Meanwhile in the Rest of the World…

earth bombTurkey’s President Erdogan just publicly endorsed the death penalty in front of a crowd of more than 1 million supporters. I wonder where Turkey’s moderates are cowering? Any chance of joining the EU is about to get nixed if Turkey decides to take this tremendous step backwards, and Turkey will join the ranks of dodgy two-bit banana “republics” where human rights are mixed in with manure to fertilize local fields.

The migrant crisis might resurface (did it ever really go away? It really was just swept under a Turkish rug and now someone is about to trip over that lump in the carpet), and moderate Turks might join the ranks of those trying to escape oppressive regimes. Turkey is on a dark precipice and I really hope that some sort of reason and rationality reign in the near future.

China is attempting (and successfully at that) to destabilize the South China Seas by deploying its air force to do maneuvers and patrols around the Spratlys and the Scarborough Shoal. Local countries are protesting to no avail, and really, those islands might as well belong to China at this point as they’ve not only cocked a leg and sprayed the post, but buried a bone at the base. Unless someone grows a set, there is no chance that China will back down on its expensive land reclamation projects in that hotly contested area.

The UN’s two-bit court ruling that China is in the wrong and that the Philippines are in the right over the disputed area is really just another unfortunate example of how ineffectual the UN really is. The UN only works best in third world countries, and not when dealing with first world countries with power, ego, and eyes towards a very different world order than the one we currently enjoy.

China then flexed another muscle, this time in the face of South Korea, chastising the South Korean President Park for joining the US’s THAAD anti-missile system as conspiring to strengthen the US presence in Asia against China. The THAAD system was really put in place to keep the North Koreans in check (again, these systems are only as good as the powers backing them are willing to initiate the systems), and yes, there is likely some truth to China’s accusation. Yet it’s not like the American presence in east Asia is new; the Americans have always been the schoolyard monitor in that playground. What is troubling is how China is really trying to reassert its imperial dominance in that region, and going about it like a schoolyard bully trying to own the playground. The question is whether the monitor is willing to actually enforce the schoolyard rules.

And then we have the US, with the focus of all eyes on the battle of faux pas, blunders, policies, hair styles/pieces, and wits (or lack thereof) between Trump and Clinton. It’s like a train wreck that you can’t take your eyes off of, because the collateral damage from that accident is going to be the political equivalent of the Lac Megantic tragedy. And as those two trains hurtle towards each other, rest of the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

trump_versus_clinton__marian_kamensky

 

Building Walls

BRIDGE OF SPIESI just finished watching Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, a great spy thriller based on the account of James Donovan, a New York lawyer who represented a Soviet spy in court in 1957, and then who subsequently was the main negotiator, five years later, coordinating an exchange of that Soviet spy for an American pilot shot down over the Soviet Union. Amongst many memorable scenes, one stood out for me: Donovan is returning to West Berlin by train from East Berlin, after having spent the night in a Stasi jail cell and, as the train crosses the now-erected and newly infamous Berlin Wall, he watches in horror as several people try to climb over the Wall and are summarily shot and killed.

Hungary, fence, migrants, refugeesI don’t know whether Donovan actually witnessed this incident, but the scene made me immediately think of the wall put up by Hungary to deter the flood of migrants and refugees across the Hungarian border from Serbia. Apparently there are more walls that have been put up already by other countries (see Adam Taylor’s Washington Post article from August on walls). These walls vary in length but the intent is similar: to deal with the influx of migrants and refugees into Europe.

The scene from the movie is poignant, as people are desperate to leave the oppressive German Democratic Republic (East Germany) for the democratic West, and make every attempt to do so, even at risk of their own lives. The Wall only is a physical hindrance, and the intention of the Wall – to keep people in – can only be implemented by the use of force.

The reality of the walls being built in Europe today is the same – they will not act as deterrents unless the countries that erected the walls are willing to use force to implement the intention of the walls: to keep migrants and refugees out. One might argue that the walls are not being built to keep migrants and refugees out, that the walls are being built to better channel the human flood, but if you examine the nature of walls, it is to control the ability of people to enter and/or to leave. How far are European countries willing to go to enforce the walls that they are building?

Particularly in light of yesterday’s attack in Paris, more walls are going to be built throughout Europe: physical walls, mental walls; blockades against migrants and refugees; barriers to multiculturalism; moats to weather a modern siege of Europe. Walls have never really helped to stave off evil and, more often than not, walls become symbols of oppression: the Berlin Wall, the Warsaw Ghetto Wall, the West Bank Barrier.

It is in this moment of desperate times that we have a choice as to whether to keep raising walls, or to raise arms in welcome.

Another Unfortunate Headline (and one of the more potentially racist ones out there)

Europe's refugee crisisI looked down on the BBC app on my phone and this headline loomed out at me:

Clearing the rubbish at migrant camp

I know what they meant – the accompanying picture (not the one displayed here) was worth more the headline words put together – but, lord, this one comes off a rather scandalously at first glance, particularly in light of some of the nationalistic comments that are starting to swirl through Europe.

Just brings the point home that we need to be careful how we phrase things in the public eye.

He should be sleeping, not just looking like it.

image

It’s not just about the photo. It’s about rectifying the horrible crisis in the Middle East that is the root of people like Kurdi dying in an attempt to escape it.  And what about all those who are living half lives as refugees in camps or on some road to nowhere,  as long as it doesn’t lead them back to the hell that is their former home? I don’t have an answer and our leaders need to work on solutions for all those whom Kurdi now represents, who were,  before this photo,  mostly nameless mobs of migrants that people ignored as someone else’s problem.

That little boy is not a piece of human flotsam and we cannot turn our backs on what he now represents. We never should have turned our backs on that situation in the first place. The fault is as much ours in our complacency of absorbing such human tragedies as the norm of our world (“at least it’s not in my back yard so what do I care for a civil war in Syria? “) as it is of the people who meddled in Syrian affairs to the point that ISIS was able to grow into a terror-filled caliphate. What was the lesser of two evils there?

But that question does not bear any impact on Aylan Kurdi,  or his brother,  or his mother,  or the thousands that went to the same fate before Aylan: death by desperation. And that will never stand trial in the Hague.