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February 19 2016

12:14

ISIS and the 'war on terror'

The rivalries of powerful states are now driving Syria's conflict. But ISIS is thinking bigger.

U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer. Flickr/DVIDSHUB. Some rights reserved. U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer. Flickr/DVIDSHUB. Some rights reserved.The war against ISIS has seen 18 months of of airstrikes by United States-led coalition forces in both Iraq and Syria. An even more concentrated period is now under way, with signs of greater use of special forces by western militaries and pledges of ground troops by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. And while western governments continue to claim that there are no "boots on the ground”, there is clear evidence that special forces from coalition states are involved in combat. 

An already complex situation is made hugely more so by intensive Russian air operations. Russia's determination to have a major impact on the course of the war and its outcome is reflected in its deployment of four of the country's small stock of modern Su-35S multi-role strike-aircraft, the latter supplementing a force of no less than 36 other types. The Russian assaults appear to be causing high civilian casualties, which does much to explain the desperate movement of a new tranche of refugees towards Turkey. They also may become the crucial factor in allowing the Assad regime to survive, while having little impact on ISIS.

For its part, ISIS's main concern is the US-led air campaign in both Iraq and Syria. By late 2014, the Pentagon was claiming that over 20,000 ISIS supporters had been killed by its air war. If this estimate is remotely accurate, then ISIS should be very badly affected and in retreat from much of the territory it holds.

In practice it is not nearly as simple as that. A wider view indicates that ISIS has withstood the assaults by changing tactics and finding diverse, unexpected sources of support. ISIS's loss of Ramadi, captured in the surprise advances across Iraq in 2014, was certainly serious; but it took the Iraqi armed force several efforts and in the end a five-month campaign to recover it. Even then help was needed from Iranian-backed militias and coalition airstrikes, the latter causing massive damage to much of the city. Tacitus’s verdict, “they made a desert and called it peace”, comes to mind.

It is also worth remembering that Ramadi had been held for months by just a few hundred determined paramilitaries facing upwards of 10,000 troops backed by air-power. There are indications that when the city fell, many of these ISIS fighters succeeded in melting away, much as did the Taliban when the Northern Alliance entered Kabul in November 2001.

From Syria to the world

More generally, understanding ISIS's position needs to take four elements into account: the increase in support for the movement among other Islamist groups, its expansion in Libya, a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, and the potential for more actions beyond the Middle East. 

On the first point, the United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon reported last week that there are now 34 groups believed to have allied themselves to ISIS. He also pointed out that ISIS itself was “the world’s richest terrorist organisation”, generating $400-$500 million from oil and oil products in 2015.

On the second, ISIS-linked paramilitaries in Libya are now increasing their control of territory while building extensive defences round their main base at Sirte. US intelligence sources now estimate that ISIS has more than 5,000 fighters in Libya and is developing new training bases as well as beginning to threaten the seizure of oil-and-gas facilities.

Some recent airstrikes by US forces have been launched, and US special forces are reported to be in Libya collating targets and gaining other intelligence. But President Obama is coming under increasing pressure to escalate the war via extensive air operations and even sending combat-troops, as part of a strategy aiming to involve coalition partners including France and Britain. The killing early on 19 February of "more than 30 Islamic State recruits" in an airstrike on a camp close to Sabratha, west of Tripoli, may be a sign that he is listening. 

On the third point, Afghanistan, there is a triple concern: the spread of ISIS in Nangarhar province, the re-emergence of al-Qaida in Kandahar province, and the expansion of the Taliban, especially in the key opium poppy-growing area of Helmand province. The new head of Nato and US forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant-General John Nicholson, reported to the Senate Armed Services Committee on 28 January that the overall security situation is deteriorating. The main consequence of this is that any hope Barack Obama had of withdrawing all US combat-troops by the end of his second term is dashed – indeed, an expansion is more likely.

On the fourth, ISIS-linked incidents outside the Middle East are expanding and may continue to do so. Even in the United States, intelligence sources now regard the most substantial internal-security threat as coming from “home-grown extremists”. In Russia, the attack on police in Daghestan on 15 February has been claimed by ISIS, while a week earlier Russian security forces detained seven people in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg on suspicion of planning attacks.

In November 2016 the identity of the White House's new occupant is decided. Unless Bernie Sanders drives all before him, Barack Obama’s successor will be more hardline on international security than the incumbent of eight years. In the absence of unforeseen reversals for ISIS and its many associated groups, the 'war on terror' in its current incarnation is set to escalate and indeed last well into the 2020s.

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11:55

The radical work of healing: Fania and Angela Davis on a new kind of civil rights activism

"Self-care and healing and attention to the body and the spiritual dimension – all of this is now a part of radical social justice struggles."

This article was originally published by Yes! magazine.

Angela and Fania Davis. Credit: taken for YES! by Kristin Little. Angela and Fania Davis. Credit: taken for YES! by Kristin Little.

Angela Davis and her sister Fania Davis were working for social justice before many of today’s activists were born. From their childhood in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, where their friends were victims of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, to their association with the Black Panther Party and the Communist Party, to their work countering the prison-industrial complex, their lives have centered on lifting up the rights of African Americans.

In 1969, Angela Davis was fired from her teaching position at UCLA because of her membership in the Communist Party. She was later accused of playing a supporting role in a courtroom kidnapping that resulted in four deaths. The international campaign to secure her release from prison was led by, among others, her sister Fania. Angela was eventually acquitted and continues to advocate for criminal justice reform.

Inspired by Angela’s defense attorneys, Fania became a civil rights lawyer in the late 1970s and practiced into the mid-1990s, when she enrolled in an indigenous studies program at the California Institute of Integral Studies and studied with a Zulu healer in South Africa. Upon her return, she founded Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth. Today, she is calling for a truth and reconciliation process focused on the historic racial trauma that continues to haunt the United States.

Sarah van Gelder: You were both activists from a very young age. I’m wondering how your activism grew out of your family life, and how you talked about it between the two of you.

Fania Davis: When I was still a toddler, our family moved into a neighborhood that had been all white. That neighborhood came to be known as Dynamite Hill because black families moving in were harassed by the Ku Klux Klan. Our home was never bombed, but homes around us were.

Angela Davis: Fania is probably too young to remember this, but I remember that strange sounds would be heard outside, and my father would go up to the bedroom and get his gun out of the drawer, and go outside and check to see whether the Ku Klux Klan had planted a bomb in the bushes. That was a part of our daily lives.

Many people assume that the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church was a singular event, but actually there were bombings and burnings all the time. When I was 11 and Fania was 7, the church we attended, the First Congregational Church, was burned. I was a member of an interracial discussion group there, and the church was burned as a result of that group.

We grew up in an atmosphere of terror. And today, with all the discussion about terror, I think it’s important to recognize that there were reigns of terror throughout the 20th century.

“We went to segregated schools, libraries, churches. We went to segregated everything!”

Sarah: So where were you when you heard the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing had happened?

Fania: I was attending high school in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. And I didn’t take no stuff from nobody. I was always talking about James Baldwin or Malcolm X, and always bringing up issues of racial equity and justice.

I heard about the bombing when my mother told me that one of the girls’ mother had called her up – because they were close friends – and said, “There’s been a bombing at the church. Come and ride down with me so we can get Carole, because Carole’s at church today.” And they drive down there together, and she finds that there is no Carole, she’s been … there’s no body even. I think it fueled this fire, the fire of anger and just made me determined to fight injustice with all of the energy and strength that I could muster.

Sarah: Can you say more about what everyday life was like for you growing up?

Angela: We went to segregated schools, libraries, churches. We went to segregated everything!

Fania: Of course, in some ways it was a good thing that we were very tight as a black community.

When we went outside of our homes and communities, the social messaging was that you’re inferior: You don’t deserve to go to this amusement park because of your color or to eat when you go downtown shopping. You must sit in the back of the bus.

At the same time, at home, our mother always told us, “Don’t listen to what they say! Don’t let anybody ever tell you that you’re less than they are.”

And so I found myself—even as a 10-year-old—just going into the white bathrooms and drinking out of the white water fountains, because from a very early age I had a fierce sense of right and wrong. My mother would be shopping somewhere else in the store, and before she knew it, the police were called.

Sarah: Let’s skip ahead to when it became clear that you, Angela, were going to need a whole movement in your defense. And Fania, you ended up spending years defending her.

Fania: Yeah, about two years.

Angela: In 1969, I was fired from a position in the philosophy department at UCLA. That’s when all the problems started, and I would get threats like every single day. I was under attack only because of my membership in the Communist Party.

“It was an exciting era because people really did believe that revolutionary change was possible.”

Fania: Angela had been very involved with prison-rights activism at the time, leading demonstrations up and down the state. And then she was all over the news: “Communist Fired From Teaching at UCLA,” you know, “Black Power Radical.”

Angela: Then in August 1970, I was charged with murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy. And so I had to go underground. I found my way to Chicago, then to New York and Florida, and finally I was arrested in New York in October. It was during the time that I was underground that the campaign really began to develop.

Sarah: So, Fania, when did you turn your focus to supporting your sister’s cause?

Fania: The night before I left Cuba, I found out that she had been captured. So instead of going home to California, I immediately went to where Angela was in the Women’s House of Detention in Greenwich Village.

Angela: All of my friends and comrades began to build the campaign. Once I was arrested and extradited, they all moved up to the Bay Area.

We were active in the Communist Party, and, you know, whatever criticisms one might have of the Communist Party, we could go anywhere in the world and find people with whom we had some kinship, and people opened their homes.

It was the Party that was the core of the organizing for my release, and the movement was taken up by students on campus and church people.

