Ways forward for Britain and Pakistan

Last month, the Association of British Muslims and the Next Century Foundation hosted a joint meeting discussing issues of importance to both Pakistan and the UK. The aim was to consider ways of improving relations, both between the two nations, as well as between Pakistan’s diaspora in the UK and the rest of the British population. The meeting included senior politicians, journalists and activists from both nations. The discussion highlighted differences including a variety of views ranging from positivity about the future to prickly comments on racial stereotypes – all of which bear further consideration. The meeting served to emphasise the lack of consensus over UK-Pakistan issues, accentuating the need for continued dialogue to bridge these divided opinions. Nonetheless, this preliminary meeting offered useful conclusions and outcomes.

The Education Issue

This meeting highlighted the importance of both proper mainstream education and religious education to act as a catalyst for positive social change in both the UK and Pakistan. There was a consensus view that both nations’ education systems need to become more tolerant and inclusive in order to overcome differences. The importance of this was highlighted as participants emphasised the way education systems in both countries have failed to foster inclusivity and tolerance, particularly in regard to the intra Muslim issue of the Sunni – Shia divide. Improving school education systems in order to encourage inclusivity is a priority for both both Pakistan and the UK.

Religious education was also highlighted as being important, with views that current religious education is distorted and represents the true teachings neither Islam nor Christianity. Achieving better standards of education is seen as a key step in bringing positive change. Improved religious education is not only important within schooling. Adults also need to learn what it is to be tolerant. This is where continued meetings or similar events are important. It is also important that authorities in both the UK and Pakistan continue to engage religious leaders to promote better standards of religious education and tolerance.

There is also the need for education to tackle generalisations about the Pakistan diaspora in the UK. This meeting raised concerns about large sections of the British population believing in dangerous stereotypes. These stereotypes related to both extremism and a lack of integration in regard to Islam, as well as to grooming scandals across England and a perceived lack of adequate education for Muslim communities relative to other diaspora communities. Having such stereotypes circulate unchallenged creates tension between those of Pakistan heritage and British communities native to the UK. Having educational outreach initiatives that tackle such generalisations is therefore important as it prevents dangerous views becoming embedded in sections of the population. It also prevents dangerous narratives in certain media sources being seen as legitimate. Education about the realities of the Pakistan diaspora in the UK can debunk the credibility of harmful views. For example highlighting the fact that white males are responsible for the vast majority of the abuse of underage girls in Britain. Education is vital to counter views expressed by both individuals and media outlets that generalise and stereotype large communities, which in turn breeds antipathy between different communities. If these views are allowed to circulate unchallenged then it can create animosity and tension between the Pakistan diaspora and the native British population, and so challenging these views through education is a crucial next step.

Honest and Open dialogue

The discussion stressed the need for honest and open dialogue to enhance processes of integration and understanding. Participants discussed how dialogue with Muslims has helped them counter misconceptions they had about Islam which had fuelled anger and animosity towards Islamic communities. It is important to have real, honest and respectful dialogue between the native British and Pakistan diaspora communities as this can be an incredibly useful way to educate people.

The need for interaction and dialogue relates to cosmopolitanism, a subject which the Next Century Foundation hopes to host a meeting on in early 2021. Cosmopolitanism is a political ideology that is powerful when discussing how different cultures and communities can live together. In contrast to the British multicultural approach and Pakistan’s integrationist approach, Cosmopolitanism emphasises the idea that for different cultures to live harmoniously and equally within a shared society, consistent dialogue and interactions between those with differences are needed. This is a sentiment that was echoed from the participants of this meeting. Moving forwards there needs to be a focus on ways in which honest dialogue and interactions can be achieved between members of the Pakistan diaspora and native British communities.

The meeting similarly highlighted the need to achieve such interactions between Pakistan diaspora and native British parliamentarians, a lack of which has resulted in detachment. People recognised there is a direct lack of access to mainstream politics in both countries, where it is important that dialogue occurs. Moving forward, parliamentarians on both sides need to become more accessible to facilitate greater dialogue and discussion. This was seen as important because many Britons of Pakistan heritage are more politically connected with Pakistan than with Britain. Bringing together politicians in both countries can help achieve solidarity and address issues such as the rise in sectarian division within Islamic communities.

