Validating the Revolution

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By Jack McGrath

The past decade saw revolution and protest unfold across the globe. It does not seem that this decade will be any different. If anything, matters look to escalate: one might bring to mind the recent widespread protests in Belarus, Peru, and the U.S. Being on the constant cusp of global change, as it seems we will be in the 2020s, the terms revolution and reform will likely become even more common use in media and discussion than they already are (Thailand protests, U.S Cultural Revolution, Beirut revolution). But what is the relationship between the two? What happens, in particular, when revolution becomes reform?

One might call this process validation. The birth of the partnership between official and revolutionary. 

There are a few things this partnership entails. It means support – government support. It means advice – government advice. It means limitation – government limitation. And it means all that in that order. 

Perhaps the point has been put more aptly by Malcolm X:

“The next scene was the “big six” civil rights Negro “leaders” meeting in New York City with the white head of a big philanthropic agency. They were told that their money–wrangling in public was damaging their image. And a reported $800,000 was donated to a United Civil Rights Leadership council that was quickly organized by the “big six.”

Now, what had instantly achieved black unity? The white man’s money. What string was attached to the money? Advice. Not only was there this donation, but another comparable sum was promised, for sometime later on, after the March. . . obviously if all went well.” (Haley, 2001, p. 386)

For the record, I do not share Malcom X’s attitude to The March on Washington. But nonetheless, regardless of where one stands on that issue, one can see exactly what he meant: The Black Revolution, as he envisaged it, had been undermined. Why? Because those who should have been fellow revolutionaries, to his eyes, had welcomed White support. And with White support, came White advice. Advice which would seek to curb the more radical elements of the revolution: to, eventually, ensure that revolution was supplanted by reform.

One might, alternatively, consider the Russian Revolution of 1905. Specifically, I am thinking of the Duma and the October Manifesto. For both could, in their nature, be seen as manifesting the sort of partnership we are here concerned with and were both to have the consequence of watering-down the revolution (at least, for the short-term).

Trotsky, I think, saw this when he said, with exasperation, “You are repeating what your predecessors did in the same situation half a century ago…You are afraid of breaking with the Duma, because to you this constitutional mirage seems real in the dry and barren desert through which Russian liberalism has been wading” (Deutscher, 2003, p.100) – and as he then conjured the image of the revolution ebbing away.

This takes us back to where we started, then, revolution and reform. When revolution becomes reform through validation, it is unavoidably watered-down. Parts are supported. The rest is left by the side. Of course, this is not to say that the end-product of validation is always a disappointment. Not at all. It can be quite the contrary. But it is, nonetheless, to say that revolution can never wholly survive the process of validation.

In light of this, one might even imagine validation as a tool for undermining truly unwieldy unrest. “To undermine the revolution” one official might say to another, “validate it. Not all of it. But enough of it. The relevant and agreeable parts. And then, in partnership with those proper elements, mold that behemoth, that hulking monstrosity, that revolution, into an inconvenient force for reform.”

So, when you see revolution validated in the decade to come, as it surely will be on occasion, look to see what is validated. Look to see that the tools for true, positive, genuine, change are not dismantled in the process. And if they are, in Europe, Asia, Africa, or the Americas, raise your voice and fight to reclaim the revolution. 

Will the Biden Administration Improve Human Rights?

President-elect Biden speaking at an event in Nevada in February. (Source: Gage Skidmore on Wikimedia Commons)

By Hadley Baker

Four days after the U.S. Election Day, we finally got a definitive result: Biden won Pennsylvania and secured enough electoral votes to win the presidency. After four years of Donald Trump systematically stripping away the basic human rights of many Americans, Biden’s win was an immense relief.

But now, a few weeks later, the dust has settled as the Biden team plans for the transition, and many are wondering what impact Biden will really have on the human rights demands of the people. While Trump has yet to formally concede, and is fighting the validity of the election in court—with practically no concrete evidence of election fraud—it seems as though he’s finally starting to accept defeat, allowing the Biden team to plan for January.

