The social networks and relationships we cultivate have more to do with our happiness and health than we may have realised. Feelings of loss, isolation, and distress have not been uncommon over the past year. For those living alone and those living in family homes alike, the pandemic has taken a toll on our collective mental health. With about 40% of US adults reporting to have struggled with depression and anxiety during the pandemic, we are recognising that lack of human connection and a state of social isolation pose a real threat to our mental wellbeing. However, minimal social interaction and a lack of close, personal relationships pose a threat to more than just our mental health – they also threaten our physical safety.
Social capital – our personal safety net
Social capital refers to the relationships, networks, and connections that we can call on as our supports. Through our social capital we gain access to information and resources, ranging from the emotional to the practical. We can make use of our social capital in many ways, from venting about the pressures at work to a friend, to asking a neighbour for a boost when your car battery dies. In more dire situations, our social capital can be the difference between having someone whose house you can stay at while your heating is out, or risking hypothermia by suffering through cold nights in the dead of winter.
With a large majority of the American middle class essentially living paycheck to paycheck, an emergency would push many people into the red. Money does indeed equate to power; it gives us access to resources and the peace of mind that should things go wrong, we have a safety net to fall back on. Disparity between the resilience of the well-off and the financially unstable becomes highly evident in times of disaster. Thinking back to the California forest fires of 2018, many wealthy neighbourhoods escaped devastation and ruin thanks to the work of private firefighting services. Access to this life-saving service is offered by certain insurance companies to policyholders of properties valued at over $1 million. More recently, as Covid-19 devastates India at record rates, the wealthy are escaping the country through last-minute flights on private jets.
So what is one to do when you don’t necessarily possess the most robust rainy day fund? This is where the benefits afforded by high social capital become evident, and even life-saving.
Harnessing the power of social capital
Community organisations are a major resource that hold great potential for deepening social capital and increasing efforts toward recovery after major disruption. Civic engagement and involvement in the community often affords us with information and connections that strengthen our capacity, should we face tough times. In the case of the 2016 Virginia floods, faith-based organisations in particular spurred rebuilding efforts beyond what communities could do with federal assistance alone, getting much of the community back on its feet.
Severe floods in the summer of 2016 caused unprecedented damage in the state of West Virginia. The disaster was considered a thousand-year rainfall event. It was estimated that 125 businesses and 1,500 homes were destroyed, and another 4,000 homes were damaged. Given that the floods took place in a community that had already been experiencing various social and economic crises in the recent past (including widespread poverty, environmental degradation, and being a hotspot for the opioid crisis), the damage done was more than physical – the floods were a blow to the social fabric of the community as well.
Inadequate social supports, coupled with convoluted government policy that created barriers to access of recovery resources meant that many community members relied heavily on faith-based organisations. These groups served to meet the needs of those who were unable to access, or were deemed ineligible for the support they required to get back on their feet. From providing mental health support, to providing information to disaster victims, to donating direct assistance and labour, faith based community groups filled in the gaps that enabled community members to return to functioning state. This is the power of high community social capital.
Identifying gaps in the safety net
Our personal networks and relationships hold such great potential in ensuring our health, happiness, and safety. It becomes even more critical then, for us to reach out and stay connected with those who may face restrictions in their ability to cultivate relationships in the community. Seniors are growing increasingly isolated from their communities due to restrictions in mobility, chronic illness, and feelings of low self-efficacy. Those who are newcomers may not possess the access and resources to get involved in community groups, and those of varying abilities may be excluded from engagement due to barriers to accessibility. Indeed, building the bridges and bonds of social capital is critical to the health, safety, and prosperity of our communities. But this social safety net only works if it works for everyone. Otherwise, risk of isolation only grows for those excluded from the webs of connection and communication that we build every day.
All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.
Qatar’s migrant workers: A World Cup of exploitation?￼
As criticism mounts against the Qatar World Cup, AnalystNews spoke to Amnesty International about the place of human rights in global sporting tournaments.
Qatar is the first Muslim nation to host the World Cup. But what’s made it the focus of headlines everywhere is not the title that could bring this small Arab country onto the world stage. Instead, accusations of labour exploitation and a disenfranchisement of the mosr basic of human rights through an Islamophobic lens, mires its reputation in the global eye.
Its migrant abuse can hardly be overlooked. Behind a curtain of reforms, infernal working conditions, long hours and little pay, are an everyday reality to the thousands of foreign workers who travel across the continents of Asia and Africa, in search of work and a slightly better life to the one they know.
Qatar’s migrant labour exploitation
85% of Qatar’s 3 million population is made up of foreign workers. Of those, 30, 000 built its eight World Cup stadiums. For a country like Qatar, which is expected to record a GDP of US $195. 000 by the end of 2022, the approximately 6, 500 – 15, 000 deaths that allegedly occurred in the decade before the World Cup (although not all related to it) leaves a grim picture.
Yet, the same could be said of the UK, which hosted the 2012 Olympics amid controversy over its partnership with Dow Chemical and its allegedly unpaid liabilities to the victims of the 1984 Bhopal Crisis. The same could be said of this year’s Winter Olympics in China, which happened despite evidence of its grave human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims. The same could be said away from the spotlight of major tournaments, in the tangles of the UK’s legal system, where allusions to Qatar’s Kafala system are found. A change in its Overseas Domestic Workers Visa Scheme in April 2012 inextricably bound domestic migrant workers to their employers, an apparent step to clamp down on its misuse, but a delve into data revealed few such cases existed.
