Tag Archives: politics

Changed Irish Political Landscape Elections 2014

While the weekend saw one of the slowest counts most pundits had ever seen, the delay gave three days for the results to sink in. Some journalists are calling this polling day Sinndependence Day, after the enormous success of Sinn Féin and independent candidates.

Certainly Sinn Féin have nearly tripled its seats in the local councils and gained 3 MEPs compared with none from the last European elections in 2009. At the same time Labour’s vote has collapsed and Fianna Fáil, the party held responsible for the economic crisis, has proved more resilient than expected and held their local support. RTE online provides detailed electoral breakdown. 

But the rise in support for Sinn Féin is only one symptom of a wider change in the Irish political landscape. What’s more significant is how the tradition political cleavages are breaking down. Those observing the transfers (Ireland uses a PR electoral system) shows that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have transferred to each other in this election in numbers not seen before.

For those less familiar with Irish political divisions, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael represent the parties formed from two opposing sides of the Irish Civil War in 1922/1923. The two parties, historically centre-right (FG) and centre with centre-left sympathies (FF) have never been in coalition. Their voters and the candidates often inherit the position.

Labour goes into coalition with FG on occasion then suffers afterwards for it in the polls. But Labour was distinctly the third party, one of a number opposition parties.

Sinn Féin’s support stayed under 8% in most elections and there was huge stigmas attached to membership because of the Northern Ireland conflict. Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act in Ireland forbidden the broadcasting of the voice of any Sinn Féin member. They could not take part in public debate. This only ended in the early 1990s so for them to be a significant player in the this election is remarkable.

One way this changing political landscape tripped Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE, up was the category of ‘others’. ‘Others’ is made up of all independent/non-party candidates and smaller parties, Socialists, People Before Profit, and the Green Party, among others.

rte vote bar

But in this election ‘others’ was one of the largest groups and so displaying results in this way is not very informative.

The rise of the left was one of the most talked about outcomes of these elections. Despite making foolish decision such as the Socialist Party running its candidates as the AAA (Anti-Austerity Alliance) which no one had heard of or changing the name of the party in the European election to Stop the Water Tax – The Socialist Party, they won 12 seats on county and city councils. People Before Profit, primary a working group of the Socialist Workers Party, also took 12 seats.

Political discussion and analysis by many journalists failed to catch up with the new realities. Talking about the four historic parties and “the rest” no longer adds to the conversation.

Other changes can be seen in the issues that effect voters. Jobs, tax and healthcare will be central to most elections and the rise of real left parties has forced discussion on economic alternatives into the mainstream but new issues are also coming into play. Social equality, gender, sexuality and race, are becoming increasingly significant.

Darren Scully, who was mayor of Naas at the time, claimed that he did not represent the African community in his constituency. He resigned as Mayor and was expelled from Fine Gael. In this election, not only was he allowed to return to Fine Gael but he was re-elected to the council in Naas.

racist scully naas vote deets

At the same time Sinn Féin ran Edmond Lukusa, Chairperson of the Congolese Consortium of Ireland and he was elected to the Fingal council.

edmond lukusa

Ireland’s growing immigrant communities are still not only underrepresented in Irish politics but social disconnected from it as well. The parties that connect with this demographic before the next general election will hold  a significant advantage over the parties who do not.

A gender quota of 30% is expected to be in place by the next general election and so many analysts are already pointing at parties that will struggle to comply with that, such as Fianna Fáil. Marriage equality activists are expecting marriage reform in this next two years and increased rights for GSRM couples and families will have to be in the manifestos of many parties.

The next general election will be one that defines Irish politics for the decade to come.

Political Sectarianism in the Middle East

Sectarian violence in middle east has been on the rise in the past 12 months. This has been particularly obvious  in Iraq has been escalating in the past 12 months, with over 21 people killed in bombings around the capital Baghdad in the last week and in the neighbours of Syria.

The Sunni/Shia divide is often pitched as conflict of religion, leaving out the deep political history that governs the tensions. The creation of these two streams of Islam were themselves created over a disagreement over the choice of political leader.

The divide is used to political advantage by those who benefit from creating animosity between communities. . For instance in Syria were the majority of rebels are Sunni Muslim, and Saudi Arabia the most powerful Sunni country is a major source of support. But in Bahrain, where the majority of the population in Shia, and the political elite is Sunni, Saudi in that case protects the political establishment.

