Politics


It has only been a few days since Libya has been liberated from Gaddafi, after forty years of authoritarian rule, a staunch police state created to indulge the ego of an erratic leader. Long gone are the days when developing countries needed the helping hand of the West; the Arab Spring has proved that direct action and a nationwide thirst for freedom can also pave the way to democracy and individual liberties. Most western countries have watched in silent shock and admiration the steadfast rise to freedom in Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. Many lessons have to be drawn from this seemingly unstoppable quest to free one country from the shackles of dictatorship: one, that the era of western-led colonialism is over, and that we must stand on a pedestal of equality. Two, that our foreign policies need to stop feeding blood thirsty tyrants in our quest for domination over national resources. A piece by Antonio Fernandez on heroes, monsters and men.

“Clearly, the narrative tells more about the corrupt nature of international politics than about Gaddafi himself”

Recent events in Libya point in the direction of the fall of 40 years of Gaddafi’s rule in that country. Witnessing the cascade of articles and editorials written on the subject not only these days but since the uprising began, it is difficult to say something original or add some new illuminating perspective on the conflict, how it began, how it might end and what to expect for the people of Libya who, after all, have been trapped in a mostly western-led geopolitical turmoil. What we have seen in most media as regards the escalating violence in Libya is yet another narrative of monsters and horror. In a peculiar turn of events, the one-time considered authoritarian despot by the West, Muammar el Gaddafi, became its ally in a so-called “war against terror”, to finally be turned overnight into a grotesque monster that bombs its own people. Clearly, the narrative tells more about the corrupt nature of international politics than about Gaddafi himself and the people of Libya; their democratic demands did not raise much interest in the West until Gaddafi the friend got out of control like a maddened Frankenstein. From this perspective, the Libyan uprising contains all the ingredients of a horror story, which is the very same story of colonialism, as Frantz Fanon described so well in his analysis of the psychological effects of colonial rule on Algerian people (1). It has monsters and grotesque creatures (Gaddafi), vampires (colonial bloodsuckers) and ghosts (the people of Libya represented through the  decorporealising lens of the media). Creating monsters has always been a useful strategy for colonial powers in order to legitimise the control and appropriation of natural resources out of their territory.

“The myth of Frankenstein is also a rich source of metaphors in the horror story of Western domination over foreign countries”
In the 19th century, the Palestinian population of what is now Israel and the West Bank was described by explorers and travellers with terms that made them resemble grotesque human creatures rather actual human beings; Mrs Mary Rowlandson, a colonial American woman, described the Indians that captured her for eleven weeks as children of the devil so, alas, we have another element in the horror story of colonialism. (2) I do not want to suggest that Rowlandson herself is responsible for the denigration of the culturally different other, but her views were certainly part of the zeitgeist as many pamphlets and caricatures of the indigenous found on those years do show. The British Empire did not fall short of creativity in their representation of Asians as dark, passion ridden creatures as Edward Said so cleverly describes (3). If we want more recent examples of horror stories, we just have to turn our eyes to the Nazi propaganda of the Russians during the Second World War or the North American propaganda of its own Gulf War, where Iraqis were said to take children out of incubators and let them to die in hospitals during the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. Years later the story was shown to be a bluff, like so many others, but as I said before, the end justifies the means and the US gathered massive support to their military adventure in Iraq. A horror story was instrumental.

The myth of Frankenstein is also a rich source of metaphors in the horror story of Western domination over foreign countries. There we find Augusto Pinochet, who was responsible for creating, literally, rivers of blood in Chile. His description certainly fits that of a monster in his lack of humanity and excess of cruelty towards a large part of the Chilean population he governed. He showed as much insensitivity and lack of empathy towards the suffering of Chileans just like a psychopath for its victims: none. Pinochet, like Frankenstein, can be seen as the monstrous creation of a lunatic who crosses all ethical thresholds in his pursue of power and glory. The CIA brought Pinochet (and many other tyrants in South America) to life in the laboratories of the School of the Americas. It was there that Pinochet and his army were trained to commit monstrous deeds against a part of the population whose dangerous demands for a better society caused them to be rendered by the military juntas as communist monsters that deserved to be killed. And let’s not forget Saddam Hussein, a monster “fed” and cared by the United States, who, in a quintessential Frankensteinian turn, rebels against his creators. Paradoxically, the only act of rebellion -invading Kuwait- makes his creators realise he actually is a monster; massacring an entire Kurd village with chemical weapons did not suit the creators’ definition of monstrosity while he was under control.

“Gaddafi came to power claiming the right to exorcise the colonial demons from Libya. The revolutionary rhetoric gave way progressively to 40 years of authoritarian rule”

The Arab world is replete with Frankenstein-like creatures who have been supported and trained by power-thirsty western (and other non-western) elites in order to help them extend and perpetuate their domination of oil and gas resources. Among them, Gaddafi excels in theatrical extravaganza. (4) He is a good example of the dangerous games played by Western elites in their constant fabrication or transformations of simple despots into monstrous creatures with the help, of course, of the media. Like Frankenstein, Gaddafi came to power rebelling against those whom he saw as colonial oppressors only to become a close friend and ally of those very same oppressors when he realised that large sums of money could be drawn by allowing them to vampirise the country’s resources. Perhaps, after all, monsters have a deeper and close affinity with each other that humans can’t understand. The Libya Gaddafi came to save from colonial domination back in the late 60’s had already experienced the vampirisation of its natural resources by Italy. It was in 1911, when Italy claimed that the Turks were arming Libya to justify the launching of a war and the occupation of the country. Needless to say, commercial interests and colonial envy (France took the neighbouring Tunisia, perceived by Italians as closer to their sphere of influence) underpinned Italy’s actions and, of course, the myth of liberating Libyans from the Turks rang high in the Italian war propaganda. A few years later Benito Mussolini considered Libya part of his new Roman Empire (again, like Viktor Frankenstein, infatuated by his own megalomaniac dreams of power) to extract resources and promote settlements for unemployed Italian workers and farmers. Libyan resistance was fierce, which prompted Mussolini’s reaction of creating a number of concentration camps where around 100.000 people were imprisoned; it is also known that Italy’s use of mustard gas against the Libyan population, deportation and displacement were strategies for subduing the population. (5) Monstrosity and horror is probably well embedded in the collective psyche of the Libyans. Gaddafi came to power claiming the right to exorcise the colonial demons from Libya. The revolutionary rhetoric gave way progressively to 40 years of authoritarian rule that showed its more amiable face to western powers as he took a series of steps seeking international acceptance. Little by little, Gaddafi’s well-earned reputation as a terrorist sponsoring ruler (the Lockerbie bombings are a good example) did not seem to matter that much as Gaddafi offered his collaboration in the war on terror in exchange of softening economic sanctions. Now, the friend of the West is portrayed by the same Western media as a grotesque, megalomaniac monster who massacres his own population, but the monster has been fed by the West when it served their geopolitical interests, in what could be called the opposite of vampirisation, namely, the flow of poison (namely european-made weapons) that keep the monster alive.

Another important ingredient in any horror story is the ghost and Libya is no exception in this case either. Seen through the Cartesian distance of the media, the few images of Libyan rebels or Gaddafi supporters that have reached the media appear like shadows, like decorporealised entities, with no trace of human density, like undifferentiated masses of bodies, just like high technology weapons of the NATO provide a surgical distance with the enemy, be it rebel or Gaddafi supporter. It is this surgical distance that dehumanises the inherent humanity of the fighters on both sides as they appear through fragmented pieces of news TV networks covering the conflict. At this point, it is difficult to know how many  thousands of Libyans have lost their life in this conflict; human beings with families, personal narratives, hopes, dreams…they are the ghosts that haunt the emergence of a post-Gaddafi Libya; these ghosts were human beings to whom political elites in Great Britain, Italy, France or Saudi Arabia (who has provided weapons to rebels on demand of the United States) have shown no concern or human empathy in their geopolitical calculations for the region: it is far more crucial for them a “stable” government that gently grants access to Libya’s natural resources, in another vampiresque turn. According to Alessandra Migliaccio, “Eni [the Italian oil company] rose 0.5% to close at 13.46 today in Milan. The shares have gained 7.9% this week after rebel fighters reached the capital, signaling a possible end to the six-month conflict”. (6) Migliaccio’s words point to the irrationality behind the West’s apparently “rational” discourse of humanitarianism and exposes the corruption of European (and some Arab) political elites. Like Viktor Frankenstein, megalomaniac political elites play God with the megalomaniac monsters they sometimes create, finance and destroy when they cease to be useful for their interests, as is the case with Gaddafi.