“Unfortunately, human rights are not always at the heart of decisions.”Amnesty International
When no state’s hands are clean, sounding a thunderous horn for one country casts doubt on whether all of the uproar is ever for the victims. Analyst News put that question to Amnesty International’s Ella Knight, a migrants’ labour rights researcher.
In the years leading up to the World Cup, the Qatari government has been making strides in establishing legislation to protect its foreign workers. The United Nations’ International Labour Organisation (ILO) and Qatar signed an agreement in 2017, aiming to reform the Kafala (or sponsorship) system by promising migrant workers better access to justice apparatuses. It ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, not without objections relating to its internal laws, however. It introduced the Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund in 2020, and the Supreme Committee Universal Reimbursement Scheme started in 2020. In 2019, the government abolished the ‘exit permit’ requirement for migrant workers, who, by law, no longer needed to seek permission from their employers to leave the country. By 2020, Qatar dismantled the Kafala system. But a backdoor one remains.
“On paper, the laws are much better than they were. Problematic parts of the Kafala sponsorship system have been dismantled,” Knight tells us. “But in practice, many legal loopholes remain and the government is just simply not enforcing those laws effectively enough. So, the employers continue to have vast control over their migrant workforce. They will have difficulties changing jobs.”
But FIFA, whose former president, Sepp Blatter labelled his decision to award the hosting title to Qatar in December 2010, a “big mistake”, is complicit in the troubles the construction workers in Qatar are faced with.
Knight adds: ““FIFA is an international business effectively, it’s bound by international standards on human rights. But it’s not always the main consideration and unfortunately, when we saw Qatar being awarded the right to host the World Cup, FIFA didn’t take into consideration human rights when it did that awarding it didn’t place any demands on Qatar to reform its labour system or to better protect the workers that would be integral to building it. And there have been lots of missed opportunities. Unfortunately, human rights are not always at the heart of decisions and of the pressure that organisations and countries decide to bear on Qatar.”
She highlights neither were those human rights taken into account when it handed the Club World Cup hosting title to China. In 2019, FIFA said it was not its “mission” to “solve the problems of the world”. The tournament went ahead in 2021 but without the magnitude of criticism that Qatar has garnered. In Qatar’s case, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the national body which oversees this year’s games, gives additional protections only to 28, 000 of its migrant workers, making up less than 1.5% of its total migrant population. It excludes workers who built transport and accommodation infrastructure, as well as those working in its hospitality sector.
““FIFA should be using these human rights criteria in every tournament It hosts or it awards to host countries. It has committed to do so and at the minute it’s not been fulfilling its own policies,” she adds.
But the problems extend beyond both Fifa and Qatar, in the global reaction to migrant rights. Reports emerged that hundreds of construction workers died whilst constructing Russia’s $48 billion Fisht Stadium for its 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. Between 2010 and 2015, almost 18, 000 Uzbeks, and Human Rights Watch noted their dire working conditions, which were in breach of national and international law.
Double standards around the world
Qatar’s human rights record cannot be galvanised, as Knight remarks:
“What we have to look at is that in Qatar and some of the other Gulf countries, the vast majority of the migrant workforce is migrant workers and so the mere hosting of the tournament in Qatar was going to rely absolutely on these workers who were coming to the country and being encouraged to come to the country while there was a very exploitative labour system.”
But where Qatar is taking steps to improve its migrant workers’ circumstances, distortion of facts is unhelpful. Qatar’s Labour Minister Ali bin Saeed bin Samikh Al Marri criticised the “competition” brewing in calculating the death toll of World Cup construction workers, and insisted official figures from the ILO are quoted. No one denies those deaths, but the widely misreported 6, 500 and 15, 021 death figures do not all link to the World Cup. The former, reported by British newspaper, The Guardian, stems from statistics obtained from the governments of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, where many of Qatar’s migrant workers are from. The latter is a reference to the number of foreigners who died in Qatar in a ten-year period.
Compared to the UK’s 2012 Olympic record of no reported deaths, it seems worse. But for those games, foreign workers made up nearly half of the 46, 000 workers, the London Olympic Delivery Authority said. And as early as 2008, human rights groups like Amnesty International were raising concerns that London construction workers, 40% of whom come from Central and Eastern Europe, were exposed to abusive recruitment agencies, being offered low wages for working excessive hours. Even today, where Qatar’s non-discriminatory minimum wage is criticised for being set too low, at QR1000 (equivalent to US $275), an investigation by the UK newspaper, The Mirror, found Thai factory workers who made England’s £155 shirts for the World Cup were paid only £1 an hour.
It leaves one question – is the measure of abuse, death?
“If similar abuses were found in connection with the hosting in other countries, then I would hope that it would also get significant international coverage and that pressure would come to bear to improve that human rights situation,” Knight adds.
Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani condemned the double standards of Western nations: “There is a lot of hypocrisy in these attacks, which ignore all that we have achieved.” On rumours that many people would boycott the tournament, he goes on: “Among the ten countries that bought the most tickets, we find European countries like France.”