On Tuesday (21st Jan) a Shia delegate, Ahmad Sharafeddin in Yemen was shot dead on his way to reconciliation talks. According to Reuters, Sharafeddin who was dean of law at Saana University was a member of the Houthi Shia separatist group that opposing the current pro-American Yemeni government. Another Houthi leader accused Sunni militants.

On the same day, a bomb exploded in a Shia dominated neighbourhood in Beiruit in Lebanon, killing at least 4 people and injuring many others. Sectarian tensions have been heightened because of Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian crisis.

Hezbollah, a Shia militant group, has been supporting Syrian president Assad. Iran, the largest Shia majority country, also supports Assad. Assad’s government is dominated by a small Islamic minority sect, Alawi, but the majority of the country are Sunni and supported by Saudi Arabia. The regional involvement in Syria is inflaming sectarian tensions in the already dividing Lebanon.

The cold war played a huge role in exacerbating the conflict as the Americans and Soviets manipulated tensions in order to gain support in the region. Shia majority countries such as Iran have Russia (post-revolution 1979), while Saudi Arabia and other Sunni majority countries allied with America.

Sunni Islam is hugely in the majority and is now very divided in its relationship with the US. Sunni Muslims make up it’s closest allies (Saudi, Egypt, Yemen) and those it believes to be its greatest threats, Al-Qaeda and similar groups. How America’s foreign policy has created enemies from allies is a topic for a different article but there long political history in play is often ignored not only in journalism but in academia as well. The post-colonial aspect also receives insufficient attention.

By portraying conflict between Sunni and Shia communities in the Middle East as a purely religious one presents a flawed picture without context. It is a sectarian issue, but also a nationalistic one, a class-based one and one of old political loyalties. Conflict is meaningless without context.

But much of mainstream media wishes to do just that, to portray Muslims as inherently, religiously fundamentalist and bigoted and ignore the blame that lies without outside actors’ political manipulation.

Let He with the Best Solicitor Speak Freely

This week has seen legal attacks not only on the LGBT community in Ireland but on the freedom of speech in Irish journalism as a whole.

The controversy began when Rory O’Neill, alter-ego of Dublin gay icon and pub-owner Panti Bliss, was interviewed on RTE’s Saturday Night Show on the  11th January.

The interview was going well until O’Neill attempted to discuss some of the prejudices still facing members of the LGBT community. O’Neill said that of course things has changed over time but that it there were still difficult to deal with the kind unpleasantness found “the internet in the comments and people who make a living writing opinion pieces for newspapers”. When pressed for examples O’Neill named John Waters, Breda O’Brien and the Iona Institute.

Not long after it was posted the interview was taken for “legal issues” following complaints made. When the interview was re-posted on line, all discussion of homophobia was edited out. A transcript of the missing section can be found here.

Now this obvious and upsetting piece of censorship was discussed eloquently by Trinity News writer Matthew in ‘Ignorance Isn’t Panti Bliss’ which was widely shared on social media in the outrage that followed.

O’Neill himself has received soliciter’s letters personally from Breda O’Brien, David Quinn, Patricia Casey, and John Murray (all of the Iona Institute the highly-conservative lobby group) and from John Waters.

John Waters, being the Irish Times columnist who wrote that the “gay lobby” want “to destroy the institution of marriage because they’re envious of it” and who is absolutely no way homophobic of course.

This is not the first time the head and founder of the Iona Institute, David Quinn, has silenced his critics or those of Iona with the threat of legal action.

Just last year David Quinn forced the University Times to retracted two articles it had published criticising the Iona Institute’s controversial YouTube video ‘The Case for Man/Woman Marriage‘ with threats of legal action. When Trinity News published an article describing these events, they themselves were contacted by his solicitor, as was published by the College Tribune.

It’s worth noting at this point that mostly the news outlets brave enough to risk Quinn’s legal wrath have been student publications with far less legal support than mainstream media.

‘Defamation,’ the common thread to these claims, is a slightly complicated piece of Irish law though it’s outlined brilliantly in relation to this case here. But ultimately nothing that is true can be legally considered defamation. Is the claim that the Iona Institute, Breda O’Brien and John Waters homophobic, not one of a opinion that O’Neill as a gay man is entitled to have?

Even outside of the range of opinion and in analysis of statements made against Same Sex Marriage by all three that they work against the mainstream of the LGBT civil rights movement is not a matter for debate, as is outlined in an analysis of statement here.

But I believe the real problem is that frequently it is not a question of whether those getting served with Quinn’s legal complaints are legally in the wrong but whether than can afford to run the risk that a judge might side with a wealthy, prominent public figure over them. Deeper pockets wins the debate; which is a scary thought for the future of journalism in Ireland.

