Tuesday, 30 December 2014

PRAGNA PATEL - 'Shariafication by stealth' in the UK

Access to justice is being denied in the UK in the shadow of neoliberalism and religious fundamentalism. Minority women are being denied the right to participate in the wider political community as citizens rather than subjects.

In the last five years or so in the UK, SBS (Southall Black Sisters) has increasingly been preoccupied with one key question above all else: how to access justice on behalf of the most vulnerable. Of course, access to justice has always been a central concern, given that we have long recognised the law as a key site of feminist resistance. We have used the law in a variety of ways to ensure that the most marginalised and vulnerable can exercise their right to equality, justice and fairness in civil and criminal proceedings. Examples include our casework and campaigns on Kiranjit Aluwalia and the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007.  This has involved laying bare in the law class, race and gender norms that reproduce inequality and legitimate exclusionary and discriminatory outcomes for minority women. The struggle to hold the law to account in this sense remains unfinished business, even though together with others, we have made some significant gains along the way.

However, the struggle to access justice has now reached crisis point. The ever widening shadow of neo-liberalism and the continuing rise of fundamentalist religious identity politics have left us struggling on two interlinked fronts. First, we are compelled to challenge the state for removing legal aid from a huge range of civil and criminal matters which impact not only on individual rights but also on our demands for institutional accountability in the face of abuses of power that seem to be growing rather than diminishing. The government’s ‘reforms’ on legal aid are strongly located in a fiscal context that reiterate some of the key overarching aims of the present government: localism, alternative dispute resolution strategies, deficit reduction and deregulation. Taken together these measures are destroying one of the great pillars of the welfare state. They have forced SBS into leading or supporting legal and political challenges against various legal aid cuts.
This development is directly linked to the challenges that we face on the second front: increasing privatisation of justice and state adoption of a ‘faith based’ approach to address minority issues. This has meant amongst other things, challenging religious fundamentalists and ‘moderates’ alike who are using the vacuum created to influence and shape law and social policy by reference to a regressive religious identity that they have come to define.
In the last few years, the UK has seen a rise in the demand for the accommodation of religious legal codes in the very fabric of the legal system; demands which parts of the state have been only too happy to accommodate. These demands in part emanate especially, but not only from, some powerful Muslim spokespersons and institutions and can be directly linked to the growth of political Islam and more generally to the rise of fundamentalism in all religions.
Muslim fundamentalists have mounted what can be described as a two pronged pincer like manoeuvre based ostensibly on the demand for religious tolerance, but which is in reality a bid for power in which the control of female sexuality is central. On the one hand they seek to ensure that personal religious codes are normalised within the legal system, and on the other they seek to formalise a parallel legal system through the establishment of alternative religious forums for dispute resolution in family matters. This process - a sort of ‘shariafication by stealth’ of the legal apparatus – involves making state law and policy ‘Sharia’ compliant. If successful, we have no doubt that it will lead other religions to demand the same level of accommodation.
At the heart of the debate on religion and the law, is the tension between the rights and fundamental freedoms of the individual on the one hand, and on the other the rights of minorities to religious freedom and educational and cultural rights. But it is often women and sexual and other minorities who are caught in the clash that ensues. As secular black feminists what we have to contend with today echoes previous struggles that challenged multiculturalism and its left leaning variant, anti-racism. Whereas previously we challenged the anti-racist movement and official multiculturalism for abstracting notions of culture, and for failing to deal with gender power relations, we now find ourselves challenging official multifaithism (which has formalised communal identities) and parts of the anti-racist and feminist movement for abstracting notions of religion.
Towards the end of 2012, against the growing practice of gender segregation at public events in universities, Universities UK (UUK), the governing body of British universities, issued guidance which permitted gender segregation of women in university spaces in order to accommodate the religious beliefs of external speakers. The guidance presented in the form of a case study purported to provide advice in contexts in which the right to manifest religion clashes with gender equality.
Far from addressing the question of sex discrimination, the guidance merely legitimised gender apartheid. It took a campaign and threats of legal action by us before the UUK agreed to withdraw the guidance. We argued that the UUK’s guidance violated the equality and non-discrimination principles enshrined in the Public Sector Equality Duty under the Equality Act and other equalities and human rights legislation, themselves the product of long and hard campaigning by feminists, racial minorities and other marginalised groups in society. 
The withdrawal of the UUK guidance was followed by a formal investigation by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission which found the guidelines to be unlawful despite cries of ‘Islamaphobia’ - not only by Islamists and conservatives - but also some parts of the left and those who regard themselves as anti-racists and feminists. Many, including Laurie Pennydismissed the matter as ‘a fuss about nothing’ and reduced our protests to ‘mere hyperbole’ or Isamaphobia and ‘an attack on yet another Muslim practice’.
Learning nothing from the debacle, the Law Society, a body representing the interests of the legal profession, followed the UUK lead by issuing guidance to lawyers on how to prepare ‘Sharia’ compliant wills. it would appear that the guidance was drafted with reference to fundamentalists who defend the most abhorrent practices including death by stoning. The guidance endorsed so called Sharia succession rules which stipulates that 'as a general rule, a male heir will inherit twice the amount that a female heir will receive, illegitimate children are not heirs’. 
Clearly, the guidance accepts without question the inherent discrimination that exists in Islam (as indeed in other religions) against women and children born outside marriage. Of course the Law Society has not asked itself how it can possibly know what is and isn’t ‘Sharia’ law: Muslim religious codes throughout the world are varied and vigorously contested when not targeted for repeal and reform. The real problem is that the Law Society sees no wrong in wading into such doctrinal territory. Indeed, the guidance is part of a wider programme of training courses developed by the Law Society to encourage ‘Sharia’ compliance in relation to the question of family, children, property and financial settlements in minority communities. 
All of this gives succour to Islamist demands in the UK for religious and secular laws to operate in parallel universes, with the former applying to minorities and the latter to the white majority. What we see operating is an inverse form of racism: far from promoting a rights compliant culture, the Law Society, like the UUK is helping to arrest the development of a secular human rights culture from taking root in minority communities.
Our struggle for the right to access a secular human rights framework is made that much more difficult in a context where the government has also consistently invoked the need to uphold ‘British values’ (presumably meaning respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law) even though in the same breath, it also threatens to repeal the Human Rights Act, every time a court seeks to assert the universal application of human rights in cases of state abuse of power. 
The other area of concern in respect of the growing alignment of religion and the law is state support for non-state religious arbitration systems.
By removing legal aid, the state forces minority women to resort to formal and informal religious authority and forums such as Sharia councils and tribunals that appear to be on the increase. On the face of it, formalised religious forums of arbitration such as the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal present themselves as professional bodies that seek to adhere to formal legal rules of engagement and to non discriminatory principles. But what they are in fact, seeking to do is to exclude the application of what is considered to be ‘western’ secular law in family matters and to establish instead a parallel legal system based on divine law which by its very nature is immune from scrutiny. 
Support for parallel legal systems come not only from male religious leaderships and the state, but also alarmingly from within feminism itself. For instance, in feminist discussions on intersectional frameworks for understanding violence against women it has become fashionable to talk of the intersection of religion and gender, and to refer to the need to develop a feminist response that is sensitive to the growth of religious values, especially post 9/11 and the rise of anti-Muslim racism. This has amounted to support for the accommodation of religious legal codes. Yet few if any acknowledge the fact that wherever parallel legal systems operate they generally suppress dissent, and seek to remove women from public spaces metaphorically speaking and to impede their fundamental freedoms in the private sphere.
Even fewer acknowledge that there are substantial movements, often led by women and human rights activists, for the repeal of state sanctioned religious orders on the grounds that they are not compatible with universal human rights principles. Instead, notions of ‘autonomy’ and ‘female agency’ - the cornerstone of feminist analysis - are invoked to shore up a regressive multi-faith framework.
A recent study of women who have used religious based forums suggests that, in contexts where the stranglehold of religion leaves little room to manoeuvre, far from ‘voluntarily’ accessing religious authority, women exercise a highly constrained agency. Not a single woman interviewed chose to utilise religious forums to obtain protection orders or resolve disputes over property or children. On these substantive matters, they placed unequivocal trust in the secular legal system, however imperfect, which they felt offered them the best hope of obtaining equality and justice. The only issue on which roughly half sought religious intervention was on the question of divorce, but even then many obtained a civil divorce and sought a religious divorce out of social compulsion: they feared that a civil divorce would not be recognised in the community and they needed to legitimate their exit out of a marriage. They sought to avoid the stigma and isolation attached to divorce or to exercise sexual autonomy albeit within a marriage.
Advocates for parallel legal systems argue that having recourse to religious forums does not mean that minority women are seeking to opt out of the wider political community, only that they are seeking the right to be governed by their own norms. But this misses the point that women are not choosing to opt out at all - they are being opted out by the religious right and by the state; they are denied access to the tools they need to withstand pressures to conform to custom or to invoke a broader set of citizenship and human rights. And in the process, they are denied the right to participate in the wider political community as citizens rather than subjects.
What we see at work here is clearly an attempt to impede the development of secular, progressive, political resistance by de-legitimising and locating our struggles for access to justice, outside of so called community, anti-racist and feminist concerns. These struggles are now taking place on many fronts as both religious right forces and the state mount an assault on secular human rights values in pursuit of power without accountability.
25 November 2014 : One Law for All, Southall Black Sisters, the Centre for Secular Space, Nari Diganta and the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation welcomed the Law Society’s withdrawal of their sharia wills practice note issued on 24 November 2014.
The practice note advised solicitors on how to draw up ‘Sharia-compliant’ wills, stating that: “… illegitimate and adopted children are not Sharia heirs … The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir … Non-Muslims may not inherit at all … a divorced spouse is no longer a Sharia heir…”.
Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters, said: “SBS welcomes the Law Society’s decision to withdraw the discriminatory guidance. We also acknowledge that it has publicly apologised for having produced the ill-advised guidance in the first place. Let this episode serve as a warning to other public bodies that may be contemplating instituting ‘Sharia compliant’ measures that flout equality and human rights law and values, which must be regarded as universal and non-negotiable. We now look forward to working with the Law Society to address the devastating impact of the legal aid cuts which also prevent many abused and marginalised women from minority backgrounds from accessing justice.”
Read more articles on 50.50's platform Voices for Change