Those double standards go far back. Today, Qatar might be a repressive state, but British imperialism has a hand in it. Used as a protectorate against France and the Ottoman Empire, the British trained its military, pooled in money and made use of its oil reserves. It left Qatar in 1970, but remnants remain.
The UK’s Department for International Trade reported British companies had profited £940 million in the World Cup, with a projection of another £1.5 million before it started. It isn’t alone. China, which hasn’t sent a team to compete in it, has invested $1. 395 billion.
“When you talk about blaming a company, I would say, rather than focusing on what other countries might do or what might be said in other countries, Amnesty would urge the government to hold those companies to account because until the companies are effectively penalised for treating their migrant workers badly and exploiting them, then, there’s no reason for these abuses to stop. So, of course, Qatar has got a lot of media attention, particularly in the last year. But, that’s not a reason to shy away from doing what is needed for migrant workers and protecting them,” says Knight.
What does the future hold for migrant workers?
Max Tuñón, head of Qatar’s ILO Project office, highlighted the World Cup had “accelerated the labour reforms”, and anecdotes of improved lives exist. Amnesty International, which hadn’t called for a boycott, acknowledges this. But will the world learn?
She emphasises the need for sustained international attention: “Amnesty International will continue pushing for reforms, because there has been some progress and we see that there is an opportunity for the government to push this through and make it really meaningful for all the migrant workers in the country. But, of course, international media and international sports media may well move on,” says Knight.
She adds: “But I think what is important to say is that even though the construction of the infrastructure that’s needed for the tournament might be finished, on the 18th of December, most people disappear. There are 1000s of migrant workers who over the years have never been remedied for the abuse they’ve suffered, they’ve never received compensation but unpaid wages, or those migrant workers who have died unexplained deaths in the country. Their families have never been offered the chance of remedy. And so yes, the tournament might be done, but there is a legacy of abuse that must be remedied and so we and we hope others will continue to push both Qatar and FIFA until they commit to effectively compensating all of those who have suffered abuse over the last 12 years or more.”
Yet, already history might repeat itself. The next World Cup hosts, USA, Canada and Mexico, have themselves exploited marginalised peoples. The 2028 Olympics might be held in Dubai, which still has the Kafala System – one might wonder, is this awful foresight or a blind eye to abuse that does not come cladded in advantages?
Qatar has a long way to go, but when the cameras close, and the spotlight turns off, accusations of sports washing painted with Islamophobia, and migrant abuse may well disappear. Because not just in Qatar, not far from our own front doors, a similar story is heard. As FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, puts it: “For what we have been doing for 3,000 years around the world, we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before giving moral lessons.”
All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.
Every major sporting tournament is controversial, so why single out Qatar?￼
The months leading up to the FIFA World Cup have been filled with many accusations and controversies for Qatar, this year’s host country. But when looking at other major sporting events, many of them are controversial too, so why single out Qatar?
The months leading up to the FIFA World Cup have been filled with many accusations and controversies for Qatar, this year’s host country. But when looking at other major sporting events, many of them are controversial too, so why single out Qatar? Previous hosts of FIFA tournaments, such as the Euros, Copa América or the World Cup have also faced similar criticisms.
Russia, which hosted the 2018 World Cup, like Qatar, has also been condemned for its treatment of people from the LGBT community. The detention of 100 gay men in concentration camp-style prisons in 2017 in the region of Chechnya for example, caused many people to censure and question Russia’s role as host. While LGBT rights do exist in Russia and gay-marriage was allowed until 2020, majority Russian opinion generally appears to be anti-gay rights. A study from 2013 showed that 74% of the Russian population thought that homosexuality shouldn’t be accepted by society and that only 5% favoured same-sex marriage in Russia in 2017.
The annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 also caused much uproar. Former US-Senator Daniel Coats responded to the annexation by saying: ‘Since Russia has similarly displayed a brazen disrespect for fundamental principles of FIFA and international law, I hope you will agree that it does not deserve the honour of either hosting the World Cup or participating in one.’ However, despite the allegations, there were very few calls for boycotting the event.
Brazil, which hosted the World Cup in 2014, also faced accusations. Before the World Cup started, Brazil authorities were already being criticised for using public money for building stadiums for the World Cup. Many of the protests which took place because of this, were met with police brutality. Like Qatar, there were also allegations regarding abuse of workers after 12 workers died during the construction of World Cup stadiums.
Other sporting events have not been without controversy. The Winter Olympics held earlier this year in Beijing, caused critics to highlight China’s human rights abuses notably the genocide of Uyghur Muslims and the 2019/2020 Hong Kong protests, which resulted in thousands of detentions and prosecutions. Britain along with the US and other countries implemented a diplomatic boycott as a result. Swedish skater Nils van der Poel criticised the host country and said: ‘I think it is extremely irresponsible to give it [the Olympics] to a country that violates human rights as blatantly as the Chinese regime is doing.’ Compared to other sporting events, the 2022 Winter Olympic Games were perhaps the games that were criticised the most.