Where does the argument for “defamation of character” end? How do we hold people accountable for defaming their own characters? Because the journalists and others Quinn has targeted are not in a position to stop his organisation publishing or operating, they are simply stating that they disagree. But Quinn’s actions serve to silence the opposition entirely. This incident certainly begs the question whether a wealthy, public figure can be held accountable for the offense his organisation causes so many people. 

And much more importantly when will we stop letting those with the most cash on hand, and the best solicitors dictate what is and is not fair debate?

Ideas Imprisoned No Longer

Imprisoned Ideas is an online campaign for the purpose of highlighting the cases of academics imprisoned for their work, frequently for human rights advocacy. The group uses Tumblr and Twitter to achieve greater awareness of these cases. But the campaign brought to mind several things I’d been considering about online activism in general.

Social media campaigns comes in various levels of competency and effectiveness but the significance of this campaign is that it directs support towards already existing campaigns on the ground. This incorporates the idea that social change cannot, and does not need to be imported or dropped in on people’s heads but rather emerges from the local context.

Each of the academics highlighted by the campaign has a petition and interest surrounding their arrest already but little support outside the local sphere. Imprisoned Ideas attempts to give a wider audience for these petitions, documentaries and campaigns.

Social media, while frequently used ineffectively or for lip-service activism spawning the phrase slacktivism, has great potential for assisting political and social movements.

For example this campaign could theoretically become a platform to be continuously updated, providing a excellent resource to journalists, activists and interested individuals.

Situations of political prisoners, such as Iranian physics postgraduate student Omid Kokabee or Professor Hadif Rashid al-Owais in the United Arab Emirates, are difficult to get accurate and up to date information, even for their own legal defense, never mind journalists or campaigners outside the country. This is a strategic decision by the governments in question to limit the capacity for international response or discussion. If journalists can’t access information how can they spread it? Twitter has already changed the nature of news reporting. Maybe it could change political behaviour as well.

Ventures like Imprisoned Ideas have the potential to be a platform that brings together grassroots campaigns for around the world and offer them support without taking over or claiming to have better solutions than campaigners on the ground.

It also raises the an idea I’d call “crowd-sourced activism” where the majority of the practical work is done on a local level but those local activists can receive publicity and put out calls for specific action, such as petitions or boycotts, through platforms such as the Imprisoned Ideas Twitter.

Fundraising through crowd sourcing on sites like IndieGogo and Kickstarter have proved the potential for fundraising in this way. That’s how the Veronica Mars movie has been made. If crowdfunding can change the music and film industries than why not political activism?

Iran Ending Isolationism: What would be the Consequences?

The new President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, has been outspoken recently on the need for social reform in his country and with promises not to build nuclear weapons.

In the four months since Rouhani was elected as the 7th president of Iran he was released 11 political prisoners, sworn off nuclear weapons, temporarily lifted bans on Facebook and Twitter and expressed an interest in improving Iran’s relationship with the international community.

Photo: NBC/AP

It is the Ayatollah Khamenei, the religious leader of Iran, who has the final say on issues of the nuclear program and defense but Khamenei seems interested in supporting Rouhani’s move. Saying:

“We don’t want nuclear weapons, not because of pressure from the US or others but because of our belief that no one should have nuclear weapons. When we say no one should have nuclear weapons that means not for them and not for us either.” – Ayatollah Khamenei

All this comes ahead of Rouhani’s attendance at the UN General Assembly in New York today. In another interesting move by the new president he is bringing the only Jewish MP in the Iranian parliament, Siamak Moreh Sedgh, with him to New York. Not only this but there may be some kind of informal “accidental” meeting between President Rouhani and President Obama which would be the first time American and Iranian presidents had been face-to-face since the revolution of 1979.

The temporary lifting of the ban on social media sites on 16 September is more significant than it might appear at first. Firstly as it suggests that the Iranian government might be considering lifting its bans altogether but also because of what that would do to change the sense of isolationism within Iran, particularly for its younger generations.

Among the optimism there are many skeptics. Israel’s government is chief among them. PM Netanyahu and those close to him in parliament have been quick and vocal in dismissing Rouhani’s efforts as a “diplomatic deception” to distract international attention while they complete their work on nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu’s office released a statement on Thursday saying:  “One must not be fooled by the Iranian president’s fraudulent words. The Iranians are spinning in the media so that the centrifuges can keep on spinning.”

