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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

 

Too little, now too much: the burkini ban is just the latest way to police women's bodies

This has got to be some sleazy guy’s wet dream: Muslim women may now be legally required to wear less clothing on French beaches.

Authorities in 15 French towns have banned the burkini, a long-sleeved and legged form of swimwear including a headscarf, calling for the removal of religious dress following recent terrorism in France.

A press image published this week shows four armed policemen surrounding a burkini-clad woman who was lying on the beach at the Promenade des Anglais, the site of the Bastille Day attack.

Surely four policemen were not needed to carry out this task. But policing women’s bodies and what we wear has been sport for centuries. Who would want to miss out on the fun?

Muslim women’s modest dress is designed to be exactly that: modest. But ironically, a fine handed to a Muslim woman on the beach in Cannes who was not wearing a burkini but rather regular clothing and a headscarf, stated that she was not wearing “an outfit respecting good morals and secularism”.

What’s a woman to do?

“I was sitting on a beach with my family,” said the 34-year-old woman. “I was wearing a classic headscarf. I had no intention of swimming.”

A witness said other beachgoers were shouting at the woman to „go home“, while others applauded the police.

France’s state council is set to probe the the Burkini ban, which will set a legal precedent for the rest of the country.

Let’s hope they choose to protect freedom of religion over freedom to police women’s bodies.

The Beatles are overrated and I don't care what you say

They are though. I mean they’re credited with changing the entire notion of youth, reshaping musical structure forever – even cited with helping shape our modern idea of peace. Honestly, it’s not true. Also, a lot of their songs suck. 

We live in a culture of overrating everything. Every movie has five stars, every book is unputdownable. Every event is the worst in all history – and every celebrity is Jesus Christ. It’s probably no surprise then that when we talk about climate change, it doesn’t actually seem like it might be the most devastating thing to happen to the planet since the extinction of the dinosaurs. A really unmissable event! A tour de force of global destruction! Mother nature is definitely up for an Oscar after this performance. 

So when July was officially recorded as the hottest July on record globally, and August will be recorded as the warmest August ever globally, and so on, and so on, why don’t the warnings work? It seems that the combination of incremental temperature changes and the drastic language seem to clash. The old idea of putting a frog in a pot and slowly boiling it works better than tossing the frog into a boiling pot also applies: When we scream about the world going to hell, well, it just doesn’t feel like it. But man, it is a hot day.

It’s August. It’s hot. People are running around Rio, and the world is going crazy for it. It’s truly the best sporting event of all time. Usain Bolt did a cool thing. So did Michael Phelps. But the environment didn’t do anything. So it seems people’s attention won’t be won over with big statements and dire predictions. Also, people are easily distracted – did you see Usain Bolt do that cool thing? Best race ever. 

The solution seems to lie somewhere in making climate change interesting – not drastic. How do we make it interesting, and even desirable to talk about? Actually I’m not sure. Who cares? Here comes the sun….

Afghanistan's education system threatened by military use of schools

Afghan security forces are increasingly using schools as bases during military operations in Taliban-held areas, putting children at risk and depriving thousands of an education, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The Afghan government should take immediate steps to curtail security force use of schools for military purposes.

The 45-page report, “Education on the Front Lines: Military Use of Schools in Afghanistan’s Baghlan Province,” documents the occupation and other military use of schools by state forces and the Taliban in Baghlan province in northeastern Afghanistan. It is based on interviews with more than more than 20 school principals, teachers, and administrators, as well as local families affected by the conflict. As school districts across Afghanistan increasingly find themselves on the front lines of the country’s armed conflict, students risk their lives at schools being used by soldiers which may become military targets, or are deprived of an education until facilities are found elsewhere.

“Afghan children’s education is at risk not just from the Taliban, but also from government forces that occupy their schools,” said Patricia Gossman, senior Afghanistan researcher. “Children are being put in harm’s way by the very Afghan forces mandated to protect them.”

Decades of unrelenting conflict in Afghanistan have decimated the country’s educational system, depriving entire generations of an education. Since late 2001, many donor countries’ reconstruction efforts have focused on rebuilding the country’s devastated educational infrastructure.

Foreign donors have invested heavily in education – building schools, supporting teacher training, and providing textbooks and other materials to schools across the country. But as the security situation has deteriorated in recent years, schools have increasingly been threatened by both insurgent forces and Afghan security forces, who use them for military operations.

In one case, the Taliban in 2010 attacked a middle school that was occupied by Afghan security forces in Postak Bazaar village, Baghlan province, and gunned down seven policemen inside a classroom. “Their blood just wouldn’t wash away,” a school official told Human Rights Watch. “So we had to chip it away from the wall with an axe.”

By 2015, government forces had reoccupied the school, stacking sandbags on the second floor, while students tried to continue their schooling below. Alarmed school officials managed to get Kabul authorities to write a letter ordering the military forces to leave, but the commander disregarded the order. When school officials again presented the letter to the commander at exam time, officers fired their guns in the direction of the assembled teachers and students.