“in the context of the horror of colonial and neo-colonial history, the not-so-new song of humanitarian intervention used as a pretext for military operations in Libya sounds perhaps more cynical than ever before”

It is time politicians (or politishams as South African poet Seitlhamo Motsapi describes them) (7) stop behaving like zombies (alienated and unaware of the world that surrounds them and of the damage, pain and suffering their decisions create) or, like Viktor Frankenstein, stop playing God with dictators that ultimately pretend to grant political elites absolute control over entire countries. The consequences, as we have seen in Iraq and in countless many other examples, can be catastrophic. Nobody know where Libya is heading now; whether the rebel factions that have been supported by the NATO will split in the absence of a clear and identifiable enemy or how Gaddafi supporters (in the event of a likely and imminent defeat) will fit in the new political scenario. Also, rumours and fears of Al Qaeda cells infiltrating the country begin to spread, casting a shadow of unpredictable violence. In the context of the horror of colonial and neo-colonial history, the not-so-new song of humanitarian intervention used as a pretext for military operations in Libya sounds perhaps more cynical than ever before, as if western leaders did not even have to make the effort anymore of masquerading the real geopolitical motivations behind the military intervention. To finish with one more horror note, oil in Libya is a curse more than a blessing and it needs to be added to the three traumas suffered by the Arab world, according to Marc Ferro (8),  the creation of the state of Israel and the partition of Pakistan. As I write this, Al Jazeera is reporting evidence of mass execution by Gaddafi troops. Again, the price to pay to keep Libya’s veins open to foreign vampirisation is too high and unacceptable form an ethical perspective, but for how long will horror be manipulating the democratic aspirations of Arab peoples? For the Arab spring to grow, the former colonial elites and allied Arab regimes must stop interfering in the internal affairs of these countries and respect the right of these countries to manage their natural resources with the freedom they deserve. Continuing the narrative of horror (destabilising the countries with dictators or supporting the most convenient side for geostrategic interests) will not be conducive to democracy and stability as western powers claim, but will only perpetuate the cycle of horror and monstrosity we have witnessed for decades.      .

 

(1) Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, Penguin, 2006.

(2) Mary Rowlandson, Narrative of the Captivity and restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, Nu Vision Publications, 2007.

(3) Edward Said, Orientalism, Penguin, 2003.
(4) Ronald Bruce St john, Libya: from Colony to Independence, Oneworld Publications, 2008.

(5) Ruth Ben-Ghiat and Mia Fuller (ed.) Italian Colonialism, ed., Palgrave-Macmillan, 2005

(6) Alessandra Migliaccio, “Eni Lobbies to keep oil dominance in Libya after Qaddafi
(7) Seitlhamo Motsapi, “soffly soffly nesta skank

(8) Marc Ferro, El Conflicto del Islam, Catedra, 2004.

Further reading

Michael A G Bunter, The Geopolitics of Libya, Maris BV.

Simon Rogers, “EU arms exports to Libya: who armed Gaddafi?

No one ever believed the tremendous social dismay of the Thatcher years would re-appear in modern Great Britain. The seed was however sewn in an incredibly divisive country: feigning inclusiveness, economic stability, and understanding domestic politics, the gap grew wider in the face of the economic crash. Whoever you believe is to blame, there is no denying that London had rarely seen scenes of such a widespread, contagious, and seemingly uncontainable violence. In the very recent aftermath of very traumatic events for a country that always thought the Irish were its biggest problem, here is a breakdown the social barriers of race divisions, class war, and utter lack of social cohesion. A fantastic piece by Josh Kitto.

“In the vacuum created, necessary questions about the politics of inequality and of state and individual violence will be inevitable even for the right”

The riots in Tottenham were at first confusing, but could be explained by the shooting of Mark Duggan. As looting spread across London, it became a mood of fear, partly for my safety, but also for the willingness of left-leaning people to call for martial law. I worried whether I was going politically insane: was it irrational to call for calm and understanding? Tariq Jahan, whose son was killed in a possibly racist incident in Birmingham (many on the far-right saw it as an opportunity for racist violence) has set the tone and calmed the rhetoric. It’s hard to know whether this is a huge opportunity for the right or the progressive left. Within a week, the political consensus had shifted rightwards, condemning the damn kids with their music. There is now a reaction against said shift as accused rioters’ families are evicted from homes, and as TV historians say black people need to ‘talk white’.  But in the vacuum created, necessary questions about the politics of inequality and of state and individual violence will be inevitable even for the right.

One revealing aspect of the riots is how they seem both normal and a deviation from British riots before. Conservatives’ greatest trick is to pretend that everything that has come before is and was always acceptable. A right-wing talking point has been that at least the riots of the 1980’s were political and not about “pure criminality”. But during the 1981 riots, there were immediate calls for troops and rubber bullets, as now. Margaret Thatcher cited a lack of morality and her colleagues cited parental irresponsibility, as now. However, some things are new, namely the Thatcherite culture of 2011. The looting was the hedonism of Oxford Street Christmas sales with petrol bombs. Every adult generation is cynical about young people. St Paul essentially talks about “Kids today” to the Corinthians. But this time it is not youth who are optimistic, having no reason to be. It forms a perfect mix for the looting with the faux optimism of adults who thought it vital to own two homes in recent years. Ironically, David Willetts, the minister in charge of cuts to young people, picked up on this inter-generational conflict; if the young are selfish, then it is their parents who taught them. Thatcher’s children bequeathed Thatcher’s grandchildren. 45-65 year olds own over half of British wealth, but under-45s just over a tenth. Credit cards holding up middle-class wealth and spending was made to be something good, sexy. And we’re surprised young people have taken to these values.

“There was something natural to the events, operating partially as a response to, but also within the parameters of, a politics of violence”

What is also noteworthy is how the rioters were operating within the rules of a politics of violence. The violence was political even if working without a manifesto. Even if the mostly young rioters are oblivious to the world of politics, that world has operated in rules of violence and set the tone for society. During the Iraq war, even the anti-war left followed these rules by saying that a major reason why we should not intervene was that Iraq required a strongman leader. Arguments advocating peaceful solutions had an undercurrent of violence and control. This doesn’t account for why the riots happened, but possibly how it happened. There was something natural to the events, operating partially as a response to, but also within the parameters of, a politics of violence. But even if the causes of the riots in the last fortnight mirrored previous unrest, the way they were carried out is not totally parallel. Looting has always followed riots, as many will take advantage of a breakdown in order (similar to brokers when there is market unrest). Many get caught up in these acts, such as those now possessing stolen goods rather than actually looting. However, the smashing into shops showed a “You are what you buy” culture requiring universal enfranchisement, acquiring goods by any means. Attempts to restrict social networking, as if riots had not occurred Pre-Zuckerberg, ignore that advertisers for example are more effective messengers for the looting. Though it may be relativist to say so, what is the consensus morality that says the riots and looting are incomparably more immoral than the 1,000 richest people in Britain increasing their wealth by over a third in the current recession? Why is it not then relativism in much of the right-wing media to look at the root causes of Anders Breivik’s actions? These events, though reoccurring, don’t just happen for no reason. Criminality alone would imply these events could have happened at any time or in any place, not just poor areas in a devastating recession.

Ed Miliband’s call for a commission into the events sets out a subtle, but important difference with the Prime Minister. Mr Cameron knows that such commissions are unsettling, both in analysing the short-term spark of the riots and long-term issues that made unrest inevitable. Even Thatcher-appointed inquiries could not escape warnings on racism and deprivation. President Johnson ignoring the Kerner Commission allowed deprivation and racism to fester, which were long term causes of the 1992 LA riots for example. Similarly, ignoring the Ritchie Report of 2001[1] perhaps allowed similar problems to spark this unrest in Britain. Segregated schools are more than different buildings for rich and poor kids. They’re also about the segregation of aspirations, only allowed for the richer kids. Some issues of school segregation are about resources, where teachers find it difficult in poorer schools to give all 30 children in a class sufficient attention. However, there are broader questions; school segregation effectively unravels a community. Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett found inThe Spirit Level that community trust breaks down in highly unequal settings because people are more likely to trust ‘people like them’. In the Nordic countries, it was found that over 60% of people thought most people could be trusted, while this was under 30% in the more unequal Britain. It was not surprising that middle-class liberals called for martial law, having been encouraged to view the “underclass” with terror. Another element in terms of school segregation was their findings attributed to Karla Hoff and Priyanka Pandey: when testing hundreds of Indian boys in their puzzle-solving ability, the low-caste boys did slightly better when their backgrounds were unannounced. However, when backgrounds were announced, the low-caste boys’ results dropped significantly, while the results of the high-caste boys slightly improved. Similar experiments had similar results in the US.  When it is said that poorer young people have not been disciplined, there is an element of truth: they have been controlled, their backgrounds pronounced by segregating them from middle-class kids. Resultant decisions to ignore them become a means of control. Discipline does not mean blind loyalty to authority, which children should be encouraged to question. The kids segregated from society are not disciplined precisely because they and their interests are considered worthless. They’re not encouraged to pursue their interests with hard work or questions that can make figures like teachers uncomfortable. One cross-party idea is for ‘early intervention’. There are interesting recommendations to tackle social exclusion. [2] They’re presented though to a government that is slashing Sure Start, a form of early intervention which Lancet showed was helping poorer children to do better in 5 out of 14 outcomes than children who had not received the service.

Council estates in Canning Town, east London

“The self-segregation by the rich is a clear personal and political statement of cementing their position, making it impenetrable.”

