that terror knows no borders, Europe referendum or not. The ease with which ISIL has been able to declare a so-called caliphate and Islamic state that transcends recognised national boundaries, attracting alliances in North and East Africa across more than 11 countries, shows us that we cannot fight ISIS/Daesh in traditional ways. We have to step away from national concerns and be more international.

Hydra and Terrorism’s Evolution

Terrorism is like a cure-resistant mutating virus or a multi-headed myth and Marvel-like ‘Hydra’, where decapitating one head only leads to another more brutal rising up in its place. History shows that terror has been around for as long as we have had ideologies, religions, and, nationalistic expansion, civil wars or battles for independence.

“The tyranny of Isis terrorism will not always be with us. But history shows that a new militant threat will emerge” – Jason Burke, The Guardian

The Irish Easter Rising

This year is 100 years since the Irish Easter Rising when 320 civilian casualties out of 465 dead put a temporary hold on Irish independence/self-rule. Whilst Harry’s Game (1975) may have first espoused “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” the issue and pseudo-distinction has been around since time immemorial. Janet Daley writes today that:

“These terrorists aren’t religious radicals – they’re criminals with psychotic aims” – Janet Daley,The Telegraph

For me, the degree of civilian casualties is one of the markers of terrorism versus freedom fighter. The so-called collateral damage on ‘soft targets’ has sadly become more the norm, as innocents become the primary targets of extreme actions leading to state over-reactions and public states of fear. Fear that is incendiary to semi-closeted racism and Islamophobia, or that leads to a Brussels ‘March against fear’ being cancelled because of, well, safety fears.

Je Suis Sick of this Shit!

JeSuisLahore, Sick of this shit, Pakistan flag
JeSuisLahore, “Sick of this shit”, Iqbal Town, Pakistan

I wonder how many will notice or care about the innocent victims of the Iraq football match bomb on Friday or the Pakistan public park explosions today. It has become all too commonplace to be JeSuisCharlie and JeSuisEveryman on an almost daily basis. I am indeed JeSuisBruxelles, but also Ankara, Baghdad, Baidoa, Bodo, Dalori, Dikwa, Damascus, Homs, Istanbul, Kabul, Kouyape, Lahore, Meme, Mogadishu, Ouagadougou, Paris, and many more towns and cities. Today, I continue to be both Je Suis tout le monde and very much sick of this shit.

 

 

Syria & Islamic State – To Bomb or Not to Bomb, is that the Question?

Bombing Syria & ISIL Perpetuates Terror

Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

Thousands continue to protest and take to the streets to oppose bombing Syria, seeing such a move as disastrous and more likely to endanger the lives of Syrian civilians, and further radicalise and foment future terrorism in Europe by Islamic State (IS/ISIS/ISIL/Daesh). Hundreds and thousands of sorties and bombs by over a dozen nations over months and years did not prevent the attacks in Paris last month.

Update: On 2 December the UK Parliament voted to extend the Iraq bombing campaign to Syria but with no ground soldiers commitment or thought to future outcomes, rebuilding, Assad etc. Admittedly Hilary Benn, did give an excellent, almost convincing speech, but too many questions remain unanswered, avenues unexplored… and the UK has already carried out questionable drone strikes killing two British ISIS fighters – predating and without Parliamentary mandate.

Indeed, a majority of the country probably oppose the action according to polls, and Benn was out of touch with the majority of Labour Party supporters who are against action. Polls in the Telegraph had 59% for, in the Independent 59% against. At least there’s no “dodgy dossier” this time, but could we, in ten years time, be facing a similar enquiry into why we went to war, or even why we may still be at war, given that Cameron has suggested this could be lengthy, even many years.

Many see a bombing campaign as the obvious response to the attacks in Paris two weeks ago – precision, of course, because it is not like we want the human and financial expense of “boots on the ground” who can minimise civilian “collateral” losses by checking who they are targeting first. Presidents Hollande and Obama have called for ISIL to be  destroyed. Many echo that reaction. But, it is just that, a reaction, not a strategic response.
Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

War on Terror only increases Terrorism

Others recognise that after 14 years of responding to Middle Eastern turmoil by declaring a “War on Terror” we have actually multiplied rather than diminished terror. The 3,000 killed on 9/11 are now a drop in the ocean compared to the tens and hundreds of thousands who have died in the Middle East or fleeing it.

