Showing posts with label xenophobia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label xenophobia. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What did he say?

"We must be aware of the superiority of our civilisation, a system that has guaranteed well-being, respect for human rights and - in contrast with Islamic countries - respect for religious and political rights, a system that has as its value understanding of diversity and tolerance...

"The West will continue to conquer peoples, even if it means a confrontation with another civilisation, Islam, firmly entrenched where it was 1,400 years ago." - Silvio Berlusconi

You do have to watch the slippery slope, it's not only easy to slip and hit your head, but before you know it the hate could be turned on you. I wrote a few months back about the racial violence in South Africa caused by the upsurge in Zimbabwean refugees, quickly brushed over some American intolerance and also mentioned some problems they'd been having in Italy. Yes, in case you missed it, Silvio Berlusconi is back in power in Italy, having ridden to victory partially on a wave of old-fashioned, finger-pointing, it's their fault intolerance. Well my friends, it seems that even the Vatican is sitting up and taking notice.

There's been talk in the past, mostly whispers mixed with the occasional warnings from Nobel laureate Dario Fo that what we are witnessing in Italy can only be called creeping fascism. However, when Fo would say of Italy that "the new style fascism is already with us", the right would just call him a communist looney. Then last week I noticed a story about an Italian Catholic magazine called Famiglia Cristiana that ran an editorial claiming that Italy may be witnessing the re-birth of fascism and finishes with "Let's hope their fears are unfounded that another form of fascism is looming here". This is the Catholic Church, to whom most right wing politicians swear allegiance. In an odd schoolyard type reply, junior minister Carlo Giovanardi, attacked the magazine saying: "You are fascists, with your bludgeoning tone". The government had previously labeled the magazine Catho-communist for an earlier editorial against anti-crime measures. The head of Berlusconi's People of Freedom party in the upper house of parliament, Maurizio Gasparri, said he would sue the editor of the magazine. Still, it's not like the Pope called them fascists...oops!

"I am the Jesus Christ of politics. I am a patient victim, I put up with everyone, I sacrifice myself for everyone." - Silvio Berlusconi, 2006

Yesterday as Pope Benedict XVI (B16) was delivering his weekly Sunday sermon, he was telling a story from the gospels about Jesus meeting a pagan woman and rising above his initial misgivings to perform a miracle for her daughter. A little later the pope said: "One of humanity's great conquests is the overcoming of racism. Unfortunately, however, there are new and worrying examples of this in various countries, often linked to social and economic problems that nonetheless can never justify contempt or racial discrimination." Later he reminded Catholics of their duty to steer others in society away from "racism, intolerance and exclusion [of others]".

Um, dude, er, Il Cavieliere, Berlusconi, the pope just called you a racist. I'd love to see him try to keep that smarmy smile on his face as he reads the news. He seems to be having some problems with the Church, this on top of the whole marriage problem he's trying to 'fix'. Seems he's been trying to get them to lift the ban on communion for divorcees. If only it were as easy as changing the laws of your country for your own purposes when you're a fascist dictator. Berlusconi has faced multiple charges of corruption, tax fraud, false accounting and illegally financing political parties over the years but has always protested his innocence. He has even been found guilty, only to have the decisions overturned on appeal. In under a month between June 26th and July 24th his government managed to introduce and pass two bills to protect himself and his buddies. The first froze long-running trials, including one involving Il Cavieliere for a year. The second, and perhaps most audacious, grants himself, the president and the speakers of the two parliamentary chambers immunity for the time they are in office. Berlusconi has long criticized what he sees as the power of the magistrates but now has a strong enough majority to pass such laws. Most people see the magistrates' power as necessary as their dates back to the post-war era, when a strong court system was seen as a bulwark against a repeat of fascism.

