Tag Archives: UK

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Bombing Syria Would Violate the UK Government’s Criteria for Legality

The government presents three very loose criteria by which the bombing of Syria would be considered legal, but even these criteria cannot be considered met by any objective observer. 

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he UK government today published its position on the legality of a UK military intervention in Syria, including three requirements under which a “humanitarian intervention” would be legal without UN authorisation, which it claims are “clearly” met. However, any objective observer must conclude that even these loose criteria are absolutely not met in this case, and thus any bombing of Syria would, according to the UK government’s own arguments, be manifestly illegal.

I shall now consider each of these criteria in turn.

(i) there is convincing evidence, generally accepted by the international community as a whole, of extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale, requiring immediate and urgent relief;

The government claims that this condition is “clearly” met, as “the Syrian regime has been killing its people for two years, with reported deaths now over 100,000 and refugees at nearly 2 million”, and has now engaged in “large-scale use of chemical weapons”. This rhetoric clearly flags the bias of the author(s). A civil war in which each side is “killing its people”, i.e. other Syrians, is attributed solely to one side, the regime, as are, implicitly, the total number of casualties and refugees so far – although these figures include victims of all sides, including the rebels. For example, the tens of thousands of Kurds who have fled into northern Iraq in the past weeks, escaping from jihadist violence.

The paper, meanwhile, accepts as fact that the Syrian regime is behind the recent use of chemical weapons, although this is yet to be established and the rebels, too, have previously been implicated in chemical weapons use. Western states, of course, have quite a reputation for lying and manipulating information about WMD (Iraq) and atrocities (Kosovo), and so we would be wise to maintain a healthy skepticism towards any such claims, particularly when the accusing states show no desire for, and even hostility towards, UN investigation.

Most importantly, although there is general acceptance by the international community of humanitarian problems in Syria, there is widespread disagreement as to who is responsible for these problems, and what relief would be appropriate. Some states hold the rebels rather than the regime more responsible for the situation, while others see it as a civil war with blame on both sides. And only a handful of states support the idea of bombing Syria. So even in the highly loose manner in which the government frames this first criteria, it cannot seriously be considered met.

(ii) it must be objectively clear that there is no practicable alternative to the use of force if lives are to be saved;

There are very clear alternatives to bombing to improving the situation in Syria, a fact which is “objectively clear” to the majority of the world, and the majority of the British public.

Most obviously, the West could try to de-escalate rather than escalate the Syrian conflict, by promoting negotiations and compromise between the different factions, rather than directly and indirectly supporting the rebels and maintaining their hopes of full intervention on their side. So far, negotiations have not taken place because of the one-sided insistence that Assad must go, followed by difficulties forming a negotiating team on the rebel side. Assad’s regime may be a reprehensible dictatorship but it clearly has popular support of some, particularly Alawites and Christians who fear the Sunni majority. The civil war has evident sectarian elements to it, and the rebels, too, have been accused of war crimes. The situation on the rebel side, meanwhile, is highly chaotic, and there are major jihadist elements among them.

This is not a black and white situation, and even if the regime’s side is a darker shade of grey than the rebels, the course of action that is most likely to save lives is, undoubtedly, to try to de-escalate the conflict and promote negotiations between the warring sides. Given that the majority of the world holds the above opinion, this second criteria has clearly not been met.

(iii) the proposed use of force must be necessary and proportionate to the aim of relief of humanitarian need and must be strictly limited in time and scope to this aim (i.e. the minimum necessary to achieve that end and for no other purpose).

This very criteria presupposes that bombing can achieve an aim of reducing the loss of lives and preventing chemical weapons usage, whereas many in Britain and globally would argue that such bombing would most likely only escalate the fighting and the civilian suffering – as it did in, for example, Kosovo. It is, therefore, very contestable and debatable. In the light of NATO’s misuse of the “limited” and “proportionate” UN authorisation for action in Libya, meanwhile, it is hard to see how anyone could take such assurances from Western governments serious again.

The government presents three very loose criteria by which the bombing of Syria would be considered legal, but even these criteria cannot be considered met by any objective observer. As the partisan rhetoric of the UK government’s paper highlights, this amounts to a very weak attempt, made more with crude propaganda than any serious legal argument, to justify its highly unpopular and contested proposal to bomb Syria.

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Photo Credit: Madhu babu pandi

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Terrorismo? Quale terrorismo? Come la comunicazione aggrava il problema della definizione

Perché è così difficile definire il terrorismo?

{Dipartimento di Studi Strategici (War Studies), King’s College London}

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]rovare una definizione per la parola ‘terrorismo’ è di certo uno dei rompicapi più impegnativi dell’epoca moderna. Tale fenomeno si manifesta all’interno di un complesso mosaico di problematiche che influiscono sul breve tempo che si ha a disposizione per poterlo valutare. Sebbene sia diventato elemento cruciale della maggior parte delle agende politiche già all’indomani dell’11 Settembre, ancora non vi è un consenso unanime circa la sua definizione. Per citare un esempio, nel secondo dibattito presidenziale Mitt Romney ha criticato aspramente il presidente Obama per non aver definito l’attacco all’Ambasciata degli Stati Uniti a Bengasi un attentato terroristico, cosa che il Presidente in carica ha fatto solo due settimane dopo lo stesso.  In maniera simile, il leader libico ad interim ha definito la vicenda come un atto di violenza criminale. I politici prima, e i media poi, si sono dimostrati riluttanti, imprecisi e vaghi nel voler far rientrare questi avvenimenti sotto l’etichetta di atti di natura terrorista. Il presente saggio presenterà dunque una parte di quello che è il dibattito intorno al problema della definizione, sebbene alcune questioni saranno omesse. Tuttavia poiché il terrorismo è strettamente collegato a motivazioni di carattere politico e a ragioni retoriche, che vanno di pari passo con l’evoluzione della comunicazione moderna, è comprensibile la difficoltà nel trovare una definizione univoca al concetto.

Alcune definizioni

Il primo passo da compiere è capire perché è così importante fornire una definizione del termine. A partire dall’11 Settembre, la parola ‘terrorismo’ è entrata a far parte sempre di più del lessico della società moderna, tanto da rievocare nell’immaginario collettivo immagini alquanto violente, di sacrificio e catastrofe. Sappiamo tuttavia comprendere ciò che è davvero il terrorismo? Molti accademici e professionisti si cimentano costantemente nella ricerca di una definizione e, allo stesso tempo, rifiutano quelle già esistenti. Walter Laqueur, che è forse il più illustre della categoria, sostiene che una definizione “non esiste e non la si troverà in un prossimo futuro.” Allo stesso modo, Jeremy Waldon e George Fletcher, in opere separate, riconoscono che ci sono troppe domande ma non risposte sufficienti. Entrambi sembrano lontani da una reale definizione e credono piuttosto che il miglior modo per capire cosa sia il terrorismo sia quello di assistere a una delle sue manifestazioni.

Anche l’Ambasciatore britannico alle Nazioni Unite pare essere sulla stessa linea d’onda. In un discorso successivo all’11 Settembre ha evitato di darne una definizione affermando, “ci dobbiamo concentrare su questo concetto: il terrorismo è il terrorismo … ciò che appare, puzza e uccide come il terrorismo è solo terrorismo.” Tuttavia, se il terrorismo viene considerato come una questione transnazionale, e non all’interno di un paradigma Stato-centrico, sostenere che ogni attacco terroristico presenti determinate caratteristiche che sono sempre evidenti, non solo è banale, ma va a discapito di ogni tentativo di progettare una strategia antiterrorista vincente.  Se, dunque, il terrorismo è una questione globale che interessa diversi Paesi, la sua definizione è di vitale importanza per capirlo e, infine, combatterlo.

È opportuno pensare che la lotta al terrorismo necessiti di una definizione, per quanto sia un’impresa molto ardua. Alex Schmid, il cui pensiero è diventato una pietra miliare all’interno del dibattito definitorio, ha posto l’accento sui “metodi derivati dall’ansia” che sono inflitti alle vittime “generalmente scelte… (bersagli di opportunità).” Un particolare interessante è che egli annovera gli attori statali all’interno della sua definizione e quindi aumenta la necessità di una classificazione in quanto non separa chi o che cosa commette gli atti di natura terrorista. In una risposta diretta a Schmid, Weinberg non include elementi di carattere psicologico all’interno della sua definizione ma pone bensì la politica come ragione principale dietro la strategia terroristica. Allo stesso modo Bruce Hoffman sostiene l’importanza delle motivazioni di carattere politico e le considera lo strumento principale per comprendere il modus operandi dei terroristi. Tuttavia, motivare che un gruppo terrorista agisca esclusivamente per ragioni politiche chiarisce solo un aspetto della questione, così come se si ignorano le motivazioni religiose o ideologiche l’ambito di analisi ne risulterà limitato. John Horgan si allontana dall’idea di Weinberg, mettendo l’accento sull’uso psicologico del ‘terrore’ che, nelle sue parole, “rivela una parte del mistero” nella comprensione del terrorismo.

