Read, Debate: Engage.
Read, Debate: Engage.

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

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

Students risks torture in Sudan

Sudanese national security officials have detained dozens of students and activists – many of whom are still in custody – without charge since mid-April 2016, during protests on university campuses.

Some have been held for more than a month. Others are held in locations that the government has not revealed, without access to lawyers or contact with family, putting them at increased risk of torture.

“Sudan is cracking down on activists, students, and even their lawyers, with abusive and thuggish tactics,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should put a stop to these tactics, immediately make the whereabouts of all detainees known, and release anyone being held without charge.”

The Sudanese government has repeatedly and violently cracked down on protests, including in September and October 2013, when security forces killed more than 170 protesters. Authorities have arbitrarily detained, tortured, and otherwise ill-treated detained protestors, including using sexual violence on female students.

Starting in mid-April 2016, government security forces, including national security and riot police, clamped down on student demonstrations against the sale of Khartoum University buildings, as well as earlier detention of protesters and a range of other issues at other campuses across Sudan.

Government forces have used tear gas, rubber bullets, and batons – and in some cases live ammunition – to break up protests and arrest scores of protesters. Reports that armed pro-government student groups are helping government security forces to break up protests, including with live ammunition, are of particular concern, Human Rights Watch said. Two students were killed and many more injured in El Obeid on April 19, and Omdurman on April 27.

The government accuses the protesters of using violence and has brought murder charges against one, Asim Omer, a 25-year-old student.

During the crackdowns, Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) have detained dozens of protesters, including young students and older graduates.

Badr Eldin Saleh, a 25-year-old first-year student who was detained on April 13 for 10 days, was beaten while in detention. Family members told Human Rights Watch that when they met him he told them he had been beaten and insulted, was unable to walk easily, and had marks of beating on his back. Saleh was rearrested on May 5 at Adeeb’s office and remains in detention at an undisclosed location.

Female students arrested in April, but since released, told Sudanese monitors that NISS staff sexually harassed them during interrogations. At least three women, including Mai Adil, a student leader in her early 20s and women’s rights activist, were arrested again recently and are being held by NISS at Omdurman Women’s Prison without charge or access to visitors.

Human Rights Watch is also concerned about other detainees in NISS custody, some of whom have been in detention for many months. Abdelmonim Abdelmowla, a Darfuri graduate, was arrested in December 2015 with a Darfuri student, Ali Omar Musa. While Musa was released in May 2016, Abdelmowla remains in NISS detention without charge, his lawyers told Human Rights Watch.

“There is no justification for Sudan using or condoning violence and abuse to silence protesters and activists, or arbitrarily detaining them and denying access to lawyers and other due process protections,” Bekele said. “Authorities should immediately put an end to these abuses and respond to public protest in a manner that respects basic freedoms of expression and assembly.”

Taliban and Pakistan: The Love/ Hate relationship finally over

The unprecedented US drone strike on Mullah Mansoor over the weekend looks set to end the Taliban and Pakistan relationship, possibly for good. The strike was unprecedented since it took place in Balochistan, 300 miles south of Waziristan, the area which all  US drones have thus far targeted in the region. 

Mullah Mansoor, the Taliban leader following the death of Osama Bin Laden, was seen as something of a known-quantity to Pakistani officials – which is why Islamabad was so supportive of his appointment. His death however, took place deep in Pakistan – a fact which some Taliban leaders have interpreted as hard-evidence of US-Pakistani complicity in Mansoor’s killing. Pakistan, thus far a home for many Taliban leaders and fighters, has already been warned that “through such tactics and double dealing Pakistan will earn nothing but revenge.”

Nothing but revenge for an underdeveloped nation already suffering from exceptional levels of extremist violence, and worse, a major drought that threatens long-term logistical and agricultural damage to the nation. 

Let’s ignore the US-Pakistani strategic thing for a second, and focus on the facts – facts which should be alarming. Research has shown that conflicts over resources, exacerbated by climate changes, are particularly vulnerable to acquiring sectarian shades; That’s to say there’s a correlation between resource-based conflicts and sectarian violence. 

The worst scenario will see something like Pakistani terrorism increase, only to swell the Taliban’s ranks – all the while, ordinary people caught in the middle, still suffering from drought.

The Pakistani government is trying to stabilize the situation as best it can – an effort already underway to mollify senior Taliban leaders by supporting whomever is next appointed as the big dog in the Taliban hierarchy. Unfortunately, with rhetoric of complicity already pouring out of vengeful Taliban mouths, we can only hope the worst doesn’t come to pass. 

US schools given LGBT guidelines

On Friday, the Obama Administration made headlines when the Department of Education and Department of Justice issued guidance explaining how public schools should respect the rights of transgender students. 

The federal guidance has ignited passionate debate, but it reflects a lesson that schools across the country have understood for years. Having policies in place to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students is crucially important if schools are to make those students feel welcome and engaged in their communities. 

