Posts Tagged ‘Syria’

They often say that a week is a long time in politics and that has certainly been the case for the past week. The government has had to apologize for its role in the Windrush Scandal in which hundreds of immigration documentation relating to migrants from the West Indies and beyond was purposefully deleted and additionally the government has to defend itself over its decision to bomb Syria over its “alleged” use of chemical weapons.

In my opinion, both of these events characterize the way in which the British government betray our historical tradition and the citizens that inhabit it.

I’ve just finished reading, “The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution 1640 -1660” which illuminated the foundations for English influence across the world and explained the fluid nature of British identity. I feel as if this book is especially important and relevant to discuss and review, particularly in an environment when the military and civil prerogative of our government is being questioned and challenged with such frequent ferocity.

The English Atlantic is essentially a study that seeks to challenge our notion of transatlantic culture and the various political and social norms that have evolved over time. The author – Carla Gardina Pestana – links the so called “English Revolution” between Charles I and Parliament to the growth and development of the Americas. She purposefully mirrors the demise of monarchy in Britain to the rise of modernity in America. She eloquently explains – through the use of migrant testimonies and official accounts – how new forms of worship and religion were allowed to prosper throughout the continent, Carla neatly juxtaposes this religious freedom with the rise in restrictive trade barriers. The growth in restrictive trade was part of movement towards a centralised system of governance: enforced by Cromwell’s new republic in Britain. Carla actually goes further than many historians and actually asserts that this process of centralisation was the birth of the global network known as the British Empire. Interestingly but not surprisingly, as the republic grew in solidarity it relied upon illiberal labour sources like slavery and indentured servitude to strengthen the connections to its various colonies. Carla importantly explains that this turn towards centralisation affected its foreign policy, as the British republic sought to eradicate their European competitors (militarily and politically) to ensure they had unfettered access and influence over the regions they dominated.

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This study underlines the importance of the “English Revolution” to the the evolution of the British Empire.

The essential element from The English Atlantic is that it outlines a transatlantic world whose liberty is transformed by the rise of an centralized power, this provides some interesting parallels and precedents for today’s political and social climate.

If we first explore the Ongoing Windrush Scandal there are some interesting comparisons. The Windrush Generation have consistently stated their wish to self-identify as British Citizens. James Green who was born in the West Indies but migrated to the UK in 1958 when he was 15 months says “Sixty years, it’s a long time. I’m an Englishman” and Nick Broderick who also arrived in the Uk as baby in 1962 “always thought [himself] as being English.” and indeed another member of the windrush generation has spoken in astonishment: “It was a shock because I have always thought I was legal, I was British. I have been here from when I was eight. I didn’t give it another thought.” There appears to be a consistent and accurate theme where these citizens do not perceive themselves as solely West Indian but as British Citizens first and foremost: they could have easily used the term ‘Commonwealth citizens’, but their self-identification as British is an expression of their allegiance and of their informal citizenship to Britain.

Like the Windrush Generation, English migrants to America in the seventeenth century envisioned themselves as British citizens first, however the central authorities in England did not interpret this identity in the same way. Although the Windrush generation arguably faced greater injustice – seeing as the British government are responsible for eroding their British status in the first place – , the seventeenth century migrants to America were also treated as subordinate members of this new British Empire even though they considered themselves to be English. As The English Atlantic notes “Given the unprecedented intrusiveness of the state…it might seem that the colonists who envisioned a more egalitarian Empire based on shared Englishness lost their battle…..“, this was despite the fact that colonists believed that their political and social sovereignty had been inherited upon their English citizenship, one Barbadian colonist often “considered it the liberty and privilege if the free-born English-Men to have an assembly election”. This denial of basic civil rights to seventeenth century colonists has similarities to the Windrush Generation and their inability to access subsidized healthcare and employment opportunities, it also demonstrates a historical trait for the British government to neglect the rights and liberties of their citizens regardless of their ethnic origin. There is also an element of irony in this situation if one considers the fact that when Cromwell created the idea of a Commonwealth in 1653, it was designed with vision of improving the “wealth” of the “commons” (people) across the Transatlantic Empire, and today we are witnessing citizens who are facing unjustified discrimination and deportation despite being born in a commonwealth nation. Furthermore, I believe this could also undermine the constitutional changes regarding immigration and the European Union. If EU migrants can see a history of injustice relating to the British State’s treatment of citizenship, why should they trust British government to give EU nationals the rights and liberties that they deserve post Brexit?