This happened all over the world. Every time I visit a place for the first time, I always find myself having to thank people who come up to me and say, “We were involved in your case.”

Sarah: Did you know that there was that kind of support happening?

Angela: I knew, and I didn’t know. I knew abstractly, but Fania was the one who traveled and actually got to witness it.

Fania: Yeah, I was speaking to 60,000 people in France and 20,000 in Rome, London, and East and West Germany, all over the world, and seeing this massive movement to free her.

Angela: It was an exciting era because people really did believe that revolutionary change was possible. Countries were getting their independence, and the liberation movements were going on, and there was this hope all over the world that we would bring an end to capitalism. And I think that I was fortunate to have been singled out at a moment of conjuncture of a whole number of things.

Sarah: Your work since that time has centered on the criminal justice system. Are you both prison abolitionists?

Angela: Oh, absolutely. And it’s exciting to see that the notion of abolition is being broadly embraced not only as a way to address overincarceration, but as a way to imagine a different society that no longer relies on repressive efforts of violence and incarceration.

Abolition has its origin in the work of W.E.B. Du Bois and the idea that slavery itself was dismantled, but the means of addressing the consequences of that institution were never developed. In the late 1800s, there was a brief period of radical reconstruction that shows us the promise of what might have been. Black people were able to generate some economic power, start newspapers and all kinds of businesses. But all of this was destroyed with the reversal of Reconstruction and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1880s.

Fania: Yeah, we abolished the institution of slavery, but then it was replaced by sharecropping, Jim Crow, lynching, convict leasing. The essence of the racial violence and trauma that we saw in the institution of slavery and in those successive institutions continues today in the form of mass incarceration and deadly police practices.

Angela: We’re taking up struggles that link us to the anti-slavery abolitionists, and the institution of the prison and the death penalty are the most obvious examples of the ways in which slavery has continued to haunt our society. So it’s not only about getting rid of mass incarceration, although that’s important. It’s about transforming the entire society.

Sarah: How might restorative justice help with this transformation?

Fania: A lot of people think that restorative justice can only address interpersonal harm—and it’s very successful in that. But the truth and reconciliation model is one that’s supposed to address mass harm—to heal the wounds of structural violence. We’ve seen that at work in about 40 different nations; the most well-known is, of course, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"The institution of the prison and the death penalty are the most obvious examples of the ways in which slavery has continued to haunt our society."

In South Africa, the commission invited victims of apartheid to testify, and, for the first time ever, they told their stories publicly. It was on all the radio stations, in all the newspapers, it was all over the television, so people would come home and tune in and learn things about apartheid that they had never known before. There was an intense national discussion going on, and people who were harmed felt vindicated in some way.

That kind of thing can happen here, also, through a truth and reconciliation process. In addition to that sort of hearing commission structure, there could be circles happening on the local levels – circles between, say, persons who were victims of violence and the persons who caused them harm.

Angela: How does one imagine accountability for someone representing the state who has committed unspeakable acts of violence? If we simply rely on the old form of sending them to prison or the death penalty, I think we end up reproducing the very process that we’re trying to challenge.

So maybe can we talk about restorative justice more broadly? Many of the campaigns initially called for the prosecution of the police officer, and it seems to me that we can learn from restorative justice and think about alternatives.

Sarah: Fania, you told me when we talked last year that your work on restorative justice actually came about after you went through a personal transition period in the mid-1990s, when you decided to shift gears.

Fania: I reached a point where I felt out of balance from all of the anger, the fighting, from a kind of hypermasculine way of being that I had to adopt to be a successful trial lawyer. And also from around 30 years of the hyperaggressive stance that I was compelled to take as an activist—from being against this and against that, and fighting this and fighting that.

Intuitively, I realized that I needed an infusion of more feminine and spiritual and creative and healing energies to come back into balance.

Sarah: How did that affect your relationship as sisters?

Fania: My sister and I had a period – right in the middle of that – when our relations were strained for about a year, due in part to this transformation. It was very painful. At the same time, I finally understood that it needed to happen because I was forging my own identity separate from her. I had always been a little sister who followed right in her footsteps.

Yeah, and so now we are close again. And she’s becoming more spiritual.

"Self-care and healing and attention to the body and the spiritual dimension—all of this is now a part of radical social justice struggles."

Angela: I think our notions of what counts as radical have changed over time. Self-care and healing and attention to the body and the spiritual dimension – all of this is now a part of radical social justice struggles. That wasn’t the case before.

And I think that now we’re thinking deeply about the connection between interior life and what happens in the social world. Even those who are fighting against state violence often incorporate impulses that are based on state violence in their relations with other people.

Fania: When I learned about restorative justice, it was a real epiphany because it integrated for the first time the lawyer, the warrior, and the healer in me.

The question now is how we craft a process that brings the healing piece together with the social and racial justice piece – how we heal the racial traumas that keep re-enacting.

Angela: I think that restorative justice is a really important dimension of the process of living the way we want to live in the future. Embodying it.

We have to imagine the kind of society we want to inhabit. We can’t simply assume that somehow, magically, we’re going to create a new society in which there will be new human beings. No, we have to begin that process of creating the society we want to inhabit right now.

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11:38

The hugging Prime Minister fails Zuckerberg

India, according to the Facebook Director, would have been better off had it remained under British rule. Coming from an American, it was a bit ironical.

India's Prime Minister and Facebook CEO at Facebook HQ, November 2015. Wikicommons/ Narendra Modi. Some rights reserved.India’s decision to uphold the principle of net neutrality and outlaw Facebook’s Free Basics service, suffused with symbolism and irony, has highlighted the emerging digital empires and features of neocolonialism.

“Free Basics” are two words that are unpacked differently by different sections. The critics point out that these do not mean what the FB wants these to mean. To put simply, this controversial service offers free data usage but only to the websites prescribed by this social networking site.

The two most seductive words “free” and “basics” failed to work their magic in India despite Facebook’s massive advertising campaign. India’s telecom regulators ruled that such a service violates the principle of net neutrality and disallowed any discriminatory pricing for accessing data. So the Free Basics service was wound up and India’s poor, in whose name Facebook had campaigned, did not protest.

The adverse decision momentarily unhinged a Facebook Director Marc Andreessen. He denounced India’s ban on Free Basics, and smelt the outdated anti-colonialism in India’s stand. He called it “another in a long line of economically suicidal decisions made by the Indian Government against its own citizens”. Mr. Andreessen tweeted: “Denying world’s poorest free partial connectivity, when today they have none, for ideological reasons, strikes me as morally wrong”.

The country, according to him, would have been better off had it remained under British rule. Coming from an American, it was a bit ironical. Mr. Andreessen only fanned the dying embers of anti-colonialism. Unwittingly, he drew public attention to the link between imperialism and neo-imperialism or corporate imperialism.

His Tweet caused a cyber storm and many ordinary users of Facebook and other netizens took to Twitter and started responding to the FB Director. “Being colonized was good for India and we should let FB do so”, wrote one. “Facebook clearly see themselves as the new East India Company, the colonial saviours of poor brown India”. References to the East India Company came up in many posts. One compared the Facebook’s scheme to an offer of a cooking gas cylinder given free with the condition that only one prescribed dish can be cooked!

Had Mr. Andreessen read The Tempest in his school, he would have asked his cyber critics to admit: “You gave me language, any my profit on’t / Is, I know how to curse.” He could have asked them, “who gave you the means to curse?” He could have quoted Niall Ferguson in his support. But being a pragmatic businessman, Mr. Andreessen promptly withdrew his offensive tweets on India and praised the country where FB promises digital nirvana. Even post-colonialism scholars have joined the fray.

However, the damage to Facebook’s image was done. Neither Mr. Andreessen’s second thoughts nor Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s distancing himself from the FB Director’s tweets gave any relief to the Public Relations machine of this corporate giant whose financial clout is bigger than the combined GDP of some small nations.

In India, the protracted public consultations before the regulator’s ruling involved the policy wonks, pro-reform economists, activists and the Indian techies upscaling their innovative start-ups. These young men and women know the way the American corporations spread their tentacles. They warned against any move to let India become a “digital colony” for foreign interests to rig the rules and keep the native businessmen from flourishing.

Thanks to Mr. Andreessen, the net neutrality debate continues after the regulator’s decision. Even post-colonialism scholars have joined the fray. Prof. Deepika Bahri, who teaches English in the US, told The Atlantic that it is hard to ignore the family resemblances and recognisable DNA of colonialism. She listed the similarities as

1. Ride in like a savior

2. Bandy about words like equality, democracy, basic rights.

3. Mask the long-term profit motive.

4. Justify the logic of partial discrimination as better than nothing.

5. Partner with local elites and vested interests.

6. Accuse the critics of ingratitude.

Her arguments perhaps made the magazine entitle the report “Facebook and the New Colonialism: Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.”

The net neutrality debate has thrown up several related issues such as the abuse of the social networking platform, dangers of a monopoly, danger of social and political manipulation on a mass scale, manufacturing consent, and the need to provide unrestricted internet access to the poor as a public good.

Gift horses and mouths

Credit: Flickr/Raul Ramirez. Some rights reserved. Credit: Flickr/Raul Ramirez. Some rights reserved.What attracted much hostile attention is the massive advertising campaign that Facebook launched in order to influence the consultative process initiated by the telecom regulator. The corporation merrily spent millions of dollars on the campaign that covered billboards, the print and TV media. This was to mobilise the poor of India against any move by the Government to deny them a free gift by Facebook! Long-distance digital patriotism is already having some impact on domestic politics in some countries.

A wag remarked that these million of dollars misspent on a futile ad campaign could have been used to try and buy influence at a personal level! But bribing is not allowed by US law. The American companies complain that while their purse strings are tied, their European rivals secure orders in the Third World through unethical means!