Shobhaa De - 'PK' Gets No Support From Bollywood // Siddharth Varadarajan - It is 'PK' Protestors Who Are Mocking Hinduism

I was on a television panel discussion on Monday. Yup. Same one on which the anchor provides all the answers to questions asked by the nation. The topic was volatile (widespread vandalism of theatres screening the Aamir Khan starrer 'PK' in Ahmedabad, Bhopal and elsewhere) but the panelists were thanda. The panelists who were supposed to condemn the violence, that is. While those defending the disgraceful shenanigans belonged to right wing political/religious outfits, the three of us representing the 'voice of the people' were disappointingly muted. Well, I tried my best to be heard over the din of smug, self-appointed custodians of Hindu sentiments, but it was a frustrating and pointless exercise. I asked why the channel had not invited someone more 'tagda' to represent Bollywood.

The reply didn't surprise me - nobody of any importance from the movie industry wanted to speak up  - for the principle, not an individual. For the wrongness of what took place. Not for Aamir Khan. Or Raju Hirani. Or even the contents of the controversial movie. Speak up against these sort of intimidatory tactics. Speak up for our threatened freedoms. Speak up for democracy. Speak up for peaceful protests. Speak up for our own future, for heaven's sake!

Why? Bollywood is scared. Bollywood  has reasons to be scared. Very scared.

And this is the real story: Bollywood is vulnerable. Perhaps more vulnerable than any other sector in India. It has always been this way. In earlier times, when Bollywood itself was run in an erratic, unprofessional and disorganized fashion, it was easier for anti-social elements to exercise control over the film industry. These 'elements' were dangerous and armed. They resorted to direct threats, blackmail and murder. The motive was money. Bollywood was a soft target for extortionists looking to make a killing the easy way. It was hard to stand up to these goons...and still stay alive. Some who tried to take on the underworld paid for it heavily.

