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Hijab is a sign of “submission”, says right-wing French Senator

Recently, the French Senate introduced an amendment for the Anti-Separatist Bill and voted on whether a ban on the hijab should be imposed on Muslim women and girls under the age of 18

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Jackintosh, CC BY-SA , via Wikimedia Commons

The very basis of the feminist movement is to not discriminate between various groups of women; instead, it favours all women who deserve the freedom to live their life as they prefer. Essentially, having the freedom to live your life as you desire is a basic human right and not even gender specific. But when it comes to how Muslims, specifically Muslim women, practice Islam, this very freedom is scrutinised and questioned. 

Recently, the French Senate introduced an amendment for the Anti-Separatist Bill and voted on whether a ban on the hijab should be imposed on Muslim women and girls under the age of 18. Another part of the amendment asked whether mothers who wore a hijab should be banned from attending school trips of their children. The senators, predominantly with right-wing affiliations, voted overwhelmingly in the favour of both amendments. The amendment was initially proposed in the National Assembly, which is the elected chamber, but it was not considered for a vote as it opposed the values stated in the French constitution. It is also important to clarify here that these amendments have not become law and the National Assembly must approve them before they are implemented. Nevertheless, the prospect of this becoming law has certainly worried Muslim women in France, because it may hinder their confidence in integrating within French society, especially if their freedom to wear the hijab is stripped away from them. 

Commenting on the possibility of the ban becoming law, Rimla, who is a member of the Muslim Community in France said: 

“This law is completely in contradiction with the slogan of the French Republic: ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’. I can’t see the reason behind the interference of the government in one’s personal affair. That’s only to diverge our attention from the current issues related to the increase in Covid-19 cases. Thanks to religions, we are able to build our morals and can only bring positive changes in society. Such a ban on religious signs can harm our future generations.”

One Muslim student who is currently studying for her A-levels also shared her thoughts:

“I have been wearing a headscarf for a long time now, and I realised it early enough about how the majority of people speak about women who wear a headscarf, without true knowledge of the issues, whether Muslims or not. We are often considered immature about the choices that we make. The fact that we will no longer be able to wear a headscarf in public places, for me is a violation of my human rights. Wearing the headscarf was my choice and my parents have always respected that.”

This is not the first time the French state has tried to marginalise Muslim women for their choice to practice their religion. In previous years, the government banned the burqa – the Islamic face veil and full body swimsuits with the explanation that they are at odds with French secular values and pose a security threat. Just weeks ago, Switzerland and Sri Lanka banned the burqa citing similar reasons to justify their decisions. 

Amnesty International’s Europe researcher Marco Perolini commented on the recent vote stating: “Time and again we have seen the French authorities use the vague and ill-defined concept of ‘radicalization’ or ‘radical Islam’ to justify the imposition of measures without valid grounds… which risks leading to discrimination in its application against Muslims and other minority groups.”

The West has long claimed that they represent the haven where basic human rights are respected and tolerated. Freedom to practice one’s religion is part of these rights. Accordingly, Muslim women choosing to follow religious commandments, by wearing the hijab or the burqa, exercise their right of freedom to practice their religion. Yet, what we find is that the western countries continue to stress that Muslim women are oppressed and by introducing such laws, they are apparently ‘freeing’ them. According to right-wing French Senator, Bruno Retailleau, “Hijab is a banner of separatism and a marker of women’s submission.” 

This is striking because, on one hand, France criticises Islam for stating a dress code for women when at the same time, it implements these policies which also do the exact same. Therefore, France is contradictory when it criticises Islam for being oppressive because it is guilty of enforcing what women should and in this case should not wear. Ultimately, when was controlling and restricting what women can and cannot choose to wear a sign of freedom?

Another female member of the Muslim Community expressed her disappointment at the vote and shared that her headscarf has never been an obstacle to her excelling in education – a notion that is commonly used as a counter argument to the use of hijab and the veil. She said: 

“I am completely shocked by the amendments that are adopted by the Senate concerning the headscarf. I was quite capable of making the decision of wearing a headscarf at an early age and it was the most beautiful decision of my life. The headscarf has never stopped me from receiving an education. I am studying in the first year of university and will be pursuing the field of teaching and my headscarf has never created an issue. I think that this law doesn’t give us importance despite the fact that we are completely eligible to make decisions concerning the issues that are related directly to us.”

