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Wednesday, 23 May


Impatient dictators: how snap elections shore up authoritarianism in Eurasia openDemocracy

Authoritarian states are using all-too familiar constitutional mechanisms to consolidate power.

Fatima Mvlanl. Source: Youtube.Fatima Mvlanl, an Azerbaijani teenager, is used to seeing lham Aliyev, her countrys president, everywhere: on TV, street billboards, on portraits at her school and health clinic. The man would always be kindly smiling in various settings: surrounded by children, villagers, workers, happy citizens of prosperous Azerbaijan. His seemingly omnipresent, inescapable smile watched over her as she grew up.

But when Fatima turned 17, she looked around and saw a different picture: in the city where she grew up, although the dictator smiled at everyone from the posters, big and small, people rarely smiled back. Their faces conveyed anxiety, they seemed preoccupied with making ends meet as official made pronouncements on the health and strength of the economy, constantly repeating the adjective analogue-less in reference to Azerbaijan. The smiles were slowly and gradually giving way to disquiet, fear and hopelessness.

When she looked around, Mvlanl saw a country ruled by a dictator.

This is why when Ilham Aliyev called for snap elections in February 2018, she decided to act. On 26 March, Mvlanl left home with posters of Ilham Aliyev to take part in the Know Your Dictator campaign, launched by Azerbaijani emigres in Europe in order to draw attention to Aliyevs rule. The posters contained a QR code with further information, and Mvlanl was determined to inform people of the dictatorship and its use of elections to further consolidate the Aliyev regime.

I did this to demonstrate that our youth hasnt lost the ability to fight, and to give people reason to summon their courage, she says.

Mvlanl was immediately summoned to the Binagadi district police s...

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Tuesday, 22 May


High stakes for Northern Ireland in abortion referendum Slugger O'Toole

The Republic of Irelands referendum on whether to overturn its near-total constitutional abortion ban is already having an impact in Northern Irish politics, and the outcome on Friday is crucial.

Thats the takeaway from Slugger OToole deputy editor David McCann in a special episode of The Irish Passport podcast from Belfast.

Have a listen here.



When Harry weds Meghan openDemocracy

Some bashed the monarchy and called the royal wedding a non-event. A minority voice claimed that the wedding was no big deal. (He was wrong).

lead lead Prince Harry and Meghan Markle walk down the steps after their wedding at St. George's Chapel, Windsor. Saturday, May 19, 2018. Ben BirchHall/Press Association. All right reserved.Why does V S Naipaul go to Africa to record mass hysteria? He could witness it in his adopted land during every royal wedding and funeral. That is when the long-suppressed emotions of the reserved Britons find a release. The un-British act of crying in public with joy or sorrow is there for all to see.

Prince Harry married Meghan and Britons came out to dance with joy. Nothing else mattered to the revellers forming a sea of Union Jacks.

The young royals, when they marry or produce babies, also serve the Queen! Every such event increases the longevity of the monarchy. The carefully choreographed spectacle enhances the monarchys magic and mystique.

The British monarchy is criticised for not becoming as modern as the bicycling kings of northern Europe. In Britain, royal traditions are hard to discard. Even then the monarchy keeps trying to reinvent itself in order to remain relevant.

Prince Harry lent a helping hand by marrying Meghan Markle. She is a commoner from a former colony, daughter of a black mother and white father, product of a broken home, an actress with a record of social activism and of saying things that are not said in Britains palaces. The pet phrases of the British aristocracy such as simply not done or simply not said are as foreign to Harrys new wife as light to a coal mine. Prince Harry lent a helping hand by marrying Meghan Markle.

Harry made a powerful social and cultural statement by picking Meghan as his wife and magically transforming her into the Duchess of Sussex. He brought Buckingham Palace closer to Balti Britain and showed that he had grown up since the days when he used to utter words such as Paki and raghead.

What could be more modern than marrying a mixed-race American divorcee? The British people once refused to accept their king marrying an American...


Crece (otra vez) la milicia en Rio de Janeiro openDemocracy

Inicialmente, las milicias aseguraron territorio, garantizaron la ley y el orden, y lograron cierta legitimidad. Pero se han convertido en bandas criminales despiadadas, que compiten con las de narcotraficantes. English

Rio de Janeiro. Mike Egerton/PA Wire/PA Images. Todos os derechos reservados.

A mediados de mayo de 2008, un periodista, un fotgrafo y un conductor fueron secuestrados y torturados en Batn, una favela  en la zona oeste de Rio de Janeiro. 

Cuando se public la noticia del incidente, inflam a la nacin entera y caus conmocin en todo el mundo. El equipo estaba armando un reportaje sobre la poco conocida milicia de la ciudad: los autoproclamados vigilantes, que mandaban sobre las comunidades pobres a punta de pistola. A diferencia de las famosas bandas de narcotraficantes, la milicia inclua a ex soldados, policas, bomberos y guardias de prisiones.

Avancemos rpido hasta el presente, y la milicia vuelve a ocupar los titulares. Esta vez son los principales sospechosos del asesinato selectivo de Marielle Franco, concejala negra de la ciudad y de su conductor, Anderson Gomes. Marielle haba sido consejera del congresista del mismo estado de Ro  - Marcelo Freixo, que es ahora el lder del partido izquierdista PSOL que investig a la milicia hace una dcada. Sin embargo, y a pesar de sus heroicos esfuerzos para frenar el poder de los gnsteres de Ro, la milicia es hoy ms fuerte que nunca.

