europe, human rights, society, World Politics

The refugee crisis has proven that we are not global citizens

syria-4-year-girl

As hordes of Syrian and Iraqi cities and towns are pillaged by Islamic State extremists, the human side effects have been immense, as hundreds of thousands seek shelter. Fierce skies raging with Western airstrikes, and an appalling disregard for migrants simply in search of better days, have come to define a new era of global politics. Our governments are leaving our fellow global citizens behind.

As Western nations trudge on in their anti-Islamic State crusades – programmes of devastating warfare – the results are not just a long and drawn-out campaign of thwarting radicals. Their expeditions often beam back to the West unsettling scenes of bewildered young people who are trapped in a world of detritus and despair.

One subject of this collateral damage is Omrsn Daqneesh. Yesterday, disturbing footage of the absorbed newswires and consumed social media feeds. Pictures showed the desperate boy being tugged from a mound of rubble, carried to an ambulance, plonked down in a daze, and rubbing his dusty, bloody forehead, astonished by the events around him.

His story is certainly not unheard-of. The UN estimates that children constitute 41% of refugees, young people demoralised and displaced by the disorder of a new era of war. Over 250,000 citizens have died as a result of coalition vs. Islamic State Warfare in recent months, and the numbers continue to rise. Many more are sure to have sustained unthinkable injuries. Possibly worse is that, last month, the Guardian reported that as many as 73 civilians were killed in just one Syrian village by a US airstrike, 35 of whom children.

The sad thing is that this type of trauma has become something normal. The upsetting reports of Omran Daqneesh have doubtless raged many in the Western world. There is only so much that the citizens of developed nations can do, however. Their raising of awareness may tug heartstrings, but our leaders seem to be in a state of denial. How can such painful airstrikes, and the sight of perishing humans diminish the complacency of Islamic State guerrillas, whilst killing and hurting the most innocent people at the heart of the conflict – Syrians and Iraqis themselves?

The answer is that it does not. This approach sacrifices many for a long-term goal, currently far from being reached. Of course, extremism and Middle Eastern terrorism must be diminished – and it must be done fast. It is often this argument that has served to justify the mass airstrikes and divisive domestic policies which have taken states such as Syria and countries of the EU, respectively, by storm.

But as our nations continue to barricade themselves against the tempestuous tidal wave that is terrorism, both at home and abroad, we have become lax and afraid to rescue those at the heart of global conflict – in some ways, we are maybe becoming ignorant to it. Our responses to the new global political crises are defining our place in the world. We have closed ourselves off to the tribulations of many fellow human beings. Rhetoric from hard-right populists has served to inject cultural fear into the international community, fuelling an epidemic of xenophobia, and building higher the bricks of national borders.

In this flurry of bombs and grenades, our governments have forgotten about our fellow global citizens. This, in essence, means that we are not global citizens either.

Developed nations have become consumed by a decade of selfishness, with a lack of concern for deaths within warzones, and with disregard for the traumatised Middle Eastern civilians who are seemingly disposed into camps such as “The Jungle” in Calais – some of whom as a result of Western involvements.

The West has stood back for long enough, with too many nations continually turning their backs on the mass exodus of refugees flowing from war-torn nations. Many of those making their way to the European Continent come from no extremist background at all, merely seeking to avoid the bombs and broken buildings. Germany has been one of the most willing recipients of Middle Eastern refugees, with over 1.3m entering the country. Meanwhile, nations like Britain have accepted only around 9,000 refugees today. Spain has taken in 8,000, and France has absorbed 11,000.

The resistance and half-hearted responses of so many Western nations is very disheartening. Last week’s Nauru files, detailing horrific child abuse towards detained Australian asylum seekers, has shown another deep disregard for fellow global citizens, too. With such lacklustre for solving the problems of refugees displaced by the chaos of extremism, the West will become similarly troubled. Failing to fully involve ourselves in a broad taskforce of UN nations committed to clearing up the side-effects of Islamic State conflict will only create larger social and political problems in the long run. Ignoring those who have been stranded as a result of the Islamic State’s agenda will only top up the fuel tank of their campaign, and threats to the stability of domestic politics will only become more regular. Showing that the West can adapt to the problematic Islamic State regime, and treating the moral high ground, is the true way towards the defeat of such barbarism.