“A decade of achievement rebuilding Afghanistan’s educational system and increasing education for girls is at risk so long as schools are used by military forces and threatened with attack,” Gossman said. “The Afghanistan government should get its soldiers out of the schools.”

Olympics, nolympics, golympics, and so on

Maybe it’s just me, but I think the Olympics have been pretty good this year. I mean, Usain Bolt defended his 100m gold for the second time – the first time in history an athlete has one 3 consecutive men’s 100m golds. Simone Biles is single-handedly (multiple-limbedly) re-inventing an entire sport, Michael Phelps proved that he’s not through just yet, and there have been plenty of touching moments besides. 

I mean, the spectacle, the competition – that’s been good, but at the expense of thousands of Rio’s poorer residents and in general, the democratic processes which ensure the freedom of its people, and the accountability of its politicians. We’ve already spoken at length about increased militarisation of police forces, and the peculiar realignment of militarisation around sporting events – as though sports were somehow a universal good which justified exceptional protection from states, including protection from those people whom the events are supposed to directly benefit – the locals. 

Sports and other events are of course used as major propaganda tools – this everyone knows. They create intense emotions which can be driven towards a nationalist end. They also provide politicians with easy answers when it comes to soaring commercialisation and police brutality (well, don’t you want the games to go ahead?)

And since it seems the Olympics, the World Cup, the Commonwealth Games etc. aren’t going anywhere i.e. they’re not going to stop, simply because some people want them to – indeed, millions upon millions of people want them to continue – the problem is therefore: How do we have sport without making local populations suffer, and meanwhile making politicians and corporations accountable?

This is an enormous question – one too large for the likes of this column. At first glance, the answer seems to be to say – the Olympics and other sports should either be rejected by populations (e.g. like they were in Hamburg and Berlin), or something fairly close to establish a clear set of criteria which means that these events can only take place in countries with a certain level of development; Not ‚developed enough to hold the games‘, but ‚developed enough so there is a tiny minority of people below the poverty line‘. 

The latter seems to be a very clumsy answer. After all, the magnetic pull of sports is very much that they provide hope, inspiration and entertainment for people – to say that they should just be gotten rid of is an untenable position. Therefore, the proposition I think that most realistically captures the ideal of what is required for these sports is fair, transparent and localised referenda. Which is indeed what is happening. The Guardian reports: 

„Oslo had cancelled its bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics because there was so little public support for it. Earlier in the year, Stockholm withdrew for similar reasons. Krakow also cancelled after a referendum found almost 70% of residents opposed the bid. For Munich’s bid, the figure was nearer 60%. For Davos, it was 53%. In Barcelona, the mayor deferred until 2026, then canned the plan altogether. A similar thing happened in Quebec City. So from nine candidates, the IOC was left with two potential hosts. One was Almaty, in the dictatorship of Kazakhstan, and the other was Beijing, not hitherto noted as one of the world’s great winter sports resorts. Beijing won, though most of the events will be held 140 miles away in Chongli.“

I think this is a first step forward. 

Iran bans Pokemon Go, and other significant trends

Pokemon Go, the latest app craze to sweep the world (I can’t actually think of a preceding ‚app craze‘, btw), has been banned in Iran. Now, before you take that as a surefire sign that Iran has nominated itself as the most boring, the most critical, the most subjected-to-a-national-super-ego country in the world (which it may have done), you might think about considering why it’s done such a thing. 

Immediate, vague, atavistic reasons spring to mind: Pokemon are kinds of unnatural forms, Iran is probably against idolatry, etc – things which don’t really make too much sense. No, the reason is fairly simple: Pokemon Go represents two things: A technology-based use of the public space, and a game featuring a popular global brand that is known to have had strong social impacts, particularly among young people. 

The official reason from Iran is that: “Any game that wants to operate nationwide in Iran needs to obtain permission from the ministry of culture and Islamic guidance, and the Pokémon Go app has not yet requested such a permission,” the semi-official Isna news agency quoted Abolhasan Firouzabadi, the head of Iran’s supreme council of virtual space, as saying.

But that’s just the public reason. The real reason is probably much more, paradoxically, old sounding. it’s because Iran, like all governments shaped by totalitarian tendencies, is frightened by popular movements, and new ways of using its public spaces. Pokemon Go, it seems, might just be an existential threat to the government, because, as ridiculous as it sounds, it encourages users to go outside, to use the city in ways which don’t recognise traditionally established boundaries, such as the private/ public distinction. There might be a Pikachu hanging out by a graveyard, or a government building, and the ease with which a Pokemon Go-er might approach that space in a way they wouldn’t normally is difficult for the government to handle. 

Obviously, Pokemon is not going to encourage the development of a new kind of urban citizenship, but it is just another example of how countries can shut down technology when it is perceived to challenge some central nerve of power; In this sense, Pokemon Go isn’t so far from Wikileaks. 