Facebook did not stop at the massive ad campaign. It provided a template email in favour of Free Basics to be sent to the regulator by millions of its users in order to impress the regulator with the power of numbers! The regulator was not amused. Initially, by mistake that template was made available to the Facebook users in America also!

This intense and widespread campaign horrified even those who had not followed closely the net neutrality debate. Suppose a social networking site, commanding the following of millions of Indians, launches a lobbying campaign on the eve of an election in favour of economic policies advocated by a political party. Or for mobilising public opinion in favour of building a place of worship on a disputed site! So the issue of the misuse of the social networking platform entered the debate. Long-distance digital patriotism is already having some impact on domestic politics in some countries.

While there was irony in an American praising the British Empire, the Facebook fiasco shows that foreign corporations have yet to learn how India works and how it does not work. The winding up of Free Basics has a symbolic significance also. It sends the signal that India cannot be taken for granted.

Resistance and delay

Mr. Andreessen had not expected that India would dare to do this to Facebook. He may have also banked on the fact that India, not being China, would give a free run to Facebook!  China blocks sites. China has given a head start to its own versions of the digital services provided by the American giants. China has given a head start to its own versions of the digital services provided by the American giants. It made some American corporations part with their source codes for security reasons. Mark Zuckerberg keeps chasing the Chinese leaders to get a toehold in the largest market of internet users but Facebook and many other sites get blocked at will. No Chinese leader would think of tweeting because Twitter is not allowed!

France shows some token resistance to the American digital corporations in order to safeguard its financial and cultural interests. Barring China every country is careful while dealing with the hegemon. India’s record is very liberal. India spared the Union Carbide chief executive after the Bhopal gas tragedy. Can India ever think of abducting David Hadley, the American wanted for a crime in India?

In the telecom sector, unlike China, India is not using specific technical standards as non-tariff barriers. This has immensely helped foreign businesses interests in India. In fact, India’s plan to develop and set technical standards has not made much headway.

Moreover, the Government’s policies are being tweaked to accommodate the foreign business interests. And here was a formidable American business entity called Facebook. India’s cabinet ministers and bureaucrats are conscious of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s energetic campaign to woo foreign firms. The telecom ministry for long refrained from expressing any opinion on net neutrality and asked the questioners to wait for the regulator’s decision.

Surprise surprise

The decision did cause some surprise at home but perhaps Zuckerberg was even less prepared for it. He may have felt that the expensive ad campaign and email messages would do the job. Besides, last September in America, didn’t the Indian Prime Minister publicly hug him with warmth that would have melted the Arctic snow?

Zuckerberg had once visited India for spiritual solace. He must have heard of a hugging God woman of India granting the wishes of those whom she hugged. Alas, in the case of Zuckerberg, the hugging Indian Prime Minister failed! Zuckerberg has to now visit India for material solace. He knows India is the second largest potential market of internet users in the world!

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11:26

Friday 19 February

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08:11

European security. Crisis? What crisis?

At the Munich Security Conference, there is more agreement that current situations are tragic and risky, than accord on who is to blame and what to do.

Raqqa, Iraq. Raqqa, Iraq. Flickr/ Beshr Abdulhadi. Some rights reserved.The tone of this year’s Munich Security Conference – the Davos of global security – was captured by the Munich Security Report’s theme: ‘Boundless chaos, reckless spoilers, helpless guardians.’ The front page headline on The Security Times, a conference special edition from the stable of Die Zeit, featured a box of matches and urged an appropriate response: ‘Don’t do stupid stuff.’

It is easy to explain and understand the widespread sense of crisis. Events and actions in Crimea, Donbass and Syria generate a mixture of trepidation and anger in many circles from a range of different perspectives. There is more agreement that these situations are tragic and hold risks that are even worse than we have already seen, than there is accord on what are the reasons, who is to blame and what to do.

These events occur against a background of long term risk shaped by growing inequalities, competition for natural resources and the consequences of climate change (on which I wrote for The Security Times  – see p40). Responses both to immediate events and the underlying risks are complicated by this century’s radical change in the pattern and distribution of world power. Here is a 2-minute run-through of the issues as I see them.

A creaking system for risk management

Taken together, the short and the long term combine to create the feeling that the international risk and conflict management system, if not actually broken, is at least dented and creaking.

US-Russian talks on nuclear arms control are not happening. An effort to get Syria negotiations going at Geneva makes no initial progress, and the practical worth of an agreement in Munich on the eve of the Security Conference to facilitate a Syria ceasefire was being queried on all sides within hours of the signing.

Throughout the conference, the overriding tendency in the speeches and comments by leading voices from both Russia and the West – among others Russian Prime Minister Medvedev with his statement that deteriorating relations are starting a new Cold War, Lavrov, Valls, Kerry, Steinmeier, von der Leyen, Le Drian, Hammond, McCain, Mogherini, Stoltenberg, Poroshenko, Duda – reinforced the general atmosphere of mutual mistrust bordering on open hostility.

My impression of discussions in Munich amongst people who have long experience in, or are close to or closely observing the centres of decision-making on trans-Atlantic security issues in Europe and the US was that today there is considerable unease, uncertainty and anxiety, sometimes combined with anger at one party or another.

The targets for anger and disdain are multiple – aggressive Russia, passive Obama, headstrong Bush, feckless ‘old Europeans’, irresponsible ‘new Europeans’, over-eager Middle Eastern allies, you name it.

Whoever is pointing the finger at whomever, the general mood is far removed from the west’s confidence in the early years after the Cold War. That feels today like a bygone age.

Where to?

In these circumstances, there are broadly speaking two ways of moving ahead. One is to think about mistakes that have been made (Iraq, Libya, Syria), about possible crises to come in which each equally bad or worse mistakes might be made (Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Algeria), and thus to contemplate and accept the limits of power. Following this line of thought, one conclusion might be that it is not possible to fix everything, and sometimes not even possible to fix anything; accordingly, outside assistance in complex crises and conflicts should often if not always be limited to humanitarian work. It is an approach of reduced expectations and reduced ambitions. It concentrates on the Security Times’s admonition – no stupid stuff.

It was clear that, off the record, a number of leading thinkers and opinion-leaders are starting to cleave to this line. They talked with a refreshing sense of collective self-awareness and self-criticism and some degree of humility.

The alternative path is to brush uncertainty aside and be strong. Senator John McCain made a short, effective speech, attacking western passivity in the face of Russia using ‘diplomacy in the service of military aggression.’

‘And it is working because we are letting it,’ he said. ‘The only deterrence that we seem to be establishing is over ourselves… (W)e cannot change course soon enough.’

To Raqqa?

This was one of the moments of the conference. McCain got the loudest applause. Even some whooping. And the twitter-sphere showed straightaway that there are also ‘a number of leading thinkers and opinion-makers’ who are attracted by this much more forceful approach.

Where the approach might lead was best illustrated by John McCain in the panel discussion after his speech, when he argued that issues in Syria would not be resolved until ISIS – or Daesh as it was on-message to say at the conference – was denied territory. It was, McCain said, time to plan to retake Raqqa in north-central Syria; it could be done, he said, with a coalition of Sunni Arab forces and ‘American participation of some few thousand’.

If the risks of the harder line are obvious – there are good reasons, after all, why ‘boots on the ground’ has been a no-go thought about western intervention in Syria for five years, reasons called Iraq among others – there are also risks to reduced expectations and humility. McCain is right at least in this, that not doing something can have as big an effect as doing something. Inactivity is a kind of action and indecision is itself a decision not to decide.

There is no easy response to crisis. Ever.

Perspective: what constitutes a crisis?

But what if it is not really a crisis? Relations between Russia and the west are poor, it is true, except when they need to work together over Iranian nuclear weapons, or in implementing the START nuclear agreement, or perhaps over security in northeast Asia and especially the Korean peninsula.

What if a longer-term historical perspective would say that the combination of western self-confidence and supine Russian policy in the decade after the Cold War was bound to be transient? Then, what is happening now in Syria and, on a lesser scale, in Ukraine would be seen for what it is – a disaster for the people – but not as evidence of a collapse in the world order. An active policy would then be called for, but without the necessity of dramatic new departures.

The risk there is that business as usual, while often a comforting option, is also a recipe for complacency. In January 1979 as Britain headed into what became known as ‘the winter of discontent’, Prime Minister James Callaghan, returning from an economic summit in Guadeloupe of all places, fielded a question about the crisis. ‘I don’t think other people in the world would share the view [that] there is mounting chaos,’ he replied. The Sun, a British tabloid newspaper, picked this up with a devastating headline: ‘Crisis? What Crisis?’ And as has often been said since, those three words that Callaghan never said damned him and his government and ushered in the age of Margaret Thatcher.

Retrospective knowledge is a great thing. The Munich Security Conference was a fascinating but troubling – and troubled – event.

This article is republished from Dan Smith’s blog for February 18, 2016.

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08:11

European security. Crisis? What crisis?

At the Munich Security Conference, there is more agreement that current situations are tragic and risky, than accord on who is to blame and what to do.

Raqqa, Iraq. Raqqa, Iraq. Flickr/ Beshr Abdulhadi. Some rights reserved.The tone of this year’s Munich Security Conference – the Davos of global security – was captured by the Munich Security Report’s theme: ‘Boundless chaos, reckless spoilers, helpless guardians.’ The front page headline on The Security Times, a conference special edition from the stable of Die Zeit, featured a box of matches and urged an appropriate response: ‘Don’t do stupid stuff.’