La milicia restringi inicialmente sus actividades a la expulsin de los gnsteres y a defender del narcotrfico a los barrios pobres.

Existen ciertas dudas sobre cundo o dnde surgieron los primeros grupos de milicias. Algunos analistas creen que la ...


China in Africa Jonathan Fryer

China in AfricaIn the 1880s, the European powers divided up Africa into their mutually recognised colonial spheres and the borders of most African states still reflect the lines drawn on the map then. In the 20th Century, two new big players became involved in Africa: the United States and the Soviet Union, sometimes facing each other off in proxy wars and militarising much of the continent in the process. In comparison, China was a late entrant into the evolving scramble for Africa, these days as much about access to markets as control of raw materials.



FP May 22 openDemocracy

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Pro-choice activists at Londons Saint Patrick's Day parade, March 2017. Photo: Dmitry Dzhus/Flickr. CC-BY-2.0 Some rights reserved.


Rio de Janeiro's militia on the rise (again) openDemocracy

Initially, the militias secured territory, guaranteed law and order, and achieved some legitimacy. But they have become ruthless criminal gangs, competing with those of drug traffickers. Espaol

Rio de Janeiro. Mike Egerton/PA Wire/PA Images. All rights reserved.In mid-May 2008, a journalist, photographer and driver were kidnapped and tortured in Batan, a favela in Rio de Janeiro's west zone. When the news of the incident emerged, it electrified the nation and sent shockwaves around the world. The team was assembling a story on the city's little known militia - self-styled vigilantes who ruled poor communities at gunpoint. Unlike the notorious drug gangs, the militia included former soldiers, police, firefighters, and prison guards.

Fast-forward to the present, and the militia are again making headlines. This time they are the chief suspects of a targeted assassination of Marielle Franco, a black city councilwoman and her driver, Anderson Gomes. Marielle was a former advisor to the very same state congressman - Marcelo Freixo, now the leader of the left-wing PSOL party - who investigated the militia a decade earlier. Yet despite their heroic efforts to curb the power of Rio's gangsters, the militia are stronger than ever.

There is some uncertainty about when or where the first militia groups first emerged. Some analysts believe that the militia were first founded in the 1990s by military police living in gang-infested communities. The militia first made headlines in early 2000, when a string of media stories reported on their illegal activities that included charging businesses and civilians for "security services". Unlike social cleansing and extermination groups, which had existed in Brazil for decades, the militia initially restricted their activities to expelling gangsters and defendi...


Nice Irish girls dont have sex is the old idea at the heart of historic abortion rights battle openDemocracy

Even if abortion is legalised in Ireland, this mindset must be challenged if women are to fully access their reproductive rights.

Pro-choice activists at Londons Saint Patrick's Day parade, March 2017. Photo: Dmitry Dzhus/Flickr. CC-BY-2.0 Some rights reserved.Nice Irish girls dont have sex. This is what I gathered growing up as a young woman in Ireland, at school in my local convent in Longford and at university in Dublin. If you had sex, youd better be in a long-term relationship. Even then, youd struggle to go on the pill because that would involve admitting to a stranger you were having sex outside marriage.

Its safe to say that the fear of becoming pregnant was always there that, and developing an STI that would leave you infertile for life. Why? Because sex was bad. Thats what you were taught during sex-ed class at school. If you were at it and fell pregnant, you only had yourself to blame. As for having an abortion, well, that was the greatest sin of all.

I never had an abortion but in my early twenties a very dear friend said that she needed one. We discussed her options in a clandestine meeting, down a dark lane in a Dublin suburb. At six weeks pregnant, she decided on a termination. She booked flights to the UK, took a couple of days off of work and we didnt speak about it again for 12 years.

Looking back, that was the moment when I became unreservedly and unapologetically pro-choice. I might not have realised which amendment to the Irish constitution forced my friend on a plane that day, but I knew something was very wrong with how our country was treating this nice girl, my friend, who made a very difficult choice.

That was the moment when I became unreservedly and unapologetically pro-choice.

She hadnt been raped; she hadnt learned that the foetus wouldnt survive outside the womb. She wasnt ready to be a mother. As proprietor of her body, and governor of her life, that decision was rightfully her...


When the name Yazid is neither good nor bad openDemocracy

Syrians lack a common history and will continue to do so as long as the oral history of each group remains different from the one presented in slogans of national dissimulation.

[This article by Omar Kaddour is part of a special series focused on Oral Culture and Identity in Syria. It is the outcome of an ongoing partnership between SyriaUntold and openDemocracy's North Africa West Asia in a bid to untangle the roots of sectarian, ethnic and other divides in Syria.]

Our neighbor who lived closest to us in Homs was Christian. In Damascus, our neighbors were a combination of outsiders and locals. In Afrin, most of our neighbors were evidently Kurds. What I am trying to say is, as a child, I led a nomadic life. 

Although I moved around, I never really noticed these differences, and they seemed normal to me. During one of our moves, we happened to have a Shiite neighbor who would approach me nicely and call me Ali every time she saw me. I would correct her, but she would make the same mistake again. I understood, much later, that she was avoiding saying my name! 

After long years of university friendships, I also discovered, by coincidence, that one of our friends in the group was a member of the Alawite community [the secretive minority Shiite sect to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs.] That meant nothing to me at the time. My university friends came from diverse ethnicities and backgroundsIsmaili [Shiites], Kurds, villagers and city-dwellers.