Some reassuring news is, however, coming to light. Britain is part of a team of global nations providing material aid to Syrians – to the amount of $1.1bn, in fact. The USA, Israel and others have been keen to contribute, too. Hopefully, a few more refugees will be welcomed soon. News came today in the Guardian of MP Stella Creasy’s parliamentary amendment attempts, which could see thousands of Calais refugees making their way to Britain if successful. Lords peer Alf Dubs has already managed to force the government to bringing as many as 3,000 more child refugees to Britain.

But there is still work to do. The West must make sure that it continues these efforts, and that it builds upon them. The UN reported in February 2016 that 13.5m people are in grave need of humanitarian support, and that 11.4m have been displaced by the Syrian schism. These people will not vanish. Recent attacks have likely pushed up these totals much higher. The so-called Islamic State’s bloodshed has been ramped up in recent weeks, as the siege of key strongholds like Aleppo and Raqqa builds more intense every day.

The more developed Western nations of Europe, North America, and Oceania have a moral duty to respond to the challenges of extremism with boosted humanitarian support, and open borders. Maintaining our moral strength, and resisting the taunts of extremists aimed at breaking down the integrity and principles of our societies, is key to defeating groups such as the so-called Islamic State. Avidly tuning in to populists and their rhetoric, and implementing divisive, barring policy, will only draw our societies closer apart.

But the main problem is that there is no global agenda and that the atmosphere of co-operation is dangerously thin. Western nations now see themselves as separate entities. We are not Europeans, or Westerners. The European Union has broken down, and the West is intent on rubbing its hands of common global issues like those of refugees, off-shore corruption, or even climate change. We are no longer Earthlings, instead divided by the constructed ideas of nation state and nationality.

How will we be able to come together in the future, ready to fight our corners against extremists? We must confront the problems facing the children of the future along with the their demoralised families, with a matter of urgency. If we do not, our places as global citizens will remain in question.

This entire crisis of extremism, hatred, and halted migration currently ravaging our world questions each of us directly, in fact. Are we really global citizens? Global citizens aren’t bystanders who watch on whilst fellow human beings perish, whilst children are deprived of futures and human rights, and whilst extremists take over the political landscape. The only way of solving common issues is via common involvement and common progress. If the refugee crisis has taught us anything, it is that unity is the only way forward.

Advertisements
Standard
human rights, society, World Politics

The West can’t let Erdoğan win, and must push for real democracy

Last Friday’s coup in Turkey, which aimed to provoke a military takeover, failed, but the country’s current political set-up is still far from perfect. As the nation’s President resumed control in the early hours of Saturday morning, some might have seen the survival of Erdoğan as an example of widespread support for him from the Turkish people.

But do not be fooled. With ever harsher clamps upon the southern European nation’s press, ethnic, and societal freedoms, the President’s regime is highly controversial. His policies are not progressive, and ought to be halted fast. It must be something a little comforting, however, to see that predominant support for his presidency when contrasted with potentially dangerous military rule is existent. Myriad citizens have taken to the streets in pro-government demonstrations over past days. The public faced with the lesser of two evils, President Erdoğan still has an increasing monopoly over domestic policy, furthered by this week’s emergency decrees.

Turkey’s past is not one that revolves around finite democracy. Whilst the country is certainly more democratic than it were ten years ago, it is clear that the Erdoğan presidency is not one which encompasses all human rights. This week, President Erdoğan has made no delay of his purge of public office, effortlessly chucking out opponents to his rule. Real power lies exclusively in the hands of the governing AKP.

After last week’s coup attempt, President Erdoğan’s recent actions are not surprising. Just a few days ago, Turkey brushed up against a regime of heightened authoritarianism which ought to have any last drops of momentum soaked up. This week, thousands upon thousands of civil servants, judges and other public officials thought to not side fully with the Erdoğan regime have been forcibly removed from their posts. Today, over 1,000 privately run education institutions will be closed. More than 58,000 people in total are thought to be feeling the effects of the President’s latest purge which he justifies with the need to destroy chances of an even more dangerous coup. Already this year, President Erdoğan has waged a tough war on scores of press journalists who actively speak out against the AKP’s semi-authoritarian regime, an act which largely defies the supposed democratic principles upon which Turkey is said to be built.

