US Presidential Election Roundup 23/9 – 29/9

This week’s roundup of the US presidential elections…

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Romney campaign font under scrutiny [BuzzFeed] A font used on Romney-Ryan clothing sold on Mitt Romney’s website is under investigation by the campaign.

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Obama comments on change [ABC] The Obama campaign has questioned Mitt Romney’s ability to change Washington.

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Obama ad focuses on Romney’s taxes [Huffington Post] A new ad from the Obama campaign has questioned Mitt Romney over his taxes.

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Ad attacks Obama over party leadership [CNN] A new ad by the Romney campaign has cited a book by Bob Woodward to criticise President Obama’s relationship with Democrats.

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Clinton comments on Romney’s taxes [CBS] Former President Bill Clinton has criticised Mitt Romney over his tax returns.

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Romney campaign faces criticism [The Independent] Mitt Romney has said that his campaign ‘doesn’t need a turnaround’ after difficulties emerged last week.

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Obama responds to foreign policy criticism [Boston Herald] President Obama has responded to Mitt Romney’s criticism of the administration over its handling of violence in the Middle East.

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‘Defiant and realistic’ [Washington Post] The Washington Post looks into the mindset of the Romney campaign.

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Obama speaks on tone in Washington [CNN] President Obama has spoken about his failure to change the tone in Washington.

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Romney struggling with older voters [Reuters] A new poll suggests that the Romney campaign is losing support among voters aged 60 or older.

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Ad attacks Romney comments [Huffington Post] The Obama campaign has released an ad criticising comments made by Mitt Romney at a private fundraiser.

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Fall in undecided voters [Politico] A new poll from Politico has suggested that the number of voters likely to rethink their support of a candidate has fallen.

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Romney campaign tries new angle [The Wall Street Journal] The Wall Street Journal reports that the Romney campaign has tried to focus more on policy details this week.

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‘Overboard’ [National Journal] President Obama has commented on campaign ads in an interview for CBS.

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Swing-state support for Obama [The Hill] Voters in swing-states view the President’s stance on Medicare more favourable than that of his Republican opponent, according to a new poll.

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Obama losing veteran support [Politico] Polls suggest that Mitt Romney has a lead over President Obama among veteran voters in numerous states.

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Romney accused of flip-flop [ABC News] Mitt Romney has been accused of flip-flopping on the question of health insurance by a new Obama campaign video.

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Romney jokes over Clinton welcome [Politico] Mitt Romney has joked about receiving a poll boost after being introduced by former President Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative.

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Obama leads in new polls [CNN] New polls in Ohio, Florida, Iowa and Nevada give President Obama a slight lead over Mitt Romney.

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Obama criticises Romney over teachers [CNN] President Obama has criticised Mitt Romney over his stance on the Chicago teachers’ strike.

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Romney discusses parenthood [The Washington Post] Mitt Romney has spoken about parenthood during a discussion on education with NBC News.

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Romney adviser questions polling [BuzzFeed] An adviser to the Romney campaign has questioned the virtues of public polling.

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Romney suggests union contributions ban [The Washington Post] Mitt Romney has said that teachers’ unions should not be allowed to make political contributions.

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Romney corrected over Obama policies [ABC] A spokesperson for the Romney campaign has had to correct the Republican candidate’s remarks about President Obama’s tax policies.

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Ohio targeted by Romney campaign [National Journal] Mitt Romney has focused campaign attention on the battleground state of Ohio this week.

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Reid comments on Romney’s religion [Huffington Post] Harry Reid has agreed with a Huffington Post blogger that Mitt Romney has ‘sullied’ the Mormon faith.

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Obama ad attacks Romney on education [The Hill] A new ad from the Obama campaign has criticised Mitt Romney over the implications of his education proposals for Hispanics.

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Romney plays down tax cuts [The Hill] Mitt Romney has told voters not to expect ‘huge’ tax cuts to result from his economic policies.

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Early voting starts in Iowa [Huffington Post] Early voting has begun in Iowa, a swing-state where President Obama holds a lead.

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Obama leads in Medicare poll [The Hill] A new poll suggests that President Obama leads Mitt Romney on the issue of Medicare.

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Mormons fast in support of Romney [Huffington Post] The Huffington Post reports that some Mormons are fasting and praying in the hopes of helping the Mitt Romney campaign.

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Poll gives Obama reduced lead [Reuters] Support for President Obama has dipped, according to a new poll.

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Ann Romney in Nevada interview [Reuters] Ann Romney has given an interview in which she discusses her husband’s state of mind if elected to office.

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Registration firm fraud [Reuters] The Republican Party has dismissed a voter registration company amid claims of fraud.

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Compiled by Patrick McGhee.

collisuem.rome.italy

Italian Language Edition Of TRS

Arriving in the next few days…

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We are very excited to announce that we will be trialing an Italian language version of the site for the next month. Giuseppe Paparella will be translating our favourite article every week into Italian which we hope will entice more Italian readers to get involved in TRS. If you would like to be involved with this venture, email Giuseppe at [email protected]

La redazione di The Risky Shift è davvero lieta di annunciare la versione in lingua italiana del proprio sito, in prova per il mese di Ottobre. Giuseppe Paparella ne curerà l’aspetto redazionale, selezionando e traducendo ogni settimana gli articoli di politica internazionale più interessanti, con l’augurio di attirare sempre più lettori italiani a collaborare attivamente con il sito di TRS. Chiunque voglia partecipare a questa iniziativa è invitato a contattare Giuseppe all’indirizzo email giuseppepaparella@theriskyshift.com.

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If you are bilingual, and want to get involved in translating TRS articles into other languages, do get in touch at {[email protected]}. We look forward to hearing from you!

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Wenn Du zwei oder mehr Sprachen sprichst und Interesse daran hast TRS-Artikel zu übersetzen, melde Dich unter {[email protected]}. Wir freuen uns von Dir zu hören!

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Si vous êtes bilingue, et intéressés de traduire des articles TRS en d’autres langues, n’hésitez pas à nous contactez: {[email protected]}. Il nous fera plaisir de vous lire.

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Si se puede hablar varios idiomas, y le gustaría traducir artículos TRS a otros idiomas, por favor póngase en contacto con {[email protected]}. A la espera de sus noticias!

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Se você é bilíngue e está interessado em traduzir os artigos do TRS para outro idiomas, escreva para {[email protected]}. Aguardamos ansiosamente seu contato.

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ご連絡お待ちしております。

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Photo credit: tylerhoff

Thanks to Nicole Hunger (German), Leo Tobisch (French & Spanish), Halis Yinanc (Turkish), Otso Iho (Finnish), Karl Toomet (Estonian), Kourus Ghavami (Portuguese & Japanese) and Sergiusz Scheller (Polish & Russian).

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Would An Independent Scotland Join NATO?

In the 21st century, the security and defence of a nation is not the sole preserve of their national governments – these are international questions which directly impact the wider international community.

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In Scotland, an increasingly heated debate has developed over Alex Salmond’s plans to drop the traditional nationalist opposition to NATO membership, in the not-so-unlikely event that Scotland votes to secede from the United Kingdom in 2014. The First Minister and leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party faces a potentially difficult party conference in October if internal disagreement on this issue is aired in public.

The debate thus far has focused almost exclusively on the presence of nuclear weapons in Scotland, specifically Trident submarines based in the Firth of Clyde, which has been a highly controversial issue since the 1980s. While that is a highly pertinent issue from both a political and a practical perspective, it could be argued that the extent to which it dominates the wider debate on NATO membership is detrimental to the interests of Scotland and the Scottish people if and when they declare their independence.