Segregation of schools and neighbourhoods and poor standards in either, is the perfect petri dish for state or individual violence. Gated communities are a rare American category: an export. They’re also a perfect symbol for the right-wing shift in debate. The self-segregation by the rich is a clear personal and political statement of cementing their position, making it impenetrable. The fear for many rich people is not just for their possessions, but also their status. Council homes are an inverted equivalent, designed to be segregated but with none of gated communities’ physical or political security. Thatcher’s right-to-buy policy for council homes was a subtly perverse privatisation. Council homes were not replaced, and tenants became poorer when the housing safety net was made perpetually more ghettoised. Pouring money into estates has been a parody of a housing bubble, using minor redistributions from an unsustainable neo-liberal system. Breaking up the notion of the estate, and building homes for more mixed neighbourhoods, may be a more effective way of addressing inequality at its roots. The closest government comes to integrating neighbourhoods, is encouraging the rich to move into expensive flats alongside the crumbling estates of the poor, namely in Hackney. In this context, even corner shops can be seen with banks as something ‘other’ to express anger towards, the target normally whatever ‘other’ is nearest. It’s also in this context where evicting the families of rioters from council homes is a form of the gentrification government has promoted over a safety net, for years.

An average of 54 applicants for every job is not isolated to Tottenham. But if the political, media or policing establishment acknowledged Tottenham, it was with a mind-set of battle and occupation, not jobs programmes. In occupation, the occupied have little to lose, no future prospects to be ruined. Riots were no surprise to people in those communities. They were of no surprise to police leaders, the Bank of England head, the Archbishop of Canterbury or Nick Clegg in a previous political life, all warning of mass unrest. Austerity cuts cause a greater risk of rioting[3], and of a particular event like Duggan’s death to spark explosive anger, even if convenient to believe otherwise. The rioters were articulating the failures of a whole generation to integrate them into a societal fabric, even if unaware of doing so. What communal structures exist to integrate people from the affected areas? The unions have long collapsed, making working people’s condition irrelevant. The left is now more comfortable with academic settings than mobilising these areas. Youth clubs and schools are collapsing as the social safety net becomes increasingly tattered. It could explain cynically looting consumer goods, namely having an upper hand in the streets for possibly the first and last time. Gangs thrive on the lack of communal structure and identity, not simply a ‘lack of rules’. ‘Territoriality’ has become important in places where industry has collapsed.[4]

Anti-Thatcher poll tax protests, that later turned into a riot now known as "The Battle of Trafalgar". March 31, 1990

“Working-class people could once withdraw their labour in order to express collective consciousness. Thatcher withdrew them from labour, from mainstream society.”

Poverty as an academic term cannot fully explain the events. However, around 40% of the suspects were from the 10% poorest areas in Britain. Deprivation, and the sense of injustice related to that, was a bigger component in the riots than others. We’re encouraged to isolate the poor, to remove them from mainstream consciousness. Working-class people could once withdraw their labour in order to express collective consciousness. Thatcher withdrew them from labour, from mainstream society. It made them unnecessary to power and ignorable. It became easier to mock and deride; shows will present benefit cheats as the worst in society and without a hint of irony will then follow this with a show where second home ownership is the best of society. Establishment voices talk about the poor as ‘irresponsible’, though they’re often forced to be more responsible than most. There was a truth to what one young man said in Tottenham, where nearly half of children are in poverty, to NBC: “You wouldn’t be talking to me now if we didn’t riot, would you?” Poverty is perpetuated by violence and control, and vice versa. Poverty is often a condition of criminals, but also their victims. Poverty, by design, makes the victims more vulnerable to state and individual violence. It thus feels futile to condone or condemn riots that were made inevitable. We can only condemn the context which led to it. Those who cynically looted are as much a product of this context as those who actively resisted it or passively ignored it. Individual agency allows one not to riot and loot. But agency and responsibility is also tied to individual identity. Poverty in limiting one’s opportunities also limits individual identity. Personal and collective responsibility is strongest with a strong sense of identity and belonging. It is thus hard to find the morality in a system where the top 10% of London have 273 times the wealth of the bottom 10%, even if not having worked 273 times as hard. Such inequality indicts the top, but the immorality of the system spreads far beyond the top, indicting us all. It can explain why areas like Ealing erupted, when the high street presents prosperity, but the hidden edges contain deprivation and unemployment. Inequality is more revealing because it shows how the order tears itself part. Thus, owning a Blackberry is not a statement of impoverishment, but then phone ownership is a means of survival and also aspiration in many third world countries, so why not inner-city Britain?. It is those who have more paths to prosperity than phone ownership who can buy 300k one-bedroom flats next to crumbling estates. Inequality matters because it makes social ills worse for the rich and poor. It shatters consensus interpretations of moral codes and other means of identification, ironically when identities become polarised. That’s why the government policies were an important medium-term cause, not directly, but a statement of not caring about these areas or their interests. Little surprise then that a Wall Street Journal poll recently revealed millionaires feel massively insecure about the lack of prosperity for the non-millionaire folk, with 94% expecting unrest on the streets.

“The police increasingly have a political agenda, becoming less accountable when using relationships with media and politicians”

If we consider the police though, they are institutionally hampering efforts to tackle crime by politically, as well as professionally, separating themselves from those who seek rehabilitative methods. The police increasingly have a political agenda, becoming less accountable when using relationships with media and politicians to protect an independent agenda. The IPCC initially misleading the public over Duggan’s death is part of this. Police “spin” on a story is increasingly important. The recent hearings into the hacking scandal revealed the Met has 45 press officers, 10 of whom had worked at News International. It reveals their role in that scandal, but also their increasing political role. The media help to promote the narrow police agenda on crime. There are issues of access, with the police having long fed stories to particular reporters. Both often use the same talking points for ‘lock-‘em-up’ arguments. Former Met Commissioner Ian Blair talked about “feral children” in speeches for example. Duggan’s death echoes the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, where Menezes was smeared, the details of his killing lied about, namely the idea he was running away from the police. The lies around the death of Duggan were unnecessary if the interest was solely security and not political positioning. It was needless to inform the media before Duggan’s family. It is no surprise that this explosion of violence happened in an area where there have been numerous deaths under police custody. One reggae artist apparently killed himself with a knife when arrested by the police in his home, an account that few believe. Paul Lewis, an on the ground journalist in the riots said he was surprised how many people in the affected communities knew of, and loathed, the IPCC. These communities feel attacked, not just unprotected, by the police.

“The inability of the police to meet with those protesting Duggan’s death felt partly incompetent”

Police brutality was given de facto legitimacy when media was willing to ignore the root causes of crime beyond a screaming headline. But there has also been an element of the police proving their position, of making people subservient to them. The inability of the police to meet with those protesting Duggan’s death felt partly incompetent, partly about trying to prove that the meeting was unnecessary and could keep them waiting. The police have rather taken to winding up protestors to prove they are in control. When I was ‘kettled’ in the student protests, people were repeatedly given the wrong directions in which to leave by police for example. The McPherson and Scarman reports forced the police to act upon more egregious attitudes of racism. Other reports and recommendations were ignored, such as stopping disproportionate use of restraint against black men[5], leaving time bombs for an event like Duggan’s death. Hundreds of black men have died in custody since the 1970’s. The police have improved[6], but a lack of accountability with only one officer having ever been convicted for a death in custody, has further strained the police relationship with black people. Stop and search has been the most controversial practise in this strained relationship. The McPherson recommendation of logging the race of those stopped was a way of lessening the burden of black people feeling constantly surveyed. This became undermined under legislation where the police no longer needed reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to stop and search. On the guise of ‘counter-terrorism’, hundreds of thousands have been stopped. Only 2 have been charged with terror offences, but non-whites are 26 times more likely to be stopped. While the last fortnight showed a Britain more comfortable with non-white people than 3 decades ago, less visceral racism since the 1980’s has not extinguished systemic racism, especially in the criminal justice system. There is little sense that this can be extinguished soon either. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, i.e. in promoting accountability. The PM wants elected police commissioners, but what might work better is electing police on a more local level, given legitimacy by the ‘beat’ they’re working on. It could democratically open up the police to more non-white officers, but also the concerns of non-white civilians.

England has higher child poverty rates than other developed European countries with seven of the top 10 worst places in London.

“the experiences of marginalised children are “not one occasional attack on dignity” but a “repeated humiliation, being continuously dispossessed in a society rich with possession.”