Perhaps, this was when the term 'setting' was coined. It was a polite way of admitting you had done a deal with the 'Bhais'. Yes, it was hard to handle outright threats back then in the late 80s and early 90s. Apparently it's even harder now.

Even though the Bhais are still around, the Bollywood model of doing business has changed. Bollywood is corporatized these days and run more professionally by men and women wearing Armani, not sleazeballs in polyester safari suits. But hello! The monies generated by superhits have gone through the roof, too! ('PK' has grossed Rs.233 crores already). The vultures are still circling the big studios. But there are new players on the scene who exercise muscle power and political clout to boot. Bollywood continues to run scared. There is no place to hide.

I don't blame big stars, producers, directors for not jumping into the latest 'PK' imbroglio. They simply can't afford the risk! There is far too much at stake and nobody wants to commit professional hara-kiri by challenging the might of shadowy outfits claiming to represent the majority.

This is such a shame. If Bollywood had indeed decided to take a joint stand and speak in one voice this time, perhaps the film industry would have benefitted in the long run. After all, this sort of wanton destruction serves no real purpose. It is not Aamir or Raju paying the price for the 'protests' - it is theatre owners! The movie has been cleared across the board. As chief of the censor board, Leela Samson has issued a sane statement in the wake of the debate. The Supreme Court's directives are abundantly clear. The film has been screened without any incident for 10 long days. All of a sudden there are violent reactions? Come on.

Is it cowardice or good sense that dictates how Bollywood reacts to threats? I'd say it's both. Silence has become the standard. Which, in a way, implies surrender. Most stars shy away from engaging in larger issues that concern the film industry. They remain obstinately non-committal. Or genuinely indifferent. This is just so short-sighted and selfish. If the big wigs in Bollywood get together and form a strong , singular body to represent their interests across the board, such attacks can be better addressed. It is not merely Aamir's problem or Hirani's problem. It involves everybody! Bollywood tends to segregate and compartmentalize crises, with zero show of unity when it is most required - like now.

Soon the 'PK' attacks will die down. But there will be more. Of that we can be sure. What then? Will Bollywood continue to play ostrich? Suffer amnesia and laryngitis? One hopes not...for its own sake. There's nothing as sinister as the silence of the lambs...

Remember that scene from Jaaney Bhi Do Yaaron? You know the one: where Naseeruddin Shah and Ravi Baswani are being chased by the evil Tarneja and end up in the middle of a Mahabharata performance? What followed were surely some of the most hilarious moments of Hindi cinema, and the laughs were all at the expense of some of the most revered personalities from the Hindu epic.

If such a film were to be made today, some self-styled 'sena' or 'parivar', acting in the name of all Hindus, would have accused the actors of denigrating Hinduism and demanded a ban. The law is clear that such "hyper-sensitive" individuals cannot be the arbiters of what is permissible in a society like ours but it is time to take the debate over the Hindi film PK to the next level: What are we, as individuals, and as a society, prepared to do to uphold our right to go to the cinema with our friends and families to see the movie of our choice?

The Aamir Khan-starring movie has been cleared for public exhibition by the Central Board for Film Certification and has been very popular with audiences, grossing over Rs. 200 crore in its first week. But a section of the Sangh Parivar - that group of moral policemen who want to control what Indians watch, wear, sing, read, and eat, as well as whom they can love and where they can live - wants the film banned and has resorted to violence in several cities across BJP-ruled states like Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra.

Though the majority of Indians who have seen and enjoyed the film are probably Hindu and there are no reports of ordinary moviegoers saying their religion was slighted in any way, those demanding a ban insist PK mocks Hinduism. Prominent among the protestors is the Hindu Mahasabha. This is an extremist group whose founder, V.D. Savarkar, is part of the RSS pantheon of heroes and whose most infamous member, Nathuram Godse, assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948.

While it is easy to laugh at the irony of organisations that are themselves undermining the sanctity of the Hindu faith now accusing others of blasphemy, the violence they have resorted to poses a challenge to the governments of Narendra Modi, Devendra Fadnavis, Anandiben Patel and Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Will they allow mob violence, or the threat of more attacks on cinema halls, to undermine the rule of law and the right of citizens to watch a movie they wish to? Or will they act firmly against the violent elements, even if they share an ideological affinity with some of them?

In the past, state governments from north to south have tended to turn a blind eye towards moral policemen, leaving cinema hall owners, art galleries, concert venues, bookshops and publishers to fend for themselves in the face of physical intimidation and violence. More often than not, movies, books, plays and exhibitions that politically influential mobs do not like end up being banned informally because of the failure of the police and state administration to provide protection to those in need of it.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that maintaining law and order during the screening of a film is the responsibility of the government and the threat of violence by politically-motivated mobs must not be allowed to violate the rights of the public at large. When the demand was made that PK be banned, the Supreme Court refused to entertain the matter. 'Don't see the film' was the sage advice the bench gave the petitioners.

Given the steady increase in the number of cases where mobs have used violence or the threat of violence to enforce their diktat, it is not enough for us to merely insist the government rebuff the demands for a ban on PK. That the Supreme Court has already said. What we must demand is that the police do their job, providing protection to cinema halls showing the movie, and acting pre-emptively against those organisations and their leaders that are inciting violence over the issue.

Whether it is the violent protests over PK or the aggressive 'ghar vapsi' programmes, the reason saffron extremists have behaved so outrageously in BJP-ruled areas is because they know they have the support of influential sections of the Sangh Parivar. But the Chief Ministers of these states took an oath to uphold the Constitution of India, and not the constitution of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or some other sectarian organization. They have a duty that they must discharge without fear or favour, something they have been reluctant to do so far. Anyone is free to call for a ban and protest peacefully. But if they take the law into their own hands and endanger the security and rights of others, they can and must be arrested, prosecuted and put away.


Samudra Gupta Kashyap - Heart wrenching tale of migrants labourers in govt projects

Golori is from Adiguda village in Koraput district, Orissa, and speaks only broken Hindi, but it is the only way he can communicate with the workers with him — from states across India such as Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Over 3,000 labourers, 80 per cent of them migrants, are at work on a 210-km broad gauge line from Lumding in Nagaon district to Silchar in Barak Valley in Assam, through the Barail mountains, over 500 metres above sea level. Scheduled to be operational by March 31, 2015, the line will improve connectivity of Assam to Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura, and will pass through 17 tunnels and over 79 major bridges and 340 minor bridges. 