Biden is generally viewed as a moderate politician who would not commit to radical changes appeasing the progressive wing on issues of climate change, racial justice, or universal healthcare during the campaign—unlike more liberal candidates.

But after a summer of protests over police brutality and systemic racism, revelations of sterilization of immigrant women in ICE detention centers, wildfires raging across the U.S., and a pandemic that has already killed over 250,000 Americans, will Biden take a more aggressive stance to actually tackle these issues in a meaningful way?

The answer is unclear as of yet. Beyond just undoing regressive policies limiting human rights from the Trump administration—including halting withdrawal from the World Health Organization and re-entering the Paris Climate Agreement—Biden should address the concerns of the public on human rights issues.

While clearly stating that he will undo these policies, Biden is less transparent on whether or not he will address systemic racism and climate change in a meaningful way and has rolled out a healthcare plan that would offer a private and public option—instead of the universal health care that many are calling for—even though he acknowledges these all as problems the U.S. should confront.

One positive indication so far of Biden’s commitment to improving human rights are his diverse Cabinet appointments. Alphonso David, President of the Human Rights Campaign said that “President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris are assembling a team that will represent the best of America”, including the first Latino and immigrant to serve as the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and the first woman to serve as Secretary of the Treasury.

But broad political commentary and symbolic appointments are insufficient. The Biden administration needs to take concrete steps to improve the myriad of human rights issues the country is facing. Human Rights Watch released a series of recommendations for the Biden administration on domestic and foreign policy human rights concerns, including supporting policies that address racial disparities in the criminal justice system, prioritsing the fair treatment of immigrants, and prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Further, and the most likely to happen in the upcoming months, the group recommends providing COVID-19 economic relief and ensuring wide range access to healthcare.

Whether or not the Biden team takes that advice remains to be seen, and will probably not be realised for months or years to come.

Saudi Arabia’s G20 summit

Photo by Ishan @seefromthesky on Unsplash

By Louisa Campbell

Baroness Helena Kennedy of the House of Lords has called on global nations to shun the G20 summit hosted by Saudi Arabia unless jailed women’s rights activists are released. Kennedy declared that these women’s advocacy for human rights “is seen as an afront to the power structures in Saudi Arabia”.

The spotlight of the G20 summit this year seems to have fallen on the presenting nation themselves. Saudi Arabia playing host, albeit virtually, has been the cause of “deep disquiet” for human rights activists across the world.

Human rights groups are concerned first and foremost with the detention of women activists, the most infamous being Loujain al-Hathloul. She vehemently opposes the male guardianship system and first became notorious for her campaigning on the right of women to drive. Today, she is in the midst of a hunger strike whilst being detained in dismal conditions. According to her family, Loujain has been beaten, given electric shocks, and threatened with rape whilst residing in state facilities.

Moreover, the Human Rights Watch have also called for the release of these women and for Saudi Arabia to “provide accountability for past abuses”. A catalysing factor for attention on Saudi Arabia’s violations was the 2018 murder of a journalist at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Jamal Khashoggi was brutally killed and whilst eight men were sentenced, the global consensus is that the “masterminds” of the operation have never been held accountable.

Additionally, the five year long conflict with Yemen is still ongoing and has caused a diabolic humanitarian crisis. The UN stress the extent of civilian casualties and advocate for access to Yemen and an end to arms sales in Saudi Arabia. Yet unsurprisingly, Saudi officials ardently claim that during this conflict they have never targeted civilians .

The Saudi government stressed that “our judiciary is independent”, condemning the international community for passing judgment on their courts. However, Human Rights Watch continue to call out Saudi Arabia for “image laundering” which involves investing money into entertainment and sporting events in attempt to hide their human rights abuses.

Clearly Saudi Arabia has deeply rooted policies and customs which violate the international code on human rights. Whilst amending these is a monumental proposition, what can be achieved in the present day is releasing the detained women to their families.  In the words of Helena Kennedy, “this is an unacceptable abuse of human beings” and needs to be rectified as soon as possible.