In simple terms, the fundamental question is what place would – and should – an independent Scotland occupy on the world stage? How could an independent Scotland work with other sovereign nations, notably its European neighbours, to ensure its defence and security? Scotland’s people and their elected representatives have yet to truly address these questions in a rational and well-informed manner. Given that the referendum on independence has seemingly been pencilled in for the autumn of 2014, it is high time they did so.

In Scotland, as in many other countries, NATO suffers from misconceptions – often out-dated Cold War notions – as to its role, activities and even its very raison d’être. SNP members opposed to NATO membership have played on these misconceptions by referring to NATO as a “nuclear-weapons based alliance”.

Aside from being factually incomplete, such a stance fails to address wider questions of security and defence which Scottish nationalists surely must answer if their campaign for independence – not to mention the very survival of an independent Scotland – is to be successful.

In that context, it should be recognised that NATO in the 21st century, for all its undoubted faults, remains the only organisation which provides for international cooperation on a range of highly relevant issues such as cyber-security, military interoperability and intelligence sharing, to name but a few. In an age of financial austerity, even larger nations such as France, Germany and Britain have recognised that they cannot afford to go it alone. Even the most fervent nationalist would surely admit that an independent Scotland would be no different.

The relevance of this debate is far broader than internal Scottish politics. Indeed, it is a cause of great concern in London and Washington, as explained by Dr Philips O’Brien of the University of Glasgow in recent testimony to the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee:

“It would be easier for the rest of the UK to negotiate the security arrangement if Scotland remained in NATO – If Scotland is outside NATO, a lot of bets are off… That’s why no-one in the US State Department and Defence Department will go on the record about this. They are very worried about a non-NATO Scotland.”

In other words, any decisions on an independent Scotland’s future within or outwith NATO will not soley be taken in Scotland. Appearing before the same committee, Professor William Walker of St Andrews University referred to the 1958 US/UK Mutual Defence Agreement, which provides the relevant defence co-operation framework for these issues:

“The missiles going up and down the Clyde are American missiles. So the Americans would be part of this discussion; you can’t keep them out.”

It may seem paradoxical or objectionable to Scottish nationalists that sovereignty would not equate to sole decision-making authority on such issues but therein lies an important lesson. In the 21st century, the security and defence of nations is not the sole preserve of their national governments – these are international questions which directly impact the wider international community and must invariably be addressed as such.

This is a reality which the Scottish people and their elected representatives would do well to grasp – and quickly.

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Photo Credit: Rhys Asplundh

#9: Austerity Protests

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“I chose this photo because it conveys the violent intensity of the ongoing anti-austerity protests and, while the composition of the photo is chaotic and blurred it still frames the protester cleanly in the middle of the riot police.”
Torie Rose DeGhett (@trdeghett)

#9: A demonstrator struggles with Spanish National Police riot officers outside the Spanish parliament in Madrid, Sept. 25, 2012.
Credit: Sergio Perez / Reuters via NBCNews.

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Circumcision & The Dangers Of Force-Fed Belief

While undoubtedly more of a challenge, affording young people the opportunity to learn for themselves is far more rewarding than force-feeding them their beliefs in infancy.

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In early September, a demonstration took place in Berlin to protest the decision of a German court in June that prohibited circumcision on the grounds that the practice amounts to ‘bodily harm’. The ruling, which argued that the ‘fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents,’ has been met with animosity by Jews and Muslims, with additional anger aimed at German Chancellor Angela Merkel. There has since been much debate over the medical benefits and dangers of circumcision, with a report in August by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggesting that ‘the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks.’ However, the medical debate around circumcision is only one aspect of a much deeper issue regarding the implications for a child’s development once the procedure is complete. Indeed, when medical issues are left to one side, circumcision still deserves our critical attention because it presents a number of important ethical and intellectual problems.

Perhaps most importantly, performing religious circumcision violates the intellectual privacy of the child. By surgically altering or damaging the genitals for religious reasons, the child is forced to enter into a relationship with a particular god before he is even made aware of spiritual concepts or ideas. As it is morally reprehensible to force an adult to worship a particular way or pray to particular god, and it should be no different for those who cannot yet speak for themselves. The decision to enter into a special bond with a deity is not one to be taken lightly by the most intellectual developed and mature of us, so it is unlikely that a baby could make such a decision convincingly.

Equally unconvincing is the claim that circumcision represents some kind of sacrifice or proof of community with the deity. Even if the virtue of faith and religious servitude is granted, neither of these attributes can be sincerely awarded to a circumcised infant, precisely because the child did not decide for himself. A sacrifice made without consent is hardly a resounding endorsement of faith by the child, rendering false the religious claim of humility or the idea of giving oneself to God by the act of circumcision. The act of entering into the religion in question becomes a meaningless gesture over which the child has no control. It would mean more to allow the child room to grow intellectually, and then to present to him the theological and philosophical choices on offer at a more mature age. The decision to enter into Judaism or Islam would arguably be far more impressive and sincere in that case, and would presumably point more convincingly to the credibility of the chosen religious doctrine.

As Church of England priest and Guardian contributor Dr Giles Fraser concedes, religious circumcision is primarily about ignoring the notion of choice in favour of compulsory religious identity. Fraser argues that choice is simply an expression of liberalism, which, as he puts it, represents ‘a diminished form of the moral imagination’, but what he fails to notice is that the power of choice still plays a role in circumcision. Fraser simply transfers the power of choice from the child to the parents. It is not the decision of the affected individual to be circumcised but the decision of the parents and religious officials to enter the child into a religious doctrine. The fact that adults control choice in the matter undermines the argument that religion is a statement of what a person is rather than what a person believes, because it means that the child did not arrive at his faith naturally; rather, was entered into it by his elders.

Many may find it strange or even disturbing to read of Fraser’s disappointment that his own son is not circumcised, and he best demonstrates the negative emotional impact that practices like circumcision can have when he says, ‘I have always found this extremely difficult to deal with. On some level, I feel like a betrayer.’ This is unfortunate, because allowing children to think for themselves should be considered a source of pride, rather than guilt. While undoubtedly more of a challenge, affording young people the opportunity to learn for themselves is far more rewarding than force-feeding them their beliefs in infancy.

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Photo Credit: paul nine-o

Fox and hare. The costs and benefits of security.

Feeling, Reality & Framing: Why Theory Is Important To Our Security Exchanges

If our feeling of security is close to the reality, we make better security exchanges. Our models, theories, and frames of security can bring these closer together – based on the musings of Bruce Schneier.

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I take a relativist stance when it comes to security. I don’t believe in a factual state of absolute security waiting to be achieved, I believe it depends utterly on the circumstances and the observer. One need only look at the ‘acceptable level of violence’ permissible during the Northern Ireland Troubles for a stark illustration of this. This said, I also believe that security amounts to essentially two different notions; there is the feeling, and there is the reality. This can be summarised by the truism that you can feel secure, even if you’re not, and you can be secure, even if you don’t feel it. As an undergraduate, I explored the disjuncture between the fear of crime and the actual risk of victimisation amongst different demographics within Sheffield’s red-light district. As a postgraduate of war studies, I find this distinction, between the feeling and reality of security, equally relevant. Where, why, and how these differing concepts may diverge and converge is essential for a sophisticated understanding of what it means to be ‘secure’.