Sectarian talk in the sense that I discovered later in life was not common in my social environments. Even so, things were not always that pure and simple. When I was in high school, our football coach gathered usArab studentsand asked us to watch our peers, monitor who was absent to celebrate Nowruz [Kurdish New Year] and give him their names. After he left the hall, we all agreed not to oblige because his order was insulting to us and to our peers who were celebrating their holiday. 

During the same period, a Kurdish classmate angered me, because during ma...



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Four parties issue a joint statement on Brexit. Slugger O'Toole

Four party leaders representing 49 MLAs have penned a joint statement on Brexit.

On 23rd June 2016 citizens voted to remain within the European Union.

Despite this, the British Government intend to exit the EU in March 2019.

Sinn Fin, Green Party, Alliance and the Social Democratic and Labour Party all share the common position that we should stay within both the single market and customs union and that there should be no hard border on the island of Ireland or between the two islands.

This is critical to protecting investment, jobs, trade and the hard-won peace.

The Joint Report of the EU and British negotiators published on 8 December last year reiterated its commitment to protecting the Good Friday Agreement, including the effective operation of the institutions and bodies of the Agreement.

The Joint Report also affirmed that North South cooperation is a central part of the Good Friday Agreement and Prime Minister Theresa May committed to protecting and supporting continued North South and East West cooperation across the full range of frameworks of cooperation, including the operation of the North South bodies.

This week sees us entering into another crucial stage in the Brexit negotiations.

All of the outstanding issues relating to the Withdrawal Agreement will be considered in relation to Northern Ireland/Ireland and the future relationship.

In relation to the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, Theresa May has agreed that a backstop solution for the border will form part of the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement, and that this backstop would apply, unless and until, another solution is found.

Time is of the essence as we approach the European Council meeting next month (June).

The political parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly wish to reaffirm our common position that we cannot withstand exclusion from the single market or customs union;

That the protection of the Good Friday Agreement in all of its parts, including North/South and East/West co-operation is critical to maintaining relationships within, and between these islands;

That the backstop agreed by both the British Government and the EU27 is the bottom line in order to safeguard our political and economic stability now and for the future.

Agreed and co-signed by;

Michelle ONeill MLA, Assembly Leader and Vice-President of Sinn Fin

Colum Eastwood MLA, Leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party

Naomi Long MLA, Leader of the Alliance party for Northern Ireland

Steven Agnew MLA, Leader of the Green Party NI


Reimagining the Union has begun. They have it all to do Slugger O'Toole

Conservatives thinkers are hard  at work to make the long overdue case for the Union, now dubbed the Union state, after the unexpected shock  that still lingers (in England certainly) of discovering that devolution had whetted appetites for Union breakup. So far their ideas  circumvent nationalism, described here as exaggerated identity politics,  rather than tackling nationalism head on.  Although they  claim for the Union  binding values, they  recognise Gordon Browns old pitfall, that values can seem too universal and anaemic as a rallying cry and need a new patriotism with heart  to give them appeal. This is clearly work in progress. Until  conclusions are reached, its hard to predict how successful the exercise will be. All you have to do is to read the post-wedding musings to realise the size of the challenge.

At the Policy Exchange conference addressed by Arlene Foster yesterday, rather more ambitious ideas for reimaging the Union were aired. Sadly  no one directly addressed how the different Union with Northern Ireland would fit in.

Michael Gove had a busy day. He launched a new Tory think tank  with the feisty Scottish Conservative leader  Ruth Davidson  called Onward   with echoes of  President Macrons En Marche  with a warning that, without fresh ideas and a broader appeal, the party will be be finished for at least a generation. Ruth suggested a joint English Scottish bid to host a World Cup, (heresy for the Scottish FA?), her point being that a Union based on  economics  was a shallow basis for a relationship.

The younger generation, and society at large, is not yearning for a five-year plan of centrally delivered tractor quotas. Instead, we are a society that prizes individual autonomy and freedom of expression, and expects government to help us to achieve our goals, not set them.    

Goves speech was  counter-intuitive as he made bold claims for Brexit. His claims that taking  back control will make people welcome immigrants will take a lot of swallowing although it is an important pitch to make to his party that unites him with Boris Johnson.  But try as he might to finesse Brexit, narrow English nationalism remains the huge problem. Here he is really at odds with the Remainer instincts of Davidson. And while traditional redistributive generosity from the south east of England is a strong argument...


Less poll-watching, more planning [and more action], please. Slugger O'Toole

One of the problems with the Queens survey Brian highlighted this morning is that the Brexit related questions are couched in hypothetical terms what if. That makes them hard to read, and easy to dismiss. Nevertheless, it lances certain popular misassumptions about where were going.

The vacuum of the last few years both in Northern Ireland and Westminster has given rise to an enormous amount of hyperbole around the consequences of a hard Brexit, most of it based on political game play, either pushing unrealistic outcomes or plainly catastrophising a deal none of us yet know the outline of.

So it is not entirely surprising that 57% of Leave voters want to retain membership of the Single Market. Despite the loud gulderings of some Brexiteers, thats not a question any of them were asked in the #EURef.

But it should also be remembered a survey (especially one based on so many hypotheticals) is not a definitive answer either.  It indicates theres an appetite for the least radical form of settlement than the one constantly being hinted at.

The same goes for the figures on the Border poll question, but for an issue that has had so much attention (including here on Slugger) recently, the figures plainly dont match some of the recent overheated commentary. Nowhere near it in fact.

The timing was awkward for Sinn Fein, some of whom were in London today bigging up the fears of the PM that she might not win a future Border Poll, when in fact the needle sticks at half all Catholics wanting one even in the event of a hard Brexit.

