Populism and Nationalism vs. Globalisation

We are living in a world where globalisation and cosmopolitanism are the greatest. However, there has been surprising advancement of right-wing populist and nationalist parties such as the increased parliamentary representation of Marine Le Pen’s Front National. The election of Donald Trump and Brexit are similar phenomena. These clear manifestations of social exclusion within the western world prove that immigrants and local residents are not living in harmony and that this dichotomy is threatening our democracy. In order to better respond to the threat, we must clearly understand the reason behind the recent insurgence of populism.

“Make America Great Again” is a campaign slogan used by Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign. I’ve always wondered what specifically President Trump and his supporters want to “make great again”. Since the supporters disfavour immigrants inflow, does this mean bringing back racial segregation and restoring complete white supremacy? What exactly are his concerns about the immigration? According to research provided by the CATO Institute, Americans feel alienated from their own government and community and feel that they are blocked from resources and opportunities. The CATO Institute further argued that immigrants are usually the target for blame for the alienation because their cultural unfamiliarity gives a sense of negativity which distorts perception of reality.

With the help of the right wing who sees this social chasm as an opportunity to further their political interest, many Americans and Westerners claim that they are discriminated against in favour of immigrants and minorities and that they are being treated unfairly. However, their claims of experiencing “reverse racism” are in fact very misleading and are becoming a huge hindrance when dealing with reality. Then what is the reality? What forced people into this alienation even from ones’ own country?

The answer is financialisation, and the shareholder value model.  As financial capitalism develops more and more, corporate business structure, governance, and strategies have been transformed to maximise shareholders’ profits regardless of social costs. The problem is that when the debt-to-equity ratio is increasing, there is less money available for the real economy. Inevitably, real income for all households in America decreased whereas corporate profits increased tremendously.  The feelings of alienation Americans and westerners are experiencing are real, but the causes are not from the immigrants, but from the careless advancement of capitalism.

Globalisation definitely has increased the wealth of every nation, but a fair spread of wealth allocation was not realised, unfortunately. Stagnating middle-class income and increasing income inequality are causing social unrest giving rise to nationalism, protectionism, racism and you name it. Therefore, to protect our value of democracy and promote social tranquillity, we must seek to modify economic structures altogether rather than focusing on the advantage of one social group. Although Clinton’s “Stronger Together” lost the battle against Trump’s “Make America Great Again”, we must promote social inclusivity and make globalisation great for everyone.

Don’t Forget Me

And, sir, it is no little thing to make mine eyes to sweat compassion”, (William Shakespeare, Coriolanus).

This is my last blog post for The Next Century Foundation. During my time at the NCF, I addressed several hot issues, speaking about different situations and topics, even very controversial ones, which have sometimes generated harsh reactions. I suppose it is inevitable if you are speaking about politics, human rights, dictators, victims or perpetrators. These social fabrications give us a social identity and lead us to often take on conflicting and controversial positions, dictated by interests, simple visions or specific goals. In such circumstances, the “political animal” inside each of us reveals itself trying to impose its own point of view.

However, in spite of the ideas and values that humans can have, every person is made up of feelings and emotions. Before being classified as political animals, humans are sentient beings, with emotions and feelings which define us and make us unique. The same sort of emotions and feelings that are gradually being extinguished with the frenetic and uncontrolled evolution of this world. And today, I want to talk about this. Today I want to talk about who we are. Today, I want to write about the emotions, hopes and feelings that define us and how this world is changing them. And I will do it by speaking through the lense of one of the generations that, more than any other, is experiencing this change in full; a generation that particularly expresses the contradictions of our society but also the dreams and the betrayed hopes: my generation, that of the Millennials.

We live in strange times. Times of great uncertainties, immense fears, incessant and fast changes. I am the son of a generation that has been living through the golden years of development, where entrepreneurs would invest in the job market and believed in the value of their employees. Years where politicians would constantly strive to find new ways to improve people’s lives. The high level of births, the prolific job market, the certainty of the future, the first and the second car, big savings, the summer holidays by the sea or in the mountains. And then the great investments, the incentives to progress, research and development, the high general morale, the man on the moon, the hope for a future of well-being for everyone.

