Dig Two Graves

I’m going to preface this blog post by saying that the events of last week – the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris and in Beirut, Lebanon – are utterly inexcusable. The people who committed these atrocities have proven that they lack any compassion or humanity, and their actions should never, ever be defended, no matter the cause they claim. These killers attacked indiscriminately, slaughtering by the hundreds people who had never hurt them – had never done anything wrong, in fact, but live a different kind of life. For that reason, they can never deserve our forgiveness, nor our sympathy.

That being said, the idea of bombing Syria is absurd. In 2003, reason upon reason was laid out before George W. Bush explaining why a war in the Middle East could never result in anything but further violence and pain; these reasons were summarily ignored, and the result is what we see today – widespread chaos and misery, murder, sadism and fear, and the ascendancy of a brand-new plague of terrorism. Aggression wasn’t the answer then, and it isn’t the answer now – escalating military operations in Syria as France has claimed it will can surely only provoke greater violence from our enemies, and fuel the fire of ISIS’ brand of extremism, a brand which paints a picture of a deep and insurmountable divide between Islam and the rest of the world. If we surrender to the idea that these murderers are truly representative of Islam, then we are doing them a favour. Nothing would please them more than the West indulging in the Islamaphobic and racist rhetoric being pedalled by the right-wing press, so let’s clear this up: Syrian refugees were not to blame for last week’s acts of savagery, and neither were Muslims. The bombers and gunmen who so monstrously attacked may ascribe any number of labels to themselves, but just as we do not judge Christians by the acts of the KKK or Westboro Baptist Church, so we cannot allow the acts of a small, cruel minority to colour our view of people who live perfectly harmless lives.

We cannot, in good conscience, perpetuate this violence. If we so abhor the terrorists for the damage they inflict on our innocents, then surely we must hold ourselves to the same standards. The people of Syria are, for the most part, victims of ISIS, just like the Parisiens and Lebanese who have recently suffered so greatly. They are faced with the same threat to their safety as we in the Western world are, but for them, the danger is more immediate. How can we blame them for wanting to flee westward, to safer pastures? And equally, how can we make their homeland any more dangerous, and still live with ourselves?

When, in 2014, MPs voted in favour of air strikes in Iraq, I had my doubts. Now, I am more certain than ever that brute force is far, far from being the solution to the risk ISIS poses to the rest of the world. Yes, they need to be stopped, but they are not a single, composite unit to be picked off easily in Syria, and air strikes there can only give rise to civilian casualties, strengthening ISIS’ hatred of the West, leading, most probably, to an increase in the attacks levied against us.

I do not pretend to know how to solve this conflict. All I can do is repeat the wisdom of the quote from which the title of this post has been taken warns – “before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

  • Lana Wrigley, ex-Politics Student
    (Now studying at the University of Birmingham)

Well, I Guess That’s Over…

…And after all the speculation from betting shops, opinion polls, and even Twitter, it turns out we’re still stuck with the Tories. Disappointing? You bet. At least now I know what that ominous building dread I’ve been feeling over the past week was for.

With very few seats left to announce, it’s already certain that the next five years will see Britain under the rule of the Etonites once more – 5 more years of hacking away at public services, 5 more years of NHS privatisation, and 5 more years of David Cameron’s insufferably shiny forehead glaring down at us through the TV. But why did they win? Was it the intense campaign of negativity they’ve been hauling around the country? Their assertions that Labour would ‘destroy’ all the ‘progress’ they’ve made since 2010? Perhaps it was the fact that Rupert Murdoch, notorious Tory lapdog and owner of a 5th of all news media broadcast in the UK, has been doing little more than belittling the Labour Party since the campaigning really started, or a combination of some of these factors. Whatever the reason, the case remains that policies of austerity which are designed to crippled the disadvantaged while David Cameron, George Osborne and all their banker friends get on with hiding their money in tax-havens, and securing the hold that big business interests have over UK politics will be what we’re facing for the foreseeable future. Yay. Let’s just hope that the alleged proposal to raise tuition fees again won’t come in until after I’m at uni.