Few in London take much account of such things, even if/when they notice it at all these days. Although, the increased impact of the DUP in Tory circles and Arlene as virtually the only known NI political figure (SF MPs are largely anonymous in Westminster) means unionisms wider influence in London has never been stronger.

As with Brexit, these secondary readings wont have the final say. As Brian hints in his title this morning, quality of outcomes from these negotiations will matter. For now the initiative is in the DUP and the Conservative leader.

As for the rest of us, whats the outworking? One exasperated nationalist friend on FB book noted the other day

its lazy beyond words, and irresponsible beyond excuse, for people to spend years poll watching when that time could and should must be spent outlining how life choices would open up rather than close down in a single Irish state.

And by the way, that persumasion campaign will have to invest a not inconsiderable amount of time, resources, and patience towards those in the Republic who see the entire undertaking as more than a little questionable. Less poll-wa...


Steven Pinkers ideas are fatally flawed. These eight graphs show why. openDemocracy

Its time to reclaim the mantle of Progress for progressives.

Steven Pinker giving a lecture to Humanists UK, February 22 2018. Credit: Bhaawest via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0.

In Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, published earlier this year, Steven Pinker argues that the human race has never had it so good as a result of values he attributes to the European Enlightenment of the 18th century. He berates those who focus on what is wrong with the worlds current condition as pessimists who only help to incite regressive reactionaries. Instead, he glorifies the dominant neoliberal, technocratic approach to solving the worlds problems as the only one that has worked in the past and will continue to lead humanity on its current triumphant path.

His book has incited strong reactions, both positive and negative. On one hand, Bill Gates has, for example, effervesced that Its my new favorite book of all time. On the other hand, Pinker has been fiercely excoriated by a wide range of leading thinkers for writing a simplistic, incoherent paean to the dominant world order. John Gray, in the New Statesman, calls it embarrassing and feeble; David Bell, writing in The Nation, sees it as a dogmatic book that offers an oversimplified, excessively optimistic vision of human history; and George Monbiot, in The Guardian, laments the poor scholarship and motivated reasoning that insults the Enlightenment principles he claims to defend. (Full disclosure: Monbiot recommends my book, The Patterning Instinct, instead.)

In light of all this, you might ask, what is left to add? Having read his book carefully, I believe its crucially important to take Pinker to task for some dangerously erroneous arguments he makes. Pinker is, after all, an intellectual darling of the most powerful echelons of global society. He...


Arlene Foster;Unionism stands for pluralism and multi-culturism. We are inclusive and welcome all. Slugger O'Toole

Some of the DUP Leader, Arlene Fosters remarks in London today;

And as a unionist I see no logic or rationale for a hard border being created between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Indeed we do not want to see that at all.

The only people stirring up myths of border checkpoints are those who are committed to unpicking the Union. They seek to use such imagery to advance and build support for their long-term political objective. They will not succeed.

Some have sought to use the UK exit from the EU as a means to foment division in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland is transformed, and while we should never be complacent that prevailing feeling of constantly being under siege is no longer the case.

Unionism is at its best when it is confident, outward looking and welcoming. We must move forward with confidence.

Citizenship and rights are essentially unionist issues. They are issues we should set out to reclaim. Nationalism is by its nature narrow and exclusive. Being a Unionist is the opposite. Unionism stands for pluralism and multi-culturism. We are inclusive and welcome all.

Confident unionism can capture the diversity that nationalism cannot. It transcends nationalism, and allows individuals to express the cultural values or identity they wish.

The surest way to cement the Union is for Northern Ireland to be open and provide a successful environment in which to live and work. A Northern Ireland which embraces differing cultures and where minorities feel valued is one that few will choose to abandon.

I want to be a leader who reaches out to promote the value AND the values of the Union.



Lib-pop politics: Italys new government is more neoliberal than populist openDemocracy

The fear is that populism, Italian style, has achieved power. But neoliberal policies rule more than ever, tinged with populism, opening the way to Legas far-right, racist (and neoliberal) politics. 

lead April, 2018 in Rome. Matteo Salvini, League Party secretary, during a second round of consultations of political parties for the formation of the new government at the Quirinal Palace. Giuseppe Ciccia/ Press Association. All rights reserved.A new Italian government is in the making, with an unprecedented alliance between the Five Stars Movement (33% of votes in the March 2018 elections; 36% of seats in the House of Deputies) and the Lega (17% of votes; 20% of seats). The view that populist barbarians have conquered Rome is a gross misunderstanding. Lega has already governed for nine years in Berlusconi governments supporting every neoliberal policy that has favoured finance, business and the European integration they now criticise.

The Five Stars are ready to compromise on everything with anyone Washington, Brussels, business, finance, the military for their turn in power, knowing that their large support is at best temporary. The result rhetoric aside is that pro-rich neoliberal policies dominate the new government agenda, tinted with a shade of populism, offering modest pro-poor and harsh anti-immigrant action. Lib-pop politics is how we might describe Italys new political experiment. The Five Stars are ready to compromise on everything with anyone...  knowing that their large support is at best temporary.

Legas rising political hegemony

The clear political winner is Legas leader, Matteo Salvini, who has turned the Northern separatist Lega Nord into a nationwide nationalist, reactionary party, mirroring Frances Front National. He quadrupled Legas votes (in 2013 they were 4%); in Northern counties of Lombardy and Veneto Lega reaching 33 to 38% of the votes, with the centre-right coalition well over 50% (an analysis o...


