Over the weekend, the G7 summit took place in Cornwall. World leaders of the seven most advanced economies met and discussed the biggest issues facing the world and the ways to tackle them. The G7 Summit in an annual event; it did not take place last year due to the pandemic but for this year, it was back on the calendar.
The G7 is an organisation made up of the world’s most advanced economies. The seven countries which are part of the G7 include Germany, France, Italy, United States, United Kingdom, Japan and Canada. In 1998, Russia also joined the organisation, then named the G8. However, Russia was excluded in 2014 after its occupation of Crimea. Although China and India are also known as two of the biggest economies in the world, they have never been members of the G7. The European Union is not a member of the G7, but the President of the EU and its representations normally attend the summit. This year, leaders from South Korea, Australia and India were also invited.
The UK currently holds the presidency of the G7 which is why it also hosted this year’s summit. The main theme for this year’s programme focused on working towards “a stronger global health system that can protect us all from future pandemics.” Beyond this key focus, the summit also opened ways for discussion on how vaccines and world economies can help global recovery from the pandemic. At the main round-table discussions on Friday 11th June 2021, Boris Johnson said that “it was important to level up across our societies” and to “build back better” as the world makes its way to recovery from the pandemic. The Prime Minister also urged the world leaders to “learn from the past” stating, it is “vital that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the last great crisis – the last economic recession of 2008 – when the recovery was not uniform across all parts of society.” The programme of the summit for Friday also included an evening dinner at Eden Project, attended by the Queen and members of the Royal Family.
In some of the decisions made during the summit on Friday, one announcement and pledge came from the UK government. It was announced that the British government will give £430 million in aid to the Global Partnership for Education. This is to help the “most vulnerable children” get better schooling and education, with a special focus on girls. The British government has also pledged to donate at least 100 million extra vaccine doses over the next year to help less developed countries with their immunisation programme.
The second day of talks in Cornwall were centred around the issue between the UK and the EU about post-Brexit checks on goods, and the economic effort of the Western powers to challenge China’s development. US President Joe Biden expressed his intention to launch a US-backed Build Back Better World (B3W) plan which would be a “better quality” alternative to a similar Chinese programme. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has helped many countries financially by building trains, roads and ports. However, the Chinese plan is also criticised for burdening some countries with the debt. On Saturday, the G7 leaders said that they hope to offer a “values-driven, high-standard and transparent” partnership. Although, the financing of the initiative still remains undecided. The G7 has also agreed to a new plan which will aim to stop future pandemics. According to a BBC Report, some of the measures include: “cutting the time needed to develop and license vaccines and treatments for Covid-19 to under 100 days.”
What becomes clear in all this is that the western democracies have this desperate urge to prove that their values and their plan can succeed too, of course with an even eager ambition to do better than China. In a way, these plans are bound to help developing countries and its citizens but the intent of proving superiority over China is unpalatable.. Ultimately, the interests of every people and nation should be of utmost priority.
Regarding the row between the EU and the UK over the Northern Ireland border, Boris Johnson has said that the “it is the prime duty of the government to uphold the territorial integrity of the UK.” Johnson has also urged compromises and ‘pragmatic solutions’ on both sides to bring about a fair outcome. French President Emmanuel Macron has said that he would be “willing to reset” the relations with the UK if it respected the Brexit withdrawal and trade agreement. As the talks between the EU and the UK came to a close on Sunday, the issue of the Northern Irish border and the post-Brexit trade protocol remains hanging in the balance..
The Official G7 Summit Communiqué published on Sunday outlined the agreements and decisions made by the countries involved. It states the main goals for the G7 and more broadly the G20 to work towards in the coming years, including the “end [of] the pandemic and prepare for the future”, “reinvigorate our economies”, “secure our future prosperity”, “protect our planet”, “strengthen our partnerships” and “embrace our values.” The G7 nations have agreed to donate 1 billion vaccine doses to poorer countries over the course of next year; a plan criticised and referred to as a “moral failure.” Defending the global vaccine pledge, Boris Johnson said that the G7 countries rejected ‘nationalistic approaches’ to intensify efforts to end the pandemic. The G7 Communiqué also aims to end the pandemic by 2022 and reach the goal of vaccinating at least 60% of the world population. It is believed that this level of immunisation is required to end the pandemic universally.
Finally addressing the climate emergency facing the world, the G7 nations have agreed to renew their pledge to raise $100 billion a year to support developing countries in cutting emissions. It is worth noting that this target was set in 2009 with the deadline of 2020 but was not met due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
These pledges and targets set by the G7 look promising and hopeful, but these goals have to be translated into action. Mere words are not enough to bring the change at all levels. The issue of inequality, the effort to prevent climate change and the work towards ending the pandemic will need consistent and robust action at all levels and in all parts of the world with absolute justice. Only then, can we witness true global prosperity.
Historian of Modern World History, with special interest in history of modern Europe and Britain. I also have a keen interest in politics, systems of rule, international relations and current affairs.
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?
Can the UK be trusted to support women’s rights in Saudi Arabia?