“The military actions of Western nations recruit more people to the cause than they kill. Every bomb dropped is a recruitment poster for ISIS, a rallying point for the young, vulnerable and alienated. And every bomb dropped on Syrian cities drives yet more people to flee and seek refuge in safer countries.”The Quakers in Britain

Thirteen countries are already bombing Syria, Canada is considering pulling out, the UK of joining in. One more nation will not solve what a dozen have already failed to do.

Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

Bombing Syria and anywhere else, for that matter, only increases tension, radicalises countless more fighters. In barely a decade ISIL has grown from a few hundred to a 100,000 fighters on the back of Western intervention and against more moderate interpretations of Islam. “In the month after the bombing began, 8,000 joined Isis alone.”

“I know Isis fighters. Western bombs falling on Raqqa will fill them with joy” – Jürgen Todenhöfer

Terrorist acts on domestic soil need to be treated as criminal rather than military acts. Declaring them a war only intensifies the pseudo-legitimacy of their cause and identity, making them think that they are now a force to be reckoned with.

“One thing I have learnt is that this western intervention never helps, it only makes matters worse. So much worse. These interventions only pour petrol on the fires of Middle East unrest.” – John Prescott

Bombing Syria – A “failed strategy”

Lt General Mike Flynn was Obama’s senior JSOC intelligence officer and head of the Defense Intelligence Agency until last year. He has described dropping bombs from drones as causing more harm than good and a “failed strategy.”

“What we have is this continued investment in conflict… the more bombs we drop, that just… fuels the conflict. Some of that has to be done but I am looking for the other solutions… history will not be kind to the decisions that were made certainly in 2003… We definitely put fuel on a fire… Going into Iraq, definitely… was a strategic mistake.”- Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, former Director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)

A mistake that the West seems to want to perpetuate, as Einstein may have never said, but Nick O’Brien, Chair of Norwich Stop the War, quoted in a rally on Saturday, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Whilst the origin of this quote in clouded in mystery, another of Einstein’s may be even more apt, namely, that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” In other words, bombing the bombers won’t solve anything other than create more bombmakers. Every bomb casualty or innocent victim creates loss and anger among relatives leading to further rationale for joining ISIS.

“The US… has been bombing Syria for over a year. Since September, France has been involved alongside them, although other members of a coalition put together last year, including Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, have effectively withdrawn from bombing. Yet now both Russia and France have experienced severe terrorist attacks. Are we saying they have no connection to the raids? Far from making us safe, as politicians contend, they are likely to make us more vulnerable.”  – Lindsey German, Stop the War

Bombing Syria, as with elsewhere in the Middle East is both a failed and inadequate strategy. Even those prepared to bomb Syria, admit it will not be enough and will require foot soldiers as well, something people are more reticent to commit to.

It is also dangerous and complex with more than two sides. There are factions within factions, militias, rebels, Assad’s forces, vested interests of Russia, Turkey and others, not to mention a dozen other Western allies and limited Middle Eastern nations already involved.

“Politically, it is a grave step. Britain is about to enter a confused battlefield on which Russia, the US, France, Turkey, Iran, assorted Arab states, ethnic foes and rival sects are all fighting for different causes while Syria and Iraq disintegrate.” – The Sunday Times

Anti-War Protests across the UK

London saw the largest no to bombing Syria, anti-war rally, with thousands blocking Whitewall. Dozens of other cities held rallies. BBC and Guardian/Independent journalist Joel Gunter posted this image of at the London protest:

On Sunday another threat to the planet – climate change, saw protests and marches around the world ahead of a climate summit in Paris on Monday. Except in the French capital where such a large gathering had been banned on security fears or pretexts after the Paris attacks. Instead, people donated thousands of empty pairs of shoes to stand where people otherwise would have.

Don’t Bomb Syria Rally in Norwich

Norwich on Saturday saw around 100 people show up on a bitingly cold day to hand out leaflets to the public and hear from half a dozen speakers including local Muslims, Quakers, Labour and Green Party activists. One leafleter spoke to four servicemen who were supportive of the protest. A heckler interrupted by saying “two wrongs don’t make a right”, and then everyone realised that he was actually agreeing with what was being said.

 Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

Speakers included Dr Ian Gibson – former Labour MP for Norwich North, Nick O’Brien – Chair of Norwich Stop the War, Lesley Graham – Quaker peace activist, Jan McLachlan – Norwich People’s Assembly, Adrian Holmes – Green Party, Muhammad Ameen Franklin – Muslims of Norwich.

Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South issued this statement on the possibility of bombing Syria. He is a former TA soldier who served in Afghanistan, and BBC journalist.

“I understand there are occasions when military force is necessary. Therefore, I will not rule out supporting the use of military force against ISIL. However, the use of such force must not be an end in itself.
If there is one thing the ‘war on terror’ has shown, it is that military force alone is rarely the answer. We’ve been engaged in this ‘war’ for 15 years with with no end in sight. It has cost millions of lives, trillions of dollars, destabilised an entire region and arguably spawned a series of global, jihadist terror networks.”Clive Lewis

A Muslim Voice

Muhammad Ameen Franklin speaking at Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
Muhammad Ameen Franklin speaking at Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

The speaker from the Ihsan Mosque in Norwich was warmly received and welcomed to applause. As with nearly 400 mosques and UK Muslim organisations who issued an unequivocal statement in the media on 18 November to “condemn the Paris attacks unreservedly”:

“The barbaric acts of Daesh (or ISIS, as they are sometimes known) have no sanction in the religion of Islam, which forbids terrorism and the targeting of innocents…. The aim of attacks like those inflicted on Paris and other cities across the world is to turn communities against each other. As Muslims, Britons and Europeans, we must stand together to make sure they do not succeed.”

The Norwich mosque also issued a statement on the atrocity in Paris, calling them “brutal murders”, not deaths or killings that might arise in a conventional war.

“we want to make absolutely clear not only our complete abhorrence of the outrages perpetrated in Paris, Beirut and elsewhere by this small group of well-organised and ruthless killers, but that the religion of Islam does not countenance such actions in any way whatsoever. Moreover, not only is their action a crime, but there is prima facie evidence of such serious flaws in their apprehension of Islam as to call into question whether they should even be considered Muslims.”

It isn’t about race, faith, or nation state. Any political, religious or nationalistic ideology can be taken to extremes. Treating other’s lives as collateral in any cause is the inhumanity in any ideology.

“It’s not about Islam, or indeed any religion – each has been there with its own extremisms, the Crusades, the Inquisition, Biblical Judaism, even Buddhism and Hinduism, and Sikhism. As John Lennon sang – “Imagine … no religion”. But then there’s the Hitlers, Stalins, Maos and Polpots, of this world. Roman pagans trying to wipe out Christianity, Communist extremism. It is the extremism they have in common, not faith or race.” – Katy Went, Imagine all the people, living life in peace

Each religion can be twisted to apparently justify slaughter, but that comes from man’s inhumanity to man, not faith per se.  Equally, most faiths can be quoted from to encourage love, mercy and kindness.

Backlash from Bombing and Terrorism

The important thing, now, is to avoid the backlash. If increased bombing of Syria goes ahead then there will be a backlash in terms of home grown and exported terrorism by those who see Britain’s involvement as Western interference, imperialism, and immorality. The other backlash is that against refugees and asylum seekers, particularly as one of the French terrorists was alleged to have gained access to Europe as a refugee. Thirdly, and an already happening reaction in the US, France, Britain and elsewhere is one that targets existing resident Muslims, those more or less happily already domiciled. Often, a kickback response to the visible presence of a mosque or headscarf, in total stereotyping ignorance of the variety of Islamic opinion and interpretations and indeed, the majority opinion in the UK, as expressed by the Muslim Council of Britain, that “almost all” Muslims “abhor terrorism”, though “even one person harbouring sympathy for the Daesh death cult is one too many”.

Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
“Refugees Welcome” Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

Imagine all the people Living life in peace…Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Sharm

A Response to Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Sharm…

…And countless other cities, countries, rural Nigerian towns, American schools, where people take it upon themselves to gun down others in the name of, well in the name of their hurts, offense, injuries, desires, greed, whatever. It’s not about Islam, or indeed any religion – each has been there with its own extremisms, the Crusades, the Inquisition, Biblical Judaism, even Buddhism and Hinduism, and Sikhism. As John Lennon sang – “Imagine … no religion”. But then there’s the Hitlers, Stalins, Maos and Polpots, of this world. Roman pagans trying to wipe out Christianity, Communist extremism. It is the extremism they have in common, not faith or race. Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Sharm el Sheikh, or Ankara, a month ago, have also seen similar scales of atrocity, not just once, but some of them daily.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

#PrayForParis / #PrayForBeirut / #PrayFor…

France and Lebanon, Paris and Beirut, Peace
France and Lebanon, Paris and Beirut, Peace

…Or don’t pray at all. My thoughts are with ALL the victims of extremist ideologies (religious and non-religious ones). Whether you pray or don’t pray, do not use this as an opportunity to promote or condemn people of faith. As with Charlie Hebdo, Muslim policemen and security guards were among those trying to stop the terrorists. Nor is it the time to berate people for turning their Facebook profile pics French, although opportunities to easily do so in solidarity with Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Turkey etc would be appreciated. I modified mine to include France and Lebanon, not either/or.