"If I, taking care of everyone's interests, also take care of my own, you can't talk about a conflict of interest." - Silvio Berlusconi

Fascists are easy to spot, they us the same repertoire and shout the same slogans: freedom, effort, fatherland, Italy, defense of the race, culture of our civilization, original civilization. In Italy, Berlusconi swept back into power while the far right won the mayor's race in Rome where liberals had ruled for years. Berlusconi's coalition is an assortment of far-right extremists and dangerous, deluded rabble-rousers. The Popolo della Libertà coalition, for example, includes Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of you-know-who. It also includes the remains of the so-called post-fascist party, the National Alliance. Its leader, Gianfranco Fini, once said that Mussolini was the greatest statesman of the 20th century. Perhaps most worrying of all is that the Northern League, led by Umberto Bossi, won 8% of the national vote. Their xenophobic rantings are truly evil, one recently suggested that foreigners should be forced to use separate train carriages; Bossi himself has, in the past, urged the Italian navy to use live rounds against the thousands of immigrants arriving on Italian shores. If you don't like it Bossi has said the rifles are still warm and that he has 300,000 martyrs ready to battle those who get in his way. It's been seen before, first you whip the people up into a rage about the problems of a country being the fault of Others, intolerance grows and violence breaks out, in this case a concerted action along with the authorities. New laws are passed, against immigrants, particularly Roma, they gradually grow more menacing, to the point where they are identifying people according to ethnicity, not only those you don't like, but everyone.

"Mussolini never killed anyone. Mussolini used to send people on vacation in internal exile." - Silvio Berlusconi

I'm not the only one comparing Italy 2008 to 1922, or Hitler's treatment of minorities to the creeping xenophobia that's entering Italy's mainstream. The celebrations following Berlusconi's victory saw amid the sea of tricolour flags were hundreds of people raising their right arms to the skies, their fingers tense and straight. Everywhere you could see the old fascist salute. It is back in fashion and many are now wondering if the boot-boys themselves are back in power. There is much indifference in Italy to this movement, as usual there are other, more important things to worry about, the timing is right with Europe nose-diving into recession. The concentration of power, particularly in the media allows Berlusconi to shape public opinion. Making things even scarier is the shift in how the fascist past of Italy is now being looked upon. Mussolini has been reconsidered and rehabilitated. Fascism is nearer than you think and not only in Italy, who knows, maybe this time the pope is the only one who can save us from its grips.

"A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude. To make them love it is the task assigned ... to ministries of propaganda, newspaper editors, and schoolteachers."
Brave New World (P.S.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The more things change...

Maybe if he just changed the batteries in the remote...

As you may or may not know, I've been on vacation for the past month, unable to keep up with the news and keep my blog up to date. A couple of post-dated posts are all I've been able to put up. So, given my lack of news (yes, no internet access) I thought it might be fun to see what the news headlines from my final "connected" day were and ask you to see what's come of these stories. It's been my experience from past years of occasional media withdrawal that with the exception of the odd major events, the same stories get recycled, re-spun and repackaged for our intake. Some of the headlines from Reuter's on June 24th, 2008 were:
1. Pressure mounts to call off Zimbabwe election
2. Home prices extend record slide in April
3. Bomb kills 6 Iraqis, 4 Americans in Baghdad
4. Dow Chemical sets new price hikes, cuts output
5. Iran says EU sanctions could hurt nuclear diplomacy
6. Voters and candidates react to higher energy costs
7. First contractor convicted under US military law in Iraq
8. Economy on brink of recession, Greenspan says
9. Border farmers seek change on guest workers
10. Group denies misleading media over Amazon tribe

Now, my theory is the things don't change too much, the news seems to run in a loop. Here's a list of corresponding stories I've written in the past three months (with numbers matching above):
1. Starving Billionaires; Zimbabwe, somewhere in Africa; Zimbabwe update #3
2. On Dollars and Dinars
3. Where to start?
4. Look out! It's a dinosaur from the 70's!?
5. When Talking Became a Bad Thing
6. When first we practice to deceive - lies part 2
7. Extra! Extra! America Violates International Law! (post-dated at time of writing, you can find it yourself)
8. What a Tangled Web We Weave - Lies Part 1
9. Fear of the Other
10. Attack From Above

Ok, ok, the stories don't all match up exactly, I've only been at this blogging thing a few months. What is interesting to examine though is how much news changes over time. Looking at my original posts and the headlines today (June 24th), there isn't much difference. So, dear reader, if I was to log on today, would I find that the story has changed in the past month? Somehow I doubt it, but let me know in the comments below. See you at the beginning of August!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Zimbabwe, Somewhere in Africa

With a little over a week to go until the run-off election for president in Zimbabwe, the news that does manage to come out of the country seems to get worse and worse by the day. It feels like forever and a day since I last wrote about Zimbabwe. It was only April 20th, three weeks after the first round of the election and no results had yet been announced. Of course we now know the result was a slim margin of victory for Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC, but without an absolute majority, thus the necessity of a run-off election between him and Robert Mugabe. It's hard to imagine how things could be worse than those dark days, but somehow Mr. Mugabe and his thugs have managed to make it so.