 L’uso del terrore è di vitale importanza per valutare un attacco perché, come sostiene John Mueller, rompe il codice morale penale rispettato da quasi tutte le popolazioni. Pertanto, la comprensione delle potenziali tattiche e dei target individuati non solo aiuta a polarizzare attori statali e non-statali, ma permette anche una migliore comprensione dei potenziali obiettivi di un gruppo. Non vi può essere una definizione univoca ed esclusiva, ed è appropriato sostenere che il dibattito accademico aggiunge maggiore incertezza alla definizione di terrorismo. In ogni caso, se proprio si volesse utilizzare un singolo concetto esplicativo di terrorismo, questo includerebbe inevitabilmente una serie di parametri che siano in grado di valutare l’attività terroristica.

L’uso improprio del termine ‘terrorismo’

L’ambiguità del mondo accademico su come interpretare le manifestazioni del terrorismo, contribuisce a lasciare irrisolto il problema concettuale. Generalmente, il modo in cui gli attori politici e personalità influenti utilizzano tale termine, ha una valenza molto più ampia, che distoglie dal vero significato e dall’uso del sostantivo ‘terrorismo’. All’interno della sua opera provocatoria, ‘Intrappolati in una Guerra al Terrore’, Ian Lustick affronta l’argomento  ponendo l’accento su come il terrorismo è diventato il fondamento cruciale della politica di Bush. I discorsi pregni di sentimenti patriottici che rimandavano a nostalgiche emozioni di guerra, hanno aiutato a legittimare le decisioni politiche dell’ex Presidente, e a fuorviare la percezione della gente da ciò che effettivamente è il terrorismo. Si trova riscontro di quanto detto negli svariati errori commessi dall’amministrazione Bush nel tentativo di combattere una ‘guerra al terrore’.

Altrettanta confusione è riscontrata nel momento in cui il terrorismo è analizzato, o quando un attacco pare enucleare tutte ‘le caratteristiche e le sensazioni (suscitate da un atto) di terrorismo’: è in questo momento che si ricorre al termine per eludere la mancanza di consenso unanime sulla natura di un atto così violento. Le semplificazioni imposte a livello governativo sono inesorabilmente e ulteriormente aggravate dall’uso sistematico di un “allarmismo apocalittico”, in cui viene impiegata una soffocante varietà di  tattiche intimidatorie – in particolar modo negli Stati Uniti. Ad esempio, la politica concernente la Homeland Security (attività di sicurezza interna contro il terrorismo, NdT) non solo descrive solo la minaccia di terroristi in possesso di armi CBRN, ma anche la loro capacità di utilizzare queste stesse armi “da casa all’estero”. Dichiarazioni imprecise e approssimative sembrano celare altre motivazioni. Fred Kaplan ha sostenuto sulle pagine del The Guardian che “le politiche messe in atto riscuotono il massimo sostegno se sono legate alla guerra al terrorismo”. Di conseguenza, se si adopera il terrorismo in correlazione ad altri argomenti di natura politica, al fine di acquisire il sostegno dell’opinione pubblica, un problema di ordine metodologico sorge inevitabilmente: è possibile separare la realtà dalla finzione ed essere finalmente in grado di fornire una definizione precisa dell’oggetto in questione?

Il ruolo esclusivo della comunicazione

La manipolazione interpretativa dei governi sulla natura del terrorismo è aggravata dallo sviluppo di fenomeni legati alla globalizzazione e al conseguente sviluppo tecnologico che, parafrasando Manuel Castells, ha creato un “nuovo spazio di comunicazione” nei centri di potere. La diffusione di alcune idee politiche presso popolazioni e territori precedentemente estranei e geograficamente distanti, e le accresciute possibilità di comunicazione tra le comunità emigrate con la propria madrepatria, ha creato una complessa dicotomia bollata da Sir Richards come “rete globale di rivendicazioni.” La rapida crescita della tecnologia e l’esplosione dei social media hanno trasformato pareri e opinioni in uno spazio informativo virtuale. Questo permette alle persone di muoversi “rapidamente e senza fili” all’interno di un mondo virtuale. David Betz ha correttamente definito questo fenomeno come il Web 2.0, in cui tutti i vettori della società interagiscono simultaneamente e, di conseguenza, il pubblico non ricopre più il ruolo di spettatore passivo ma rappresenta invece la componente attiva del mondo dell’informazione.

Le tecnologie moderne hanno dunque fornito una potentissima piattaforma per attuare una comunicazione orizzontale attraverso un arcipelago di confini nazionali e internazionali. Se il messaggio è incorretto o fuorviante può scatenare conseguenze imprevedibili, dal momento che fornisce informazioni errate ad un’intera comunità. A tal proposito, i messaggi politici stanno diventando sempre più messaggi mediatici e hanno l’immediata capacità di influenzare tutti i campi della società. D’altro canto, la tecnologia moderna permette ai cittadini la possibilità non solo di eludere i controlli statali tradizionali, ma anche di trasmettere informazioni false. Questo è ben noto all’interno della relazione sulla tecnologia del Generale David Richards nella quale sostiene che la comunicazione moderna “si situa ben oltre la capacità dello Stato di esercitare il proprio controllo senza minacciare tutte le altre funzioni di quello stesso Stato.” Ciò nonostante, tale affermazione è vera in entrambi i sensi e pertanto i governi sono in grado di esercitare un certo grado di autonomia nell’uso dei processi mediatici moderni. Pertanto, come sostiene David Kilcullen, i fini e i mezzi che conducono allo sviluppo di fonti d’informazione si caratterizzano per una scarsa trasparenza che rende molto difficile distinguere l’origine o l’affidabilità delle fonti stesse.

Difatti, un messaggio del governo diventa immediatamente l’input per l’elaborazione dei messaggi da parte dei media, e il relativo output ricopre un ruolo cruciale nel plasmarne la definizione. Se anche il terrorismo è sottoposto a questi filtri di comunicazione, va da sé che il risultato sarà un caleidoscopico insieme di definizioni. Tali definizioni, a loro volta, vengono poi servite all’opinione pubblica, ai leader e ai soliti stereotipi sulla politica estera. A tale proposito John Horgan sostiene che per analizzare il terrorismo nel suo insieme di definizioni è necessario discostarsi dai media. Tuttavia, ottenere un tale distacco appare molto difficile poiché i governi sono i primi attori che sempre più spesso ricorrono ad un utilizzo del termine in un contesto erroneo, con i media pronti ad associarlo a questioni di carattere politico.

Conclusioni

Questo questo saggio ha preso in considerazione una varietà di fonti ma non ha proposto in alcun modo una conclusione esaustiva sul dibattito concernente il problema della definizione. Si è voluto porre l’accento sul ruolo del governo statunitense per via del suo compito esclusivo nella lotta al terrorismo, in quanto le indagini portate avanti in altri Paesi avrebbero potuto generare conclusioni molto diverse. Ad ogni modo, la cattiva informazione imposta dai governi potrebbe riferirsi ad ambiti diversi della vita di tutti i giorni, e le conseguenze della stessa sono ulteriormente aggravate dalle modalità della comunicazione moderna. In ultima analisi, questo rende ancor più arduo il tentativo di fornire una definizione precisa di terrorismo.

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Saggio tradotto da: Valentina Mecca

Articolo originale: Terrorism is Terrorism? How Communication Exacerbates the Definitional Problem

Photo Credit: bixentro

Mali Islamist Militants

Mali: Intervention, Invasion, and Invention

Broadly, it may be that intervention is a limited and fundamentally flawed approach, but to say that some invented Western Empire marches on Africa to secure its dominance is to simplify a complex internal crisis, and to ignore the appeals of the Malian government for help.

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Mali Islamist Militants

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Ten years since the West’s intervention in Iraq and in the midst of a new French and British presence in Mali, it is right to emphasise that failing to appreciate the complexities of any international conflict is always costly. Deciding whether or not to commit to military intervention requires extensive deliberation and patience. Whatever one decides, there must be no doubt as to the seriousness of the implications, no question as to the responsibilities assumed as a consequence. Interventionists are often urged to keep these warnings in mind before they choose to support a foreign military conflict, but it should be remembered that this counsel must also apply to those opposed to intervention.

Not long after the French intervention in Mali, a number of voices on the left denounced what they saw as a provocative invitation to Islamist violence and a failure to learn from the West’s intervention in Iraq ten years ago. However, it is arguably these voices that appear to be repeating past mistakes. Opposition to the Iraq War, while vociferous, never received the scrutiny and interrogation it truly deserved, and since it so frequently characterised itself solely in terms of what it was against, it is crucial to keep in mind what the anti-war movement was for.