However, some have pointed out the double standards when certain other countries which also have questionable human rights records, are allowed a free pass. France for instance, has never faced any serious accusations or calls for boycott, even though it has a problematic colonial history in the deaths and exploitation of millions especially in African countries. Even trampling on women’s rights when they imposed the full-face veil ban in public in 2011 was not enough to prevent France hosting the Euros in 2016, with barely a ripple of protest in Western nations..
Meanwhile England with a similar imperialist background, is currently being pulled up by some observers on social media for their alleged hypocrisy regarding their team kit. Costing £115 for fans, England World Cup shirts were reportedly made by Thai workers in sweatshops paying a measly £1 an hour for their work. ‘England football team wearing shirts made by Thai factory workers who are paid £1 an hour. What happened to human rights then? Or migrant rights? Hypocrisy.’ said a Twitter user. Whilst another made the point: “…Didn’t they [England] say they care about workers’ rights? I’m not saying abuse doesn’t happen against migrant workers in the Arab Gulf countries, but let’s not pretend that the West are any better!”
Perhaps it’s because of this selective outrage, that people are calling out those who are critical of Qatar. British commentator Piers Morgan recently tweeted, “Sportswriters venting their morally outraged spleens about the World Cup being held in Qatar – but not a censorious peep about the F1 Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi this weekend. The sports-washing debate is not just hypocritical, it’s laced with inconsistent virtue-signalling.” The United Arab Emirates hosted the final of the 2022 Formula One Championship race, but even though Qatari and Emirati laws are similar, only Qatar has been heavily criticised for its values out of the two. A Twitter user shared similar views and said: ‘Sky Sports News ramping up criticism of Qatar for the treatment of migrant workers and LGBT community but don’t seem so forthright when covering the F1 in Abu Dhabi. Once again picking and choosing their moral outrage.’ Is it possible for media onlookers to focus on the football for the remainder of the Qatar World Cup 2022?
Despite the criticism and calls for a boycott, the World Cup has been a success in some countries so far. In the UK alone, 8 million viewers tuned in to the BBC to watch the opening match between Qatar and Ecuador. The audience rating for the third match, England versus Iran, was twice as high with 16 million Brits tuning in to watch the game on Monday. Fox also reported a 78% increase for the opening match, which was watched by 3.5 million fans, compared to only 1.7 million who watched the 2018 opening game. Already, the Qatar World Cup appears to have defied criticism. Whether that will be sustained or not, only time will tell.
All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.
Qatar, a host of World Cup controversies
Why is the Qatar World Cup so controversial?
The FIFA World Cup will begin in Qatar on November 20th. Lasting for four weeks, the eyes of the world will be on this small Arab nation. Qatar is the first Middle Eastern country to hold the football World Cup.
Instead of being a moment for celebration, it has brought a torrent of criticism, mainly from European countries, due to the laws in Qatar.
The criticism follows allegations of human rights abuse towards migrant workers who built the event’s large infrastructure. Its laws prohibiting homosexuality have also been scrutinised.
This has resulted in calls from human rights organisations, and public figures – including the former head of FIFA Sepp Blatter – and ordinary people from across the globe to boycott the event.
The Australian football team, despite still participating in the tournament, published a video condemning the human rights violations in Qatar. While Ukraine called for Iran to be disqualified from the tournament, due to their weapons supply to Russia.
But amid the backlash, there were reassurances from Qatar and those who reside there, that it is indeed a welcoming nation.
So, what’s the controversy all about?
There are reports that migrant workers, mainly from the Philippines, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh have been victims of inhumane treatment while building the stadium. Deaths from work-related accidents and squalid living conditions have been reported. Recently around 60 workers protested outside Al Bandary International Group in the capital of Qatar – Doha – against unpaid wages, however, most of them were deported. Since 2017, the country is trying to improve the condition of migrant workers but a Human Rights Watch report in 2020 said that the workers had still not been paid.
As a result, many countries are expecting that their players will make a political stance against alleged human rights abuse in Qatar. Already, many countries have taken a stance against the country. For example, Denmark will be wearing a playing kit with a plain red home shirt and an all-white second kit instead of their colourful uniform.
“We wish to make a statement about Qatar’s human rights record and its treatment of the migrant workers that have built the country’s World Cup stadiums,” said kit provider Himmel.
Similarly, Australia’s squad released a video statement that included 16 players asking Qatar to decriminalize same-sex relationships and remedy the migrant issue. England captain Harry Kane will wear a OneLove armband against the anti-homosexuality laws and this initiative is supported by Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Wales, and Switzerland.
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and it could result in a punishment of up to seven years in prison. According to a survey conducted by The Guardian, 62% of British people believe Qatar’s stance on gay rights alone should have been enough to prevent it from hosting the World Cup. Although, during the World Cup, Qatar will invite people of any sexuality, race, and gender. The visitors, however, are advised not to show any public affection or wear rainbow flag t-shirts and bands outside of the stadium.
There has also been controversy surrounding other laws in Qatar. Such as restrictions on public drinking, although visitors can drink inside the stadium, wearing clothes that reveal skin is also prohibited, especially thighs and shoulders.
Due to these reasons, France will not screen the matches in public places. But, at the same time, the French news outlet, Le Canard Enchaîné printed a racist image, in which players were depicted with knives and guns playing football.