But sometimes expectations about the future are bigger than what reality has to offer and, just like a bubble that swells excessively, sooner or later reality explodes right in your face. And here, all of a sudden, we have a system where the excessive well-being and the immeasurable potential of the third industrial revolution clashes with the individual economic interest. The big industries and multinationals come into play and alter the balance. Human greed grows stronger and stronger while the big multinationals knock on the doors of politics for some “boosts”. And there you go; the first agreements born to maximize profits by damaging workers’ rights; national factories shutting down to re-open in those countries where labor costs 1$ a day, or renegotiating workers’ union achievements with politicians in exchange for a few bribes or support during election campaigns; the high transnational finance getting hold of large company shares and becoming the main protagonist of a new global perverse game. The cost of labor for multinational companies drops dramatically while working hours increase. As a consequence, the price of produced goods decreases. Small and medium-sized businesses close or fail for they cannot compete with similar standards, whereas those able to make it through are the big names of industry or those entrepreneurs who, through criminal support, have managed to reach out to and influence politicians to get some extra procurement contracts or personal favors. The West becomes the center of unbridled capitalism, with no rules, with no ethics or respect. Everyone for themselves. It is against this backdrop that my generation, the Millennials, is born. The first true generation without any clue about its future.

The final blow comes with 2000 and all its technological capacity. It started with the first mobile phones and laptops on a large scale, up to smartphones and tablets. Technology moves; the great giants of Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon develop; technological power becomes incredibly significant. And here’s Black Friday, the purchases with a click, the ads in every corner of the city, superfast transportation and trains in the underground every minute. The illusion of a world as a global, super-technological and limitless village is born. A sense that all this frantic lifestyle is necessary and inevitable emerges.

The savings of our parents are spent in this super-technological world while employment becomes more and more an urban legend. The new contemporary frontier of slavery 2.0 is born. Jobs poorly paid with meal vouchers; fixed-term contracts; easier layoffs; unbearable working hours. The prediction of Charlie Chaplin in his movie, Modern Times, comes true. Man becomes a productive factor with no rights, little money and a need to spend money without worrying too much about the future. It is the betrayal of the dream of a global Californication that we all expected: a happy world with more freedom and less problems to think about; a world where everyone can work and build a better and sustainable future.

But man’s greediness has shattered this dream. The betrayal from a global political class of spineless servants of high finance and powerful world lobbies has sanctioned the end of this dream. And while constitutions drown in an ocean of decay, my question is, what is left of all this?

On the one hand, there is an army of clueless kids, educated in the best prep schools which are financed by international magnates, who repeat as robots notions of economic and political theories aired on televisions and published in newspapers by those same people responsible for such a global delirium. Those same theories that legitimized the unbridled capitalism that is crushing us; theories such as those of the great industrialization or those that ultimately justified the plundering of the marvelous African countries or wars of interest such as those in Iraq or Libya.

On the other hand, there are people who live in the moment, who believe in what the World tells them to believe, only able to find their own identity in the television culture of the Big Brother, phony talk shows or in the trashy pop-porn culture spread throughout the day by MTV. George Orwell’s predictions have never been so true, huh?

And then, what remains is a people of perfect strangers.

I turn around every day, in the train, on the bus, down the street, and I see hundreds of people far away. People with a blank look on their face, lost in the void or on the screen of their smartphones. Lonely, sad, aloof people, with not much of humanity left; people walking quickly through the streets remorselessly hitting whomever is in their path because they are too intent on continuing their virtual conversation with someone miles away; people unable to express emotions or feelings; people too busy masking their loneliness behind the perfect image of their virtually perfect life on Instagram; depressed people no longer connected to reality; people who get together and break up through a telephone because they are incapable and afraid of meeting or knowing each other in a normal, real, natural way. And finally, people unable to associate, to connect, to unite and resist the power, or to oppose unjust decisions.

So what is left of feelings, of humanity, of us being people? For some reason, I’ve always been afraid to answer this question. Particularly, in the last period of my life.

