Beyond Free Trade, Op Ed

The concept of ‘gains from trade’ is as old as economics itself and its logic embedded deeply into the operational framework of the global economy. Jones in Who’s Afraid of the WTO (2004) attempts to demonstrate that, despite the fact that there are ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in a country when trade is liberalized, “the country as a whole tends to gain from trade (36).” Jones’s unshakable faith in free trade mechanisms to bring benefits to countries who engage in it is not all together misplaced and he makes some worthwhile observations about trade being an inevitable reality between states, with or without WTO facilitation. However, there is more to the picture than what Jones takes on. Trade liberalization as a concept has come to form part of very powerful set of economic values known broadly through the Washington Consensus, which have profoundly shaped the way international economic actors have conducted themselves in the last thirty years ­– with equally profound consequences for the countries who have adopted them. While the rapid development in China and other East Asian countries is often taken as an example attributable to export growth and the adoption of key aspects of capitalism, their assentation has been anything but prescriptive trade liberalization. In fact, contrary to the free trade logic, “most economies in East Asia did not start to liberalize imports until export growth was already well established. Taiwan and Korea [both] developed behind protective import barrier, […] generating a dynamic export sector before liberalizing imports (Oxfam; 61).”

In reality, the promotion of economic liberalization is underwritten by a complex agenda of interests. While the global economy does hold vast potential for human development, poverty reduction is not the primary function of trade liberalization as it is implemented today – despite some of the post-rationalization performed in its defense. It is, in fact, an incredibly one sided affair structured towards the retrenchment of an existing economic power balance tilted towards the Global North. Despite ardent free trade rhetoric from these countries, powerful private interests have been successful for years at keeping subsidies and import restrictions in place in key industries (such as agriculture, textiles, and steel) while strategically pressuring other countries to lift barriers to entry (Oxfam, 25).

A recalibration in this power relation is long overdue. As the Oxfam article illuminates, a deeply unbalanced trading relationship between North and South has been the status quo since the the mercantilist era. In fact, though we rarely like to admit it, Western industrialization was only possible through the extraction and exploitation of the resources of other nations, including the forced labor of its people. In today’s context, as we saw in the documentary Blood Coltan, the exploitation of both natural and human resources is still a significant problem. The integration of developing nations into the global economy is not a simply a question of ‘winners’ and losers’ but a complex process within system of imbalanced of economic and political power. The documentary serves as a reminder that the full complexity of the global economy cannot be accounted for by any model or theory, least of which, as even Jones himself argues, an anachronistic belief in Ricardian comparative advantage (36).

Thus far the United States and the European Union have both been totally unwilling to take on the true cost of free trade, as was evidence by the failure of the Doha Round of WTO negotiations. In fact, many of Jones’s arguments hinge on responding to certain WTO criticisms through reforms put forward in this Round. The cause of the failure, as it has been suggested by one prominent economics school, is that despite the fact that developing countries, “were right to say that their circumstances should give them special treatment, […] the political reality is that by offering nothing in return, they are a drag on the system (Centerpiece Autumn, 2006; 21).” This assertion is audacious, but unfortunately all to indicative of a hard truth; the fundamental intention of global trade is not the redistribution of wealth, nor economic development in the sense of poverty reduction, if it was, the Doha round would not have failed. It was a failure, because the trade liberalization agenda functions primarily to create a global economy for established multinational companies to lower their costs, expand their markets, and increase their profits (Oxfam; 6). This is not a question of not bringing anything ‘to the table’ – when 40% of the world’s population has access to only 3% of the global export market there is a bias in the system that needs to be corrected (Oxfam; 43). It is interesting to observe that, while there have been no shortage options proposed to narrow the divide between the developed and developing world, trade liberalization remains the most ‘feasible’ and regularly promoted remedy in the political toolbox. I can’t imagine why.

The Wealth of Nature, Op-Ed

The tangible, existential risks environmental degradation poses to the global economic system have never been more clear: Unmitigated exploitation of the word’s natural resources poses tremendous risk not only to the economy itself, but to our shared future on the planet. Last year the World Economic Forum named climate change its number one economic risk factor, while the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change has estimated that, by not taking into account the costs of environmental degradation, global assets were currently overvalued at anywhere between $2.5 and $24 trillion USD. The OECD, in a November 2015 report on the economic effects of climate change on GDP, estimated that even with mitigation policies in place, the potential loss to global GDP by century’s end will be between 2-12% and stressed that climate change now clearly represents “systemic risk to the global economy.”