Broadly speaking, we can infer that many of those opposed to the Iraq war would have preferred the continuation of Saddam Hussein’s rule over Western intervention. There was little and remains little to suggest that his regime could have been toppled from within the country, and in any case, this was not a hope articulated by some within the anti-war movement at the time. In particular, we should note that George Galloway, one of the most prominent members of the Stop the War Coalition, openly praised the dictator and the operations of insurgent forces in Iraq. The Stop the War Coalition’s erroneous unease around efforts to thwart fascism in Iraq and elsewhere have been disappointing, but by failing to offer a credible approach to the tangible dangers of the Islamist influence in Mali, some are perpetuating the notion that to be anti-war is to abdicate responsibility for the consequences of non-intervention. The impact of intervention is important and deserves continuous scrutiny, because this impact is severe and often bloody, but the potentially destructive impact of inaction in the face of the dangers present in Mali are not receiving the attention they deserve.

It would be in error to say that alternatives to intervention do not exist. Here at The Risky Shift, Alex Clackson has identified a number of suggestions, including the provision of development aid and increased support for domestic governments. However, a deeper misunderstanding often characterises opposition to intervention. There is a tendency among many, particularly on the left to locate intervention by the West in general and, in the case of Mali, France and Britain in particular, in a neo-imperialistic/colonialist narrative. Journalist John Pilger has gone so far as to say that ‘A full-scale invasion of Africa is under way,’ which he compares to the Scramble for Africa of the nineteenth century. This is a limited and ultimately ahistorical view of the kind of Western intervention we have seen in the region.

The sovereignty of Mali is not under threat from ‘the West’ but from several Islamist groups including Ansar Dine and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), both of which demand the imposition of Islamic law throughout the country. It is also worth noting that it was Mali’s interim president Dioncounda Traore who requested military aid from France in January of this year to counter these groups. Broadly, it may be that intervention is a limited and fundamentally flawed approach, but to say that some invented Western Empire marches on Africa to secure its dominance is to simplify a complex internal crisis, and to ignore the appeals of the Malian government for help.

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Photo Credit: Magharebia

HMS Ark Royal

The Falklands: Logistics Of A Former Empire

The majority of the UK’s history has revolved around its naval resources and the ability to engage anywhere in the world. The march of technology as well as the lack of air support limits the actions that the UK can participate in for the foreseeable future.

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HMS Ark Royal

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It has been over a month since Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner called for the United Kingdom to give up the Falkland Islands to Argentina. While this could have been nothing more than an attempted distraction by President Kirchner from a multitude of domestic issues, the dispute over the islands is constant background noise for both countries. In the meantime a referendum on the future sovereignty of the islands is scheduled for March  and the cultural issues are well documented. What this latest uptick allows is an opportunity to look at the logistics of fighting on the other side of the world and the role of aircraft carriers in modern conflict.

During the Falkland Islands conflict in the 1982 the UK deployed two aircraft carriers and a sizable military fleet to the South Atlantic. Since then the end of the Cold War and shifting priorities changed the composition of military forces for both Argentina and the UK. There is ample research comparing naval forces from 1982 and today but the lack of an aircraft carrier for the UK in particular remains a concern and was was seen as a disadvantage during the intervention in Libya. The lack of a mobile platform to launch aircraft contributed to a more expensive conflict as RAF sorties were flown out of Southern Europe. The end result was longer flight times, fewer missions and higher fatigue.

With the exception of facilities in the Falklands, the region is as far away as the UK can get from friendly bases.   minus the facilities it maintains on the island and it won’t have the benefit of numerous local allies ready to allow the use of their airfields and support facilities. While the UK has added significantly to the units deployed in defense of the island, airfields are an easy target to find

Even today, during a gap between carriers, questions remain about the functionality of the ships in development. The two carriers in development lack functionality that existed during the first Falklands Island conflict, functionalities such as aerial refueling that are essential for long term engagements. The first of the two carriers isn’t expected to undergo sea trials for at least a year, with 2017 being the earliest date that it is expected to enter service.

Several English pundits believe that in the event of a Falklands Island conflict France should come to the support of the UK in reciprocal support of French operations in Mali. The situations are in no way similar–one is defense of what it views as its territory while the other is fighting against Islamist terrorists. Immediately at the end of the Cold War, outside of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, international involvement in localized conflicts was focused in the Balkans. Since then Mali, Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, and possibly Syria are just the latest countries with international involvement.

Some of these conflicts are within striking distance of NATO bases, others are not. These conflicts are not limited to one region; counter terrorism operations continue in the Middle East, South Asia, North and Central Africa, and there remains concern of Latin and Southern America turning into battleground areas. The majority of the UK’s history has revolved around its naval resources and the ability to engage anywhere in the world. The march of technology as well as the lack of air support limits the actions that the UK can participate in for the foreseeable future.

The United States is the only country that has currently has the resources for not only multiple carrier deployments throughout the world but other operations as well. The future of this is at risk due to the budget issues ping-ponging around Washington. The result for the world’s largest naval power is uncertainty as long term stability and planning for the future changes day-by-day as politicians announce they have ‘fixed’ one problem only to retract their statement hours later. Even if the number of operational U.S. carriers decreases their ability to deploy anywhere in world remains a powerful tool.

What turns aircraft carriers into into a truly formidable force are the carrier strike groups and support craft. By themselves, carriers are offensive weapons and have limited operations. Strike groups combine a carrier with a mix of frigates, destroyers, supply ships and other vessels. These ships ensure non-stop aerial operations while protecting carriers from land, air, and sea based threats. Under its current makeup, the Royal Navy while smaller than it used to be but still maintains a modern efficient force and has all of the pieces of a carrier strike group in place minus the carrier.

The next round of predictions on how the Falklands Islands turns out won’t be able to start until after the referendum in March. Until then, the UK needs to identify how it projects its power and defends its interests abroad.

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Photo Credit: Mike Cattell

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Food & International Security: Wasted

Globally there is a disproportionate lack of post-harvest food loss related scientific literature, practical research, development projects, funding for agricultural research and extension programs and public attention. Despite this, both governments and the market have failed to address this crucial issue.

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Water wars are set to become more widespread in years to come. This is especially relevant to the Middle East, because so many fresh water sources straddle international boundaries. Israel-Palestine negotiations often stumble over the issue of sharing water, and in the past both Jordan and Syria have identified threats to their water supply as a crucial factor in deciding whether they will go to war with Israel.

This situation is expected to worsen: the number of ‘water-scarce’ countries in the Middle East “grew steadily from three in 1955 to eight in 1990”. Now twelve of the world’s fifteen water-scarce countries are in the Middle East and North Africa.

Agriculture is the cause of “70% of all global freshwater withdrawn worldwide”, and this is set to rise, especially as meat consumption in Asia rises. The Middle East is no exception – agriculture is “the main cause of depleting water resources in the region”.

Much of this is in vain – estimates of global food waste have been as high as 30 or 50%. Stuart argues that if 25% of the world’s food is unnecessarily wasted (assuming that between a third and a half is wasted, but that it is not realistic to cut down on all of it), this represents a loss of “approximately 675 litres” of water, “easily enough for the household needs of 9 billion people using 200 litres a day”. The executive director of SIWI said that reducing food waste “is the smartest and most direct route to relieve pressure on water and land resources”. It is thus essential that the world addresses its food waste, if it wants to avoid water wars in the future.

Land is also a great source of conflict. Here too, reducing food waste would alleviate the pressure by liberating vast swathes of agricultural land for other uses. McKinsey Global Institute estimate that ““reducing food waste at the point of consumption in developed countries by 30 percent could save roughly 40 million hectares of cropland”. Their report examines resource productivity opportunities in energy, land, water, and materials that could address up to 30 percent of total 2030 demand” – reducing food waste is considered the third most important measure.

Food scarcity is also linked with conflict. It has been suggested that recent food price spikes played a role in triggering the Arab Spring. Actually, these food spikes were primarily driven by commodity speculation in futures markets rather than by supply-demand factors – similar in behaviour to inflated housing prices. However, in the long-term food prices have been driven up by food waste, which both creates an artificial scarcity by taking food off the market, and places strain on scarce resources which act as agricultural inputs, driving food prices up. In a world where 925 million people are undernourished, it is vital for both humanitarian reasons and security that food waste be addressed.

Finally, reducing food waste is vital to addressing climate change, itself a threat to international security, through its harmful effects of increased droughts, degradation of agricultural land and likelihood of environmental disasters. Stuart estimates that in the UK and US, assuming that consumers waste approximately 25% of their food, “10 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions” comes from “producing, transporting, storing and preparing food that is never eaten”. Moreover, the FAO states that “considerably less energy and other inputs are required to conserve food than to produce an equal quantity of food”. For instance, “the total energy cost of good grain storage practice is about one percent of the energy cost of producing that grain”. Weaning ourselves off fossil fuels has obvious significance for international security related to oil.

Reducing food waste is also generally economically desirable compared to productivity increases. For instance, in the UK it has been estimated that “increasing the proportion of a farmer’s crop that gets into the supermarket by just 5 per cent can increase the farmer’s profit margins by up to 60 per cent”.

Despite all this, globally there is a disproportionate lack of post-harvest food loss related scientific literature, practical research, development projects, funding for agricultural research and extension programs and public attention.