Reactionary responses will only lead to more radicalisation, terror, civilian deaths, in the wars of fanatical idealogues.

Now is not the time for shutting borders, scapegoating, retaliation – but, as with the reaction of Norway’s prime minister Jens Stoltenberg after the terror attack on Utøya Island by far right white  ‘Christian’ extremist Anders Breivik:

“Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity…We will answer hatred with love.”

Brevik believed in a “monocultural Christian Europe” and was against “multiculturalism” and “Islamization”. Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) believes in a monocultural Islamic empire. Its attacks in Beirut were against the wrong kind of Muslims – Shia. Elsewhere in Paris, it was against the hedonism of the infidel West. The justifications need not be consistent or rational, but they are forms of tribalism and monoculturalism, the fear and despising of that which is other. Nature and the world need diversity and multiculturalism to survive and thrive.

Now is the time to embrace refugees and migrants, not point out that just one or two of them out of the countless tens of thousands entering Europe may have been ISIS cells. Indeed, the 99.9% peaceful migrants, some Muslim, some Christian, some agnostic, were fleeing Islamic State or other state sanctioned terrors themselves. They too are victims. Innocent bystanders very often in the West’s continued interference in the Middle East, whether past or present. Nobody has clean hands.

At a No to Hate vigil in Norwich – a city that has its own dark past with the Blood Libel, killing and expelling its Jewish population – last month, I spoke and ended with the words of Martin Luther King:

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Whether John Lennon or Martin Luther King, I too am a dreamer and have a dream that one day we will all live as one, without hate, in an ideal world without the kind of idealism that kills your fellow human beings in the name of any belief – political, religious or nationalist.

Kristallnacht – European Xenophobia still a risk 77 years on

Kristallnacht Anniversary, Europe remembers

Nazis Smash, Loot and Burn Jewish Shops and Temples, New York Times, Nov 11 1938
Nazis Smash, Loot and Burn Jewish Shops and Temples, New York Times, Nov 11 1938

Tonight (9 Nov), around 10:30pm, begins the 77th anniversary of Kristallnacht, “the night of crystal/broken glass”. People have termed the current “migrant crisis” the worst in Europe since the Holocaust. Hungary and other countries are reacting to the influx of mostly Syrian and Afghan refugees. How will Europe integrate and accept them all? Will far-Right groups grow stronger in response? 1930s Nazi Germany emerging from a background of economic austerity saw blame and scapegoating of Jews, Communists, Homosexuals, Gypsies and more besides. Kristallnacht is a demonstration of orchestrated violence by a people that a decade before had been one of the most forward thinking nations on Earth, who had allowed Berlin to become a popular city of jazz and queer expression, a place where Jews were once proud to be German.

A British diplomat in Germany, Sir George Ogilvie Forbes, at the time, wired home a prophetic warning the year before the outbreak of World War 2:

“I can find no words strong enough in condemnation of the disgusting treatment of so many innocent people, and the civilized world is faced with the appalling sight of 500,000 people about to rot away in starvation.”

This underestimate might have been an upper limit had nations reacted differently and earlier to Hitler’s atrocities. How we react to the modern European refugee crisis is the moral barometer of our generation. Germany is of course now leading the nations of Europe in taking in asylum seekers.

Nazi Mob Rule

Back in 1938, however, Germany witnessed an “orgy of destruction” as the then Daily Telegraph correspondent, Hugh Greene, wrote of what transpired in Berlin that night:

“Mob law ruled in Berlin throughout the afternoon and evening and hordes of hooligans indulged in an orgy of destruction. I have seen several anti-Jewish outbreaks in Germany during the last five years, but never anything as nauseating as this. Racial hatred and hysteria seemed to have taken complete hold of otherwise decent people. I saw fashionably dressed women clapping their hands and screaming with glee, while respectable middle-class mothers held up their babies to see the ‘fun’.” – Hugh Carleton Greene, Daily Telegraph, 11 November 1938

The downward rush to mob mentality was not universal and many were deeply ashamed of the pogrom, and some tried to help. The son of a US consular official heard the janitor of his apartment block cry:

“They must have emptied the insane asylums and penitentiaries to find people who’d do things like that!”