Without hyperbole, this small snapshot represents big movement among mainstream economic institutions and their attitudes towards environmental risks. For the entirety of the history of capitalism as an economic system, we have privileged growth and development above all other considerations. Two-hundred and forty years ago, while philosophizing on the nature of pre-industrial economies in The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith could hardly have grasped the impact his ideas would have on the development of economic thought, nor the magnitude of the today’s global economy. His emphasis on free-trade through comparative advantage between nations would have had more more to do with the emancipation the burgeoning capitalist class from the dictums of the monarchy, than the alleviation of poverty, or avoiding ecological disaster. So why do we continue to cling to these ideas to combat these issues today?

Partly, the unprecedented material prosperity that has developed under free-market capitalism has engendered a certain blindness to its externalities. Given the global domination of its advocates for centuries, the religious-like faith in Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ to deliver the best possible outcome for everyone, has been practically unassailable. Advocating the supremacy of this model justifies those who have made their fortunes exploiting it and therefore work to guard against any cognitive dissonance that would force a loss of faith in it. Furthermore, the natural intersection between money and power has allowed for the ‘rules of the game’ to be refined in such a way that, where ever there was money to be made, there was as little impediment as possible to doing so.

As holders of most of the world’s resources, the countries of the Global South have long argued that their experience with Western dominated, global capitalism is highly unequal and at times extremely violent. These countries have often made the case that, not only do they experience an unequal burden from climate change created through Western development, but that that the exploitation of their natural resources, so critical to this development, has excluded them from their own proper developmental ‘take-off’. In fact, the regions which are the most vulnerable to these changes – the Middle East, North and Sub-Saharan Africa, East and South-East Asia – are some of the worst equipped to deal with them, in particular the political fallout from forced migration, famine, and food shortages and the devastating consequences to the agricultural sector; an activity essential to the survival of the world’s poorest.

Dominate economic policies have always held ‘economic growth’ as a universal good and an end in itself, but in doing so have abstracted this growth from the essence of its wealth, the resources of planet and the environmental systems that sustain them. Mainstream economists have assured us that (despite stagnate wages, rampant inequality, extreme poverty and continuous ecological disasters) economic growth is still an unquestionable good. However, our economic model is no longer, if it ever was, in the best interest of humanity, yet we struggle to find a way to evolve the system to bring us into balance.

Through an examination some of the severe ecosystem collapse currently taking place across the globe – collapsing fishers, deforestation, desertification, climate change, over-pumping water tables, melting ice caps, and the loss of flora and fauna diversity – Gardner & Prugh (2008) and Brown (2001, 2011) make a compelling, if not shocking, case for the unsustainable nature of our current global economy. An economy which, they argue, pushes the beyond limits of the environment which it inhabits and puts us on track not only for economic decline, but civilizational collapse. This is also the warning made in The Age of Stupid, a 2009 documentary which offers up a bleak warning for humanity, should we not be able to bring ourselves back into balance. Brown in Eco-economy (2001) goes further and proposes a model for such a new economy, one which brings together ecology and economics and rebalances growth with ecological limitations. He argues for nothing short of a profound systemic change, a total “restructuring of the global economy,” into one which calculates the real cost of our activities and balances them with sustainability.

However, bringing the economy into balance with the environment is as much about living within the confines of our finite system, as it is about the need to confront the reality of the world today; a world where no one actor can impose global norms and where developing countries are demanding not only their fair chance at development, but fair compensation for the consequences of climatic change they will have to endure. These are not easy issues to overcome. It requires a radical shift in our collective growth paradigm in a way that brings together environmental and economic indicators. It requires reconnecting the ‘wealth of nations’ to the source of that wealth, the true nature of capital, nature itself.





Room for One More; Reflections from a Privileged Struggle

photo_3_-_foret_de_haguenau_credit_p._jung_protection_faune_floreMarching through the wake of a shadowy sunrise my roommate and I embarked on a twenty-seven kilometer journey of masochist torture, also known as hiking through the French countryside. Something about pushing one’s physical limits and that particular quiet of nature compels some of us to do things that would be by any other definition unenjoyable. As we left the quiet of Sunday in the small village behind us, we were encouraged by seeing all manner of people utilizing some of the well kept trails and roads that run though le Forêt de Haguenau. This would change after we left our first stop, le Gros Chêne, a park built around the site of a 3,000 year-old oak tree, felled by lighting in the early 20th century. From there our route turned drastically from paved road to forest trail as we carried on with eagle eyes for the small trails markers, our only assurance we weren’t totally lost. With each passing hour the late August day seemed to claw its way back towards the heights of summer, rather than sharing a few whispering breezes with us which could foretell, as the falling leaves did, of cooler weather. Eventually we were shoulder to shoulder with the trees, dripping sweat, drowning in the melodious hum of insects. A pain grew in my right foot as I monitored the sock position to slow development of a ripe blister. The rough plastic straps of the back-pack that I was carrying our food and water pinched and twisted at my neck while I repositioned a sweaty t-shirt underneath my shoulders to alleviate some of the discomfort. Feeling deflated and overwhelmed, I reminded myself that this was my idea. I wanted to be here. Small luxuries–whether they were of the sandwich I would have at our next stop, or the cold shower I would take when I got home–motivated me to push one sore blistering foot in front of the other. This discomfort would be rewarded.