As Schneier explains, economic tools of cost-benefit analysis can be a useful lens through which to view security. Not in the sense that security should be quantified necessarily, but rather viewed as a transaction or an ‘exchange’, because whenever you achieve a higher level of security you’re inevitably exchanging it for something else. This may be at a personal level such as the decision to install a steering lock to your vehicle or security lights at your property, or at a national level, such as the decision to invade another country, bolster military defences and border controls, or increase domestic monitoring. For any one of these you may exchange time, money, convenience, or even social cohesion, global political standing, or fundamental civil liberties. The question then is not necessarily whether X will make Y more secure, but whether X is worth the exchange of Y. The argument often put forward by advocates of the Iraq war is that the world is now safer because Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship has fallen. Even if this (highly contentious) statement were true, it misses the point, which is whether the war was actually worth it?

One makes this assessment based on the security benefits achieved – here the removal of the bloody regime, headed by an unhinged narcissistic, but who it now transpires, had no WMDs and posed a fairly minor international threat –  against those elements sacrificed – here the enormous loss of military and civilian life, the provincial power vacuum created and the inflammation of sectarian tribal factions, the regional bolstering of al-Qaeda in Iraq, the long-term repercussions of removing the neighbouring Shi’ite counter-weight to Iran, the war’s radicalising effect amongst angered Western Muslims and an emergent homegrown threat, to name if only the most obvious. However, despite academics, commentators, and policy makers jostling for position over the ‘correct’ and/or ‘moral’ stance to take, when we talk of the ‘feeling’ of security there is often no generalisable right or wrong conclusion as to whether a security exchange has been worth it. Other examples could be that some of us have burglar alarms at our homes, some of us do not, or that many Americans own firearms whilst others choose not to. This may depend on where we live, the value of our personal possessions, our family members, our demographic and background, how much we fear burglary, whether we feel alarms or guns are an effective deterrent, or whether they make us feel more secure. The conclusions reached relate to far more than just the reality of risk or security – they relate to our feelings of security, weighed up against the exchange.

Humans have an innate capacity for such cost-benefit decisions, and we make such security exchanges multiple times every day without really noticing. For example, when I slept last night with the French doors to my balcony wide open, comfortable that the rear of my property is well enclosed, or when I double zipped my Kindle and wallet inside my bag when I rode the tube today knowing pick-pockets operate on the Piccadilly line around Covent Garden, or even when I keep my head high and adopt a slight swagger when bowling through certain areas of Tottenham, aware that any hint of vulnerability can be a enough to get you robbed. Think of Coursing even; the hare makes a security exchange between continuing to eat the grass or fleeing from the approaching Lurchers, those that make these survival decisions well live and reproduce, and those that don’t, either starve or get torn to shreds.

Yet, despite being one of the planet’s most booming species, humans are pretty poor at making these security exchanges. The reasons behind this lay in the distinctions made at the beginning; we tend to respond to the feeling, and not the reality of risk, threat, and security. Numerous psychological studies have found several recurrent cognitive biases which affect our risk assessments and security exchanges. Whilst downplaying ordinary and common risks, we often exaggerate and emphasise spectacular and rare risks – such as the risk of driving versus that of terrorism. We also perceive threats from unknown sources as more acute than that of familiar risks – such as the fear of violent or sexual assault from strangers when the risk of such attacks are significantly higher in the home. Furthermore, we view personified and branded risks as more hazardous, as well as under-estimating risks in situations we command, while over-estimating risks outside of our control. Another interesting phenomenon is the availability heuristic, where we estimate probability based on how easily we can bring illustrative examples to mind, our perception of which is often skewed by a sensationalist media who regularly report upon extremely rare risks. Additionally, as a species we are more amenable to anecdotes than figures, and, when it comes to quantitative assessment, we are generally better at calculating fractions and lower numbers –  once required to compute the risk of one in, say, six-hundred-thousand, eighty million, or seven billion, we tend to place them all into the ‘almost never’ bracket.

Essentially, what factors such as our cognitive biases, fears, prejudices, societal moral-panics etc. do is to act as reality filters, and as such the feeling and the reality of safety, risk, and security can become incongruent to one another, resulting in either a false sense of security or insecurity. They essentially create an uninformed, incomplete, and generally inadequate framing of reality. Therefore, contrary to my opening statement, security has not two but three elements: feeling, reality, and framing. Feelings are perceptions of security, and frames are our models of security. Feelings are based on intuition, frames on reasoning – not to be confused with rationality! Both can change, evolve and be revised. In a modern and complex world we need such security models to appreciate many of the risks we face. We can view framing as the interpretation of our reality, limited by science, technology, intellectual understanding, cognitive and subjective bias’, but with the potential to supersede and alter our feelings. We get such frames from scholars, professionals, religious leaders, cultural figures, the media, elected officials, to name but a few, but also from our own experiences and empirical understanding. Frames eventually fade into the background as feelings adjust to become more in sync with our world-view. The instinctive eventually becomes the familiar, and as a model moves closer towards reality, converging and aligning with feelings, one is unlikely to even know it is there.

Outside ones daily subconscious choices, most security decisions have a number of people involved. Stakeholders nurturing particular agendas will try and influence these exchanges, undermining or marginalising particular frames, whilst promoting and advocating others, dependant on vested interests. Frames then can be inherently difficult to displace, particularly if they also equate to ones feelings, and in which case distinguishing between emotion, interpretation and reality becomes tricky. The 50 odd year development of our understanding of the risks associated with smoking is a case in point; it is an example of how the framing has changed, but also how an influential and extremely powerful group has resisted and fought the new frame. Here another cognitive bias has bearing, the confirmation bias, where we accept data and adopt assessments which confirm or validate our beliefs and world-views, but reject and deny information that contradicts them. Evidence disproving our frame may get ignored, even if persuasive and sometimes even if undeniable. Similarly, strong feelings and passions can create immensely powerful frames: 9/11 created a new security rubric for many people, as experiences of crime and victimisation can in the individual, as media health scares, natural disasters, and moral-panics can in the wider public.

Often we cannot know things directly ourselves, and rely on other people to inform our risk exchanges via proxy. When I purchase items from Boots pharmacy, I am reliant on government bodies and legislation governing pharmaceutical company to ensure products are adequately tested and won’t kill me. I don’t personally conduct a safety check of each train I ride on the Underground, but instead rely on other experienced and qualified groups to do it for me. I’m not concerned that the roof of my gym will collapse while I’m on the treadmill, as I trust the construction of the building conforms to building industry regulation standards. Many frames we must simply accept on faith. From a security perspective, what we are seeking is for people to get familiar enough with frames to have them reflected in their feelings, to allow them to make informed security exchanges. However, in our ever fluid world, our liquid modernity, the security ‘reality’ is changing also and is not the static, inert condition or achievable end goal we often assume it to be. Indeed, as feelings chase frames, frames chase reality, but reality constantly shifts, they may never converge. For those practitioners that work within the sector; who design security technologies, deal with security policy and strategy, or even look at public and social policy impacting security, both reality and feeling are equally important. If one’s feelings of security are about the equivalent to the reality, we make far better security exchanges. Our models, theories, and frames of security are one way to bring these two closer together.

[toggle title="Bibliography"]

Addington, L. (2010)’Fear of Crime and Perceived Risk: Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guide’, Oxford: University Press

Ariely, D. (2008) ‘Predictably irrational: The hidden forces that shape our decisions’ New York: Harper Collins.