The root causes are necessary to look at because they often reveal far deeper societal pathologies. British care homes might as well be joined with prisons. Half of those in German care go on to higher education, but those in British care are more likely to go to prison than to university, committing nearly 20 times more crime than their German counterparts. Britain’s care system holds up a distorted mirror to the politics of violence in Britain, namely Haringey where the riots started, infamous for child abuse scandals. Camila Batmangelidjh, who runs Kid’s Company, is the most prominent exception to the system’s failures, caring for often malnourished children in London. She is not surprised that children dismissed as ‘feral’ are ‘attacking their own community’: she says the experiences of marginalised children are “not one occasional attack on dignity” but a “repeated humiliation, being continuously dispossessed in a society rich with possession. Young, intelligent citizens of the ghetto seek an explanation for why they are at the receiving end of bleak Britain, condemned to a darkness where their humanity is not even valued enough to be helped.”  Tolstoy asserted that governments are those who do violence to the rest of us. Whether this is accurate, prisons are a breeding ground for an individual violence that echoes a politics of violence, and another national disgrace. Wandsworth prison was recently heavily criticised. Substandard conditions have contributed to 11 deaths in custody, 4 of them suicides, between 2010 and February 2011, in a prison population of over 1,600[7]. 14 UK prisons have a 70% reconviction rate or above. Such structures of cyclical violence will not be solved by adding looters to it, like those jailed for stealing a bottle of water. But policies designed to stop these cycles of violence are often seen as unpalatable. Goldsmiths University have helped around 300 one time functionally illiterate prisoners to obtain degrees. Even with reoffending rates in the single digits, such programmes cannot stray from a mainstream politics of violence.

In a similar way to US foreign policy creating ‘blowback’, excessive police tactics heightens the risk of violence, made almost inevitable in the mainstream politics of violence. The tactic of ‘kettling’ for example, confining peaceful protestors in a small space with violent protestors, only increases the chance of violent responses. The HMIC inquiry into Ian Tomlinson’s death found it was problematic, recommending police facilitate protest rather than criminalise it.[8] The ‘lock-‘em-up’ agenda though is more about the relative position of the police than a security approach. The picture though is nuanced, as though short term ‘tough’ measures are popular, the British public don’t show unquestioning loyalty to the police for long, particularly if they have covered up more information surrounding Duggan’s death. Looking at how protests are handled is vital in understanding the psychology of riots. ‘Tough’ short-term measures, like using water cannons and rubber bullets, have smashed up the lives of people in Northern Ireland with greater ease than the barriers fuelling violence. A conflict mediation model emerging in Chicago, led by groups like CeaseFire, attempts to understand riots like diseases in how they spread, using mediation and listening to potential rioters in order to prevent explosions of violence. Conflict mediation has been incredibly important in keeping fragile relationships between police and vulnerable communities stable. This was acknowledged after the riots in1981/5. Police worked with community leaders and groups to help legitimise the police. Refusing to do so after Duggan’s death seems both arrogant and stupid. The same can be said of governmental policies that in effect deny the existence of communities. The ‘Big Society’ in practise is little different to the ‘No Society’ of Thatcher. Interestingly, poor Scottish and Welsh communities have been unaffected by the riots. Identity and a collective voice are stronger in those communities though. They have local leaders who can articulate their frustrations. London was lacking such a voice in the initial days, though Ken Livingstone did the best job of doing so. Perhaps other forms of local democracy are necessary, not just accountable police, community mediation and community grassroots groups.

“In the context of this (drug) war though, these areas become occupied territories, rather than areas with real police work or reconstruction required by the damage of war”

The destructive dog-eat-dog world of gangs ironically provides stability absent in other parts of people’s environments. It is also about the wealth provided by local monopolies on the drug trade. The war on drugs creates both organised state and individual violence, particularly in dying areas like those affected by the riots. In the context of this war though, these areas become occupied territories, rather than areas with real police work or reconstruction required by the damage of war. The Ministry of Justice has found most reoffenders are homeless and/or jobless, or have been through the care system and abuse in other structures. Gang members are more likely to have suffered the latter indignities. But ‘reformed’ individuals with a criminal record can also find it near impossible to access employment or housing after background checks. Without the stability of a job and home, “criminality” is an easier, more stable option. The paradox is that what ultimately destroys those removed from society is what seems to be the only available, stable course. If we don’t acknowledge them as members of society, becoming a criminal is more likely for numerous reasons. One reform could be for one’s criminal record to be cleared if rehabilitated. This is nowhere near a total solution, but even tweaks in the law and government policy can help to start break these cycles of violence.

“One youth worker told the Guardian that gangs are an obvious option when youth clubs and community spaces are shut down”

Some of the problem was not networks of gangs as suspected by media though, but simply bored kids. Breaking up the year into shorter terms and holidays, with a 5-term year as schools in Nottingham are piloting, can be one way of capping, or limiting events like this. Youth clubs are not a magic way of stopping crime, but shutting out hormonal teenagers from one of a few available spaces for them, isn’t the best preventative measure against riots. It isn’t just a seasonal problem though as removing financial incentives for sixth-form colleges will mean less attendance and more hormonal teenagers, again not the best preventative measure. It isn’t a seasonal problem when hacking apart the career advice service, Connexions. But it is a perfect circle of young people not in employment, education, or training. One youth worker told the Guardian that gangs are an obvious option when youth clubs and community spaces are shut down because the protection of the older gang members is “the only childcare anyone can afford”. Teenage kicks have their part in the events too. Another youth worker told the Guardian when he confronted assembled kids in Liverpool, most went away feeling stupid with themselves. Far easier to blame single mothers though, to say the problem is that rioters lack guidance from their fathers, while then proposing all women seeking child support from men pay a flat fee to the Child Support Agency of £100.

Any real commission of inquiry cannot just consider reductionist issues around these communities or law and order specifically. These causes are vital in diagnosing the riots, whether short-term, like the death of Duggan, the medium-term of a downward-spiralling economy, or much longer-term deprivation of so many communities. But determining these symptoms is not enough. It’s not enough to remedy the problems when they arrive, but rather finding out how to stop them arising in the first place. It’s not enough for example to be concerned that overcrowded prisons after the riots will lead to prison revolts, but instead to ask broader questions about the role of prisons and punishment. Such a commission should perhaps be like a jury, calling up ordinary people from affected areas who don’t proclaim themselves experts. That there are so many possible and probable reasons for the riots means experts from specific fields may not be enough. It is also a damning indictment of a society that ignored these dying areas, requiring more than the establishment figures who helped contribute to these areas’ deaths. It has to be a conversation that includes even the rioters even if cathartic to only condemn. While the focus should be on evaluating issues around law enforcement and social injustice, a whole societal shift is required, asking questions like what ownership means to us as a society. Galbraith argued collective consciousness and conscience is a better protector from reactionary shifts than the law. The US reaction to the 1960’s/70’s riots provide a lesson to us: Reaganomics flowed as much in new mistrust in welfare offices and housing departments as it did in political discourse. This societal shift had damaging consequences, with whole communities becoming collateral damage in a political turn to the right. The same sense of fear cannot have a similar monopoly on society and discourse if we are to stop such riots from happening again.

 Josh Kitto is studying history and political science at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, United Kingdom. He has been featured on independant media outlets such as Citizen Radio talking and discussing the student protests on the tuition hikes in 2012. An avid Howard Zinn reader and an admirer of Amy Goodman, his motto is, “Go where the silence is”. You can read his blog at Confessions of an autistic boy.

Oslo, shortly after the explosion.

Whether he knows it or not, Breivik is a member of Al-Queda. It is with those words that The Danger Room’s Spencer Ackerman chose to write his first words related to the Oslo attacks. Two acts of terrorism of extreme violence carried out without a slightest warning in a country mostly known for soccer teams and a stern refusal to be a part of the Euro zone. Wherever Europe chose to hide its best, brightest and quietest – Scandinavia – the curtain has now been pulled to reveal that the darkest stains of the Old Continent have spread to the parts we believed were kept out of the miserable stench of racism emerging out of the upmost western shores. The 2008 crisis did nothing to help a rise in extreme right fringes represented within France’s Sarkozian government, Britain’s Tories flirting with the BNP and Austria’s early 00’s dance with Jörg Haider. Regardless of the position, terrorism is terrorism: it is the refusal to adhere to the rule of law, a complete disregard for human life, and a basic, if at all, knowledge of what constitutes civil society. What is shocking the world as of today is not the scope of the attack, its suddenness, or its unusual location. It is the fact that Anders Behring Breivik was a white-skinned, blonde-haired, blue-eyed 32 years old who couldn’t find another way to “spark a revolution” he believed to be necessary to rid the world of “the threat of Islamism”. Primitive fear of the other and outstanding political violence: Europe is facing its own failure to integrate, mix, and roll in with multiculturalism. The ghosts of the wars of the 20th century are passing by, sending a very chilly breeze. Antonio Fernandez gives us his insight on Europe’s old trends of xenophobia and the hypocrisy in national narratives.