But I couldn’t help but wonder what this journey would feel like without the promise these simple luxuries. As most people are now well aware millions of refugees have fled the conflict in Syria and we currently facing a humanitarian crisis. The UN estimates that 50% of Syria’s population has been displaced. Three million people have officially registered as refugees by early August and this extraordinary number still does not take into account many who have not registered with the UNHR. Europe’s high standard of living and close geographical proximity to the crisis has made countries like France, Germany, and Sweden strategic destinations for asylum seekers while Greece, Italy, and countries such as Bulgaria and Macedonia have become the gatekeepers. Many of these refugees have walked thousands of kilometers with little to no food and water, medicine, or other essentials. Many also attempted to make the dangerous passage by boat, where smugglers have been capitalizing on the desperate situation and collecting huge sums to send packed and decrepit boats into the Mediterranean. At last count 2,500 people have failed to survive this route. The body of a three-year-old boy recently washed up on the shores of Turkey has become the symbol for the crisis after he, his mother, and five-year-old brother drowned in an attempt to seek asylum in Canada; even though their sponsored application had already been denied. Between January and May 2015 the Turkish coastguard rescued over 42,000 people, and over 2,100 last week alone, trying to reach the Greek Island of Kos.

[They] may seem like mere political caricature, but they intensify and exploit very real fears and in the process people’s unfathomable and catastrophic struggles are turned into fodder for political rhetoric.

The perception of refugee issues has always been contentious and is often lumped together with arguments around immigration in general. On the one hand most industrially developed nations recognize the need for certain amounts of immigration, but when domestic situations become aggravated through economic downturns and security concerns like terrorism people have a tendency to dig in and become more polarized and nationalistic. Pegida in Germany, Le Front National in France, English Defense League and UKIP in the UK, are all examples in the extreme of this growing phenomenon of aggressive (if not yet violent) finger pointing. Donald Trump’s perspective on Mexican immigrants, Pamela Gellner’s unbearable anti-Muslim tirades may seem like mere political caricature, but they intensify and exploit very real fears and in the process people’s unfathomable and catastrophic struggles are turned into fodder for political rhetoric.

A migrant group walks between the railroad tracks near Roszke village of the Hungarian-Serbian border on August 27, 2015. AFP PHOTO / ATTILA KISBENEDEK
A migrant group walks between the railroad tracks near Roszke village of the Hungarian-Serbian border on August 27, 2015. AFP PHOTO / ATTILA KISBENEDEK

And as I took a drink from my lukewarm Evian bottle I thought of those journeys being taken by millions of people right now. Of the entire families walking towards destinations not a few dozen kilometers away, but a few thousand. I thought of what it would take to motivate me to be able to do this, not just day after day, but month after month, to continue beyond all conception of physical and mental limitation. What it would take to pursue a destination without promise, nothing more than a glimmer of hope, which they can only assume lies in the distance. On that journey one’s only luxury is necessity. It isn’t about ‘looking for a better life.’ Even less so about committing crimes or ‘burdening the system.’ A refugee’s journey is one of survival, fed by the desperate will to live. As human beings we begin and end by this very need.

This remains forever a choice, an active, complicated and nuanced one, and one that we ‘collectively’ have to continue to make ad infinitum.

But do we have a responsibility respond? Does our relative capacity to assist others oblige us to do so? And if so, how and to what extent? The difficulty with these questions is that in reality there is nothing so fundamental that it obligates us incontestably to provide for each other a life of dignity in the face of horrifically unequal circumstances. This remains forever a choice, an active, complicated and nuanced one, and one that we ‘collectively’ have to continue to make ad infinitum.