During my time at The Next Century Foundation, I have been able to reflect a lot on politics, religion, people and the complicated relationships that bind us to each other and that bind us to society. I have not really ever considered anything I am writing right now. Not because I did not think about it but rather because this complex machine of intertwined relations, politics, economy, religion and power is difficult to fully understand and, above all, to make it work. And in this sense, in the end you end up accepting it because you understand that things are almost always impossible to change, peace will always be difficult to establish, power will always preserve itself and religion will always be used as a political tool to manipulate the masses. So, almost passively, you end up accepting the status quo of things. Almost like a condition of the universe, immovable and immanent. Everything has always been this way and it will always be this way.

At least until this World decides you are the next target and this status quo affects you in person, lashing out at you with all its strength. And then everything changes. You withdraw, let yourself down, look for explanations, seek yourself and your role in the world. You frantically turn around to find yourself, unsuccessfully. And you cannot help but compare your situation to that of the contemporary world, that of a world that perhaps will never change; and that of the Millennials, that of a simple person surrounded by lonely individuals, unable to sense or feel emotions in one of the largest cities in the world. You wonder if maybe it is just the natural order of things that you eventually have to accept, because perhaps that is how it works, because it has always been and will always be like this. In the last few months of my life, I have been looking for an answer to this question, without luck.

Until something happens; that deus ex machina you need to get you out of trouble. And here comes the answer to your questions. Something that helps you to understand; something like a trip to Holland, a beer with a trusted friend, an exhibition of an artist or walking in the rain in the streets of London without a destination. And it is at that precise moment that when you look into people’s eyes – those you’ve been so reluctant about or that you’ve lost hope in – you suddenly see something different, something you’ve never seen before, something that changes your perspective. And you can suddenly feel a vibe, a feeling, a sparkle that leads you through their eyes. And, like a flash in a pan, you are able to feel all the power and the emotions that each of them has locked within and that can be conveyed through their story or personality. Pure energy, pure emotions, pure humanity. The people’s smiling faces at the Tulip market in Amsterdam; the encouraging wink of a friend down at the pub that – around a pint and some good indie-rock in the background – shows you the right way of looking at things; the power of humanity in the symbolic life scenes of Banksy’s works that lead you to reflect on the true nature of people and humanity; the feeling of the rain falling on your skin in the gray of London’s streets that brings you back to life and connects you to reality again. Your prospects start to change and now you can see things differently. Suddenly you can find an answer to that question in that stream of people and things around you.

And, like a flashback, everything suddenly made sense.

During my time at the Next Century Foundation, I met ambassadors, Lords, religious leaders; I even spoke to the World for 2 minutes before the UN Human Rights Council. All exceptional experiences. However, I now understand that none of these experiences would have made sense without a particular detail that each of them has in common, the confrontation with people. Before the NCF I had not realized how even simply talking with people is essential; how much people can express through their words, their looks or their smiles. And, above all, I had not realized how effective it is to be able to talk with them to try to solve problems.

This is exactly what humanity is. Humanity is talking, confronting each other, solving problems together, uniting different and opposite perspectives. When you can achieve that; when you can take your eyes off your smartphone for a moment and you turn around; when you abandon the social and political fabrications for a moment and drop the mask they gave you, it is only then that you see potential and opportunities in those stranger’s faces rather than indifference and solitude. In that precise moment, you can hear the flow I was talking about earlier. And you understand that that potential is unimaginable and terrifies governments and institutions, and shakes the establishment. Just like the stories I tried to tell you about so far in my articles. And whether it is the Christmas truce or the international mass mobilization for the death of a young man in Egypt, you realise it is all about looking at the world from another perspective. If some people managed to refuse to fight, to kill and be killed, on European soil a little less than a century ago, destroying the socio-political fabrication of wars; if some people managed to get together to protest against a fierce dictator in Egypt without being afraid of the consequences; if one man could revolutionize his country after being imprisoned for 27 years, upsetting the entire institutional set-up based on violence, lies and terror; if other great men like Martin Luther King or Gandhi or so many others have managed to mobilize millions of people around an idea of peace, justice or freedom, then we too can change this mad world.