Sadly, the majority were quite sane. Inured by scapegoating hatred to a point of passive and then active involvement.

Kristallnacht destruction of Jewish property

Diplomat Shot - Nazis Aroused, The Detroit Free Press, November 8, 1938
Diplomat Shot – Nazis Aroused, The Detroit Free Press, November 8, 1938

Although it was the killing of a German diplomat by a Polish Jew in Paris that sparked the raids and riots on Jewish interests, that was just an excuse that the various Nazi factions had been waiting for.

All across Austria and Germany thousands of shops, businesses, and half of all synagogues were torched and trashed. Around a 100 people were killed. Jews were arrested, 30,000 shipped to concentration camps, and even blamed and fined for setting it off, being charged a billion Reichsmark (circa £250 million then) for “property damaged in the rioting.”

The sacrilege of the attack, including the destruction of 18 of Vienna’s 21 synagogues and nearly all the 200 or so in Germany, meant that it was an all out assault on not only the commercial but also the spiritual lives of Jews. Their national identity as Germans had already been stripped in the 1935 Nuremberg Laws when their German citizenship had been removed.

Anti-Semitism and European History

Kristallnacht synagogue desctructionThis level of anti-Semitism had not been seen since 12th-13th century UK and Europe when the blood libel allegations first triggered anti-Jewish violence, theft, murder and expulsion – mostly initiated in Norwich, England.

A less well-known massacre of about 100,000 Jews took place in 1648-49, in the Ukraine, when Cossacks rose up against the Jews blaming them for their Polish oppression.

A 2008 study on current anti-Semitic feeling in Europe, published in 2011, concluded that:

“The significantly strongest agreement with anti-Semitic prejudices is found in Poland and Hungary. In Portugal, followed closely by Germany, anti-Semitism is significantly more prominent than in the other western European countries. In Italy and France, anti-Semitic attitudes as a whole are less widespread than the European average, while the extent of anti-Semitism is least in Great Britain and the Netherlands”.

In all the countries studied apart from Italy, a majority answered that “Jews enrich our culture”. In Germany, nearly 70% said so, about the same as in Britain.

But nearly half of German respondents said that “Jews try to take advantage of having been victims during the Nazi era”. That’s compared to 22% for Britain, 32% for France, 40% for Italy, 68% for Hungary and 72% for Poland.

A separate study published by the German parliament in 2012 concluded that 20% of Germans held at least “latent anti-Semitism” – some sort of quiet, unspoken antipathy towards Jews.

History Repeats Itself as we do not learn

Sadly, as Churchill said, “history does nothing but repeat itself” and never learns from it. Similarly, as Santayana never said (he actually said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”), we are condemned to repeat it unless we teach and learn, and so tonight we remember. Something Judaism is good at doing.

Whilst the socio-political and economic ingredients may have similarities with the 1930s we now have the EU, instant media, stronger safeguards, and hopefully memory – bad memories at that, to remind us never to go there again. Former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said “Memory is more significant than history” in an article in 2012 about the need for leaders to be great teachers.

Back in 2003, Sacks had delivered a lecture at the University of Cambridge on “Power and Responsibility”, in the subsequent discussion he drew attention to:

“the distinction between memory and history is crucial to Judaism. Three-quarters of the Hebrew bible is historical. Jews were, in Baruch Halpern’s phrase, “the first historians”. They were as J.H. Plum says in The Death of the Past the first people to see meaning in history, history as a narrative. Yet it’s very interesting to ask what the biblical word for history is and there isn’t one. When Hebrew was revived for the modern state of Israel and they wanted a word for history, they came up with historic, they chose the Greek word. Instead the bible uses a quite different word which appears 169 times, zachor: remember. There is a difference between history and memory; to be very crude, history is his story – it happened some time else to someone else. Memory is my story.”

Shifts in Society grow slowly at first then explode

It is sobering to note that 10 years before Kristallnacht the Nazi NSDAP gained just 2.6% of the vote in the 1928 German Reichstag elections, 2 years later that was 18% and after 2 further years the Nazis were the largest party and Hitler had 37% of the vote in the Presidential election. By 1933 Hitler was in coalition with Hindenburg’s DNVP and it took just months to suspend civil liberties in the name of protecting the people, ban trade unions – who were heavily “associated” with Communism, open Dachau – at first for just political prisoners, and on April 1 to initiate a one-day boycott of Jewish shops and businesses. Within less than 6 months Hitler banned all democratic opposition and declared the Nazis “the only political party in Germany.” By 1934, in just 18 months, Hitler’s coup received 90% support in a public plebiscite.