It is easy to explain and understand the widespread sense of crisis. Events and actions in Crimea, Donbass and Syria generate a mixture of trepidation and anger in many circles from a range of different perspectives. There is more agreement that these situations are tragic and hold risks that are even worse than we have already seen, than there is accord on what are the reasons, who is to blame and what to do.

These events occur against a background of long term risk shaped by growing inequalities, competition for natural resources and the consequences of climate change (on which I wrote for The Security Times  – see p40). Responses both to immediate events and the underlying risks are complicated by this century’s radical change in the pattern and distribution of world power. Here is a 2-minute run-through of the issues as I see them.

A creaking system for risk management

Taken together, the short and the long term combine to create the feeling that the international risk and conflict management system, if not actually broken, is at least dented and creaking.

US-Russian talks on nuclear arms control are not happening. An effort to get Syria negotiations going at Geneva makes no initial progress, and the practical worth of an agreement in Munich on the eve of the Security Conference to facilitate a Syria ceasefire was being queried on all sides within hours of the signing.

Throughout the conference, the overriding tendency in the speeches and comments by leading voices from both Russia and the West – among others Russian Prime Minister Medvedev with his statement that deteriorating relations are starting a new Cold War, Lavrov, Valls, Kerry, Steinmeier, von der Leyen, Le Drian, Hammond, McCain, Mogherini, Stoltenberg, Poroshenko, Duda – reinforced the general atmosphere of mutual mistrust bordering on open hostility.

My impression of discussions in Munich amongst people who have long experience in, or are close to or closely observing the centres of decision-making on trans-Atlantic security issues in Europe and the US was that today there is considerable unease, uncertainty and anxiety, sometimes combined with anger at one party or another.

The targets for anger and disdain are multiple – aggressive Russia, passive Obama, headstrong Bush, feckless ‘old Europeans’, irresponsible ‘new Europeans’, over-eager Middle Eastern allies, you name it.

Whoever is pointing the finger at whomever, the general mood is far removed from the west’s confidence in the early years after the Cold War. That feels today like a bygone age.

Where to?

In these circumstances, there are broadly speaking two ways of moving ahead. One is to think about mistakes that have been made (Iraq, Libya, Syria), about possible crises to come in which each equally bad or worse mistakes might be made (Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Algeria), and thus to contemplate and accept the limits of power. Following this line of thought, one conclusion might be that it is not possible to fix everything, and sometimes not even possible to fix anything; accordingly, outside assistance in complex crises and conflicts should often if not always be limited to humanitarian work. It is an approach of reduced expectations and reduced ambitions. It concentrates on the Security Times’s admonition – no stupid stuff.

It was clear that, off the record, a number of leading thinkers and opinion-leaders are starting to cleave to this line. They talked with a refreshing sense of collective self-awareness and self-criticism and some degree of humility.

The alternative path is to brush uncertainty aside and be strong. Senator John McCain made a short, effective speech, attacking western passivity in the face of Russia using ‘diplomacy in the service of military aggression.’

‘And it is working because we are letting it,’ he said. ‘The only deterrence that we seem to be establishing is over ourselves… (W)e cannot change course soon enough.’

To Raqqa?

This was one of the moments of the conference. McCain got the loudest applause. Even some whooping. And the twitter-sphere showed straightaway that there are also ‘a number of leading thinkers and opinion-makers’ who are attracted by this much more forceful approach.

Where the approach might lead was best illustrated by John McCain in the panel discussion after his speech, when he argued that issues in Syria would not be resolved until ISIS – or Daesh as it was on-message to say at the conference – was denied territory. It was, McCain said, time to plan to retake Raqqa in north-central Syria; it could be done, he said, with a coalition of Sunni Arab forces and ‘American participation of some few thousand’.

If the risks of the harder line are obvious – there are good reasons, after all, why ‘boots on the ground’ has been a no-go thought about western intervention in Syria for five years, reasons called Iraq among others – there are also risks to reduced expectations and humility. McCain is right at least in this, that not doing something can have as big an effect as doing something. Inactivity is a kind of action and indecision is itself a decision not to decide.

There is no easy response to crisis. Ever.

Perspective: what constitutes a crisis?

But what if it is not really a crisis? Relations between Russia and the west are poor, it is true, except when they need to work together over Iranian nuclear weapons, or in implementing the START nuclear agreement, or perhaps over security in northeast Asia and especially the Korean peninsula.

What if a longer-term historical perspective would say that the combination of western self-confidence and supine Russian policy in the decade after the Cold War was bound to be transient? Then, what is happening now in Syria and, on a lesser scale, in Ukraine would be seen for what it is – a disaster for the people – but not as evidence of a collapse in the world order. An active policy would then be called for, but without the necessity of dramatic new departures.

The risk there is that business as usual, while often a comforting option, is also a recipe for complacency. In January 1979 as Britain headed into what became known as ‘the winter of discontent’, Prime Minister James Callaghan, returning from an economic summit in Guadeloupe of all places, fielded a question about the crisis. ‘I don’t think other people in the world would share the view [that] there is mounting chaos,’ he replied. The Sun, a British tabloid newspaper, picked this up with a devastating headline: ‘Crisis? What Crisis?’ And as has often been said since, those three words that Callaghan never said damned him and his government and ushered in the age of Margaret Thatcher.

Retrospective knowledge is a great thing. The Munich Security Conference was a fascinating but troubling – and troubled – event.

This article is republished from Dan Smith’s blog for February 18, 2016.

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05:00

Dhaka's 'victims of trafficking': locked up for their "own good"

The paradoxes built into the ‘rescue and rehabilitation’ model effectively trap many women and girls after they have been ‘saved’.

Women working in a sweater factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Asian Development Bank/Flickr. (CC 2.0 by-nc-nd)

In the summer of 2009, when I first arrived at one of the most well-known ‘rescue and rehabilitation’ centres for women and girls in Dhaka, Bangladesh, I was immediately struck by the iron bars on all the doors and windows. A number of female security guards paced up and down the dark hallways. The atmosphere in the building was a far cry from what the NGO staff at the main office had described as an “oasis of freedom from violence and degradation”. I had learned about this organisation long before setting foot in Bangladesh. Its reputation as an organisation committed to women’s economic empowerment nationally was widely acknowledged by national and international funding agencies. Since the 1980s, its stated mission has been to end violence and discrimination against women at home and in the workplace. Inspired by its history of struggle for women’s rights rooted in Bangladeshi culture, I was eager to come on board as a volunteer.

In the weeks and months that followed, my conversations with the young women whom the shelter labelled as ‘trafficking survivors’ revealed that, for them, ‘trafficking’ was not a single event that ‘happened’ to them. Rather, they had experienced a series of complex, interrelated events that involved varying degrees of coercion. Likewise, their emancipation was not simply achieved at the moment of ‘rescue’. Instead, their ‘rescue’ had frequently led to another series of experiences of coercion and disempowerment, this time perpetrated, if perhaps unwittingly, by their ‘rescuers’.

Most of the young women I met at the shelter were placed there by the courts under what is called ‘protective custody’. Many of them were ‘rescued’ during police raids of brothels or from Indian jails, where they were being held as undocumented immigrants. Others had escaped violence and exploitation from households in which they worked as domestic workers. The NGO, in its zeal to secure custody and resources for the women who either come willingly or are brought to the agency, often misleadingly labels most women and girls as ‘trafficked’. In this vein, for the NGO, ‘trafficking’ becomes a catchall word to describe a wide range of trauma or exploitation. For example, one young woman, let’s call her Saima, and her boyfriend had willingly migrated to India because their families would not allow them to get married. Her boyfriend crossed the border first, while Saima gave all of her savings to an Indian man who promised to get her across. He turned her into the authorities instead, but not before raping her. According to Saima, trafficking or “whatever you call it” was a “learning experience”. She told me, “Of course I’ll try again when I get out of here. But now I’m smarter. Next time I try to cross, I’ll know better than to trust a man to help me”.

When I asked why these women were not reunited with their families, the NGO staff explained that it was not safe for them to return home as many had been “sold into slavery” by their families and community members. This was particularly true if criminal charges were being brought against their traffickers. The problem was that such cases frequently went on for years, while these women were left to languish in the shelters indefinitely. Some had been there for over three years. Thus, in spite of the NGO’s rhetoric of empowerment for survivors, the system turned these women into victims who require permanent paternalistic protection.

Agency removed

Often the women confided to me that they had been kept in the dark regarding the status of their cases. Uncertainty about their future combined with the dread and pain of possibly having to testify against family members in court meant that these women were living with constant anxiety. As Jasmin, a sixteen-year-old woman, explained: “I feel like I am floating in the ocean – I don’t know where to go. This place is like a prison.” Then she asked, “sister, can you tell me why I am imprisoned like this if I’m the one who was wronged?”

To ameliorate the effects of continued trauma and anxiety, the NGO arranged for ‘art therapy’ sessions. Generally speaking, this meant women were taught to embroider pillowcases or make beaded jewellery that could then be sold to raise funds for the NGO. Most of the survivors received little to no education, even though many of them expressed a deep desire to learn. The NGO boasted that it offered vocational training programmes for women as part of the ‘empowerment package’. These, unfortunately, pushed women into low-wage, gendered industries – most often into the garment industry. While the garment industry has been critical to the economic empowerment of thousands of Bangladeshi women, these factories are also frequently referred to as ‘death machines’ because employees often work in unstable buildings, often without access to water and bathrooms, for little more than a pittance. This is hardly a promising future.