What will a Biden presidency mean for America’s Middle East policy?

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

By MacKenZie Rumage

After four years of President Donald Trump’s unpredictability, cosying up to autocrats, and breaking from global agreements — like the Paris Climate Agreement — many world leaders welcomed Biden’s win, sensing he would be a more trustworthy partner. Leaders from German chancellor Angela Merkel to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan quickly congratulated Biden and Vice-President elect Kamala Harris on their win, which stood in stark contrast to Trump’s refusal to accept the election results.

One area where Biden will be especially tested is his Middle Eastern foreign policy. Trump tended to establish foreign policy via Twitter and took positions that isolated the United States from their closest allies, such as considering leaving the NATO, which the United States has been part of for seventy years with other nations like Canada and the United Kingdom. Biden will likely return to standard official procedures that prioritises diplomacy and working with other nations to make decisions.

A changing relationship with Saudi Arabia

A major place where Biden will depart from Trump-era policy is the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia, whose Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman was one of Trump’s favourite foreign leaders. Bin Salman has been criticised worldwide for his disastrous human rights record, which includes fuelling the civil war in Yemen and likely ordering the assassination of American-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was a prominent critic of the Saudi government. Biden said that his administration would end their indirect support for the war in Yemen, while promising to punish Saudi leaders for Khashoggi’s death. This promise is also a firm rebuke to Trump’s antipathy to the media, who he has previously called ‘the enemy of the people.’

Biden’s support of Israel and Palestine

Biden supports Israel, but not as intensely as Trump did, who supported Israel’s claim to Jerusalem and moved the American embassy there from Tel Aviv. This decision prompted controversy because of Israel and Palestine’s competing claims to the city, and infuriated Palestinians. Trump has not been a friend to the Palestinians, cutting millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to them while maintaining a friendship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was indicted on bribery charges. Biden’s relationship with Netanyahu will likely resemble Obama’s, who repeatedly clashed with him over Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and allowed the UN Security Council to pass a resolution declaring those settlements illegal. Although Biden will probably not move the embassy from Jerusalem, he supports the two-state solution between Israel and Palestine and promised to restore humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.

Biden does not take office until January 20th, which gives President Trump two months to make Biden’s implementation of his foreign policies as difficult as possible by slowing the transition of power and quickly proceeding with several policy decisions, like the massive sale of arms to the United Arab Emirates. Trump’s deliberate interference with the transition of power not only makes Biden’s job harder but puts national security at risk as well. This is a dangerous move, especially as the United States’ main priority right now is to combat the pandemic — a battle they are not winning, as more than 250,000 people have died from COVID-19 in America.

The Covid-19 Pandemic Has Killed Individual Privacy For Good

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By Peder Heiberg Sverdrup

The pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic caused states to embrace digital tools of surveillance at an alarming speed this year. Although monitoring apps such as the NHS Covid-19 App provide a quick fix to a temporary problem, the rushed outsourcing of sensitive personal information to private companies normalises the contingent relationship between public health and individual privacy.

The over-technological solution is the result of an uncritical and at times utopian view of private enterprise as the solution to larger socio-economic issues. As argued in Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, the intensification of monitoring results in the entrenchment of surveillance for both governments and private enterprises. The German government’s move from a centralised to a decentralised tracking system delivered by Apple and Google show how the increased influence of technology companies shapes public policy measures.

What has become crystal clear in 2020 is that acceptance for exceptional measures and enhanced digital surveillance is drastically higher than anticipated. The state of exception as rationale for the suspension and undermining of democratic principles and rights is not a new phenomenon. However, the complete absence of a debate on the legitimacy, trustworthiness, or ethicality of these new surveillance measures demonstrates a chilling fact about contemporary life. When things are going 100 km/hr, the media and the political establishment are powerlessly asleep at the wheel.