Golori is employed with Hyderabad-based SSNR Projects Pvt Ltd. Since 2012, he has been supervising the drilling of the rocks. Golori works inside the 1,687-metre-long Tunnel No. 7 for 12 hours a day. As mobile phones can’t be switched on inside, the first thing  he does at the end of the day is call his family to tell them he is safe. For, apart from being one of the more inhospitable territories of the country, Barail mountains is one of the most dangerous places to work in. Besides wild animals and mosquitoes, Golori has to contend with militants. 

Between 2006 and 2009, the Dima Halam Daogo (DHD) and its factions killed at least 70 people and abducted dozens of labourers working on the project, causing the Railways to miss several deadlines. The DHD is now dissolved, but other groups remain. Just two weeks ago, militants killed two locals. “My family was very worried about me shifting to Assam. I call them every day,” says Golori, who has three sons, aged 16, 12 and 6 years. 

The family has a small plot of land on which they grow rice and vegetables. Golori could not study beyond Class IX because of poverty and has ensured all his three sons attend school. “I wanted to become an Army jawan. But poverty and fate made me a miner,” he says. It is his 23rd year of working that has taken him across the country — to a limestone mine in Maharashtra, a hydroelectric power project site in Uttarakhand, and to a tunnel site on the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. 

“Assam is my riskiest assignment till date,” he says. In the category of “skilled workman” now, he earns Rs 650 a day for an eight-hour shift, and Rs 600 more for putting in extra four hours. Because of the risk, Golori’s company doesn’t allow workers to leave the camp they live in after duty hours. “There is nothing here for entertainment, except watching TV,” he says.

Golori lives with 42 other workmen in the makeshift barrack made of tin sheets and timber planks just outside the tunnel’s northern entrance. The company provides free food and accommodation. The Territorial Army provides security to the men. “We go out shopping in a group with security personnel accompanying us,” Golori says. Golori last visited his family in June, and will not get any more leave now. The first train is scheduled to run on the track by April 2015... read more:

see also
Rashmi Singh - Migrant Workers in the Kashmir Valley

Labour matters

George Monbiot (2007) - How the neoliberals stitched up the wealth of nations for themselves

For the first time the UK's consumer debt exceeds the total of its gross national product: a new report shows that we owe £1.35 trillion. Inspectors in the United States have discovered that 77,000 road bridges are in the same perilous state as the one which collapsed into the Mississippi. Two years after Hurricane Katrina struck, 120,000 people from New Orleans are still living in trailer homes and temporary lodgings. As runaway climate change approaches, governments refuse to take the necessary action. Booming inequality threatens to create the most divided societies the world has seen since before the first world war. Now a financial crisis caused by unregulated lending could turf hundreds of thousands out of their homes and trigger a cascade of economic troubles.

These problems appear unrelated, but they all have something in common. They arise in large part from a meeting that took place 60 years ago in a Swiss spa resort. It laid the foundations for a philosophy of government that is responsible for many, perhaps most, of our contemporary crises.
When the Mont Pelerin Society first met, in 1947, its political project did not have a name. But it knew where it was going. The society's founder, Friedrich von Hayek, remarked that the battle for ideas would take at least a generation to win, but he knew that his intellectual army would attract powerful backers. Its philosophy, which later came to be known as neoliberalism, accorded with the interests of the ultra-rich, so the ultra-rich would pay for it.
Neoliberalism claims that we are best served by maximum market freedom and minimum intervention by the state. The role of government should be confined to creating and defending markets, protecting private property and defending the realm. All other functions are better discharged by private enterprise, which will be prompted by the profit motive to supply essential services. By this means, enterprise is liberated, rational decisions are made and citizens are freed from the dehumanising hand of the state.
This, at any rate, is the theory. But as David Harvey proposes in his book A Brief History of Neoliberalism, wherever the neoliberal programme has been implemented, it has caused a massive shift of wealth not just to the top 1%, but to the top tenth of the top 1%. In the US, for instance, the upper 0.1% has already regained the position it held at the beginning of the 1920s. The conditions that neoliberalism demands in order to free human beings from the slavery of the state - minimal taxes, the dismantling of public services and social security, deregulation, the breaking of the unions - just happen to be the conditions required to make the elite even richer, while leaving everyone else to sink or swim. In practice the philosophy developed at Mont Pelerin is little but an elaborate disguise for a wealth grab.
So the question is this: given that the crises I have listed are predictable effects of the dismantling of public services and the deregulation of business and financial markets, given that it damages the interests of nearly everyone, how has neoliberalism come to dominate public life?
Richard Nixon was once forced to concede that "we are all Keynesians now". Even the Republicans supported the interventionist doctrines of John Maynard Keynes. But we are all neoliberals now. Margaret Thatcher kept telling us that "there is no alternative", and by implementing her programmes Clinton, Blair, Brown and the other leaders of what were once progressive parties appear to prove her right.
The first great advantage the neoliberals possessed was an unceasing fountain of money. US oligarchs and their foundations - Coors, Olin, Scaife, Pew and others - have poured hundreds of millions into setting up thinktanks, founding business schools and transforming university economics departments into bastions of almost totalitarian neoliberal thinking. The Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institute, the American Enterprise Institute and many others in the US, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Centre for Policy Studies and the Adam Smith Institute in the UK, were all established to promote this project. Their purpose was to develop the ideas and the language which would mask the real intent of the programme - the restoration of the power of the elite - and package it as a proposal for the betterment of humankind.
Their project was assisted by ideas which arose in a very different quarter. The revolutionary movements of 1968 also sought greater individual liberties, and many of the soixante-huitards saw the state as their oppressor. As Harvey shows, the neoliberals coopted their language and ideas. Some of the anarchists I know still voice notions almost identical to those of the neoliberals: the intent is different, but the consequences very similar.
Hayek's disciples were also able to make use of economic crises. An early experiment took place in New York City, which was hit by budgetary disaster in 1975. Its bankers demanded that the city follow their prescriptions - huge cuts in public services, smashing of the unions, public subsidies for business. In the UK, stagflation, strikes and budgetary breakdown allowed Thatcher, whose ideas were framed by her neoliberal adviser Keith Joseph, to come to the rescue. Her programme worked, but created a new set of crises.
If these opportunities were insufficient, the neoliberals and their backers would use bribery or force. In the US, the Democrats were neutered by new laws on campaign finance. To compete successfully for funding with the Republicans, they would have to give big business what it wanted. The first neoliberal programme of all was implemented in Chile following Pinochet's coup, with the backing of the US government and economists taught by Milton Friedman, one of the founding members of the Mont Pelerin Society. Drumming up support for the project was easy: if you disagreed, you got shot. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank used their power over developing nations to demand the same policies.
But the most powerful promoter of this programme was the media. Most of it is owned by multimillionaires who use it to project the ideas that support their interests. Those ideas which threaten their interests are either ignored or ridiculed. It is through the newspapers and TV channels that the socially destructive notions of a small group of extremists have come to look like common sense. The corporations' tame thinkers sell the project by reframing our political language (for an account of how this happens, see George Lakoff's book, Don't Think of an Elephant!). Nowadays I hear even my progressive friends using terms like wealth creators, tax relief, big government, consumer democracy, red tape, compensation culture, job seekers and benefit cheats. These terms, all invented or promoted by neoliberals, have become so commonplace that they now seem almost neutral.
Neoliberalism, if unchecked, will catalyse crisis after crisis, all of which can be solved only by greater intervention on the part of the state. In confronting it, we must recognise that we will never be able to mobilise the resources its exponents have been given. But as the disasters they have caused unfold, the public will need ever less persuading that it has been misled.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Costas Lapavitsas - Greece: Syriza can transform the EU from within – if Europe will let it

