Sunday, 16 November 2014

Why the Netherlands should welcome a Party for the Turks

Last week, in between the national debate/civil war surrounding Zwarte Piet, the Labour Party
Selçuk Öztürk and Tunuhan Kuzu Foto ANP / Martijn Beekman
expelled two of its MPs. Tunuhan Kuzu and Selçuk Öztürk broke party ranks to criticise Labour Minister for Immigration Lodewijk Asscher and parliamentary spokesman Ahmed Marcouch. They believed that their criticism against Turkish integration movements showed the party favoured assimilation instead of integration. A few days later the media uncovered that the two MPs had conflicted with the Labour party management for a long time already and that they wished to form a political movement for the Turkish-Dutch community. In the wake of these events, many pundits have commented that these MPs are 'radicalised' and that they are puppets of the Turkish state. Kuzu and Öztürk have been immediately discredited as 'foreigners' and 'outsiders' by the national media. I think that these comments are extremely unhelpful, and instead we should welcome this new movement with open arms.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Europe keeps on backing the wrong horses on Ukraine

Whilst our attentions are currently more grasped by the rise of ISIS - or IS, as they seem to prefer - in Iraq, or even more taken in by the exploits of a biting adult on grass fields in Brazil, the former media darling that is the Ukraine conflict has been swept under the covers. Worrying, because even though the EU and Russia keep foolishly insisting that the Ukranian government keeps to a ceasefire with the insurgents in Donetsk, the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic has decided to continue the fighting and are now even refusing to let orphans leave to safer areas, preferring to use innocent children as human shields.

That insistence is probably the most harrowing of The current EU diplomacy. They join Putins plea of saying that the end to the ceasefire is because they "couldnt convince Poroshenko of keeping to peaceful ways". The more realistical assessment, made by Poroshenko, is that it is probably futile and dangerous to keep up a ceasefire with a side who, during the ceasefire, has attacked several civilians and killed 'collaborators', held Ukranian soldiers under fire, tried to shoot down a Tsibili - Kharkov civilian flight with a rocket launcher and have resorted to using orphans as human shields.

Indeed, upholding a ceasefire against these insurgents probably is a failure of the government to uphold the human rights of the innocent civilians in the Donetsk region, out of whom an overwhelming majority do not back the violent rebellion and whose lives are threatened daily by the insurgents.
It is also a truly absurd policy to back. It would be akin to saying to Spain in the 1980s that they were not allowed to combat ETA, or for us to say that Nigeria should not continue the fight against Boko Haram. Worrying, Boko Haram merely captures schoolkids and doesnt intent to put them in front of enemy fire.

Its even more scary to see that the EU has suffered from bouts of amnesia. It wasn't long ago that the EU supported the reading that Russia had direct ties with the Kharkiv rebels. In fact, it wasn't long ago that they threatened Russia with a new round of sanctions if they failed to support a solution to the unjust occupations in the Donetsk region.
Those sanctions wont be followed upon now with the EU citing "insufficient evidence" existing to support the sanctions. When earlier they mistrusted Russia enough to not let them take place at the negotiation table with the rebels, Russia has now claimed its spot. 

The sad reality is that the single argument against resuming the fighting is an immoral one: its the argument that the Ukrainian army lacks the capacity to win the war. But surely the consequence of that argument means that the international community should aid the war effort, rather than let the separatists win? 

It likely is not even the argument that is trumpeted most in the ongoing negotiations, discussions, fora and council meetings that the West has used as substitute for action. It wont be publicly admitted, but the EU wants a ceasefire because Russia quite likes the status quo where a Russian minority can usurp a part of Ukraine. And we prefer to stay in their good books and get their cheap gas or oligarchs investing in London and Paris and Berlin.

The current stance is unpalatable, indecent and immoral. The haggling of the West, whilst they have the capacity to aid a swift(er) end to the insurgence, is therefore directly responsible for deaths on the ground. A better policy to pursue would include stronger political and material support for the Ukrainian government. Military advice can be dispensed and better weapons can be given without the need for boots on the ground.