Extremism

The complex issue of extremism was extensively discussed, particularly the issue of extremism being attributed to the Pakistan diaspora community and Islam more generally. It was recognised that extremism has given rise to global Islamaphobic narratives, but what emerged from the meeting was recognising that terrorism issues should focus on humanity not religion. The debate needs to shift understanding to an emphasis on the fact that human beings suffer whenever terrorist attacks occur, irrespective of race or religion. Both Islamic and Christian religious teachings are the antithesis of terrorism, focusing on peace and humanity. This again emphasises the need for proper religious education regarding the nature of Islam. A key outcome of this meeting was that after terrorist attacks the focus should be the humanitarian tragedy and not religious blame. 

It was also recognised that terrorist attacks are committed by individuals who choose to act this way, and are not the actions of religious communities. This meeting proposed moving forwards that there should be a focus on the root causes of terrorism, deliberating on why individuals become radicalised. The discussion needs to move towards understanding the social and political factors that facilitate conversion to extremism, especially related to the upbringing of individuals. One such issue that was raised was that of identity, that terrorist attacks committed previously by British Muslims had been to do with issues of their personal identity within Islam and wider society. Moving forward the discussion therefore needs to understand how and why individuals slip into extremist views. It is vital to focus on the individual and humanitarian crimes committed by the terrorist rather than seeing everything as a religious crime. Reframing debates about extremism through these lenses is useful.

Focusing on similarities

Progress can best be achieved if there is an honest and open recognition of the divisions that currently exist between the UK and Pakistan. This involves addressing stereotypes that might be prickly and racially sensitive, rather than ignoring them. There was a sense of a growing detachment between the UK and Pakistan on honest discussions about issues mentioned earlier such as radicalisation, and that although there exist contentious opinions about these issues, these opinions do represent portions of the British community and should therefore not be ignored. There is a need for an honest appreciation of the existing differences and detachments between native British and Pakistan diaspora people. Only then can truthful dialogue towards reconciliation begin to be achieved. Such divisions are beginning to permeate all other areas of the wider British society, especially since the Brexit vote. As as a consequence inclusivity is an issue throughout Britain, and not unique to the Pakistan diaspora. What is needed to address this is a direct engagement on differences. Further work in facilitating dialogue and discussion is important and needs to overcome the widening differences and divisions in British society.

But the meeting demonstrated that people from all walks of life were willing to engage in a non-partisan approach in order to build bridges. There is also a lot of cultural engagement between the Pakistan diaspora in the UK and the native British population. Individuals in the meeting also mentioned the wide range of their experiences in Pakistan or with Pakistanis, spanning the spectrum between open hospitality and friendliness. What this points to is that a focus on positives and similarities between each other is uplifting and beneficial. Whilst it is vital that discussions continue about how differences can be overcome, simultaneously there needs to be a recognition of the similarities already shared between different cultures and groups. By emphasising the similarities we can begin to recognise each other’s basic humanity and help curb animosities based on cultural differences. As a way forward it is therefore vital that while discussions recognise and consider differences, they simultaneously do not lose sight of the common human traits that are shared between individuals of different communities.

Prosperity 2020: Now you See it – Now you Don’t

The Legatum Institute’s 2020 Prosperity Index measures the prosperity over the last decade of 167 nations that together contain 99.4% of the global population.

Global prosperity reached its highest ever level in 2020. However, only 61% of the global population lived in countries experiencing prosperity in 2020, a substantial decline from 86% in just 2018. Falling prosperity rates pre-COVID raise serious concerns about the capacity of nations to recover from the crises brought about by the current pandemic. It is estimated that COVID could increase poverty rates by up to 10%, setting back reductions in this area by 20 years. This is a particularly grave threat to the Sub-Saharan Africa and MENA regions that have seen a deterioration in economic quality over the last decade. The fact that MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa have fallen further away from the average global prosperity increases have similarly demonstrated the critical need for development assistance today, particularly in these areas.

This kind of assistance is something that the British government has begun to disregard. The merger of the Department for International Development (DfID) into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) earlier this year signalled a lack of will within the British government to continue critical development work. This could impact the least prosperous nations heavily, with DfID having spent £280m over the last two years in South Sudan. Having a well-resourced and independent development department like DfID was largely unique among wealthier nations, and turned the UK into a vital development provider. Recently, chancellor Rishi Sunak has also outlined his intentions to breach a manifesto pledge by reducing the development and aid budget from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5%, in the hopes of saving nearly £4bn.