As a response, FIFA’s leadership wrote a letter to World Cup teams that stated: “Please do not allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists.”
Adding, “At FIFA, we try to respect all opinions and beliefs, without handing out moral lessons to the rest of the world. One of the great strengths of the world is indeed its very diversity, and if inclusion means anything, it means having respect for that diversity.”
Earlier this year, when China conducted the Winter Olympics, there was a similar outcry due to human rights violations in the country. Mainly the country’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims and Beijing’s silencing of Peng Shuai, a Chinese tennis star who accused a government official of sexual assault. However, the Winter Olympics still took place there despite the controversies.
Being the host for a World Cup is a huge opportunity, as it opens doors to an influx of tourism, media coverage, and revenue for the country. Hosting the World Cup can improve the economy of the country, as well as its reputation.
Countries must participate in a bidding process to win the right to host the world cup, and the country with the most votes will ultimately win. The bidding process starts very early on, around seven to ten years before, so that the country can be prepared for the event.
The initial pool of bids is shortlisted if the county does not meet the infrastructure and commercial criteria. After that, a country is selected through a bidding and voting system.
There is a controversy regarding the selection of Qatar as well. When Qatar was selected, there was an investigation into possible fraud and money laundering by FIFA which resulted in several indictments as senior FIFA members admitted to accepting bribes. Therefore, it may be alleged that Qatar could have bribed FIFA members to get selected, but there is no proof of this.
Qatar is the first country to host the World Cup in November instead of in the middle of the year like previous World Cups. This is because the country is very hot during the middle of the year and gets cooler in November. So some players are upset as the schedule change has disrupted the training schedule of the footballers.
Despite all the controversies, Qatar is gearing up to host the World Cup. The governing body of the international tournament estimates that globally, five billion people will tune in, compared to the 3.5 billion people that tuned in during the 2018 games.
Aside from the controversies, politics, and venue, it still is a tournament to look forward to.
Make religious education in Northern Ireland more diverse, says UNESCO
A study by UNESCO Education Centre concluded that schools in Northern Ireland should scrap Christian influenced religious education and daily acts of collective worship and replace religiously segregated schools with those that are more religiously diverse.
AnalystNews spoke to Dr Matthew Milliken, the study’s author, to find out how he thinks a more religiously open and diverse education system could bring much needed change to students at Northern Ireland’s mainstream schools.
Dr Milliken says that the purpose of this study was “to present a vision on empirical and academic evidence of what an education system in Northern Ireland could look like.” A vision that recognises various failings of the system which includes completely disregarding the idea of teaching students the different types of beliefs that society currently has, and the impact this has had on children who may be part of a faith which differs from the traditional Northern Irish beliefs of Catholicism or Protestantism. The signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, which brought an end to thirty years of the Troubles, introduced a new devolved government where unionists and nationalists would share power. But the arrangement did little for the country’s education system.
Unionists who believe Northern Ireland should remain part of the UK are usually Protestants and nationalists who believe that Northern Ireland should become part of a United Ireland are mainly Catholic. As the power to govern is shared between the two sides, schools have become completely segregated and students have been left with only two choices: attend Catholic or state Protestant schools. More than twenty-four years after the agreement, a surprising 93% of students in Northern Ireland still attend segregated schools.
“They still go to schools that are dominated by a Catholic ethos, present a particular image of Irish culture and Irish identity or they attend schools that are influenced, if not controlled, by Protestant denominations and propagate a particularly British view of society,” explains Dr Milliken. Students in Northern Ireland are kept religiously segregated from as young as three to eighteen.
But it’s not only the students. Teachers, too, attend separate training colleges. Dr Milliken elaborates, “They then go into university or for the sake of teachers, into separate training colleges. There’s a separate training college for Catholic schools and there’s a separate training college for state schools. And those teachers can go through their entire career, from age 3 through all of their school, through all of their further education, to going straight back into the classroom without ever having sat alongside anybody of the other faith.”
It hasn’t gone uncontested. The need for greater religious awareness has been a growing matter, and it predates the Good Friday Agreement. “There is a small integrated education system that accounts for about 7% of the schools here. It started about 40 years ago against great opposition. It was strongly resisted by the churches in particular,” states Dr Milliken.
And resistance has persisted. In July this year, a high court judge ruled that exclusively Christian religious education was unlawful. It came following a legal challenge by a father and daughter whose lawyers argued that the syllabus taught at the seven-year-old’s controlled primary school, violated her educational rights as laid out in the European Convention on Human Rights.
Catholic schools in Northern Ireland prioritise a view of history from an Irish perspective, whilst their state-controlled Protestant counterparts learn the British version of history. This means that in a Catholic school, children learn the Irish language, focus on issues to do with Ireland, and understand British issues through an Irish lens. However, in a Protestant state-controlled school, children are more likely to learn a British version and understanding of history, which means learning history the same way it is taught in mainland British schools.
The influence this has on wider society may be profound. Everything is taught differently – from academic subjects to sports. So for example, a Protestant school normally has as part of its physical education curriculum rugby, cricket, and hockey, but in a Catholic school, sports closely allied with Irish national identity such as Gaelic football and hurling are played.