There was a time when people fleeing persecution still had a borderless word to exploit. Entire continents were founded by refugees who have forgotten through the generations what it means to be one. At this moment in time we have a tremendous opportunity to restructure some very problematic relationships between ourselves and other parts of the world and to counteract some of the circumstances which lend themselves to violence and terrorism to begin with. Nothing builds bridges faster than an outstretched hand to someone in need. Not because we can guarantee that there will not be those who will take advantage of it, but because it builds respect when we do so. Those escaping extreme poverty and conflict need no more reasons to suspect that this world is nothing more than a violent, uncaring place from which there is no escape. They need no more reasons to try and fight invisible enemies wrapped up in the enigma of conflict. Nor is it sustainable to continue to fight violence with violence and securitize and prosecute refugees like criminals. And as I looked around at the endless undulating forest of this safe and prosperous place, I just couldn’t imagine arriving on it’s border, hungry and desperate, and believing for a second, that there wasn’t room for one more.

Changes, Challenges and Curiosity, a brief on Ros Atkins at LSE

News anchor for BBC’s Outside Source Ros Atkins was at the LSE Monday speaking with summer journalism students about some of the realities of broadcast journalism today, as informed by his wealth of experience from television and radio. Shedding light not only on how his program in particular adapted to change, but also how his job has been impacted by technology’s ability to provide ‘intimacy at a distance.’ Figuratively speaking of course, this means that we can get closer to an event while it is happening than ever before and has allowed for an unprecedented interactivity between journalist and the viewing public, to the degree that reporters can now engage and respond to viewers in real-time about what’s going on around them

On this point specifically Ros acknowledged how this drastically changes the dynamics of the relationship between the consumer and the media, with most of us now receiving our information in increasingly non-linear ways. The news today–at least as Ros is approaching it–is less didactic broadcast and more “real time collation,” where the best of the best from around the world, from journalist and non-journalist alike, is given equal opportunity to tell the news as it happens. The broadcast also becomes more participatory as the interests and concerns of viewers find direct agency through mediums like Twitter. The array of information available through the internet on any given topic means that it’s less about guarding the best scoop, as getting the best information to the public as quickly as possible; no matter who’s information it is.

With that said Ros also drove home the point that this opens up a greater need for the news to be transparent. Information is power, and therefore the news will always remain a powerful tool. How this power is used and towards which ends in particular has historically been a relationship defined by the ethical and moral considerations of the ‘journalist as gatekeeper.’ While the ability to source the best and most current content expands, the creation of that content also moves further away from the hands of the journalist. In this, and all cases where it might be applicable, Ros advocated verification as far as it will take you, transparency where it won’t, and honesty when it is still necessary to go there.

“Curiosity is the motor of everything. . . let it drive everything you do.”

While the format of journalism may change Ros advises that the best commodity you’ll have to bring to a story as a journalist is your objective curiosity. If you are genuinely and truly curious about the world and the people that inhabit it, that passion will translate to your audience more than anything else. “Curiosity is the motor of everything. . . let it drive everything you do.”

Copenhagen attacks; violence unfolds in Europe again

     Attendees of a talk entitled Art Blasphemy and Freedom and Expression were attacked with automatic weapon fire in Copenhagen on Valentine’s Day around 4:00pm CET wounding five police officers and killing one man, 55 year-old Danish filmmaker Finn Noergaard. The gunmen fled the scene in a vehicle which police later recovered about 8 km northwest of the scene of the shooting. Then in the early morning hours of Sunday 15 February, the attacker carried out another shooting at a synagogue where one security guard was also killed. Again he was able to flee the scene and remained on the run until he attempted to return to an address the police had under surveillance and was shot dead.

     While the suspects’ motivation remains technically unclear, it is widely reported that it was inspired by the shooting at Charlie Hebdo in Pairs last month and that his target was likely Lars Vilks, a Swedish satirical cartoonist. Vilks is no stranger to this kind of threat. He was one of the first to publish a caricature of the prophet Mohammed in 2007 which landed him a fatwa from al-Qaeda in Iraq which included six-figure reward. While Vilks condemned the violent act, he brazenly told the Associated Press that he was also unfazed; “I’m not shaken at all by this incident. Not the least.”

“I’m not shaken at all by this incident. Not the least,” states Lars Vilks.

     The suspect in both attacks was a 22-year-old Danish citizen Omar El-Hussein, who had a history of violence and weapons charges. While it is believed that he acted alone, and no known extremist group has claimed responsibility for the attack, this has not deterred strong language from Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt;

“We feel certain now that it was a politically motivated attack, and thereby it was a terrorist attack”. Adding, “there are forces that want to harm Denmark, that want to crush our freedom of expression, our belief in liberty.”