This is a disastrous decision for a number of reasons. As outlined by Andrew Mitchell, a conservative MP and former international development secretary, this could have tragic impacts and could lead to: 1m fewer girls receiving an education; 3.8m left without access to clean water; 5.6m fewer vaccinations and 100,000 preventable deaths, mainly among children. The impact of reducing the UKs development commitments to the least prosperous nations will thus be devastating, particularly in the midst of a COVID crisis. Due to the pandemic the World Bank estimates that 2020 will bring the first increase in extreme poverty in two decades. This demonstrates that now more than ever development commitments from countries like the UK are needed, particularly to the least prosperous nations and regions. Although the government argues this cut has been forced due to the pandemic, a cut comprising 0.2% of GDP is going to have an extremely minimal impact on overall government finances. The UK government has also committed to a £16.5bn increase in defence spending over the next four years. Britain’s contemporary safety depends in part on the stability of places thousands of miles away, and particularly in regions such as MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa. This is where the Prosperity Index has indicated safety and security, particularly relating to terrorism, has been substantially declining. Reducing investment in these areas could therefore pose a security risk to the UK, and it would represent a much shrewder use of money to invest in the long term development of these areas, as opposed to an increase in the defence budget. Whilst there is a need to have a debate about the aid budget, in light of the COVID crisis and the findings of the Prosperity Index it is clear that many regions and nations are currently facing critical challenges in their development. The potential removal of capital and expertise from development in these regions by the UK government should be seen as a major concern.

Taking the problem apart

The Legatum Institute’s 2020 Prosperity Index works by grouping together almost 300 country-level indicators into 66 elements of prosperity. These elements have been further categorised into 12 ‘pillars’ of prosperity which divide evenly into three domains (illustrated in Figure 1 below).

Figure 1 – A visual summary of the elements, pillars and domains that constitute overall prosperity.

Each of the 66 elements of prosperity have been designed to be recognisable and discrete areas of domestic policy. The elements of prosperity are measured using a combination of publicly available and verifiable data sources, which enables a cross-country comparison of prosperity over the last decade. Within the last decade, all seven regions and 147 out of 167 countries saw an overall increase in prosperity, with global prosperity being at its highest ever level in 2020.

Figure 2 – A summary of the increases in global and regional prosperity between 2010 and 2020.

This near-universal increase in prosperity can be attributed to a multitude of factors. There have been significant improvements almost universally in healthcare, education and social capital. This has resulted in an improved lived experience and living conditions, in particular reducing poverty, improving digital connectedness and access to water and sanitation services. Key facts outlining these improvements are:

  • Health improved in all but 12 countries (including the United States) over the past decade.
  • 150 countries have improved their education over the last decade. Enrolment has increased globally in all levels of education, but particularly tertiary education in which global enrolment has risen from 31% in 2010 to 42% in 2020.
  • Global 2G, 3G and 4G coverage has risen to cover 89% of the global population in 2020, compared to 62% in 2010.
  • Half of the world’s population now use the internet in 2020, compared to 23% in 2010.
  • Since 2010, 152 countries have improved living conditions for their citizens. This has led to the global population on less than $3.20 a day falling from almost 50% in 2010 to less than 10% currently. The percentage of those who survive on less than $5.50 a day has been reduced from nearly 80% of the population in 2010 to less than 25% in 2020.

Despite these global improvements, 15 countries have seen a deterioration in their living conditions. In addition to this, stagnating governance and personal freedom around the world is preventing further improvements in prosperity. Political accountability and executive constraints have weakened in many countries, and particularly in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Rather shockingly, more than 100 countries have seen a decline in Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly in the past decade. 87 countries now have weaker governance now than in 2010, and 74 have weaker personal freedoms. The focus of this article will be on the MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa regions, due to these areas being the primary concern of the Next Century Foundation (NCF). This is particularly poignant given that the least prosperous ten nations all fall within these regions. The NCF is also currently engaged in projects involving five out of the bottom ten nations which include: Afghanistan, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The fact that these nations rank so lowly in the prosperity index emphasises the importance of conducting work regarding these nations.