The issue “goes beyond religion” Dr Milliken says. “To simplify to religion doesn’t really help because at the core, both sides are Christian. However, the roots of that Christian-centric education system go right through the education system here.” Boards of education have representatives from the three Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church which are responsible for educational administration. And there are separate boards for the controlled state-side and the Catholic side.
To entrench matters further, places on the board of governors are protected. Dr Milliken told Analyst News: “A Catholic school is likely only to have Catholics sitting on the board of governors. A controlled-state school is likely only to have Protestants on that board, and Protestants only from three particular denominations. There are no protected places on any of them that management are governors or people from any other faith.” All schools are required to teach a religious syllabus that is laid down exclusively by those four Churches. Schools are “controlled, inspired, dominated by Christian thinking. And pupils do not have the opportunity to study what they refer to as World Religions: Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, until they reach post-primary level,” he says.
Even so, the way that Christianity is taught is intense; a Catholic primary school must have teachers who have undertaken an additional qualification that is solely approved by the Catholic Bishops, who then sanction whether they can teach the Catholic faith in line with the teachings of the Church. The Certificate in Religious Education is one of the many interlinked matters that have been identified as limiting opportunities for teachers in Northern Ireland to accessing employment outside of those schools associated with their own educational background and community identity. “That certificate is a large barrier to Protestant teachers getting a job in a Catholic school,” according to Dr Milliken but “there is time for change now.”.
From a human rights perspective, faith schooling is considered a key part of schools’ ethos. Children are entitled to skip religious education lessons if they follow different faiths but they usually end up sitting in the corridor on their own. And this is problematic as Dr Milliken explains. “They are being excluded. It’s one thing if they want to identify themselves and their difference in the class. But when they’re being excluded and identified as different by the system of education. That’s not a healthy way to be.”
The result is isolation and a feeling of victimhood. If a fair and open-minded religious curriculum was taught rather than “a lesson that propagated a particular worldview,” these children would feel much more comfortable explaining, sharing, and talking about their views and faith.
Dr Milliken told Analyst News that exploring religion would ultimately help them understand other people’s faith and their cultures: “I think there is a need to help young people, to find out right from wrong, to explore their values and belief systems. I think there’s an absolute need to help young people form their own ethical view of the world.”
It doesn’t help that certain topics are not broached. Dr Milliken says: “They don’t explore the issues of controversy that still affect this part of the world. They don’t look at issues of faith, issues of identity, issues of culture, issues of nationality, issues of politics, issues of history, that are shared. Those are the issues that teachers need to come to terms with.”
He states in his study that controversial issues should be taught in classrooms such as ‘shared education’ which “is an effort to fund joint activity between divided schools.” Supported by state funding, he envisages Catholic and Protestant primary schools working in collaboration and discussing issues that surpass “safe territory.”
Change could come through an engagement with those controversial issues, opening up debate and listening to alternative views without prejudice or the possibility of indoctrination. Whilst acknowledging the many differences between the two educational approaches, Dr Milliken is hopeful that his study may draw on their similarities instead and “bring people forward to challenge and question the state of school.” And although “it’s not a quick fix”, he feels the research offers a steppingstone to further questions about the school system in Northern Ireland. Dr Milliken is adamant that “we can have a more inclusive system of education that becomes a more shared system of education. One that isn’t backward looking, and one that better prepares our children for a shared future.”
Pakistan’s policies exacerbated its flood disaster
Michael Kugelman from the Wilson Centre think tank on how Pakistan’s flood disaster could have been avoided.
“Corruption, corruption, corruption.”
That was the refrain chorused by the many millions of people left homeless and in disarray following severe flash flooding in Pakistan’s northwestern region in 2010. But 12 years later, not much has changed. Once again, as torrential monsoon rains hit northern Pakistan, displacing more than 33 million people, killing 1,500 others, and destroying homes and livelihoods, decades of government negligence in the region can hardly be disguised by the simple narrative of a climate change-induced disaster.
To probe how far government corruption engendered and exacerbated the aftermath of catastrophic floods in Pakistan’s Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, Analyst News spoke to Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director of the Asia Program and Senior Associate for South Asia at the Wilson Centre.
“Had ecological governance been practised more effectively in previous decades, Pakistan could have avoided some of the most damaging effects.”
Michael, who has just returned from Pakistan, witnessed the dire effects of the flood that submerged one-third of the country under water and calls the lack of “ecological governance”, which he explains as “policies that ensure the violent aspects of climate change can be managed”, one of the most critical contributing factors behind the devastating floods.
He adds: “Had ecological governance been practised more effectively in previous decades, Pakistan could have avoided some of the most damaging effects.”
But Pakistan’s northern tourism haven, Swat, is particularly prone to the effects of extreme weather conditions because of developmental failures: “We’ve seen in recent years, a lack of regulation of construction along rivers. You have had these encroachments as they describe it in South Asia. You’ve had all types of buildings put up alongside rivers, which means that when you have any types of floods, it means that, immediately, you’re going to have a lot of building damage and that entails possible losses of lives.” Whilst “no policy could have stopped these floods from happening because no policy could have prevented the rains from coming as early as they did”, had they “been better in the past, perhaps the damage wouldn’t have been quite as catastrophic as it was”.