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In the wake of the missile strikes by America, France and Britain on Syria, there has been lots of debate regarding the legitimacy and the legality of the decision to attack the Syrian state for their alleged use of chemical weapons. Jeremy Corbyn argued for something similar to a ‘War Powers Act’ that could possibly hold future governments to account when they perform a military action that might jeopardize the credibility and safety of the nation, however MP Jacob Rees Mogg responded by stating that any sort of policy to change Parliament’s influence over military affairs will require either an appeal or an amendment of the Armed Forces Act. The act does actually state that the power rests with the Prime Minister to put the armed forces in to combat and it doesn’t actually provide a mechanism for Parliament to intervene in military action. However, Corbyn should take Mogg on this suggestion and encourage the Labour Party to amend the Armed Forces Act as I believe there is historical precedent for Parliament to have a greater say in foreign policy. If we stick with Britain in the seventeenth century, there was was great turning point in 1653, when Parliament declared their sovereignty over the Monarchy when it came to dealing with military and foreign affairs. When Charles I was eventually defeated and executed in the Civil wars, Parliament legislated a new constitution which included one important clause:

When Parliament was sitting, the ordering of armed forces by sea and by land, for the peace and good of the three nations’ must be by the consent of Parliament”

 

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When Cromwell (Main) defeated the King in 1648, he established Parliamentary sovereignty over Britain. How much power does today’s parliament really have?

Even though Oliver Cromwell was the defacto leader of this new parliamentarian regime, there was an essence of democracy which reflected the importance of wide-ranging consent and approval from the nation’s “representatives”. Unfortunately, this Instrument of Government was eventually repealed when the Monarchy was reinstated in 1660 and the King resumed his position as head of State. However the seventeenth century rhetoric surrounding the armed forces, parliament and domestic affairs is very relevant for the decision making process in present day British politics. In 1654, Cromwell desperately tried to fund his military campaign against the Spanish in the West Indies with parliamentary approval. He failed to get consent based on the weak economic condition of the country, it was stated “whence shall the means of it come? Our nation is overwhelmed with debts”. This has a striking resemblance to the argument that many present day MPs make about our government which seems to find the funds for military campaigns but is simultaneously refusing to invest in to vital public services because of “austerity”.

Labour MP Ed Poole stated

“Notice how everyone wants to know how Labour will fund free buses for under-25s but no one asks Theresa may how we are going to fund bombing Syria”

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Why do we so often prioritize our military affairs over our domestic ones?

This demonstrates that Parliament should have a much more considerable influence not simply on whether it is legitimate to punish a foreign state for their alleged war crimes, but based on whether those resources could be better invested in the British public services that are known to be underfunded and under supported. Parliament has a historic record of challenging sovereign political authority for the benefit of the nation, this was proven in 2013 when Cameron lost a crucial parliamentary vote to send missile strikes on Syrian soil. That result came about because of the suspicion surrounding the rebel forces in Syria and their ambiguous legitimacy to overthrow the Assad government. Currently, we have encountered the same stumbling block as there is apparently lack of official evidence from the OPCW regarding the Chemical Attacks in Douma. It may be time for Parliament to increase its ability to scrutinize the government over the military decisions that they adopt.  Obviously the intelligence that the Prime Minster and the cabinet holds is vital to the decision making process but the government must also take in to consideration the mood of the nation and whether engaging in military conflict is in the population’s best interests. And here it must be noted that Parliament – in its entirety –  is the only institution that has the capability to represent the population’s best interests.

 

 

 

 

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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?