“the flow of minute-by-minute particular details of the massacre provided by mainstream media cannot and should not prevent us from asking larger questions about Nazism as a European phenomenon, deeply rooted in the mind-set of European national narratives”

On Friday, July 22nd, Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old Norwegian man with extreme right ideas, allegedly a member of Swedish Nazi forum, killed at least 93 children in the island of Utoya. It is the worst attack suffered by Norway since the Second World War and has been described in the media as Norway’s Oklahoma moment. Behring’s outspoken hatred of Muslims, Marxists and multiculturalism, his call for a defence of what he perceives as a “decadent” Europe put him in line with the extremist ideas of the resurgent neo-Nazi movement in Europe. It is deeply worrying to observe how almost 70 years after the Nazis’ war on Europe and fascism, countries such as Sweden, Finland, Germany, Austria, Russia, Italy and Spain, to name only a few, have seen the ideas of xenophobic, populist and demagogical political parties taking seats in their national parliaments. What should raise our concern, however, is the disproportionate and indiscriminate nature of the brutal twin attacks, which clearly mark a transition from street knife crime to what could be seen as a more violent and sophisticated form of terrorism in Europe. The question that runs through my head is probably similar to that of many: why? Obviously, the flow of minute-by-minute particular details of the massacre provided by mainstream media cannot and should not prevent us from asking larger questions about Nazism as a European phenomenon, deeply rooted in the mind-set of European national narratives and its devastating consequences. My intention with this article is to briefly navigate to the core of racism in Europe and offer a broader historical and philosophical perspective about the ramifications of power in the right to kill the other, which lies at the heart of European totalitarianism. Nazism should never occur in Europe again but the resurgence of organised racism forces us to wonder whether Europe has really learned its historical lessons. It is only by confronting the discomforting and uncomfortable truth of Europe’s colonial past that we may be able to fight terror – intellectually and physically – in all its forms, whatever traits the terrorists uphold and whatever the nature of terror inflicted.

Anders Behring Breivik

“In Agamben’s words, the state of exception is that space where one who has been accused of committing a crime, within the legal system, loses the ability to use his voice and represent themselves- the individual can not only be deprived of their citizenship, but also of any form of agency over their own life”.

Anders Behring Breivik travelled to the island of Utoya dressed as a policeman after having left explosives in a governmental building. With chilling coldness, Breivik arrogated himself the right to end the life of 93 young boys and girls, members of the Socialist youths. They were not given the chance to speak, to say a word in their defence as, in Breivik’s mind, they represented everything that he stood against: multiculturalism, empathising with Muslims, and the perversion of Europe’s cultural purity. The island became a form of a state of exception and the young boys and girls became homo sacer, to use the terminology employed by philosopher Giorgio Agamben. In Agamben’s words, the state of exception is that space where one who has been accused of committing a crime, within the legal system, loses the ability to use his voice and represent themselves- the individual can not only be deprived of their citizenship, but also of any form of agency over their own life. Agamben identifies the state of exception with the power of decision over life. On the island of Utoya, Breivik turned the congregated into homo sacer, that is, human beings outside the reach of law by virtue of the state of exception, where no law applies. But, in Breivik’s own words, the end justified the means – he recognised the brutality of the massacre yet claimed it was necessary. A sort of instrumental rationality seemed to underpin the goal of his actions.

Racism in Europe emerged in the age of colonial exploration, when the European merchant class went overseas in quest for raw material and new markets. Thanks to technological improvement and the rule of Enlightnement, Europe moved beyond the Middle Ages and entered  Renaissance as the descriptor and scriptor of the world, the beacon of civilisation, the civilising centre of the world to which the other peoples in the world should naturally tend. Soon, Indigenous populations were rendered primitive and backward or as having a civilizational deficit, in front of Europe’s perceived technological superiority. Different life styles and worldviews that did not conform to the standards of agricultural productivity and technological efficiency that had allowed Europe to overcome the medieval age were deprived of their legitimacy to exist by using violence dressed as liberal legality. The discourse of modernity justified colonial genocide in Australia, Africa and South America: the “end” of economic growth justified plundering and dispossession and soon the machinery of death began to emerge in slave plantations. Entire populations of human beings were dehumanised and excluded from the rule of law and, as Michel Foucault argues in The Will to Knowledge, the first volume of The History of Sexuality, racism became a technology by which the right to death was exercised by judicial agents that arrogated themselves the right to define law and, at the same time, to arbitrarily exclude the “other” from the rule of law.

candlelight vigil in Oslo

In the 19th century, racism was institutionalised within nation-states, that ascribed European peoples with essentialised ethnic, linguistic, geographical and historical features, as if cultures were isolated and bounded entities. The construction of the non-European “other” (e.g. the Arab, the Hindu) as irrational, passion-led was a necessary step in the civilising process of killing and colonial expropriation: the perception of the “other” as a threat or dangerous mysterious entity enabled their dehumanisation and justified the massive taking away of lives. Again, the appropriation of the natural resources of other peoples in foreign lands (the irrational) had to be rationalised. As I mentioned before, it is the European nation-state that creates and defines law and lawlessness in order to remove any obstacle on the road to economic growth. This is a far-right ideology, the same ideology endorsed by Breivik: as Ibrahim Hewitt argues, “the notion of Europe’s and Europeans’ racial superiority – giving cultural credibility to the far-right – gave rise to the slave trade and the scramble for Africa leading to untold atrocities against “the Other”; ditto in the Middle and Far East”.  Seen from this perspective, the rhetorical stance of Breivik’ anti-Muslim view is nothing new under the sun. As we have seen, the idea that Europe is being “occupied” or “conquered” by hordes of “barbarous” Muslims is well rooted in the European consciousness; and far from disappearing, it can be found in more recent literature such as Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations, where the cultural features of a community of almost 100 million people is reduced to a number of stereotypes.

“The pursuing of geopolitical interests across the world by European nations (and non-European as well) requires the implementation of spaces excluded from the rule of law, as in the West Bank and Gaza, where human beings converted into homines sacri can be routinely and massively killed”.

The “rationalised” irrational logics of the slave plantation, the Bantustans in South Africa, the Nazi concentration camps and the present day prison state of Gaza or Guantanamo, the wall in the West Bank and in the US Mexican border or the fence in the North African city of Melilla are physical metaphors of the mental barriers of many Western countries. The economic system that governs our lives requires the constant fabrication of states of exception, in cultural and physical space. The pursuing of geopolitical interests across the world by European nations (and non-European as well) requires the implementation of spaces excluded from the rule of law, as in the West Bank and Gaza, where human beings converted into homines sacri can be routinely and massively killed with the legitimation of Israeli law and probably, with the legitimization of theories like Huntington’s.

Are Breivik and fellow extremists aware of the absurdity of their claims? How can they not possibly see or at least have a hint that migratory movements in this globalised world are the consequence of military conflict, hunger, poverty mainly caused by neoliberalism, which is a perpetuation of the very same capitalist economic system that has generated the same dynamics of irrationality (the serial, industrial calculation of death and human exploitation) in the name of economic efficiency? Why is it that racism and the luring appeal of “the motherland” remained alive and well, taking hold of more more European ideological mindsets? We educate our children to be efficient and successful in the same kind of society and economic system in which the (extreme) right wing has felt most comfortable. I do not know of any school where the colonial period of European history is honestly taught from the standpoint of its victims. Rather, education in European schools is mostly Eurocentric and multiculturalist, which has been conceived as the mere unarticulated juxtaposition of cultural atomistic entities, without contributing to erase the walls of otherness between European and non-European citizens. Ignorance breeds hatred and only this can help us understand the barbarous irrationality of Anders’ actions. It is hard to believe that, 75 years after the Holocaust, ignorance and racial stereotyping is still fomented and legitimated by the media, shaping the opinion of a significant segment of the European population who uncritically accept barbarity and irrationality as a normal and acceptable discourse. As long as we are trapped in the vicious circle of instrumental rationality that places efficiency and economic benefits above moral and ethical principles, we are prone to repeat the same mistakes and we will never understand why an individual can decide on its own the killing of other human beings. Like George Bush’s government decided unilaterally the massive killings of Iraqis for geostrategic, instrumental reasons, just like the International Monetary Fund pack of privatisation measures sparked the seed of nationalist, ethnic hatred in Yugoslavia during the 1990’s for the instrumental purpose of extending neoliberalism in the region.

Finally, I must admit that recalling Angela Merkel and James Cameron’s words certifying the death of multiculturalism a couple of months ago, using a nationalist rhetoric that is not far at all from one of the points in Breivik’s extremist agenda, supports my claim that still in the 21th century, politicians have not learned anything about our most recent past. The discourse of the nation as an homogeneous entity (an idea that is not supported by facts) continues to generate and perpetuate the very same irrational mental barriers that have driven Europe to its darkest times. As I write this article and read the news, what I find is a disheartening display of evidence that something is very wrong in our European societies: the English Defence League blames the Norwegian government for the attacks, most media headlines and governments have claimed, without a single fact, that the attacks were caused by Islamist militias, the perpetrator is not a defined as a terrorist but just a lunatic killer, avoiding any reference to its Christian supremacist views, defying all logics….isn’t all this irrational and barbaric, yet it’s part of our everyday life? Perhaps in Europe the fine line between rationality and irrationality is not clear as rationalising the irrational is deeply engrained in our history. As long as long Europe looks itself in the mirror and confronts the origins and consequences of its own actions, barbarity and irrationality will continue to undermine the prospect of a better and more just society for everyone.