Iran’s parade of long range missiles capable of reaching Israel and the Gulf most likely did little to dampen these concerns. President Rouhani states that the weapons on show are for defensive purposes only claiming: “In the past 200 years, Iran has never attacked another country”.

This is unlikely to satisfy Israel. Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, a political ally to the prime minister, claimed: “If the Iranians continue to run, in another half a year they will have bomb capability”. But did not offer evidence to back this up.

Some commentators were reminded of Netanyahu’s memorable address to the UN last year with a cartoon bomb that was apparently meant to serve as evidence of Iran’s increasing nuclear research.

PM Netanyahu addressing the UN General Assembly AP Photo/Richard Drew

Israel might yet be right but, if they are not, what would a more open Iran mean for the dynamics of the region?

Well for one, if they cooperated with UN officials and demonstrated they were not pursuing nuclear weapons then at least some of the heavy sanctions against Iran could be lifted.  These sanctions have crippled the Iranian economy and have increased anti-Western/anti-American feeling among a portion of the population. The RT reported on the situation saying that:

“Doctors are also sounding the alarm: the trade embargo has caused shortages of food and medical supplies. The director of a cancer center in Iran says he has faced lots of problems getting modern equipment to treat cancer patients.”

Also if Iran was really willing to remain nuclear free and allow UN inspectors into its research facilities then it would go a long way to disarming much of the region.

Israel’s recent statements about Iran have only drawn further attention to their own nuclear activities, particularly in the wake of a summer of worsen relations between Europe and Israel. Israel is known to possess nuclear though its security forces refuse to confirm or deny this.

Last week Israel faced an attempt to censure Israel’s refusal to acknowledge  having nuclear arms and put them under international oversight at the annual conference of the U.N.’s nuclear agency, led by other countries in the region. 

“Israel says an Israeli-Palestinian peace must be reached before creation of a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction.” – AP

A more trusted Iran could also assist in negotiations with radical groups throughout the Muslim world, especially Hezbollah.

But a stable and cosmopolitan Iran would pose a problem for at least three countries, Israel, the US and Saudi Arabia. Israel would no longer be able to use Iran as an excuse for increased militarism and neither would the US. Not only that but Iran would no longer distract for the US ally in the region, Saudi Arabia.

While the human rights situation in the monarchy of Saudi Arabia is even worse than that in Iran, Iran has taken much of the international and media attention away from the Saudis. If this distraction was removed the media would have a greater capacity to criticise the close relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia in light of its many injustices.

But at this point it is a waiting game and we here and Global Echo will keep up to date as Iran-US-Israeli relations continue to evolve.

Orla-Jo

World News 23/9/2013

 

15:15 GMT

KENYAAl-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda-linked, Somali Islamist militants, attacked the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi on Saturday, leaving at least 62 and a further 63 people are missing and may either be dead or being held hostage by the militants. Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Lenku told journalists that two of the attackers have been killed and others wounded as Kenyan troops continue to engage with them. As many as 15 attackers remain inside.

ISRAEL: Members of Israel’s cabinet have urged to call off peace negotiations with Palestine following the deaths of two Israeli soldiers.

PAKISTAN: A suicide bombing of a church in the Peshawar region of Pakistan which killed 80 people has sparked protests as the victims are buried. It is thought to have been the deadliest attack ever on Pakistan’s Christian community and the attackers are thought to have had links to the Taliban. 

EGYPT: An Egyptian court has banned the Muslim Brotherhood and all its activities today.

World News Roundup: 20/9/2013

There have been clashes in Nigeria’s capital city Abuja today between the Nigerian army and Boko Haram militants who allegedly opened fire on security forces when they followed a tip about a suspect Boko Haram weapons cache. “The State Security Service did not give any details about casualties. A witness told the BBC that he saw dead bodies.”

The Boko Haram are an extremist, separatist group seeking to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria. Nigeria is evenly divide between Muslim and Christians.  At least 87 people were killed Boko Haram fighters attacked a town in Borno, a northeastern state in Nigeria whose governor Kashim Shettima described the attack as “barbaric and un-Islamic.” Approximately 3,600 people have been killed by the Boko Haram since 2009. Earlier today the bodies of 143 civilians were recovered by environmental agency workers according to the AP. 