     Condemnations also came in from many Western leaders following suit including Françaois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and our own Prime Minister Stephen Harper who tweeted;

“Horrified by the act of terror in Copenhagen. Our thoughts and prayers are w/Denmark. We stand strong w/our allies against such atrocities.”

     The parallels between the Charlie Hebdo attack and this most recent one are almost unbelievable. Both attacks consisted of two shootings, one which aimed to attack an ideological precept, namely free speech, and the other an attack on the Jewish community. Both initial shootings in broad daylight with automatic weapons, both with targets of satirical cartoonists, both end in bloodshed for victims and suspect(s). Both were followed by sweeping ideological responses from powerful heads-of-state and calls from Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu for a “massive immigration” of Jews from Europe.

     The frustration and anger that mounted in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, now seems to have broken into exasperation. How do we respond to what seems unresolvable? How do we address these acts of violence in our communities? David Cameron had this to say;

“The shootings in Copenhagen are an appalling attack on free speech and religious freedom. Two innocent people have been murdered simply for their beliefs . . .”

     The problem is though, is it really? And what are the dangers in claiming it as one? Realistically this young man was a 22 year-old Danish national, he had never traveled to a conflict zone and there are still no connections support radicalization. So what is a terrorist act? If an attack is ideologically motivated? Does it have to be planned or orchestrated by a known terrorist group? Can an individual, acting on his own be considered a terrorist (versus a criminal) simply on the basis of the target of his crime? Furthermore, at what point does an attack warrant a grandiose ideological response and when it is simply criminal mimicry? While Danish police have not finished their forensic investigation, at this time it appears as though the suspect had no accomplices and no overtly declared motivation except what can be inferred from his targets. Does this merit a response which places this act of violence in opposition to the very foundations of Western society itself?

     In essence all violence is conducted from the same mixture of righteousness and desperation; even our own. Terrorism as violence works because it speaks to the possibility for violence that is innate within all of us. Violence cannot literally attack an abstract ideal. It cannot damage something held in the heart of a person or society, it can only slowly erode its’ integrity until they believe that’s all they are.

Four years

a paper bird

Today is the fourth anniversary of the Egyptian revolution. General Sisi’s regime has cancelled (“delayed”) any commemorations of a date it is indisposed to celebrate. Instead it is “mourning over the death of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz”: the corrupt mafioso who bankrolled the ongoing counterrevolution. Four years ago, Abdullah described Egypt’s liberation struggle thus: “No Arab and Muslim human being can bear that some infiltrators, in the name of freedom of expression, have infiltrated into the brotherly people of Egypt to destabilize its security and stability, and they have been exploited to spew out their hatred in destruction, intimidation, burning, looting and inciting a malicious sedition.” Now his Cairo acolytes anoint the foreign intruder a national hero.

Midan Tahrir, January 25, 2015: Photo by @LELoveluck Midan Tahrir, January 25, 2015: Photo by @LELoveluck

Today, Midan Tahrir is immune to infiltration, shut off with iron gates. The Ministry of Interior has deployed its forces everywhere. All Egypt is a crime scene.

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Oubliez Charlie, qui sommes nous?

Updates and Responses to the Charlie Hebdo Shooting

“I just want to tell you that we are defenders of the Prophet. I, Chérif Kouachi, was sent by al-Qaeda in Yemen. I was over there.  I was financed by Imam Anwar al-Awlaki.”

These were the words spoken by one of the two Kouachi brothers responsible for the attacks at Charlie Hebdo on January 7th. Recordings of the telephone conversation between him and a BFMTV radio station host reveal him to have been calm, purposeful and clear in his justification for his actions (Lichfield).

“We are not killers. We are defenders of the Prophet. We are not like you . . .We can kill. But we don’t kill women. It is you that kill the children of Muslims in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Syria. That’s not us. We have a code of honour, us, in Islam.”

Some experts, however, argue that this direct connection with al-Qaeda may be bit of a stretch. Al-Awlaki, the man they claim financed the operation, was killed in September 2011, and despite a video by a top al-Qaeda commander claiming responsibility (Michael), Barbara Bodine, the former U.S. ambassador to Yemen, thinks the video may be more “aspirational” than anything else, explaining “ . . . terrorists groups do like taking credit for events that they may or may not have actually been responsible for” (Brennen).