I suppose some of the blame can be attributed to Nicola Sturgeon – I expect David Cameron will be sending her flowers to thank her for killing Labour support in Scotland, without which, Ed Miliband’s party had pretty much zero chance of success. Even though I’m feeling a little bitter towards them right now (“vote SNP to keep out the Tories” wasn’t such a great strategy, was it, Nicola?) it will be interesting to see what the strong presence of the SNP will mean for the future of the UK, though – as much as Sturgeon insists that she has little intention of holding another in/out referendum, it seems there are only few who believe her. Cameron once again has a shot at being the Prime Minister to preside over the breakup of the union, something I’m sure he’s thrilled about.

Actually, I’m sure he is thrilled, regardless of the big yellow question mark over Scotland’s future in the UK. Every sign indicates that Ed Miliband, the most leftist Labour leader we’ve seen in decades, is giving up the leadership, pretty much guaranteeing that whoever his successor will be is going to resemble no-one so much as Blair. Wonderful that we’re moving the centre-ground of politics to the right again. God forbid we ever try to do something that might benefit someone other than the elite, right?

(The one good thing that’s come out of this election – Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, didn’t win his seat in South Thanet. It’s a small mercy, but I have to admit, the schadenfreude is strong with this one.)

– Lana Wrigley, A2 Politics

The Rise of the Right – Are We Repeating the Past?

After the Wall Street Crash in 1929, economies across the world collapsed, and a disturbing pattern emerged across the political scenes of Europe, which eventually culminated in the ascension of the National Socialist Party in Germany, headed, of course, by Adolf Hitler. I am talking about the Rise of the Right, a movement which afflicted the majority of Europe in response to the Great Depression. Nazism is the most obvious and the most extreme version of the right succeeding to power after the economic crisis, but it is not the only evidence that we have which tells us that economic hardship leads to fascist parties making greater gains amongst the electorate. In Europe in the years after the New York Stock Exchange collapsed, Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hungary, The Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Sweden and Switzerland all like Germany saw the proportion of votes going to far-right political parties rise, and therefore more right-wing candidates being elected. This phenomenon is something which observers have seen occurring once more in the face of the 2008 financial crisis – since this recession began, they’ve noted, a disturbingly similar inclination towards the political right can once again be observed in Europe, with more anti-immigration, anti-EU, nationalistic parties emerging as far apart as France and Finland. This predilection can be seen in the xenophobic outlash of the media and, consequently, the public towards immigrants – particularly those who arrive from countries whose economy is weaker than others.

In the UK, we have Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party whose main policy is the removal of the UK from the European Union in order to protect Britain from what he perceives as the negative impact of an ‘open-door’ immigration policy. Farage has been known to blame everything from the housing crisis to traffic on the M4 on immigration, and argues for a ‘points-based’ system as used in Australia to allow only ‘skilled’ immigrant labour to enter into the country.  Perhaps this is not an unreasonable stance – the UK is, after all, a fairly small island with limited resources – but Farage’s highly emotive method of attempting to sway voters to his side has removed almost any chance of rational, objective discussion of the issues he claims he wants to discuss the most – the European Union and immigration.

The rise of UKIP has seen the central ground of UK politics, as far as immigration is concerned, dragged kicking and screaming to the right – the Conservatives have promised an in/out referendum on EU membership if they form the next government, and funding for search and rescue operations for immigrants crossing the Mediterranean has been slashed by the coalition – a move that was, in fact, suggested by Nick Griffin of the BNP forty years ago, and was condemned as blatant, heartless racism. UKIP, in the last election to the European Parliament, beat every other party in terms of how many seats it won, with 164 candidates elected and sent to Europe, presumably to disrupt reasonable debate with their party’s xenophobic rhetoric – or perhaps not to attend at all, and simply claim their salary for loafing about, “taking down the EU from the inside” by their utter lack of contribution. Successfully reinforcing the age-old stereotype that immigrants are a drain on British society, that they never contribute to the welfare system they’re happy to take advantage of, and that they are only here to ‘steal’ our jobs, UKIP have hoodwinked a lamentably large proportion of the population into supporting them. It does not help things that their main opposition on the EU question is the Liberal Democrat party, who, due to their new perception as power-grabbing liars (Clegg’s backtrack on tuition fees will make a difference to how people vote this year, that seems certain), are not favourites of the public at the moment. Regardless of studies showing that the UK loses far more money through the rich avoiding paying tax, UKIP have pinned the blame on everyone’s favourite scapegoat, immigrants.