The same NGO also aided boys as young as nine who had been sent to the Middle East as camel jockeys. Unlike the girls, these boys were allowed to return to their families upon their repatriation and their families were offered micro-loans to set up businesses. Several of the young women I spoke to pointed out this double standard. They resented the fact that boys had the opportunity to receive training in repairing electronics, refrigerators and even cars, while the women received sewing machines. A group of survivors went to the NGO staff with a demand to be trained as drivers so that they could set up a taxi service. Hasina, 23, explained, “If you asked me if I would become a driver when I was still in the village, I would laugh and tell you, ‘why would I ruin myself by working outside in a man’s profession?’ But now that I have already been ‘ruined’, I don’t have to worry about that…I have nothing to lose. So I can do whatever I want”. Another young woman, Maria, added, “I think it would be good to have women taxi drivers. That way other women can go around the city without worry. If I were a driver, I would only take female passengers. That would be ok.”

Aspiration denied

This comment not only expresses a feminist aspiration, but it also reflects the fact that Maria sees her experience with ‘trafficking’ as a learning experience, one that pushes her to help other women avoid similar risks. At the same time, her comments also seek to legitimise the work by expressly stating that she would only work for (and thus share the close space of the taxi with) other women.

However, this demand was met with resistance and incredulity from the staff. As one staff member said to me, “These girls are permanently traumatised. It would not be safe for them to drive.” There seemed to be a crisis of imagination in the minds of the NGO staff and leaders – many of them highly accomplished women themselves – who could not imagine these women as capable of anything beyond sewing.

The NGO also discourages women from trying to work in beauty salons. As one staff member explained:

Those places are the worst. Either the clients will treat them like garbage, or the girls will get addicted to cosmetics and consumeristic things. Addiction to cosmetics is bad because it leads to other kinds of temptations. This is how women fall into the trap of sex work. They see things they cannot afford, and then they become tempted to do anything to make enough money to buy them…and these girls are already vulnerable to the sex trade. It is a precarious place they are in. Anything can push them over the edge.

One young woman, Sheila, confessed to me in a one-on-one interview that when she told her case manager she wanted to take on a job at a beauty salon, the case manager threatened to force her to leave the shelter. Out of fear of becoming homeless, Sheila continued to work at the shelter kitchen and babysit the younger children. Once again, it is clear that the NGO’s conception of what constitutes safety and protection for ‘trafficking survivors’ mediates the kind of work they are allowed to pursue and overrides the women’s own stated desires.

Furthermore, the discourse on safety and protection is heavily gendered and class-based. The reason employment in the beauty salons is seen as dangerous is because enhancing their looks – or being in proximity of women who do – will allegedly give them ‘new’ reasons to need money while stimulating their inherent tendencies to be temptresses. This, according to the NGO, will lead them right back into the arms of ‘traffickers’. This assertion reveals the implied assumption among the staff that the ‘sex-trafficked woman’ is, at least in part, to be blamed for her situation. This reinforces the idea that all such women sex are inherently flawed, ‘ruined’, and cannot be trusted. There is a widespread, culturally-grounded ‘othering’ of these young women as both dangerous and vulnerable. This Janus-faced identity of sex-trafficked women as simultaneously deviant and vulnerable sanctions the systemic governance of their desires, activities, and movement, as well as reproduces inequalities of gender and class.

Such instances of moral policing were all the more surprising because the NGO in question was not a traditional religious organisation. In fact, this NGO is run by secular Bangladeshi women who have a long history of fighting for gender justice – they even protested the conservative government’s plans to demolish brothels in the 1980s. However, like many NGOs, this one depends on the support of American funding agencies. As a result, they have come to adopt the dominant American approach to the issue of trafficking and have become a part of what others have called the ‘anti-trafficking rehabilitation complex’.

All too often the story that is told about trafficking is a simplistic one made up of dark, nefarious villains who prey on naïve and innocent girls. The reality is much more complex. Often it is mothers and fathers who give away their children to strangers because they cannot bear to watch them starve before their eyes. In other instances, young women risk life and limb to cross over to the Indian border to escape poverty, violence, or forced marriage. A rescue framework flattens these complexities. It turns stories of struggle and survival into narratives of victimhood. It also obscures the tremendous structural violence that lies at its roots.

Bangladesh is a country approximately the size of the US state of Montana but with 156 times its population (around one million vs. 156 million), making it the eighth most populous country in the world. It has witnessed the ravages of war, military dictatorships, and religious fundamentalism. The country’s labouring classes have been pauperised and politically weakened by the World Bank’s structural adjustment programmes. Compounding all this, the country now faces the grim threat of rising seas and other devastating effects of climate change. In the face of these insurmountable odds, the poor still rise and struggle to survive – often by migrating. If we are serious about helping to end violence and exploitation, we must first free ourselves from our narrow ideas about victimhood and rescue. Only then can we stand in solidarity with those fighting for their rights to migrate, work, and live in dignity free from violence.

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05:00

Dhaka's 'victims of trafficking': locked up for their "own good"

The paradoxes built into the ‘rescue and rehabilitation’ model effectively trap many women and girls after they have been ‘saved’.

Women working in a sweater factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Asian Development Bank/Flickr. (CC 2.0 by-nc-nd)

In the summer of 2009, when I first arrived at one of the most well-known ‘rescue and rehabilitation’ centres for women and girls in Dhaka, Bangladesh, I was immediately struck by the iron bars on all the doors and windows. A number of female security guards paced up and down the dark hallways. The atmosphere in the building was a far cry from what the NGO staff at the main office had described as an “oasis of freedom from violence and degradation”. I had learned about this organisation long before setting foot in Bangladesh. Its reputation as an organisation committed to women’s economic empowerment nationally was widely acknowledged by national and international funding agencies. Since the 1980s, its stated mission has been to end violence and discrimination against women at home and in the workplace. Inspired by its history of struggle for women’s rights rooted in Bangladeshi culture, I was eager to come on board as a volunteer.

In the weeks and months that followed, my conversations with the young women whom the shelter labelled as ‘trafficking survivors’ revealed that, for them, ‘trafficking’ was not a single event that ‘happened’ to them. Rather, they had experienced a series of complex, interrelated events that involved varying degrees of coercion. Likewise, their emancipation was not simply achieved at the moment of ‘rescue’. Instead, their ‘rescue’ had frequently led to another series of experiences of coercion and disempowerment, this time perpetrated, if perhaps unwittingly, by their ‘rescuers’.

Most of the young women I met at the shelter were placed there by the courts under what is called ‘protective custody’. Many of them were ‘rescued’ during police raids of brothels or from Indian jails, where they were being held as undocumented immigrants. Others had escaped violence and exploitation from households in which they worked as domestic workers. The NGO, in its zeal to secure custody and resources for the women who either come willingly or are brought to the agency, often misleadingly labels most women and girls as ‘trafficked’. In this vein, for the NGO, ‘trafficking’ becomes a catchall word to describe a wide range of trauma or exploitation. For example, one young woman, let’s call her Saima, and her boyfriend had willingly migrated to India because their families would not allow them to get married. Her boyfriend crossed the border first, while Saima gave all of her savings to an Indian man who promised to get her across. He turned her into the authorities instead, but not before raping her. According to Saima, trafficking or “whatever you call it” was a “learning experience”. She told me, “Of course I’ll try again when I get out of here. But now I’m smarter. Next time I try to cross, I’ll know better than to trust a man to help me”.

When I asked why these women were not reunited with their families, the NGO staff explained that it was not safe for them to return home as many had been “sold into slavery” by their families and community members. This was particularly true if criminal charges were being brought against their traffickers. The problem was that such cases frequently went on for years, while these women were left to languish in the shelters indefinitely. Some had been there for over three years. Thus, in spite of the NGO’s rhetoric of empowerment for survivors, the system turned these women into victims who require permanent paternalistic protection.

Agency removed

Often the women confided to me that they had been kept in the dark regarding the status of their cases. Uncertainty about their future combined with the dread and pain of possibly having to testify against family members in court meant that these women were living with constant anxiety. As Jasmin, a sixteen-year-old woman, explained: “I feel like I am floating in the ocean – I don’t know where to go. This place is like a prison.” Then she asked, “sister, can you tell me why I am imprisoned like this if I’m the one who was wronged?”

To ameliorate the effects of continued trauma and anxiety, the NGO arranged for ‘art therapy’ sessions. Generally speaking, this meant women were taught to embroider pillowcases or make beaded jewellery that could then be sold to raise funds for the NGO. Most of the survivors received little to no education, even though many of them expressed a deep desire to learn. The NGO boasted that it offered vocational training programmes for women as part of the ‘empowerment package’. These, unfortunately, pushed women into low-wage, gendered industries – most often into the garment industry. While the garment industry has been critical to the economic empowerment of thousands of Bangladeshi women, these factories are also frequently referred to as ‘death machines’ because employees often work in unstable buildings, often without access to water and bathrooms, for little more than a pittance. This is hardly a promising future.

The same NGO also aided boys as young as nine who had been sent to the Middle East as camel jockeys. Unlike the girls, these boys were allowed to return to their families upon their repatriation and their families were offered micro-loans to set up businesses. Several of the young women I spoke to pointed out this double standard. They resented the fact that boys had the opportunity to receive training in repairing electronics, refrigerators and even cars, while the women received sewing machines. A group of survivors went to the NGO staff with a demand to be trained as drivers so that they could set up a taxi service. Hasina, 23, explained, “If you asked me if I would become a driver when I was still in the village, I would laugh and tell you, ‘why would I ruin myself by working outside in a man’s profession?’ But now that I have already been ‘ruined’, I don’t have to worry about that…I have nothing to lose. So I can do whatever I want”. Another young woman, Maria, added, “I think it would be good to have women taxi drivers. That way other women can go around the city without worry. If I were a driver, I would only take female passengers. That would be ok.”