In France, the Covid-19 vaccination programme has been stumbling and with a steep rise in infection rates, President Macron announced a third nationwide lockdown. Amidst the global pandemic which continues to devastate the world in countless ways, it is unfortunate to see governments initiating debates and introducing policies that isolate and target the minorities of their countries. It might be a very cunning tactic by diverting the general public’s attention from the issues that really matter, but it has an unprecedented impact on the people such policies impact. In this case, of course, it is Muslim women. 

Instead of following the path which divides and socially excludes minorities, it is time to discuss real issues that require resolving. The question that we need to ask is not what women should or should not be allowed to wear. What we need to ask is how to avert this global health crisis, how to ensure that the rights and freedoms of every individual are preserved and guaranteed, and most importantly, how can the world work towards establishing global peace and justice once the pandemic subsides. In essence, there is a lot that governments need to do for their countries and for the world and none of it is dependent on a Muslim woman choosing to wear the hijab or burqa. 

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.

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.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Sultana Bhatti

    5 April 2021 at 10:57 am

    I wonder why we never hear from professional Muslim women in France in positions of influence? It always seems to be the old white senators who get a say

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Lebanon PM-Designate quits as the country faces a political deadlock

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Following months of continued political deadlock, the Lebanese PM-Designate Saad Hariri has stepped down from his role of forming a new government. As a result Lebanon is without a government for nine months. This resignation has plunged the nation further into a crisis, as it is currently also facing social, economic, and political turmoil. 

Lebanon has not had a functioning government since the massive explosion in Beirut that left over a hundred dead. The deadly explosion that took place in August 2020 resulted in the resignation of the previous government. Mr Hariri was then selected to form a new one. However, after months of disagreement with President Michel Aoun over cabinet positions, Saad Hariri has given up on the task. 

Currently, Lebanon is suffering from an unprecedented economic crisis, described by the World Bank as one of the worst in the world in the last 150 years. As a result of the currency collapse, there is a nation-wide shortage of food, medicines, electricity and fuel, which has left the nation desperate for help. 

The recent departure of Hariri is likely to cause further uncertainty and chaos for Lebanon, as it reduces its chances of receiving aid. The international community is refusing to offer any assistance to Lebanon until the nation forms a new government with a crackdown on corruption.  

President Macron described Lebanese political leaders as refusing to “act in good faith” and “favouring their partisan and personal interests at the expense of their country.” 

“They totally failed to acknowledge the political and economic situation of their country” said Mr Macron.

While the resignation of Saad Hariri remains a political matter, civilians are paying the price. The failure to form a new government and consequently the lack of international aid available, means that children are skipping meals during the day and going to bed hungry. The sick are unable to access their necessary medications.

The nation’s economy shrank by over 20% in the year 2020 and poverty worsened, with over half of the population now living below the poverty line.

Given the current state of the nation’s political and economic crisis, if Lebanon fails to form a new government, the country’s situation is expected to worsen further in the near future.

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.

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To Barnaby or not to Barnaby? That may decide the next federal election

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Many saw the re-election of the conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison in 2019 as a return to normalcy in Australian federal politics. This was, of course, after Canberra became the world’s laughing stock swinging through six prime ministers (technically five, as one got his job back before losing the election) in just over 10 years. What started as a loss of confidence in the prime minister by his party’s MPs quickly became a numbers game. Add to that the lack of legislation regulating leadership spills, and anyone, at any time can pass an internal party motion, and an hour later Australia would have a new prime minister.

This is why the recent change of deputy prime minister poured salt on old wounds. For those not familiar with Australian federal politics, here’s a quick rundown: the two major parties are the Labour Party and the Liberal Party. The former being the equivalent of Britain’s Labour Party or America’s Democratic Party while the latter being equivalent to Britain’s Conservative Party and America’s Republican Party. The Liberal Party has typically governed in a coalition with the Nationals Party since its founding in the 1940s, so one deputy leader of the coalition is the leader of the Nationals Party who is also the deputy prime minister. The Nationals Party derive their voting base from the regional, rural, and non-metropolitan parts of the country.

Now, back to Barnaby Joyce . He is no stranger to being deputy prime minister back when he was the sidekick to former prime ministers, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull from 2016 – 2018. He knows the ins and the outs of the job very well and he also knows how to play politics, which is the main criticism against his retaking of the post. Commentators such as David Crowe, Katherine Murphy, Troy Bramston and even former Liberal leader John Hewson have piled on to say one thing: that his ascension back to the spotlight does not make the country better off. They argue him resigning the first time after being caught having an affair, allegations around sexually harassing women and his bold willingness to block any progress on climate change – much to some Liberals’ frustration – make him unfit to lead.