Both governments and the market have failed to address this issue. Governments have focussed development programmes excessively on productivity increases. The market’s uneven development creates inadequate investment in post-harvest infrastructure in developing countries, and the power of retailers within developed country supply chains enables them to profit from pushing food waste onto suppliers and consumers.

Iran has been the first to address food waste as a geopolitical issue. We must all wake up to the geopolitical significance of food waste: our future security depends on it.

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Photo credit: Bobolink

5 a day

Getting Your Five A Day?

The government wants us to eat five portions of fruit & veg every day; why not engage with five different news sources each day as well – it would be equally as healthy for you, and for the wider world.

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5 a day

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Tom is currently employed by Edelman Berland (the research arm of Edelman and the organisation that produced the data referred to in this piece). He was not involved in the creation of the report.

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International PR firm Edelman released their 2013 survey of global trust, the ‘Trust Barometer‘, yesterday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The survey, released annually since the turn of the millennium, commenced with the rise of NGOs to the global scene as a consequence of the anti-globalisation movement in the US. Since then it has tracked the ‘Fall of the Celebrity CEO’ (2002), to the rise of ‘A Person Like Me’ as a credible spokesperson (2006), through to the ‘Fall of Government’ (2012).

The data released this year was telling. Some pointed to things that we already knew (people don’t trust bankers or journalists much these days), and some to things that you would be unlikely to consider (the most trusted location for a company to be headquartered, for example, is Canada). Below are my highlights – you can see the figures for yourself here.

The ‘informed public’ (college-educated/within the top 25 per cent of household income per age group/significant media consumption/engaged with business news and public policy) felt significantly higher degrees of trust than the general public. According to the data the global difference was 9 points (informed public trust standing at 57 points against the general public trust at 48 points), with the UK displaying equatable levels (taking into account margins for error). The US, however, surged ahead with a whopping 14 point difference (informed: 59, general: 45) – though it is worth noting that this may have been artificially inflated by the recent election and the ‘hope’ of Obama having a successful second term, however improbable.

Business was trusted more than government in 16 out of 26 markets surveyed, including the US, the UK, Japan, and India. Interestingly, citizens of Singapore and China – neither possessing especially liberal or hospitable governments – expressed greater trust in their governments than in business, by 5 per cent and 7 per cent respectively. Whether this is due to mass failings in business (corruption et al.), good economic performance, or the lack of a polycephalous media…

We in the West, perhaps somewhat idealistically, trust small businesses significantly more than we trust big businesses: in the UK this amounts to an astonishing difference of 30 per cent (trust in small business: 78 per cent, big business: 48 per cent). Emerging markets on the other hand, expressed greater trust in big business. 89 per cent of Chinese, for example, giving the thumbs up for large organisations, against only 65 per cent for their smaller equivalents.

The winning statistic, purely from a fear factor, is the increasing level of trust that many are placing in social media as a reliable news source – 58 per cent in emerging markets view social media as a credible news source, 28 per cent in developed markets.

Bertrand Russell once said, “I think we ought always to entertain our opinions with some measure of doubt. I shouldn’t wish people dogmatically to believe any philosophy, not even mine”. By relying on social media to provide information about the world around us we run the risk of regressing into an environment that relays to us only what we wish to hear, rather than ideas that challenge our perspectives.

In the case of Twitter, for example, a platform where you, and only you, are responsible for choosing the sources of your daily digestion, this possibility is entirely plausible. I myself am guilty of ‘unfollowing’ those with whom I expressly disagree with. An over-reliance on social media to provide us with a snapshot of world events creates the foundation for a wholly unbalanced diet of media consumption.

The government wants us to eat five portions of fruit & veg every day, why not engage with five different news sources each day as well – it would be healthy for both you and the world around you.

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Photo credit: luckyjimmy

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Euro-sceptic? Eur-so-silly

David Cameron’s speech is a mere publicity stunt instrumented to falsely ensure us of democratic legitimacy, through making it seem as though we all have a choice over our country’s future.

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Today Prime Minister David Cameron declared he is set to make negotiations with the EU in relevance to treaty changes and the euro. As you would expect from a politician (especially a Tory), Cameron is presenting us with a more tactical, underlying negotiation which is quite simply, “A vote for Conservatives in the next election is a vote for an in/out of the European Union referendum.

Last month, Anti-EU party UKIP increased its share of the vote from 6 per cent to 9 per cent. This rise in popularity massively reflects the British populaces increasing intolerance of the EU, and a prime reason for this is the general attitude towards immigration. Take for instance YouGov’s latest poll for the Sunday Times, which revealed, rather unsurprisingly, that 67% of people believe that immigration has been a ‘bad thing for Britain’ with the second majority, 18% believing it has been ‘neither good nor bad’.

It was Gordon Brown who coined the term ‘British jobs for British workers’. In 2011, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) produced a report that made the headlines; take for instance the Daily Mails’ choice, ‘Migration is killing off jobs: 160, 000 Britons have missed out on employment because work was taken my foreigners’ – not quite the snappy title I was hoping for. Alongside Brown’s pledge, this outbreak of outrage in the media was symbolic of the increasing mass hostility towards immigration. One could even argue not only did it encourage public opinion towards the topic, but created it too. Nonetheless, the subject of supposed scandal here is as shallow as scandal gets. Firstly, a job is a job – I’m not quite sure what makes it British. (According to Chris Bryant, this is ‘hospitality construction and agriculture’) . More importantly, the allegation that immigrants ‘fill the limited vacancies which exist in the fragile UK economy’ is pure fiction. This is the lump of labour fallacy; the notion that there is no such thing as limited jobs.

Then again, these are the type of people complaining about “no jobs”.

The article goes on to manipulatively inform its readers that immigration is ‘full of loopholes, such as an exemption for so-called “intra-company transfers”, which allow firms to bring in thousands of their existing staff from abroad’. It is absolutely absurd to undermine the act of bringing competently skilled workers into the British labour force a “loophole” in immigration policy, considering that is a chief beneficiary of immigration.

Cameron believes the best way to create a democratically accountable Europe is for the British population to vote on whether they want to be a part of it or not. He says, “It is time for the British people to have their say. This will be your country… a choice about your country’s destiny.” Other than sounding like Uncle Sam encouraging young American boys to sacrifice themselves in the name of war, it is utter rubbish. Whilst Nigel Farage has successfully infiltrated popular opinion through highlighting the costs of the UK’s EU membership, the government has failed to educate the British people on the benefits.

The only source the British people of this “democracy” have to base their views on, are newspapers – the most popular being subliminally fascist tabloids such as the Daily Mail. Cameron’s speech is a mere publicity stunt instrumented to falsely ensure us of democratic legitimacy, through making it seem as though we all have a choice over our country’s future . Well, democracy doesn’t mean shit when the people don’t know shit.

It is time for UKIP, the Tory’s and the like, to realise that leaving the EU may cover the odor of the turd that this situation is, but it certainly won’t stop the UK from being in a faecal matter.

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Photo Credit: dimnikolov

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The Algerian Hostage Dead: NATO Is Responsible

While the West may be reluctant to put more boots on the ground due to the growing frustration from the general public, we are likely to see more military interventions this decade.

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What do Libya, Mali and Algeria have in common? The three nations have played a pivotal role in the political domino effect culminating over the last week. At least 48 hostages are now thought to have died in a four-day siege at an Algerian gas plant. In response to the Algerian hostage situation Mr Cameron said his government will continue to focus on fighting terrorism: “There is no justification for taking innocent life in this way”.

These are typical words attributed to a politician speaking in the generic foreign policy language. However David Cameron has failed to mention that NATO also played its part in the Algerian hostage crisis. Algerian crisis is a direct consequence of the current Mali conflict and the Mali conflict is the direct result of the Libyan conflict in 2011 as those who supported Gaddafi were thrown out from the country for being black and had nowhere else to go except to join the Mali terrorist groups.

And since it was Cameron and his “peace-seeking” NATO states who encouraged the violence in Libya and helped to carry out a regime change operation, it seems NATO are at least partially responsible for the Algerian hostage crisis. Politics works in funny ways.

Let us examine each claim individually starting with Libya.

The mission to oust Gaddafi and kick start a new dawn for Libya has been claimed by the West to be a success. Yet an uncomfortable truth rarely mentioned in the Western media remains- hundreds of African migrant workers in Libya accused of being mercenaries for Col Muammar Gaddafi were imprisoned and tortured by fighters allied to the new interim authorities.

Indeed it is heavily documented how the victorious rebels were hunting after African mercenaries and the latter had no choice but to escape from the destruction-stricken country. These mercenaries found a new home- Mali. Additionally there are irrefutable claims that homes have been looted, and women and girls beaten and raped. Perhaps removing Gaddafi was a success for the Western nations, but the country is currently in turmoil and is still mostly run by heavily armed mercenaries.

It is clear that the West had a lot of interest in removing Gaddafi. While the UN gave the authorisation to protect the Libyan civilians, this objective turned into a regime change operation. It is not surprising that Russia and China continue to veto any resolutions in regards to Syria as they understand that another aim to protect the Syrian civilians would simply mean regime change in Syria.