Figure 3 – The 10 least prosperous nations in 2020.

Middle East and North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa

Figure 4 – Overall regional rankings of prosperity.

Figure 4 demonstrates that the MENA region is the sixth most prosperous global region, followed by Sub-Saharan Africa. This makes them the two least prosperous regions in the world, and they always rank within the bottom three regions for each pillar of prosperity. This indicates these regions fall behind the rest of the globe across a holistic range of factors that constitute prosperity, which points to the importance of work that aims to improve prosperity in these areas. Figure 5 highlights the regional changes in each pillar of prosperity and overall prosperity in the past decade. It highlights that although the overall prosperity for both MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa has increased over the last decade, the gap between their regional prosperity average and the global prosperity average has widened, making these regions relatively less prosperous. As the decade has progressed, these regions have fallen behind in achieving the benefits from global prosperity. It is critical that work is done to help bring these regions prosperity in line with global improvements, to prevent continued regional underdevelopment.

Figure 5 – Overall Prosperity and Prosperity Pillar performance of the MENA (left) and Sub-Saharan Africa (right) regions.

Figure 5 demonstrates a remarkably similar trend in performance over the last decade within each of the prosperity pillars. Within the ‘Empowered People’ domain, both regions have seen relatively large prosperity improvements in living conditions, health and education but with a slight decrease in their natural environments. Similarly, both regions have seen vast improvements in the ‘Open Economies’ domain, but within that have experienced deteriorations of their economic quality. Where both these regions have struggled the most over the last decade is within the ‘Inclusive Societies’ domain, particularly the MENA region. Although both regions have improved their social capital, there has been an alarming decline in governance and particularly in safety and security. Where these regions differ is there has been a small increase in personal freedoms within Sub-Saharan Africa, but a substantial decline within the MENA region. This points to the critical need for the continuation of work carried out by the NCF and similar organisations whose principal work is to find resolutions to conflict, security and governance issues that have deteriorated in these regions over the last decade.

The MENA region has performed slowly in prosperity due to sustained instability over the region, with protracted conflicts in countries such as Syria, Yemen and Libya continuing to destabilise the region. The number of deaths due to terrorism across the region has more than doubled since 2010, and the number from two-sided conflicts has increased ten-fold to 90 deaths per million people. This highlights the extent that safety and security has deteriorated for many nations in this region, emphasising the critical need for swift peace to bring stability and security. The MENA region has also experienced a considerable decline in the quality of its governance, with 13 out of 19 countries seeing a weaker performance than in 2010 as democracy and democratic values are being challenged across the region.

Although Sub-Saharan Africa is the third most improved region for prosperity since 2010, it remains the weakest overall. There have been big regional improvements in healthcare systems and telecommunications infrastructure. However Sub-Saharan Africa has seen, after the MENA region, the biggest regional decline in safety and security that can principally be attributed to terrorism. Economic quality has also deteriorated in the two least prosperous regions. It is important to recognise the advances in prosperity that these regions have made, but for organisations similar to the NCF that specialise in peacebuilding, the declines in economic quality, safety and security, personal Freedoms and governance are extremely alarming and merit greater focus. This is especially important considering these issues have caused both regions to fall behind the rate of global prosperity improvements.

Inclusive Societies 

Inclusive societies are essential for prosperity, a society can only prosper and attract investment in an environment of safety and security for all its citizens. Nations also benefit from higher levels of national income when citizens’ personal liberties are protected. The rule of law, strong institutions and regulatory quality also significantly contribute to economic growth. Particularly poorly performing countries in this domain overall include: Libya (rank 159), Sudan (163), Afghanistan (164), Yemen (165), South Sudan (166) and Syria (167). These nations are in particular need of resolutions to their conflict and governance issues within the MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa regions. Below is a break-down of the worst performing countries in these regions for pillars that have experienced decline and are relevant to the work of the NCF, to highlight the most pressing areas where resolutions are needed.