The Greek parliament has failed to elect a new president and the country’s constitution dictates that there should now be parliamentary elections. These will be critical for Greece and also important for Europe. A victory for Syriza, the main leftwing party, would offer hope that Europe might, at last, begin to move away from austerity policies. But there are also grave risks for Greece and the European left.
The rise of Syriza is a result of the adjustment programme imposed on Greece in 2010. The troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) provided huge bailout loans, with the cost of unprecedented cuts in public expenditure, tax increases and a collapse in wages. It was a standard, if extreme, austerity package, with one vital difference: austerity could not be softened by devaluing the currency as, for instance, had happened in the Asian crisis of 1997-98. Greek membership of the euro had closed all escape routes.
Brutal austerity succeeded in stabilising Greece and keeping it in the economic and monetary union by destroying its economy and society. The budget deficit has been drastically reduced, the current account deficit has turned into a surplus and the prospect of default on foreign debt has receded. But GDP has contracted by 25%, unemployment has shot above 25%, real wages have fallen by 30% and industrial output has declined by 35%. The human cost has been immeasurable, amounting to a silent humanitarian crisis. Homelessness has rocketed, primary healthcare has collapsed, soup kitchens have multiplied and child mortality has increased.
Since the summer of 2014, the depression has been drawing to a close, helped by the strong performance of the tourist sector. Yet, the damage from troika policies is so severe that growth prospects are appalling. The weakness is manifest in foreign trade, which the IMF expected to act as the “engine of growth”. In 2014, Greek exports will probably contract, while imports began to rise as soon as the depression showed signs of ending. This is a deeply dysfunctional economy.
In the midst of this catastrophe, the troika is insisting on further austerity to achieve massive primary budget surpluses of 3% in 2015, 4.5% in 2016 and even more in future years. Its purpose is to service the enormous foreign debt, which has risen to 175% of GDP from about 130% in 2009. Astonishingly, the IMF still expects Greece to register average growth of 3.4% during the next five years – provided, of course, that it goes full speed ahead with privatisation, deregulation of labour and market liberalisation. The troika has truly embraced the economics of the absurd.
In 2010-11, the Greek people actively opposed the disastrous policies of the troika and its domestic allies, but failed to stop them. After 2012, however, as unemployment and poverty escalated, it became difficult to organise popular protest. Still, exhaustion with troika policies is so great that voters have turned in droves to the left, in the hope that Syriza will offer a better future.
Syriza promises first to achieve a substantial write-off of Greek debt and, second, to lift austerity by aiming for balanced budgets, instead of the surpluses demanded by the troika. It will reconnect families to the electricity network, provide food relief and shelter the homeless. It will take immediate action to reduce unemployment through public programmes. It is committed to lowering the enormous tax burden and to boosting public investment in an effort to accelerate growth.
There is nothing radical, much less revolutionary, in these policies. They represent modest common sense and would open a fresh path for other European countries. After all, Syriza has repeatedly declared its intention to keep the country within the economic and monetary union, and to avoid unilateral actions. There is little doubt that its leaders are committed Europeanists who truly believe that they could help transform the EU from within.
The trouble is that the EU is far from amenable to Syriza’s ideas. Germany’s exporters and banks have benefitted substantially from the euro and have no incentive to abandon austerity. Berlin has its plate full anyway as the eurozone is exhibiting renewed weakness, with France and Italy on the ropes. There is also Mario Draghi at the ECB, rambling on about quantitative easing, a policy that Berlin detests. The last thing that Germany would welcome would be Syriza and its programme.
A scaremongering campaign is likely in the coming weeks to deter Greeks from voting for the leftwing party. Should the campaign fail, a Syriza government can expect hostility from the EU, which is not short of weapons. Syriza’s programme is sensible and modest, but lacks secure funding. Greece also needs substantial finance to service its debts in 2015, perhaps up to €20bn. There are some debt repayments in the spring that might be manageable, but further repayments – €6.7bn – must be made in July-August, which will need fresh funding from abroad. And, needless to say, Greek banking would be rapidly asphyxiated if the ECB stopped providing liquidity.
A Syriza government will probably face an ultimatum to capitulate, perhaps by being offered some watered-down version of austerity. This would be a disaster for Greece and a major defeat for opponents of austerity in Europe. It is vital that Syriza wins and applies its programme without flinching, helped by international support. The battle lines are forming in Greece.