Yet policy guidelines for LGBT youth continue to be politicized, most recently in Michigan. At its meeting on May 10, Michigan’s Board of Education heard hours of public comment about proposed guidelines that schools could follow to become safer and more inclusive for LGBT students. In introducing the guidelines, the board laudably recognized that LGBT students are at higher risk of anxiety, depression, suicide, and other adverse effects in their mental health from bullying, discrimination, and a lack of support at home and in school. 

Michigan’s guidelines identify best practices ranging from strong anti-bullying policies to staff training to enhanced school resources. But they are under attack by state lawmakers who are incensed that the guidelines also recommend perfectly reasonable accommodations for transgender students. These opponents seek to torpedo the entire set of badly needed guidelines rather than let the provisions they object to stand. 

The resolutions are pending in the state’s House of Representatives. In the meantime, the Board of Education has deferred final action on the guidelines as it sifts through thousands of public comments. 

As Ryan Thoreson from Human Rights Watch writes:

Over the past eight months, I’ve traveled around the country speaking to hundreds of LGBT students. They told me about feeling alienated, invisible, and unsafe in school. They described physical harassment, daily slurs that go unpunished, and the lack of school resources to address their concerns. They said that teachers had told them that LGBT people are abnormal, and that administrators had discouraged them from forming gay-straight alliances.”

“Transgender students have faced some of the worst treatment, being addressed by the wrong name and pronouns, sexually harassed, and barred from bathrooms, locker rooms, or sports teams consistent with their gender identity. In some cases, students have dropped out or turned to home- or online schooling because they concluded there was no place for them in their public school.”

“Schools that care about the mental health and well-being of their LGBT students should have a blueprint to make a real difference,” he argues. “Lawmakers should reject attacks on the guidelines that feed on fear and stereotypes and instead support the Board of Education’s efforts to protect the rights, needs, and dignity of all the state’s students.”

Trump, yet again.

Trump. Trump. Trump. Can’t get enough of the guy. I went to the bar last night, and my friend and I spoke with some American strangers. What did we talk about? What do you think?

And the night before I met an American academic; Sport, Germany, Trump, Trump, Trump.

Donald Trump says it won’t matter if the UK leaves the EU. Donald Trump says he’ll take on the major corporations, and ensure they remain in the US, protecting the jobs of workers. Donald Trump says that climate change isn’t real.

The man’s as ubiquitous as Obama was in 2008, but for all the wrong reasons. Obama offered hope, Trump’s got balls (and massive hands, and an enormous cock). Obama wanted change, Trump wants to take the country back.

Normally, discussions of power and its location and transmission doesn’t actually take the form of analysing the personality and potential a single individual has; Structures are analysed, institutions, exclusion is considered, legality thought-through.  But when it comes to Presidents, we must say, it IS significant who gets elected. Unlike in the EU, for example, where individual nations must accept the broad policy packages delivered by Brussels, no matter who the premier is, in the US, the individual in charge of the executive has massive real and symbolic power.

The real power is interesting, since Trump could, and presumably would, wreck the global climate change consensus by pushing through careless pro-business laws. He probably won’t build a wall, by the way.

But the symbolic power is also interesting. He’s becoming a kind of cipher – a man on to whom America and the rest of the globe is projecting all their political hopes and neuroses, but just the negative of what Obama stood for. This is kind of obvious, but think of it this way: Obama represented a muzzle to the atavistic instincts of broad swathes of the American nation, who felt their freedoms and liberties suppressed by a burgeoning political correctness – particularly, their rights to curb the rights of others. Trump is the great anti-Obama, he’s the unmuzzled id taking on America’s superego – he wants to say something, he says it. He’s made it OK to say those things again. He’s the first to legitimate violence domestically in mainstream Western politics since – well, since the world was black and white and guys like Trump were ten a penny.

The danger of maturity is the blind belief that you want the life you’ve built – then comes the realisation and the mid-life crisis. Obama convinced America they wanted hope, change, dreams, and drones. No no, they want more that that. They want power, they realise, they want to bully, they want to throw their weight around and they want, above all, boots on the ground.

Writing in the early 20th Century, Kurt Tucholsky wrote of Hitler: ‘The man simply does not exist – he is only the noise he makes’. America should be warned about indulging their Trump mid-life crisis; They might just wake up 8 years from now realising those kicks and screams weren’t taking the power back, but the last agitated movements before death.

Rohingya name causing diplomatic distress

It’s only fair that people be called by the terms they choose to identify with.

But that hasn’t stopped Myanmar’s new government from banning the name of the indigenous people it fails to recognise.

The new ambassador of the United States to Myanmar said he would keep using the term Rohingya for the persecuted Muslim minority, even after the government – controlled by Nobel prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi – asked him to refrain from it.

Members of the 1.1 million-strong group, most of whom live in desperate conditions in a remote part of northwestern Myanmar, are seen by many Myanmar Buddhists as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The term Rohingya is a divisive issue.

Scot Marciel took over as the head of the US mission at a critical time after Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory in historic elections, following decades of pro-democracy struggle.