The EU must further understand that backing Ukraine is in its wider interests. It cannot think that just because an association treaty has been signed that Ukraine is in its pocket. A frustration of Ukraine's political and security ambitions could still drive them away from the EU. For a recent analogy you have to look no further than to Erdogan steering Turkey away from the EU after all the dithering of its membership status. This would mean that the EU could stand to lose a trading ally, but furthermore would heavily undermine the idea of the EU as a diplomatic ally.

When the association treaty was signed, most Western media ignored the speech were Poroshenko heavily criticised a lax EU. The seeds of discontent have already been sown. 
More worrying, if the EU would care about a solution with fewer deaths, not intervening in a battle between an ill-equipped Ukranian army and the zealots in the separatist movements is probably the worst solution to follow.
Doing all this for the sake of remaining Russia's whipping boy will prove eventually disastrous. Ukraine and Belarus can attest to this: the gas crane is only open at the whims of Russia's increaingly imperialist government.

Its time to act.

Striking the right balance: trigger warnings in debating

Trigger warning: this article discusses the application of trigger warnings. As thus, certain subjects commonly associated with trigger warnings such as violence or sex will be mentioned.

This article was written based on past experiences, particularly at the Edinburgh Cup 2014, where I was a member of the adjudication team. This article is written on a personal title, and nothing which I say here should be taken to be the opinion of anyone else associated with the running of that tournament, be it the CA-team, the equity officer, the organisational committee or anyone else.

At the Edinburgh Cup the CA-team wished to set a motion on the legal definition on rape. In particular, the discussion would revolve around affirmative consent legislation (or "yes means yes") that has been making headlines in California and New Zealand, and has as a definition been used to teach sexual consent during the Fresher weeks at Oxford and Cambridge. Owing to the complex and sensitive subject matter it was provisionally set as the semi final motion. During the competition the CA-team and the equity officer felt that a motion discussing rape might create undue pressure on a number of competitiors, judges and audience members, and thus created a couple of procedures to make sure everyone would be comfortable. Firstly, it was decided that the public announcement would be accompanied by a trigger warning. Before that, however, the competitors would be told in privacy by the equity officer that the semi final motion would concern a "legal discussion surrounding rape". They could then write on a piece of paper anonymously if they wanted to debate the motion or not. At Edinburgh a number of debaters wrote that they would rather not debate such a topic, and another semi final was ran (a public trigger warning was therefore not given).

I think this was an important thing to do, and would suggest to future CA-teams and equity officers that they take these matters into consideration and, where possible, implement simular measures. I do think, however, that we need to have a discussion surrounding the scope of these policies, as there might be slippery slopes and chilling effects associated with a full-scale application of trigger warnings in debating. While broadly supporting the aims of trigger warnings and asking for consent of participants to debate sensitive topics, in this article I want to sketch some of these possible pittfalls, in order to provoke a discussion about what the limits of trigger policies ought to be.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

I respect your decision to kill

"Meat is murder. Delicious murder."

At some level we probably are all aware of the fact that much of the food that we eat and enjoy every day
was specifically raised, often in dehumanising torturous conditions, and then viciously and uncaringly murdered, their carcasses disseminated without much thought or concern of its lifes, for the sole purpose of us enjoying food that tastes incredibly good, tasty, juicy, but is not necessary to sustain a healthy diet in the 21st century.

I am sorry if you were eating while reading this.

I became a vegetarian right before I went to university, after I spend a few minutes actually thinking about the food we all consume. Before that food was something that just tasted incredibly good; a steak and a glass wine so I could feel sophisticated alongside the adults, or the grease-and-food-poisioning taste of a döner kebab after my first nights of getting thoroughly drunk after midnight in the city. The relation between meat and animal suffering was one that was carefully hidden. You see "pork" and "beef" in supermarkets, which is not the same as "pig" or "cow". As a kid raised in a small village I saw milk cows grazing next to our backyard garden, but I didn't see them being taken away or slaughtered. If anything, the pictures of animals in supermarkets are that of smiling cows with their tongue sticking out, as if they too are anticipating taking a large bite of their brethren. And animal cruelty was not the systemic stuff of factory lines, but merely the targeted attack of a youth on a Youtube clip who hit his dog and was rightfully condemned by a nation. In the way that I was raised and conditioned to understood the world animals only had a little capacity for humanity - the pet dog you own and brings you a ball to play, the pictures of panda bears used to have you fork over money for charity.