We can only speculate what interests the West has in the region. A number of theories have been put forward: oil, a step towards eventually attacking Iran, protecting Israel, all of the above. While impossible to know the truth, it is clear that the West has a grand strategy for the Middle East and Africa.

And so we arrive at the second stage of the domino effect. The current conflict in Mali seems in many ways to mirror the conflict that took place in Libya. Rebels are trying to take over the country and overthrow the government. There is however one difference. The current Mali government is a friend of France whilst Gaddafi refused to get on his knees for the Western powers.

A popular argument used by the politicians is the claim that Libya was a dictatorship while Mali is a democracy and therefore the West has a responsibility to protect Mali from radical extremists. However if this claim was true then the West would have already intervened in Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. However these authoritarian states have good relations with the West and are therefore safe from NATO interventions.

Indeed those who claim that the Mali government are not executing their own civilians like Gaddafi did may be shocked to find that there are growing reports by Amnesty International of extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses in Mali, as troops battle Islamist militants in the West African country.

Residents of Mopti, in the centre of the country, told the Observer of arrests, interrogations and the torture of innocents by the Malian army. Amnesty International says that it has documented evidence of abuse by the Malian army, including extrajudicial killings. It says that in September, a group of 16 Muslim preachers composed of Malian and Mauritanian nationals were arrested then executed by the Malian military in Diabaly. It seems like the French government is trying to protect those that are carrying out human rights abuses.

Undoubtedly the rebels are not saints either. Nevertheless there has to be some consistency from the West. Claiming to be against Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein as they killed own citizens, while at the same time supporting the regimes in Mali, Bahrain and Jordan, who also treat their citizens with cruelty is simply hypocritical.

Of course this is not the first time a Western power has supported brutality. It is also imperative to mention the case of Syria here. Mr Hollande has claimed that the reason why his country is supporting the Mali government against the rebels is because the rebels are Islamic extremists whilst the rebels in Syria are secular.

Mr Hollande’s remarks are are simply wrong as it is well known that a large section of the Syrian rebels are also radical Islamists. The radical rebels who have connections to Al Qaeda seem to be having more influence on the Syrian population than the Free Syrian Army who claim to be secular.

And so thanks to the continuous hypocritical interventions by the Western nations we have arrived at a situation where a BP gas site has been assaulted by terrorists. Whilst undoubtedly investigations will be carried out, it seems more than likely that the terrorists who have carried out the hostage mission are in some way linked to the rebels in Mali.

It is well known that in life, a particular action always leads to a particular consequence. This is called the butterfly effect. International politics is not immune from this phenomenon, as something that began as a mission by the West to oust Gaddafi in 2011 has ended with Western citizens being taken hostage in Algeria. I say “ended” yet it is probable that this is just the beginning of more violence and conflict which will spread to other parts of Africa.

This is rather useful for the NATO states as America and other Western nations have been itching to find an excuse to send more military to the continent now that the Middle East has been “conquered” and squeezed completely dry. And while the resource-plenty and flourishing Africa will now be the new victim of Western interventions, our media and politicians will continue to tell us that our governments are fighting to make the world a safer place by annihilating the terrorists – the same terrorists that arise through Western interventions in the first place.

Just yesterday David Cameron has announced that the war on terrorists will go on for decades and NATO interventions will switch from Afghanistan to North Africa.

Interventions are a destructive cycle. The West intervenes in other regions as a police state under a pretext of supporting democracy, but end up opening a can of worms. Extremism spreads to nearby regions and the locals are angered by the continuous meddling of the West in their affairs and therefore join the terrorist groups which encourages the West to intervene more.

It becomes a permanent circle, or better known as a perpetual war. Alternative solutions to intervention do exist. Empowering regional bodies and governments through international development programs, foreign aid and cooperation are viable alternatives to militarism. While the West may be reluctant to put more boots on the ground due to the growing frustration from the general public, we are likely to see more military interventions this decade. Due to the development of unmanned drones and other rocket-type weaponry, NATO is likely to continue to intrude in the Middle East and Africa. It seems the West never learns.

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Photo credit: US Army Africa

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What Noughties Labour Left Behind

Ed Miliband sometimes sounds like he’s running against Tony Blair for the leadership rather than against David Cameron for the premiership; Miliband’s speeches should emphasise the persistent values at the heart of his party and the principles on which it was founded.

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One of the key defences used by both Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg is that obstacles such as the deficit have been left behind by the Labour Party and must be ‘cleaned up’ by the Government. Cameron used his first House of Commons speech as Prime Minister to emphasise this argument, and it has remained a frequent response to criticism from the opposition during Prime Minister’s Questions. However repetitive this argument might be, the coalition’s desire to emphasise the inherited failings of its predecessor is politically understandable. What is more curious is Labour leader Ed Miliband’s apparent enthusiasm for doing the same thing.

Upon assuming the role, a new party leader might be expected to give a speech or two in which, by criticising old policies or established members of the party, they attempt to create a sense of renewal and innovation. But Miliband has repeatedly introduced Labour’s record – and, in his view, its failings – into the discourse on numerous issues over the course of his leadership. There have been frequent admissions by the Labour leader regarding the mistakes he believes were made by his party’s government. According to Miliband, Labour was wrong on issues such as the economy, immigration and Iraq. Leaving aside what one may thinking about Labour’s previous approaches to these and any other issues, it seems reasonable to wonder why Miliband is so keen, insistent even, on reminding everybody about his party’s failures, real or perceived.

It has been suggested that Miliband’s recent remarks to the Fabian Society, which took a similarly apologetic approach, are part of an ‘attempt to distance himself from elements of the last government’s record considered toxic by many strategists.’ While it is important for Miliband to be honest and self-critical about his party’s shortcomings, there is something self-defeating about his constant referral back to New Labour’s record if his aim is to disassociate himself from it. These kinds of apologies can be useful in the first year or so of opposition as a way to rebrand, but after three years out of power, Labour needs to focus on establishing its new approach and produced a clear pitch to the electorate about its policies. Labour’s Policy Review should eventually shed more light on the tangible elements of the party’s approach, but Miliband should nevertheless emphasise the future rather than dwell on the past in the meantime.

Of course, Labour has already made policy suggestions on various issues, but these often focus on ‘learning lessons’ and accepting hard truths about Labour’s past efforts. For example, on immigration, Miliband told the Fabian Society that during the premierships of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown ‘high levels of migration were having huge effects on the lives of people in Britain – and too often those in power seemed not to accept this. The fact that they didn’t explains partly why people turned against us in the last general election.’ And on the economy: ‘One Nation Labour has learnt the lessons of the financial crisis. It begins from the truth that New Labour did not do enough to bring about structural change in our economy to make it work for the many, not just the few. It did not do enough to change the rules of the game that were holding our economy back.’ In these remarks, Miliband is trying to demonstrate the heightened self-awareness and self-improvement of ‘One Nation Labour’ in contrast to the old and often mistaken ‘New Labour’. Yet this ploy, along with the attempt to play down Labour’s record by giving it extra attention in speeches, treats the electorate with little respect. Voters remember New Labour, favourably or not, and they will not be convinced that there are no similarities at all between the brands ‘New’ and ‘One Nation’ any more than they will forget the successes and limitations of Blair and Brown.

Perhaps most disappointing, however, is that Miliband and his strategists seem to have assumed that the argument over New Labour’s record was lost along with the 2010 election. Indeed, Miliband’s tone contains none of the positivity exhibited by his predecessor in the last days of the 2010 campaign, during which antipathy towards the party was exceedingly high. Despite Labour’s damaged image at the end of thirteen years in power, Gordon Brown retained a sense of pride in his party’s accomplishments in this speech, without any of the obligatory qualifiers and ‘howevers’ that seem to accompany the current leader’s reminiscing monologues. Both the content and the delivery of Brown’s speech demonstrate that celebrating New Labour’s record is politically credible and potentially convincing. Even if Miliband feels morally or politically obliged to remind everybody of how poor he believes Labour’s performance has been in the past, he should also feel more confident about celebrating such political events as the minimum wage, the renovation of thousands of schools or the cancellation of developing world debt.

Ed Miliband sometimes sounds like he’s running against Tony Blair for the leadership rather than against David Cameron for the premiership. To correct this, Miliband’s speeches should emphasise the persistent values at the heart of his party and the principles on which it was founded. Crucially, he should not be afraid ask David Cameron what the coalition is doing to maintain and build on the progress in healthcare and education left behind by the Labour government.

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Photo credit: Policy Network

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Terrorism is Terrorism? How Communication Exacerbates the Definitional Problem

Why is terrorism so difficult to define? {Department of War Studies, King’s College London}

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A definition of terrorism is arguably one of the woolliest concepts of modern discourse. Its manifestations arrive from a complex mosaic of compounding issues that affect any real brevity in assessing it. Since 9/11 it has been promoted to the forefront of most political agendas and yet no definitional consensus has followed. In the second presidential debate for example, Mitt Romney lambasted President Obama for not calling the attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi a terrorist incident, of which Obama took 14 days to finally call it such. The interim Libyan leader in comparison described it as an act of criminal violence. Politicians and subsequently media organisations have been careless, imprecise and sloppy in labelling incidents as acts of terrorism. This essay will therefore, scale back from the larger definitional debate and acknowledges that issues will be omitted. However, by arguing that terrorism is wrapped up in political motivations and rhetoric in tandem with the rise of modern communication, ultimately has a greater impact in understanding why terrorism is so difficult to define.