Just be fair: when does journalism undermine its own reputation? openDemocracy

 I don't think I have ever seen another media organisation targeted by the full force of the State, as WikiLeaks is. Interview with Stefania Maurizi.

lead lead lead Stefania Maurizi. Photographer,Roberto. All rights reserved.Stefania Maurizi works for the Italian daily La Repubblica as an investigative journalist. She has worked on all the WikiLeaks releases of secret documents, and the Snowden files about Italy. She has recently started a multijurisdictional Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation effort to defend the right of the press to access the full set of documents on the Julian Assange and WikiLeaks case. Six years since Ecuador granted Julian Assange political asylum, a freedom of information act in the UK is shedding light on what was happening behind the scenes during that period. With few records and a great deal of mystery...

Yorgos Boskos (YB): In a speech to the International Journalism Festival in Perugia last April, you outlined the multijurisdictional Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation effort that you have launched to defend the right of the press to have access to the full set of documents on the Julian Assange and WikiLeaks case. What are the outcomes of this procedure so far?

Stefania Maurizi (SM): The reporters covering Assanges case were just willing to crib from the authorities declarations. No media has tried to access the full set of documents in his regard. FOIA litigation is an ongoing procedure in Sweden and UK. I would like to litigate the case in the US and Australia as well. I would like to litigate the case in the US and Australia as well.

Sweden has a very helpful transparency law when it comes to Freedom of Information, enabling me to get hold of 226 pages of documents for the first time. Most of those documents were not redacted. Thanks to those documents, I learned that the UK authorities looked at this case as special in their correspondence with the Swedish prosecutors, and a UK lawyer named Paul Close working for the UK Crown Prosecution Service the UK Government's entity which supported the Swedish prosecutors' work fro...


Oral culture and identity in Syria - Dossier openDemocracy

What are the origins of sectarian consciousness in Syria? Did it appear from nothing or was it always dormant and waiting to erupt?

[This article by Mohammad Dibo introduces a special series focused on Oral Culture and Identity in Syria. It is the outcome of an ongoing partnership between Syria Untold and openDemocracy's North Africa West Asia]

Countless and complex questions are being raised by the issue of open sectarianism ripping across the Arab Mashreq, maybe even the entire Middle East. We are faced with a tremendous resurgence of religious, sectarian, doctrinal, and ethnic currents that have overwhelmed the political and military landscape not only in Syria but also beyond. Political discourses are now replete with sectarian language and terminologies which had, up until two decades ago, and perhaps even less than that, been considered too retrograde to be posed seriously. They are now presented as an inescapable reality and, as such, many are proposing consociational solutions premised on hair of the dog logic.

Undoubtedly, the question of sectarianism has been extensively studied, analyzed and researched from both intellectual and political perspectives, and we have seen over the past seven years so many studies and books on that question. Yet ambiguity continues to prevail and reality still surprises us, day after day, with instances of wild violence, unapologetic expressions and unrestrained actions that bring us back to square one. We are confronted by the same question time and time again: Where did all this sectarianism come from? Where was this sectarian consciousness hiding? Was it really hiding, or it is rather the Arab mind that had covered it up in favor of dreams and fantasies about a forthcoming future borne on the wings of modernity and progress?

Furthermore, it was not only the sectarian question that has risen from the ashes of the war in Syria. In addition, the (supra)national question has been also renewed in passeistic manners that seek nation-building in narrow ideological forms, though the nation-state idea...


Intercultural Cities: "Diversity as an advantage" openDemocracy

On World Day for Cultural Diversity what do Barcelona, Montreal, Hamamatsu, Tanger, Haifa, Ballarat and Mexico City have in common?

lead Mexico City. Flickr/ VV Nincic. Some rights reserved.These cities manage diversity as an asset and as a key principle of their local policies: they are all Intercultural Cities of the Council of Europe, a platform for a wide range of cities (126 on 5 continents), shaping governance models and strategies to build inclusive, fair and prosperous communities in an increasingly open and mobile world. 

Intercultural Cities gain immensely through cultural diversity, boosting innovation and growth, with a variety of skills and creativity, while adopting policies and practices that facilitate intercultural interaction and inclusion. 

However, the diversity advantage is not automatic. Making sure that trust and solidarity among citizens of different backgrounds holds strong is not easy.

Managing diversity means building shared spaces, offering to all residents opportunities to engage across difference and work towards common goals, while cultivating a pluralistic, inclusive identity with strong common civic values. 

This art of mixing in urban policies and governance is exactly what the Council of Europe's Intercultural Cities' programme helps to build at local level. This art of mixing in urban policies and governance is exactly what the Council of Europe's Intercultural Cities' programme helps to build at local level.The results are there to see. One study proved recently that cities which deal with migrants' integration and diversity in an intercultural way have better overall citizens' satisfaction and quality of life. 

The intercultural approach can make national integration policies more effective. It is now finding its own way beyond local policies. Interculturalism is now a part of M...

Monday, 21 May


A Very British Scandal Jonathan Fryer

A Very British ScandalI watched the first episode of Stephen Frears three-part TV bio-pic about the Thorpe Affair, A Very British Scandal, with a degree of trepidation. Despite the directors esteemed back catalogue and the stellar cast, could it be anything else but a travesty of the truth? I knew Jeremy Thorpe from the time he came to speak at the Oxford University Liberal Club (of which I was then Secretary) in about 1970 right up until his death in 2014, so well over 40 years, and like most of his numerous friends I was very fond of him. He was one of the most charismatic politicians I have ever encountered witty, charming and urbane to such a degree that most of us failed to perceive a darker side to his character. Right to the end, he denied having plotted Norman Scotts murder, and indeed...