Safety and Security

Safety and Security is an integral component of prosperity. Nations can only prosper in an environment of safety and security for all their citizens. Measures within this pillar of prosperity include issues relating to crime, terrorism and war. Figure 6 demonstrates the alarming decrease in Safety and Security across the Sub-Saharan Africa and MENA region. It also highlights an alarming increase in terrorism that has caused declines in regional Safety and Security. The weakest 7 performing global countries for this pillar are contained within these regions: Sudan (161), Libya (162), Iraq (163), Yemen (164), Syria (165), Afghanistan (166), South Sudan (167). This highlights the critical need for conflict resolution strategies in these regions and nations in particular.

Figure 6 – Regional and Element changes in Safety and Security between 2010 and 2020.

Personal Freedom

The Personal Freedom pillar measures the extent to which the population of a country is free to determine the course of their lives. This includes freedom from coercion and discrimination, as well as freedoms of movement, speech and assembly. Although the Sub-Saharan Africa region overall saw a small increase in this pillar over the last decade, many nations within this region perform extremely poorly. The MENA region also saw a considerable decrease in Personal Freedom over the last decades. It is also important to recognise that there are big discrepancies within this pillar. There have been substantial improvements in social tolerance over the last decade, but the declines in Personal Freedom have been brought about by an alarming and significant deterioration in Freedom of Speech and Access to Information, as well as Freedom of Assembly and Association. This emphasises the urgent need for work that rebuilds individual freedoms, and states that allow these freedoms within nations that perform poorly in the Personal Freedom domain. Particularly this includes: Sudan (158), South Sudan (163), Yemen (164), Iran (165) and Syria (167) who find themselves within the bottom 10 nations for this domain.

Figure 7 – Regional and Element changes in Personal Freedom between 2010 and 2020.

Governance

The governance pillar measures the extent to which there are restraints on political and executive power, and whether states can operate effectively and without corruption. It also includes issues relating to political accountability, and the effectiveness of the rule of law and regulations. Good governance is important in driving a strong economy. Of the 80 nations seeing an improvement in their governance in the 2020 Prosperity Index, 77 also saw an improvement in the openness of their economy. The Sub-Saharan Africa region has seen small regional decline in governance, but there has been a large decline in the MENA region. This particularly concerns executive constraints, political accountability and the rule of law. This identifies the need for particular focus to be paid in this region to ways forward for governance that successfully delivers accountability and responsibility to both citizens and the law. Although Sub-Saharan Africa overall was not the worst performing region, within the bottom 10 nations there is Sudan (162) and South Sudan (165) showing certain countries in this region still require considerable governance improvements.

Figure 8 – Regional and Element changes in Governance between 2010 and 2020.

Economic Quality 

Both the Sub-Saharan Africa and MENA region also saw a decrease in prosperity regarding economic quality. This measures how robust an economy is, as well as how stable and sustainable these economies are. Economic quality is therefore an essential component in delivering prolonged prosperity. There has been a particular decline in the areas of fiscal sustainability and macroeconomic stability of national economies within both regions. This is particularly the case for South Sudan (164), Sudan (166) and Yemen (167) who rank as three of the bottom four nations for economic quality.

Figure 9 – Regional and Element  changes in Economic Quality between 2010 and 2020.

South Sudan

As the overall least prosperous nation, South Sudan is in an alarming situation. What is further damaging for the nation is that it is performing much below the regional average of Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in the ‘Empowered People’ domain which includes key issues such as living conditions, health and education. This is important because national development entails far more than GDP growth, it requires the right socio-economic conditions that allow populations to flourish.

South Sudan is the weakest overall nation in the ‘Empowered People’ domain. It is the weakest global nation for education, the second weakest for living conditions and the third weakest for health. This is despite the Sub-Saharan Africa region seeing large increases in prosperity across all of these factors, particularly in regional health where it was the best performing region in the 2020 Index. This exemplifies that while regional trends in prosperity are useful indicators, there exists key national level anomalies within these regional trends. The example of South Sudan highlights the critical need for targeted assistance to be attentive to specific national contexts.

Cosmopolitanism: An ideology for 2021?

Cosmopolitanism is a political ideology stipulating that all human beings are members of a single global community. In the thought of cosmopolitanism there are many different views about what constitutes this community. This article will focus on the work of Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah, who suggests the possibility of a cosmopolitan community in which individuals from various physical, economic and social locations enter relationships of mutual respect despite holding different religious, political and cultural beliefs.