Joyce’s main claim to the Nationals’ throne rests with the assertion that McCormack was not standing up for the Nationals’ priorities, lest of which to publicly oppose any net-zero emissions target from Prime Minister Morrison after he alluded to one at the backdrop of this year’s G7 summit at Cornwall, England. This is a fair claim, and precedence shows that the Nationals will put on a tantrum if they are not taken seriously. Recently, the New South Wales government was threatened with a minority government status after its deputy premier and Leader of the Nationals John Barilaro threatened to divorce the coalition should a proposed policy increasing the protection for koalas be legislated

The premier, Gladys Berejiklian, stared her deputy down in what was the most prolific and rare example of disunity for an otherwise popular premier and her well-functioning frontbench. This is where Joyce comes in, claiming that McCormack has cozied up to the prime minister and so he must be replaced. For them, it was the prime minister’s growing acceptance of a net-zero emissions target that sounded the alarm bells for the Nationals to vote their leader out.

An interesting point to note is it was not Joyce who brought the motion to topple the leader, rather it was his ally, Senator for Queensland Matt Canavan who passed a spill motion and started the numbers game. A few days later Canavan wrote in an opinion piece for The Australian that making Joyce the leader again “restores a strong advocate for the economically nationalist, Australia-first approach that has always served us well”. The rest of his piece consisted of criticising China and trashing the idea of a net-zero emissions target. 

The title of this article indicates that Joyce could prove to be a double-edged sword at the next federal election. Both outcomes are being touted with Joyce back in the spotlight. The arguments in support of a Morrison-Joyce partnership argue that Joyce brings a personality and a buzz that was missing in McCormack. As Niki Savva writes in The Australian, “McCormack became the invisible man” after not promoting the National Party’s successes well enough to make a name for himself and allowing Morrison to sidestep him and not demand concessions in terms of both policies and ministerial appointments that the Nationals would find favourable.

His opponents cite allegations of Joyce sexually harassing women and his affair with one of his staff as reasons against his re-election. Alana Johnson, a founding member of the Australian Women in Agriculture, reacted to the leadership spill telling The Guardian that “the National party is obviously just not listening, otherwise they would never have chosen Barnaby to be the leader again” and claiming the party is trapped by “power plays between the boys”. Elaborating on the female factor, Nationals MPs Anne Webster and Michelle Landry both publicly claimed that “many women would be unimpressed” should Joyce be re-elected. Yet the response seems to be mixed. While some women are openly stating their disappointment, others, like Nationals Senator Perin Davey is more wanting to ‘focus on the future’.So, the question remains, is Joyce’s re-appointment worth it? Well, if Morrison and Joyce can strike the balance between the needs of their electoral bases and close any window of opportunity that Labour could exploit and drive a wedge between them, then all that remains is for Joyce to show that he has “come back a better person”.

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.

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Is Russia really a democracy?

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On 20th August 2020 Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption activist was poisoned with a Novichock nerve agent leaving him hospitalised in Germany until late September. When Navalny was well enough he returned to Russia despite warnings that he would be arrested once he arrived. Navalny was convicted for two years and eight months for violating the conditions of a suspended sentence. Since then, many believe that the Kremlin was behind the poisoning of the opposition leader as a way to silence him and his work. Many believe this, because Novichock was used by the Soviet Union during the Cold War as a way to slowly get rid of their enemies. So, is Russia truly a democracy if they are suspectedly ‘silencing the opposition’?

The poisoning and silencing of Alexei Navalny in a country which claims to be a democracy is not new, rather it has been going on for as long as Navalny has been exposing the Russian Government. There are three main aspects which make a country democratic: free media; free and fair elections; and fair law. Russia has none of these.

The 1993 Russian constitution declares Russia to be a “democratic federal law-bound State with a republican form of government”. Thus, it is considered to be a democracy. In the 2018 Presidential election, the candidates that were supposedly running against Vladimir Putin (the current Russian president) were fake as they were hand-picked by the Kremlin. The point is Navalny, one of the strongest opposition candidates who was the one to expose the corruption within the Russian Government, was not able to run against Putin. Therefore, not making the 2018 election free and fair at all.