Since April 20th a short recap:
May 2 - Electoral body says Tsvangirai won most votes in the presidential election, but not enough to avoid a run-off against Mugabe. Opposition rejects the result.
May 10 - Tsvangirai says he will contest the run-off even though he believes he won outright.
May 16 - Run-off is set for June 27.
May 19 - Opposition accuses military intelligence agents of a plot to kill Tsvangirai, forcing him to postpone his return to the country. The government dismisses the plot as a propaganda stunt.
May 24 - Tsvangirai returns to Zimbabwe and says Mugabe wants to decimate opposition structures before the run-off.
May 29 - Mugabe says his government has bought 600,000 tonnes of maize to ease food shortages.
June 3 - Zimbabwe orders Care International to suspend its operations after accusing it of political interference.
June 4 - Police release Tsvangirai after holding him for more than eight hours while he was campaigning for the June 27 run-off.
June 5 - Zimbabwean government bans all work by foreign aid agencies

The last couple of weeks are seeing an even quicker pace to the craziness going down as Tsvangirai has been arrested and released numerous times. Almost all the opposition officials have been arrested, killed, forced into hiding or worse. It is a surreal game to see how far he can go it seems. I am definitely convinced of the syphilis story now, Mugabe is mad. When a leader of a nation says things like "We shed a lot of blood for this country. We are not going to give up our country for a mere X on a ballot. How can a ballpoint pen fight with a gun?" why even hold the election? Even if without any effective campaign by the opposition due to the campaign of intimidation being conducted by Mugabe's Xanu-PF party Tsvangai somehow manages to get enough people to actually vote for him, on ballots that won't even be counted properly, it won't matter because Mugabe will stay in power by force if need be. Long sentence, but it has passed the ludicrous point as the UN promises to send observers for the election and Zimbabwe's neighbours sit idly by. Ban Ki-Moon tells the generally assembly of the UN that "Should these conditions continue to prevail, the legitimacy of the election outcomes would be in question," and these are referred to as harsh words as hundreds die and a war has been threatened on the people if they don't vote the right way.

But wait, Condoleeza Rice is going to sit down with the foreign minister of Burkina Faso, together chairing a round table discussion on Zimbabwe. Being that this month's security council president is the US, I'm sure a lot will be done. US+UN=ummm. What we must need is a League of Democracies. The aid the UN is sending is being stolen from hungry people dealing with inflation in the millions of percentages by the men in power, making it even more ironic that this used to be the breadbasket of Africa. That's the point I guess, it's Africa. At the same time a bit north Chad and Sudan try to add full scale war to the little genocide problem happening; Simon Mann's trial gets under way in Equatorial Guinea (high on the where's that factor, here). Oh yeah, that's the one Margaret Thatcher's son, Sir Mark Thatcher had to pay what amounted to a 265,000 pound fine for his role in the whole coup thing. There is a lot going on there to fix. Let's not mention the whole sure to have a pretty large scale famine as food prices skyrocket, which effects the poor first, and this is one continent that has gotten a whole lot poorer while the rest have gotten richer thing.

When Tsvangirai was touring Africa last month while his life was threatened by murder plots, his last stop was South Africa (read this link to see what president Mbeki is doing). A country whose leadership I expect to do something, maybe it's the whole Mandela effect. But the best plan anyone seems to come up with is for them to cut the electricity off if Mugabe steals the election. My dream was that on his return to the country, Tsvangirai would have walked across the border into Zimbabwe with the millions of displaced compatriots that have fled there in recent years. The timing coincided with the xenophobic violence at the time in South Africa, he would lead them to the ballot boxes as one unstoppable force. Most of my students here in Poland like most of the world don't even know there is trouble in Zimbabwe, let alone the difference between it, Zaire or Zambia. Despite the intimidation campaigns that have been conducted here in the past, it's more important to buy a new God Car or head down to the mall. If only Zimbabwe was in the Middle East and had oil. Even little things could help, such as national teams boycotting the Zimbabwe cricket team. However, it's not broad coalitions of words that will help end the bloodshed.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Fear of the Other