Unfortunately, they are not alone in Europe. In France, the Front National has been a steadily-growing influence on the political scene, and in Hungary, Bulgaria and Greece, things are even worse, with Jobbik, Ataka and the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn making waves. As with most far-right parties springing up on the continent, these parties have all at various times been accused of racism, intolerance and anti-Semitism, not to mention violence.

All in all, this adds up to a fairly troubling picture – if the EU really has as much of an influence on UK policy as some politicians claim, the presence of these various far-right bodies (some of which masquerade as centre-right to seem more palatable) does not fill me with confidence. Though the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament (S&D, for short) is presently the second biggest alliance within the EU, the more conservative branches are a discomforting presence. And while it seems doubtful that we are on the brink of a Third World War in Europe, I don’t think it would do us any harm to be a little wary of the direction our politics are leaning; after all, these things are always more insidious than people think – before Hitler showed his true colours, there was no shortage of people who thought he was on the right track.

– Lana Wrigley, A2 Politics.

No Justice, No Peace

It’s been 116 days since white police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. 116 days since Michael Brown was killed, and less than a fortnight since a Grand Jury (a Grand Jury of 9 white and 3 black people, in spite of the fact that Ferguson’s population is 67.5% black) ruled that Wilson would not be indicted for murder. As I’m sure you’re all aware, the verdict did not go down well, with furious protesters staging riots and demonstrations all over America, and encouraging them overseas as well – on Wednesday 26th of November, solidarity protesters in London shut down Oxford Street.

This is a case which has sparked national and international outrage. Even the UN has condemned the injustice of letting Wilson free. It is a case which, in isolation, would no doubt have been forgotten very quickly. But it was not in isolation. Michael Brown is only one name on an increasingly and disturbingly long list of black people in America being murdered by police officers, and so these protests are not just about him, but about a cultural phenomenon which has been the elephant in the room for a long time now. I am, of course, talking about institutional and systemic racism.

Tamir Rice, DeAndre Joshua, Eric Garner, Vonderrit Myers, Kajieme Powell, John Crawford. These are some of the names of black people who have been killed by police officers since Michael Brown. Tamir Rice was 12 years old, asthmatic Eric Garner was kept in a chokehold by officers even while he protested that he couldn’t breathe. With stories like these appearing almost daily – according to this study, one black man in the USA is killed by police every 28 hours – it seems absurd that anyone, black or white or any colour in between, would even think to deny that there is a serious problem with racism in America.

In the case of Michael Brown, legal experts have expressed their disgust with the way that prosecutor Bob McCulloch did – or rather, failed to do – his job, claiming that his failure to cross-examine Wilson properly was tantamount to defending the officer. The inconsistencies in Wilson’s story, the mishandling of evidence, neither of these was followed up on by McCulloch, a prosecutor with known ties to the St. Louis police department, a reputation of siding with law enforcement and a history of lying to ensure a win. It was as if he didn’t want a trial or conviction, which, I’m sure, he didn’t. As I said in a previous blog, the conviction of Darren Wilson would have set a precedent for how cases of police brutality are handled, and it seems that that is the last thing the so-called ‘justice’ system wants.

I have been following the developments of the Michael Brown story since it happened, so I think I know what I’m talking about when I say that I do not believe that Darren Wilson was not guilty of murder. But that’s not even what the Grand jury was there to decide. As I saw one heart-breaking tweet put it, “This jury wasn’t to decide whether or not Darren Wilson was guilty. It was to decide if we were allowed to ask.”