This school of cosmopolitan thought has two main aspects. The first is the universal nature of cosmopolitanism, where everybody is part of a single global community. This postulates that we have responsibility for everybody, and that the boundaries of states should not be the boundary of our moral concern. This creates a universal morality where everybody is entitled to be treated with respect and dignity. However, this concept is not unique to cosmopolitanism. What distinguishes cosmopolitanism is the second aspect, which combines this respect for universality with a recognition that there are forms of difference that should be allowed to exist within communities. People do not have to ascribe to the same values and life principles or be within the same social order for the world to exist harmoniously. Cosmopolitanism recognises that all people, who are entitled to equal respect and dignity, are going to be making different choices and living different lives. They will have different interests and faiths, and will choose to organise themselves and societies differently. In this way cosmopolitanism suggests that whilst we are all a single community, there are forms of difference that are a part of human existence in society. What is important is that these differences do not stop people from connecting with each other and existing in the same communities.

Cosmopolitanism differs from current approaches because of its focus on regular interaction between different groups and cultures in the same space. The UK takes a multiculturalist approach, in which different faiths are celebrated but also segregated, for example through single faith schools. A different approach taken in France is an integrationist approach that aims to minimise cultural differences. This approach requires everybody in France to uphold national cultural values, exemplified by the banning of full face coverings in 2011 and the requirement of secularism in its third sector. Conversely, cosmopolitanism argues that unless many of us subscribe to engaging with each other’s differences to promote living with a shared democratic responsibility, it will be difficult to overcome the issues of living together in a multi-religious and multiracial society. In this way cosmopolitanism is fundamentally different from multiculturalist and integrationist approaches, as it recognises conversation and interaction between different groups and cultures as being fundamental to overcoming differences. Regular interaction between people has a substantial impact because it makes prejudice and stereotypes difficult to uphold. Conversely, if people are siphoned off into separate subcommunities and fail to interact, as can happen in a multiculturalist approach, it becomes harder for individuals to counter prejudice. Similarly, cosmopolitanism gives the right of people to make their own lives, not just as societies but individuals. By maintaining regular interaction and dialogue between these different groups people can work together and share responsibility in building equal states. In this way, cosmopolitanism is fundamentally different from an integrationist approach, as it does not encourage a universal sharing of moral codes and ways of living. Instead, it states in order to build better societies our different ways of life and life choices need to be equally understood, acknowledged and treated as legitimate. Cosmopolitanism therefore promotes the idea of conversation, as well as regular intercultural and interfaith interactions as being essential to build societies that are free from prejudice and bias. These kinds of interactions are not fully facilitated through the multiculturalist and integrationist approaches to structuring society, and so cosmopolitanism represents a progressive alternative.

This is a powerful and useful perspective to consider when discussing current racial issues that exist in our societies, particularly relating to the Black Lives Matter movement. A recent Joint Commission report highlighted in the UK that there are clear racial injustices regarding human rights in healthcare, criminal justice, immigration, nationality and democracy. The report highlights shocking statistics, for example that the death rate for black women in childbirth in British state hospitals is five times higher than for white women. Similarly with regard to higher education, the Higher Education Statistics Authority found that black students are underrepresented in the top universities. In 2016, on average 8% of first-year undergraduates across the UK were black, however this average fell to less than 4% in Russell Group universities. This was even lower for Cambridge and Oxford, whose intakes in the same year were 1.5% and 1.2% respectively. This is by no means the full extent of racial injustice present within our current system, but a small illustration of the ways in which the state and state institutions currently perpetuate racial bias and injustice.

The extremely low intakes of black students in Oxford and Cambridge is an issue in many ways, not least because these two universities produce 90% of the country’s politicians. As a result, black voices are heavily marginalised within the core power of the state and its policy decisions, which to a limited extent explains the prejudice and racial injustice that black people face from the state today. This demonstrates the need to adopt better approaches to understanding different cultures in order to begin to eliminate these injustices. Cosmopolitanism offers a useful path forward in this sense because it proposes that interaction between all cultures is needed in order to transform society into a fairer environment, particularly related to state institutions that lead democratic governance. The lack of diversity in the voices of those currently running the country means that prejudices and biases cannot be properly addressed within state infrastructures. If the intercultural engagement proposed by cosmopolitanism is created, it can change the attitudes of individuals involved in both operating within or speaking to the state system. If this fundamental change is introduced it can help to restructure the state system which currency proliferates bias on racial and cultural identities.