In addition, Russia lacks free media. Navalny started his blog in 2008 in order to expose malpractice and corruption within the Russian Government. Navalny believed that the media was not exposing this and therefore decided to do it by himself, as he believed that Russian citizens had the right to know. And he was correct. One thing Vladimir Putin was seen doing very early on in his presidency is centralising many aspects including the media. In the early 2000s independent Russian media companies were slowly coming under state control as a way for the Russian Government to decide what is said and what is not said about them to Russian citizens i.e. a way to censor the media. Thus, it was a way to silence the corruption within the Russian Government.

To assess whether a country has fair laws you need to assess whether a country’s constitution successfully grants citizens civil liberties. Civil liberties are the freedoms that protect citizens from tyranny. However, Russia yet again fails at this. Putin has had Russian law on his side ever since he became President. In early April 2021, the Russian President signed a law that paves the way for him ruling until 2036. If Putin remains President until 2036 then there will be an endless cycle of lack of free media, lack of free and fair elections and lack of fair law. Therefore, ultimately leading to a lack of democracy. Thus, continuing to silence his opposition as everything is still under Putin’s control. So, what does all of this mean for Russia’s democracy in the future?

It is clear to say that Russia does not have a liberal democracy like many countries around the world including the USA, UK, Australia etc. However, just because Russia does not have a liberal democracy does not necessarily mean they are not a democracy. There are many types of democracy and on many occasions, Russia has been identified as a democratic dictatorship. A democratic dictatorship is when Russian voters are allowed to vote but there is no point in voting for a candidate other than Putin, as evidence suggests that the candidates running against Putin are fake and controlled by the Kremlin. Like Russia, China is known for being a democratic dictatorship because they allow Chinese citizens to vote but there is only one option on the ballot paper.

Granting Russia a liberal democracy which will be better for their citizens is not as easy as it looks. In order to achieve a liberal democracy, citizens need to be granted civil liberties. To achieve this, these civil liberties need to be granted through the constitution. However, as shown changing the constitution under a leader like Putin is hard as everything including the law is centralised. Thus, it ultimately comes down to the leader. With a new leader there can be a possibility for Russia to become a liberal democracy but that is only if the law grants for another leader to be President. Therefore, Russia is stuck in this loophole.

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.

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Keep politics out of the Supreme Court — an interview with Richard Zacaroli author and speaker on socio-political issues

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Bio: Richard Zacaroli has served for over 30 years on boards of non-governmental organisations in the education, cultural exchange, community development, and finance sectors. He is Chair of the board of directors for Greenheart International, and a Pual Harris Fellow with Rotary International. Rich is a frequent guest lecturer at CSU-Sacramento and has authored numerous articles focused on the socio-political environment in the U.S. Rich and his wife Lori live in Sacramento, California. They have a blended family of five children and twelve grandchildren.

The Analyst: You recently wrote an article talking about how the expansion of the Supreme Court would actually do more harm than good. You wrote that, instead of expanding the Court by four seats, two should be added. Another route that many people have mentioned is removing the lifetime service of Supreme Court Justices, and allowing Justices to be changed after a certain duration. What do you think about this?

Richard Zacaroli: I would say that could be an additional route, but not a singular solution. I do believe that balancing the Supreme Court by adding two seats would be a good idea, but I also agree that putting durations on terms that the Justices can serve makes a lot of sense. It has to be a fixed duration, whatever it’s going to be – eight years, 12 years, 20 years. While 12-15 years makes most sense, it just cannot be arbitrary, and Justices cannot be removed by vote of the Senate on any kind of arbitrary basis. As long as Justice’s terms are fixed they can’t be politicized. I would also say that if you did have fixed durations for Justices, that would allow much more time to vet the right candidates who represent a majority of American opinion and thought.

The Analyst: Do you think the process in which the Supreme Court Justices are put into place is very politicized? And if so how can we minimize the effect of politicization of Supreme Court Justice nominations in the coming years?

Richard Zacaroli: I think the process has been very politicized, particularly for the past two Justices; the refusal of the Republican-led Senate to consider President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland for a full year in 2016, as well as in the rushing of Amy Coney Barrett to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In my opinion, these were highly politicized. I think a way to minimize the politicization of the process is, first, to require two thirds of the Senate to confirm Supreme Court Justices. That would assure that there is consensus among Republicans and Democrats on Supreme Court Justices who are confirmed. Second, require a fixed period of time, perhaps 90 days, within which a Supreme Court Justice must be nominated and confirmed. I would also say that the Senate should not be allowed to have confirmation hearings on a Supreme Court Justice perhaps 90 days before a national election. These are definitely ways that the process can be depoliticized.

