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Editors´ Picks

The dead are gone to nowness

Earlier, on September 30th we reported on „Fatal Journeys: Tracking Lives Lost During Migration“ – a comprehensive research compiled by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM): it indicates that Europe is the world’s most dangerous destination for “irregular” migration. 

According to IOM more than 22,000 migrants died while trying to cross European borders since the year 2000. IOM Director General William Lacy Swing called this walling-off an „epidemic crime and victimisation“ and demanded: “It is time to do more than count the number of victims. It is time to engage the world to stop this violence against desperate migrants.”

In the run-up of the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall the art group „Zentrum für politische Schönheit“ (Centre for Political Beauty) initiated a performance that is replacing sheer remembrance through nowness, and thoughtlessness through active solidarity with the next potential victims of another wall – a much bigger one, surrounding Europe like a dystopian fortress. 

In this dystopian present 14 white crosses – once marking the lost lives while trying to cross from Berlin’s east to west – have fled from Berlin’s government district. According to the Centre for Political Beauty the dead victims of the Berlin Wall „fled to their brothers and sisters across the European borders to stand by them in an act of solidarity.“

The performance is accompanied by a civil action campaign whereby people can go by busses to Mediterranean borders and “tear down the European wall”. The campaign’s crowdfunding page contains instructions on how to dismantle a wire fence with tools like a bolt-cutter.

While donations are welcome to fund this campaign – each bus carrying 55 people will cost 5,900 € – Berlin will have its own performance sonorously called „Lichtgrenze“ (Border of Light): according to Der Spiegel thousands of light bowls for the cost of more than one million Euro to provide its citizens the experience how it was to be surrounded by a wall. The bowls will be filled with helium and shall be released up to the sky. 

Will migrants on the other side of the European wall see them?

Photo: Patryk Witt, Courtesy: Centre for Political Beauty

A pro-choice success for the Notorious R.B.G.

On Monday the United States Supreme Court stood up for women’s health and rights by striking down parts of a Texas law that imposes restrictions on abortion providers. 

Human Rights Watch said, „The decision is a resounding defeat for abortion opponents in the US who have sought to block women’s access to the procedure with laws that regulate clinics out of business under the guise of safety.“

83-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was one of the five members who ruled in favour of the decision. Ginsburg is celebrated by popular feminists in the US for her „badass“ reputation for supporting women’s rights in an arena dominated by old, white men.

This has earned her the nickname „the Notorious R.B.G.“ (a nod to the rapper Notorious B.I.G.), along with a host of supportive memes that make use of law-speak to celebrate the female justice icon.

Ginsburg did not mince words on Monday, writing in her opinion that is was not rational that this law could protect women.

„It is beyond rational belief that H.B. 2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law ‚would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions‘,“ she wrote.

She also pointed out the likelihood of women resorting to unsafe procedures when they are unable to have a safe abortion. HB2 would have caused the majority of Texas‘ abortion clinics to close, leaving some women in rural areas hundreds of miles away from a clinic. 

„When a State severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners, faute de mieux, at great risk to their health and safety,“ she wrote. 

An unlikely pop cultural hero perhaps, but one making the decisions that affect millions of lives.

No more Polish vermin

The British electorate has voted to leave the European Union. Just over 51.% of the roughly 70% of the electorate that voted in the Brexit referendum opted to terminate its membership of the European Union.

They are probably two of the most boring sentences I’ve ever written. Yet, beneath those two statements lies some of the most transparent and widespread prejudice the UK has witnessed in recent memory. There are already an endless number of articles and blogs about what the Brexit might potentially mean politically and economically (disaster, basically) and there’s an endless stream of blithe centre-right Britons either celebrating or telling those protesting to just ‘get on with it’; I don’t want to talk about either of these issues. I want to discuss two, personally heartbreaking issues for me.

  • Racism: Ethnic minorities in the UK have always faced racism. It’s no surprise to people of colour that a victory for the leave campaign would be seen as a victory for white supremacy; The entire leave campaign was predicated on a xenophobic platform of shutting out undesirable migration. That racism has now leaked to include EU nationals in Britain, and there have been reports of incidents across the country of people of colour, and EU nationals being told to ‘go home’, or worse.
  • Disintegration of solidarity: The idea that many Britons had no idea what they voted for bothers me – google searches of ‘what is the EU’ went up by a factor of 3 after the referendum result. This challenges the idea that there could ever be a widespread ‘European solidarity’ in the UK – but the referendum result sends a clear message to all people in Europe and the EU: you are not important to us.

