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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


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. 

Qandeel Baloch's killing a wake-up call

Sometimes it feels like you only talk about Muslim countries. Like you only write about Muslims. When there’s an explosion, the word Islam is probably going to be hanging around there somewhere, you think. An Islamist terrorist, the Muslim suspect, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Afghanistan, Pakistan. Sometimes it feels like you can’t think of horror without thinking of a religion. 

There’s an obvious argument against this – the idea of different and sometimes competing conceptions of Islam make it impossible to describe one version of Islam as the true one, especially, if like me, you’re not an adherent. So it’s wrong, obviously, to say that a terrorist represented Muslims or Islam – it’s literally nonsensical. 

However, equally contemptible is the wholesale denial of the idea that there is a link between Islam-as-it-is-conceived-and-practised and the kinds of destruction we see. When we on the left claim that there is literally no link between Daesh, Al-Qaida etc. and Islam, then we blind ourselves to a truth: Islam can be and is being interpreted, by some people, as a religion that justifies exceptional violence against others, and the oppression of a range of people. 

The idea that there is a set or matrix of beliefs and practices which can be differently interpreted and amplified is not only obvious, it’s normal. You can be a non-practising Catholic, a moderate conservative, a Green capitalist, a lapsed Sikh, a Jewish neo-Marxist – obviously, obviously, obviously. It strikes us as abhorrent, then, for some reason, to actually say – something is going on in many, if not all of the world’s religions about which we must be vigilant, including reactionary forms of Islam which precipitate terrorism and violence. Otherwise we continue to espouse values about equality and opportunity, about fairness, without thinking about some of the deeper contexts in which prejudice is couched. 

The killing of Qandeel Baloch – Pakistan’s first real social media phenomenon, represents such an opportunity. Strangled by her brother for bringing shame on her family, and repeatedly accused of being a shame to Muslims and Islam – represents such a conflict. 

Obviously, I’m not claiming that all Muslims justify killings of this nature. I don’t even think I have to say that, but I have. However, some Islamic societies, like many societies and communities, religious and secular, believe that women are inferior to men. Women simply displaying skin or engaging in sexually-coloured behaviour is often seen as a threat: To their own families and society. The point of this commentary is to reflect on our approach and understanding of Islam and Muslim-oriented cultures in particular; Will we ask ourselves if it is racist or hypocritical to criticise certain elements of Islam, including certain cultural conceptions of the religion, or if it is right? We will mistakes on the way if we choose to think about this stuff – we will occasionally say clumsy things, and hurt feelings, and behave ignorantly – but by saying there is absolutely no link between Islam and the killing of Qandeel Baloch, is to abrogate the duty of our own thought and where our other beliefs, like belief in equality compel us. 

Obviously Islam is not the only node in the matrix of beliefs which make atrocities possible. There’s also politics, economics, inequality, education, cultural beliefs, social constructions, obviously, obviously, obviously. 

Furthermore, it is imperative to recognise that Islam, obviously, isn’t alone as a belief which is used as a background for patriarchy. All other major religions do (yes, even that one), as does capitalism, as does neoliberalism, as does the so called-Enlightenment. And obviously, Muslim societies are not the only ones to engage in honour killings. However, the sheer intensity and number of atrocities, and more importantly, the fact that the great big Other in many of our lives is Islam (since many of us belong to a group of people not persecuted or abused for having Muslim beliefs or ‚looking‘ like Muslims) – means it is our duty to negotiate our understanding of the capacities for violence and oppression inherent in the religion which are being invoked the world over. Simply saying it is racist or inappropriate to think like this doesn’t challenge the argument because a) Many religions and societies do this, and b) our entire national political lives are geared towards a conflict with Islam anyway. If we don’t engage with the possibility that there may be some connection between the religion and violence, well, then the extremists in our secular society win – because their voice is the loudest, and the one that says: All Muslims are terrorists. 

We have to engage with the idea, while continuing to promote the equality of all people the world over. And remember: There’s no reason we can’t criticise ideas without linking entire groups of people to those ideas – there’s no reason you can’t criticise Islam without implicating all individual Muslims. It doesn’t make sense to do that anyway. It’s tough. It probably will even get us into trouble with our friends and colleagues and ourselves. But not doing it, believe me, will be tougher.  

ISIS claims train attack in Germany. Why shouldn't we change tack?

The first attack in Germany to be claimed by ISIS took place on Monday night when a teenage boy stabbed passengers on a train in southern Germany. Thankfully there have been no casualties, but three people remain in a critical condition.

But whether ISIS was really involved in the attack, whether the boy was really from Afghanistan, whether he was a refugee: all these things are yet to be confirmed.

Of course that doesn’t stop the media and the public from jumping ahead. All these possibilities together paint a convenient picture for those wanting to restrict immigration and drum up fear. The same aspects are what stoke ISIS’s flames.

In a country which had, until now, escaped the terror meted out to its neighbours by ISIS, there may have been a self-assuredness that Germany was not a target due to the way it treats refugees or Muslim residents, or for its relatively passive role in the fight against the Islamic State. That it might have escaped targeting by showing it couldn’t be drawn in to war rhetoric.

So what now?

Even when the attacker’s identity is confirmed, and whether we discover he had refugee status, whether he was from Afghanistan or Pakistan and whether he was really involved in ISIS or acting as a lone wolf, Germany cannot afford to veer off its course.

Descending into war talk, stopping asylum seekers, and buying into rhetoric that resents refugees and those who are different is never going to be the way to stop ISIS.