Two bombs went off in a Sunni Mosque in the city of Samarra in Iraq today killing up to 18 people during Friday midday prayers. An official of the municipal council, Mizhar Fleih, said the explosion also wounded at least 21 people. Samarra is 95 km north of Baghdad and while largely Sunni it is home to a sacred Shia shrine. There has been a rise in attacks on Sunni mosques in Iraq in the last few months. Sunni extremist are widely blamed, however it is also possible that Shia militias, that had been mostly active in recent years could also have been to blame.  Fleih also added:

“We are worried that the attacks on Sunni and Shiite mosques aim at reigniting the sectarian strife in this country”.

Last week, a similar attack on a Sunni mosque in northeast of Baghdad killed 33 worshippers.

There was a fresh wave of anti-India protesting in the contested region of Kashmir today. At least seven people have been killed in main city of Srinagar. Officials say that two photojournalists and two police officers were injured. Police officer Abdul Gani Mir said the clashes began after troops stops hundreds of people from marching south to the town of Shopian.

At least 30 killed in bombs attacks in Yemen that local official believe were the work of al-Qaida.

A man stands in front of where Pavlos Fyssas died, the graffiti on the door reads “Revenge” (AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis)

The Greek police’s anti-terrorism division has been given the investigation into the murder of rapper Killah P (Pavlos Fyssas) which has been blamed on a supporter of the far-right party the Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn, which grew in the face of the economic crisis, has condemned the rapper’s murder and denies any involvement in the attack. It has been noted that the Golden Dawn has many supporters within the Greek police force.

Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc is strongly favored for a majority win of the vote in Germany’s general election on Sunday though it will almost certainly result in a coalition.

Pakistan have freed the co-founder of the Afghan Taliban is an effort to improve relationship with Afghanistan.

Leaderless Public vs Badly Led Police: A Dublin People’s Protest

People protested yesterday in Dublin not because an organisation told them to, but because they are angry and so it was an unusual protest for its lack of opposition party’s involvement.

Inspired by the centenary of the 1913 Dublin Lock-Out, there had been a number of people there from as early as 5am.

Two women reported being manhandled by Gardaí.One of the women, Mary Kelly, told me that she had been pushed onto the ground by the inspector on site. People also told me that many of the Gardaí present that morning had not displayed their numbers. It is against the law for a Garda on duty not to display their number. 

DSC_0109
Sergeant Without numbers on display/ Orla-Jo

When I arrived at 3pm the protesters had been blocked behind riot barriers onto Molesworth Street with runs perpendicular to Kildare is opposite the Dáil (Irish parliament buildings).

Photo Credit: Orla-Jo
Photo Credit: Orla-Jo

My first impression was the sheer number of Garda present for such a small protest. At any given time there were 25-30 Garda lining the double-rowed, metal barriers and a further 30 Garda were station along the rest of Kildare Street. As well as this there were two mounted officers, a canine unit and two riot vans parked just out of sight at the top of the road.

Photo Credit: Orla-Jo
Photo Credit: Orla-Jo

Another 20 uniformed officers were on the other side of the protest on Molesworth Street, and dispersed in the crowd. There were roughly 20 plain clothes officers but I can’t be certain of their numbers.

At this time none of the protesters had acted violently or broken any laws.

Bernie Hughes, a demonstration organiser and steward, spoke to the ranking officer on their side of the barriers and requested that the officers among the crowd retreat slightly as they were making people uncomfortable. A video of part of her attempt to get an explanation for the overwhelming police presence can be seen below.

There were about 300 protesters and close to 100 Gardaí. That’s nearly 1 Garda for every 3 protesters who had gathered peacefully.

I tried to ask the Inspector in charge how many Gardaí were there and what reasoning he could give for their numbers but he declined to answer questions and directed me to Superintendent Joseph Gannon of Pearse Street who was in charge of operations.

An open microphone was set up for people to speak and for the most part this went very well. An Icelandic political activist, Hordur Torfason spoke particularly well.

“It is not about destroying our enemies it is about building a better society for us all.”

Torfason staged a hugely influential one-man protest outside the Icelandic parliament and is said to have been the inspiration for the ‘Icelandic Revolution’. 

Another vocal figure was 15 year-old Jay Harrington who spoke articulately about cuts to community services. He told me that he was turning 16 the next day. Moments after he was talking and laughing with two young Garda, two protesters pushed through the metal barriers and the crowd attempted to follow.

The mood changed instantly. I was on the police side of the barrier, a privilege granted by holding a pen and notebook rather than a placard. I was pushed back by plain clothes officers who seemed to appear from all over the street but I could still see how pepper-spray and night sticks were used on unarmed citizens to force them back behind the barriers.