“The normal US practice and the normal international practice is that communities anywhere have the right, or have the ability, to decide what they are going to be called,” Marciel said on Tuesday, in response to a question on whether he intended to continue using the term Rohingya.

“And normally when that happens, we would call them what they asked to be called. It’s not a political decision, it’s just a normal practice.”

Aung San Suu Kyi, once an icon of human rights activism, has been harshly criticised for her party’s treatment of Myanmar’s minorities since coming to power.

Two refugees set themselves alight in protest at Australia's detention policy

Last week 23-year-old Iranian Omid Masoumali set himself on fire in protest at his ongoing detention on Nauru, one of two offshore detention centres run by the Australian government as a deterrent for asylum seekers arriving by boat.

As UN Refugee Agency staff paying a monitoring visit looked on, Masoumali, who had been held in detention for three years despite being legally recognised as a refugee, grabbed their attention, setting himself alight.

“This action will prove how exhausted we are,” he yelled. “I cannot take it any more.”

He would later in die in hospital of his injuries, after what his widow described as abysmal medical treatment.

She says it was hours before he was given painkillers, in the Nauru hospital where “they couldn’t even find a clean syringe”. It was 22 hours before he was flown to hospital in Australia, where he would later die.

So not only is Australia placing asylum seekers in other countries where they receive terrible treatment, including the threat of physical and sexual abuse, but if someone requires medical treatment, the local hospital is ill-equipped to provide care.

And the story just gets worse: Masoumali was one of two refugees to self-immolate in Nauru over the last week. On Monday evening, Somali refugee Hodan Yasi also set herself alight, and reportedly now has burns to 70% of her body.

Yasi only returned to Nauru last week after a motorcycle accident in November had her sent to Australia for medical treatment. She is now back in hospital in Brisbane, said to be in a critical condition.

In the days between Masoumali and Yasi’s public acts of self-harm, at least six suicide attempts have been reported on Nauru, ranging from people swallowing razor blades, ingesting washing powder or attempting to hang themselves using bed sheets.

So what does the Australian immigration minister have to say about these horrific calls for help?

Peter Dutton blames the rise in the number of suicide attempts on Australian refugee advocates encouraging people to harm themselves. Because of course his own government’s policy cannot possibly be to blame.

“I have previously expressed my frustration and anger at advocates and others who are in contact with those in regional processing centres and who are encouraging some of these people to behave in a certain way, believing that that pressure exerted on the Australian government will see a change in our policy,” Dutton said.

Refugee advocates say the allegations are offensive and desperate. They say they spend hours counselling people not to hurt themselves.

Last week Papua New Guinea asked Australia to make alternative arrangements for the 850 asylum seekers currently detained on its Manus Island, many of whom have legal refugee status already and have no reason to remain in detention.

As the Australian election campaign kicks off this week, it looks set to be another election focused mainly on immigration policy, after Tony Abbott’s “Stop the Boats” campaign in 2013, and similar messaging in 2001 and 2003.

Both main parties broadly agree on Australia’s current policy of detaining asylum seekers offshore.

But there were vigils held for Omid Masoumali and protests across Australia this week following the high number of suicide attempts. Australia’s international standing is increasingly threatened.

Is any mainstream Australian political party prepared to cut the party line in favour of basic human rights? Can any party afford not to?

330 million people at risk

Madhya Pradesh, the central Indian state, has a population greater than many countries. At 75 million people, if we conceive of it as a stand-alone nation, it would be the 18th largest country in the world, right between Iran and Turkey.

The 18th largest country in the world is failing.

Not because of war or terrorism, but because it hasn’t rained in 2 years. Madhya Pradesh, like much of South East Asia is dependent on the rainy season for its ecosystem to flourish. 2014 and 15, being two of the hottest years on record globally, also meant that they produced very poor monsoons.

The Indian government has said that it is one of the worst water crises it has ever faced, and that more than 330 million people, with the neighboring states to Madhya Pradesh also at risk. That’s a third of the country’s population, or in a global context, roughly 5% of the world’s population.

Bans on daytime cooking have been imposed, as have bans on unnecessary water usage (in this context, showering) and dams are being protected by armed guards. It is the first set of moves in a typical conflicts which emerge over land and water resources: First the government tries to contain the situation through policy, then tries to de-escalate the situation through controlling resources with weapons. It might seem brutal, but it’s necessary, since control of resources is normally a major point of conflict for rival groups, particularly in rural settings.

Pakistan has also been facing a nation-wide shortage over the past few months – an definite indication that the entire sub-continent is suffering, and that it is not merely an isolated water shortage.

The drought has not only caused deaths across the sub-continent, but it has prompted major upheavals, with rural laborers venturing into cities to find work. This has also put a strain on cities, and unfortunately, both India and Pakistan has seen a sharp rise in the number of suicides – the personalization of a structural, and natural problem.

While there is no immediate way to help people suffering from water shortage, there are donations we can make to organizations like Water for People which can provide further information and help.

And of course there’s supporting a green lifestyle, which should help mitigate, however slightly, the causes of man-made climate change.

We can otherwise only watch as the world’s 2nd largest country dries up.