It is all about being able to channel those vibes into positive, collective paths. And you can only do it through dialogue, confrontation and associationism. Talking and dealing with people, precisely. Alexis de Tocqueville once said that the only way to resist power in a positive and constructive way is through the democratic instrument that starts from the bottom, by means of associationism from the municipal level, from small realities.

People are the solution to the world’s illnesses. And the positive dialogue that you can have with them. Social Capital. It is so simple. The greatest evils of our generation come from this absurd lifestyle that is offered to us in the form of well-being, technology and comfort. Loneliness, depression, indifference, hatred and division are all the fruit of a society that tends to divide us and speculate on our collective incapacity to react, associate and confront each other. It is that simple, and we are the cure.

It is possible. And you can find the proof around you. Turn off the TV, put down your smartphone for a moment. Go down the street, talk to people, listen to what they have to say. Take a hike in the park, maybe in the pouring rain. Try to feel something. Go to the pub, read a newspaper and comment on the news with bystanders. Have a coffee or a beer with them. Ask them how they are and give them a smile. Everything will change, everything will be different.

And speaking of smiles.

Once, a bearded man told me that if you try to smile while walking down the street, this will positively influence your attitude towards others and, above all, your self-confidence. I will never forget those words. I recently tried to do it often and, I’ll tell you something, it worked. If you try to walk down the street smiling at the people you meet, most of them will reply with a smile. And you will feel different as well, more secure, more positive towards others and the world. It’s all about that. Those emotions and feelings I was talking about before. They can come out, if triggered.

We only have to reconsider our values, our priorities for a moment. What we want from life and what we are looking for. And above all, remember who we are and where we come from, always. Love every single rise and fall and take them as an opportunity to grow and improve yourself and the world around you. I think this is the solution, the cure for the ills of mankind. Creating a community of people based on diversity and dialogue. Only then can we overcome all this. And we, Millennials, have boundless potential to do so.

By the way, I have gone too far. And now it’s time to conclude this post.

My time at the NCF gave me a lot. I grew up a lot professionally but mostly as a person. I owe you a lot, William and Veronica, to your kindness and warm welcome. I was welcomed and treated like a son. You gave me a lot to think about and work on. You gave me a smile in tough times and support when needed. And for this, thank you.

Then there is you, Rory, William and Yousef. Some young minds full of passion and desire to change things. You are fantastic. Every day, I saw in your eyes that power and passion of which I spoke about right above, waiting just to be fully exploited. And I know you’ll find a way to do it, it’s just a matter of time.

You were my second family here, in this gigantic crazy world of sharks. I’ll never forget that. And I’d like to conclude this blog post with this thought, while sipping my double espresso in some coffee shop somewhere in London and listening to these fantastic notes of Redemption Song, one of Marley’s masterpieces. He succeeded! He succeeded in uniting people around words of peace and hope. Like Hendrix’s solo or Mercury’s unique voice or even the Boss playing a piano version of Thunder Road. This is the right time, the perfect moment.

Ciao NCF, a presto!

Luctor et Emergo ex Flammis Orior, Per Aspera ad Astra

#lastblogpost #peoplehavethepower #believe #change #ciaoncf

 

Orthodox Russia – an Ideology of Exclusivity

The links between the Orthodox Church and the Russian state have grown closer and closer in the last five years, resulting in the implementation of a number of hugely controversial laws, conceived in the image of the Church, which have sped up the country’s journey towards a conservatism whose victims are the social, political and ethnic minorities of Russia.