Anyone who had successfully made it onto the road were struck with batons until they were on the ground and taken away in the riots vans which arrived in seconds.

Bernie Hughes, who spoke in the video above, was dragged across Kildare Street by her legs, pulling much of her clothes off in the process. Bernie, who is in her late fifties, had up to six Gardaí manhandle her into the back of a van without a charge being issued.

DSC_0111
Bernie Hughes being dragged by multiple Gardaí / Orla-Jo

Two ambulances were necessary and at least one protester seemed to be in a serious condition as he was carried into the ambulance by a number of Gardaí.

I went around the block to check on those still behind the barricades. At least 12 people I spoke to had been pepper-sprayed in the eyes.

The protest changed a little at this point. It was now a protest against the police reaction to the protest as much as it was about austerity policies in government.

Jay, with a megaphone, led the remaining protesters down Molesworth Street and onto O’Connell Bridge to stage a sit-in.

Jay Harrington (16) / Orla-Jo
Jay Harrington (16) / Orla-Jo

Confusion set in after a while with no obvious leader to the group but Jay. Irish Republican Voices, a small splinter Republican group, had a visible presence in the crowd and had some influence but it was 17:45 as the protesters sat, blocking O’Connell Bridge there was still no sign of any of the opposition parties that had promised a presence.

O'Connell Bridge Held / Orla-Jo
O’Connell Bridge Held / Orla-Jo

Two things went wrong with the Garda reaction at this demonstration. First was the heavy-handed dealing with unarmed protesters that has begun to typify how police forces in Europe and beyond are expected to behave. But second was the unnecessarily large Garda presence.

31 Garda Stations were closed in 2012 with more expected this year and a 1000 Gardaí are expected to be cut from the force. Many communities have lost a police presence altogether. So I feel compelled to ask if 100 Gardaí were necessary for this small midweek protest.

Not only did this protest make me more aware than ever of Garda mismanagement but it made me more aware than ever of the negative attitudes Irish people have towards protest.

While observing the march rather than marching in it I could hear the remarks of the onlookers. The top concern seemed the delay to buses the demonstration would cause. While I understand the sentiment as a public transport commuter myself, this was a protest against austerity budgets that have caused bus fares to rise by 17.9% and these services face another potential cut of €11 million in the next budget.

Sinn Féin, the Socialist Workers’ Party and the Socialist Party were noticeably absent throughout the protest. The SWP, known from their participation in nearly all Dublin demonstrations were perhaps the most obviously missing.

It is interesting to see a demonstration that is of people motivated by personal experience rather than by a group claiming to speak for ‘the people’. While in the long run some organisation or leader is necessary it is an encouraging sign. The failure of the opposition to inspire is as marked as the failure of government to govern.

When were you last time you were inspired by a political figure? When was the last time we had a leader with real promise? Wouldn’t it be nice?

This is the video of the protest and scuffle:

Resurgence of the Populist, Anti-Immigrant Right

While the rise of ultra-right, neo-nazi groups in Europe has been documented in the last ten years (though perhaps not as closely as they warranted) by media outlets like The Guardian or Geo-Currents the rise in support for populist, not-quite-as-ultra-right parties is even more pervasive and less documented.

Conservative parties with neo-libertarian economics and anti-immigration, moralistic rhetoric have gained significant support in various countries throughout the region. I’m going to be including Australia in this discussion because for a country on the far side of the world it is and always has been politically linked to Europe.

The UK, Australia, the Netherlands, France, Ireland and Norway have all elected centre right or simply right-wing parties to head their governments in the last five years.

France elected Sarkozy as president with his party the Union for Popular Movement in 2007. A party so populist they put it in the name. The centre right gained 46.36% of the vote. Immigration and cultural assimilation were issues that rose in the early days of the government. The France National Front, has gained more support than they have had in years with young article leaders like Maréchal-Le Pen, granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen who founded FN in the 1980s, attempting to rebrand the fiercely anti-immigrant party who have been accused in the past of desecrating Jewish cemeteries, denying the Nazi occupation of France was all that brutal and still use rhetoric about ‘protecting the French way of life’.

2010 and 2011 saw the UK and Ireland replace their governments with similar alternatives. The UK replaced their Labour party, who had been in power since 1997, with a Conservative/Liberal-Democrat coalition with the conservatives taking 36.1% of the national vote. Ireland replaced the three term reign of Fianna Fáil, centre party, with a coalition of Fine Gael (centre-right) and the Irish Labour party (centre). Fine Gael took 36% of the national vote.