New hotels and residential facilities have helped in the region’s development, but political expediency and prejudice towards the people that reside there, has rendered it vulnerable.
In 2002, the government introduced the North-Western River Protection Ordinance, prohibiting further development within 200 metres of riverbanks, and requiring the owners or managers of existing buildings to implement measures such as septic tanks and soaking pits. Then, in 2014, it implemented the Khyber Pakhtunhwa River Act, cementing the ban with the threat of legal action at special court trials to be set up for those who defied it. Yet no such courts ever were created, and reports suggest most of the constructions occurred under the Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf (PTI) government, which itself enacted the penalty.
Michael explains that if Pakistan had paid heed to climate change warnings, “there would’ve been better efforts to maintain water infrastructure, dams, canals”.
“In Pakistan in recent years, these once mighty water infrastructures have fallen in hard times. They’ve become dilapidated because they haven’t received the maintenance that they need. So, canals sprung leaks, and dams, including Tarbela Dam, which is one of the biggest earth-filled dams in the world, lost a lot of storage capacity just because of erosion and other problems that weren’t addressed.”
“Unfortunately, the lessons that need to be learned will not be learned just like they weren’t learned so many other times in the past.”
Although he agreed that the impact of the floods was too intense to be controlled with well-maintained reservoirs, “better water infrastructure maintenance and a more robust repair regime would have been helpful”.
But on whether change could happen, he says: “Unfortunately, the lessons that need to be learned will not be learned just like they weren’t learned so many other times in the past.”
Timber mafias and power elites have for decades exploited the country. Commenting on this exploitation of power, Michael describes how people have taken advantage of their power and contributed to the human corruption aspect of the disasters.
“Nefarious actions that have been taken out of pure self-interest, which has ended up worsening the damage of floods.” For example, “wealthy landowners in the province of Sindh… have taken actions that have redirected flood waters away from their natural path so that they could avoid damaging the agriculture and the farms and the property of these landowners.”
“Nefarious actions that have been taken out of pure self-interest, which has ended up worsening the damage of floods.”
Deforestation was a contributor to the floods in 2010 that claimed the lives of around two thousand people and one of the contributing factors to the floods was deforestation. Commenting on how Pakistan has brought this under control since, Michael says whilst “the rate of deforestation has actually decreased over the last few years, there is so much of it over the last few decades that it put Pakistan in the position where it was deprived of what would’ve been a very powerful bull walk against flood waters”.
The National Disaster Management Authority Pakistan issued its first warning for devastating monsoon rain in the middle of June, just a day before the rainfall. This did not give enough time for the relevant authorities to take precautionary measures.
“The track record of Pakistani governments when it comes to emergency responses after national disasters leave a lot to be desired. And it’s actually quite notorious that state capacities responding to natural disasters are very weak. And as a result, we’ve seen the same patterns play out in these floods that we’ve seen so many other times, the 2010 floods, the 2005 earthquake, and other big natural disasters before that,” he says.
Whilst corruption and incompetence added to the devastation, similar attitudes in the relief efforts stand in the way of rehabilitating and aiding the stranded and displaced.
Government officials, including the Prime Minister and the foreign minister of Pakistan, are engaging the international community in their calls for relief aid. Just this month, the UK pledged a further £10 million in humanitarian aid, in addition to the £16.5 million it had already donated. The US has given £50.1 million in humanitarian relief since 12th August.
But concerns around its proper coordination are growing.
“The question is how effective that will be, and if the government is able to get the type of assistance that it needs can we expect that the money will be transmitted to the people that need to get that assistance?” Michael asks.
History bears testament that atomising federal funds to the powerful in control has impeded disaster prevention and efforts for relief. Revelations emerged of a dam scandal that began when PTI
Donors, Michael says, are looking for a reliable party to hand the money over to: “So that’s a bigger, broader challenge of being confident that all of this money that’s actually pledged will be delivered and, when it’s delivered, will get to the people that need it the most.”
But the international community cannot do much in the way of affecting this:
“The UN’s appeals for assistance haven’t really been met” because “the bigger story here is donor fatigue, which is one reason why you haven’t seen as much money going to Pakistan as would be desired,” he tells us.
“There is not a lot of clarity as to what happened to the money that actually was delivered”.
He acknowledges there are people in Pakistan who can mobilise an effort to gather disaster relief donations at a time of disaster. The former prime minister Imran Khan has in the past, “mobilized funds” but there have been “some concerns from informed observers that a lot more was pledged than delivered. And there is not a lot of clarity as to what happened to the money that actually was delivered”.
Growing political, social, and cultural polarization that has contributed to power exploitation and increased corruption is another reason why Michael believes no timely long-term planning to tackle environmental concerns in the region will take place. There are currently different opposing parties ruling in all four provinces of Pakistan, and there would be issues in managing the flood relief across the provinces.
“I think in an ideal world, you would have the central government coordinating with provincial governments on assistance and recovery efforts. And we just don’t have that. I guess it could have been worse if this happened a few months ago because Sindh is the worst affected province and it is controlled by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which of course is one of the members of the ruling coalition. So, I think coordination could be an issue for reasons other than politics, but I think that KPK is a problem in the sense that the province is controlled by the PTI, and of course, the PTI is at blogger heads with the federal government,” Michael says.