 

 

Antonio Cuadrado-Fernandez is an independent researcher who obtained his PhD in postcolonial literature in the School of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, where he has taught literary theory, Ecopoetry and Catalan language. His research focuses on the relationship between art and biodiversity, cultural politics, philosophy of mind and cultural/human geography. He also loves progressive rock, growing vegetables and all kinds of coffee. He is a freelance translator, Spanish and Catalan Tutor and enjoys volunteering for the U3A group teaching Spanish to elderly people in Norwich.

Antonio has already contributed to the OISC project writing about the Spanish uprisings.

Ever since Greece more or less collapsed in 2008, the country as a whole as become a major thorn in the European Union’s side. Perhaps the most glaring example of the devastating collateral damage caused by the financial crisis and the subsequent recession, the complete sell and dismantlement of a nation sees the citizens as its first victims. Erupting into riots and rarely ever emerging to catch a breath, Greek people are struggling to find solutions and alternatives to a very bleak future. Three years later, as the European Union is staring at Greece in horror, witnessing what could well be the last days of the EuroZone, a civil movement emerges, reaches far back into its democratic roots to redefine what democracy means, and what its identity could mean to a nation fighting for its right to live. Tasos Karakatsanis explains the concept of Plateia.

“The movement is an ongoing consultation in the pattern of the Athenian democracy, hereby giving a strong legitimacy to the movement”

I was very skeptical when I heard about the first protest opposing the memoradum in the square of “Syntagma” opposite the Parliament. The media first reported it as an answer to the Spanish “indignados”. I thought it would turn out to be a weightless, quick and meaningless demonstration imitating the “indignados”. However its endurance and gradual self-organization convinced me of two things: – First that the Greek movement of “Plateia” (1) represents a very strong leverage to the Greek ruling parties as an opposing force to the policies dictated by the memorandum that Greece was forced to sign in order not to bankrupt; -Second and most importantly the movement raises questions about the quality of today’s system of representative democracy. It calls for direct democracy. The movement is an ongoing consultation in the pattern of the Athenian democracy, hereby giving a strong legitimacy to the movement.

An ongoing consultation is held every evening, during which anyone can speak up and express their idea or point of view. Anyone can make a proposition that will be put to a vote. Minutes are kept and  a website (www.real-democracy.gr) is updated regularly. The whole process goes back to the very essence of direct democracy.  “Plateia” is pushing for a new meaning in civil society.

taken on February 23rd, 2011

“Plateia” vows for justice and democracy. Greek citizens refuse to pay the debt caused by the corruption and the waste of public wealth – nothing less than taxpayer’s money. The “PASOK” (PASOK “Pan-Hellenic socialist movement) and  “Nea Democratia” (Traditional right wing party) administrations have been holding onto power for thirty-seven years after the fall of the Junta in 1974. During these years both parties have been cultivating customer-like relations with their voters. Party voters would be offered a state job or funding through state-run or programs sponsored by the European Union. Furthermore both parties have been building networks between state organizations, party people and businessmen who would undertake state or EU-sponsored projects without clear and transparent procedures – just by nurturing special relationships with particular ministers and state officials. The lack of competition in the business sector and the lack of transparency have created a blurred and complex interdependency between state officials, who would get commission for their services, businessmen who would have “friendly” relationships with government and state officials, judges and barristers which would stay provocatively inactive over a long time to chase these scandals – and finally, the media which would spread false information as a distraction from the public opinion. In some cases even monasteries and members of the clergy would be involved in such scandals ( like the Vatopedigate). Greek citizens face the same situation in state owned universities where academic nominations, in vast majority, are made on the basis on who you know and what contacts you have with members from the ruling party.

The misuse of the Greek public sector is even worse and would take pages to give a detailed analysis. Plateia’s argument in the matter is not to trust the politicians negotiating and bargaining, if bargaining at all, with the IMF and the EU on the terms of the loans. Plateia stresses that Greek politicians have been unreliable. The heavy taxation  implemented by the Greek government in order to pay for the loan is targeting low-income workers and pensioners. The rapid privatization of Greek state organizations and property results in increasing unemployment rates, officially reaching 15%.


Greece has a long history in political rioting. The days before voting on the memorandum in the Greek parliament for the second loan by IMF and the EU, the rioting reached its climax on the 14th and the 15th of June when unions went into the streets
for a pan-Hellenic strike. “Plateia” joined in the protest with lots of singing and dancing. Although “Plateia” proclaimed they would circle the parliament so elected officials couldn’t come in and vote,  the full scale mobilization made it impossible for any such plans. Riots erupted pretty soon first from the “Bachalakides” (2) and later by political activists who believe that violence is the only way to overthrow the corrupted government. However , although the “Plateea” people remained peaceful and tried to stay within the “Syntagma” square, an unprecedented fire of chemicals from the police attacked non-hostile protesters with extreme violence in an attempt to destroy the very core of  “Plateia”. Yet protestors keep coming back when police retreated and never quit until the protestors themselves took over the square.

“Allegations came from different parties that extreme right wing members acted as provocateurs and had strong ties with Greek police”

The Greek media chronicled the first days of the movement with really positive commentary of “Plateia” across the country. However as the movement became “permanent” and seemed to causing problems to the government on passing the memorandum,  a strange silence hit the media. When “Plateia” joined forces with the syndicates for a pan-Hellenic strike and protest, the media turned around and against the movement blaming it for the violence. The public opinion would have been turned against the movement, but an amateur video which first was circulated in the web and finally went in air by a private channel showed two of the troublemakers which carried bats and have taken part in the violence to be smuggled by the police. Allegation came by different parties about extreme right wingers acted as provocateurs and having strong ties with Greek police. Although the government and the police leadership promised publicly that they would hold an investigation, the issue was buried quickly.

“It is a fact that the European Union paid little attention to dealing with democratic deficiencies caused by the regional state integration and chose to focus more on economic and technocratic issues”

If one must decipher the meaning of civil society to give Plateia its full importance, the official definition is as follows:

Civil society refers to the arena of uncoerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and values. In theory, its institutional forms are distinct from those of the state, and market, though in practice, the boundaries between state, civil society, and market are often complex, blurred and negotiated. Civil society commonly embraces a diversity of spaces, actors and institutional forms, varying in their degree of formality, autonomy and power. Civil societies are often populated by organizations such as registered charities, development non-governmental organizations, community groups, women’s organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, trade unions, self-help groups, social movements, business associations, coalitions and advocacy groups. (3)

If the above quote is the definition of civil society then the scholar, expert in the building of social society, should focus on the phenomenon of “Plateia”: It is something new that brings the seed of direct democracy. Regardless of whether we agree with the advocacy of the “Plateia”,  one must keep the power of self-organization as a genuine, open and interactive consultation which has ceased to exist a long time ago in Western democracies. It is obvious the thirst of people for involvement and implication in political decision-making is a major concern. It is also a fact that the European Union paid little attention to dealing with  democratic deficiencies caused by the regional state integration and chose to focus more on economic and technocratic issues. However the call of “Plateia” is loud and clear: “We want real democracy and we won’t go until we get it”!

(1) Plateia Greek word for square, plaza

(2) Bachalakides ar apolitical groups aiming for violence, mostly organized in football clubs and aiming clashing among them or against the police

(3) as defined in Wikipedia, itself from “What is civil society?”. Centre for Civil Society, Philippine Normal University. 2004-03-01. Retrieved 2006-10-30.

Tasos Karakatsanis, PhD in International Relations, MA in Peace and Conflict.
Independent researcher focusing on political decision making within domestic and international institutions and democratic theories. Living in Athens, currently working in Plouto SA.

Many have fallen into the extremely public pitfalls of social networking. When politicians- and more specifically, elected officials – are caught in a blatant misuse of Twitter and Facebook, this can range from sheer mockery to immediate, almost simultaneous resignation.  The constant mix in the definition of morality in one given country versus an actual breach of political ethics has reached a severe degree of intensity in the case of Anthony Weiner, pushed to resignation by the former House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. When President Barack Obama himself expressed that had he been Weiner, he would have resigned, the representative for New York City’s 9th district, a shining star in the House of Representatives, suffered a nervous breakdown. The following press coverage focused on whether the resignation was called for, and what lies ahead for one of the most popular Representatives in an age of political apathy.

Anthony Weiner, three days ago, as he announced his resignation from office

New York City’s 9th district representative Anthony Weiner has been the shining star of the House of Representatives for the past year. A fervent supporter of single-payer health care who shamed Obama’s final bill because it wasn’t inclusive enough, a staunch advocate for 9/11 responders and often launching an aggressive offensive on Republicans, especially since John Boehner took over the role of Speaker, it is safe to say Weiner was one of the Democrats’ biggest asset in an election year that promised to need more than regular campaign promises: 201 Yesterday, said asset was forced out of office, citing his Twitter activities to be a “distraction” from his job as an elected official. In an election year, this is far from common, mundane political mishap. It’s bad news for the city of New York, bad news for the State, and definitely bad news for the Democratic Party which until now, was doing a relatively decent job staying out of tabloids’ headlines.