There are people saying the Brexit has had no impact on the volume or type of racism the UK is now seeing. That’s as stupid as Nigel Farage claiming the UK will inevitably fall into recession now, but that’s also got nothing to do with Brexit. No, Worrying Signs, a Facebook page dedicated to highlighting incidents of racism and prejudice post-Brexit highlights many – far too many – cases, including horrendous cases in Huntingdon and Cambridgeshire where Polish residents have had cards put through their doors reading ‘no more Polish vermin’.

As a Briton, the sense of outrage I personally feel is enormous; so is my gut-reaction to the notion that somehow, this Brexit result is some kind of ‘working-class revolt’. Not only is there no consolidated and traditional working-class in the UK (there are underclasses of course, the precariat, digital-workers, students etc.) but the whole debate was poisoned by misinformation, false promises and xenophobia – essentially the idea that if ‘we leave the EU, we can get these foreigners out’. It’s heartbreaking to see racism and xenophobia given such a ringing endorsement in the UK – a country that prides itself on fairness, common sense and moderation. It’s sad to see that many leave voters now reveal themselves to have been misinformed. It’s sad to see underprivileged people being lied to, manipulated, to push through a vote that has consequences for the rest of the world. It’s sad to see right-wingers across Europe emboldened.

It’s depressing, but what we across Europe have to do now is clear: Fight right-wing politics with solidarity. Show support for minorities and POCs. Build solidarity across borders. Find out what’s going on in your community and show your community you will not stand for any kind of prejudice. This isn’t a time to be weak. It’s a time to be brave. Prejudice should never be able to win.

Former Syrian refugee rescues his own family in Greece

„I told them not to go in the night because if you have an accident you are more likely to drown. To wear a raincoat and plastic bags on their feet, that most lifejackets were fake. And to try not to scream because it scares the children.“

This is how Ghias Aljundi guided his family through their perilous boat trip from Turkey to Greece in December last year.

Aljundi fled Syria for the UK 18 years ago, and is now volunteering near Lesvos, Greece, rescuing migrants arriving by boat from Turkey.

On World Refugee Day this week he wrote for Amnesty International about his rare opportunity to greet his brother on the shores of Greece, who he hadn’t seen for 17 years.

„The only person I recognised was Safi, even though we hadn’t seen each other in 18 years. My sister-in-law, Nina, was crying. She thought she had lost her baby because people had stepped on her belly in panic on the boat. My doctor colleagues checked her and found a heartbeat. I picked up so many children, including my three-year-old niece, Sirin – I didn’t know it was her until later.“

The family has since moved on to Germany where they are beginning their new lives, safe from the violence that caused them to flee last year after the brother, Safi’s, mobile phone shop was shot at.

Aljundi makes a solid case for resettlement solutions and creating safe, legal routes for refugee passage, rather than allowing people smugglers to keep profiting from desperate people fleeing violence, war and discrimination.

„For all of them, being able to travel safely and legally to a country that will protect them means giving their children a future. As a parent you wouldn’t want your children to be born in limbo – you’d want them to go to school, be safe and settled.“

„Protection isn’t a gift for refugees: it’s a human right. On World Refugee Day, we need to tell our governments to work together to find solutions, now.“

Read Aljundi’s full story here.

Brexit, death and violence

In 3 days the British public will vote in a referendum that will decide whether it remains a part of the EU. Claims and counter claims have been made, televised debates held, interviews conducted, and one MP has been stabbed and shot in the street.

Jo Cox, the MP for the Northern constituency of Batley and Spen, and former head of policy of Oxfam GB was violently murdered in the street. The accused is Thomas Mair, who has apparent Neo-Nazi sympathies. When asked his name during trial, he responded ‘my name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain’.

It is too early to say anything about the murder, other than even if there is no direct link between the referendum and the killing, there is no doubt that the poisonous atmosphere of European politics has made it possible to even imagine a link between anti-immigrant sentiment and a brutal killing.

The killing of Jo Cox has degraded the debate (if it could be degraded) into something other than a discussion of UK-EU relations. Indeed, the killing has transformed this debate into whether the UK endorses right-wing violence or not. It never should have been this way, but unfortunately, events have transformed the debate by an act of alchemy into this.

The UK has a choice about whether it wants to challenge the trend of right-wing populism and violence rising around Europe, or whether it wants to endorse it. Those are the stakes.

Legislative inaction on guns leaves another 49 dead in the US

A one-man massacre in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida has left 49 dead and 54 wounded, a tragic day for families, friends, and the LGBTQI community.

Hatred of the LGBTQI community seems to have been a key issue in the gun attack, although gunman Omar Mateen was known to frequent the club where the shooting took place. He pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State shortly before the attack, with media affiliated with ISIS claiming responsibility.

