Thursday, 5 May 2011

A World's Worth Of News

So there's been the Local Elections and a vote on AV, the results of which we'll know by tomorrow probably. Osama Bin Laden is dead. Two wealthy people have enjoyed a week of marriage. You'd be forgiven for thinking that that is all that has happened in the past 7 days. Rightfully (in the case of the first two) and inevitably (in the last one's) those 3 stories have dominated all news coverage for a week. All three are potentially historic moments and it's understandable that people have focussed on them, but i thought i'd use this blog to give mentions/links to a few of the other very important news stories which have been shoved down the news agenda, both in the UK and abroad.

1. Bahrain & Syria - The crackdown on the protests in Bahrain continues and the international response has highlighted the double standards in terms of condemnation and intervention. What is taking place in Bahrain is incredibly serious as news comes of 4 protester's being sentenced to death by firing squad and in some ways more tellingly the attacks, arrests and intimidation of medical staff in the country intensifies.

The authorities in the country have confirmed that 47 doctors will face prosecution, on spurious grounds, for what in reality was simply maintaining their principles and treating people regardless of the circumstance of their injury. Medical professionals in the country face threats, random arrests, detention without cause or any sort of due process and with no promise of release and physical attacks.

The protests in Bahrain currently are not on the scale of the uprisings in Egypt or Libya, partly because of the intervention of Saudi troops to back up the Bahraini authorities. In that sentence lies, in my belief, one of the main reasons why the West has been comparatively muted in their criticism of the Gulf state; Saudi Arabia doesn't want any protests there to be successful and seeing as the Saudi's are economic, military and political friends with the UK and US it's hardly surprising the response has been less dramatic than when Gadaffi attempted to crush the democratic aspirations of his people, we would have lost more than we gained in the Bahrain. The US also has a military air base in the Bahrain and the risk of a government less interested in accommodating a US presence on their soil is hardly one the US will want to embrace.

In Syria the southern city of Deraa has seen a 10 day military operation to crush the growing pro-democracy protests. The city is under siege and their are serious concerns about a humanitarian crisis developing if aid isn't brought in soon. Elsewhere in the country, especially in the capital Damascus, a high military presence and mass arrests are limiting the ability of the revolutionary movement to make any real progress.

There's been more condemnation of the government response in Syria though as of yet it's unclear whether that will come to anything or if the history books will look on it as the West making meaningless noises while political repression carried on.

It's depressing to see that as the UK bickers over which voting system is the most democratic, there are people across the world fighting and dying simply for the opportunity to have a fair vote. It puts the AV argument into context; i'll be sad if the referendum comes down on the side of NO as seems likely, a continuation of a system that only worked when there were just two parties that got 95% or so of the popular vote. The reality is that FPTP will guarantee centre right governments for the foreseeable future and we're unlikely to get another chance to be this involved in shaping our country. Regardless though, compared to the people in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen and a number of other countries, i am grateful even for FPTP, because at least i get to vote without fear of violence or corruption.

2.Libya - There were two major developments in Libya this week. Overall the situation seems to have stagnated into a situation of civil war where neither force has the capability to oust the other. The exception to this is the battle still raging around Misrata. In previous weeks the rebels managed to drive Gaddafi's forces out of the city and are a testament to the spirit and determination of the revolutionary movement. However they are still under siege and Gaddafi has proven in the last 48 hours yet again why it is so important he is not allowed to retake either Misrata or Benghazi; his forces bombarded a humanitarian ship attempting to extract refugees and injured citizens. It also highlighted that though the UN intervention may have saved Benghazi, it hasn't defeated Gaddafi and the UN now faces the question of whether to do more to intervene or to let the Libyan leader gradually defeat the people of Misrata through bombardment and starvation.

Now my gut reaction is that we should do more; it'd be a true tragedy if in a months time i was reading about the fall of Misrata and the subsequent brutal response by Gaddafi's forces to the people who defied him for so long. However international politics can't be ruled by gut feelings and i have to concede i do not have the answers. All i do know is that Gaddafi is as much of a brutal dictator as Saddam Hussein and has as little regard for human life as Osama Bin Laden and one day in the not too distant future, people will have to stop arguing about the legality of Bin Laden's killing and consider the reality of the situation in Libya; if we do nothing more we might have the blood of those revolutionaries on our hands, if we intervene does it mean we're committing to another lengthy war with no clear exit plan and more condemnation from much of the world. It's decisions like that that make me VERY glad i'm never likely to be a politician on the international stage. There's no right or wrong answer; they'll be damned if they do and damned if they don't.