Presidential elections in Colombia: polarisation or deterioration of the political conversation? openDemocracy

Political polarisation consists of the amplification of divergence and consequently displacement towards extreme ideological positions. When this intensifies, the centre becomes more narrow, but this is not happening in Colombia. Espaol

Colombian Flag. Source: Wikimedia Commons. All Rights Reserved.

Political polarisation is a phenomenon that implies the amplification of divergent political attitudes and the consequent displacement of these attitudes towards the ideological extremes.

In a scenario of this nature, the voices of the centre or those with moderated views lose their visibility, power and influence.

Occasionally, and when the political parties are strong, this division can manifest itself as a reinforcement of the extremist sectors within political parties and/or as an increase in the ideological distance that exists between them.

This is evident in the case of the US where the so called middle Republicans and the middle Democrats have been distancing themselves at great speed during the past decade. 

Many suggest that Colombian politics had never been so hostile in its use of political discourse.

Colombia will choose a new president this year and the electoral process has put the discussion over polarisation on the table.

Many suggest that Colombian politics had never been so hostile in its use of political discourse and that political platforms and ideological positions had never been so distanced. We are a country that is profoundly polarised is a phrase that has been uttered many times throughout political discussions.

But is Colombia really politically polarised? How much of this supposed new polarisation is not what it appears to be? How much of what is perceived as pure social media scandal and full-on discourse is true polarisation? Is a lot of what is happening during the current elections more a process of diversification and pluralisation of voices rather than polarisation?



Presidenciales en Colombia: polarizacin o deterioro de la conversacin poltica? openDemocracy

La polarizacin poltica consiste en la ampliacin de la divergencia y el consecuente desplazamiento hacia los extremos ideolgicos. Pero cuando se intensifica, el centro tiende a reducirse, y eso no ocurre en Colombia, al menos hasta 2016. English

Bandera Colombiana. Fuente: Wikimedia Commons. Todos los Derechos Reservados.

La polarizacin poltica es un fenmeno que, en trminos generales, consiste en la ampliacin de la divergencia entre actitudes polticas y el consecuente desplazamiento de estas actitudes hacia los extremos ideolgicos.

En un escenario de esta naturaleza, las voces de centro o aquellos con visiones polticas mezcladas pierden visibilidad, poder e influencia.

En ocasiones, y cuando los partidos polticos son fuertes, esta divisin se puede manifestar como un fortalecimiento de los sectores extremos de los partidos y/o como un aumento de la distancia ideolgica que existe entre los mismos.

Este es el caso particular de Estados Unidos, donde el denominado republicano medio y el demcrata medio se han ido alejando a gran velocidad el uno del otro durante la ltima dcada.

Colombia elige este ao nuevo presidente y este proceso electoral ha puesto sobre la mesa la discusin sobre la polarizacin. Muchos sugieren que nunca antes la poltica colombiana haba sido tan hostil en el uso del discurso poltico y que nunca antes las plataformas polticas y las propuestas ideolgicas haban estado tan alejadas las unas de las otras. Somos un pas profundamente polarizado es una frase que se oye mltiples veces en la discusin pblica nacional. 

Pero, es realmente Colombia un pas polarizado polticamente? Cunta de esta supuesta nueva polarizacin no lo es tanto? Cunto de lo que se percibe como puro y fsico escndalo de redes sociales y altisonancia en las declaraciones es verdadera polarizacin? Qu tanto de lo que pasa en las actuales elecciones es ms un proceso de diversificacin y pluralizacin de la oferta poltica y qu tanto es polarizacin...


Soapbox: Jorja, her rare condition and a pressing need to legalise medicinal cannabis Slugger O'Toole

Robin Emerson is father to Jorja Emerson and keen activists for rare diseases and the legalisation of medicinal cannabis.

Jorja Emerson was born on 26th February 2016, a beautiful baby girl weighing just 5lbs.

After a number of months, we started noticing that Jorja was not developing like a typical baby her age, and in December we discovered that Jorja had a rare 1q43q44 chromosome deletion, and was most likely the only baby in Ireland with this specific chromosome deletion.

We didnt know what this meant!

The Unique centre were great and informed us that there were other families around the world with the same deletion, mostly based in America, and the typical features that Jorja would likely have were: microcephaly (small head), heart problems, low muscle tone, centre hypotonia, severe delayed development, and the big one epilepsy.

Jorja would suffer from life threating seizures.

We understood that the road ahead would be difficult, but Jorja is our baby girl and we would do the best we could to provide her with a good quality of life and celebrate each little achievement, like the first time she rolled over on her own, or the first time she grabbed and played with her toys.

Everything was going well with Jorja making great progress in her therapies and she had the most infectious smile and giggle. Then began her first seizures

Time in hospital increased over the coming months, spending New Years Eve and birthdays there, and gradually more anti-epileptic drugs were added to Jorjas growing list of medication.

We thought we had got the seizures under control but then they hit like never before in summer 2017. Jorja was again rushed into the Ulster Hospital, but this time they couldnt bring her out of seizure, they couldnt even get her blood! They drilled what is called IR into Jorjas bones in her legs to try and get blood.



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Border poll recedes as polls show nationalist support for unity hinges on Brexit outcome Slugger O'Toole

If two polls out today  are to be believed, pressure for  an early border poll will recede and unionists  fearing the worst, will heave sighs of relief For nationalists, while much hinges on the economic consequences of Brexit,  majority  opinion among them in favour of  unity hasnt solidified, despite the UK governments confused approach to Brexit and the border.