As a political ideology cosmopolitanism clearly possesses a lot of merits in overcoming difference and establishing harmonious and multicultural communities. However, as the example of the UK has shown there is still much work to be done. Although this will undoubtedly be a lengthy process, a long and permanent change is needed from the injustices that permeate so strongly in our society. Cosmopolitanism should be considered, along with many other things, a useful tool in assisting this change into a fairer and equal society. On a conscious level cosmopolitanism is therefore extremely beneficial. The issue is how to build societies that support cosmopolitanism and its values of dialogue and interaction between different faiths and values. How difficult will it be in practice to ensure our societies and communities are organised in ways that sufficient conversation and interaction occurs between all the cultures, religions and values that exist within them? Only by achieving this will societies ensure there is a level of cosmopolitan understanding that reduces bias and allows for an equal appreciation and legitimacy of all values present within that society. This is a valuable question and one which is difficult to answer, but if we are to live in completely equal multiracial and multicultural societies it is a question that ultimately will need to be addressed.

Foreign nations destabilise Libya

Libya has been torn by conflict since 2011, when a rebel coalition with support from NATO began an uprising against Libya’s then ruler Muammar Gaddafi. Since then many foreign actors have become involved in the conflict, each pursuing their own political strategies. Since 2014, Libya has been largely split between forces loyal to the UN recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli, and the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Benghazi-based Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

In June of this year, with foreign help, the LNA were finally repelled after a 14-month offensive on Libya’s capital city, Tripoli. The foreign help has come at a price, that of the geopolitical interests of the intervening nations. These interests seriously threaten the chances of securing a quick and peaceful resolution to the conflict in Libya. And meanwhile the central Libyan city of Sirte is now where GNA and LNA forces are squared off against each other. 

Although internationally recognised, the GNA received limited international support until Turkish military intervention helped drive General Haftar’s forces towards Sirte ending their 14-month Tripoli offensive in June 2020. General Haftar and the LNA are themselves principally backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Russia. They have also received support from Saudi Arabia, Greece and France. Although two main sides exist in the conflict, each side is backed by multiple nations who have their own geopolitical ambitions for the region. As these nations, particularly Turkey backing one side and Russia backing the other, become more assertive, the interests of international parties involved in the conflict are becoming more important than building a peaceful and stable state that reflects the aspirations of the Libyan population. However the fragmentation in Libya is not merely a binary contest between two geopolitical camps and although foreign interference is having a greater influence over proxies in the conflict, the sparring sides are not completely obedient to their foreign sponsors. With the growing geopolitical interest in the region and with nations becoming more willing to act on these geopolitical ambitions, reaching a peaceful solution that can satisfy all of these conflicting interests becomes increasingly difficult.

Although Turkey’s strong military intervention in January 2020 could be seen as supporting the internationally recognised GNA against a rogue warlord accused of war crimes, it has also been about increasing Turkey’s strategic influence in the Mediterranean arena. On the 1st October 2020, the UN registered a maritime deal agreed last November between Turkey and the GNA, in which an exclusive economic zone was created in the Mediterranean, providing both nations with rights to ocean bed resources in this zone. This has been a highly contentious deal with Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, France and the UAE denouncing the arrangement in a joint declaration on the 11th May 2020, arguing it infringes their sovereignty and rights of access in the Mediterranean. All the nations who denounced the deal have also been supporting the LNA in direct opposition to Turkey and the GNA. Any agreement to settle the conflict in Libya will therefore also have to satisfy the dispute over Mediterranean access. With these parties unlikely to give up on their strategic ambitions in the Mediterranean, it makes a peaceful solution less likely.

Russia has been supporting Haftar’s LNA because it provides them with a strong military presence on the southern flank of NATO. With both Turkey and Russia investing heavily in opposing sides to gain favour with a future Libyan government, geopolitical concerns are at odds with creating peace and unity for Libya. Neither side will surrender their interests lightly, and it is more likely they will only agree to a deal in which the side they have backed assumes power.