A Definitional Overview

To argue with clarity, the first logical step is to assess why terrorism is so important to define. Since 9/11 the word ‘terrorism’ has increasingly become intertwined in today’s society, and is synonymous in creating powerful images of violence, self-sacrifice and catastrophe. However, are we any closer in understanding what constitutes it? There are many academics and professionals who not only struggle to grapple with a definition, but utterly refute any notion of needing one. Walter Laqueur, perhaps the most prominent in this category, argues that a definition “does not exist nor will it be found in the foreseeable future.” Additionally, Jeremy Waldon and George Fletcher, in separate works, acknowledge that there are too many questions and not enough answers. Both seem to deviate from any real conclusion and believe the best possible course in understanding terrorism – is to know it when you see it.

The British Ambassador to the United Nations also shares this argument. In a post 9/11 speech he shunned the attempts of a definition by stating, “let us be focused about this: terrorism is terrorism… What looks, smells and kills like terrorism is terrorism.” However, if terrorism is taken as a transnational issue and not a single state-centric paradigm, to simply say every terrorist attack has characteristics that are obvious in all instances and consistently the same, is not only trite, but affects any sort of successful counter-terrorism strategy. Therefore, if terrorism is a global affair encompassing many different countries, a definition is vitally important to understand and ultimately combat it.

It is fair to argue that a definition is imperative in combating terrorism. However, coming to that conclusion is not an easy feat. Alex Schmid has become a cornerstone in the definitional debate and arguably places significance on “anxiety-inspired methods” which are implied on victims “generally chosen… (targets of opportunity).” He interestingly includes state-actors within his definition, which further adds weight to the necessity for a classification, because it can separate who or what are committing the acts. In a direct response to Schmid, Weinberg et al conclusively found no room in their definition for psychological effects and place politics as the primary reason behind terrorist strategy. Bruce Hoffman also asserts the importance of politics and views it as the key tool in understanding terrorists modus operandi. However, viewing a terrorist group in the sole constraints of politics reveals only a partial picture, as ignoring religious or ideological motivations limits the scope of analysis. John Horgan moves away from the idea of politics by putting explicit importance on the psychological use of ‘terror’, which in his words “removes part of the mystery” in understanding terrorism.

The use of terror is vitally important in assessing an attack because, as John Mueller identifies, it breaks down the moral criminal code that almost all populations abide by. Thus, understanding the potential method and targets not only helps polarise state and non-state actors but also allows a better degree of understanding of what the potential aims of a group are. There is arguably not one definition to use and it is fair to say that the scattered academic radar adds more uncertainty to how terrorism is defined. Nevertheless, if a definition is used, it does enable a set of parameters to be implemented allowing terrorist activity to be assessed.

The Misuse of ‘Terrorism’

The understandable academic ambiguity around the manifestations of terrorism is one that will continue, however, it is arguably not the basis of why terrorism is so hard to define. The way the word is used in its entirety by political apparatuses and influential individuals has a far larger footprint in misguiding the real meaning and use of terrorism. Ian Lustick’s thought provoking book ‘Trapped in a War on Terror’ portrays this argument and crucially identifies how terrorism became the Bush administrations political foundation. Patriotic fist pumping speeches that hark back to old veteran sentiments helped legitimatise policy-making decisions and misalign people’s perceptions of what terrorism actually is. There is perhaps little to dispute with this argument especially when assessing Bush’s clay footed notion of fighting a ‘War on Terror.’

Other hazy statements seem to be in abundance when terrorism is assessed and the idea of an attack to have a ‘look and feel of terrorism’ seems to be the optimum phrase when there is no uniformity concerning a violent attack. The blurry platitudes imposed by state echelons is unrelenting and is further compounded by the systematic use of “apocalyptic alarmism” whereby a top down smothering of scare tactics is employed – specifically in the United States. Homeland Security for example, not only portrays the threat of terrorists having the capability of CBRN weapons but also the ability to use those weapons “from home and abroad.” The imprecise and often inaccurate statements seem to have other motives. Fred Kaplan, in The Guardian, believes “policies will gain maximum support if they are linked to the war on terrorism.” Therefore, if terrorism is bound up in political drives for public support it begs a very serious question whether it is possible to separate truth from fiction and thus provide an accurate definition.

Communications Unique Role

Government’s apparent manipulation of the subject nature of terrorism is compounded by mushrooming nature of globalisation and the subsequent rise of modern technology, which in Manuel Castells words has created a “new communication space” where “power is decided.” The expansion of ideas to previously untouched parts of the world and the connection of disparate communities to their home nation has created a complex dichotomy that Sir Richards labels as a “global network of grievances.” The rapid expansion in technology, and the explosion of social media sites has arguably transformed opinions and debates into a virtual, informational space. This, allows people to move “rapidly and seamlessly” within a virtual world. David Betz has aptly labelled this as Web 2.0, in which all vectors of society can interact simultaneously, and subsequently, the public are no longer passive spectators but an active cog in the informational world.

Modern technology has therefore now provided an unprecedented platform to move messages horizontally across an archipelago of national and international borders. If the message is incorrect or misleading it can have exponential consequences by smattering the population with distorted information. In that respect, a political message is increasingly becoming a media message and has the ability to influence all spheres of society instantaneously. However, on the other hand, the role of modern technology also means people can circumvent not only traditional state controls but also contrived information. This is evident with General Sir David Richards’ summary of technology where he argues modern communications “are way beyond the state’s ability to control without threatening all the other functions of that state.” However, this works on both feet and allows governments to wield a certain degree of autonomy in the use of modern media processes. Therefore, as David Kilcullen argues, the ends and means of developing sources of information have a paucity that makes it very hard to distinguish origins or accuracy.

A government message is thus now instantly input into the media and the subsequent outlets play a significant role in shaping how it is defined. If terrorism is put through these many different communication filters, the outcome is a kaleidoscopic mesh of compounding definitions. They are connected to public opinion, leader personality and the usual platitudes around foreign policy. John Horgan therefore argues, to assess terrorism in its definitional entirety; a movement away from the media process is vital. However, with governments increasingly using the term in its haziest context and media being completely associated with political issues, this arguably is not possible and subsequently affects coming to terms with a definition of terrorism.

Conclusion

To conclude, this essay has focused on a very selective variety of sources and is not by any means conclusive in bringing the definitional debate to a finish line. It has specifically focused on the US government’s role due to its unique place in combating terror and an investigation into other nations could lead to a very different argument. However, misinformation imposed by any government can arguably filter down into everyday life and is further exacerbated by the role of modern communications. This ultimately gives a larger footprint and further muddies the water in trying to come to terms with an accurate definition of terrorism.

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Photo Credit: bixentro

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Cristina Fernández de Kirchner Has It All Wrong

Today the Guardian published an open letter by Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, urging UK Prime Minister David Cameron to recommence talks for the handover of the Falkland Islands, which she refers to as Las Malvinas. This brief correspondence, timed to appear as an advertisement in the Guardian’s print edition (p. 25) on the 180-year anniversary of the re-establishment of British rule on the islands, rehashes tired accusations of continued colonialism but fails to mention either sovereignty or self-determination.

She props her claim upon 48-year old UN Resolution 2065, waving it as a flag of transnational support for Argentina’s claim. However, this rather old but well-meant resolution, like most UN edicts, doesn’t say much at all except to promote talks in the hope of calming the waters. Being seen to say something, whilst not saying anything of great import. The letter even copies in Ban Ki-Moon, the secretary-general of the UN. On the sovereignty question, the UN Resolution that Kirchner is clinging to like a deflating buoy explicitly states that these discussion and both governments must take into consideration “the interests of the population of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)”. It seems the UK is alone in this particular concern.

This 212-word piece of showmanship highlights that Kirchner is clearly not insensible to the impending referendum on March 10th-11th 2013 in which the 3000-strong population of the Falklands will decide their own fate, despite Argentina’s unwillingness to recognise its validity. In between spiky remarks on the geographic distance between the Falklands and the UK (8700 miles), Kirchner fails to recognise a point made by many others in the past including myself, its not so much geographic distance as cultural difference that often matters most, and in that regard, Argentina couldn’t be further away from the islanders.

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Photo credit: Expectativa Online

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Marriage Equality & The Government’s ‘Legislative Boot’

By proposing to implement this restriction on the Church of England and Wales, the government risks alienating those religious people in favour of equal marriage and provides further ammunition for its opponents, many of whom now claim that legislative developments on the issue have appeared muddled and erratic.