One reference point is the passing of the PATRIOT Act in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001. However, the last 20 years have provided tools of surveillance way beyond the imagination of the policymakers at the beginning of the millennium. Consequently, we have no framework of how to deal with the present reality. This digital terra incognita is not uniform, as some countries are much more drastic in their monitoring of its population. For example, South Korean authorities posted detailed location histories of each citizen who tested positive, revealing the grocery stores, churches, and massage parlours they frequented.

Although not uniform, the trend toward increased surveillance is undeniable. The tools of surveillance have not only been popularised in both liberal democracies and authoritarian regimes, they have gotten the unattainable “proof of concept” needed to usher in a new age of digital power. In fighting to save one form of life, the new normal of surveillance has killed another.

Far-Right Nationalism and the Persecution of Minorities

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By Teia Swan

Over the past several years, the world has witnessed what can best be described as a global shift towards far-right nationalism, characterized by the otherization of minority groups such as immigrants, women, and LGBTQ+ people. These ideologies have become prominent in nations such as the United States and Brazil, as well as several European states having severe consequences for minority groups. In the United States, for instance, far-right principles have been legitimized by the Trump Administration, contributing to both a political and social culture that actively harms minorities. Rhetoric vilifying immigrants as threats to American culture has become commonplace, and has translated into policies such as the ‘zero-tolerance’ family separation rule. It has also resulted in increased rates of anti-immigrant violence: mass shootings, such as the 2019 El Paso shooting, have been directly inspired by far-right rhetoric, while rates of anti-immigrant hate crimes have skyrocketed.

Similar trends are visible in European nations, where anti-immigration parties have become increasingly more popular; Alternative for Germany and Spain’s Vox parties, for example, are each one of the largest parties in their respective countries. Meanwhile, far-right ideology has also spelled out trouble for sexual and gender minorities. The Vox party in Spain, rapidly gaining popularity, poses an immense threat to LGBTQ+ rights, as leaders of the party have advocated to place restrictions on LGBTQ+ pride events and supported narratives comparing homosexuality to beastiality. Concurrently, the far-right governments of Hungary and Poland have received backlash over policies restricting the rights of LGBTQ+ people, as well as women. The Hungarian government has proposed a constitutional amendment that would prohibit LGBTQ+ people from adopting children and forbid transgender people from legally changing their name or gender. Meanwhile, LGBTQ+ activists in Poland have been targeted by the government while protesting ‘LGBT-Free Zones’ and the government frames “LGBT ideology” as a threat “more dangerous than communism.” Likewise, the Polish government has moved to implement a near-total ban on abortions, reducing women’s reproductive rights to almost nothing.

Ultimately, the rise of far-right ideologies prioritizing ‘Christian’ values and national homogeny have devastating consequences for minorities. Not only does the popularization of far-right principles result in increased violence, but it also results in policies that are deeply dehumanizing. Far-right leaders and advocates, then, pose a clear threat to human rights and ought to be opposed at all costs.

Celebrating Christmas Somewhere New!

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By Olivia Bastin

Who doesn’t like Christmas? The festive period filled with yummy food, merry carols, finding your inner artist by drawing a semi realistic Rudolf, receiving cute Christmas cards, and best of all the presents! Christmas is celebrated differently all over the world. I’ve had a lot of British Christmas’s at home. However, I celebrated Christmas with a good friend of mine in Venice, Italy so I thought I’d reflect on a typical British and Italian Christmas.

I’ve always wondered what the Mediterranean looks like at Christmas and 2 years ago I found out. It looks just as beautiful as it does during the summer except it’s a bit colder and when I splashed about in the water I got some odd looks from the few Italians sitting on the sand in puffy winter coats, wooly scarfs, and warm hats.  It was the first-time celebrating Christmas abroad!

The main impression I got was that Christmas in the UK is more commercialised whilst Christmas in Italy had a more religious element to it. Even when we were driving through the countryside, there were several nativity scenes beside bus stops and at the side of the road. On New Year’s Eve my friend, her family, and I all went to their local church and attended midnight mass. The service generally felt very reflective and calm until the moment when the priest brought out the wine and bread; everyone stampeded up to the altar and nearly knocked the poor guy over. That is just an ordinary Italian Christmas experience!

