Posts Tagged ‘Syria’


It seems to be that time of the year where we tend to simplify our problems and to a greater extent paint very black & white solutions to them. The need to neatly paint a picture of our social world is not born out of a currently fluid political atmosphere nor does it derive from our ‘new year resolutions’. It comes from a very fundamental part of human nature to place ideas, events and people in easily understood boxes without much consideration for accuracy or context. This mindset has been existent throughout human history; whether it is the way we perceived religious authorities in early modern Europe (It was a lot more complicated than Priests, Bishops and the ‘people’), the idea of a two nation state in the 19th century or the ‘battle’ between communism or capitalism states in the previous century. We have always had the tendency to create a villain or a hero out of a situation without consideration for the side characters and events that often have a huge influence. It is this sort of intellectual laziness that is plaguing our ability to debate properly or discuss harsh truths. The need to categorise everything and place things in boxes has created a post-truth environment but it is born out out of a Post-Trust world. The lack of faith in our current institutions has created this attack on Liberalism. But Liberalism and its connection to trust, radicalism and politics is much more misunderstood than is often realised.

Interestingly, it was faith and belief that initially helped to establish the main tenets of liberalism. Although the discussion of liberty has always existed throughout history (from Ancient Greece to the Enlightenment). It rose to prominence in seventeenth century Europe with the escalating conflict between Charles I and his parliament. The political discussions around authority and power meant that a large section of the populace began to question their position in society. The Levellers used this debate to discuss the concept of liberty and the extent to which people could be allowed to express their social views. Initially, this had a religious purpose, many Levellers wanted to complete freedom of conscience. Eventually this concept of religious liberty was clamped down on by Parliament, and the Catholics that supported Charles I went into exile, mainly to Catholic France. Although these English Catholics were refugees they were in a considerably different situation to the mainly Muslim refugees in present day France. The Catholic refugees were leaving a country because its religious liberty did not include Catholicism , whereas the current Muslim refugees are fleeing to a country that it is considered to be liberal but increasingly hostile to Islam. The reasons for this difference indicate how liberalism has evolved.

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A Muslim Syrian Family in present day France.

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English Christian Nuns arriving in Early Modern France.

Liberty initially meant religious tolerance (as explained above), but it has taken on a new meaning, one of socio-economic mobility. Social reputation and the idea of creating a more prosperous life for your family have established the idea of liberalism. Over recent decades, we have been taught to see the world as one where money and capital are free-flowing and that anybody can rise or fall across the social ladder depending on how hard you work. This ideology grew to prominence in the late seventeenth century with the rise of a commercial middle class that wanted to aspire to greater things within the confines of their protestant religion. (Picture of stock markets) Up until now, this ideology had become the general basis of  Liberalism; the concept of individualism and the strong role of the free market towards the end of the 20th century are particular indicators of this relatively new liberalism. To a certain extent you could argue that this new liberalism is like and inclusive open space or a public sphere, whereas the older types of liberalism celebrated the freedom of religious worship something which is privately held. This might explain why some immigrants are willing to sacrifice the religious scrutiny they will face in order to secure the social welfare of their family.

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Did thatcher’s reign as Prime Minister mark a turning point in the way we perceive liberty?

The institutions – Press, political parties and banks – that have supported this public sphere are now crumbling and liberalism is also being questioned and critiqued because it was the bedrock of the public sphere. It was Habermas (The sociologist who coined the term ‘Public sphere’), who believed that the public sphere was founded on loose censorship, a legitimate political opposition and a central bank that could spark economic discussion. Recently, we have witnessed the injustice of the banking system, the biased nature of our newspapers and a political structure that provides no credible opposition. Many citizens are now rejecting these ‘public sphere’ institutions in favour of a more personal and private world, where traditional patriotic religious values are becoming more popular and are replacing the norms and values of ‘liberalism’. People are being attracted towards these older more conservative values because they offer a level of familiarity and safe security that public institutions are not providing.

Economist ‘Guy Standing’ has discussed about the level of precariousness that is existent in western democracies and how many citizens feel unstable towards neo-liberalism. Standing, in particular looks at how the purpose of public spaces like parks and libraries are being  challenged by this pro-free market type of liberalism. The redundancy  of public sector jobs has created a huge level of uncertainty of those who are trying to avoid the clutches of poverty. Although, this precariousness is dangerous for creating wage-income insecurity, it also erodes the older sense of liberalism as a notion for free independent thinking. For if libraries are  forced to close (because they “can’t provide economic growth”) then where else are people meant to go to access free well-researched independent knowledge? Book clubs, junior reading challenges and reading competitions all help to celebrate the old liberal notion of discussion, debate and free expression. If people are forced to rely on their information from biased news sources and politically correct media channels, then surely the true notion of liberalism will have become obsolete. ‘Public sphere’ institutions may seem like they can provide a fair and prosperous life for their citizens on the basis of liberalism but we see from the effects of austerity that is a fallacy.