Bauman, Z. (2000) ‘Liquid Modernity’, Cambridge: Polity

Dawes, R. (1988) ‘Rational Choice in an Uncertain World’, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers

Hogarth, R. (1980) ‘Judgement and Choice’, New York: John Wiley & Sons

Nisbett, R. & Ross, L. (1980) ‘Human Inference: Strategies and Shortcomings of Human Judgment’ New Jersey: Prentice-Hall

Schneier, B. (2003) ‘Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly about Security in an Uncertain World’, New York: Copernicus Books

Schneier, B. (2008) ‘Schneier on Security’, New York: John Wiley & Son

Schneier, B. (2008) ‘The Difference Between Feeling and Reality in Security’, Security Matters, Wired News

Schneier, B. (2011) ‘The Security Mirage’, TED Talk, Philadelphia: University Park

Tversky, A & Kahneman, D. (1974) ‘Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases’ Science, 27(185): 1124-1131

Wang, XT., Simons, F., & Brédart, S. (2001) ‘Social cues and verbal framing in risky choice’, Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 14(1): 1-15

Wiktorowicz, Q. (2002) ‘Social Movement Theory and the Study of Islamism: A New Direction for Research’ Mediterranean Politics, 7(3): 187-211

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Photo Credit: Newstalk Ireland

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Race For Life: Chasing Racism Out of British Media

It is time for the British media to stop chasing immigrants out of this country; there is no running away from the ultimate truth that when life for humans began, we were all the same race.

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Every individual is born in to this world a certain race, an identifiable race that will be attached to them for life.

Race may be defined as a group of humans who share the same ethnicity. Racism is intolerance of a certain ethnic group in the form of prejudice and discrimination, typically a result of one’s belief that their race is superior to another. The ultimate product of extreme race-hate is genocide, an unforgettable occurrence that has marked tragic scars in history. Merely acknowledging the immoral and damaging nature of racism however simply is not enough. What truly demands recognition is the root of racism that is so prominently embedded within British soil.

More than half a century after immigration was introduced to the United Kingdom, the nation remains insecure about the matter. Such insecurity can be justifiably argued to be the result of the media. To put it frankly, it is no secret that some aspects of the British media induce the idea that our nation is threatened by foreigners; the Daily Mail being perhaps the boldest of perpetrators, frequently splashing racist headlines on the front page such as labelling British Olympic gold medallist Mo Farah a ‘plastic Brit’. Most unfortunately, it is one of the most popular newspapers in Britain with nearly two million daily readers.

Whilst the purpose of media in theory is to broadcast and publish current affairs to the populace, what it chooses to shine light on inevitably influences public opinion. Researchers on behalf of the University of Cardiff examined 974 newspaper articles from 2000-2008, found that of all stories concerning British Muslims, 36 percent were with regard to terrorism, 26 percent considered Islam to be “dangerous” or “backward”, and “references to radical Muslims outnumber[ed] references to moderate Muslims by 17 to one”.

Furthermore, writing for The Guardian in late July of this year, Joseph Harker published a highly enlightening article  that explores the story of the ‘second big prosecution where men in Derby have preyed on teenage girls’, whilst highlighting the correlation between the race of those involved in the crime with the amount of media attention the case received:

‘Of the eight predators, seven were white, not Asian. And the story made barely a ripple in the national media’

The correlation is profoundly enhanced when Harker proceeds to note how the infamous Rochdale “Asian sex gang” ‘made the front page of every national newspaper’, which undeniably contributed to furthering the negative stereotype of the Asian community.

An unarguable conclusion can thus be made here, and it is that the British media is negatively and detrimentally dictating the definition of a Muslim to the general public. This is utmost signified by the evidence in the recent findings that, ‘75 per cent of non-Muslims now believe Islam is negative for Britain, and 63 per cent don’t disagree that “Muslims are terrorists.”’

The Leveson Inquiry did accentuate the fact that it is time for the British media to undergo change, with the most prominent outcome being the necessitation of efficacious scrutiny.  Change as such however, revolved chiefly around the media’s responsibility to respect privacy and not exploit illegitimate evidence. Writing in July of this year, Dr Nafeez Ahmed produced an article explaining why the Leveson Inquiry must also investigate anti-Muslim bigotry, and how racism within the media can be eradicated.

He first suggests the further involvement of bodies such as the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) and Equality and Human Rights Commission to participate in effectively regulating the media, for instance through ‘ensuring broader impartiality and fairness in media coverage’ and being able to ‘launch independent investigations and impose fines’.

Whilst an increase in regulation may physically disable media bodies from writing racist remarks, merely stifling the perpetrators won’t actually change their attitude. This is why further research by Dr Ahmed discovered there to be a general consensus on the ‘need to reform wider media culture in general’. Whilst the fact that there are only five weekly columnists from ethnic minorities within the British media justifies Dr Ahmed’s argument that ‘the biggest challenge of all is minority underrepresentation’ , the problem that demands confrontation is the ignorance of journalists and those behind the press; only with proper training and education does understanding arise. It is lack of understanding of other cultures that has created a nation insecure of immigrants. It is poor social integration measures that have limited people’s ability to overcome ethnic differences and realise that race is irrelevant.

It is time for the British media to stop chasing immigrants out of this country, because there is no running away from the ultimate truth that when life for humans began, we were all the same race.

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Photo Credit: malias

US Presidential Election Roundup 16/9 – 22/9

This week’s roundup of the US presidential elections….

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Obama focuses on battleground states [Huffington Post] President Obama has focused on the economy in new campaign ads running in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia.

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Obama leads in Pennsylvania poll [Politico] President Obama has a lead of 11 points over Republican candidate Mitt Romney in Pennsylvania, a new poll finds.

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Ryan discusses tax proposals [Talking Points Memo] Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Paul Ryan has said that Republican tax proposal details will be devised with Congress.

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Adviser comments on Erickson [Talking Points Memo] An adviser to the Romney campaign has commented on the editor of RedState.com Erick Erickson after he suggesting that President Obama will win the election.

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Anchor criticises Romney riot reaction [Huffington Post] CNN anchor Don Lemon has criticised the response of the Romney campaign to attacks on US diplomatic missions during violence over an anti-Islamic film last week.

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Romney responds to campaign difficulties [Huffington Post] Mitt Romney has attempted to refocus his campaign on economy after facing foreign policy difficulties.

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Romney alters message [Washington Post] Mitt Romney has sought to focus his message on the ‘failed status quo’ of the Obama administration, the Washington Post reports.

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Romney to ‘meet the demand’ for specifics [The Hill] The Romney campaign has said that it plans to explore the specifics of the Republican ticket in more depth.

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‘A special kind of chutzpah’ [Politico] The Obama campaign has spoken about Mitt Romney’s views on Chinese trade.

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McCain analyses Romney’s popularity [Boston Herald] John McCain has commented on support for Mitt Romney among veterans.

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Secret footage damages Romney [Mother Jones] Mother Jones released secret video footage this week in which Mitt Romney is recorded making disparaging comments about Obama voters.

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Ryan reminds voters of Obama comments [Washington Post] Paul Ryan has talked about comments Barack Obama made during the 2008 presidential election about guns and religion.

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Obama campaign discusses debates [Huffington Post] Aides to the Obama campaign have discussed the upcoming presidential debates.

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‘Dear Daughter’ [National Journal] The Romney campaign has tried to appeal to women with a new ad critical of President Obama.

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Romney responds to voter comments [Fox News] Mitt Romney has defended his comments about Obama voters in a press conference and subsequently in an interview with Fox News.