As is eating seafood instead of turkey which we do in Britain. I suppose turkey is out and seafood is in. In France, most people have a big meal the night before Christmas day called a reveillions. You would find foie gras, a goose, and marrion glase on the Christmas table. Another interesting difference I noticed was that in the UK we open our presents on Christmas day whereas in Italy they open presents the night before. I remember rushing down the stairs to enthusiastically see a bundle of brightly coloured presents pouring out of my Christmas stocking. In Italy, they put the Christmas presents underneath the tree like we do in the UK too. 

Overall, I loved experiencing Christmas in Italy, and I would totally recommend trying Christmas somewhere new. Why not create new traditions? Make new memories? Aren’t you curious to see how this Christian holiday is celebrated all over the world? Clearly, Christmas is a special time of year wherever you are in the world! 

The Future of Assisted Suicide in the UK

Image taken from Flikr

By Ella Watharow

You may have heard of the tragic case of Tony Nicklinson, who was left with Locked-In Syndrome following a stroke in 2005, when his life became a “living nightmare”. In 2012, the High Court rejected Tony’s appeal to legally end his life, at which point he began to starve himself until he died from pneumonia six days later. 

Assisted dying is illegal in the UK, and the Nicklinson ruling reinforced this. And yet, in 2019 alone, 42 Brits travelled to Dignitas in Switzerland to end their life. This, combined with Matt Hancock’s recent announcement that travelling abroad for assisted suicide does not constitute a breach of lockdown rules, creates a disparity between law and reality that Trevor Moore, chair of My Death My Choice, refers to as “absurd”. One individual, who does not wish to be named, recalls how after travelling with their quadriplegic father who wished to end his life in Switzerland, they were faced with immediate police questioning. They say that under the current law, families “cannot properly focus on grieving for the person that they have lost until an investigation has been concluded, which can take many months”. Ultimately the majority of cases are not taken forward, with 139 out of 162 cases between 2009 and 2020 not being prosecuted. However, the obscurity of the law adds unnecessary difficulty to a situation that is already incredibly painful.

This begs the question: why has the law not been changed? Although public opinion is overwhelmingly in support of assisted suicide, the official policy of the British Medical Association (BMA) opposes “all forms of physician-assisted dying”. Additionally, major organisations such as Caring not Killing and Not Dead Yet provide active opposition to a change of law, citing concerns about safeguarding and the potentially increased pressure for ill and disabled people to end their lives. 
Nonetheless, many, like Trevor Moore, remain optimistic that there is an “increasing acceptance [of the need for legal change]” in the UK. With the BMA’s assisted suicide policy up for review in 2021, only 39% of its members currently oppose a reform of the current law, and change seems to be on the horizon. Whilst some view this prospect with fear and concern, others welcome it, asserting that a change in policy will return a sense of dignity and control to thousands of people around the country.

Food Poverty at Home This Christmas

Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

By Louise Palmer

Christmas is a time for giving, celebrating, and appreciating loved ones. It is also the time of year which highlights the inequality in our society more starkly than any other. Over this festive period thousands of Scots will face the struggle of food poverty, consequently leading to increased stress, hunger, and social exclusion. Food poverty can be understood as “the inability to acquire or consume an adequate or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so”. In 2019, the Scottish government found that 9% of the population (almost 500,000 people) worried that they would run out of food due to a lack of resources. However, this rose sharply to 31% for single parent households in Scotland. The statistic for single parents is only relevant for single mothers due to the data used but it reflects the real challenge of food poverty in Scotland. This problem has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as more people face financial instability.

In turn, this has led to a substantial increase in demand for emergency food provision. Crucial resources such as food banks play a key part in the response to food poverty, however they should not be considered a central part of the long term solution. Improving understanding and involving more people experiencing food poverty in the conversation, have been recognised as key parts of a sustainable longer term approach. There is currently a proposed Right to Food Bill in the Scottish Parliament, which aims to enshrine the human right to food into Scots Law. Those supporting the Bill argue that if passed, it would allow for a more coherent strategy to tackle the wider issue of food poverty. However, we are currently a long way from achieving something of this sort.