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Responding to government proposals on the implementation of marriage equality earlier this week, Conservative MP Richard Drax stated in the House of Commons, ‘I would like to ask the Secretary of State and the government what right have they got, other than arrogance and intolerance, to stamp their legislative boot on religious faith?’ It is in an attempt to safeguard religious institutions from legislative intolerance that the government made its announcement this week that the Church of England will be prohibited from performing same-sex marriages should they be introduced.

Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, explained the policy in Parliament, stating, ‘European law already puts religious freedoms beyond doubt, and we will go even further by bringing in an additional “quadruple legal lock”. But it is also a key aspect of religious freedom that those bodies who want to opt in should be able to do so.’ Despite this mention of the opt-in, one of the four parts of the ‘quadruple legal lock’ includes legislation explicitly preventing the Church of England from carrying out same-sex marriages. This threatens to inhibit rather than ensure religious freedom for religious institutions wishing to marry same-sex couples and risks alienating religious individuals in favour of equal marriage.

It would seem that the government has failed to distinguish the many shades of difference of opinion within the Church of England and in Wales on the issue of equal marriage. The assumption that same-sex marriage is necessarily oppressive to religious groups as though they are a monolithic whole can be dispelled by looking at both the Church of England and the Church in Wales, prominent members of which have expressed disappointment in the last week over the government’s announcement.

The Bishop of Leicester, Tim Stevens, as well as a spokesperson for the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, have both criticised the apparent lack of consultation regarding the ‘quadruple legal lock’. But in her address to Parliament, Maria Miller said, ‘Because the Church of England and Wales have explicitly stated that they do not wish to conduct same-sex marriages, the legislation will explicitly state that it would be illegal for the Churches of England and Wales to marry same-sex couples.’

Even if prominent figures within either Church had indeed articulated this ‘explicit’ opposition to equal marriage during the consultation period, Miller’s reasoning for the plans seems too simplistic, not only in light of the variety of views on equal marriage among religious individuals but also given its many proponents within the Conservative Party itself. Just last week, the Telegraph reported on a group organised by key Conservatives including London Mayor Boris Johnson and Education Secretary Michael Gove in support of same-sex marriage within religious institutions. Prime Minister David Cameron has also announced that he favoured equal marriage within the Church.

These complications are making it easier for outright opponents of marriage equality, such as those within the Catholic Church, to more easily undermine the government’s progress on the issue. In response to Miller’s announcement, a statement released by the the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said that the government’s approach ‘can only be described as shambolic’ and went on to complain that, ‘There was no electoral mandate in any manifesto; no mention in the Queen’s speech; no serious or thorough consultation through a Green or White paper, and a constant shifting of policy before even the government response to the consultation was published today.’ Arguably, the response among outright opponents of equal marriage was always going to be negative, but confusion over the legal impact on religious institutions widens the scope for further criticism and doubt over the government’s competence over the issue.

By proposing to implement this restriction on the Church of England and Wales, the government risks alienating those religious people in favour of equal marriage and provides further ammunition for its opponents, many of whom now claim that legislative developments on the issue have appeared muddled and erratic. In an attempt to prevent equal marriage from being forced upon religious institutions, the government now suggests that the Church should be forced to turn same-sex couples away. Religious believers who support equal marriage may now be inclined to ask of their government, ‘What right have they got to stamp their legislative boot on religious faith?’

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Photo credit: renaissancechambara

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The Second Amendment: An Outdated, Ideological Fallacy

This is not about rationality: arguments against gun control are almost entirely constructed and founded on their ideological underpinnings. And as with any devout ideologue, the wider picture and the resultant implications are willfully and purposefully ignored.

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This piece was co-authored by Peter Kelly.

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Anthony Machinski’s recent piece on TRS – “Gun Control: You Can’t Test Irresponsibility” – is, at best, the work of an individual firmly fixated on trying to make reality look like a world in which the Second Amendment is still relevant. At worst, it is one so dedicated to this fantasy as to have dangerous illusions as to the continued relevance of an armed militia concerned with resisting a tyrannous federal government. For that was the purpose and reasoning leading to the Second Amendment.

Machinski’s arguments are based on statistics, but these are either incorrect, invalid, or irrelevant to the matter at hand. Like Machinski we wish to take a moment to remember the lives devastated by this tragedy, however to do so without seeking ways to stop this trend towards such tragedies is a fatal mistake.

If we do not look at the underlying and facilitating factors to Columbine-esque shootings such events will continue to feature: is the post-revolutionary right to bear arms really worth the continuous killings of so many children?

Firstly however, we would like to address some incorrect claims made in the Machinski piece.

1) People will always be able to “get their hands on whatever item they want if they so choose”

Machinski chooses to exemplify this with reference to prohibition and the failure of legislation to tackle drug abuse. These are wholly illegitimate comparisons.

Firstly, there is a huge difference in intent.

The intent of someone who drank alcohol during prohibition was not to be able to maim or kill. Similarly, for one who is recreationally taking illegal drugs the intent is to enjoy themselves.

Irrespective of our respective views on the use of recreational drugs, it is readily apparent that for the vast majority of users the intent is not to commit any violence. With guns, the sourcing of a weapon is for the sole purpose of being able to maim at some point in the future, even if this is under the guise of defence.

Secondly, and more applicably, most killers lack the connections or experience to get hold of illegal weapons (as opposed to gang members).

Reductio ad absurdum: why don’t we just give all mentally unfit persons a firearm? According to Machinksi they are going to get them anyway.

2) The UK “has problems with school shootings”

The factual inaccuracy here is startling. A simple Wikipedia search would have displayed to the author that the only school shooting in the UK in living memory was the Dunblane massacre of 1996.

The Cumbria shootings of 2010 had nothing whatsoever to do with schools or children – as proven by virtue of the fact that all victims were over the age of twenty three. We can further consider that the only other major gun massacre in the UK (again, in living memory) was that which occurred in Hungerford in 1987. Again, nothing to do with a school.

Thus, of the three mass shootings in the last three decades in the UK, only one has taken place in a school.

3) In “no way, shape, or form would gun control laws have helped prevent this tragedy”

Firstly, should the type of guns permitted to be licensed be lower down the “ease-of-use” scale it is highly unlikely that this tragedy would have been as extreme as it is; had the shooter’s only weapon been a handgun it is doubtful that the casualty count would be so high.

The weapon he used was akin to the M16 (as employed by the U.S. Army). Its efficacy in lethality is demonstrated by the short time-frame of the killing spree (the killer shot himself less than ten minutes after the first shot was fired, just as the first police officer entered the school). Less efficient legal weapons would likely result in less deaths per mass killing.

Secondly, legal weapons have been used in approximately seventy five per cent of the sixty two mass killings in America since 1982, thus demonstrating the complete failure of the American licensed weapons system.

A more holistic attempt at ensuring that active weapons do not get into the wrong hands – a greater degree of federal specificity over how guns are stored; the enforced separation of gun from ammunition in storage; the ineligibility of those living with person(s) with mental health issues to possess a weapon, etc. – would indubitably result in less legal weapons being used for illegal purposes.

Such restrictions – gun control laws – would likely have limited (if not put a stop to) this mass murder.

We must also consider arguments which frame the fight against the Second Amendment; this is a debate which cannot be won solely on the defensive.

Outdated

The Second Amendment is archaic and belongs to the time of slavery and the looming threat of the British Empire. In short, a time well before the U.S. could truly have been called a democracy. Now, when federal government depends on votes to remain in power, votes are the weapons every household needs.

There is no need for every man to wield a weapon to warn off a federal army which has its hands tied controlling Afghanistan, let alone the three hundred and ten million citizens of the United States – even were they completely unarmed. Besides which, where is the organised militia such armed citizenry are supposed to belong to?

The Second Amendment is a disastrous carry-on from a past era. The eighteenth century solution (to eighteenth century issues which no longer exist) has created a twenty-first century problem.

The Statistics

The homicide by firearm rate in the U.S. is completely disproportionate to its position as a Western nation. It is only bested by developing countries and the nearest developed countries to it are Liechtenstein and Switzerland (also low gun-restriction countries).

The disproportion is by a rather telling factor of four.

One can point to all kinds of different mitigating statistics to this, but the inescapable line is that lax gun laws equal more gun murders in developed states. In the United States, unless you were to insult the entire populace with the assumption that they are more homicidal than average, a factor of four is simply too large of a difference to be challenged.

Bringing the United Kingdom in hardly helps the case – it has a gun-related homicide rate of approximately forty times smaller. The rate of gun crime has halved in the years since stricter gun laws were enforced and cannot be attributed to a culture of less crime, as the United Kingdom has a slightly higher crime rate.

It also rubbishes the claim that those without guns will find other means, as despite the higher crime rate the UK’s homicide rate is significantly smaller than that of the US, 1.2 per 100,000 against 4.2 respectively.

Conclusion

The fact of the matter is that the strength of the argument for gun control is all but irrelevant. As Sam Leith, writing in today’s Evening Standard, argues, “the issue in the US is a dialogue of the deaf because it’s about identity politics, not harm reduction”. The Second Amendment equates the gun to freedom, and as we are aware, freedom is a big word.