I know many people will have seen footage of looters and violence in America. I know many people are convinced that Michael Brown was a criminal, that he attacked Darren Wilson and went for his gun, that Darren Wilson (describing himself as “a five year-old wrestling Hulk Hogan” when he spoke about the altercation between himself and Brown despite the fact that they were of equal height), genuinely feared for his life. I know all of this already, but I’m not interested in it. What I am interested in is the social epidemic consuming America, where it is perfectly legal to commit murder as long as you’re a white police officer. I am interested in the bravery and strength of protesters who are doing everything in their power to honour Michael Brown. I am interested in a country having a debate which should have happened a long, long time ago.

In short, what I am interested in is justice. Which is why I offer my unconditional support to the protesters who are out there right now, trying to make their country a better place. The world is watching them, and, I hope, taking note. What they are doing is extraordinary. Whether their slogan is “Black Lives Matter” or “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” they are doing something important – and I support them 100%. No justice, no peace, indeed.

– Lana Wrigley, A2 Politics

American Horror Story: 2014 Mid-terms.

So the American mid-terms happened on Tuesday, and in a result that surprised no-one, the Republicans took control of the Senate.

Now, when I say that the result wasn’t surprising, that doesn’t mean I approve of it in the slightest. Honestly? After two years of political and legislative gridlock worse than the US has ever seen, all down to Republican congressman who have since admitted that they have, literally since Obama’s 2008 inauguration, done everything they can to make sure that none of his legislation passes, regardless of public support, I’d hoped that the result would be different.

I suppose that was a naive hope, but the Republicans’ blatant and obvious misogyny, racism, homophobia and general nastiness surely should have been enough to persuade voters the other way, shouldn’t it? This is a party whose members and supporters have said, in the past, that women who protest sexual harassment want to be sexually harassed, that in cases of “legitimate rape,” a woman’s body has a way of “shutting that whole thing down,” and that “Obama is the most racist president America has ever had” – this last comment in spite of the fact that a significant proportion of American presidents have actually been slave-owners.

It seems surreal to me that a party which has consistently expressed views as absurd and offensive as this has actually become the most powerful party in the USA, especially since America has always tried to portray itself as a beacon of freedom and equality. Given all this, I literally cannot comprehend the popularity of the Grand Old Party, and I begin to feel desperately sorry for President Obama, who, having already had to fight tooth-and-nail against Congress for the past two years of his presidency, is now going to be completely ineffective. A lot of people like to talk about Obama as someone who hasn’t kept their promises, but how can he have hoped to, after inheriting the worst economy since the Great Depression, and with Republicans fighting him every step of the way?

If this mid-term was a referendum on the president, the negative feeling towards Obama has won a decisive victory, but I can’t help but view him as a victim. After all, he’s been fighting a losing battle since his 2008 win, and, at this point, I honestly wouldn’t blame him if he was looking forward to the end of his second term in 2016.

– Lana Wrigley, A2 Politics

The F-Word

There are a lot of things that confuse me in this world – the popularity of Crocs, people who think UKIP have intelligent and well thought-out policies, and defenders of the Second Amendment, to name just a few – but one of the things which makes no sense to me at all is the cultural condemnation of the feminist movement.

I’m a feminist. And if you read that and rolled your eyes, or your cursor drifted over to that little ‘x’ at the top of your screen, then I have a question for you: do you actually know what feminism is? I understand that there might be some confusion over the definition, but a simple Google search could have told you all you needed to know.

In the interests of saving time, though, let me lay it out for you:

According to Merriam-Webster, feminism simply means “the theory of the political, social and economic equality of the sexes.” Not explicit enough? Then let’s try the Oxford English Dictionary – “[feminism is the] advocacy of equality of the sexes and the establishment of the political, social, and economic rights of the female sex; the movement associated with this.” 

Now, you wouldn’t think that this is a particularly revolutionary theory.

And yet.