It was shortly after that interview took place when in a small village north-east of Paris, Michel Catalano, the owner of CDT Printworks, saw the two men approaching dressed in combat clothing and carrying a Kalashnikov rifle and a rocket launcher (Gardiner, Evans). The Kouachi brothers would make their final stand against police from his warehouse, eventually allowing Catalano to go free, while unwittingly leaving his one employee hiding under a sink, texting pertinent details to the police (Gardiner, Evans).

Two days later on January 11th, one of France’s largest recorded demonstrations took place, with approximately 1.6 million people gathering around the Place de la République (Paris). Many carried flags or signs which bore the now ubiquitous phrase Je Suis Charlie, while others upheld the pen, symbolic of how these attacks are being more broadly seen as an attack on “republican values” (François). Global leaders have been unanimous in their condemnation and in their likening it to an attack on free speech and the fundamental principles of “freedom-loving nations” (Francois). In a “show of solidarity”, many joined together at the demonstration to walk arm-in-arm including British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and EU President Donald Tusk (Paris).

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It isn’t difficult to understand the need for such profound and sweeping reactions. Frustration at not being able to solve the problem of extremism, while reckoning with the realities of a seemingly uncontrollable threat to safety in a nation generally distanced from prosaic violence, has reasonably shaken many people. Much of the dialogue that has followed, along with the mobilization of so many people, is a necessary response to tragedy, and an important and valuable one in a democratic society. It is precisely at such times that we need to be wary of the line between genuine discussion and grandiose sentimentality, and of using our value statements as shovels for trenching in ideological warfare.

The real threat to our society’s principles, I would argue, is not terrorism, but frantic allegiance–be it to country, flag, leader or value–anything that would be seen as so sacrosanct, so irreproachable that to be ‘done in it’s name’ is, by its own definition, intrinsically good. We cannot fight fundamentalism on one side, with fundamentalism on the other, and we cannot have a discussion about the values of the democracy, let alone use them as a rallying cry, without asking ourselves what those values mean to us today, what kind of actions they justify, and to whom these values serve. In short, what kind of society are we fighting for?

Many have pointed out some of the hypocrisy of holding up Charlie Hebdo as a bastion of free speech. The magazine’s attempts at satire often skirted a fine line between satire and racism, while unequally applying such criticism amongst its targets (Samuel). For example, after taking an anti-Semitic jab at Jean Sarkozy, the son of Nicolas Sarkozy, the cartoonist known as Sine was fired from the publication in 2009 and later charged with “inciting racial hatred” (Samuel). Satire, when done well, is meant to attack and undermine the powerful and shake up systemic complacency. When used to reproduce stereotypical images of the powerless, however, it can also be racism masquerading as satire. The world is made up of fallible people, drawing important yet still arbitrary distinctions between right and wrong, and often where the line is drawn, depends upon the artist. If we want to have freedoms then we must choose them, carefully and deliberately, and be wary of easy feel-good sentimentality and subtexts of segregation; and we must ensure that we use these values as principles of action, not privileges.

Making coffee for the Kouachi brothers: Hostage spent hours with Paris gunmen before their final, bloody stand

complex, multifaceted… this is good journalism.

National Post | News

Glancing through his rain-streaked office window early on Friday morning, Michel Catalano knew something bad was about to happen.

Striding towards him across the courtyard, a man dressed in combat clothing carried a Kalashnikov rifle and a rocket launcher slung over his shoulder.

Within minutes the businessman had been taken hostage in his own building by two of the most wanted men in the world, as thousands of armed police closed in.

Mr. Catalano gave an incredible account Saturday of the two terrifying hours he spent in the company of Said and Cherif Kouachi as they made their final, bloody stand.

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During the ordeal he made the brothers cups of coffee and even dressed their wounds after they battled with police. Later the pair let him go free, shortly before they were cut down during an explosive raid by French commandos.

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Unexpected Lessons and the Charlie Hebdo Shooting

Early morning on January 7 a sombre tone took over the normally welcoming morning smiles of the France24 broadcast tv channel. The commonly sporadic international coverage shifted quickly and dramatically to a street in the 11th arrondissement, a neighbourhood in the southeast of Paris. While watching the news, I kept hearing the same word again and again: «fusillade, fusillade». What was this word? What was happening? They say experience is the best teacher. What I experienced that day, standing in my pyjamas, coffee in hand, was the massacre at Charlie Hebdo and a French lesson I will never forget.