The Analyst: You mentioned in your article that four out of the nine current Supreme Court Justices were appointed by Presidents that had lost the popular vote, and therefore it could be argued that they don’t represent the American people. In your opinion, do you think that a President who didn’t win the popular vote should be given the authority and power to decide a lifelong government position, such as a Supreme Court Justice? 

Richard Zacaroli: Yes, absolutely. I don’t think any changes should be made in that regard. Let’s put it this way, if you have a President who passed away during his term and the Vice President assumes the presidency, you can’t stop the process of nominating Supreme Court Justices. Similarly, our political system is such that, occasionally we may have Presidents who didn’t win the popular vote but still won the electoral college vote, as has happened twice in the past 20 years. You cannot stop the Supreme Court nomination process because of that. I personally think that more of the politicization of the process is taking place in the Senate, and not the Office of the President.

The Analyst: Would it be a feasible solution in the future to dictate that no more than four Justices could be conservatives, no more than four could be liberal, and one must at all times be a moderate, in order to avoid the current 6-3 predicament, as well as removing the President and his party’s bias when nominating a judge?

Richard Zacaroli: I think something like that could make sense, but it would be difficult to manage. For example, if you’ve got a Republican-led Senate and a Supreme Court Justice who was very liberal passes away or retires, it’s going to be very difficult to get another Supreme Court Justice who is liberal through the confirmation process. I think the more effective and straightforward way of doing it is requiring ⅔ of the Senate to confirm Supreme Court Justices. In that way, it’s going to be pretty much assured that you will have Republican and Democrat consensus for the candidate, and that in itself is going to bring the Supreme Court more toward a moderate orientation that is representative of where America is ideologically. 

The Analyst: Why do you think that, currently, there is not that sort of rule implemented for the ⅔ majority, whereas in other political practices, we see that simple majority rule is needed from the Senate?

Richard Zacaroli: The Senate process is broken in that regard, you know, with the filibuster rule and other things. I think it makes sense that a simple majority of the Senate is needed to confirm certain legislation such as the federal budget, but appointment of Supreme Court justices goes to the very fabric of our society. The Court is ruling on issues that can become really personal to all Americans, right? And therefore I think the confirmation of Supreme Court justices above any other legislative decision really should be vetted and when confirmed, represent what a majority of Americans believe. That can only be achieved if you’ve got consensus among both Democrats and Republicans, which can be achieved by requiring a supermajority of ⅔ of the Senate. 

 The Analyst: In the past couple of years, we have seen the unfolding of a highly polarized America, especially after the four years under Former President, Donald Trump’s time in office. You yourself have a lot of experience working with various individuals, domestically and internationally, what would you say is a good argument in order to convince Americans that despite what the media portrays, America is still a moderate state?

Richard Zacaroli: So that’s a very good question, a complex one with complex answers. When Americans do come together, from both sides, and all of the polls indicate this, Americans generally agree on the paths that we should be taking as a nation regarding the issues that most affect our lives such as health care, immigration, environment, gun control, racial and social equality. Polarization occurs when the biased media machine magnifies different perspectives. I think that one thing we should encourage people to get out of their comfort zones, watch, read and listen to unbiased news sources that just present the news without opinions and a lot of hyperbole. This will allow people to form their own opinions. Another approach could be broadcast and published forums, with real people talking to real people on both sides of that debate, not politicians. People will realise that we as Americans are more united than we are divided in this country when it comes to the major issues. People need to at least hear the other side. On most issues they are going to realise that it is not that different from what they think, or that at least compromise is possible.

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.

Touba completed her degree in Environmental Science from University of Maryland. Currently she is pursuing her masters in Material Science at Johns Hopkins University. She is passionate about gender equality, environmental justice, sustainable and ethical practices and women in STEM. Twitter: @ToubaaaShah

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Biden’s legislative agenda hangs by a thread

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The culmination of the Star Wars saga – at least until the muddled storytelling of the sequel trilogy – is the jubilant image of the Rebels gathering on Endor and celebrating their toppling of the Empire. John Williams’ score reverberates through the galaxy as humans and Wookies alike embrace on the rooftops of Coruscant and the steppes of Kashyyyk to mark a change in their political fortunes. The parallels between our comparatively mundane existence and the distant swashbuckling galaxy of bounty hunters and lightsabers are admittedly few and far in between. However on 8th November, as chyrons flashed with President Joe Biden’s electoral victory across CNN and MSNBC and millions gathered on the sidewalks of cities across the United States, George Lucas’ concluding storyboard for Return of the Jedi had sprung to life. After four long years, in the duel of fates, the dark side had finally been vanquished. Or so we thought.