The UK has been found to be providing aid with ambiguous motives. The term “women’s rights” was cast aside when describing the purpose of the Gulf Strategy Fund (GSF), suggesting that the UK has either opted for silence on the matter or is supporting the discrimination of women.
The UK is a nation that traditionally champions women’s rights, but sometimes money and politics seem to get in the way. This time, the UK has been found to be providing aid with ambiguous motives. The term “women’s rights” was cast aside when describing the purpose of the Gulf Strategy Fund (GSF), suggesting that the UK has either opted for silence on the matter or is supporting the discrimination of women.
The GSF addresses various concerns in the gulf region including security, cyber, innovation and leadership and seeks to alleviate problems in the area by encouraging developments in tech and education. The role of women in these endeavours has been obscured, except for events on a small scale like the International Women’s Day Celebrations, Leadership Expos and Exhibitions for artists. The GSF has refused to be transparent regarding organisations to which funding is directly provided and the outcomes achieved through it. It is highly likely that the funding has been allocated to government organisations which are responsible for human rights abuses and oppression in their strict measures against dissent in Saudi Arabia.
Recently, two female Saudi activists were sentenced to prison over their undaunted tweets and social media presence. Broadly perceived as a tool inciting rebellion in Saudi society, Twitter users have often been subjected to severe consequences as a stern warning to the population. Nourah bint Saeed Al-Qahtani was sentenced to 45 years in prison for tweeting in favour of women’s rights, a risky attempt to break through the social structure of the country. And Salma al-Shehab, another activist was given a 34-year sentence for her bold statements, including a demand to release other journalists and activists. The nature of trials for these activists, which normally take place away from the limelight, remains a concern for many human rights institutions Over the years however, the Saudi Kingdom has revised its constitution and allowed women to adopt greater roles in society. This includes the ability to drive, relaxed dress code and more roles in the workforce. Whether or not these changes have made a significant difference to the lives of women in Saudi is debatable.
But Britain’s participation in the GSF is problematic precisely because of the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office’s suspicious lack of transparency around why women’s rights is no longer a featured purpose of the fund. In its endeavour to what appears to be not wanting to rock the boat with Saudi Arabia, is the UK compromising and selling out its own long-held principles? How can the UK be expected to be taken seriously when it calls out other regimes on their human rights abuses? It seems that maybe Britain can look the other way when the price is right.
Arab Gulf States: “Remove content that violates Islamic values or face legal action, Arab Gulf states tell Netflix”
Six Arab Gulf States as well as Saudi Arabia have threatened Netflix with legal measures if they continue showing content with any kind of LGBTQ+ representation, since it does not align with ‘Islamic values’.
Six Arab Gulf States as well as Saudi Arabia have threatened Netflix with legal measures if they continue showing content with any kind of LGBTQ+ representation, since it does not align with ‘Islamic values’.
A joint statement was published by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), consisting of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It did not mention any content specifically, but said that it “contradicts Islamic and societal values”. The statement also mentioned that “the platform was contacted to remove this content, including content directed to children, and to ensure adherence to the laws.”
On Saudi state TV a woman, who was identified as a behavioural consultant, also called Netflix the “official sponsor of homosexuality”. Another segment also suggested that Netflix could be banned in Saudi Arabia due to programming deemed to negatively influence children.
“Even though it might seem harsh to some, these bans are understandable. Since countries like Saudi Arabia are Muslim countries, whose laws are also somewhat based on Islamic values, laws like this are justified. Just because the Western world is normalising these things, doesn’t mean we have to adapt our values to theirs.” Anisa Ali, a Saudi woman living in Germany, told Analyst News.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia and 12 other countries have banned movies with gay characters before. Just earlier this year Walt Disney’s new ‘Buzz Lightyear’ movie, a movie based on the Toy Story franchise, was banned in the UAE, due to showing two women kissing. In 2020 the Pixar movie ‘Onward’, an animated movie set in a fantasy world with elves, was banned in Arab Gulf States such as Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, as it showed a female character saying she’s lesbian. Marvel’s ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’, which was released earlier this year, was also banned in some Muslim Arab countries, because it also featured America Chavez, a lesbian character. Some fans even blamed Xochiti Gomez, the actress that played America, for ‘ruining’ the movie, despite the character already being gay in the comics.
As well as content featuring LGBTQ+ themes, an episode of Hasan Minhaj’s show ‘Patriot Act’ criticising Prince Mohammed, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, over the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi as well as Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Yemeni war, was also removed off Saudi Netflix.
These bans are happening due to the contradiction with Islamic values. People of the LGBTQ+ community are seen as sinful, which is why most Muslim countries have not legalised homosexuality. However, countries like Bahrain, which have legalised homosexuality for citizens above the age of 21, still maintain anti-gay views, since they also joined the GCC’s recent statement and have not legalised same-sex marriage. In Qatar, along with several other Muslim countries such as Kuwait and Somalia, homosexuality is punishable by law for up to 10 years. Other countries such as Sudan or Mauritania have the death penalty for same-sex relationships.
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