Just before noon, Paris time, two masked gunmen armed with Kalashnikovs, later identified as brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, drove up to the front entrance of the offices of Charlie Hebdo–a French magazine which specializes in controversial satirical cartoons–and opened fire (Burke). First killing the guards stationed outside, they then entered the building and headed directly for Stéphane Charbonnier, the editor-in-chief, murdering him along with his bodyguard. As the attack progressed the shooters called out more names of other employees and rampaged their way through the building (McCarthy, Phipps, Topping). In the end, a total of 12 people were killed and 11 injured (Charlie). Those killed included Jean Cabut, one of France’s best-known cartoonists, Bernard Maris an economist and journalist, and Georges Wolinski another well-known illustrator, along with other employees and police officers (McCarthy, Phipps, Topping).

Charlie Hebdo has already seen its fair share of controversy and tragedy. In 2006 they were one of the few publications to run the infamous Danish satirical cartoon of Prophet Mohammed, which resulted in two Muslim organizations trying unsuccessfully to sue for “incitement of hatred” (Chrisafis). Then in 2011 their office was petrol bombed, resulting in severe property damage and a follow-up issue featuring a bearded Muslim passionately kissing a cartoonist with the caption, “l’amour plus forte que la haine” (Chrisafis). There have also been a string of death threats and other harassments against many at the magazine, however there was no particular threat on the day of the shooting (McCarthy, Phipps, Topping).

After fleeing the magazine’s offices by car, the attackers abandoned the vehicle in the 19th arrondissement, near the Porte de Pantin metro station and stole another vehicle. The hunt for the gunmen continued while the French President, François Hollande, made his way down to the scene to issue a strong and unambiguous statement condemning the events not only as a terrorist attack but also as an attack against,  “… expression of freedom – and against journalists who had always wanted to show that in France they could always work to uphold their ideas and to enjoy the very freedom the Republic protects.” He continued, “France is in shock– the shock of an attack, because it’s a terrorist attack, there’s no doubt about that” (Lynch).

As news spread of the terrible events many began to gather together in show of solidarity, leaning on one another as we so often do during times of tragedy. Under the towering statue of Marianne, the allegorical figure of the French revolution, a crowd of about 35,000 gathered on Wednesday night at the Place de la République, which echoed with “spontaneous cries of, Je suis Charlie! (Overton). The phrase, which was tweeted millions of times throughout the night, became the rallying cry of those deeply moved by what had happened (McCarthy, Phipps, Topping).

For many, such an attack is clearly an attempt to silence dissenting voices and an issue of free speech, of violence versus the pen. Charlie Hebdo and the journalists who lost their lives are being held up for the ideologies of secularism, democracy and freedom in general. For others, this is an issue of nationalism, of immigration, and of a lack of forceful political action against what is being called a “war against Islamic fundamentalism” (Mosque). Warnings now come from many sides about an impending civil war (Meyssan) and of a threat, which is no longer ‘out there’ but between one another, sparked by a deep and unacknowledged hypocrisy and a pervasive disenfranchisement.

While the world comes to grips with the significance of the events, the hunt continues for the brothers, who are without a confirmed sighting in 24 hours at the time of writing (Leitchfield). US President Barack Obama as well as other key heads-of-state such as Angela Merkel and David Cameron, have offered not only their condolences but also assistance to the French government to support finding the fugitives (McCarthy, Phipps, Topping).

It is hard to say at this still early stage what the ongoing implications will be. However it seems that many are already very aware that such occurrences pose a much greater threat, if allowed to spur hatred and incite further violence. It is certainly reasonable to expect that many will feel frustration, confusion, and helplessness in the face of such a heinous crime. There will also be some who will choose to react to those feelings violently and who will want to use the highly charged emotional tension to reinforce a position of division. But this is where the real threat of terrorism lies, not in the destruction of lives or property, however tragic, but in the dismantling of our faith in one another in the hopes of securitizing ourselves against fear. Fear is the real commodity of terrorism not bullets—or bombs, or blood.

Ukraine Rising: Conflict and Confluence on the Streets of Kiev

Like Anti-government protests in Ukrainemany who have been watching the saga in Ukraine I have been moved by the gravity of the fighting, the stalwart position of the protesters, and the swift condemnation by many in the international community, including Canada’s own Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird. Admittedly prior the escalation I knew very little of the politics involved and will admit still, a relatively superficial understanding, but its significant was obvious, even before I attempted to understand why.