The Newsletter gleefully reports

Two separate polls have found no evidence that Brexit has yet caused a radical shift in public opinion which would make a referendum on a united Ireland remotely winnable.

In findings which have added significance because of the prime ministers reported suggestion to Tory MPs last week that she was not confident a border poll would definitely be won by unionism, an Ipsos MORI poll for academics found that just 21.1% of people in Northern Ireland would vote for Irish unity after the UK leaves the EU.

Just 42.6% of Catholics favouring that option although a large percentage, 26%, were undecided.

The poll, commissioned by academics at Queens University Belfast for a major piece of research examining how Brexit is shaping political opinion in Northern Ireland, found that not even half of Catholics would vote for a united Ireland.

Thats the Newsletters spin. It certainly appears to show that even if there may have been some shift,  tectonic plates arent moving among unionists in favour of  considering unity as a result of Brexit. Nationalist opinion seems to have stiffened but short of a majority. The results suggest  that Sinn Feins pressure for  a border poll is at least premature.

Adds  But as Alex Kane has noticed, 50.3% for the Union overall is a narrow squeak indeed, explained mainly  presumably by narrowing demographics.

The case made by Owen Paterson and Sammy Wilson (below)  shows how closely the fate of the Union is bound up with  the outcomes of Brexit.  Despite  the overall volatility of nationalist opinion,  evidence  that a majority  of  nationalists would not  oppose cameras on the border is another factor that will boost  DUP and unionist  morale generally.

And a second poll, commissioned by think tank Policy Exchange ahead of a major conference in London today examining the future of the Union, found that a clear majority of people across the UK are in favour of the Union in its current form.

There was 68% support in England, 52% in Scotland, 66% in Wales and 59% in Northern Ireland.

However, the research found concern acros...


Who benefits from sensationalised media coverage of abortion? Hint: not women, whose lives are at stake openDemocracy

Media outlets too often cover abortion-related news in inaccurate and derogatory ways. Activists and progressive journalists must work together to change this.

Women protest for legal and safe abortion in Brazil, 2016. Women protest for legal and safe abortion in Brazil, 2016. Photo: Fotoarena/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.The portrayal of abortion in the media can sway public perception in a major way, and can even influence policy agendas. When this media focus is honest and accurate, it has the potential to arouse global outrage at violations of womens rights.

We saw this amid media coverage of Savita Halappanavars death in 2012, after she was refused an abortion in Ireland despite life-threatening pregnancy complications. Public outrage over this case helped to mobilise people in their demands for a referendum on Irelands restrictive abortion law, which is now set for next month.

More recently, Brazil's congress was set to vote on a constitutional amendment including a clause which could effectively ban abortion in all cases; currenty it is legal only in cases of rape, fetal anomaly, or to save a womans life. The media played a vital role in documenting the social movement against the proposed motion; the vote has been repeatedly postponed.

Journalists can be co-workers in the fight for abortion rights. Yet, a recent series of interviews with more than 30 journalists in the US found that they face stigmatisation and political opposition when seeking to report positively on abortion. This can mean that even progressive journalists inadvertently pick-up and repeat anti-abortion myths, language and imagery.

Working with the International Campaign on Womens Ri...


Zionism: the history of a contested word openDemocracy

These polarising terms should be shelved, and taken out only when we are discussing political philosophy, which most of the time, we are not.

lead Nathan Birbaum,(1864 - 1937) Austrian writer, Jewish thinker and nationalist. Wikicommons/ Zionist Archive. Some rights reserved.Objectivity has ceased to be a goal not only of popular writing on the subject but also of scholarship, and the line between intellectual engagement and political activism hardly exists today

Michael Stanislawski, Zionism: A Very Short Introduction, p.1

Written in German in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Theodor Herzls Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State) (1896) is widely considered Zionisms founding document. It was in the same country, six years earlier, that the term was coined by Nathan Birnbaum, the founder of the first Jewish student association in Vienna, Kadimah.

The philosophy was barely fledged before it evoked an impassioned backlash from the 1885 Pittsburgh Platform, where Reform Judaism was essentially founded, and the anti-Zionist Bundists in Russia, who, along with many other Jews, believed Zionism jeopardised the prospects of integration into their host nations.

This controversy has not ceased since. Jewish anti-Zionism has a diverse history, ranging from Satmar Hasidim, who perceived secular Zionism as an abomination and a forced pre-emption of redemption before Gods will, to many Iraqi Jews, who understood growing resentment in their own country as a response to Zionism. But anti-Zionism is not simply confined to Jewish infighting it is now a staple of leftist thinking and movements. But anti-Zionism is not simply confined to Jewish infighting it is now a staple of leftist thinking and movements.

Anti-Zionism is a negative ideology, and is therefore contingent on the definition of its positive counterpart. The word Zionism, however, is so ambiguous and varied in its meaning and so imbued with emotion, so firmly tied to identity, that invoking it stifles any productive conversation. 

Could you expect a Holocaust...


Scotland has a jauntier step

By Molly Pollock

Scotland, read the headline, is the only country to show improvements across any measures of personal well-being. Well, after being battered by unionists on all sides about how dire Scotland is, how awful our education, how terrible our health service, how in fact Scotland is a failure under the SNP (not Scottish but pointedly SNP) government leading us swiftly along the road to ruin, I had to delve into the article.

The story comes from an Office for National Statistics survey Personal well-being in the UK: January to December 2017.