Keep security tight, of course. But also hold true to those values of inclusion, solidarity and understanding. This is exactly what ISIS doesn’t want.

24 hour terror

In yet another bumper week for news, the Iraq War was declared dubious (as though this was never clear for anyone), Tony Blair has been formally accused of holding Parliament in contempt (basically, they’re saying he lied to Parliament about going to war); a gunman in Dallas killed several police officers at a peace rally in apparent despair and rage against white supremacist violence on black US citizens; Osama Bin Laden’s son went all social-media on us by declaring ‘we are all Osama’ – a phrase this author predicts will not catch on, or at least not without its very own ironic hashtag; a super-typhoon along the coast of Eastern China has killed several people, and displaced thousands; More than 300 people have been killed in South Sudan due to a rise in the tension again between factional forces; Zimbabwe came to a standstill as the nation took part in protests against governmental corruption. And Ronaldo hurt his knee.

There seems to be a relentlessness to 2016 so far. Not only is the legal machinery in the UK and the EU going haywire in the wake of Brexit, but so are long-held preconceptions of world-order: There has been a reshaping of the Middle East this year, a rise of rightwing forces across the Global North, and concerted effort to block positive action on climate change. What’s more, the continual bombardment of atrocities and natural disasters across the world has given this year a peculiar colour; A feeling of acceleration, of compressed time, of horror after horror after horror. So much so that otherwise major news stories seem to fade into a background of unending noise – a milieu of catastrophe.

How in this world, of the 24 hour news-cycle can we keep abreast of the shifting currents of global politics? You don’t need an app or a tool – it’s easy: Look outside. Chances are, you’re reading this in the Global North, from the safety of an office, a house, or a cafe. Just look at the street – given the scale of disruption the world has faced in the past year, it is quite likely that near you, the demographics of change are already quietly underway. You may notice more homeless people than before. You may notice people, who could conceivably be from Syria. You might even notice a slightly emboldened skinhead stomping down the street. Or maybe that’s just confirmation bias…

The gap between the news on our screens and what lays before us, for many of us, seems never to have been larger. And ironically, we can also convince ourselves that what might just be a broadcast phantom is actually at our gates, desperate to take our lives, jobs money (refugees, for e.g.) News plays with our minds – we might not see it happening at all. We might think we’re seeing the impact of it right in front of our eyes.

The important thing in guiding our political actions, however earnest or detached, is to remember for many people around the world, the story couldn’t be any more different – the most difficult thing to remember during these times, is that the background noise of horror, is someone’s very real foreground. This should help us decide whether we want to help commit to a course of solidarity or not. 

Papua New Guinea cancels academic year following corruption protests

The University of Papua New Guinea has cancelled the academic year following two months of anti-corruption protests which left at least five dead.

Led by the Student Representative Council, most of the university’s students have been boycotting classes since May in protest at the Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill’s, refusal to stand down from office to face corruption charges.

Four students were shot dead by police during one of the protests in June as students attempted to march on parliament in support of a no-confidence motion against Mr O’Neill.

Disallowing students to continue their education while turning a blind eye to police violence and politicians‘ corruption is a toxic cocktail of human rights abuses meted out by the Papua New Guinea government.

Prime Minister O’Neill should know that the world is watching. There will be foreign relations consequences for these abhorrent abuses.

Many dead in 3 countries, but still we hope

Three countries in just one week have experienced horrific mass slaughters. 143 people were killed in an explosion in Baghdad – an act for which ISIS claimed responsibility – just a week after Iraqi state forces, supported by American airstrikes took back the city of Fallujah from Isis. The death toll from the Baghdad bombing, the worst in the country since 2007, is expected to rise.

In Dhaka, Bangladesh, a couple of days earlier, a gunman stormed a restaurant and killed policemen and hostages. Meanwhile in Istanbul, the city’s main airport was attacked and 40 people died instantly, with many more injured. ISIS have claimed responsibility for the former, not for the latter.

The scar that runs across the Middle East and into Asia is deep, and terrifying. The structural arrangement of ISIS, analysed by military experts, is often said to be vulnerable; Unlike traditional terrorist groups relying on guerilla tactics, cellular structures and underground networks to carry out their attacks, ISIS have a more visible military style structure, with direct hierarchies, and they have carried out what some experts have called traditional military campaigns. As such, they have been more frightening to the wider public, but also more containable – part of Obama’s wider strategy against them.

However, with the series of attacks against innocents across an entire continent, with some claimed, and some not (the proximity of the attacks in Istanbul, however, create a mental picture of terror, even if another group was responsible for that attack) can make the entire world seem under attack – and one terrorist group seem invulnerable. However, it may be likely that this shift in tactics to rapid terrorist responses in both Iraq and Bangladesh represents a kind of lashing out of the group – a kind of frantic attack to compensate for loss and weakness. It’s something we may have already seen in Brussels, earlier this year.

However, the media and social media commentary has been predictably thin on the ground: When Westerners are not the victims, the world doesn’t seem to care as much. The underlying thought process there is one we can all be prone to – where there’s not an event decorated as a tragedy, we can all fail to see it as one. Let there be no mistake – the events in Iraq, Bangladesh and Turkey are tragedies – of no less worth than events elsewhere. To see them as something else would be a failure of compassion. That being said, despite the recent spate of attacks, we should try to take heart as much as we can – the world can look like it’s killing itself sometimes – but in this case, it may just be reason for hope that the perpetrators are losing.

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.