The last few years have seen the state make it a criminal offence to ‘insult the feelings of religious believers’; a federal law has been passed ‘for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values’, known otherwise as the gay propaganda law; any form of domestic abuse that does not require hospital treatment has been downgraded from a criminal to a civil offence, punishable by a fine comparable to a parking ticket; and now there is widespread clamour for the state to implement an anti-abortion law. Thus, in effect, the constitution has provided further protection to the powerful Orthodox church, whilst leaving more vulnerable sections of society – women, children, the LGBT community – even less protected than before. And it cannot be a coincidence that these new laws are in line with the patriarchal brand of conservatism espoused by the Russian Orthodox church. And the ambiguity of these laws has led them to be freely interpreted. For example, the gay propaganda law has led to a justification and increased frequency of homophobic violence, as these people feel as though such behaviour is enabled by the constitution. Furthermore, prominent political figures have further stoked the fire, with member of the state Duma, Vitaly Milonov, equating homophobia to pedophilia, and former Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, condemning homosexuality as being ‘satanic’. All of which has left the LGBT community in a state of peril, with their human rights recognised neither by the church nor the state.

The Soviet Union, for its myriad flaws, was one of the world’s most progressive societies on the issue of gender. In 1920, it became the first country to permit abortion in all circumstances. Barring a 20-year volte face from 1936 at the height of Stalin’s paranoia about population growth, amongst many other things, the law remained in place for the Soviet Union’s lifetime, and was symbolic of a hearteningly progressive approach towards gender relations. Yet the Russia of today is a different story. Borne out of a desire to instil traditional Orthodox values that predate Soviet Union, women are finding their autonomy further and further compromised. Domestic abuse of any kind should be wholeheartedly condemned, yet the decriminalising of less ‘serious’ degrees of domestic abuse effectively legitimises it in the eyes of the Russian people. To be sure, there will be a few rare instances of wives abusing husbands, but those affected, belittled and endangered by this law are, predominantly, women and their children. And therein lies a fundamental issue with this law: it is well known that the bullied become bullies and, likewise, the abused tend to abuse. There is a real danger that this law will set in train a cycle of abuse, as those who have been abused as children go on to do the same to their own families as adults, and such an abhorrent form of behaviour becomes normalised.

Accompanying the rising influence of the Orthodox church in matters of state policy, as well as in the general mindset of the people, has been the rise of activist Orthodox organisations. Although the most extreme are not directly linked to the church, and are actually publicly disavowed by it, their rising influence and religious extremism feels very symptomatic of a form of deeply conservative faith-based worldview that is utterly intolerant of all those it does not encompass. The list of such groups is long: the LGBT community, jehovah’s witnesses, women and ethnic minorities among many others. They promote a particular brand of patriarchal, almost militarised faith, with the straight white male standing alone at the very top of the hierarchy. Though these people worship Vladimir Putin as a ‘gift from god’, it must be said that these radical believers are unconnected to the state. Yet, at the same time, it could reasonably be argued that their the voice is growing louder and their popularity is increasing as a result of laws that have brought the state in closer alignment with the Orthodox church.

This political and religious conservatism is a phenomenon by no means unique to Russia. Despite huge progress over the last century in the way gender relations are perceived, there is a huge way to go, and many still consider the word ‘feminism’ to be threatening and in some way subversive, rather than simply a desire for everyone human being to have equal rights. And much of the same can be said for the way homosexuality is viewed the world over. There should be no problem whatsoever with the growing emphasis on Orthodox faith as a guiding principle for Russian people. But there needs to be a willingness to be amenable to and tolerant of those groups of fellow Russians who, for whatever reason, are not considered compatible with the views of the Church. Because an unwillingness to do so, an exclusive ideology of ‘Us vs Them’ leaves vast sections of society alienated, vulnerable and with their human rights in jeopardy.

Bjorn Ihler on Extremism

‘He committed an evil act, but he is not an evil man’.
 
You would be hard-pressed to find many people in agreement with the above assessment of Anders Breivik. Breivik, the far-right Norwegian terrorist, left an indelible mark on Norwegian and European society on the 22 June 2011. First detonating a car bomb in central Oslo, before proceeding to fatally shoot 69 participants at a Norwegian Workers’ Youth League summer camp on the island of Utoya, Breivik’s heinous acts took the lives of so many, and irreparably damaged those of so many more. Further, Anders Breivik has since shown a defiant lack of remorse and repentance for his crimes, boastfully asserting he had rightfully acted in accordance with his ideology. All of which could reasonably lead us to believe that the ‘Norway Attacks’ were not merely an evil act, but an evil act committed by an inherently evil man.
 