The days following Election Day were fraught with nail-biting anxiety and anticipation for millions of Americans glued to their television sets. The ongoing pandemic impeded in-person voting and scores of Americans – over 100 million – opted for the convenience of mail-in ballots to cast their votes. John King and Steve Kornacki explained every electoral permutation of states swapping between red and blue as votes trickled in and the political calculus changed within hours. Over the next several days, Wisconsin flipped from red to blue, followed by Michigan, and finally, as voting machines sorted the ballots from Philadelphia and Allegheny County in Pennsylvania, the mathematical exercise finally had an answer: Joe Biden had won the 2020 Presidential Election. 

Biden during his campaign coined the election as a battle for the “Soul of America.” For four years, Donald Trump’s administration subverted political norms for personal gain and expediency. Mired not only by Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel Investigation, but an impeachment, a myriad of unscrupulous behavior by his cronies, and a bungling of domestic policy in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet despite the abundant impropriety, Former President Donald Trump received the second highest popular vote tally in American history. Buoyed not only by the increasing political divide between rural-urban voters but also the disproportionate parity given to “red” states in the Electoral College. Biden comparatively had all but been ruled out as a candidate until his resurgence after the South Carolina primary. With Bernie Sanders failing to ratchet up support after his breakout 2016 election campaign, much of the Democratic party consolidated behind Biden. The career partisan with a mixed legislative record promised to “build back better.” Over 150 days later, Biden’s legislative promises largely hang in the balance of an inert Senate shackled by an antiquated parliamentary procedure. 

In particular, this week’s blockage of Biden’s For the People Act (H.R.1) – coined as the most ambitious voting rights legislation in a generation – is the latest measure of obstruction by Senate Republicans. Fresh from an attempted putsch by QAnon and Trump loyalists on 6th January and enactment of state voter suppression laws across the country, the bill promised to expand voting rights, change campaign finance laws, and limit partisan gerrymandering. Yet its failure in the split Senate portends further doom and gloom for Biden’s rather quixotic agenda. 

Biden started off with a bang. A litany of executive orders in his first week intended to undo Trump era directives and his landmark achievement thus far, the American Rescue Plan. The bill injected the recovering economy with nearly $2 million dollars in stimulus, including expanded unemployment benefits, direct payments to individuals, expanded the child tax credit, and earmarked grants for small businesses struggling to stay afloat amidst a recession. However, by using the parliamentary procedure of budget reconciliation, Biden overrode the filibuster rules and the 50-50 senator split in the Senate to pass his bill with a simple majority; Kamala Harris providing the tie-breaking vote in her capacity as president of the Senate. Donald Trump and Senate Republicans used the same reconciliation process to shoehorn the now infamous tax cuts of 2017. Biden however, forsaking austerity for increased deficit spending, has proposed over $4 trillion of additional funding under his Build Back Better Plan. Significant appropriations intended to bolster climate policy, child care, infrastructure, and job creation. Such exorbitant spending is anathema to conservative ideology and top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell has deemed Biden’s budget as “radical” and the “wrong prescription for America.” The same obstinacy that hampered the Obama administration now threatens to derail Biden’s legislative mandate. 

It’s rather facile to suggest that the filibuster is the thermal exhaust port on the senatorial Death Star. However, in a split Senate, a practically untenable supermajority of 60 Senators is required by parliamentary rules to pass major legislation. Much of Biden’s signature legislation is unlikely to receive the endorsement of ten Senate Republicans. Additionally, the specter of Donald Trump as kingmaker looms large over the 50 Republicans in the Senate. Despite Trump’s second impeachment and election defeat, he has consolidated control over the GOP and its electorate. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll shows over 53% of Republicans still view Donald Trump as the legitimate President of the United States. Liz Cheney’s sacking as House Republican Conference chair last month is widely seen as punishment for her impeachment vote during Trump’s second impeachment trial earlier this year. One Republican voting with the Democrats is tantamount to political suicide. Ten is fiction. The polarization of the country has only intensified political differences and the whispers of the “Big Lie” threaten to ignite the crucible of American society. 