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Obama’s lead narrows [Reuters] A new Reuters/Ipsos poll shows President Obama’s lead over Mitt Romney fall to five points from seven points.

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Obama leads in Virginia [Washington Post] A new poll for the Washington Post gives President Obama an 8-point lead in Virginia.

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Obama responds to Romney’s voter comments [Talking Points Memo] President Obama has responded to Mitt Romney’s comments about voters, saying, ‘If you want to be president, you have to work for everyone.’

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Ads focus on women [The Hill] Both the Obama and the Romney campaigns have tried to appeal to women with new ads.

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Footage transcript released [Mother Jones] Mother Jones has published the full transcript of secret footage filmed of Mitt Romney at a fundraiser.

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Obama enjoys increased approval [Huffington Post] President Obama’s approval rating is over 50 percent for the first time since May, according to a new poll from the Associated Press.

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Ryan criticises Obama for ‘redistribution’ remark [The Hill] Paul Ryan has attacked President Obama for his recent comments about the redistribution of wealth.

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Romney loses Pawlenty [NPR] Tim Pawlenty has left his post as co-chairman of the Republican campaign for a job as CEO of The Financial Services Roundtable.

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Poll leads for Obama [Politico] According to NBC/WSJ/Marist College polls, President Obama’s leads in Iowa, Wisconsin and Colorado have reached 50 percent.

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Romney releases tax letter [Reuters] Mitt Romney has released a letter indicating a tax rate of 14.1 percent.

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Compiled by Patrick McGhee.

Nationalism War Realism Peace

Nationalism Rises: Survival, the State, and War.

Nationalism shaped the Clausewitzian concept of “absolute war”: before nationalism had became a powerful ideology during the French Revolution, power wars were fought for limited objectives and with limited means.

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Nationalism War Realism Peace

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A growing number of authors have recently focused their attention over the role and political implications of nationalism in shaping the international system. Stephen Walt has warned about the perils of ignoring the “strongest force in the world” for scholars and policy-makers, while Sebastian Rosato has underlined the progressive renationalisation of the EU’s economic and foreign policy as a consequence of political fears and incompatible economic preferences on the part of its members. In addition, Christopher Hughes has discovered the resurgence of the so-called geopolitik nationalism in the Chinese political debate.

As commendably summarized by Van Evera (1994), nationalism may be conceived of as a political movement and ideology that pushes nations, namely groups of individuals with common ethnic ties and loyalty towards their own belonging community, to desire their own independent state.

John J. Mearsheimer in his Kissing Cousins: Nationalism and Realism, paper written for the Yale Workshop on International Relations last year, analyzed the interaction between nationalism and the realist theory of International Relations. According to Mearsheimer, nationalism and realism are two particularistic theories, both deeply different from liberalism and Marxism given their universalistic approach.

By this token, their particularistic perspective privileges two basic concepts, namely survival and the state, and both of them affect the role and the likelihood of war. In fact, states are the key actors in international politics given their nature as autonomous units and the most powerful political institution in the world.

Survival

For both nationalism and realism, survival is a core concept even if they deal with different realms. According to structural realism, states are obliged to pursue a certain degree of relative power because of the anarchical structure of the system, in which them have no guarantee to be secured from external attacks and preserve their security. Nationalism is related to survival in at least three fundamental aspects: preservation of the “nation” or a given community of people; protection and reproduction of a unique cultural identity; defence of sovereignty.

Firstly, according to Anderson (1991) the nation is defined as an imagined political community. “Imagined” because its fellow-members will never know or meet most of their peers; by imagining themselves as a particular community of people with strong bonds. This kind of identification as members of the same nation is “limited” and finite, given that even the greatest nation has boundaries. Finally, the nation is imagined as a “community”: Anderson defines it as a horizontal comradeship. From that, it follows that each nation is characterized by an exceptional history and culture that in turn can be perpetuated and handed down within a given community. As Gellner stated in 1983, it is nationalism that engenders nations. Indeed, the former is conceived of as the imposition of a particular totalizing culture on society through schools and academy. Van Evera underlines the role of such institutions, along with history and literature teaching, in determining national self-consciousness and chauvinist mythmaking, deemed as the hallmark of all nationalism.

Nationalism is not conceivable without the idea of popular sovereignty, given that the growth of the former is substantiated by the integration of the masses into a common political form: namely, the state as a unit (Kohn, 1944), considered as necessary and the guarantee of liberty for the national communities who inhabit it (Renan, 1939).

The state

The modern state system is the main product of the interaction between nationalism and political realism. In particular, nations push for obtaining the nation-state in order to ensure a satisfactory degree of protection and security. Aside from considerations of political nature, historically speaking the emergence of the nation-state, and the related ideology of modern nationalism, has been historically identified by E.H. Carr (1945) between the Napoleonic Wars and 1914, during which occurred the identification of the “nation” with the “people” and the rejection of its dynastic form. On these bases the French Revolution broke out and the modern state spread in Europe as a juristic and territorial concept. In addition, within the industrial society of the nineteenth century, the nation-state proved to be the most suitable institution for providing economic growth and efficiency, by homogenizing people’s level of literacy, technical competences and cultural knowledge through the modern national educational system.

War

Lastly, Mearsheimer underlines three main advantages that nationalism provides to increase the warfare ability of states: it allows them to set up large and powerful armies; its citizens guarantee a steady, constant and longstanding flow of resources even in military efforts; soldiers and military forces are not affected by the problem of desertion, given the strong ties of loyalty and solidarity with their own national community.

As a matter of fact, the levée en masse, introduced within the French Constitution as an emergency wartime measure in 1793, marked a turning point in the development of modern armies. As an agent of the national community, the rise of mass army saw the concurrent and definitive decline of mercenary forces, replaced by an extensive national conscription and financed through taxes extracted from the population itself. According to Paret (1993), between 1800 and 1815 Napoleon gathered over 2 million men. In effect, these large military bodies were created for national self-defence and they represented a successful practice soon imitated by other nation-states concerned with survival and sovereignty protection.

Nonetheless, a large army incapable of maintaining its size at war might be not so useful: for this reason a constant flow of resources was necessary, for instance to acquire and keep manpower, weapon and supplies working and efficient. Nationalism, in this case, plays a crucial role: the conviction to preserve sovereignty, independence and prestige of the national state, makes available the essential resources (general growth of population, commerce and wealth) for expanding and physically maintaining mass military forces.

A final advantage resulting from the relationship between nationalism and military power lies in the sense of solidarity and loyalty among soldiers and towards their own nation-state. As Haas pointed out in 1986, nationalism is “the convergence of territorial and political loyalty” irrespective of affiliation (kinship, profession, religion, economic interest, race) but centred upon the common historical and cultural identity of given national community’s members.

As a result, nationalism shaped the Clausewitzian concept of “absolute war”: before nationalism had became a powerful ideology during the French Revolution, great power wars were fought for limited objectives and with limited means, while its absoluteness emerged in Europe when nationalism “enlarged and motivated European armies” (Ferguson, 2002).

Might this first analysis be applied to contemporary “nationalistic” disputes, such as those concerning East Asia, in order to understand and forecast eventual developments? To what extent is it possible to frame the the so-called “Asian Nationalism at Sea” through the aforementioned analysis? A further step in this direction will be delivered in my next article.

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Photo Credit: Durhamskywriter

Australia Nationalism Flag Multiculturalism

Australia’s Multiculturalism: Integrated or Racist?