The question lies in whether one’s moral conduct is affecting, or cheating, on their sworn efficiency in office, and if said office is effectively tied to a code of ethical conduct. Two specific cases are brought to mind, and both are as far from Weiner’s situation as one can be.

Chris Lee's picture as posted on Craigslist and his resignation announcement

Earlier this year, in February, Chris Lee, representative of the extremely Republican 26th district of New York, was the subject of an instantly popular article on New York City-centered gossip website Gawker. Chris Lee, a married man elected in the only district of New York State considered to be a permanent Republican seat, answered a Craigslist ad in the “dating” section with a shirtless picture of himself taken in his bathroom with his phone. Following the publication, Chris Lee immediately resigned – subsequently opening the door to a staunch race for his seat, now occupied by Kathy Hochul, a Democrat – in one of the most followed electoral race of the year.  Outside of desperately seeking attention beyond the conjugal home, Lee is only guilty of having used an outlet so easily detectable and usable by the press. In regards to the political ethics transmitted by the GOP, Chris Lee made the necessary decision: attempting to find validation and potential affection through an online dating site does not find approval within the socially conservatives ranks of the Republican Party, attached to values of strong, male-and-female marriages, children, and christian morals of faith over lust. Within his district, never shying away from a right-wing move, Chris Lee knew he would never be re-elected or even endorsed by a colleague. However, whether this, again, affected his behaviour as local representative has never been  assessed. The separation line between the politician and the man has been blurred and forever deleted the moment he decided he was no longer fit for office.

“Bill Clinton’s 1993 short brush with impeachment was such a national affair of dramatic proportions it consequently led to a code of morals in private conduct to be followed by any elected official”

Senator John Ensign, a Republican representative from Nevada, found himself in even more troubled waters last month. First suspected of having an affair with the wife of his campaign manager, the Senator decided to let the couple go, and have his parents write them a cheque for $96,OOO, qualified as a “gift”, but suspiciously respecting the perfect timing of them leaving Ensign’s side. A sex and lobbying scandal that first had Ensign remain in his position of Senator – after a race won over the sweat and blood of Tea Party’s favorite, Sharron Angle – before quickly turning around and making a swift exit on May 3rd. Ensign did everything he could to avoid a very public and potentially very damaging public hearing and probe by the Senate Ethics Committee, launching an investigation not only on unlawful lobbying – securing clients for his very own chief of staff – but more drastically on the allegations of corruption behind this infamous cheque. In a very telling article, local newspaper The Las Vegas Sun titled “How Moral Failure Brought Down Senator Ensign“, who had occupied his seat for eleven years, compares Ensign with the most famous case on the matter, that of Bill Clinton’s:

There are those who talk of Ensign’s fall from political grace, and the resignation that takes effect a week from Tuesday, with a hint of pleasure at the irony of the situation, brought about by the hypocrisy of his actions. There are others who will defend him as the consummate objective moralist, who when confronted with his own faults, heeded his own advice.

Ensign may not belong at either end of that ethical spectrum. Because the pendulum of Ensign’s moral purism, it seems, swings both ways.

Ensign certainly fell on the sword of family values — morals he’d spent much of his career espousing as absolute, and portraying himself as embodying.

But Ensign also voluntarily departed from the dogmatism of the values-conservative position more often than most, especially in the wake of his scandal.

Here lies the non-existing specificity of being an elected official: a state or federal representative owes to his or her constituency to uphold the rule of law, to vote in accordance with the Constitution, to be fair in its voting and to listen to their voices when a vote is to be passed. A representative does just that: it represents the people of the district, state, or nation he was voted in. A lawmaker, a policy-maker, a representative is not a judge nor an arbitrary. Bill Clinton’s 1993 short brush with impeachment was such a national affair of dramatic proportions it consequently led to a code of moral private conduct to be followed by any elected official from across the board. Once again, the thin line of office behaviour and private affairs is to be highlighted: Bill Clinton had an affair which, despite being consensual, was conducted in his position of President, with a female member of staff, and inside the walls of his own office. The same way Ensign started a sexual relationship with a member of his campaign staff and tried to shut her family down with money, the lines between office and private affairs were blurred to a point that called for an ethical inquiry. Whatever happened to Anthony Weiner has never  affected neither his place of work or the content of his work per se. A call for moral cleanliness among the elected officials nationwide has been launched. This seems to lead to more corruption, misconduct, not from officials but also community and religious leaders.

Lucien Roman (left) and religious leader Alan Rekers (right)

In 2010, Alan Rekers was caught spending a vacation in Bermuda with a young man with whom he appeared to behave intimately. It would not be that bad of an issue if Rekers wasn’t the co-founder of the Family Research Council with James Dobson. The FRC, also parent company to Focus on the Family, is an anti-gay, pro-life, and generally extremely conservative lobby that has made itself clearly known the last few years for supporting anti-gay initiatives in the states proposing gay marriage on the ballot, and for financially covering any anti-abortion initiatives nationwide. Moreover, Rekers found his lover, Lucien, on the website rentboy.com, a notorious and infamous online gay escort service. Instead of facing up to his actions, which would obviously discredit Focus on the Family and their “family-oriented” values, Rekers claimed that he visited the website and met Lucien in Bermuda in order to “help with (his) luggage”. Despite the blatant hypocrisy, Rekers was not an elected official. The only people he had to answer to was the members of his parish and the FRC’s hierarchy. Because Rekers’ behaviour was specifically the strict opposite of what he had always preached, called for, and advocated, because Rekers’ lobbying company and religious affiliation is in strict opposition to relations of homosexual nature and in a broader way, of extra-marital affairs, Rekers has crossed the line in what is publicly acceptable in his leadership role. Weiner has yet to breach any of the rules of his own making as a Representative of Brooklyn and Queens, in his role as New York City progressive, as a member of Congress, and as a member of the Democratic Party.

” The fascination the public holds for misconduct is one that should never override the efficiency of the lawmaking sphere”

But what is it compared to dangerous and reckless conduct? A senator arrested for drunk driving, another slapped with corruption charges, a secretary of defense allegedly guilty of war crimes, a governor abandoning her role halfway through her mandate: those stories are being covered and conducted on the same level of gravity and scrutiny Anthony Weiner had to undergo in the last couple of weeks. Many have come in support of the Representative – and many have qualified the incident of ‘minor’, protecting privacy in the name of his achievements in Congress. Weiner surrendered to pressure claiming that his Twitter activities were a “distraction” to his real motivation. Considering the time span during which the direct messages were sent, Weiner had been successfully active in promoting the progressive agenda in Washington and had been relentless in his call for change in the institution. Whether his actions deserve a punishment sees his wife as the only judge. As a Democrat, Anthony Weiner had never supported any legislation on morality (or lack thereof), social conservatism, or anything that would see the federal government make a decision regarding a citizen’s family. Anthony Weiner may have acted in a way that is morally condemnable, but in no way were his actions unethical under the banner of his political mandate. The fascination the public holds for misconduct is one that should never override the efficiency of the lawmaking sphere; and if Anthony Weiner is one to hold himself accountable and step down in order to assuage a part of his constituency, it is only fair that Senators and Representatives who are themselves criminally negligent should also step down and release themselves in the hands of the relevant Ethics Committee. The witch hunt on personal conduct’s bottom line is morbid curiosity; political recklessness, however, is a public and national matter that belongs in the realm of civic pro-activism.

It’s been almost a week since Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the French president of the all-powerful International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been accused of raping a maid in his New York City hotel before boarding an Air France flight to Paris, where he was arrested by NYPD on sexual assault charges. Facing a sentence ranging from 20 to 74 years (the judge implied that other potential victims had come forward to testify), the man has been denied bail and is currently imprisoned at the legendary Rikers Island prison, in the Bronx. 

Coverage of the scandal is substantively different depending on which side of the Atlantic Ocean one is standing. The United States coverage has been somewhat unanimous in claiming another powerful man had abused his position to obtain sexual favours. France is mourning an extremely popular presidential hopeful for the ongoing presidential campaign, that would have penned “DSK” in a tight race against incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. A race so tight many claimed that the scandal itself was a set-up to clear the path for Sarkozy’s second term. Even DSK’s lawyer seems to have abandoned this line of defence.

More importantly, this scandal unfolds more than a debate on one’s alleged guilt: it uncovers a fundamental difference in judicial culture. Should powerful politicians benefit from a legal favours? How much information is too much information? Should DSK be trusted to follow legal constraints, or was the judge right in stating a risk of him leaving the United States territory? It seems the scandal goes far beyond a story of yet another politician’s mishap. It feels like France is losing hope in the only one it believed could save french politics, the one that had sought political asylum in the arms of the very country that is now prosecuting him. The end of a dream ? – Sarah K

Dominique Strauss-Kahn in court, three days ago


“… but what a beautiful example of justice, one that judges the anonymous the same as the powerful.”

I woke up on sunday with a news alert flashing on my phone. Seeing Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s name appear, I didn’t give it a second thought,  assuming he had finally, after a seemingly endless teasing campaign, officially announced his run in the 2012 presidential campaign. It was only later, switching on the television, that I realised the extent of the scandal.