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By defending libraries, are we defending our liberty to learn independently?

It is easy to carelessly blame liberalism for these problems, however we must identify the particular type of liberalism that governments and public sphere ‘institutions’ wish to represent. I don’t think it is too far-fetched to believe that governments have manipulated our perception of liberalism in order for us to use it as a scapegoat for the world’s current problems. Immigration is often cited as one of the great strains of liberalism, however one could argue that our governments have simply been irresponsible when it comes to the quantity and quality of immigrants that have settled it here. Because successive governments have liberalised British employment through free-market reforms, this has created huge demand of cheap foreign labour often at the expense of the British workforce. Again, it is the free market concept of liberalism that is affecting of welfare of British people not the ‘culturally inclusive’ aspect of liberalism.

However recently, we have seen how this government is creating a divisive rhetoric in the name of liberalism. A new government review into integration has revealed and criticised the levels of cultural isolation in some parts of Britain. It is important to recognise that this isn’t simply racist rhetoric towards immigrants and their ethics but an expose of how institutions like the media and our government have allowed a culture of segregation to develop amongst new immigrants. Divisive rhetoric from the Daily Mail(and other notable tabloids) as well as housing planning and structures; have created separate social and physical spaces for immigrants to reside in, and our government has defended these spaces in the name of liberalism. Where is the liberty and freedom if immigrants feel pressured to lock themselves within their own community? Surely if we encouraged immigrants to integrate in to British culture then there would be more cultural fluidity and understanding. Prejudices and stereotypes only develop from ignorance and inability(or unwillingness) to access the cultural world of their fellow man. The segregation of immigrants has helped to foster a defensive and protectionist nationalist feeling against the ‘other’.

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Is integration key in making sure liberty works for everybody?

These nationalists are drawn to the criticism of liberalism, which has become a representation for the corrupt public institutions and their vested interests. However, I believe that the public are staring to blaming liberalism for their dire situation whilst forgetting that it is the public institutions who are really the culprits. Earlier I discussed how the notion of us being in post-trust world is more appropriate than a post-truth world, and I definitely believe it applies in this situation. Citizens across  various ‘western democracies’ are rejecting the advice of ‘public sphere’ institutions, not because of an ignorance of facts and knowledge but more about a lack of faith and trust in these authorities. The truth is irrelevant to these people because they do not trust the source of the information they receive. It is almost like an abusive paternal relationship, where the child represents the citizen and public sphere institution is the parent. The only source of guidance comes from the parent; but if the parent abuses their position of power, then that guidance becomes worthless simply because the trust in that relationship has broken down. This situation is being replayed between the citizens and their authorities only with more instability, mainly because the citizen has gained the courage and legitimacy to challenge the public sphere institutions that overrule them. In the midst of this, liberalism has been blamed for creating this civil conflict. But one must remember that unless this relationship between the citizen and the institution is restored to its healthy state; liberalism will continue to be misunderstood and scapegoated for the corruption in high society.

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Foreign or domestic priorities?

Trump’s inauguration has been the main talking point this week, but its interesting how our politics is so infused with stories that are largely out of our control. American society is obviously influential when it comes to our popular culture, but I think the special relationship has become grown into something ungainly, hypocritical and dangerous. A friend once spoke of the double standards regarding Farage and his decision to immerse himself so deeply in Trump’s election campaign. How can one Farage criticise Obama for his intervention on the Remain Campaign during the EU vote, when he chose to give support speeches in favour of Trump? I never once saw Corbyn share a platform with Saunders despite their ideological similarities, in fact Saunders had actually denied any official correspondence with Corbyn during his leadership challenge. It is ironic that during a time when the left is blamed for its ‘globalist approach’, it is the right wing leaders who are investing their time and effort in foreign affairs. What will this mean for our Brexit trade deals, only time will tell.

I think I have been caught in the same old traps regarding the rights and wrongs of foreign intervention. Early last year, I often praised Russia with the way they dealt with ISIS and their attempt to separate the moderate rebels from the terrorists in comparison with US’s suspicious dithering and reluctance to properly tackle the Islamic terrorists. But the announcement of Russia, Syria and Turkey forming a pact of ‘guarantors’ in the Syrian peace process has worried me that we are just witnessing another version of American Imperialism. I do not deny the importance of having independent overseers to make sure Syria finds stability, but Syria’s stability must be of their own choosing. And by ‘own’ I mean the direct citizens of Syria not foreign diplomats. I have been reading Sumia Sukkar’s book  The Boy from Aleppo who painted the War, and the book has poignantly reminded me that we get so wrapped up in the political forces that confront each other, that we often forget about the apolitical citizens who are just trying to find a way to survive.  The question is, in a region where the rebuilding of society is dependent on responsibility and tough decision, can anybody really afford to be apolitical?