The outlook need not be entirely doom and gloom, as both organisations and individuals who work hard to combat food poverty year round will continue to do so this Christmas. Within the UK, the Scottish Government has taken a leading role in attempting to combat poverty and inequality. In particular, choosing to create new child poverty targets (within Child Poverty Scotland Act 2017) when Westminster scrapped the Child Poverty Act in 2016. Moreover, organisations such as the entirely volunteer-run Fife Gift of Christmas Appeal are determined to make this Christmas a positive experience for youngsters. Fife Gift of Christmas aims to make sure every child in Fife has a present to open on the 25th. This inspiring spirit can be found across Scotland, but it does not detract from the struggles that currently face society. As we move into the new year and collectively look to the future, we need to make a concerted effort to move forward as one.

The Beirut explosion: a call for global investigation

Image from Rashid Khreiss/Unsplash; Graphic by Rachael Millar

By Louisa Campbell

On the 4th of August 2020 a deadly explosion occurred in Beirut, Lebanon. The UN have acknowledged the suffering of this event, especially given the context of Lebanon’s current economic crisis and the global conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this response, it remains contested as to how effective investigations surrounding the explosion have been.

The blast was the biggest in Beirut’s history, killing 172 people, injuring 6000 and leaving 250,000 homeless. The explosion was caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate being stored at Beirut’s port without the needed safety precautions. Immediately after, the UN released a statement outlining that under international human rights law, states are obligated to confront risks posed by hazardous substances. They additionally stressed that such an investigation should be independent and “probe any systemic failures of the Lebanese authorities”. The UN’s benchmarks for inquiry highlighted the investigation should be protected from undue influence, focus on systemic failures of the Lebanese authorities and integrate a gender lens.

However, Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun rejected this notion of an international investigation, claiming that it would be a “waste of time”.  Aoun’s initial promise of a transparent investigation has since been heavily criticised for failing to meet shared international standards. Contempt is brewing even more so given that court records leaked to the media revealed that high level officials knew of the stockpile at the port, which had been present for six years, yet ceased to take action.

Whilst government granted internal investigations, these have since garnered criticism from both the international community and Lebanese citizens. Essentially, the long term failures of Lebanon’s judicial system have made any prospects of a credible investigation impossible. The case was referred to the Judicial Council on August the 10th but the judge appointed to head the enquiry, Fadi Sawan, has been accused of representing political corruption. The decision was labelled “an opaque process shrouded in allegations of political interference”, hence the government has further lost public faith and now a renewed call for international investigation is coming from victim’s families.

Aya Majzoub, the Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch stated that now, “only an independent international investigation will uncover the truth about the blast”. Majzoub calls for an enquiry that questions the corruption permeating the entire political system, which was arguably responsible for creating the environment in which such a catastrophe was possible.

Now three months since the blast, citizens are beginning to suffer the enduring effects of such a disaster. In particular, the pollutants released by the explosion have caused air contamination. The residents of Beirut have the right to detailed information about the potential health risks posed by this reality.

The Human Rights Watch advised that to rectify this failure, Lebanon should adjust their procedures to comply with principles of a fair trial and grant independence of the judiciary, allowing it to act in separation from government. Urgent assistance from the international community is required, as Lebanon are suffering a deterioration of human rights protection catalysed by this explosion.

The deficit of effective governance in Lebanon has always been present but this explosion has illuminated it and prompted a drive against corruption. Above all, if the calls for a credible investigation are successful, it is imperative that victims and witnesses are protected by privacy and confidentiality. Under international law, they are entitled to a healthy environment and currently they do not have one. Evidently, the proposed independent investigation needs to occur sooner rather than latter to both protect to the civilians of Beirut and hold the Lebanese government accountable for their weak response.