Archaeologists tell us that the earliest human groups were small family-tribes consisting of about 30 to 50 individuals. It was the perfect number to achieve the balance between having the ability to move quickly and being able to defend themselves effectively in the fight for survival. In a sparsely populated world, these small groups rarely came into contact with each other, but when they did, they had to decide how they would react to this Other. Today's world sees many more potential meetings between groups, yet still we must choose how to react when faced with the Other. What kind of attitude should we have towards them? Should we throw ourselves in fury on those people who are different than us, build a barricade to keep them away, or get to know and understand them?


The headlines today are from South Africa, so we can can once again turn the page and know it doesn't affect us. Whether we're reading this in Europe, North America or even Australia we can feel comfortable in the knowledge that we won't have problems like those in the townships of Johannesburg and Cape Town where at least 42 foreigners have been killed in violence aimed at immigrants. The country that has styled itself as the Rainbow Nation, has seen more than 12 days of violence aimed at immigrant groups. It was thought that this kind of thing could only happen in Nigeria, or maybe the Congo, but the home of the Truth and Reconciliation commission has been witness to marauding groups of vigilantes hunting foreigners, burning their homes and even burning people. A spike in Zimbabwean immigration combined with the fact that the economic gains of the past decade haven't been shared equally among the population has led to violence and the worst is yet to come.

Yeah, well it is only an African phenomenon, right? Well, let's take Italy, a country that has a few skeletons in their closet when it comes to xenophobic hysteria, so you'd think they'd have learnt from past mistakes. In fact though, the country is on the brink of beginning a process of deporting Italian citizens because of their Roma heritage. As is often the case when a right wing populist movement wins an election, Berlusconi's party and their coalition partners won partially on a platform based on blaming the Others. Now, the people have begun to take matters into their own hands. In a scenario supposedly sparked by a 17-year-old Roma girl who supposedly tried to steal someone's baby, the people of Naples have risen up night after night, marching, chanting and burning the homes of the second-class citizen Roma population. What's worse is it seems they've been blocking firefighter's access to the blazes. It's an almost textbook example of directing the populations anger at a scapegoat as the city battles a huge waste collection problem. During the recent election campaign Berlusconi vowed to curb illegal immigrants, describing them as an “army of evil”. The government's response to the recent violence, well quite predictably, more measures to get rid of the "army". Army of evil you say, sounds familiar...

Meanwhile, in America, where they have been busy perfecting the policy of attack over dialogue, they are also embracing the idea of wall building, in this case to keep out the Mexicans. At the same time an election campaign, which could see the election of the first black president, drags on.

Why build a wall when your people need all the exposure to the outside world they can get? It's not to fight terrorists, as construction was begun well before 9/11, in 1994 in fact. It's to keep out the Other. The Great Wall of China, Hadrian's Wall, The Maginot Line, even the rabbit fences of Australia were all overcome by the invaders they were designed to keep out. Over, under, around, through, a wall is just something to be overcome, and they always are. Another doomed barricade will surely be the planned missile shield whose only tactical value seems to be that it pisses the Other off. America has already wasted the past 8 years focusing their response on the first two reactions to the Other, what the world needs more than anything is someone to take up that risky third option, dialogue.

The Other is an easy target when people start getting nervous about their pocketbooks, or worse yet, the hole in their bellies. Throughout our history, mankind has always wavered between the options of war, wall building and dialogue when dealing with this Other. War is hard to justify, the encounter with the Other usually ends tragically with the imposition of one's beliefs on the Other. Wall building only serves to isolate without fixing the problems that lie underneath. In a world where we seem to be moving from a mass society to a new, global society 2.0, interconnectivity is becoming the new world order. Linked more than ever before electronically through communication and physically in terms of transport and movement, how we deal with the Other will only become more important, culturally and economically. A surge in oil prices, a spike in food prices, an economic slow down, fingers will be pointed, swords could be drawn, if we don't talk, who will be next to be blamed?