Multiculturalism in Australia has flourished over the years and brought many positive contributions to its society. But the road to achieving an appreciation of multiculturalism is still a challenge.

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Australia Nationalism Flag Multiculturalism

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According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 26 per cent of the Australian population was born overseas and 20 per cent of Australians have at least one parent born overseas (please note these statistics are based on the number of people who provided this information). We have 400 or more languages spoken at home and over 100 religions are practised by Australians (these statistics were supplied to me by the ABS).  The top ten countries of birth for the overseas born population are the United Kingdom, New Zealand, China (not including Hong Kong and Taiwan), India, Italy, Vietnam, Philippines, South Africa, Malaysia and Germany.

Migration

Early migrants originated mostly from England and Ireland and other European countries such as Germany. During the Gold Rush era in the 1850s, many migrants from around the world came seeking fortunes. The Chinese were among the first non-European migrants to arrive in Australia. Some Chinese migrants settled in Australia and formed societies, becoming a new community in Australia.  In 1901, the states of Australia voted to form the Federation of Australia. At that time, Australia was surging with nationalism, the Australian government aimed to preserve an Anglo-centric society and culture and thus the Federal Parliament passed the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 or known as the “White Australia Policy”. The act sought to “place certain restrictions on immigration and… for the removal… of prohibited immigrants”.  White Australia Policy officially ended in 1976 under the Goth Whitlam Government.

A large wave of migration surged after the Second World War when Europeans from countries such as Italy, Greece, Poland, Germany, Turkey, and the Netherlands migrated to Australia to start a new life. In 1949, many Chinese fled China when the Communist government took power.

Migratory shift turned to Asia in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Many Vietnamese left Vietnam after the war, while a large wave of Cambodians escaped Pol Pot’s murderous Khmer Rouge regime. When East Timor declared independence in 1975, Indonesian troops invaded East Timor and captured the capital city Dili. This prompted many East Timorese to flee. Migration from the Balkans rose during the Yugoslav Wars and Chinese migration surged again after the Tiananmen Square Incident and post 1997 when Hong Kong was transferred back to China. Other migrants came from The Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, India and Sri Lanka.

Recently, Australia has been receiving a new wave of migrants from areas such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Burma and countries from the Horn of Africa. These are our new and emerging communities, most of them escaped from war, famine and persecution.

Multiculturalism Today

Multiculturalism has made many significant changes in Australian society.  It has contributed to the local and national economy by contributing heavily to the restaurant and tourism industries, involvement in politics and government, and by sharing their culture, traditions and food with the Australian population. Many members from multicultural communities participate in community work and take leadership roles, promoting multiculturalism and facilitating cross-cultural understanding between their community and the wider community. Moreover, Australia has many community and not-for-profit organisations dedicated to supporting migrant communities.

Multiculturalism is strongly encouraged in Australia.  Each year, Canberra hosts the National Multicultural Festival. A national day called Harmony Day  celebrates Australian diversity, and an annual activity called Refugee Week  celebrates and recognises the positive impact refugees have made to Australian society. The government has developed initiatives such as the Australian Multicultural Council to encourage multicultural community members to participate in government policy consultation.

Despite these initiatives, multiculturalism is not always welcomed. A recent report completed by the University of Western Sydney surveyed 12,512 people from around Australia and revealed that almost half of them have negative views towards Muslims. This negativity was also directed at Asians (23.8%), Indigenous Australians (27.9%), Africans (27%) and Jewish people (23.3%) (results from the article can be read here,  and details of the survey through here). Racial tensions have led to instances of violence, such as the attacks on Indian international students and the infamous 2005 Cronulla Riots. Approximately 5000 Australians, mostly of Anglo and Celtic background, gathered to fight for Australian pride and “reclaim their beaches” after two Middle Eastern youths assaulted a Cronulla life guard. People with a Middle-Eastern background or appearance were also targeted.

Multiculturalism has made Australian society more vibrant, unique and has enabled us to learn and appreciate different cultures, languages, and beliefs, while becoming friends with people from different backgrounds. However, we are still a long way from achieving social harmony because there are still cultural barriers and discrimination that exist between mainstream Australian society and multicultural communities. Misunderstanding and ignorance are still prevalent in our society because we do not attempt to learn and understand different cultures in an open-minded and objective manner.

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Photo Credit: Johnny Jet

Mo Farah Daily Mail Innocence of Muslims

A Muslim’s Reaction To ‘Innocence of Muslims’: ‘Well, So Fucking What?’

Islam is constantly attacked. Muslims must learn to ignore productions similar to ‘Innocence of Muslims’ and retort with peaceful protests and demonstrations. The attitude should be ‘well, so fucking what?’

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Mo Farah Daily Mail Innocence of Muslims

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This piece is a response to ‘Innocence of Muslims’ ‘offends’ Muslims. ‘Well So Fucking What?’

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After reading about the film Innocence of Muslims, and as a Muslim myself, my only reaction to the very film itself was ‘well, so fucking what‘. I didn’t even want to give this film any thought and energy. After the protests and the violent reaction of Muslims it may seem strange that you would hear such a comment from a Muslim, but I am increasingly bored of slander and offensive remarks against the Prophet and my religion.

The Danish cartoons and the various films attacking Islam did not impact negatively on my beliefs, so, over time, my reaction to it all became ‘well so fucking what? I’m not going to stop believing and respecting my Prophet’. Yes, many did make me consider certain points raised about my religion and I reacted to this intellectually. And this is how all Muslims should react, offended or not, because this is not the first time – nor will it be the last – that anyone has mocked the Prophet. You can protest, seek an apology and get it, then just leave it at that.

I believe that Gray is wholly right about freedom of speech. I take the position that although I may not agree with what the other person is saying, I would defend each individual’s right to freedom of speech. Freedom of speech should be defended, but within appropriate boundaries. Going as far as denying the Holocaust is fine, and having your own interpretation of how one views the Prophet of Islam, but when we feel anti-Semitism kicking in, and racist comments which incite and encourage hatred and violence against Muslims or any other group of people then it is only right to step in and make a stand.

The Danish cartoons, ‘Innocence of Muslims’, and other productions, images and literature that are viewed as ‘attacking’ Islam has ironically only served to incite violent reactions from the Muslims communities; they did not incite violence from non-Muslims towards Muslims in any shape or form. Yes, many laughed, agreed and disagreed and that was it. There was no ‘we should kill all Muslims cos this guy said their Prophet is a paedophile.’ And this is it, anything that might be deemed reactionary to Muslims beliefs, is viewed by Muslims as an attack. Let’s get out of this victim mentality!

However I also take the position that it is wrong to use words that are purely done to offend religions and its followers (and this applies to Muslim as well, especially those who think it is okay to call Jews apes and pigs for example). In my opinion, in the context of ‘Innocence of Muslims’, the ‘offense’ caused is a matter of semantics, intention behind the words, and how the receiving party chooses to interpret and react. Yes, Muslims are offended and they have every right to be, but ultimately Muslims should not feel that their beliefs or the reverence of the Prophet should be impacted negatively by a production mocking and insulting the Prophet.

As Muslims we need to understand first and foremost, that as offensive any remark is, everyone is entitled to hold an opinion and to voice this opinion. It is a vital element of the democracy they choose to live in.

Easier said than done but considering the Muslim community’s history of violent reaction against Rushdie, Danish cartoons, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and the like, I know it is difficult to imagine that the Muslim community’s reaction would be anything but one of violence.