Currently, Turkey is one of the most talked-about nations in the world, the end point of Europe and gateway to the Middle East. A hugely advantageous base for the West in interventions against the so-called Islamic State, as well as for dealing with the refugee crisis which continues to grow in seriousness, Turkey’s mustn’t be upset. But maintaining our nations’ moral and political integrity is still important.

Handing privileges of fast-tracked EU membership to Turkey in return for saving the EU from a great deal of the refugee crisis, or allowing the gravely problematic Erdoğan regime to exist undemocratically is simply not permissible. The persecution of dissidence, slamming of anti-regime journalists, and the force-feeding of government prescribed values is unacceptable for Western support no matter the advantages.

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s current views of Turkish disarray are feeble, as she last week underlined the importance of a rule of law within Turkey. The biggest problem is that Turkey’s rule of law is not robust, and that its constitution is hugely flawed. Moreover, such a draconian President should not be permitted by major Western powers.

I am sure that Erdoğan’s plans for controlling dissenters will incite fear among the Turks, but more organised coups with wider support could materialise in the near future. One of them may even win, posing greater problems for the Middle East and the currently fragile European Union. Turkey’s growing relationship with traits of authoritarianism is highly toxic, and failing to stamp out Erdoğan’s politics could result in absolute chaos.

The UK and the rest of the West’s lax attitude to the government’s purging of opponents, and rejection of the European Convention on Human Rights is thus abominable. Turkey is certainly an extremely useful global actor, but our absolutely necessary reliance upon the nation cannot prevent us from upholding typically European values of democracy. Full friendship with Turkish authorities must not come until its political system is strong. Currently President Erdoğan is monumentally pushing over European and North American States and their integrity.

If Erdoğan continues, instability will eventually arrive, prime stomping ground for extremists and a nursery for terrorism. If anything, the attempted coup last week has shown that discontent in relation to the Turkish government is brewing. Turkey’s politics and society are extremely volatile. It is time that the West took the hint, and implemented sturdier pillars of democracy. For it is in the interests of Western nations to prevent a better organised future coup, which could have the potential for more authoritarian principles. Such an attack on Turkey’s already weak political infrastructure could devastate not only the country itself, but also the future of the European Union and standards of international security.

Standard
human rights, UK Politics, World Politics

The Tories’ Saudi arms trade is killing innocent civilians

bae-systems-david-cameron-arms-deal-saudi-arabia-2

With a regular dosage of stories on the destructive consequences of Western interventions in the Middle East recently, it seems that civilian deaths have become something normal. A plethora of extremist groups has taken global governments of late by storm, provoking drastic defence measures involving all the superpowers. Dangerously dispersed power amongst tyrannical factions like Islamic State and al-Qaeda has emphasised the strong need for protecting the global community. But the airstrikes and artillery supported and, in some cases, provided by states like the United Kingdom, is having a detrimental effect on innocent civilians.

Since Saudi Arabia’s recent intervention in the tempestuous Yemeni civil war between rebel and president forces, the United Kingdom has rabidly supported its destructive defence policy. David Cameron’s conservative-led government has been pivotal in building Saudi military strength, rather controversially. Whilst the marginalising and weakening of barbaric terrorists is essential, coining the UK’s operations wholly as ‘efforts’ would be a huge overstatement.

Whilst the Saudi defence tactics supported by the UK have had successes, their impact has fostered desolation, death and detriment on a vast scale. Our terrorist methodology is becoming similar to that of medieval times. It was reported in April that a cumulative $6bn has been spent on UK arms production for Saudi Arabian use since the Saudis’ entry into the conflict.  David Cameron has scandalously authorised the provision of astronomical quantities of weaponry produced by UK companies for Saudi Arabian use. It is our government which is in control of the Yemeni people’s fate, and it is our leaders who are choosing not to provide constructive humanitarian aid.