When looking at the involvement of Arab nations in the conflict, similar tensions arise. General Haftar and the LNA have been heavily backed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and particularly the UAE. Qatar on the other hand is a strong supporter of the Tripoli-based GNA. It is important here to link the Libyan conflict to wider dynamics in the Arab world. In June 2017, a blockade on Qatar was imposed by Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt while diplomatic ties were also completely severed (largely in response to Qatar’s perceived backing of the Muslim Brotherhood). The opposing sides in the Libya conflict have therefore also come to represent sides in this broader political dispute. As these states currently have no diplomatic relations, achieving agreement on Libya becomes difficult. Even if discussions are held, the primary focus for these nations will be the opportunity to gain leverage in their own political disputes, rather than creating a Libyan peace.

For multiple foreign ambitions to be neglected in favour of peace, any agreement will need to be mediated by a powerful international coalition who can convince nations to abandon their ambitions in the region. However, within much of the international community there has been a lack of decisive action regarding the Libyan conflict. Germany has taken the lead in trying to build on agreements signed in Berlin in January 2020. The aim is to form a new national unity government in Libya before proposed national elections, building on promising talks held recently in Morocco, Egypt and Switzerland. However, with the rest of the EU being indecisive they have given the initiative to Turkey and Russia who have each deployed more weapons and personnel in Libya. The weakness of the EU has allowed foreign geopolitical interests to further militarise the conflict. EU policy regarding Libya since 2015 has been heavily concerned with containing refugee movements. Initiatives that funded local militia to hold refugees in Libya have fuelled violence. The EU has been more worried about preventing refugee movement than about building a strong and peaceful Libyan state.

Although the UK played a pivotal role in initially destabilising Libya, it has also done little to return stability and peace to the nation. In London, the current government views Libya in the same way as their European counterparts, in that British commercial and political interests trump those of achieving peace. As foreign secretary in 2017, Boris Johnson suggested to UK business investors that the now front-line city of Sirte could become the “next Dubai”, before adding “the only thing they have to do is clear the dead bodies away.” These comments, although crass and appalling, serve to outline the way in which international powers have been viewing the conflict in Libya – that the horrific human cost of the conflict is a secondary concern compared to the commercial and geopolitical interests of foreign nations.

No international nation or bloc has managed as of yet to cast aside their own strategic interests in favour of securing a peace agreement in Libya. The civil conflict in Libya has descended into an international battleground in which international parties are pitting their strategic ambitions against each other at the expense of Libyan peace.

The USA could be in a position to pressure intervening powers to behave better, as with the exception of Russia all foreign states meddling in the conflict are allies or partners of Washington. However the USA remains disinterested in view of the upcoming US elections.  With both Turkey and the UAE increasing the shipment of arms to Libya, in violation of the UN embargo, foreign powers are continuing to drag Libya into more proxy war and further away from lasting peace.

Why Boris Johnson should have cancelled HS2

Despite consistent opposition to the High Speed 2 (HS2) railway, the £106bn project was recently given the green-light with construction beginning at the start of September. HS2 represents a substantial investment which during the current COVID-19 crisis is irresponsible at best, and unbridled vanity at worst.

Since March, 9.6m UK workers have been furloughed with mounting uncertainty over the futures of jobs and industries. A new job support scheme is being introduced on the 31st October to support those in ‘viable’ jobs, eligible to employees working 1/3rd of their hours. This means the industries that are still unable to open, who have been hit hardest by the pandemic, will be the ones receiving no financial support on the turn of November. With the prospect of millions facing the crippling uncertainty of not knowing whether they will have a basic income by Christmas, it is counterintuitive that £106bn of public funds are being diverted into a project not expected to be completed until 2036. Instead this money should be protecting vital industries in dire need of support, which would be of greater benefit to the health of the economy.

As the current working climate has shifted rapidly towards online connectedness and video meetings, the need for physical connection between places for future business becomes increasingly unlikely. The aim of HS2 to connect the UK has therefore already become outdated, due to changes brought about by COVID-19. It is hard to escape from the idea that such a project is not needed now, and will not be needed in the future. As the pandemic threatens huge sectors of the UK economy, supporting affected industries and employees is the priority. Investment that contributes to this undoubtedly represents a shrewder use of the public funds which have instead been funnelled into HS2.