The killing of an innocent US Ambassador who had no links to the film has not only perpetuated the cycle of more hatred against Muslims, but has also given this awful film the publicity it does not deserve. Religious figures such as Jesus are mocked all the time, but we don’t necessarily see Christians rise up and take violent action against innocent individuals. Nor am I suggesting that that Muslims should passively endure slander and mockery. I encourage peaceful protests because as much as any person has the right to attack Islam, Muslims have every right to (peacefully) oppose it too.

From experience I have found that once slander and mockery such as the one we see in the film is allowed out in the open and out of peoples’ system it just tends to phase out. So in future, the Muslim reaction to such productions should also be ‘well, so fucking what?’

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More on the subject:

‘Innocence of Muslims’ Rioting Has Nothing To Do With Religion

Telling Muslims To ‘Do One’ Is Not Pragmatism

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Photo credit: Bearded Genius via The Samosa

peacful islam innocence of muslims

‘Innocence of Muslims’ Rioting Has Nothing To Do With Religion

The protests and rioting in the Middle East are not, as is argued, a result of the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’. Instead, they demonstrate the lack of legitimate authority in the region following the Arab Spring.

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peacful islam innocence of muslims

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Continuing protests and rioting in front of Western embassies in the Middle East are not a testament to the ability of Muslims to be exceptionally touchy to religious insult, but an underscoring of the formula Charles Tilly opens with in his The Politics of Collective Violence:

(x + y) occasionally to the power of z = collective violence
[where x = young men; y = lack of supervision and z = a stimulant]

To say that the deaths of American embassy workers in Libya is because of exceptional Muslim touchiness to the ‘Innocence of Muslims’, is to say that the riots in London two years ago were a series of cogent protests to a police state.

In the case of ongoing violence in the Middle East, while media sources dwell upon the ‘z’ element – here the perceived honour infraction dealt by a film that received most of its publicity from Salafist media sources and must now be the worst most watched film ever after Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – as apparently the sole cause of unrest, this element of the formula is optional and of uncertain statistical significance. What is surely more interesting to the scenario is the crucial ‘y’ factor.

What do Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen have in common? Exactly. Lebanon, Afghanistan and Sudan are more chronic sufferers of what ails these four Arab Spring nations. Supervision, authority and a perception that violent actions will have consequences for the young man in his subjective opinion (apologies if this appears sexist, but the under 30 and male thing is ubiquitous) are the cures to prevent rioting on a regular basis. To what extent these elements are present in the new executives of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia is becoming apparent. To what extent they have ever been present in the others is also telling.

We should also look at the ‘x’ factor. Why these young men have so much pent up frustration and time on their hands is a psychosocial-economic study for another day. Men in Cairo are becoming an issue as disenfranchisement rises and the dismal prospects for their economic future unravel. That sexual molestation is on the rise (and take it from an ex-Cairo-ex-pat, that it could rise from the situation before is a horrific prospect in itself) is also an indicator of young men thinking that they can get away with going with any urge that reveals itself to them. These young men are ripe for collective violence. The point is that this rioting would happen at the hands of male youths of any religion – or lack thereof – given the opportunity and some kind of stimulant.

This kind of violence – due to its stimulant factor, granted – like we saw at Bagram in February with the stimulant of the Quran desecrations always leads to Western commentators singling out the Islamic: why are Musilms so easily offended? Which is to be willfully blind to the universality of this tendency as a human trait that we can see everywhere. So keen is the West to ‘other’ the Muslim, that it is forgotten that the seminal work explaining this formula for violence was not developed looking at the violent characteristics of brown people of a different religion, but of Americans – of cowboys.

This violence, therefore, says everything about the status of authority where it occurs. Therein lies the means for peace, not in teaching Muslims a lesson about free speech, nor in teaching American film-makers about Islam, but in concentrating authority in a legitimate state apparatus. In this way, no TV Islamist could sow such unrest. Though it should be made clear that not even the instigators were authorities at the scene of the violence – in fact some Islamists present at some of the riots did try to prevent violence, but by then the ‘x’ + ‘y’ factor was cemented and nobody was in control.

The reaction to the recent unrest shows Western commentators for what they are: totally obsessed with Islam; but the unrest itself shows something very sad indeed about legitimate authority and statehood following the Arab Spring.

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Photo credit: agoolapulapu

US Presidential Election Roundup 9/9 – 15/9

This week’s roundup of the US presidential elections…

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Romney discusses Mormonism [Huffington Post] US Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has spoken about how his faith helped get him into politics.

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Romney coin comments criticised [Huffington Post] The White House has criticised Mitt Romney’s remarks about the status of God on United States currency.

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Republican candidates dodge tax specifics [Huffington Post] Both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan struggled to say which tax loopholes they would close if they win the election.

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Obama beats Romney in fundraising [CNN] For the first time since April, President Obama’s re-election campaign has raised more than that of Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

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Romney comments on health care policy [Talking Points Memo] Mitt Romney has spoken about his health care proposals.

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Ad attacks Ann Romney [The Hill] An online ad from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee has criticised Ann Romney for comments about her and her husband’s finances.

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Planned Parenthood in $3.2 million ad buy [The Hill] Planned Parenthood has attacked Mitt Romney’s stance on abortion with new ads.

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Ryan supports Emanuel over strike [CNN] Republican VP-nominee Paul Ryan has said that he agrees with former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s criticisms of a teachers’ strike in Chicago.

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Poll suggests close race [Washington Post] A new poll of registered voters gives President Obama 49% of the vote while Mitt Romney receives 48% of the vote.

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Romney criticises Obama over embassy attacks [NBC] Mitt Romney has accused President Obama of sympathising with individuals who attacked US embassies in Egypt and Libya.

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Christian groups to focus on policy [Huffington Post] Leaders of the Christian right have said they will focus on Mitt Romney’s political agenda rather than on his Mormonism.

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Romney’s response to riots criticised [Huffington Post] Various members of the media have criticised Mitt Romney for his attacks on President Obama over the violence towards US diplomatic missions.

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Ryan campaigns for congressional seat [ABC] The first ad for Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s campaign for re-election to the House of Representatives has been aired.

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Obama expands ad campaign in Florida [NBC] NBC reports that the Obama campaign is making a large ad buy in Florida.

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Romney has ‘ tendency to shoot first and aim later’ says Obama [The Hill] President Obama has criticised Mitt Romney’s response to violence in Egypt and Libya.

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McCain comments on Obama’s foreign policy [Huffington Post] Former Republican presidential candidate John McCain has described President Obama’s foreign policy as ‘feckless’.

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Poll gives Obama slight edge [New York Times] A new poll gives President Obama a lead of three points over his Republican rival.

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Republicans attack Obama [CNN] Mitt Romney and other Republicans have launched a series of attacks on President Obama.

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Ryan comments on foreign policy [Los Angeles Times] Paul Ryan has criticised President Obama’s foreign policy in a speech in Washington.

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Poll gives Obama economy lead [New York Times] A new poll has given President Obama a lead over Mitt Romney with regards to handling the economy.

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Compiled by Patrick McGhee.

carlsberg dont do freedom of speech

Telling Muslims To ‘Do One’ Is Not Pragmatism

A pragmatist would work to understand the drivers for jihadism and extreme Islamism. Telling Islamists to fuck off does not feature, and it will not work.

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carlsberg dont do freedom of speech

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This is a response to ‘Innocence of Muslims’ ‘offends’ Muslims: ‘Well So Fucking What?