Yes, the food you are having looks amazing.

And then I started to think, and connected the clip of a dog being beaten to the squeals of the terrified pigs on the way to the slaughterhouse half-way between my home and my school. I started watching documentaries and reading books. I learned that pigs have a far more developed sense of taste and smell than humans. That a "free-range chicken" in the USA could mean that the chicken had access only to a narrow window where it could view the outside. That 80 percent of pigs slaughtered suffer from pneumonia due to the terrible hygienic conditions and cramped spaces they are raised. I learned that, analytically, an animal - whether a stout or a feasant or a horse - had the exact same capacity of suffering that humans do, but that they don't have the means to communicate this suffering due to a lack of voice and because we hide factory slaughter away in the dark corners of our society, so no one has to voluntarily walk into the nasty truth of our sustained culture and tradition of meat consumption. Apart from the minimum wage workers who are often employed in industrial farming, who breathe the same disgusting air, are deafened by the continued squelching of animals about to be massacred, and who grow desensitised and in their helplessness commit acts of violence against the poor and defenceless ill and decaying animals before they are put to their death.

Oh, I'm sorry, I do hope you are enjoying your meal.

For an ethical vegetarian it is hard to remain silent, because you are convinced that your stance is the right one in an area of debate that is so important for you - because it's about 70 billion lives per year that matter to you. It is, in my mind, completely understandable that "radical" vegans or PETA-activists bring a worldwide nuisance upon the hordes of meat-eating humans. These are people who feel like they are part of a Civil Rights movement, or that they are Abolitionists, or first-wave feminists, or pacifist protesters.

But it's also deeply unhelpful.

My family - like most adults and children I know - get deeply upset when this is brought up at the dinner table. They don't think that they're murderers or complicit in killing - they are taking essential nutrients that they need in order to sustain a life in which they are working hard to care about other people; as teachers, and nurses. They are taking part in important rituals, where the spaghetti bolognese is passed down as grandmother's recipe and her cooking is fondly remembered, and over the beef wellington stories about the days are shared.

And of course they aren't killers - not in the way that matters to us, in the way that we think about them and understand their daily action. Those thirty minutes of cooking and fifteen minutes of eating doesn't constitute who they are in the slightest.

So I am forbidden to talk about my absolutist ethical stance on meat and murder, and slowly my family and friends accommodate my vegetarianism without any grumbling, and sometimes they remark that they love the vegetarian dishes they eat (apart from many meat-replacements, which tastes like dry spongy lies).

Recently I met a wonderful girl, whom I've grown incredibly fond of. She eats (and enjoys) meat. One of the things we agree on is the importance of good food (and maybe even more good drinks). In much the same way as people cook meat-free dishes for me, I want to make her a great steak (I'll go with a side of mushrooms and Valess).

If there's one word that you could historically ascribe to the Dutch and their political culture it would be "tolerance". The Dutch Republic became succesfull largely because in an era of religiously-motivated persecution of knowledge and socially condoned practices of ethnic persecution many intellectuals, free-thinkers and pioneers found their safe haven in the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. It's the radical idea that your opinions or beliefs are no better than that of another person, and you should thus not patronise or coerce or condemn that other. And on a personal level it is something I have now ingrained about my lifestyle, as many vegetarians do. We don't publicly condemn or cry out a distaste for eating meat. We don't comment on how we've grown to dislike its smell. And we don't want to pay the price of social ostracism in order to defend the lives of killed animals.

At its core, here lies the difficulty. Edmund Burke told us that all is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. But it's impossible to ascribe the terminology of evil to the choices of people that we care about and can only describe as being good human beings.

And thus ethical vegetarianism and the belief that meat is murder is in practice not an ethical position I hold, but a personal belief I subscribe to.