Yet Biden remains unabated in his plea for comity and bipartisan legislation, much to the chagrin of the progressive wing of his party. Many of Biden’s pleas are ostensibly for political theater, intended to convey to the American public that he remains committed to his campaign promises of re-establishing norms of unity and civility. However, the precarious nature of Democratic senators and their diverse “Big Tent” of constituents also requires placating moderates. Namely, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Both Manchin and Sinema have publicly stated their opposition to abolishing the filibuster through op-eds in the Washington Post. In doing so, they have effectively provided the death knell to much of Biden’s legislative hopes ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. The Democrats can hope to pass another bill through budget reconciliation this year, however under the Byrd Rule, any of Biden’s ambitious promises deemed extraneous to budgetary spending would be discarded in the final bill. Even so, a simple majority requires the approval of Manchin and Sinema, both of whom have balked at the mounting cost of Biden’s legislative proposals. 

Yet despite voicing opposition against the For the People Act for its partisan scope and promises, on Tuesday both Sinema and Manchin voted to begin debate on the ultimately blocked bill. This signals for some that both Senators may cave to public pressure and ultimately use the “nuclear option” to end the filibuster. The nuclear option allows for the Senate to override the existing filibuster by closing debate and advancing legislation with a simple majority. The nuclear option has been used by Senate Democrats in 2013 to eliminate the 60-vote rule for presidential nominations, and most recently by Senate Republicans to end the debate on Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Despite these precedents, Manchin continues to argue that ending the filibuster will “destroy our government” and Sinema states that the filibuster “compels moderation.” Other critics have cited that nuking the filibuster will ultimately give Republicans free reign to legislate when they eventually take power. However, proponents of filibuster reform argue that the party with majorities in all three branches of government — Republican or Democrat — deserves to use its legislative entitlement. Barack Obama – long a victim of McConnell’s obdurate Senate – has vehemently rebuked the filibuster as a “Jim Crow relic.” Others have offered alternative proposals such as gradually lowering the filibuster threshold to 55 votes or re-enacting a “talking filibuster” where Senators must hold the floor with speeches in order to delay legislation. While the debate to end all debate rages on, a failure to legislate ensures a failure to galvanize the electorate in the upcoming midterm elections. 2022 brings with it heavily gerrymandered districts and several Congressional Democratic seats up for grabs. Historically, majorities have failed to maintain their momentum going into the midterm elections. A split legislative branch and McConnell’s machinations after the 2010 midterms all but hamstrung the remainder of the Obama-Biden administration. If history repeats itself and Republicans seize control of the House or the Senate, the new FDR will all but be a legislative bystander for the remainder of his term. For too long the United States has fallen behind its allies and adversaries due to incrementalism, congressional gridlock, and a regressive parliamentary rule. If the filibuster remains and Democrats fail to go big as promised, it’s a question of when, not if, the Death Star floating above Mar-a-Lago is fully operational once again.

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.

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How has the United States’ position on the use of force changed?

Probably one of the biggest foreign policy mistakes in the history of the United States was the invasion of Iraq in 2003

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Throughout history, attitudes of the great powers have been changing on the legality of the use of force. Great powers such as the United States rejected International law at various moments. International law is defined as the legal responsibilities of States in their conduct with each other, and their treatment of individuals within State boundaries. But both the Clinton and Bush presidencies in the 1990s and 2000s also used international law to justify military interventions and implement liberal imperialist foreign policies. However, unlike Clinton and Bush, Trump followed his predecessor Obama by wanting to take a step back from protracted wars around the globe and becoming less interventionist. Then Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo claimed that America had always been a “liberating force, not an occupying power” but the time of “self-inflicted shame” was now over. So how did America come to this point? Has America’s need to maintain its hegemony become less attractive and more expensive? Or has this been a change based entirely on a shift in morality and mindset?