Sunday was a particularly rich day. On television, of course, but even more so on Twitter, with this incredible flow of information, ranging from the most legit and serious to the most extravagant news. From facts to conspiracy theory. There was even a few puns and jokes (“he’s a womanizer, makes insane amounts of money and ends up in jail: DSK is your new hip-hop idol”). I am by no means a political journalist, I would even say I do not know much about politics. But everyone knew that whatever had happened in the country and out of it would change the deal as far as national representation was concerned. Even as far as the fate of the country itself (DSK was ahead in all the presidential polls).

It is obviously way too early to pen a radical speech on the story. Only a low-life like Bernard Debré (Representative for Paris, NdlR) thought it would be appropriate to dig DSK a watery grave on his blog. (1) If it is politically accepted not to blame DSK and never forget that in this story also lies an alleged victim, it could be a destructive affair of rape as well as it could be a major conspiracy aimed at destroying the man and his presidential aspirations. It wouldn’t be the first time.

I will not dive into theory or analysis; here is my personal point of view. The images and photos of the man being handcuffed and taken away by the police, then presented as such in front of the judge were hard to watch. He is not just any other man. He was a french citizen who was well on his way to become president. As far as a scandal goes, a man of his status being accused of rape and sent to Rikers Island is unheard of. The Clinton scandal, despite its many story lines and threats of impeachment, was nothing but a situation of adultery committed by two consenting adults, therefore was a private matter that shouldn’t have been addressed in the public sphere, let alone under a political angle. The DSK scandal is nothing short of sordid.

Those images of the man appearing in court and being handcuffed, in the box of the accused, should they have been released? My own curiosity, maybe misplaced, agrees. Granted, the story itself would have lost no weight nor importance without those specific images. Is he paying for what Polanski managed to escape? I believe he does, maybe a little bit. Rikers Island? I can’t help thinking this is not where he should be. But what a beautiful example of justice, the one that treats the anonymous the same as the powerful!

The next few days will be of tremendous importance. Regardless of the outcome, DSK will not be the new president in 2012. His political career is most definitely over. No way to say if his life can be salvaged.

(1) Why Does Bernard Debré Hates DSK? Rue89.com, May 17 (in french)

nicoNico Prat is a journalist from Paris, France and is a regular contributor to VoxPop, Technikart, and ThatMag. He also co-hosts a radio show on Le Mouv’. You can follow him on Twitter at @nicoprat and on Tumblr.

Angel Dillard

See: Kansas Free Press, “Judge Dismissive of Threatening Letter To Dr Means

On May 31st, 2009, Dr. Georges Tiller was shot in his church in Wichita by Scott Roeder, a self-proclaimed member of the ‘Army of God’, an anti-abortion movement stemming from the likes of Operation Rescue. Tiller, who not only faced trial for providing late-term abortions in a state where women’s health is strictly regulated, had already been shot in the arm in 1993 by Shelly Shannon, who was frequently visited by Roeder while in prison. If the murder of Dr. Tiller, the only provider of those services in the entire state of Kansas, came as a shock to the community, it was no surprise. Operation Rescue had always promoted violence against clinics and institutions such as Planned Parenthood. In the current political context, where the political will is so clearly to egg violence against women’s health and to rob them of federal protection, the decision of Judge Marten is, once again, predictable. What it is not is logical, or even in accordance with the legal common sense surrounding the protection of the individual against violence in the state.

The United States Justice Department (USJD) itself filed a claim against Dillard for already violating the FACE act, that guarantees women a safe access to clinics. FACE was a victory for Planned Parenthood and local women’s health practitioners who could request a protection, management and prevention from local law enforcement. Women and girls are often harassed and assaulted on their way to the clinic, intimidated and coerced into returning home or facing retaliation for whatever they were coming to the clinic for. FACE came too late in the legal system, and still takes time to be enforced. Clinics often have to resort to self-protection (the famous Planned Parenthood ‘escorts’) and women, who should feel protected, surrounded, and supported on their way to receiving health care, are instead isolated, threatened, and bewildered. The adoption of FACE was a legal response to the objective admission that anti-abortion groups represent a domestic threat to the well-being of american citizens, and should be kept at bay and under surveillance for violent activities. Groups such as Operation Rescue are not even shying away from admitting their commitment to violence; the Army of God, from its very name to its manifesto, believes it is at war and no longer recognizes the rule of law. This is the textbook definition of terrorism, regardless of the beliefs of current members of the House of Representatives.

In that, Judge Marten is painfully missing out on his role as a judge. The USJD and Dr. Means turned to him for protection regarding a matter that should not be taken lightly. In a country that has been on orange alert for terrorism since 2006, the irony is of a terrifyingly cynical nature. Let’s take a look at the letter Dillard sent to Dr. Means on January 15:

“Thousands of people are already looking into your background, not just in Wichita, but from all over the U.S. They will know your habits and routines. They will know where you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, where you live. You will be checking under your car everyday-because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.”

Not only is the threat of bombing clearly expressed in the letter, but the use of plural pronouns shows that Dillard does not believe she is acting alone, and that the letter was condoned by the ‘thousands of people’ she believes she is working with. The reference to a group carrying out illegal investigations on Dr. Means and working out on ending her life is the way any terrorist group would work. What is even more important here is that, should Judge Marten not be familiar with the regular workings of terrorist groups, the law specifies that it is not necessarily the more or less clear content of a threat that can justify a restraining order, but “how the threat is perceived by the recipient”. The sole fact that Dr. Means could be terrified by the letter should have resulted in immediate action against Dillard. Instead, Judge Marten chose to undermine and underplay a massive, nationwide threat that has already cost the nation the life of many health practitioners. In his ruling, Judge Marten establishes the precedence of the First Amendment over national security.

“The First Amendment is the absolute bedrock of this country’s freedom, and I think the ability to express an opinion on a topic that is important to one — even if it is controversial — has to be protected so long as the line is not crossed and becomes a true threat. I don’t think this letter constitutes a true threat (…)”

Dr. Mila Means

Judge Marten hereby extends the realm of application of the First Amendment to the freedom of menacing another person’s life, an appalling and dangerous decision that unfortunately echoes a similar decision rendered in 2008 by a federal judge Lynn Andelman on the grounds that a neo-nazi online posting threatening a juror was “not contrary to the First Amendment“, and “I am convinced that no reasonable factfinder considering the posts and the context in which they were made could conclude, based on an objective standard, that they constitute a solicitation.” The release of said neo-nazi, the very same week Judge Marten made his ruling, was compared to the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords supposedly following a display on Sarah Palin’s website, on which the faces of Democrat representatives and senators were turned into targets with crosshairs. In that specific case, Sarah Palin was not charged of solicitation, but her website was quickly taken down.

However, when it comes to Dr. Means, attacks have been made personal, and have already been extremely specific in that her name, address, and habits were released and publicly posted. Dillard made a clear reference to the murder of Dr. Means’ predecessor in the very same field in the very same city, and it is clear that Wichita, KS holds enough Army of God members to constitute a clear threat to Dr. Means’ life. In the case of counter terrorism, where do national laws stop protecting fellow citizens, and become an instrument of legal coercion? In a political context where the Times Square bomber could see his Miranda Rights revoked for having committed a terrorist act, how is the First Amendment used to protect Angel Dillard, who so clearly, in language, intention and expression, intends to end Dr. Means’ life? Is it turning a blind eye to what is domestic, white-based, and social-issued terrorism, as opposed to international, ethnic-based, and foreign policy-originated violence?

It took a murder, twelve arsons, one bombing, and sixty-six blockades carried out by anti-abortion extremists in the sole year of 1993 to give birth to FACE, signed into law by President Clinton in 1994. The murder of Dr. Tiller, following threats of violence for decades against his clinic, staff, and person should have given way to harsher and stricter legislation protecting doctors from violence. Instead, in 2011, 33 anti-abortion laws were enacted throughout the United States. In Missouri, doctors performing late-term abortions, like Dr. Tiller and Dr. Means, see a possible fine up to $50,000 and three years in prison.  In Indiana, a new law would force doctors to tell women, despite scientific evidence of the opposite, that the embryo can feel the pain of the abortion procedure and would force patients to undergo and view an ultrasound. In Montana, a similar bill wants doctors to inform their patients of an alleged link between abortion and breast cancer, despite, once again, scientific evidence.

When a nation is so evidently moving to the extreme right of social issues in a way that is politically enforced by state legislation, should security, law enforcement, and judicial powers support the political movement in a way that is detrimental to the well-being of citizens? Should domestic terrorism be downplayed to the point where social violence becomes just another way for ideological expression? Has democracy entirely run its course? The legal debate surrounding “protected speech” has, however, already been discussed by the Supreme Court, citing the direct link to be made between action and encouragement to action (see “direct incitement test” and Brandenburg vs Ohio): “speech is protected unless it is directed toward and likely to produce “imminent lawless action.”

The question now is, how far should said action be taken before we consider the threat of a bomb under one’s car an act of terrorism?

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