It took only six-and-a-half years for Hitler’s support to rise 40-fold from a small far right protest group to absolute dictatorial control. One would hope that it should be impossible now? Yet far-right groups have grown in influence again, as in 1930s Germany, on the back of high unemployment, austerity and spreading fear about difference, security and xenophobia.

A 2013 Guardian article, argued that we do not need to fear a European lurch to the far-Right whilst a 2014 article elsewhere and on Al Jazeera said the opposite after the far-Right did gain significant seats. The Guardian had played down any extremist showings of 7-21% in Austria, Czechoslovakia, France and Greece, among far-right parties and then enumerates the more limited 1-5% polled elsewhere. Quoting another report the writer dismissed “the far right [being] on course to gain 34 to 50 seats in the European Parliament, which is roughly 4% to 7% of the total”. In fact, the National Front is leading the pre-European election polls in France with 24%, a four-fold increase in just 4 years. UKIP has made not insignificant gains in the UK polls and potentially in the European elections.

Left Foot Forward (LFF) quotes Le Nouvel Observateur columnist Jean-Gabriel Fredet’s comment that, “Fear of immigration, crises of identity and recession combined have created a climate propitious to ultranationalist, anti-European ideology”. LFF comments: “Ironically, France’s [Front Nationale] FN has grown in popularity as the party has combined  anti-immigrant sentiment with the sort of anti-globalisation, anti-market rhetoric that is usually the preserve of the left. This explains why the French Socialist Party is losing just as many voters to Len Pen as the centre-right UMP.”

Far-Left parties, for example the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia, Syriza in Greece and in Germany, Die Linke, are also making gains at the expense of centrist parties of all flavours.

End Scapegoating of Migrants, Jews, Muslims…

Hermann Göring met with other Nazi leaders barely days after Kristallnacht on 12 November to build on what had happened:

“I have received a letter written on the Führer’s orders requesting that the Jewish question be now, once and for all, coordinated and solved one way or another… I should not want to leave any doubt, gentlemen, as to the aim of today’s meeting. We have not come together merely to talk again, but to make decisions, and I implore competent agencies to take all measures for the elimination of the Jew from the German economy…”

We should be careful of any “economic” arguments that are made to “solve” the current migrant crisis, especially when immigrants actually make a positive net contribution to the economy by some measures, and in others are a zero-sum cost. The Guardian writes that “There’s plenty more space for humanity on this ‘tiny’ island.”

German Jews Pouring into this country, Daily Mail, 1938
German Jews Pouring into this country, Daily Mail, 1938

It comes as no surprise that the Daily Mail, in 1938 was complaining about the “German Jews Pouring into this country by the back door” and reporting a magistrate as saying how the law would be enforced “to the fullest” to eject them. Echoes of attitudes to the Calais migrant crisis?

Similarly, in December 1938, the Netherlands closed their borders to Jewish refugees arguing that it would cause economic pressures and would only “further fan the flames of anti-Semitism“. Despite SDAP pressure the then Dutch government opposed letting in more “undesirable” Jews to its “already densely overcrowded territory” as that would change the character of the Dutch “tribe”.

Party politics and economics aside, what we should be aware of from the lessons of history is the scapegoating of any minority, race, nation, diversity, disability etc., in the name of blame for current economic troubles. What we need is more immigration, greater integration and further interfaith understanding. Only then can we learn from each other and hopefully consign extremism, fear and terror to history.

[An older version of this article was published here in 2013 and on facebook.]

World Press Freedom Day – Journalism is essential to political accountability and personal liberty

May 3 is the twentieth World Press Freedom Day, a day to be celebrated, whether you like the media you read or not. Doing their job and trying to write free of political pressure or censorship has meant 200 journalists are currently imprisoned worldwide in countries like Azerbaijan, Bahrain, China, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Iran, Palestine, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

Freedom of the press means several things. Firstly it should be free of government influence, free to criticise in-power politicians, free to champion the causes of out-of-power ones and those who may have become political prisoners. As the recently deceased Tony Benn MP once said of democracy and those in power: “To whom are you accountable? How can we get rid of you?” – surely one of the tools of challenging politicians is a free Press which should go hand-in-hand with democracy. Tony Benn power democracy quote 2005 No journalism will ever be completely free of personal or political influence, therefore to be truly free, we need journalism of all flavours, passions and persuasions. From long established broadsheet papers like The London and New York Times, The Telegraph, Washington Post and Guardian, to Internet HuffPost, Wikileaks and even tabloid or so-called “gutter press” papers, and combative Radio 4 Today Programme and interrogative Paxman Newsnights – they are all necessary. If we believe in freedom of speech/writing then we cannot seek to control that based upon personal preference for a different style of news or belief on what constitutes news.