Elmar Altvater - Controlling the future: Edward Snowdon and the new era on Earth

The worldwide spying operation is about more than security and counter-terrorism; rather, it is a part of a broader strategy aimed at controlling global information

In 1964, the Brazilian military established a cruel dictatorship, Pinochet's dictatorship followed in 1973 in Chile, then the military putsch in Argentina. These murderous regimes were politically and materially supported by the CIA and respected politicians such as Henry Kissinger really assisted this trade in death. The repression, persecution and murder of members of the opposition and of trade unions, as well as leftist politicians, artists and representatives of the church were also coordinated by the secret services of Latin American military dictatorships – with... the active support of the United States... the justification for the brutal repression followed the same lines: it was a defence against terrorism.

In June 2013, Edward Snowden began to uncover the machinations of the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), prompting a worldwide debate about the alarming power of the secret services. Snowden laid bare the extent to which the quintet of secret services – the "Five Eyes" from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – had spied on citizens around the world, and the planetary system in place for stealing, storing and using data for their own purposes – thus violating everyone's privacy, which Article 12 of the United Nations Charter on Human Rights protects. As a result, freedom of expression, the basis for political participation as well as of resistance against power, was fundamentally threatened and with it, democracy as such.

The secret services justify their activity, be it the acquisition of knowledge from the planetary cloud, from the encrypted mobile phones of government chiefs such as Angela Merkel or Dilma Rousseff, or from the mass of (un)encrypted emails of ordinary citizens, with the flimsy argument that it is geared toward the early recognition of terrorist activities and, therefore, a matter of public order and security. However, the worldwide spying operation is more than a gigantic trawl through the World Wide Web in the name of security. Rather, it perfectly matches the patterns of thinking and acting as dictated by the geo-engineering of a new epoch in human history. A "planetary stewardship", the efficient management of life on planet Earth, is administered using sophisticated technologies, in order to channel not merely information flows but other diverse crises of our time and associated processes – all for the purpose of maintaining the ruling capitalist system.

That data theft has been systematically organized everywhere on planet Earth where access to a hard drive and a cloud is possible: this much the US government has conceded. However, making this concession incurred relatively little risk, since the whole world already knew it to be the case, and only awaited official confirmation. We can take Obama at his word when he says that he will desist in the future from secretly and silently eavesdropping on the German chancellor, and that global data theft should instead be rationalized, refined and slimmed down. However, the issue has by no means been solved. It fits far too well with other projects involving "planetary engineering works", collectively referred to as geo-engineering. This is a departure from the linear development of science and technology that underpins the "acceleration of growth", which in Germany is even stipulated by law.

The planetary data theft that Snowden revealed is the harbinger of a new age. It is seamlessly interwoven with the other projects that, together, comprise "planetary stewardship", the intention of which is to safeguard Earth systems against the threat of collapse – as well as from associated political conflicts, resistances and revolts. But why this immense input into spying on a large portion of the world population? So that one can better keep these people under control, so that one can weed out every shoot of political resistance in good time, so that information is not only tapped into, but also – as it were "interactively" – manipulated, in the manner that already happens today on the Internet with the assistance of elaborate algorithms. Global medial manipulation Almost 50 years ago, in 1968, criticism of media manipulation and the battle against it signalled a democratic departure. The "dispossess Springer" campaign was directed against the manipulative power of the media, against aHetzmasse or "baiting crowd", as Elias Canetti would have called it. 

At this point, it was already known that media manipulation is an indispensable building block for securing power on a global scale. In 1964, the Brazilian military established a cruel dictatorship, Pinochet's dictatorship followed in 1973 in Chile, then the military putsch in Argentina. These murderous regimes were politically and materially supported by the CIA and respected politicians such as Henry Kissinger really assisted this trade in death. The repression, persecution and murder of members of the opposition and of trade unions, as well as leftist politicians, artists and representatives of the church were also coordinated by the secret services of Latin American military dictatorships – within the framework of "Operation Condor" in Chile, which enjoyed the active support of the United States. Back then, the justification for the brutal repression followed the same lines: it was a defence against terrorism.

Hence nothing could be more negligent than to leave the defence of democracy to the secret services. Tens of thousands were "disappeared". To this day, the crimes have not been fully investigated. To demand or expect self-enlightened behaviour from the British and US secret services in connection with the NSA affair is therefore farcical – to do so would be to show that nothing has been learnt from history, and fail to do justice to the dramatic abuses of human rights currently taking place.

Using the information technology of a new geological period, the secret services can process digitalized knowledge such that they can control humanity's fortunes. The secret services are in a better position to do so today than they were half a century ago. In an interview in exile in Russia, Edward Snowden remarked that, "the biggest problem we face right now is the new technique of indiscriminate mass surveillance, where governments are seizing billions and billions and billions of innocents people's communication every single day."

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Book review: The Radical Paradox of Martin Luther King’s Devotion to Nonviolence

 The choice today is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.." Martin Luther King
(read the full text here: My Pilgrimage to Non-violence, September 1958)

Taylor Branch's three-volume, 2,500-page chronicle, America in the King Yearsis one of the landmark biographies in American history - Reviewed by Ron Rosenbaum

“Look at the fall of the Berlin Wall, the fall of the whole Soviet Union, begun with nonviolent demonstrations in a Polish shipyard,” says Branch, sitting in the spare dining room of his modest Baltimore home. And on the afternoon we talked, there were protests in Hong Kong that echoed the Ferguson nonviolence gesture for “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.” All demonstrating the persistent power of King’s strategy of nonviolence. And yet, Branch feels, the lessons of the King legacy are still not taken seriously enough. 
First there was the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act last July, one of the central achievements of Martin Luther King Jr.’s crusade. Then, last August, there was what has come to be known simply as “Ferguson,” the bitterness over a killing that reminded us that issues of race, violence and nonviolence are still simmering, still ready to explode at any time. And now in January, a major film called Selma will be released nationwide that dramatizes a key moment in the evolution of King’s struggle