Until very recently, the damaging civilian impact of Britain’s violent strategy has been less reported. Whilst combatting extremism to an extent, civilisations are becoming obliterated, children have been displaced, and essential services have ceased to function. Easy come, easy go. Towns and villages are coming to a standstill, and vital support organisations’ hospitals are failing to cope. David Cameron, alongside an army of MPs, is the pioneer of a crusade massacring millions at the expense of erasing only a handful of brutes. It was estimated a few months ago by the World Health Organisation that around 6,400 civilians with no militant motivation have been killed by western weaponry. Further to this, around 2.5m people have had their livelihoods stripped of them, bearing no possessions nor a roof over their head. Médecins Sans Frontières have had countless facilities reduced to rubble. Instead of bringing political stability, the Tory administration are nurturing a mammoth humanitarian crisis across Yemen. How can our leaders stand by such brutality, which is damaging communities?

Akin to the actions of Tony Blair in regard to the pain of the Iraqi conflict, Cameron is in danger of committing atrocious war crimes. Many Westminster MPs have already condemned the government-supported attacks. This comes alongside criticism from organisations like the United Nations and pressure groups Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Our nation is defying vital human rights convention. Many innocents are having their livelihoods instantaneously stolen from them. Such criticism should be setting the alarm bells ringing. If Russia were collaborating with Saudi Arabia, orchestrating attacks such as those that the UK support, there would be international outcry. The Tories’ reprehensible hand in the arms trade is thus the source of great hypocrisy and deceit.

Once again, the moral case has been outdone by the political and economic cases. The prospect of large sums of money from the Saudis is the true power supply of such careless warfare, as one British government inquiry termed it. Our government has proven that it is morally and politically weak. With growing pressure from US Secretary of State John Kerry, David Cameron and his Atlantic allies have chosen to play into the hands of just a few businesses rather than tread the moral high ground of stamping out such demoralising attacks. Large profits have triumphed over more attentive soft power, destroying the chances for dialogue and collective humanitarian action.

Perhaps in a couple of years, when the flame of the harmful Yemeni conflict dies, will a viable solution to the civil war be found. Hunger, poverty and ill health are continuing to prevail throughout the nation, thanks to British bombs. The United Nations is only 40% towards sourcing the $703m needed for reconstructing the Syrian nation, and it looks like the West would be reluctant to help after recent events.

We have to be hard on extremism, but it is clear that the United Kingdom’s interventions are just too much. The civilian loss is huge. Communities will never be the same. Detriment of this type has been felt before in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan, alongside a great deal of other regions. Where will be next? If our answer to extremism is blood and bombs, the world will fail to increase in political sustainability? Through the United Kingdom’s current methods for defeating such tyranny, terrorism will grow more commonplace, and our international relations will become more brittle. The Yemeni people need humanitarian support, and it is time that our approach focused on teamwork, peace, and sustainability.

Standard
human rights, society, UK Politics

Young people are being forgotten during UK election campaigns

6454544-3x2-940x627

Over the days leading up to today’s Scottish General Election, I asked many of my fellow students whether or not they would be voting. Many responded enthusiastically, enfranchised for the first time – disregarding the Scottish referendum – as 16, 17, or 18 year-olds. But a large proportion of the answers I received were gravely worrying. Many told me that they didn’t feel educated enough, that they simply had forgotten to change to their new constituency, or that they hadn’t had time to register for a postal vote. The Electoral Commission’s social media drive and overhead billboards have failed to entice voter registration amongst citizens young and old. It seems that our system of electoral registration is failing to inspire many in society – especially students, as well as those who travel regularly.  A boost in electoral bureaucracy, spearheaded by the Tories thanks to recent reform, is making our electoral system more deceptive, and is resulting in the creation of a relaxed political culture. The principles of our nation’s democracy are under threat.

There must surely be something wrong about a society which does encourage people to vote, but makes it increasingly difficult to. Several months ago, Tory legislation removed the ability for collective voter registration, and thus made it less easy to become enfranchised. Due to these new government moves, households and organisations such as universities can no longer place large numbers of individuals on the electoral register at once. To top this, electoral participation is alarmingly low. Around a third of voters – and regularly more – failed to turn up to their local polling station last May.