What links these two elections, besides the coalitions, were that there were other factors influencing the radical shift in leadership. The European economic downturn, accusations of unethical practises by elected officials and in the case of the UK the Iraq war. However they unseated long running governments who had remained popular despite concerns such as this so they remain relevant to the regional trend.

The British Conservative government under the leadership of David Cameron have implemented anti-immigration laws that make it possible to deport people who are not citizens but who have little or no connection to any other country and whose family life is in the UK. These new regulations also make it harder for immigrants to access key services such as the National Health Service. 

London April 2012 Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett
London April 2012 Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett

The Netherlands has had a particularly noticeable shift to the right in recent years. The People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) gained 26.58% of the vote in 2012. Their website lays out the party policies which include being anti-veiling, anti-immigration, pro-financial deregulation and use the phrase “economic migrants” in their policy on asylum seekers. It also states that “without security there is no freedom”.

Then came the victory of the National Coalition over Labor in Australia. Cathal covered this story for us and how, despite the fact that Labor had been in power for six very successful years and that the Coalition leader Tony Abbott is not particularly popular in his own right, the right-wing, anti-immigration party took the election last week.

Only days ago in Norway, the Conservative Party won a landslide victory over the Labour Party who had been in power for the last two decades. The Norwegian Labour Party (DNA) have been consistently popular and led Norway through the European economic situation unscathed. Not only that but it was the Labour Party’s youth organisation that were the target of the terrorist attack by Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people most of them youths in 2011. Breivik was a member of the Progress Party who are now going into coalition with the Conservatives to form the new parliament. The coalition is taking time to finalise because other conservative parties do not want to be seen to be associated with a party with ties to a mass murderer. However despite this the Conservatives and Progress Party do not actually need any other coalition partners if they simply form a minority government.

I do have to take a moment now, to step back from the statistics and initialisms to applaud the grace with which Vegard Groslie Wennesland, a 29 year old survivor of Breivik’s attack, handled the possible election of the Progress Party in government. While he did say that their anti-immigration rhetoric concerned him he also said that Breivik has not and will not win.

Vegard Grøslie Wennesland – Oslo/Arbeiderpartiet

“Someone tried to kill me and my comrades for what we believe in and that kind of stirs a feeling that it’s important work you’re doing. You can make a difference through politics – I’m more sure of that now than ever”.  — Wennesland

One of Breivik’s, and if we’re honest, the Progress Party’s big concerns is that immigration means a higher Muslim population which some right-wing politicians believe somehow threatens Europe.

It seems relevant to point out that when I was researching this article, I began to type “Europe growing increasingly conservative” into Google to see who else was writing about this (not that many people all in all) one of the first Google autofill suggestions was “Europe growing Muslim population”.

google autofill 1

Given how the Google algorithm works, that’s a concerning note all by itself.

As though that was not concerning enough however, if you follow that Google search you do not find census data at the top but rather articles shouting that we are a generation away from Sharia law due to these “demographics” demonstrating that these reporters (in the loosest sense of the word) don’t know what either of the words “Sharia” or “demographic” mean.

The Telegraph, in the article ‘Muslim Europe: the demographic time bomb transforming our continent’ which I refuse to link to in this article to preserve a sense of journalist ethics, state that: “Britain and the rest of the European Union are ignoring a demographic time bomb”.

The, what I hesitant to call an article, then goes on to reveal that “Mohamed, Adam, Rayan, Ayoub, Mehdi, Amine and Hamza” were the top seven baby names for boys in the city of Brussels without applying any context for why anyone who isn’t trying to think of baby names for their child or hasn’t recently hit their head off a wall would even care about this very specific example of one city in one country. And even if you chose for some reason to care Adam is obviously not a Muslim name and neither is Rayan specifically because it has etymological origins from ancient Celts, Old English, Hindi, Persian and Hebrew as well as Arabic not to mention the fact that many Arabs of religions other than Islam still have Arabic names. The fact that I even had to write this paragraph convinced my never to read the Telegraph ever again.

But trivial scaremongering nonsense about baby names aside, Islamophobia is now an election issue and when I say that I mean that there are people in Europe who were successfully elected into office who believe expelling all Muslims from Europe would be a good idea. Holland’s Geert Wilder actually said “I don’t hate Muslims, I hate Islam” in an interview with the Guardian and remained in office.

The Telegraph article and statement by leaders of some of the parties I have name here have cited the rise of ultra-right, neo-nazi groups as a reason to vote populist right wing, in order to deal with the problems with ‘create’ situations that lead to violent right-wing extremist. The rise of right-wing fundamentalists has in fact aided the populist right.