 

"Brazil has lost the Olympics even before they started"

A huge increase increase in police killings in Rio de Janeiro between April and June of 2016 and 2015 has shattered any chance of a positive legacy to the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, said Amnesty International three days before the opening ceremony.

A new app is enabling locals to report incidences of armed violence as they happen, but the first report paints a dire picture.

According to the Institute for Public Security of the State of Rio de Janeiro, police in the city killed 49 people in June 2016, 40 in May and 35 in April – more than one every single day.

Since 2009, when Rio won the bid to host the Olympic Games, police have killed more than
2,600 people in the city.

“Just when we thought the levels of police brutality could not get any more shocking, they do. Brazil has lost the Olympics even before they started. The seemingly unstoppable rise in killings by the police has put any chance of a positive Olympic legacy in the area of public security in serious doubt,” said Atila Roque, Director at Amnesty International Brazil.

“A shadow of death has set over Rio de Janeiro and it seems the authorities only care about how pretty the Olympic Park looks. The time for promises and empty speeches is over. The Brazilian authorities must urgently take serious action to prevent further human rights violations and bring those responsible for so much pain to justice.”

“The lack of clear protocols to control the use of lethal force by the police and an utterly misguided public security approach are making Brazil repeat the failures of the 2014 World Cup. Then police killings increased by 40% in the state of Rio de Janeiro alone and the authorities have done little to change course. The responsibility must be shared with the State Prosecution office, who is in charge of controlling the police activity and to present charges on cases of killings committed by the police.”

Amnesty International today also released the first monthly report for the collaborative app CrossFire. The app, launched on 5 July, gathers reports from people living in the city of Rio de Janeiro of gun shootings and armed violence.

In July alone, people reported 756 shootings with 51 fatal victims via the app. The notifications are featured in a collaborative map at www.fogocruzado.org.br. The app already has more than 35.000 downloads.

Are you ready for some good news?

Ok, this might not be enough to temper terrorist attacks, gun violence, a failed coup, Donald Trump and ever-looming climate change, but it’s a start.

Remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? 2014’s viral social media trend that saw people dumping buckets of freezing water and ice on their heads, reportedly for charity?

Media – including me, right here at fairplanet – were quick to criticise the action as nothing more than a classic case of slacktivism that focused more on looking good and feeling good than doing any real good.

Research on moral licensing backed this theory. But the Ice Bucket Challenge has proven itself to be an exception to the rule.

In a 30-day period, the Ice Bucket Challenge raised 100 million USD for the ALS Association which funds research to find a cure for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

This money has been able to fully fund a number of research projects working in search of a cure for the neurological disorder that slowly kills off the motor neurons that control muscle function.

According to the Guardian, „One of these was Project MinE, a large data-driven initiative funded by the ALS Association through ice bucket challenge donations, as well as donations from the organization’s Georgia and New York chapters. The project’s researchers announced on Monday that they have identified a new gene associated with the disease, which experts say could lead to new treatment possibilities.“

“It’s very exciting because it shows everyone who contributed to the ice bucket challenge that their donation had an impact on the research,” said Brian Frederick, executive vice-president of communications and development at the ALS Association. “The work that Project MinE is doing is really important, and the discovery of this new gene will help us better understand ALS.”

Those are real, tangible results.

Whether this will encourage participants to go hard for the next viral fundraising trend or not remains to be seen – for many the challenge may be a distant memory.

But the idea that individuals can raise money for a worthy cause while having some fun and encouraging others to do the same. Well, it’s not all bad news.

Refugee company liable for crimes against humanity

Believe it or not, but there are such organisations in the world billed as ‚refugee camp companies‘. These are typically infrastructure companies which are contracted by governments to build refugee camps. Ferrovial, the Spanish company hired by the Australian government, is one such company. It may also be liable for crimes against humanity. 

The company has been warned that “based on [the] examination of the facts, it is possible that individual officers at Ferrovial might be exposed to criminal liability for crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute,” said Diala Shamas, a clinical supervising attorney at theInternational Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic at Stanford Law School.

These violations include: Death in care, lack of adequate medical care, and of course, the whole government-related policy of offshore-detention. 

On Nauru, an island close to Australia being used for such camps, there have been multiple cases of sexual and physical assault against refugees, including against children. So far, no arrests have been made. Refugees themselves are typically frightened to agitate against the company, including making formal complaints about abuse, as they are frightened of the consequences. 

There have been reports of torture too. An Australian Senate inquiry found that a “culture of abuse” exists in offshore detention, and former staff have condemned the camps. A traumatologist described conditions on Nauru and Manus as the “worst atrocity” he had ever seen.

The corporate-governmental complex that is keeping this reprehensible process going is highly powerful and efficient. It’s going to take some brave legal action and protest to make changes to this detention process a reality.