Selma was a turning point in King’s life as well, according to Taylor Branch, whose three-volume, 2,500-page chronicle, America in the King Yearsis one of the landmark biographies in American history.
March, 1965. King's demonstrators had been beaten by the police, driven back from the Edmund Pettus Bridge, back out of Selma on a day called “Bloody Sunday.” But suddenly there was a chance to cross that bridge again. As Branch describes it, “King stood stunned at the divide, with but an instant to decide whether this was a trap or a miraculous parting of the Red Sea. If he stepped ahead, the thrill of heroic redemption for Bloody Sunday could give way to any number of reversals....If he stepped back, he could lose or divide the movement under a cloud of timidity.” King stepped forward and nothing was ever the same.
Not just in the civil rights movement, but as Branch told me when I spent the afternoon talking to him recently, nothing was the same for King either. “I think what changed is how much he was willing to risk for the belief that he had formulated,” Branch says. “After Selma, I don’t think he expected to live a long time.” 
With events in Ferguson putting everyone again on edge about race and violence, I wanted to talk to Branch about King’s legacy—and especially his belief in nonviolence. Toward the end of his trilogy (a work that earned Branch a Pulitzer and a MacArthur “genius” award), he writes about the “paradox” that King’s doctrine of nonviolence has become a kind of “orphan” in contemporary intellectual and political discourse, rarely studied or further investigated. You might say that its substance has almost evaporated in the shimmering haze of hagiography. And yet—paradoxically—King’s techniques continue to figure prominently in political upheavals around the world.
“Look at the fall of the Berlin Wall, the fall of the whole Soviet Union, begun with nonviolent demonstrations in a Polish shipyard,” says Branch, sitting in the spare dining room of his modest Baltimore home. And on the afternoon we talked, there were protests in Hong Kong that echoed the Ferguson nonviolence gesture for “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.” All demonstrating the persistent power of King’s strategy of nonviolence. And yet, Branch feels, the lessons of the King legacy are still not taken seriously enough. 
In late November, on the morning after the announcement that the grand jury was not issuing an indictment in the Ferguson case—and the night of violence that followed—I reread passages in Branch’s biography about King and the 1967 Watts riots, where he’d tried to say violence was not the way, pointed the finger at poverty and policing as root causes but was rebuffed by both sides. 
“He was torn by the situation,” Branch tells me, but like Ferguson should, “King was trying to tell the nation something it didn’t want to hear, that we can’t put race on the back burner. That race isn’t just a southern problem or a problem of segregation, it’s an American problem at the heart of American history and the measure of American democracy.”
So what would he say to the people of Ferguson? “I think he’d say ‘We don’t win by violence, but something’s got to change, we have to show America it has to be addressed, it just has to be in the forefront of our politics.’”
Branch is a soft-spoken man with a mild Southern accent he acquired growing up in Atlanta, and the sturdy build of the star linebacker he was for his high-school team. Now 67, born on January 14, a day before Martin Luther King’s birthday, Branch has not lost the linebacker’s tenacity in fighting for what has become his cause—the battle to prevent Dr. King’s profoundly considered theory of nonviolence from being relegated to history, and not recognized for its relevance to the issues America and the world faces today.
King’s practice, Branch says, was complex and radical and has been often misunderstood. Some of his closest supporters had their doubts about King’s own commitment to nonviolence—whether it was “personal” or just an abstraction for him. The subject came up when I asked about one of the most dramatic moments in the first volume of Branch’s trilogy, Parting the Waters
Birmingham, Alabama. In the midst of the explosive confrontation between King’s movement and the forces of segregation led by the notorious commissioner of public safety Eugene “Bull” Connor, who had unleashed snarling attack dogs and fire hoses on protesters, including children, marching to end segregation. 
During a meeting of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a man rose up from the audience, leapt onto the stage and smashed King in the face. Punched him hard. And then punched him again. After the first punch, Branch recounts, King just dropped his hands and stood there, allowed the assailant (who turned out to be a member of the American Nazi Party) to punch him again. And when King’s associates tried to step in King stopped them:
“Don’t touch him!” King shouted. “Don’t touch him. We have to pray for him.”
“Yes,” Branch remembers. “It was in September 1962 in Birmingham, which was still segregated. I mean very segregated. They were having their convention, which was a gutsy thing to do because they’re inviting an integrated group to have a convention explicitly promoting civil rights in a fiercely segregated town.”
When the assailant started slugging King, most people thought, Branch says, that “it was a surprise part of the program. He walked up and slugged him and people still thought that this might be some sort of nonviolent demonstration or something. And then he hit him again!”
“Hit him hard?”
“Hit him hard! In fact, he couldn’t continue the rest of the convention. Knocked him around and finally people realized this was not a demonstration, that this was an emergency and went and dragged him out...and swarmed around this Nazi, and King is already saying, “‘Don’t touch him, don’t hurt him.’”.. read more:
See also:

DENIZ KANDIYOTI - Contesting patriarchy-as-governance: lessons from youth-led activism // BEATRIX CAMPBELL - Neoliberal neopatriarchy: the case for gender revolution

Youth-led mobilisation has mocked and exposed patriarchal power by unmasking its politics of social control. Are we on the threshold of a new politics of gender creating cross-gender alliances around struggles against autocracy?

The recent waves of citizen-led activism that swept the globe inspired numerous attempts to identify common drivers across diverse instances of public disobedience and protest.  Growing numbers of educated, unemployed, alienated youth, the humiliations  of autocracy, the authority- busting potential of the internet and social media, and the coming of age of Generation Y are among recurrent leitmotifs. These common denominators – broadly  related to the tensions between the global forces of neoliberalism seeking to expand the freedom of capital, and the forces of social resistance struggling to preserve and redefine community and solidarity - provide  an overly broad umbrella for phenomena  as diverse as the Arab uprisings, the Occupy movement, the indignados of Southern Europe, the student movement in Chile or the Gezi protests in Turkey.  Could the lure of the “global” be making us lose sight of more subtle and context specific idioms of discontent?