According to the survey, the data for which is taken from a household survey to help understand the well-being of those living in private residential households between the years ending December 2016 and 2017, average ratings of happiness and feeling that the things done in life are worthwhile have slightly increased in the UK. However average ratings of life satisfaction and anxiety have seen no overall change.

Scotland has shown improvements in average ratings of life satisfaction, worthwhile and happiness but there have been no overall changes in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. Scrolling further down the page I discovered that improvements in the UK during this period in worthwhile and happiness ratings were driven by Scotland, though there were no significant changes for anxiety ratings. No overall changes were reported for any measure of personal well-being in England, Wales or Northern Ireland

England fares worse

Of course the question that immediately bloomed in my mind was why might satisfaction with life, a feeling of life being worthwhile, and happiness be higher in Scotland than in England and Wales. Indeed Wales comes out of the survey rather badly with a larger proportion of people in Wales reporting low levels of life satisfaction, worthwhile and happiness compared with the UK average. The three most influential factors on our well-being are employment status, self-reported health and relationship status. Research has consistently shown that unemployment, poor health and being divorced or separated are all linked to poorer well-being.



Welcome to the New Dark Age. openDemocracy

A terrifying new book by James Bridle calls on us to embrace uncertainty.

Credit: Flickr/ CC BY-SA 2.0.

Data is making us dumber. This seeming paradox has been gaining currency, at least in the tech-saturated Global North. Were increasingly bombarded with advice on how to manage data overload. The English comedian Dave Gorman summed it up in the tongue-in-cheek title of his recent book: Too much information: Or: Can Everyone Just Shut Up for a Moment, Some of Us Are Trying to Think. We like to laugh about this stuff. It helps us to cope with the deep human fear that the world has moved beyond our understanding and control.

If indeed were in a state of hysterical denial, James Bridle wants to give us all a slap in his forthcoming book New Dark Age: Technology, Knowledge and the End of the Future. Bridle invites us to engage in a direct confrontation with our decreasing comprehension of the world. Through a wide investigation of diverse fields from aviation to social media, the pharmaceutical industry and climate science, he sets out to show how our data-driven culture is threatening our existence as a species.

While we might expect to be offered a route back to knowledge and security, Bridles book breaks new ground by proposing that we embrace uncertainty instead. We have been conditioned to think of the darkness as a place of danger, even of death he writes, But the darkness can also be a place of freedom and possibility, even of equality. Uncertainty can be productive, even sublime.

Its an intriguing and unsettling proposal. As a journalist, technologist, and visual artist, Bridle has employed a multiplicity of strategies for thinking differently about technology. Hes still probably best known for developing what he called the New Aesthetic in 2011, now an art meme centred around a tumblr account that captures the physical objects and signs of the digital world like data centres or surveillance drones.

While the New Aesthetic makes the invisible visible, New Dark Age appears to ask us to think the unthinkable. If you dont like paradoxes, buckle up and hold on tight. The book is not an easy read. In fact, Bridle admits it was a struggle to wri...


A bridge too far: Washington Examiner calls for Russian infrastructure to be bombed GMMuk Michael Aydinian

Ill say this: TOM ROGAN may have a BA in war studies but hes not a journalist, a politician or an expert in any field. Hes simply a lunatic criminal who should be arrested, tried, incarcerated & the key thrown in the river. If anyone deserved a Guantanamo-type existence, Rogan applies with distinction. People of his ilk are way too


Soapbox: Housing Then and Now Conference on 15 June in Dungannon, 50 years on from Caledon sit-in Slugger O'Toole

Tony Kennedy is a member of the committee established to recognise the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement. He worked for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive from 1972 to 1983, was chief housing officer of Wakefield MDC from 1983 to 1992 and then chief executive of Co-operation Ireland until his retirement in 2008.

One of the core demands of the Civil Rights Association was an impartial system for the allocation of all public sector housing. Although the Northern Ireland Housing Trust had a good reputation, where misallocation occurred as in Dungannon Urban District Council it was crude and blatant.

As a result, The Campaign for Social Justice established in Dungannon in 1964 prefigured the Civil Rights Association and highlighted concerns about housing allocations. The Northern Ireland Labour Party in the mid-1960s had also called for new and impartial procedures for the allocation of public housing.

In reaction to the allocation by Dungannon UDC of a house to a single protestant woman with less housing need than many catholic families on the waiting list, Austin Currie MP squatted in a house in Caledon on 20 June 1968. This led to the first civil rights march from Coalisland to Dungannon in August 1968.

As a result of these and other actions, by 22 November 1968 the Stormont government announced its intention to introduce a fairer system for the allocation of council houses. Subsequently it was to remove housing powers from councils and form the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

These historic events will be recognised at a housing conference taking place at The Junction, Dungannon on Friday 15 June, almost 50 years to the day from Austin Curries action, as part of the commemoration events for the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement.

As well as hearing from Austin Currie, the all day conference will consider the history of housing in Northern Ireland and consider issues relating to housing conditions and allocations in the seventies and since. It will then consider one of the greatest challenges facing present day housing providers how to provide social housing which is not divided on religious grounds. Current housing students will present their ideas and hear comments from leading practitioners and commentators in the field.

Speakers will include:

  • Paddy Gray, Emeritus Professor in Belfast School of Architecture and the Built Environment at Ulster University;
  • Joe Frey, former head of Research at the NI Housing Executive;
  • Austin Currie retired politician and civil rights leader;
  • Nicola McCrudden, director of Chartered Institute of Housing;
  • Eileen Patterson, director of communities with Radius Housing;
  • Ted Cantell, founder of the Institute of Community Cohesion following his review of...

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