Which brings us to the opening quotation. Not only was it actually said, but it was said by a survivor of the unspeakably barbaric acts of Breivik on Utoya. Bjorn Ihler, then a 21 year old member of the Norwegian Labour Party, was enjoying his time at the summer camp; flirting with girls, engaging in outdoorsy activities, while deepening his affiliation with his political party. And then Breivik happened.
 
As the people on the island looked across the water to Oslo and saw smoke rising from one of the city’s many buildings, they did not suspect that the building was a governmental office, and that this was the result of an act of terrorism by a man heading their way. As word filtered through that the threat was drawing near, there was a sense of confusion, but none of these wide eyed children and students was really able to compute the severity of the situation. Ihler recounts that, on seeing Breivik come out of the woods with gun in hand, he took him to be a member of the police, coming to provide safety and protection. But then Anders Breivik opened fire. Ihler saw friends drop dead at his feet, as the crazed gunman went on a killing spree. After finding a makeshift place to hide, an overhanging shrub on the water, Bjorn Ihler saw Breivik coming towards him, and made for the water. Breivik saw him, took aim, and shot at him, from about 4 metres away. In the chaos of the moment, Ihler though he had been hit, and stayed submerged. And, clearly, Anders Breivik though he had hit him as well, for as Ihler resurfaced, the gunman had turned his back on him and walked away.
 
You’d be forgiven for assuming that Bjorn Ihler must feel a burning hatred towards Breivik, the mass murderer who has dared to complain about the abuses of his own human rights. Yet he talks about him with a real sense of compassion: rather than a violent sociopath, he is a ‘complicated human being’; rather than a man who justly felt the wrath of public opinion, he is a man who has been ‘unfairly dehumanised’ by society. Ihler wants to understand what it was in society that made Breivik so impressionable, and so easily radicalised by such an extreme ideology. Having experienced first-hand the effects of such radicalisation, Ihler has made it his mission to try and engage with people on the fringes of society, listen to those to whom society turns a deaf ear, and to try to engage with them and treat them as fellow human beings. For the most important thing is that something like the events of 22 July 2011 never has to happen again. He uses social media as a way of tracking vulnerable and potentially dangerous people, searching for traces left behind in radical rants on personal profiles and on online groups, as well as working with communities whose socioeconomic situation leaves its members more vulnerable to radicalisation. He speaks to them, hears and listens to their vision of what life is like, and tries to enter into a dialogue with them.
 
When asked about the societal and political reaction to Anders Breivik’s attacks in the six years since, Ihler makes a point of addressing the political dimension. Indeed, he tells us that he is no longer a member of the Labour party, and has in fact moved away from politics. This is principally down to what he considers to have been a slightly underhand politicisation of the attacks by Norwegian Labour. Ihler criticises what he sees as the party’s ready willingness to hold the victims up as martyrs of the Labour party, thus bestowing a political quality onto a distinctly human tragedy. For the events of 22 July 2011 should be felt and mourned on a human level, not be caught up in political spin. To best position itself to guard against such threats as Breivik, society ‘must come together not as politicians, or even as Norwegians, but as people’.
 
Ihler’s views on Breivik make him a somewhat controversial figure back in his homeland. In a wounded country desperate either to forget or to publicly vilify a man who committed such a barbaric act on his own people, Ihler’s desire to opt for a policy of reconciliation does not sit well with many. With a sense of humour apparent throughout the talk, Ihler jokes that he has been branded a ‘freedom of expression fundamentalist’ in Norway. He even states his pride that Breivik took the Norwegian state to court over his enforced isolation in prison, complaining about an abuse of his human rights, and won. No wonder that Ihler comes in for criticism back home: there will be many, not just those directly affected by his acts, who consider Anders Breivik’s complaints about human rights abuses to be the absolute height of hypocrisy. But, as Ihler points out, it is this willingness on the part of the Norwegian state to treat everyone as a human being with equal rights, in spite of what they may have done, that allows Norway to boast the lowest recidivism rate in the world: whereas 70-80% of released convicts in America end up back in prison within five years, in Norway the figure is down at just 20%. He may be divisive in his conciliatory approach to even the most remorseless criminals, but what can’t be denied is that Bjorn Ihler is an immensely courageous individual, with vast resources of human empathy, who has devoted himself to changing the world for the better.