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In 2006 Karl Rove, the Bush-era White House Deputy Chief of Staff, delivered a speech denoting the achievements of American conservatives. He argued that the most important distinction between conservatives and liberals was the former’s desire for revenge:

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.

For Rove, any attempt to comprehend the reasons for 9/11 was illogical and unnecessary: America had been attacked and the only possible response was war. It was unthinkable for the Republican to consider why terrorism had struck American shores in such a destructive and horrific fashion. By responding with the invasions of the Middle East, especially Iraq, the West acted to further catalyse anti-Western sentiment, grievances, and ultimately terrorism. In short, the response distinctly lacked any semblance of pragmatism.

Peter Kelly’s recent piece considering the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’ shares this quality. The inference that protesters should be taking offence over the poor quality of the film rather than its content is as laughable as it is perverse, but the all the more serious issue is the representation that his arguments represent pragmatism: they do not.

Kelly argues that the statements made by Morsi and Karzai are “beyond wrong, they are dangerous”. Seemingly therefore, no national leader should take into account domestic political considerations and constraints when responding to an issue. Is this a pragmatist speaking?

The statements by both Morsi and Karzai are intended to allay further protests. Each leader’s respective country has recently undergone drastic and strenuous political changes, both leaders suffer from challenges to their leadership, and both preside over populations that have proven to be easily fired up. Is it more pragmatic to deliver a message in the hope that it will minimize further protests and casualties (likely targeting foreigners), or to persevere with a message that would only work to antagonize, irrespective of its (neo-liberal) ideological ‘correctness’?

Kelly goes on to denounce claims that the US embassy in Cairo’s statement was pragmatic, yet he fails to locate the statement within the broader timeline of the protests. The statement in question was made before both the murder of Christopher Stevens and members of his staff in Libya, as well as the storming of the US embassy in Cairo. It was not a response to the violence but an attempt to allay violence and protests given the effects of previous similar productions attacking Islam. One would hope that should Kelly inhabit the role of UK ambassador at some point during his career he would take every possible precaution to ensure the safety of his staff, even if by doing so his ideological message is weakened. When there is a threat to diplomatic personnel it is irresponsible and illogical to put politics before life. The US embassy’s statement was entirely pragmatic in that it attempted to ensure the safety of its staff. Would a pragmatist not have taken such a route?

The all the more deplorable position presented however, is that of a Manichean framework through which to view this issue. In much the same way that the Bush administration and al Qaeda promoted an “Us versus Them” vision of the post-9/11 world, Kelly asserts that either we “bend over and give over our rights” or we tell Islamists to fuck off. Such a binary only serves to consolidate the hand of those that hold values antithetical to the modern universalist values of freedom of speech, of equality, of political freedoms. The combating of such ideologues does not occur by presenting the wider population with the choice of ‘you’re either with us or against us’. If we tell the Muslim world to ‘do one’ every time we have a cultural conflict, well, is the result not obvious?

In The Art of War, the military strategist Sun Tzu wrote:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

The Rove/Kelly vision argues against knowing your enemy and reacting on the basis of ideological foundation. A pragmatist would work to understand the drivers for jihadism and extreme Islamism, working to spread modern universalist values by taking into account, and working against, the factors that aid and abet it. Telling Islamists to fuck off does not feature, and it will not work.

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Photo credit: sjgibss80

censorship offends me

‘Innocence of Muslims’ ‘offends’ Muslims. ‘Well So Fucking What?’

There should be, there must be, no compromise, no backing off the rhetoric of freedom of speech. There is no such thing as the “abuse” of human rights to the freedom of speech.

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censorship offends me

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This week we have seen the killing of Christopher Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya, as well as several of his staff. His embassy building was burned, the US embassy in Cairo was raided, its flag destroyed, and one proclaiming the supremacy of God placed in its place. In Tunisia tear gas was fired into crowds to prevent a repeat of those events. In Afghanistan President Karzai condemned not the attackers but the cause, in Egypt President Morsi did not launch an investigation into the failure of Egyptian forces to protect the US embassy but instead prepared to launch legal action against those who provoked the attackers in the US.

The cause of all this? “Innocence of Muslims“. A film. A really bad film. I’ve seen it, it’s horrendous, one of the worst films I have ever seen. The production quality is dreadful, it looks like it was filmed in my closet using a mobile phone by a homeless man and some of his mates from the next alley.

How could the cause and effect possibly be reconciled? Well, because the film was about Mohammed, and it was not complimentary. He was depicted as a brute, a paedophile, a sadistic, egotistical idiot who understood only violence and how to convince people to support him.

Sadly the protesters in the Islamic world are not attacking embassies over the insult to the entire film industry in its butchering of the art which has become film-making. Instead they were attacking and killing people over the offensive they took at this depiction of their prophet. All because the maker was a US-citizen. Just because the maker was a US citizen, an envoy who had done his best to aid the democratic revolution in Libya is dead and so are three of his aides.

How exactly did the western world react to that? Generally, with widespread condemnation. US forces are on-route to Benghazi to heighten security (a little late) and Barack Obama has declared he will bring the guilty to justice.

But the reactions of the Presidents of Afghanistan and Egypt are out of line, they are beyond wrong, they are dangerous. They are validating violence as an acceptable reaction to the crime of “offence”. They are saying that it was right for the Muslims of Europe to riot and kill in reaction to the cartoons and again against the publication of this film. But it gets much worse, because they are not the only ones to react in this way. This is the statement released by the US embassy in Cairo:

The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions… Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.

I don’t think the embassy knows what a universal right is, else the word “abuse” could not possibly have been used in that phrase. Can you “abuse” the right to freedom from torture or death? Can you lead a life that is an “abuse” of life itself and so would it be perfectly valid for Islamists to lop off your head? Of course not, and why should freedom of speech be any different? How could the Cairo embassy possibly have validated and sympathised with those Islamists who believe the appropriate response to being offended is to kill innocents?

This goes further than simply a violation of the idea of “universal rights”, it is also a pragmatic nightmare. Too many people have suggested the statement was “pragmatic” in that it may improve relations with Muslims and protect the embassy.

Apparently the term “we do not negotiate with terrorists” is a dead phrase in US diplomacy. Apparently it is perfectly reasonable to respond to irrational acts of violence by attacking the very values your own state stands upon and promotes worldwide. Apparently the best course of action to protect yourselves from further attacks is to give a sympathetic hand to those most likely to attack you by simply joining their side of the argument. Apparently we should just bend over and give over our rights one by one in response to every murderous rampage by those who wish to bind the whole world in the dogmatic and intolerant chains of their extremist interpretation of religion.

I think all of this is best responded to by one of the champions of the educated culture of rights and tolerance we are trying to build, Stephen Fry:

It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights; it’s actually nothing more….. It’s simply a whine. It’s no more than a whine. ‘I find that offensive,’ it has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well so fucking what?

Our reaction to the protests in the Middle East should be exactly that. There should be, there must be, no compromise, no backing off the rhetoric of freedom of speech. There is no such thing as the “abuse” of human rights to the freedom of speech. So what if you are offended? Grow a tougher skin. If your only possible reaction to being offended is violence it is you who has made the act of aggression and should be responded to in kind.

Our reaction to the demands of the Islamists who claim “we are offended” should be a very clear and resounding “Well so fucking what?”

Read a response to this piece: Telling Muslims to ‘Do One’ Is Not Pragmatism.

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Photo credit: jbcurio

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