The fact that such large numbers of people choose not to exercise their right to vote, or are missing – either deliberately or accidentally – from the electoral register is a serious threat to the United Kingdom’s political society. How can governments be held to account? Why should David Cameron and his party be allowed to create such a political monopoly, making it easier for the older and more geographically anchored individual to vote? It is abominable that the government is willing to sit back whilst its agencies fail to make registration an effortless exercise.

As many as 800,000 previously eligible citizens were deleted from the register several months ago. It was further revealed that the electoral register has shrunk by 1.6 million since 2012. In no way have the Tories’ electoral register changes been beneficial to the UK’s democracy. Instead of being a source of inspiration and empowerment, the Electoral Commission has become growingly bureaucratic.

The worst part of the government’s changes is the disrespect for some of the most influential groups of society. Students, many of whom will have to register to vote for the first time, are being failed. Moving between multiple addresses, the government has not provided an effortless registration process for young people. Without the participation of young adults, results of past elections would be markedly different. Voting amongst those aged between 18 and 24 saw a 20% decrease between 1990 and 2010. Perhaps the government is willfully ignoring the youth vote, knowing that their increased enfranchisement would diminish chances for Tory victories. Either way, such blatant disrespect for mass enfranchisement is a crime against democracy.

Besides the Tories’ tactical registration reform, there are other reasons why the youth vote, in particular, is becoming increasingly smothered by those above. Party efforts for encouraging student voting seems very weak. At my student flat in Glasgow during this election campaign, I received a puny supply of direct electoral information. The provision of three leaflets from the Scottish Green Party was very acceptable. However, besides this delivery, as well as one mailshot from UKIP and another from Solidarity, I received nothing else. The fact that a number of the main parties in Scotland – the SNP, Labour, the Conservatives and Lib Dems – were not interested in attracting the student vote through direct canvassing shows that more must be done to sell the pros of enfranchisement to young people. Don’t get me wrong – a large number of young adults are very politically engaged. But those who lack in political knowledge and experience are being forgotten. Surely it is the duty of our governments to promote the excitement and empowerment which comes with electoral participation.

There are several quick and effective fixes to the seemingly increasing threat to our democracy and the UK’s political culture. It is clear that the Tories’ new enfranchisement regulations are having a seriously negative impact on participation, and excluding vast populations from political engagement. Along with increased direct support from individual parties, a perhaps if universities, colleges and other institutions – as well as households – had power to enfranchise people en masse returned, our nation’s democratic foundations would be stronger than ever. On top, huge registration campaigns must become the norm. An inspiring Electoral Commission should be built up, ready to promote the benefits of participation to all. In addition, the lack of direct canvassing towards young people is shameful. An increase must be seen.

It is therefore clear that the political parties of the UK are in danger of becoming complacent. Party leaders do not seem to want to talk to young people as much as they perhaps once did. It seems that the 1920s struggles for suffrage have not ended, and will not end soon. Next year’s Scottish local elections will inevitably receive markedly less attention than this May’s general election. A new era of democratic encouragement must come into being. The Tories’ recent electoral reforms are damaging the chances for strengthened British democracy. Elections should not be made difficult to take part in. For if this is the case, Britain is simply not a democracy. Only tomorrow will we find out how exactly Britain’s young people have exercised their votes in one of the several elections taking place today. Call me a cynic, but I fear that the figures for youth turnout will not be as high as they could be. Of course, those who are politically engaged will certainly be rampant supporters of their chosen party. But without stark rejection of the government’s new registration obstacle course, we will be quietly submitting to the removal of our greatest democratic rights.

Standard
europe, human rights, World Politics

Refugees, extremism, and the EU do not justify curbed press freedoms

erdogan.png

It seems that the existence of our free press, liberal social networks, and a largely unrestricted internet maze are the foundations of our societies that we are failing to appreciate. Recent months have seen a draconian crackdown on countless activists and journalists worldwide, most notably throughout Turkey, Poland, and Middle Eastern nations. Without giving citizens the ability to criticise their leaders, only tyranny and inequality will prevail. As governments are placed under mounting pressure to restore public order and dissolve the marked threats of rampant extremism, global populations are at risk of viewing an independent media as a more sporadic luxury.