Aspiration denied

This comment not only expresses a feminist aspiration, but it also reflects the fact that Maria sees her experience with ‘trafficking’ as a learning experience, one that pushes her to help other women avoid similar risks. At the same time, her comments also seek to legitimise the work by expressly stating that she would only work for (and thus share the close space of the taxi with) other women.

However, this demand was met with resistance and incredulity from the staff. As one staff member said to me, “These girls are permanently traumatised. It would not be safe for them to drive.” There seemed to be a crisis of imagination in the minds of the NGO staff and leaders – many of them highly accomplished women themselves – who could not imagine these women as capable of anything beyond sewing.

The NGO also discourages women from trying to work in beauty salons. As one staff member explained:

Those places are the worst. Either the clients will treat them like garbage, or the girls will get addicted to cosmetics and consumeristic things. Addiction to cosmetics is bad because it leads to other kinds of temptations. This is how women fall into the trap of sex work. They see things they cannot afford, and then they become tempted to do anything to make enough money to buy them…and these girls are already vulnerable to the sex trade. It is a precarious place they are in. Anything can push them over the edge.

One young woman, Sheila, confessed to me in a one-on-one interview that when she told her case manager she wanted to take on a job at a beauty salon, the case manager threatened to force her to leave the shelter. Out of fear of becoming homeless, Sheila continued to work at the shelter kitchen and babysit the younger children. Once again, it is clear that the NGO’s conception of what constitutes safety and protection for ‘trafficking survivors’ mediates the kind of work they are allowed to pursue and overrides the women’s own stated desires.

Furthermore, the discourse on safety and protection is heavily gendered and class-based. The reason employment in the beauty salons is seen as dangerous is because enhancing their looks – or being in proximity of women who do – will allegedly give them ‘new’ reasons to need money while stimulating their inherent tendencies to be temptresses. This, according to the NGO, will lead them right back into the arms of ‘traffickers’. This assertion reveals the implied assumption among the staff that the ‘sex-trafficked woman’ is, at least in part, to be blamed for her situation. This reinforces the idea that all such women sex are inherently flawed, ‘ruined’, and cannot be trusted. There is a widespread, culturally-grounded ‘othering’ of these young women as both dangerous and vulnerable. This Janus-faced identity of sex-trafficked women as simultaneously deviant and vulnerable sanctions the systemic governance of their desires, activities, and movement, as well as reproduces inequalities of gender and class.

Such instances of moral policing were all the more surprising because the NGO in question was not a traditional religious organisation. In fact, this NGO is run by secular Bangladeshi women who have a long history of fighting for gender justice – they even protested the conservative government’s plans to demolish brothels in the 1980s. However, like many NGOs, this one depends on the support of American funding agencies. As a result, they have come to adopt the dominant American approach to the issue of trafficking and have become a part of what others have called the ‘anti-trafficking rehabilitation complex’.

All too often the story that is told about trafficking is a simplistic one made up of dark, nefarious villains who prey on naïve and innocent girls. The reality is much more complex. Often it is mothers and fathers who give away their children to strangers because they cannot bear to watch them starve before their eyes. In other instances, young women risk life and limb to cross over to the Indian border to escape poverty, violence, or forced marriage. A rescue framework flattens these complexities. It turns stories of struggle and survival into narratives of victimhood. It also obscures the tremendous structural violence that lies at its roots.

Bangladesh is a country approximately the size of the US state of Montana but with 156 times its population (around one million vs. 156 million), making it the eighth most populous country in the world. It has witnessed the ravages of war, military dictatorships, and religious fundamentalism. The country’s labouring classes have been pauperised and politically weakened by the World Bank’s structural adjustment programmes. Compounding all this, the country now faces the grim threat of rising seas and other devastating effects of climate change. In the face of these insurmountable odds, the poor still rise and struggle to survive – often by migrating. If we are serious about helping to end violence and exploitation, we must first free ourselves from our narrow ideas about victimhood and rescue. Only then can we stand in solidarity with those fighting for their rights to migrate, work, and live in dignity free from violence.

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00:13

Veteran Ohio Cop Faces Drug Charges

Columbus office of the FBI got word cop was using his job to engage in drug trafficking.
00:09

Missouri Cop Put on Leave for Role in Racially Charged Video

"The department in no way condones the video in its entirety."

February 18 2016

23:51

State’s Highest Court Intervenes in Freddie Gray Case, Halting All Lower Court Proceedings

The highest court in Maryland has agreed to hear arguments in the trials of five of the six Baltimore police officers.
23:37

Football: this is what being European looks like

What’s the most Europeanised institution in British society? The answer is easy if you think about it.

Arsenal FC, which has at times fielded teams with no English players. Wikimedia/Ronnie Macdonald. Creative commons.

When I ask the question more often than not I am greeted with a sea of blank faces. ‘What’s the most Europeanised institution in British society?’ Easy! Easy! One-nil to me. Are we getting warm yet? Yes, a football club. From the owners and major shareholders, the management and coaching staff , via players on the pitch, youthful prospects training in the clubs’ academies, the competitions the clubs aspire to be part of, the shirt sponsors and pitchside advertising, the fans in the stands, the TV and wider media audience.

To win the debate on Europe, not that there’s much evidence of anything resembling a debate just yet, we need to entirely reinvent the terms of it. Football is as good a place to start that vital, and urgent, process as any other. Europeanisation of British football isn’t all good, of course. Foreign owners at the expense of supporter ownership. Domestic talent not getting a look in because overseas players and managers are too readily preferred.

Global TV rights sold amounting to billions of pounds but ticket prices just keep going up, and up, and up. All of this is true but precious few fans would want to disconnect their football from Europe, and most would celebrate a decent proportion of the consequences of our national game going European as positives. OK it helps if you’re winning.

When Newcastle supporters were basking in the success of their team’s French imports restoring the club to winning ways they famously renamed their favourite pre-match drinking hole The Strawberry, La Fraiche. Once the decline and fall returned it became all about those same French imports not having the stomach for a relegation scrap that true-born Geordies would have. 

But look again at the bigger picture. Think how Cantona, Ronaldo, Vieira and Henry, Klinsmann and Zola have transformed English football, for the better, on the pitch. Wenger, Koeman, Martinez, in the technical area have immeasurably improved how the top-flight game is played. Who in Leicester this season would resent the fact that it is an Italian, Ranieri, in charge rather than their former manager, Englishman Nigel Pearson?

What can be said of football can to a large extent be said of the food we eat, the beer and wine that we drink, the fashion labels we dress ourselves in, the music we listen and dance to, the films and TV programmes we watch, the places we holiday in. British culture is increasingly Europeanised and most, if not all, are more than happy that it is.

This is a popular internationalism, not of the solidarity with this, boycott that activist variety but every bit as, if not more, important. The question we should be asking is ‘What has Europe ever done for us?’ Plenty. And to those who retort, two world wars that’s what, it is Europe that both defeated the causes of both and since ‘45 has created the conditions to prevent a third one thank you very much. 

There is of course the issue of immigration, but in almost every case there is next to no mention of emigration. Europe is a continent of job, education and lifestyle opportunities. To return to football as our conversation-starter. Instead of worrying so much about all those gifted foreign players wanting to come and play here we should be asking why so few of our players want to play abroad? The millennial generation will increasingly see Europe as their workplace, the place to study and train, a cultural common ground. Who are we to deny them that opportunity? Or is the Europe of the future only to be for those who can afford a French second home or a Spanish property to retire to?

What the in/out debate desperately needs is a popular vision of the Europe we want to become. A continent we are part of, not apart from. Britain as a European state like the rest of them not a so-called island race that patently ignores its history as a mongrel nation. Ironic really when 2016 marks the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest.

And of course this is an island too that is on the verge of its own breakdown too. ‘Who shall speak for England’ the Daily Mail asks while on its back page the sportswriters regale the readers ahead of rugby’s Six Nations with how much they hate the Scots, and vice versa. What was once only true on the pitch is now absolutely the case off it.

Not the fired-up rivalry in the stands but a political division as the dawning realisation that Scotland and England are two separate nations takes root in the body politic. And once Scotland breaks away, as in every meaningful sense it already has, Britain no longer exists. ‘Who shall speak for England?’

Whoever decided that Englishness is somehow the most anti-European of the lot is as out of touch with English popular culture as only a campaign led by an octogenarian, failed Chancellor of the Exchequer climate-change denier could be. Perhaps he should ask his daughter from which countries she gets all those tasty and best-selling recipes from for pasta, moussaka, paella or coq au vin from? 

Cosmopolitanism is what this debate is all about. To change all that is wrong with the institutions post-war Europe created we have to be in it. Only the cowardly walk away. Lawson, Nigel not Nigella, and their ilk want the kind of uncomplicated Britain that existed before the Beatles played Hamburg and changed the world, Celtic and Man Utd won the European Cup , the corner fish and chips shop were overtaken by home-delivery pizza joints and the mini was built and manufactured somewhere or other but certainly not here.

Have France, Italy, Spain, Germany surrendered their culture, their language, their history at the expense of being European? Of course not. And neither have, or will, we. Do the Dutch and the Germans, the Spanish and Portuguese retain their differences via their rivalry.

Absolutely, as no doubt we will continue to do so with France and just about everyone else the other side of the Channel. And do parties including Syriza, Podemos, Left Bloc, Die Linke campaign to change Europe for the better? Yes and so should the English, Scots, Welsh left too, as constituent parties of a wider European Left of great variety.

Our side is popular and cosmopolitan, modern and European. The other lot narrow and inward-looking, out of touch and ancient, stop the world we want to get off and can’t wind the clock back quick enough. Ours are values rooted in the present but with an eye and purpose on a better, European, future. We cannot rely on the referendum debate being framed in these terms. Nigels Lawson and Farage vs Nick Clegg and Alan Johnson, these are yesterday’s men. One line-up of business leaders vs theirs reducing the argument to number crunching that few have very much faith in.