Ukraine has a long history of internal struggle between those with West leaning ideologies and favor closer relations with the EU, and those who would support stronger ties with Russia. Generally speaking, support for the latter arises largely from an ethnically Russian population within Ukraine, most notably in the Donbass and Crimea regions, where Russian is still the dominant language, along with other large cities in the East and South. Interestingly, it was in these regions where Viktor Yanukovych–the now disgraced Ukrainian president–received his strongest mandate to lead in the contested February 2010 election which saw him elected president. Yanukovych allegiances were confirmed when it was obviously his policies were to “perform a sharp U-turn on the policies pursued by his predecessor, Viktor Yushchenko[‘s] . . . pro-west and pro-Nato stance”. In the years leading up to recent events however, it would appear that he chose more carefully, playing both sides of the political line. In an attempts to appease pro-western Ukrainians, Yanukovych undertook six years of negotiations with the European Union to create a widely supported co-operation agreement. While the EU has co-operation agreements with other non-EU countries, an agreement with Ukraine would be “the first agreement based on political association between the EU and any of the Eastern Partnership countries.” That is had it not been suspiciously abandoned on the day of expected ratification at the Eastern Partnership Summit in November 2013. Admits a myriad of other allegations–including election fraud, political persecution and a string of early criminal charges which were suspiciously cleared prior to his election–Yanukovych’s out and out rejection of any intention to finalize ties with the EU was the spark, settling ablaze the first wave of major protests.

By the evening of November 21, 2013, estimates described tens of thousands of Ukrainians flooding the streets of Kiev to demand that the government ratify the agreement as promised. The central square in Kiev, known as Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), was an early point of occupation. Consequently, the term maidan and specifically euromaidan became popularized after its use as a twitter hashtag became synonymic with the protests in general. The protests, which had remained largely peaceful, would begin to escalate on the night of November 30, 2013, one week after they began, on orders that the Berkut (Ukrainian riot police) disperse the maidan occupiers.

Dissension grew as images of bloodied and beaten protesters circulated around the country and accusations of kidnappings and disappearances spread. No longer satisfied simply with the ratification of the EU agreement, the protesters demanded Yanukovych’s resignation. “Glory to Ukraine, glory to the hero’s!” they shouted at the Berkut. “Glory to Ukraine, glory to the hero’s!” they shouted as the rallying cry and as a funeral song for flower laden caskets of deceased protesters, marched through the city streets.

Occupation of central Kiev passed back and forth between government forces and the protestors, during which the Ukrainian opposition would try unsuccessfully, to broker several cease fires. As the protests continued into January of 2014, pressure mounted on Yanukovych to act; which he did on January 16, 2014, implementing draconian anti-protest laws, which only served to move the protesters from fitful, into an all out violent revolution.

The violence continued to rise into what some on the ground described as a “post-apocalyptic nightmare”. The death toll was mounting with one riotous day after another ending in bloodshed. Political lines blurred in the face of what were obvious human-rights abuses. While some groups were undoubtedly out to merely to add to the violence, for many others political ties were set aside, as pro-Russian, radical right-wing, and well known paramilitary groups joined the peaceful protestors to mobilize in the hundreds of thousands; occupying administrative buildings, building make-shift armories, delivering medical-aid, and erecting blockades, while rioting continued in the streets. The condemnations were swift and clear, with both US President Barack Obama and leaders from EU taking a stance against the use of force on the protestors. Finally, on February 22, 2014, after two days of particularly intense fighting and confirmed fatalities reaching upwards of 75, representatives of the EU managed to negotiate a difficult peacedeal, which included the resignation of Yanukovych–later formerly impeached –among other terms. While this has done much to quell the violence, as can be expected, tensions remain high.

But where there is victory for the protesters, there is only concern for Moscow. A successful overthrow of a Russian supported government on Putin’s backdoor can only be viewed as a loss. Many post-soviet states have experienced the indirect hold Russia continues to manage, as they struggle to define themselves autonomously away from the eye of the Kremlin. Russia has been known to exert considerable force in the past when confronted with ‘unruly states’ who threaten to undermine their hold on the region, as we saw in 2008 when tensions between Georgia and a Russian armed South Ossetia escalated, due in part to Georgia similarly seeking closer ties to the West in a bid for NATO membership.

The first and actual victory here is against the internal corruption in Ukraine. But will the end of Yanukovych also bring an end to his style politics? That will depend largely on who comes to power now and to the extent of the decay within the system. The second victory however, is much less certain. Effectively, it is Cold War politics all over again, as a new battlefield emerges from the vestiges of old ideological conflicts. Only in this case, democracy is no longer a weapon of the state, but a tool in the hands of the people. How it has been and will be used in Ukraine is no longer relevant to what it looks like in the West. For today, on the shoulders of victory in Ukraine, democracy carries a new name; euromaidan.