Headlines in past months have seen the stringent curtailing of speech freedoms in myriad nations. More and more, the rights of citizens to criticise from the interior of controversial regimes are declining.  Turkey’s government, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is on a rights rampage, crushing protests over intense media regulation, and closing numerous media outlets which actively speak out against the government. March saw the Committee for the Protection of Journalists declare Turkey as “under siege” in the war against its free press. Further punctuated by the prosecution of a German comedian for his outspoken poem tormenting President Erdoğan, and the government’s new control of multiple private news agencies, perhaps there will soon be no robust check on the Turkish government. The situation is all too similar worldwide, especially in Poland and Egypt. In January, President Andrzej Duda similarly moved a large proportion of the country’s media under state control. The February murder of Reuters journalist Giulio Regeni in Cairo shows that the suppression of our global media is fast mushrooming.

The sad reality is that the above examples are only a small fraction of the assaults carried out against international media. The EU and the UN, two of the most authoritative rights organisations in the world, have declared the right to freedom of speech and the existence of a free press are essential human rights and key pillars of liberal democracies. Denying citizens this liberty should is a crime. Without a free press encircling our societies the significant corruption which riddles too many communities would not have been exposed. Last month’s Panama Papers scandal is just one of the many underhand operations that  came to light thanks to a co-operative, forceful global media. With harsher press clampdowns, similar discoveries will only become fewer and less frequent. Our governments are in real danger of becoming despotic and unaccountable.

The laxity of many global leaders is coming at a hefty price. Many nations may, in just several years, have no real accountability mechanisms in place. Whilst the eternal struggle against extremist militants across the world continues, the European influx of refugees fleeing war-torn states becomes greater, and the European Union becomes closer to tipping point, it is vital that political solutions are, of course, sought. But we absolutely cannot concede press freedoms for increased peace. The shutdown of our media outlets will only increase the toil and the danger.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, portrayed as the queen of Europe and pioneer of one of the world’s greatest democracies, is one leader who has unforgivably succumbed to such pressures. In an attempt to prevent the break up of the European Union, and to save the German export economy, Turkey has been urged to take the brunt of the continuing refugee crisis. Some form of payback is absolutely right. But the accelerated EU membership process of Turkey will threaten the core principles of the Union, including those of our societies’ press freedoms. Accepting Turkey into the EU whilst it fails to comply with several of the 72 membership pre-requisites, is certainly not a master stroke. Coercing Turkey into housing a large proportion of Middle Eastern refugees is all for political advantage. Turkish membership will make the existence of weak political freedoms somewhat acceptable, and Germany, one of the biggest promoters of such democratic principles, is shamefully abandoning its national morals. One of the largest world democracies has now authorised Turkey’s lax political society, which will now allow the replication of weak media regulation in nations elsewhere.

Our leaders’ ploys of taking reduced press freedoms for increased political advantages will not work eventually. Without strong opposition to these moves from global powers, such media suppression will become more commonplace. Our inability to crackdown on blatantly harsh regimes is fostering a rise in authoritarianism as people yearn for some form of immediate stability. One recent report showed that civilians caught up in the Arab Spring would forego democracy in return for increased stability. Whilst vehement authoritarianism will, in several cases, bring stability in the short term, a reduction in the ability to speak out will create internal opposition and unjust dictatorships. The promotion of truly democratic principles is the only way of tackling political problems in Middle Eastern states, as well as nations such as Turkey and Poland.

The most worrying prospect is that such democracy-threatening politics could become the norm in our societies. As citizens look for solutions to political instability, as well as an end to prevalent barbarism – and quite rightly so – we can’t just forget our democratic morals in return for a quick and short-term remedy. The removal of a vibrant, challenging press is criminal, and will result in the eventual explosion of pent up fury, restarting the vicious circle. The only solution is for our Western leaders to demonstrate their solid grip on democratic principles. A free press is essential, but by no means existent in many societies. Without fast-paced, immediate action, global citizens’ voices will become increasingly drowned out, and tyranny will triumph.

Standard