Editors providing the anti-or pro case in papers that are read by fewer and fewer, trusted by less and less. For values and visions that matter we’ll have to look elsewhere, a Europe from below, together as Europeans of many different nations. Not out, but in to shake it all about. To the foundations if you don’t mind. Our single European currency, a faceless institution or a banknote in our pocket?  Don’t make me laugh. It’s a culture, for me its my football, for others something else and we’re not giving it up for nobody. This is what a European looks like.

----

Mark Perryman’s book 1966 and Not All That is published in April by Repeater Books. Philosophy Football’s Another Europe is Possible campaign T-shirt is now available just £9.99 from here

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23:37

Football: this is what being European looks like

What’s the most Europeanised institution in British society? The answer is easy if you think about it.

Arsenal FC, which has at times fielded teams with no English players. Wikimedia/Ronnie Macdonald. Creative commons.

When I ask the question more often than not I am greeted with a sea of blank faces. ‘What’s the most Europeanised institution in British society?’ Easy! Easy! One-nil to me. Are we getting warm yet? Yes, a football club. From the owners and major shareholders, the management and coaching staff , via players on the pitch, youthful prospects training in the clubs’ academies, the competitions the clubs aspire to be part of, the shirt sponsors and pitchside advertising, the fans in the stands, the TV and wider media audience.

To win the debate on Europe, not that there’s much evidence of anything resembling a debate just yet, we need to entirely reinvent the terms of it. Football is as good a place to start that vital, and urgent, process as any other. Europeanisation of British football isn’t all good, of course. Foreign owners at the expense of supporter ownership. Domestic talent not getting a look in because overseas players and managers are too readily preferred.

Global TV rights sold amounting to billions of pounds but ticket prices just keep going up, and up, and up. All of this is true but precious few fans would want to disconnect their football from Europe, and most would celebrate a decent proportion of the consequences of our national game going European as positives. OK it helps if you’re winning.

When Newcastle supporters were basking in the success of their team’s French imports restoring the club to winning ways they famously renamed their favourite pre-match drinking hole The Strawberry, La Fraiche. Once the decline and fall returned it became all about those same French imports not having the stomach for a relegation scrap that true-born Geordies would have. 

But look again at the bigger picture. Think how Cantona, Ronaldo, Vieira and Henry, Klinsmann and Zola have transformed English football, for the better, on the pitch. Wenger, Koeman, Martinez, in the technical area have immeasurably improved how the top-flight game is played. Who in Leicester this season would resent the fact that it is an Italian, Ranieri, in charge rather than their former manager, Englishman Nigel Pearson?

What can be said of football can to a large extent be said of the food we eat, the beer and wine that we drink, the fashion labels we dress ourselves in, the music we listen and dance to, the films and TV programmes we watch, the places we holiday in. British culture is increasingly Europeanised and most, if not all, are more than happy that it is.

This is a popular internationalism, not of the solidarity with this, boycott that activist variety but every bit as, if not more, important. The question we should be asking is ‘What has Europe ever done for us?’ Plenty. And to those who retort, two world wars that’s what, it is Europe that both defeated the causes of both and since ‘45 has created the conditions to prevent a third one thank you very much. 

There is of course the issue of immigration, but in almost every case there is next to no mention of emigration. Europe is a continent of job, education and lifestyle opportunities. To return to football as our conversation-starter. Instead of worrying so much about all those gifted foreign players wanting to come and play here we should be asking why so few of our players want to play abroad? The millennial generation will increasingly see Europe as their workplace, the place to study and train, a cultural common ground. Who are we to deny them that opportunity? Or is the Europe of the future only to be for those who can afford a French second home or a Spanish property to retire to?

What the in/out debate desperately needs is a popular vision of the Europe we want to become. A continent we are part of, not apart from. Britain as a European state like the rest of them not a so-called island race that patently ignores its history as a mongrel nation. Ironic really when 2016 marks the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest.

And of course this is an island too that is on the verge of its own breakdown too. ‘Who shall speak for England’ the Daily Mail asks while on its back page the sportswriters regale the readers ahead of rugby’s Six Nations with how much they hate the Scots, and vice versa. What was once only true on the pitch is now absolutely the case off it.

Not the fired-up rivalry in the stands but a political division as the dawning realisation that Scotland and England are two separate nations takes root in the body politic. And once Scotland breaks away, as in every meaningful sense it already has, Britain no longer exists. ‘Who shall speak for England?’

Whoever decided that Englishness is somehow the most anti-European of the lot is as out of touch with English popular culture as only a campaign led by an octogenarian, failed Chancellor of the Exchequer climate-change denier could be. Perhaps he should ask his daughter from which countries she gets all those tasty and best-selling recipes from for pasta, moussaka, paella or coq au vin from? 

Cosmopolitanism is what this debate is all about. To change all that is wrong with the institutions post-war Europe created we have to be in it. Only the cowardly walk away. Lawson, Nigel not Nigella, and their ilk want the kind of uncomplicated Britain that existed before the Beatles played Hamburg and changed the world, Celtic and Man Utd won the European Cup , the corner fish and chips shop were overtaken by home-delivery pizza joints and the mini was built and manufactured somewhere or other but certainly not here.

Have France, Italy, Spain, Germany surrendered their culture, their language, their history at the expense of being European? Of course not. And neither have, or will, we. Do the Dutch and the Germans, the Spanish and Portuguese retain their differences via their rivalry.

Absolutely, as no doubt we will continue to do so with France and just about everyone else the other side of the Channel. And do parties including Syriza, Podemos, Left Bloc, Die Linke campaign to change Europe for the better? Yes and so should the English, Scots, Welsh left too, as constituent parties of a wider European Left of great variety.

Our side is popular and cosmopolitan, modern and European. The other lot narrow and inward-looking, out of touch and ancient, stop the world we want to get off and can’t wind the clock back quick enough. Ours are values rooted in the present but with an eye and purpose on a better, European, future. We cannot rely on the referendum debate being framed in these terms. Nigels Lawson and Farage vs Nick Clegg and Alan Johnson, these are yesterday’s men. One line-up of business leaders vs theirs reducing the argument to number crunching that few have very much faith in.

Editors providing the anti-or pro case in papers that are read by fewer and fewer, trusted by less and less. For values and visions that matter we’ll have to look elsewhere, a Europe from below, together as Europeans of many different nations. Not out, but in to shake it all about. To the foundations if you don’t mind. Our single European currency, a faceless institution or a banknote in our pocket?  Don’t make me laugh. It’s a culture, for me its my football, for others something else and we’re not giving it up for nobody. This is what a European looks like.

----

Mark Perryman’s book 1966 and Not All That is published in April by Repeater Books. Philosophy Football’s Another Europe is Possible campaign T-shirt is now available just £9.99 from here

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23:33

Anti-Muslim hatred from the margins to the mainstream

Whatever local Muslim communities do to remind society that these extremists don’t represent them, there are media commentators, as well as right-wing politicians, constantly fostering a narrative of collective responsibility.

The Ottoman army besieging Vienna (1529), Hüner-nāme, Topkapi-Serail-Museum, Hazine The Ottoman army besieging Vienna (1529), Hüner-nāme, Topkapi-Serail-Museum, Hazine . Wikicommons/ Nakkaş Osman. Some rights reserved.2015 was the year that anti-Muslim sentiment officially moved from the margins to the mainstream of political discourse in Europe.

It was a year of perfect storms. Ideas and rhetoric traditionally confined to blogs, websites and street protests of the so-called ‘counter-jihad movement’ (CJM) were echoed by European prime ministers and presidents.

There has been worrying data emerging on attitudes to Europe’s Muslims for some time. A Pew Research Center study of seven EU countries in 2014 found that at least half of those surveyed in Italy, Greece and Poland had a negative opinion of the Muslims who lived in their country, while public opinion remained divided in Spain.

The news out of Britain and Germany was more positive, with a majority having positive views of Muslims. The most favourable ratings were registered in France (72%), which among the seven nations surveyed has the highest percentage of Muslims in the national population.

A year later, in spring 2015, YouGov conducted a poll across several countries in Europe and found worsening results. By now, 40% of French people held negative views of Muslims, the same level as in the UK. The most negative attitudes were held by the Danish and Finns, while the least negative feelings, at 36%, were held in Germany and Sweden.

However, 2015 kicked off with the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office and a Jewish supermarket in Paris, which left 12 people dead. These attacks were followed soon after by an armed assault on a ‘free speech’ event in Denmark and Muhammad cartoon exhibition in Texas. 

Sadly, whatever local Muslim communities do to remind society that these extremists don’t represent them, there are media and social media commentators, as well as right-wing politicians, constantly fostering a narrative of collective responsibility.

However, it was the refugee crisis that has brought many of these strands together in a deadly cocktail of anxiety and fear. The huge numbers of refugees entering Europe are viewed, by some, as posing an economic threat; for others their arrival has been perceived as a cultural threat.

The result of all this is that last year saw the counter-jihad narrative move increasingly into the mainstream. Suddenly, talk of a ‘Muslim invasion’ and a ‘threat to western civilisation’ moved from the social media echo chambers and blogs of anti-Muslim political activists into the parliamentary chambers of Europe.

This phenomenon is most pronounced in eastern and central Europe, where high-profile figures are openly expressing anti-Muslim beliefs. One such example is the former Romanian President Traian Basescu, who vehemently opposes settling any Muslim refugees, claiming: “as recent history has showed us, most Muslims are terrorists”. 