3. Ivory Coast - The democratically elected president Allasane Ouattara's forces have finally defeated the remaining forces loyal to ousted leader Laurent Gbagbo in the commercial capital Abidjan. It is suspected that many of the troops were mercenaries from neighbouring Liberia and they've been holding out for the past three weeks, ever since Gbagbo himself was captured in a bunker and arrested.

Once military operations are truly over for Ouattara the next big challenge of his leadership begins; his victory came at least partly due to the co-operation and military strength of a number of warlords who will now all want their share of the spoils. Ouattara will have to try and strike a balance between keeping those same warlords on his side (the last thing the Ivory Coast needs is more conflict) and avoiding being beholden to them to the extent that he struggles to achieve a strong and effective rule over the country.

4. Palestine - This week saw a reconciliation pact between the two main Palestinian factions, Hamas who control the Gaza Strip and are considered by Israel to be a terrorist organisation and a threat to them and Fatah who control the West Bank. Now for me this is good news; any move towards communication and peaceful negotiation between these two groups who only a few years ago were engaged in a bloody power struggle is progress. In my opinion the only way there can ever be meaningful progress towards peace in that region (total peace is a pipe dream but there can be improvements made there) is if the different factions in Palestine are united behind a cause of peaceful interaction with the international community. Divided they're easy to pick apart for the many groups that i believe have little real interest in the peace process, including if i'm honest, a lot of important figures in the Israeli government. United they can put pressure on the UN and in some ways more crucially the US, to in turn but pressure on Israel to come to the table with real intentions of finding a solution.

The move has been met with hostility from Israel and distrust by the US, which is hardly surprising, but i really hope the potential for genuine political progress is embraced rather than shut down as has happened so many times before. Israel will claim that they refuse to deal with a terrorist organisation but they, and the international community as a whole, need to ask themselves how they've allowed the situation in the Gaza Strip to reach the point where a group like Hamas could be democratically elected. I hope Israel responds well to any negotiation offers that this new agreement could lead to, but even after only 6 or so years of paying attention to the situation over there, i'm highly cynical because i quite simply believe there are powerful factions in Israel and abroad who view a unified and democratic Palestine as a major threat.

5. WW1 Veteran - Today saw the confirmation that the last known veteran of World War 1, Claude Stanley Choules, had passed away aged 110. Within a blog post where i've written about people's efforts to protect and attain democracy, it seems a fitting tribute to praise a man who fought in both World Wars. Now i have no idea what kind of man Mr Choules was, i only have the testimony of his family and friends, but the sentimental side of me means that i'd like to think he was a good man. I'd like to think that all the hate and death he must have seen will have influenced him to be a better person, someone who made the world a happier place. In the end though, almost regardless of the kind of person he was, he deserves respect simply for serving during both wars, for raising a family and for living to the ripe old age of 110. I never know what to say as an end to an obituary seeing as i'm not religious but i guess a fitting final statement would be:

"May my generation never have to know the kind of sacrifice your generation went through twice."

6. Ian Tomlinson - Finally, this week an inquest jury ruled that Ian Tomlinson was "unlawfully killed". Now for anyone not familiar with Ian Tomlinson's story he was a newspaper seller in London who on the 1st of April 2009, at the time of the G20 protests, was walking home through London when this happened:

As the video states, Mr. Tomlinson died from the injuries suffered at the hands of that Police officer. Now i'm not claiming for a minute that the officer intended to kill the man, but it highlights, just as many incidents at the student protests have, that brutal, misdirected and unjustified violence are not the sole reserve of the protesters. The fact is that Ian Tomlinson had his hands in his pockets and his back to the police officers when he was assaulted. It is a disgrace that it has taken this long for his family to even get the relatively small concession from the authorities that it was an "unlawful killing" and i hope the Crown Prosecution Service takes this opportunity to prosecute the officer responsible.

It doesn't deal with either the institutionalised violence amongst riot police officers or the corruption and collective arse-covering which followed Mr Tomlinson's death and saw lie after lie presented to the public in defence of the actions. Both elements will go unpunished even if the police constable, Simon Harwood, faces criminal charges, but it will at least be a warning to police at other protests in the future that they are not immune from prosecution and that violence towards people offering no threat to them will not be tolerated. It's a message that is crucially important in the current climate.

That's just a sample of the other important news stories which have been kind of buried under the whole Will & Kate, Osama V Obama and Yes/No coverage but i hope i gave a decent amount of coverage to a number of important issues that i'd advise if you're interested you go and read more on. The official media coverage is there, you just need to dig a little deeper than usual.

This has turned into a really long post so i'll end it here with a song from the upcoming new Friendly Fires album:

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