This week alone, Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist particularly know for speaking out against misogyny in video games, was forced to cancel a lecture she had planned to give at Utah State University, after someone claiming to be an USU student sent an email threatening the “deadliest school shooting in American history” if she spoke. This is far from the first violent threat Sarkeesian has received, but it is the first one that has prevented her from doing what she does – namely, promoting feminism. The author of the email wrote “feminists have ruined my life, and I will have my revenge” – an eerily similar sentiment to that expressed by Elliot Rodger before he went on his spree in California, killing six people.

What is it, then, that makes feminism so hard-to-swallow in our society? Patriarchy. The fact is, we live in a world in which men – largely rich, white men – dominate practically every level of society, from the familial to the political. Across the globe, the default face of humanity is male, despite the fact that women make up half the population. In the Houses of Parliament in this country, less than 25% of the MPs are women. In America’s congress, it’s even less – under 20%. The thing is, it is in the best interests of a capitalist patriarchy like ours to perpetuate itself by defaming any ideology challenges it – socialism, feminism, you name it.

Patriarchy is a political system that perpetuates acts of violence against women on a daily basis; rape, murder, abuse, whichever – living as a woman in a global patriarchy, there is a 30% chance that you will suffer sexual or physical violence from a male partner, according to a WHO study last year. But it’s not just women who suffer under patriarchy – as Emma Watson said in her UN speech the other week, “men don’t have the benefits of equality, either.”

The values that patriarchy enforces are harmful to everybody, regardless of gender. Masculinity is just as harmful a stereotype as femininity, it just acts in different ways. When we talk about feminism, men like to bring up the fact that there are cases of male rape and domestic abuse, too, but what they don’t realise is that feminists, by trying to dismantle the patriarchy, are attempting to combat that. Likewise, when discussions of child custody arise, or when young boys are bullied for not being ‘manly’ enough, it is patriarchy which is overwhelmingly at fault.

This is an article which could go on for pages and pages, but I think I’ve said what I needed to. All that remains now is the question of whether or not we as a society can, in good conscience, continue to support such a backwards and damaging system.

– Lana Wrigley, A2 Politics

Purple Reign – UKIP’s Stranglehold on UK Press

Is anyone else sick of hearing about UKIP? It seems that you can’t open a paper or watch the news without catching a glimpse of Farage’s lizard-like features, and it’s getting old, quickly. This so-called “earthquake” they’ve caused seems to have been blown wildly out of proportion – one elected MP and a close-call further north doesn’t make them frontrunners in next year’s general election, so why all the attention? I honestly can’t remember the last time I was spared having to listen to their drivel on the news, because it looks like there’s nothing the press enjoys more than a one-on-one with old Nige, regardless of his downright dodgy politics. No news story is complete these days without a statement from him or one of his sycophantic followers, which seems bizarre when you remember that he’s not even an MP (yet).

Where, I wonder, is the coverage of the Green Party? They broke 20,000 members for the first time last week, so are hardly insignificant, and had an elected representative (Caroline Lucas, former party leader) long before Douglas Carswell managed to grease his way to the top of the polls and paint the green benches purple, yet they’ve had next to no popular coverage. Maybe this is because they’re seen as such a ‘radical’ left-wing option, but honestly, Nigel Farage wants to ban HIV+ immigrants from entering the UK, so I hardly think it’s a problem with radicalism the media and this country has.

I won’t deny that UKIP has made a dent in UK politics – it’s a point I made in my article the other week – and that therefore it’s almost impossible not to mention them, but I do wonder if they’re really deserving of all the attention they’ve received in recent times – and if this media circus, more than anything else, is the cause of their swelling ranks. Perhaps if equal attention was giving to other third-parties, we’d be talking about a green earthquake, rather than a purple one. Perhaps not, but in any case, seeing Farage’s smug face in the paper every day while he spouts anti-immigration and anti-Europe policies is driving me mad.

I’m sure that Ed Miliband and David Cameron are both quaking in their polished leather shoes as the purple tide surges, but I’ve got to have faith that everyone else in the country is getting as bored of Farage as I am, or else I’ll lose it entirely. The general election is on its way in May next year, and while I hope that the country will have come to its senses and dumped UKIP by then,  the party’s omnipresent face is giving me doubts.

– Lana Wrigley, A2 Politics