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” – Thomas Jefferson

Journalists should equally be free to write without editorial or media-owner pressure to toe a particular line. Any piece that bears their name should carry their opinion and theirs alone. They should even have input and a veto on headlines, which are so often written by others after their piece has been edited and approved. This is a part of journalistic transparency which we should be able to see in every article or story. Either in tandem with this, or in addition, there should be rules preventing monopoly and/or government ownership of the Press.

A sad but now inherent part of newspaper history was the so-called “Yellow Journalism” of the 1890s as William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer II of Pullitzer Prize fame battled it out for readership, lowering the tone and truth of reporting in the process of pursuing profits over accuracy. We would now call much of this “Tabloid Press” now, though the shape and size of a paper need have no bearing on its quality of content. The “Yellow Press” has, however, still been responsible for bringing people and politicians to account, even if it can also be blamed for causing offence, ‘outing’ people – whether their sexuality, gender or infidelity, it has been cited in cases that have led to suicide – so I am not saying that the media is perfect, just that it is necessary in an open, if not for, an open society.

“Freedom of the Press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose” – George Orwell

Whilst writing should, in principle, be free of ‘hate’ speech, libel and slander, it must, however, be free to express opinion and should only incur sanctions when breaking human rights, equality and defamation laws. A right to disagree and be disagreed with is paramount to press freedom and journalistic integrity. That said, opinion pieces should have a right to reply and/or comment with moderators being sure to only police hate speech, insult and injury, and not rights to express personal, political or religious beliefs. Noam Chomsky said that “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all”, it is freedom for all or it is censorship. “You can’t pick and choose which types of freedom you want to defend. You must defend all of it or be against all of it.”, as Scott Howard Phillips said, albeit concerning the US 2nd Amendment and right to bear arms. In John Stuart Mill’s 1859 book, On Liberty, he wrote much that holds as true today, if not more so, as 150 years ago:

“If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

“We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.”

“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

In the Danish political drama, Borgen (Season 2 Episode 2), the female PM, Birgitte Nyborg, is encouraged by her faithful friend and gruff colleague Bent Sejrø that a clever politician gathers around themselves people who may disagree with you. Not just as part of the episode’s Sun Tzu “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer” theme but in order to create better policy. Only surrounding yourself with people who agree with you will not save you from mistakes.

World Press Freedom Day

World Press Freedom Day was declared at the end of 1993 by the UN General Assembly. It is commemorated on 3 May, the anniversary of the 1991 Declaration of Windhoek (Namibia) to promote “Independent and Pluralistic Media”. Among other principles Windhoek declared that:

  1. Consistent with article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the establishment, maintenance and fostering of an independent, pluralistic and free press is essential to the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation, and for economic development.
  2. By an independent press, we mean a press independent from governmental, political or economic control or from control of materials and infrastructure essential for the production and dissemination of newspapers, magazines and periodicals.
  3. By a pluralistic press, we mean the end of monopolies of any kind and the existence of the greatest possible number of newspapers, magazines and periodicals reflecting the widest possible range of opinion within the community.

Back in 1946, the UN had declared “freedom of information” to be a “fundamental human right”. Press Freedom Day, therefore, seeks to:

  • Celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom;
  • Assess the state of press freedom throughout the world;
  • Defend the media from attacks on their independence;
  • Pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize

On 2 May an independent panel of media professionals declared Turkish journalist Ahmet Şik the 2014 UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize winner. An investigative reporter and exposer of human rights abuses and corruption, Şik was injured whilst covering the Gezi Park demonstrations in Istanbul last summer.

Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom Award

On 1 May Al Jazeera English Egypt producer Mohamed Fahmy, who is currently under arrest and detention, was awarded the Canadian Press Freedom Award for a “Canadian journalist who has made an outstanding contribution to the right to freedom of expression in the face of inordinate persecution.” Fahmy had previously worked for the BBC and CNN, and wrote an account, Egyptian Freedom Story, of the Arab Spring of 2011. Fahmy has donated the $2000 prize money to the family of another journalist, Mayada Ashraf, who died whilst covering political demonstrations in Egypt last month.