The Balfour Declaration: 100 Years On

It is exactly 100 years to the day since the signing of the Balfour Declaration, an event that has had profound consequences and which continues to shape the Middle East and the rest of the world today. The Declaration, a product of British design, made two promises. First, it promised a homeland for the Jews, a people facing widespread persecution  and who would go on to face persecution on an abhorrent scale. Second, it promised that the civil and religious rights of those non-Jewish communities already occupying the land would not be prejudiced. Decades of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians underpins this failure to fulfill that second promise.

Britain must accept responsibility for its role in this, but not shy away from the important role it can play in the future. The U.K. should begin by recognising the state of Palestine as an important first step, and on that basis, lead new efforts at peace and reconciliation which acknowledge the fundamental rights of Palestinians and also the right of Israel to its security. It is no good making further promises. It is time for a new approach.

Understanding Terrorism: A Survivor’s View

understanding terrorism

On 1 November, Initiatives of change UK welcomes Bjorn Ihler to speak on the theme of understanding terrorism. A survivor of the horrific July 2011 attack by far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik on the Norwegian island of Itoya, in which Breivik murdered 77 people, Ihler survived the massacre by feigning death. Since then Ihler, now 26, has dedicated his life to understanding extremism, and what it is that drives people to commit acts of terrorism. Ihler endeavours to find positive responses to extremism, and to support those driven to commit barbarous acts by hopelessness, rage and societal alienation.

While all acts of terrorism should be wholeheartedly condemned, we must strive for a greater understanding of the societal conditions that lead people to extremism, so that they may be guarded against. Ihler’s commendable work serves as an example to everybody, and his interview will offer a fascinating, oft-neglected perspective on the roots of terrorism.

For information on timings and location, click here

For free tickets, RSVP to london.reception@iofc.org, or call 0207 7798 6000

 

Marine Le Pen is building her campaign on fear of difference, we must unite around our common humanity

Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front Party (Front National), has launched her campaign to be the next President of France and she has done so with unflinching ferocity. At her rally in Lyon on Sunday she stated that “what is at stake in this election is the continuity of France as a free nation, our existence as a people”. She is asking the French people to not only prepare for an election, but also for an ideological battle against an imminent existential threat.

So, what could possibly be heralding in the end of freedom and French identity? According to Le Pen, “Financial globalisation and Islamist globalisation” together “aim to bring France to its knees”. Le Pen’s rhetoric of fear has struck a chord in the hearts of many disillusioned and disenfranchised French citizens. Indeed, the Front National is as close as it has ever been to holding power.

But are we really entering a new era of populism, heralded by Brexit and the election of Donald Trump? In much the same way as cliff edges are known to instil a desire to jump, this political precipice might just have the same mesmerising effect, so let us step back, and explore the most constructive options available to us.

There is undoubtedly huge change happening in Europe. Unprecedented numbers of refugees have fled from insecurity and conflict to Europe and indeed concern about immigration is the most common reason given for supporting Le Pen. French citizens are being implored by Le Pen to stand strong and fight against demographic change, but is it not more fitting in our present context to accept that human beings have moved and will continue to move across borders? Perhaps having acknowledged this we will be better able to work towards facilitating a peaceful, sustainable and managed internationalism.

Populations and other groups will naturally reimagine themselves and try to consolidate their identity, especially in challenging times. However, this can be balanced out through emphasis on our common human story. This is not to deny the importance of national and religious heritages but instead to view them within a broader context that perhaps better facilitates unity and empathy. Calls for change cannot be condemned. Instead we must condemn those who promise to liberate one group at the explicit expense of another.