US intervention during the Reagan era

It’s clear that even from the Reagan era of the 1980s, the aims of successive US administrations were to overthrow democratically established governments and to impose aggressive policies and actions in order to protect its own interests. For example, the International Court of Justice found that from 1981 to 1984, the US undertook an “act of aggression” by providing funds for military and paramilitary activities by the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. However, the US justified its actions and the sanctions it imposed on the Nicaraguans as a “collective self-defence because of Nicaragua’s indirect aggression against El Salvador”. Geopolitically too, the US claimed its use of force was to preserve political stability in Central America and to combat the threat of communism by the Sandinista government. These arguments were widely rejected by international lawyers and human rights organisations. For example, former Professor of Law, Pete S Michaels, examining the legality of US intervention in Nicaragua, commented that the Neutrality Act and the Boland Amendment both suggested that the United States intervention in Nicaragua was illegal. But America was also protecting its financial and business interests. Various US companies had still had either businesses based in Nicaragua such as United Fruit, Monsanto and over 30 other US businesses or held significant interests in Nicaraguan firms for example 50% interest in the Gemina flour mill, 75% interest in B.C.I. Chemicals and a 30% interest in the Polycasa plastics company

Probably one of the biggest foreign policy mistakes in the history of the United States was the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Along with Britain and other countries, the US declared that Iraq posed the “greatest security threat” – being a rogue state with connections to terrorist organisations such Al-Qaeda; and that Saddam Hussein was harbouring weapons of mass destruction which he wouldn’t think twice about using against the West as he had used them against his own people. However, under the guise of helping the Iraqi people and spreading democracy, the US was actually found to have breached the UN Charter by going headlong into an illegal war. In contrast to the 1991 Gulf War which was seen as a “morally defensible war” with the support of the UN Security Council to remove an invading power, the Iraq war this time around had very little to do with WMDs and human rights but was entirely “motivated by a desire to (re)establish American standing as the world’s leading power”

Obama and his approach

Fast forward to 2011 where there appeared to be a change in tactics. President Bashir Al Assad of Syria was accused of brutal crackdowns of civilian protests, including using chemical weapons against his own citizens. However President Obama had been elected at a time when the global financial crises had had a huge impact. Thus, his administration adopted a more “geopolitical realism” approach – trying to avoid being mired in a yet another expensive and endless conflict in the Middle East. Obama admitted himself that Syria was of no vital strategic importance to the US – ironically serving to also acknowledge that past foreign interventions were undertaken primarily to protect US interests rather than the humanitarian reasons professed at the time. 

But at the same time, did America still have a duty to uphold its “policeman of the world” status by acting decisively when a sovereign nation appeared to be killing its own citizens? As it is, when the US had evidence that Assad was “preparing to use chemical weapons” and that this was a major threat to national security, Obama clarified that US intervention would not be “open ended” and that there be “no [American] boots on the ground”. But was this too little, too late? Did Obama’s reluctance to use force early on and possibly reduce or even avoid the humanitarian crisis and chaos that followed, put a question mark over those policy decisions? It is possible that the protection of millions of defenceless Syrians against the horrors of civil war, might have been enough justification for forceful American intervention in the beginning, in this case. 

Is the present time different? 

The election of Trump meanwhile ushered in an era of “America first” further favouring a non-interventionist style. Trump made it clear that the US would be employing a completely counter position to previous administrations. It would not now be interfering in other countries’ affairs but would be putting the “interests of the American people and American security above all else”. Thus, the United States should pursue its interests and would not be constrained and controlled by international law. Moreover, in the case of Syria, Trump made a decisive statement at the National Security Council meeting that he did not want to stay in Syria for a lengthy period. This itself revealed that his approach was different to the normal US rhetoric. Prior to his presidency Trump opposed attacking Syria and his tweets were always focussed on forgetting about Syria and instead prioritising America, its people, jobs, healthcare system etc. However, as President in 2018 he justified the US military to conduct precision missile strikes against the Syrian government as a response to a reported chemical attack on its own citizens by the Assad regime. Thus, legality of the use of force was on humanitarian grounds. The US put forward a legal argument that the use of chemical weapons, both in Iraq and Syria, was a threat to world security, peace and stability. But this is problematic as it’s hard to claim when and how force should be used and also the war in Syria has turned out to be a devastated site of proxy wars between great powers. This ‘shared power’ makes it very difficult for any one party to declare war. 

And so to today and Biden’s “foreign policy for the middle class”. Biden promises to take a much more multilateral approach in order to “defend the liberal international order”. So does that mean normal service will now resume and Uncle Sam will retake its position in policing the world? From the so-called threats of Cold War communism and terrorism through to self-proclaimed protection of democracy and human rights, America has used a gamut of reasons to justify foreign interventions and wars. But it seems there has been a definite shift in the last 40 years to reduce its observable presence on the world stage but not necessarily its influence. The US still appears to be intent on protecting its hegemony and its own interests as it always has been and will likely continue to bend the rules when it suits – regardless of cost to other nations. In the meantime, we just have to watch and wait.

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.

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