Al Jazeera Journalists detained in Egypt

Journalism is not a Crime, Amnesty International #FreeAJStaffAmong the hundreds of journalists gagged, detained, or killed, worldwide, are two other Al Jazeera English staff – former BBC journalist, Australian Peter Greste, and Baher Mohamed, held in detention by Egypt for “broadcasting false news” – for “false”, whatever your opinion, read “disapproved”. In the prison where they are being held pen and paper are banned yet the power of journalistic truth and persuasion won Fahmy access to them and he was able to smuggle out a letter this week:

“I hereby appeal to the global advocates of press freedom not to hold Egypt, the country of my birth responsible for our wrongful detention. Only certain individuals in the system who lack the understanding of the fundamentals of journalism are to be held accountable. One way to reverse this misunderstanding is to start with the man next to you, and in my case that would be the illiterate prison guard convinced that by broadcasting protests in Egypt to the Western world simply makes me a traitor. His more educated disgruntled boss who has prevented me from having a pen and paper in my cell has become more lenient by time when I continuously highlighted certain values of journalism like transparency and the importance of having a watchdog to question the government that pays his salary and evaluates his performance. The metamorphosis has begun and the fact that this letter has been released from prison and published is in itself a victory to be celebrated and hopefully not the last.”

Another Al Jazeera journalist, Arabic correspondent Abdullah Elshamy, has been imprisoned without trial since last August and has now been on hunger strike for weeks and lost nearly 35kg and not received medical attention. [Update: Elshamy was released on 17 June after 10 months in prison without charge or conviction.]

Fahmy described this as a blatant “breach of human rights” and added in his letter:

“I see no better occasion than today to remind the world about the plight of these men and that there are dozens of respected, local Egyptian reporters and citizen journalists who are suffering in prison awaiting trial, they are simply prisoners of conscience.”

(See and hear the letter read out in an Al Jazeera English video) The Egyptian judge at the 3 May bail hearing wished the 3 detained Al Jazeera journalists a happy Press Freedom Day then refused bail with no sense of irony at all. At the hearing Peter Greste said for the benefit of other reporters present: “You can’t have a free society without a free press. In Egypt today you know that you can’t provide balance as long as you can end up in prison like us.”

[Update: Sadly, the 3 reporters – Peter Greste, Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, were handed down guilty verdicts on 23 June for 7 years for spreading “false news” and supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood, charges they continue to deny and say they were only carrying out their duties as journalists and reporters. Nine other defendants tried in absentia, including three foreign journalists, received 10-year sentences, two have been acquitted. Of the twenty defendants in total nearly half are Al-Jazeera journalists. #AJTrial]

[Latest: Fahmy and Mohamed are among 100 prisoners to be released and/or pardoned today as part of Islam’s Eid al-Adha holiday and Egypt’s attempt to re-legitimise its Western standing]

Censorship

Early 20th century Ukrainian-Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov – he was born in Kiev, but moved to Moscow – managed to simultaneously both offend and please Joseph Stalin and have books and plays not only banned but also protected by him! He superbly put that a journalist without freedom is like a fish without water:

“To struggle against censorship, whatever its nature, and whatever the power under which it exists, is my duty as a writer, as are calls for freedom of the press. I am a passionate supporter of that freedom, and I consider that if any writer were to imagine that he could prove he didn’t need that freedom, then he would be like a fish affirming in public that it didn’t need water.”Mikhail Bulgakov, Manuscripts Don’t Burn: Mikhail Bulgakov A Life in Letters and Diaries

Voltaire

If Press freedom is like water for journalists, just as the air all of us breathe, it is not something that can be restricted. The right to free expression and opinion is a universal human right. I’ll end with the infamous non-quote by Voltaire:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

This was actually said by his biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall, The Friends of Voltaire, 1906. What he did say in a 1770 letter, was:

“I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.”

Many have given their own lives in order to report the news or their views, whether professional or “citizen journalists”, but Press freedom means supporting the freedom to express even the views we may detest or disapprove of. Press Freedom Day means reminding the powers that be that the “world will be watching” their treatment of journalists and freedom of speech.

This article was first published on Bubblews and subsequently a version was published on my Google blogger/blogspot account.