Meanwhile the Polish government has used the Paris attacks to refuse Muslim refugees and the Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico has said that: “mass migration of Muslim immigrants who would start to build mosques will not to be tolerated”, and called for the “restriction of the freedom of Muslims in Europe”. 

The Hungarian PM Viktor Orban has worryingly started to use counter-jihad conspiracy theories to explain the migrant crisis stating that: “you cannot get around imagining that some kind of master plan is behind this.” He has also drawn historical parallels between the current arrival of Muslim immigrants into Europe and the invasion of the Ottomans which is a central pillar of current ‘counter-jihad’ rhetoric. (The Gates of Vienna blog, a central forum of the CJM, is named after the 1529 siege of the city by Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.) 

As such it is no surprise that Orban’s utterances have made him a figure of adulation within the CJM and his name has been exulted over and chanted by hundreds at anti-Islam Pegida rallies in Germany.

This already worrying trend of mainstreaming anti-Muslim sentiment was then compounded by the horrific Paris attacks in November last year, which once again brought the very real danger of Jihadi violence into stark relief.

In the wake of the attacks Miloš Zeman, the President of the Czech Republic, spoke at an anti-Muslim demonstration organised by the Bloc Against Islam group in Prague at which thousands of Czech protestors – many wearing racist badges – were joined by a contingent from Pegida in Germany and Stephen Lennon, founder and former leader of the English Defence League and now leader of PegidaUK.

In Britain, while David Cameron has shamefully talked of “swarms” of migrants, our politicians have on the whole avoided such extreme sentiments. However, the mainstream press has shown no such reticence. A case in point is Katie Hopkins’ now infamous piece in The Sun that described immigrants as ‘vagrants’ and ‘cockroaches’. Then in November the Daily Mail depicted immigrants as rats swarming across the border in a cartoon with striking parallels to the dehumanising propaganda of the 1930s. These are just two examples of an increasingly hostile mainstream press. 

Similar troubling trends are visible across the Atlantic with Fox News providing a platform for a number of prominent ‘counter-jihad’ activists, including Robert Spencer, who has previously been banned from entering the UK because of his extremist views. Most worrying of course was Donald Trump’s calls to ban all Muslim immigration from America.

No longer does one have to stand in a fenced-off car park at an English Defence League demonstration to hear of a conspiratorial plot to ‘flood’ Europe or America with Muslims. Now exactly the same ideas are being articulated by the prime ministers of some member states of the European Union or prospective Republican presidential candidates.

Whether it was politicians or the press, 2015 was the year that anti-Muslim rhetoric entered the mainstream. Fuelled especially by the migrant crisis and then the horrifying Paris attacks, prejudiced rhetoric traditionally confined to the far right or the counter-jihad movement has found a voice in ‘respectable’ circles.

Whether this will result in a more widespread and pervasive anti-Muslim feeling in society, only time will tell – in Britain at least some polling encouragingly suggests it may not – but it seems that at the very least 2016 will see a continuation of the worrying shift of anti-Muslim sentiment from the margins to the mainstream.

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23:33

Anti-Muslim hatred from the margins to the mainstream

Whatever local Muslim communities do to remind society that these extremists don’t represent them, there are media commentators, as well as right-wing politicians, constantly fostering a narrative of collective responsibility.

The Ottoman army besieging Vienna (1529), Hüner-nāme, Topkapi-Serail-Museum, Hazine The Ottoman army besieging Vienna (1529), Hüner-nāme, Topkapi-Serail-Museum, Hazine . Wikicommons/ Nakkaş Osman. Some rights reserved.2015 was the year that anti-Muslim sentiment officially moved from the margins to the mainstream of political discourse in Europe.

It was a year of perfect storms. Ideas and rhetoric traditionally confined to blogs, websites and street protests of the so-called ‘counter-jihad movement’ (CJM) were echoed by European prime ministers and presidents.

There has been worrying data emerging on attitudes to Europe’s Muslims for some time. A Pew Research Center study of seven EU countries in 2014 found that at least half of those surveyed in Italy, Greece and Poland had a negative opinion of the Muslims who lived in their country, while public opinion remained divided in Spain.

The news out of Britain and Germany was more positive, with a majority having positive views of Muslims. The most favourable ratings were registered in France (72%), which among the seven nations surveyed has the highest percentage of Muslims in the national population.

A year later, in spring 2015, YouGov conducted a poll across several countries in Europe and found worsening results. By now, 40% of French people held negative views of Muslims, the same level as in the UK. The most negative attitudes were held by the Danish and Finns, while the least negative feelings, at 36%, were held in Germany and Sweden.

However, 2015 kicked off with the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office and a Jewish supermarket in Paris, which left 12 people dead. These attacks were followed soon after by an armed assault on a ‘free speech’ event in Denmark and Muhammad cartoon exhibition in Texas. 

Sadly, whatever local Muslim communities do to remind society that these extremists don’t represent them, there are media and social media commentators, as well as right-wing politicians, constantly fostering a narrative of collective responsibility.

However, it was the refugee crisis that has brought many of these strands together in a deadly cocktail of anxiety and fear. The huge numbers of refugees entering Europe are viewed, by some, as posing an economic threat; for others their arrival has been perceived as a cultural threat.

The result of all this is that last year saw the counter-jihad narrative move increasingly into the mainstream. Suddenly, talk of a ‘Muslim invasion’ and a ‘threat to western civilisation’ moved from the social media echo chambers and blogs of anti-Muslim political activists into the parliamentary chambers of Europe.

This phenomenon is most pronounced in eastern and central Europe, where high-profile figures are openly expressing anti-Muslim beliefs. One such example is the former Romanian President Traian Basescu, who vehemently opposes settling any Muslim refugees, claiming: “as recent history has showed us, most Muslims are terrorists”. 

Meanwhile the Polish government has used the Paris attacks to refuse Muslim refugees and the Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico has said that: “mass migration of Muslim immigrants who would start to build mosques will not to be tolerated”, and called for the “restriction of the freedom of Muslims in Europe”. 

The Hungarian PM Viktor Orban has worryingly started to use counter-jihad conspiracy theories to explain the migrant crisis stating that: “you cannot get around imagining that some kind of master plan is behind this.” He has also drawn historical parallels between the current arrival of Muslim immigrants into Europe and the invasion of the Ottomans which is a central pillar of current ‘counter-jihad’ rhetoric. (The Gates of Vienna blog, a central forum of the CJM, is named after the 1529 siege of the city by Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.) 

As such it is no surprise that Orban’s utterances have made him a figure of adulation within the CJM and his name has been exulted over and chanted by hundreds at anti-Islam Pegida rallies in Germany.

This already worrying trend of mainstreaming anti-Muslim sentiment was then compounded by the horrific Paris attacks in November last year, which once again brought the very real danger of Jihadi violence into stark relief.

In the wake of the attacks Miloš Zeman, the President of the Czech Republic, spoke at an anti-Muslim demonstration organised by the Bloc Against Islam group in Prague at which thousands of Czech protestors – many wearing racist badges – were joined by a contingent from Pegida in Germany and Stephen Lennon, founder and former leader of the English Defence League and now leader of PegidaUK.

In Britain, while David Cameron has shamefully talked of “swarms” of migrants, our politicians have on the whole avoided such extreme sentiments. However, the mainstream press has shown no such reticence. A case in point is Katie Hopkins’ now infamous piece in The Sun that described immigrants as ‘vagrants’ and ‘cockroaches’. Then in November the Daily Mail depicted immigrants as rats swarming across the border in a cartoon with striking parallels to the dehumanising propaganda of the 1930s. These are just two examples of an increasingly hostile mainstream press. 

Similar troubling trends are visible across the Atlantic with Fox News providing a platform for a number of prominent ‘counter-jihad’ activists, including Robert Spencer, who has previously been banned from entering the UK because of his extremist views. Most worrying of course was Donald Trump’s calls to ban all Muslim immigration from America.

No longer does one have to stand in a fenced-off car park at an English Defence League demonstration to hear of a conspiratorial plot to ‘flood’ Europe or America with Muslims. Now exactly the same ideas are being articulated by the prime ministers of some member states of the European Union or prospective Republican presidential candidates.

Whether it was politicians or the press, 2015 was the year that anti-Muslim rhetoric entered the mainstream. Fuelled especially by the migrant crisis and then the horrifying Paris attacks, prejudiced rhetoric traditionally confined to the far right or the counter-jihad movement has found a voice in ‘respectable’ circles.

Whether this will result in a more widespread and pervasive anti-Muslim feeling in society, only time will tell – in Britain at least some polling encouragingly suggests it may not – but it seems that at the very least 2016 will see a continuation of the worrying shift of anti-Muslim sentiment from the margins to the mainstream.

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23:25

Upgrade Your iPhone Passcode to Defeat the FBI’s Backdoor Strategy

"Steps if you’re worried about governments trying to access your phone..."
23:22

L.A. County Judge Killed While Crossing Street

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Daniel Brenner was fatally struck by a vehicle while crossing the street Monday.
23:11

Pope Signals Contraception May be Acceptable in Midst of Zika Crisis

Said there was a clear moral difference between aborting a fetus and preventing a pregnancy.
23:07

Trump Correct About Secret 9/11 Report

"28 pages" many have talked about would supposedly be released under a Trump presidency.
23:03

D.C. Police Release Video of Assault on Decorated Marine Vet

Police have released video showing several suspects who may be involved in assaulting and robbing a decorated Marine veteran at a Washington, D.C., McDonald’s last week. Former Sgt. Christopher Marquez, who earned a Bronze Star with combat “V” in Iraq and helped carry then-1st Sgt. Bradley Kasal out of Fallujah’s “Hell House,” was mugged by […]
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