But behind the reasons of hatred is another, infinitely more preventable reason for the attacks: a lack of gun legislation in the USA.

Despite countless gun attacks on minorities, everyday civilians, and even schoolchildren in recent years, US legislators have responded without legislation. In fact, the US government is currently banned from funding research on gun violence – the kind of research that could produce effective policy.

As Antonia Ginatta wrote for Human Rights Watch: “Dismissing mass shootings as a price to pay for living in the United States is a betrayal of all who live there.”

The gun lobby continues to make it possible for innocent lives to be lost at the hands of the power-hungry, hateful, and mentally ill who need adequate care, not easy access to weapons.

In fact, the worst mass-shootings in recent years are all connected by the same type of gun.

“From Aurora to Newtown, to San Bernardino and Orlando, the main killing machine was the AR-15, a rifle of military origin, whose semiautomatic version is known for its precision and ability to fire many rounds quickly, and which can be bought legally in the US.”

After 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, families sued the manufacturer of the AR-15, arguing that the rifle is a military weapon and should not be sold to civilians.

And yet it continues to be so.

There is plenty of sense to be found in these senseless attacks, and yet legislators continue to turn a blind eye.

Prayers don’t bring back lives, but legislation can save them.

Four students shot dead during anti-corruption protest in Papua New Guinea

Four students have been reported dead after police fired directly into a crowd of protestors in the capital Port Moresby as long-running anti-corruption protests suddenly turned violent.

Opposition MPs told parliament that four students had been killed and seven injured in the incident on Wednesday, but the government insisted the demonstrators were only injured and that police only fired warning shots.

Students on the campus of the University of Papua New Guinea had been protesting and boycotting classes for five weeks, demanding that the prime minister, Peter O’Neill, resign over corruption allegations that have dogged his government for two years.

But the peaceful on-campus protests erupted into violence when armed police prevented students from boarding buses to take them to parliament house early on Wednesday.

The police then fired at the crowd and officers reportedly moved in to arrest the president of the student union, Kenneth Rapa.

Prime Minister O’Neill has denied that any students were  killed, saying that only five had been injured.

He said the “blood of the injured students” was on the hands of politicians and “criminal elements” who had supported the protests, and that students who had spent weeks protesting for his resignation would now have to “face the consequences of their low grades”.

A warrant for O’Neill’s arrest on corruption charges was issued in 2014, but the prime minister has dodged questioning and arrest since then. PNG police’s anti-corruption unit was shut down earlier this year, just as it was set to question O’Neill, before a judge ordered it be reopened.

The parliament, which was due to reopen today, has now been adjourned until August.

Businesses and schools have closed to mourn the loss of the students, as seen in the image above.

New images of coral bleaching demonstrate climate change devastation

The longest global coral bleaching event in history is now devastating reefs in the crystal clear waters of the Maldives, with images released to the Guardian powerfully illustrating the extent of the damage there.

Photographed by the XL Catlin Seaview Survey, the images captured the event in May as it moved beyond the now devastated Great Barrier Reef and into waters further west.

“The bleaching we just witnessed in the Maldives was truly haunting,” said Richard Vevers, founder of the Ocean Agency.

Sp how is coral bleaching a sign of climate change?

When coral sits in water that is too warm for too long, it gets stressed and expels the algae that provides it with about 90% of its energy. If it stays stressed for more than a couple of weeks it starts to starve, become diseased, and dies.

Extreme El Niño winds spread warm water across the Pacific and warm the globe, pushing coral closer to their thermal limits.

Extreme El Niños were not seen before 1982 but have occurred three times since. Extreme El Niños are expected to increase in frequency as a result of climate change.

A new study has found the conditions that led to the devastating bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef were made 175 times more likely by climate change, and on the current trajectory, would become the average conditions by the 2030s.

“It’s rare to see reefs bleach quite so spectacularly,“ Vevers told the Guardian. „These were healthy reefs in crystal clear water at the height of an intense bleaching event. The flesh of the corals had turned clear and we were seeing the skeletons of the animals glowing white for as far as the eye could see – it was a beautiful, yet deeply disturbing sight.”

The Maldives is series of coral atolls, built from the remains of coral. The livelihoods of people there depend on the reefs through tourism, fisheries and as a wave-break that helps prevent inundation on low-lying islands.

The photographs were part of an ongoing project, in partnership with Google, the University of Queensland and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency to capture the global bleaching event as it moves around the world.

“We’ve been following this third global bleaching event since the start nearly two years ago and just when you think you’ve seen the saddest sight you’ll ever see, you see something even worse,” Vevers said.