This is not about rationality: arguments against gun control are almost entirely constructed and founded on their ideological underpinnings. And as with any devout ideologue, the wider picture and the resultant implications are willfully and purposefully ignored.

Resultantly debate on this matter is nothing but a formality. No matter how much the facts stack up on one side, votes will be matched along these lines of identity, not of rationality. What needs to change is what “freedom” really means: that we should be looking upon it as freedom from death and suffering, not freedom to wield a weapon of your choice to cause it.

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This piece was co-authored by Peter Kelly.

Peter holds an MSc in International Security from the University of Bristol and a BA in Philosophy and Politics from Durham University. His focus is on security and conflict issues in the western world, Middle East and Africa. He runs the site A Third Opinion.

Photo credit:  Jenn Durfey

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The Collapse Of The War On Drugs

Trillions spent, hundreds of thousands of lives lost. For what?
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Oil prices are recorded and analysed on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Food prices ignite riots and drive revolutions. However what of the world’s third largest valued industry: drugs? There is no place to look up the average price of a gram of methamphetamine (the best indicator of supply and demand) nor the analysis which characterises the oil industry and makes it such a good indicator of world economic health and regional stability. Drugs may be the most important topic to ever be abandoned by world analysts and the war in drugs the most expensive conflict ever to go unquestioned by the populations who pay dearly for it.
This may, finally, be changing. On December 10th the British House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, one of the most influential groups in the UK, revealed a damning verdict on the world War on Drugs’ failure and the cost of that failure. Just like the several reports such committees have produced for years, criminalisation of drug users and the campaigns to shut down the world’s third most valuable industry was savaged by the use of a real look into these policies.
This is not the first time British drug policy has been questioned. Opposition to present policies have been growing for over two decades. Tension between the British government and the swelling numbers of scientists, advisers and select committees grew to a head in 2009 with the David Nutt controversy.
Nutt is and was a respected expert in drug policy who served for British drug committees for years before the 2009 clash. In 2008 he was appointed as Chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. In 2009 he created a double controversy which resulted in his being sacked later in the year. In the first instance he compared the dangers of taking ecstasy to horse riding, finding horse riding thirty times more dangerous. His attempt to underline the almost arbitrary attack on drugs as a dangerous form of recreational activity caused uproar almost the British establishment and the ire of the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith. Nutt followed this up with the publication of a lecture re-classifying drugs according to scientific classification of physical dependence, physical harm and social harm. The results embarrassed the British government, showing their policies to be completely undefendable, especially when driven home with statements like “the obscenity of hunting down low-level cannabis users to protect them is beyond absurd”.

The result? Not policy overhaul, but the sacking and public mauling of Nutt as a man who had overstepped his remit as a drug policy adviser who dared question government policy whilst in office. The entire episode ruined the British government’s reputation on drug policy and began the push towards deregulation. This year the controversy emerged again in the form of the first television investigation of ecstasy in Channel 4′s Drugs Trial. The mauling of pro-government Andy Parrott in the show underlined how dramatically the tide is swinging away from the government prohibition-style policies.

The main obstacle is the developed world’s most powerful voting demographic, the over-55s. In the last few decades the only remaining group to have grown up before the huge liberalisation of the 1960s has grown disproportionately large, hoarded huge amounts of the national wealth and completely dominated the electoral polls. Despite the over-65s making up only 15% of the population they take up 25% of the votes in Britain and the over-55s seize almost half the votes alone. This disproportionately rich and influential group also leads the opposition to gay rights, voting and constitutional reform, and medical policy changes such as abortion, euthanasia and stem cell research. However it is also a shrinking demographic, one which halves every two decades to be replaced by generations who grew up in a more liberal period than their predecessors.

This demographic swing is emboldening reform-minded politicians who will always require support from the over-55s to enter office. British PM David Cameron spoke out against government drug policy in his first year in office and the Liberal Democrats have drug policy reform as one of their top priorities. Nor is this a British-centric shift. The War on Drugs is a world issue and one which is facing collapse in many countries. This week the US state of Washington became the first to decriminalise cannabis and Colorado will soon follow, flouting federal laws in doing so. Amsterdam in the Netherlands struck down a new law which would have closed its own drug freedoms to visitors from other countries. Portugal continues to report the huge successes of its own blanket decriminalisation and other countries are beginning to notice.

Many underestimate just how huge the cost this collapsing war has levied on its participants. Thousands of criminalised youths and trillions spent by demand countries, with over one million incarcerated in the US for a cost of $1 trillion in that country alone. The US could save or make up to $80 billion from decriminalising and taxing presently illegal drugs. Thousands dead in distribution countries, with up to 100,000 dead in Mexico alone since the beginning of the US-backed drug cartel crackdown and no signs of success, a figure equal to that of the entire Iraq conflict and significantly higher than Afghanistan. Civil war and devastation in countries of supply such as Afghanistan and Columbia where the drugs fuel militant movements and finance the even more dangerous trade of guns.

Trillions spent, hundreds of thousands of lives lost. For what? Drug policies which over the last decade have been mauled by dozens of experts from science and politics, levying a price voting populations have no idea they are paying. The taboo of taking a critical look at the world’s third most valuable industry and its most expensive conflict is finally being broken to reveal policy based more on ignorant hardheadedness and fear of the tabloid press than any true grasp of the war they are even trying to fight. The momentum is swinging away from prohibition and towards David Nutt, and he may yet get to have the last laugh in the collapse of the War on Drugs.

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Photo Credit: NYC-Metro Card

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The Episcopal Question: The Role Of Women In The Church

The nature of the Church’s enduring internal disagreement is the consequence of a belief, perhaps now held only among a few extremists, that an omnipotent authority has made demands of the sexes and that to ignore his will is to invite punishment.

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The General Synod’s failure to grant women the right to episcopal equality in November has ensured that the long-debated issue over women bishops will remain vociferously debated among believers for years to come. The problem is considerably important, not only to the faithful but also to British politics and society, in a number of ways. Firstly, as Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society has argued, the Synod’s vote is further evidence that the Church of England is not an appropriate political mechanism with which the state should be constitutionally intertwined. Sanderson highlights that denying the privileges and opportunities associated with the Church according to gender – a public institution – is a policy incompatible with the British government and its laws. However, secularists must be cautious before rushing to criticise the Church as a whole for the failures of its evangelical minority.

The Houses of Bishops and Clergy overwhelmingly approved consecration rights for women, while the House of Laity was short of the two-thirds majority required by six votes. While there is some considerable conflict between the evangelical and moderate wings of the House of Laity, it is appropriate to say that the Church as a whole has decided to support women in their pursuit of episcopal equality. Indeed, figures in the church have grown increasingly critical of the Synod’s voting system in light of the influence such a small opposition seems to have had on the result of the vote. In this case, it would seem that the theology and faith of a minority within the church has acted as a barrier to the wishes of the majority, in detriment to the pursuit of wider well-being for the believing community. This presents a fundamental problem for religious institutions that must be dealt with honestly and soon. Secular institutions have no divine mandate to separate men from women or to promote men above women, but the minority of evangelicals opposed to episcopal equality insist on deferring to God, who has apparently decided that each gender must have ‘different roles’ in the Church as in society. It is this deference that has prevented women from enjoying the same opportunities as men within the Church.

The struggle for equal rights in the Church serves as a reminder that religious belief is no guarantee of moral superiority or social foundation, precisely because of residual traditionalism and the sway still afforded to hardliners. The suggestion by Eric Pickles that we should ‘embrace the religious character of our nation’ – both that of the Church of England and of Catholicism – cannot be taken seriously when the Church’s long struggle to grant equality to its own members is kept in mind. Moreover, the wider hypocrisy of Christianity’s claims to moral authority is reinforced whenever we hear of some or other cleric’s spiteful remarks about homosexuality and marriage equality. Some may argue that opponents of equal marriage and episcopal equality take their positions for moral or spiritually important reasons, but who can measure the pain and frustration caused by these remarks and the petulant obstructionism than accompanies them? Are we really to say that these enduring struggles are evidence of a divinely inspired belief system?

Justin Welby, the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, expressed his dismay following the House of Laity’s decision, tweeting, ‘Very grim day, most of all for women priests and supporters, need to surround all with prayer & love and co-operate with our healing God.’ These remarks mean well, but they highlight a lack of understanding as to the fundamental conflict between secular equality and religious privilege. If those in favour of episcopal equality are to eventually triumph in this particular struggle, they must speak honestly about how the debate emerged in the first place. The nature of the Church’s enduring internal disagreement is the consequence of a belief, perhaps now held only among a few extremists, that an omnipotent authority has made demands of the sexes and that to ignore his will is to invite punishment. Secular institutions are unshackled by such beliefs and can make moral decisions based on human compassion without heavenly guidance. Given the largely male-dominated focus of religious doctrine and the kinds of authority it prescribes, it is no coincidence that religious institutions such as the Church of England are forced to grapple as they have with the prospect of powerful women.

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Photo credit: Alan Stanton