Pakistan is far from reaching this ideal world when political figures keep their vested interests at the forefront. According to Michael, it is unlikely that the recent floods will act as a lesson for the government.
“I don’t necessarily think you’re going to have a new paradigm that sort of prioritises public welfare and that uses the floods as a lesson for some type of major paradigm shift that entails putting everything else on hold, including politics and other things. And instead, focus on how to work to make the country more climate resilient and take efforts to ensure that the vulnerable are actually protected more and receive the support they get. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening,” he says.
“One of the mantras of Pakistan is that it has a really resilient society.”
But despite political corruption, the exploitation of resources and power by the elite, and growing polarization, Michael is still hopeful that Pakistan will find a way to bounce back.
“One of the mantras of Pakistan is that it has a really resilient society. The people step in to address big challenges because the government is often missing in action and I think that certainly was the case here. I think many victims have concluded that in many cases they’ll need to fend for themselves but they will also look for help from their fellow Pakistanis, private citizens, those with charities, NGOs and so on.”
“It’s going to amplify for the Pakistani people the need to focus on their own grassroots level efforts to pre-emptively prepare themselves for future possible emergencies but also to recognise that they really are going to be on their own,” he adds.
But he says it would be difficult for them to do it alone. “If you are going to talk about climate-proofing villages by allowing people to have access to sturdier building materials that aren’t susceptible to collapse or destruction when hit by floods, they are going to need money for that, they are going to need technical support, and so on. And oftentimes they need the government to get involved.
“You need the international community to an extent as well.”
Can the Labour Party really save Britain?
Is the Labour Party really the answer to 12 years of austerity culminating in the economic fallout of Brexit and the pandemic?
As newly-elected UK Prime Minister Liz Truss oversees the plummeting of support for the Conservatives since her and her ex-Chancellor’s dire “mini-budget” only 3 weeks ago, the Leader of the Opposition and the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer is calling for a general election. The people, he says, are now “looking to Labour for the answers”.
Taking advantage of Truss’ embarrassing U-turns, the disastrous falling pound and the cost-of-living crisis, Labour are lucky to be up at a huge 51% in the polls, with the Tories trailing at 23%. But is the Labour Party really the answer to 12 years of austerity culminating in the economic fallout of Brexit and the pandemic? Could it be the antidote to the unethical behaviour which saw the end of Boris Johnson’s premiership?
There are worrying signs that it might not be. Soon after being elected, Sir Keir backtracked on some of the ten pledges on which he ran his leadership bid. Renationalisation of the railway and utilities was ditched as was the plan to raise corporation tax. Many left-wing members in the party were dismayed that Starmer openly admitted “winning” the election was the most important thing for him, even at the expense of his promises. And earlier this year, Starmer stated he was side-lining the 2019 Labour socialist manifesto and “starting from scratch” even though he had described it as a “foundational document”. If Starmer is prepared to win at all costs, what does that say about his own convictions and level of integrity?
Starmer and the party machine have demonstrated a callousness which doesn’t fit with traditional Labour values by watering down socialist policies and the treatment of his own party members. From removing the whip from his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn – meaning he can no longer sit as a Labour MP – to the dreadful handling of the trigger ballot of domestic-abuse survivor, Apsana Begum, Labour has been accused of purging left-leaning ideas and candidates. Critics have noted that other hardworking, long-standing members like Sam Tarry and MP of the Year Ian Byrne, have had trigger ballots imposed on them, been deselected or not allowed to stand for selection. The common denominator seems to be previous support for Corbyn and socialism.
Plagued by accusations of antisemitism during Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour Party did admittedly vow to clean up its act. However, the mostly disregarded Forde report highlighted a “hierarchy of racism” and the use of antisemitism as a “factional weapon” to undermine Corbyn. Whilst the mainstream media has been quick and dogged in its amplifying of antisemitism charges, it has failed – probably wilfully – to accurately report on the Forde Inquiry’s findings. Furthermore, the shocking and derogatory treatment of veteran MP Diane Abbot by officials has been met with a deafening silence by Starmer and his shadow cabinet. Abbot and other black and Asian members demanded an apology for the racism experienced in the Labour Party in an open letter. The party’s response, that “Starmer is now in control,” was concise but it was hardly reassuring.
And yet antisemitism still seems to be an issue. With the expulsion of a disproportionate number of Jewish activists on the left of the party in the last 3 years, Labour is actively ensuring there is no dissent. But a recent documentary series bringing evidence to light of the appalling harassment of local Jewish and Muslim members, has been largely ignored by the Labour front bench and media. Maybe because it was commissioned by Al Jazeera?
On balance, Labour have an upper hand. Being in opposition for so long, it can now pretty much present itself as a fresh alternative to the present chaotic government. People are tired of economic and political crisis after crisis, a characteristic of Johnson’s and now Truss’ leadership. But with Starmer’s raison d’etre seeming to be about winning at all costs – including apparently jettisoning basic Labour values – is he in danger of losing core Labour voters? More to the point, is the wider electorate prepared to overlook Starmer’s fickleness and double standards for something that looks like a safe pair of hands?
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