Photo: the Ocean Agency

Racists hate chocolate, new study emerges

One of the insults I faced often when growing up was ‘coconut’: Translation – brown on the outside, white on the inside. There were interesting variations on this theme: Bounty (a coconut chocolate), Oreo (yet again a black/ white chocolate biscuit) – a fun little subgenre of prejudice cultivated by black and brown people who didn’t like the idea that another black or brown person might like to read, or listen to anything other than B21 or 50 Cent.

Ironic then that the German right-wing should hone in on the chocolate/ imagery sector of the ‘racist’ venn-diagram; Not to suggest that that the black guys weren’t black enough, but frankly, they weren’t white enough. Alexander Gauland, deputy leader and co-founder of the AfD in Germany followed up the right-wing outrage in the country over Kinder’s latest marketing plan (using childhood pictures of players from Germany’s national football team) – by tweeting that World Cup and Champions League winner, Jerome Boateng, is liked as a footballer, but most Germans wouldn’t want him as a neighbour. Boateng, of dual German and Ghanain heritage, grew up in Berlin, before eventually moving to South Germany to play for Bayern Munich. He is one of the most successful German footballers in history.

But his childhood image on a box of Kinder chocolate prompted angry social media responses from Pegida followers, who apparently were not aware the images were of the national team. They seem to have believed the black face (Boateng) and the brown face (Ilkay Gündogan) were part of an attempt from Italian chocolate manufacturer Ferrero, to push multiculturalism down their throats. “Where will it end?” bemoaned one patriotic European against the Islamisation of the West, apparently more concerned with how their chocolate was packaged than the finer points of the alleged Islam/ Europe conflict (pending, it seems). „Is this a warning for future terrorists?“ asked another – a question I still haven’t quite worked out. A warning? For terrorists? Chocolate? Terrorists?

Joking aside, it’s hard to understand how simple messages of inclusiveness, whether part of large marketing campaigns, or minor political movements can provoke such astounding anger in such a large number of people. For these people, it doesn’t matter how white someone is on the inside, because like a Kinder chocolate, have you noticed, you know, it’s still very brown on the outside. Pegida and AfD members have a hair-trigger response to diversity-based imagery and messages: A brown/ black face, and that’s it, it’s over, the Western project, the Enlightenment, the house of Atreus has fallen and we’ve built a massive super Mosque in its place. Game over, man, game over.  

Look at China. It took weeks to get an apology out of detergent firm Qiaobi: A woman literally pushes a black man into a washing machine to ‘clean’ him of his blackness. He emerges paler, happier, cooler. She is positively ecstatic. Such an offensive, astonishingly backward message belongs in a different age, but sadly, there is too long a historical precedent that black and brown skin is simply white skin gone ‘wrong’, white skin that’s dirty, black on the outside, white on the inside. Christ – there’s a too-long history that black and brown skin is like chocolate – I mean, what even is that about? 

These contrasting images illustrate that advertising messages function according to market demands, and not higher-principles of inclusivity. No one expects advertisers and marketers to respect human dignity: Indeed, a familiar argument about advertising is that it is fundamentally based on delivering images of human inadequacy and its solution through consumption. More importantly, it demonstrates just how the different groups function: Anti-racists have cried foul over the Chinese advert with justification – the ad is racist. Right wingers moan and groan over an apparent attempt to push multiculturalism – an image triggering a series of paranoid fantasies in their too-addled brains.

Ferrero are not standard bearers for a concerted dialogue to an increased multiculturalism, but they recognize that there is a positive cultural and economic shift towards diversity in Germany. However, it’s pretty unbelievable that AfD and Pegida followers don’t recognize that – apparently, there is a massive social cover-up going on, subtly changing the values and chocolate of yesteryear to make it more, well, brown. Gauland doesn’t want Boateng as a neighbour, nor would any German, he thinks – why even bother saying this? To justify the outrage over the Kinder marketing plan. Why not instead attack neoliberalism, its flexibility, its ability to twist and turn and cater to popular shifts in markets? Because Alexander Gauland wants his chocolate and he wants to eat it too – he wants free trade, cheap labour, cheap goods, but he does not want migration. He wants to be entertained by black footballers, but he doesn’t want to live near them. He wants to take take take, and expect nothing to change around him. You probably can have globalised neoliberalism without racism. You cannot have globalised liberalism without migration. Pegida, AfD, all the rest, should stop behaving like Kinder and act like Erwachsene: Chocolate is not your enemy – black and brown people are not your enemy  – Islam is not your enemy. You are your own enemy.

Image: Alexander Gauland from Wikipedia