I hate to be alarmist but I am alarmed.

All election data is from the European Election Database.

Orla-Jo

Silenced Voices in Israel

“Is this going to get me into trouble?” was my first thought as I began research and writing about Israel’s anti-war movement and less extreme, less vocal members of the populous. That’s quite telling in itself. As a writer I rarely if ever shy any from issues purely because their emotive or controversial. Those tend to be the stories worth talking about.

But a lot of baggage comes with discussing Israel and its relationship with it’s neighbours, its history, or even its domestic policy. Controversy can be caused by simply trying to look at Israel on a map. And while I do not shy away from emotive issues, I also understand that news is always someone else’s life on the other end of the story and there’s no harm in using tact.

But one of the problems with discussing Israel is not the baggage that is applied to any discussion but the manner is which the conversation escalates to the most extreme polarities so quickly. Any criticism of an Israeli practise is instantly “anti-Israeli” as though you could hold a whole nation responsible for the actions of its government. However raising even that mild point can bring the cries of those who highlight the many problematic practises of the Israeli government and especially their military.

Then trapped in the centre of the fray are the many Israelis who also disagree with many of their governments policies and the same labels of ‘anti-Israeli’ or ‘anti-Semitic’ are less easily applied to them and so, for the most part, they are ignored by the media altogether.

The first real signs of moderate, government dissenting, opinions breaking through the media came last year with the minor coverage of the Israeli Anti-War protests received when 1,000s of people marched through Tel Aviv in March 2012 chanting slogans like “Talk, Don’t Bomb”. Some of the organisers were also those who set up anti-war Facebook sites like ‘Israel loves Iran‘ which now has over 100,000 likes.

Anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv (2006) Photo credit: Jill Granberg
Anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv (2006) Photo credit: Jill Granberg

The Financial Times reported that earlier that month Dahaf, an Israeli pollster, found that more than a third of Israelis were against a strike on Iran under any circumstances.

This was not the first protest of its kind. They have been going on for years. The Communist Party of Israel marched against the occupation more than once. The Peace Index polled in October 2011 and found that 75.5% of Israelis supported social protest.  But these are not the voices that the media chooses to carry to the rest of the world.

It is not only the media who silences Israeli opposition but the police force as well. But in 2009 police tried to stamp out any dissenting voice against Operation Cast Lead (the three week attack on Gaza in January 2009) by attempting to have a Tel Aviv District Court ban any anti-war protesting. Many protesters were detained for long period of time while awaiting legal proceedings, including minors. These detentions were extended to:

“Anyone who enables remarks denouncing the state and backing its enemies, even as they rain missiles upon its citizens, must obey its laws” — Judge Moshe Gilad

Despite the fact that this kind of rhetoric of constant danger is common by Israel’s politicians and civic officers, according to a poll conducted by Israel’s Internal Security Minister and Geocartography Institute in January 2012, 74% of Israelis feel a high level of personal safety day-to-day.

In fact it is in these polls that the alternative voice of Israel are seen for the most part, even if they are ignored elsewhere, polling data is polling data. Such as the Haaretz in July of this year which said that 59% of people did not believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu was really committed to a two state solution.  Or another poll in May 2013 in which 42% of Israelis believed that continued Jewish settlements would hurt Israel’s security.  

64.5% of those polled were concerned religious radicalism inside Israel (Peace Index Dec 2011) and 45.2% would support dismantling most of the settlements in the occupied territories in the case of a peace agreement (Truman/PCPSR Oct 2010).

These people may not get to speak for Israel very often but it’s important to remember that they exist and that there is growing discontent with the political status quo inside the country.

In a surprising and interesting article in an Israeli newspaper Haaretz by Yitzhak Laor, he laid out the reasons that Israel should not support America’s military actions in Syria and that the US has never had Israel’s best interests as a factor in their policy in the region but rather saw it as a tool to further their own agendas.

“The United States did not really lose in prolonged wars. The destruction of Iraq, which started in 1991, brought enormous profit to large sectors of the American economy. Even Syria under jihadist control — if that should be the result of American intervention — will not cause losses for its war industry, though it will drain our blood. A quagmire in Iran will be no loss for them either.”

There is more of a platform for alternative or dissenting voice in Israel now that at other times in recent history and it will very interesting to see how this elements of public opinion change the country over the next few years.

All the polling data I used and more can be found at the virtual Jewish library. 

— Orla-Jo