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.

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

As Weak as We Are Divided – Why “The Sun” Has Made Me Uneasy

Recently, I got into an interesting debate about The Sun – and I mean the newspaper, not the big hot sphere of gas. This discussion was particularly concerned with the front page of the tabloid yesterday, which featured an image of a Muslim woman wearing a Union Flag as a hijab, and the headline, “United against IS.” Now, this bold move by The Sun has received a lot of controversy since its publishing, and I for one can see why.

image

It’s the warning implicit in the whole package – if you’re a British Muslim, be prepared to prove that you hate Islamic State as much as the rest of us do, or suffer the consequences. This pseudo show of solidarity, reads, to me, like a challenge to moderate Muslims in the UK, demanding that they stand and explicitly state that the jihadists in Iraq and Syria aren’t acting in their name, or risk being tarred with the same brush by the rest of us. It seems almost as though the paper was giving an ultimatum – either you’re an activist or you’re an extremist, and we’re as much at war with you as we are with Iraq.

This, surely, cannot possibly do anything but feed into the steadily-growing culture of Islamaphobia that is rife in this country. Any non-Muslim reading the paper on that day would have put it down believing that all British Muslims have an obligation to speak up and stand against IS, and that if they don’t, then they are complicit in the horrific acts being acted out by the terrorists abroad. The Sun claimed to be promoting unity with this spread, but how exactly they hoped to achieve it through such uncompromising means is beyond me.

The thing is, expecting British Muslims to stand up to the maniacs in Iraq who have bastardised their religion is all very well and good in the abstract. The reality is though, that these are people who are just the same as any others, who are just as – and arguably more – scared of Islamic State as non-Muslim Brits, who are struggling with prejudice from this country and oppression and hatred in the Middle East, who may have families in Iraq and Syria that could easily fall victim to IS attacks. They may even be people who are resentful of the attitude that seems to have been shown so blatantly in that Sun article, that Muslims are terrorists until proven otherwise. And demanding resistance or dissent from these people is asking rather a lot. Yes, you could argue effortlessly that we all have a duty to speak up against atrocities of the sort that IS commit and yes of course, we should all be doing everything in our power to help put a stop to it, but realistically, how many people have the courage necessary to do so?

In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, those who belong to the Resistance are today called heroes, but they were a comparative few. Indeed, even in Nazi Germany, the majority of people – though many objected to Hitler’s actions – stayed silent while he carried them out. The simple matter is that it is hard to stand up to your enemies, no matter how undoubtably wrong or wicked they are.

Does this mean we shouldn’t try? Absolutely not, but what it does mean is that ham-fisted campaigns like those in The Sun are creating expectations which put a lot of pressure on people who hardly need it. Issuing a call-to-arms by deciding that silence is equal to consent and demanding some kind of uprising is the wrong way to go about encouraging vocal dissent. Instead, campaigns like #notinmyname on Twitter which begin within the Muslim community should be encouraged, because the fact of the matter is that you cannot bully or coerce people into resistance – they have to take it up on their own terms.

– Lana Wrigley, A2 Politics

Let’s Talk About UKIP

The UK Independence Party, better known as ‘UKIP’ or, ‘BNP Jr.’ has had a fairly interesting time of it, lately. Ex-Conservatives Douglas Carswell, Mark Reckless and Arron Banks (the last a Tory donor rather than an MP) have all three jumped ship, and joined Nigel Farage in his slimy pursuit of power. Now, recently, UKIP has been garnering a lot of attention from the media, a fact which is odd when you consider that, for the moment, at least, they have less (elected) MPs and Councillors than the Green party, and which has led to accusations (and fairly reasonable accusations, at that) that there is a bias in the popular media towards them. Personally, I don’t have a good word to say about Farage and his lackies – the reports of outrageous racism, misogyny and homophobia would have done enough to dissuade me without quasi-Conservative economic policies and a complete disregard for the environment added into the mix – but it would seem, judging by the fact that they won 23 seats in the European Elections earlier this year, that my opinion is not an especially popular one.

The party, which positively leaks xenophobia under its poor guise of stalwart patriotism, has as its flagship issue independence from the European Union, and it’s faced a fair amount of criticism for this, not only from the pro-Europe lot, but also from those who feel that at the end of the day, UKIP are a one-trick pony. Their rise to notoriety, then, might be attributed to the cringeworthy tactics leader Nigel Farage has employed to ingratiate himself with “the man on the street,” – someone he couldn’t be further away from, being a graduate of the infamous public school Dulwich College himself – rather than his policies. Farage likes to pretend that his party has something for everyone, but honestly, the only politician the man seems to admire (other than himself, of course) is Vladimir Putin, so can we really trust a word out of his mouth?

Probably not, considering that he’s been claiming an £83,000 salary plus expenses for a job he freely admits to not doing. And it’s not just him, but the rest of UKIP’s MEPs, too, who are renowned for their record as absentees from the European Parliament. Hardly what one might call toppling the institution from the inside.

There’s no doubt that the UK Independence Party has muddied Britain’s political waters, making David Cameron feel a little antsy, and unfortunately, making it a whole lot harder for the rest of us to have a sensible discussion about the UK’s place in the EU without being shouted down by Farage’s right-wing disciples, who tend to be either ill-informed working-class people supplied with a scapegoat, or the exceedingly wealthy, who know that Farage is really about pursuing the interests of himself and people like him, and exploiting the working-class to do it. A politician through and through, he and his party may well pose a threat to the Conservative party – but I’m far more concerned about the threat they seem to pose to simple common sense.

– Lana Wrigley, A2 Politics

Land of the (Sometimes) Free

So, it’s been over a month since white cop Darren Wilson shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown to death in Ferguson, Missouri.

As it stands, Wilson is on paid leave, and cries for his arrest have been met – unsurprisingly – with stony silence by the Ferguson police. After all those “violent clashes” in the streets, with police in military-grade vehicles not only trying to enforce a media blackout, but firing tear gas and wooden bullets into crowds of peaceful protesters, there hasn’t been a move made against the murderer – who, witnesses agree, fired at the surrendering teen no less than 11 times.

Now, this is far from the first case of white-cop-kills-black-kid the United States has seen, and unfortunately, it is not likely to be the last, but what is significant is the national outrage it has sparked. There have been protests up and down America, calling on the White House for stricter control of police (with petitions circulating which demand that officers wear body cameras), and the internet, at least, is not willing to let the outrage die. In fact, this incident has really demonstrated the power of social media, with protesters and journalists on the ground getting around the police media ban by tweeting events as they unfold. However, all of this means nothing if nothing is done to punish the man who murdered that boy, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen any time soon, because the last thing the institutionally-racist police force of America wants to do is set a precedent.

For years they have been – literally – getting away with murder, and if Darren Wilson goes down for killing Michael Brown, as he surely should, that won’t be allowed to happen again. It is now those who should protect and enforce the law who are trying to obstruct it. The police do not want Darren Wilson to be charged, despite the six witnesses who saw him gun down the 18 year-old, because they know that it will mark a turning point in what they will be allowed to get away with.

But, it is for precisely that reason that he needs to be charged. Police brutality is a scary, scary thing, and if there is even the smallest chance that getting justice for Michael Brown will ensure justice for any other innocent man or woman attacked by police in future, then that is what needs to happen.

So, to the protesters in Ferguson, keep fighting the good fight. By challenging the rotten, racist core of the American police force, you are making history, and I for one, even though I’m typing this hundreds of miles away, applaud you.

– Lana Wrigley, A2 Politics.