In this article, the fourth in a series of reflections on the Arab uprisings (and beyond), I explore the reasons behind the apparent anti-patriarchal thrust of struggles against authoritarianism in some parts of the MENA region, and pose a relatively neglected question: Are there any lessons to be drawn from youth-led activism for a new politics of gender? At first sight, the answer would appear to be negative.  A mobilized citizenry was, first and foremost, demanding their social and political rights, clamouring for justice and freedom and an end to state violence and corruption. If and when gender issues came up - as they did in the context of the Arab uprisings - they were treated in a rather truncated manner, mainly to document levels of  women’s participation in popular protests, their subsequent exclusion from formal processes of transition and their exposure to increasing levels of violence. Feminism and women’s rights activism - considered by some as  “old politics” par excellence - appeared to elicit ambivalence, if not outright indifference, among members of a new insurrectionary generation. 

Yet this distancing was taking place against the background of widespread popular protests against gender-based violence, involving both men and women, who were plainly engaged in new forms of grass roots activism and social critique. How can we account for this state of affairs?  Is the language of feminism up to the challenge of capturing the new sensibilities and aspirations animating the actions and idioms of multitudes of youth, both male and female? Or do the lenses we train on the politics of gender inadvertently restrict our vision?.. read more:

BEATRIX CAMPBELL - Neoliberal neopatriarchy: the case for gender revolution
We are living in a distinctive moment when neoliberal capitalism and neopatriarchy converge. Male dominance is no mere footnote to this new historic settlement. It is central. And feminism is decisive in the resistance...  Violence - and that means violent masculinity - is part of neoliberalism's way of doing business..

Cynthia Cockburn:  When I see Christine Lagarde presiding serenely up there over the International Monetary Fund it makes me wonder whether capitalism might be delivering on sex equality. But you're telling a different story. 'The equality moment's over,' you say. 
Beatrix Campbell:  It is! We have to ask ourselves: what's new about our moment? After the Second World War, capital struck a historic compromise with labour, in a partnership with the unions and commitment to a welfare state. With it came a new sexual contract. Neoliberal neopatriarchy is a riposte to both. Of course, in those postwar decades patriarchy never disappeared, but the welfare state created conditions for what we could call the 'equality paradigm'. With the expansion of social care, some of the labours of love historically performed by women became professionalised and paid. We won new laws on equal pay, marital status, reproduction, sexuality. The idea of equality between men and women was inscribed into international law. Feminism was creating new political terrain. 
When Margaret Thatcher and the neoliberal Conservatives won the election of 1979 all that was threatened. And then New Labour under Tony Blair, when it replaced the Tories in 1997, continued this double counter-revolution. As Stuart Hall has put it, New Labour was 'a neoliberal project wrapped in social democracy'. And equality stalled. Electorally, Blair was the beneficiary of feminists' stalwart efforts to increase women's representation in the party. But it was macho politics rampant.
CC: And today? 
BC: What we have is a symbiotic convergence of neoliberal capitalism and a neopatriarchal gender order. The 'structural adjustment' the financial institutions have been imposing on states all over the world is an attack on social solidarity, on welfare statism and trade unions, the institutions that intervene between men and women, that democratize gender relations and mitigate patriarchy by alleviating women's poverty and overwork.
CC: Since the banking crisis in 2008, 'austerity' policies seem to be intensifying that attack on women?
BC: Yes, if there was any doubt before, we can see quite clearly now how gender is more than just a footnote in the neoliberal project. It's central. Take Osborne's austerity budget of 2010. Labour's front bench MP, Yvette Cooper, who's been described by one of her colleagues as 'seriously good' at maths, scrutinized every detail of that budget. She calculated the consequences for women and men. What she found was so simple, but so startling! Seventy-four percent, almost three-quarters, of the burden of the austerity measures would be borne by women, barely a quarter by men. At the same time, men as tax-payers are valorized and soothed by Osborne's budgets. It's obvious. The neoliberal project can't work and doesn't work except in relation to another political project: male domination. What we have today is a neoliberal neopatriarchy. And you see that expressed most clearly in its dependence on two ancient patriarchal practices: the sexual division of labour, and violence.
CC: When you say 'the sexual division of labour', you see both capital and men-as-men benefitting from the economics of women's work? 
BC: Sure. Women do unpaid work in the home, and underpaid work in employment. Men and their children are cared for by the women in their lives, or by other women whose labour they buy for a pittance. And it's not just men and children - it's care of the elderly, the disabled, the maintenance of everyday life. Research by the Centre for Time Use Studies shows a similar pattern across most developed countries between the 1970s and 2000s: men's core housework activities rose from an average 20 minutes to just 40 minutes a day; and their participation in dedicated child care rose to a meagre 15 or 20 minutes a day - a rate of increase of about 30 seconds a day per year over three decades. 
With changing patterns in paid work, women have adapted massively, men have changed marginally. That's what we learn from time use research. New Labour contributed to this by repudiating European law on the shorter working week. British fathers work the longest hours in Europe. And the trade union movement hasn't campaigned during this time for shorter working hours in employment. Why? Because it's struggling with its own history as what I've called a 'men's movement'. Today the conditions that might have enabled us to even imagine such a demand no longer exist.
CC:  And equal pay? 
BC: The movement for equal pay is over. It's stuck. It is unable to withstand the new regimes of remuneration, the 'new dynamics of undervaluation' that are inaccessible to radical collective challenge. We have equal pay in name, but the actual gap between men and women has stabilized. In the European Union the gender pay gap - that's the average difference between men’s and women’s rate of pay - is 26%. The gap between the hourly earnings of women part-time workers and men full-time workers is a massive 65%. Men's pensions are 50% higher than women's.
CC:  You said just now that the violence of neoliberalism is a second thing that shows its patriarchal nature. I can see the structural violence involved in neoliberalism, driving poor people, poor classes, poor countries deeper into poverty. Do you mean physical violence too?BC: From the end of the Cold War we've seen new regimes of violence, armed conflicts like those in Rwanda, Somalia, the Congo. Mary Kaldor has written of these as the 'new wars', in which criminal interests in a war economy have an interest in keeping them forever on the boil. Rape and pillage are part of the modus operandi. In some countries that are supposedly at 'peace', criminality is terrorizing whole terrains. Take Brazil, the drug trade in MexicoSouth African townships. It's the mobilization of violent masculinities. And everywhere sexual violence against women meets with impunity. Violence - and that means violent masculinity - is part of neoliberalism's way of doing business. States are spending fortunes on the management of violence, on the security industry... read more: