Sunday, 29 January 2023

Human Rights in retreat


Eighty years ago, Winston Churchill declared one of the aims of the Second World War to be the ‘enthronement of human rights’. Within a decade, the United Kingdom was leading international efforts on a non-binding Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and, shortly after, negotiations were concluded for the European Convention on Human Rights (1950). These two instruments opened the door to a new international legal order, one that placed the protection of the individual at its heart and set limits on the actions taken by states and their governments. The European Court in Strasbourg was created to provide enforceable safeguards against abuses of public authority. Despite many sceptics to such ideas and the spread of exceptionalism around the globe, I here argue that human rights must be universal and equality before the law and access to justice together ought to form the backbone of a democratic state.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948, embodies the broadest consensus of contemporary civilisation on the subject of Human Rights. It gives recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family, which is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world. But unfortunately, many of those countries that have signed up need to pay more attention to the significance of this comprehensive declaration, not translate it to suit their culture to provide a fence against what it stands for. Here as we shall see later in this essay, overcoming what the convention stands for, several hurdles of State autonomy, exceptionalism, and State sovereignty.   

The forgotten Uyghur people in China

So, what are Human Rights – Human rights are fundamental rights and freedoms that every person in the world should have. Human rights are norms that aspire to protect all people everywhere from severe political, legal, and social abuses. Examples of human rights are the right to freedom of religion, the right to a fair trial when charged with a crime, the right not to be tortured, and the right to education. A call on courts and citizens to give full and faithful protection to the rights of everyone, regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin. There must be a presumption of innocence. It is the responsibility of the state to prove that someone is guilty not of the suspected person to prove their innocence. People should not be coerced into confessing to a crime or giving evidence against themselves. In general, if someone exercises their right to silence, it should not be used as evidence of guilt or as a reason to place them in pre-trial detention. Human rights are a deserved justice that protects the individual to enjoy life as he or she pleases. To suppress the freedom of choice, whether culture induced by the states will be considered a violation of human rights or tyranny; a vicious act to mask concern for human dignity. Rights also define the claims that one legal subject could legitimately make against another to protect their person, property, business, reputation, and interest or to compel another to live up to their contracts, promises, and other obligations.

The large-scale protests in China are not just a response to Covid restrictions but about fundamental human rights, including freedom of speech. They follow weeks of demonstrations in support of women’s rights in Iran.

In this essay, I tackle several themes and ask whether Human rights are universal and whether democracy and the rule of law can stand without respect for human rights. In that context, I ask questions about the existence, content, nature, universality, justification, and legal status of human rights against an almost universal moral code. A shared moral norm of actual human moralities that are enshrined in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Confucianism, and Buddhism. Human Rights are a social construct,  
cultivated from a natural being, that appeals to every individual to be free. To take away freedom and liberty by imposing state control is tyranny and unfortunately is on the increase with the rising trend of Authoritarianism around the world; often exercised by powerful leaders to satisfy their selfish ambitions.

With that in mind, cultural exceptionalism by civilised bearers of responsibility and States is a misdemeanour, and those who practice it lean on morally hollow legal justification and fail in their ethical duties. It is unfortunate if Human rights become unavailable to any jurisdiction or group of people. Without respect for human rights and the right to life, a country ceases to be democratic. The rule of Law, Democracy, and human rights are intertwined, where neither religion nor ideology has a place. Ignoring the conception of democratic rights runs against the grain of an intrinsic desire in every one of us to be free.

However, that said, although rights and liberties have been part of the tradition since biblical and Roman days, many theologians and philosophers today view rights with suspicion, if not derision. And since Human Rights are generally believed as a social construct, they are not natural. Around the world, there is tension between religious freedom and sexual freedom in modern liberal democracies. Many religious critics view rights as a dangerous invention of Enlightenment and post-Christian liberalism, predicated on a celebration of reason over revelation, of greed over charity, of nature over scripture, of the individual over the community, of the pretended sovereignty of humanity over the absolute sovereignty of God. These scholars call for better ideas and language to emphasise core virtues like faith, hope, and love and goods like peace, order, and community.

Where the State assigns itself as the keeper of religious scriptures, they need to adapt for its citizens' benefit and comply with the rules. In contrast, they must reconsider local cultural exceptionalism, traditions, and tribal customs. Despite their antipathy for the whole human rights system and to the Rights of the individual but to move away from the exceptionalists' view of the idea of this system of individualism as corrosive of social cohesion. To reject ideas, this system erodes the social customs and traditions and the ideas of an unsustainable position once the individual ceases to be subordinate to the group but commits to shared values towards a common culture. The exception is not to be an individual.

While others reject the concept of natural rights altogether arguing that only positive legal rights are real. Also believe moral right is objectively real, but not effective unless translated into positive law terms. They are dismayed by abstract and universal rights declarations — like the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens (1789), the United States Bill of Rights (1791), or the Universal Declaration of Rights (1948) and their many progenies. They believe, these grand rights documents have encouraged citizens and authorities, lawyers and judges alike to invent all manner of untethered rights claims, upsetting long cultural traditions in so doing.

There is no denying of course, that human rights can only be legal rights. I argue that the wrong is where the constitution that anchors such legality is warped or contradicts the moral norm, making dissent punishable by an ideologically induced law. This is where human rights are governed by ideologically inspired ideas transcending the rules of a covenant to which they are signatories. Since it is arguably a social construct, its suitability to one society may differ from that of another. Creates an opportunity for some states to decouple from the Human Rights convention. Here we enter a minefield of contradictions. First, what makes an ideologically inspired law? Where does that law fit when that ideology conflicts with other ideologies inspired by ‘norms’ within the different cultures of the same society? The struggle for freedom can be found in every culture. I am also considering the contrast between the USA and Iran or Afghanistan, for instance. Is the Electric Chair less humane that stoning a woman to death? Both deny the right to life by lawful execution. We will get to that later.

The plight of the descriminated Uyghur community in China 

Many states reject the idea of Western-sponsored ideas of freedom. Nevertheless, people have human rights regardless of whether they are found in practices, morality, or the law of their country or culture. And like many western States, and for practical reasons, countries around the world are free to impose several qualifications on ideas of universality. First, the right to vote is held only by adult citizens or residents and applies only to voting in one’s own country. Second, the human right to freedom of movement may be taken away from a person convicted of committing a serious crime. And third, some human rights treaties focus on the rights of vulnerable groups such as minorities, women, indigenous peoples, and children. Also, in such cases, as the Bill of Rights in the UK today, the right to protest, dissent, and demonstrate only applies to peaceful protest and does not extend to any violence inflicted or damage caused during a protest or wilful obstruction of motorways. In other words, Human Rights are not absolute or for any one culture to monopolise.

Asylum seekers, Refugees, or immigrants

The new Bill of Rights aims to replace the Human Rights Act 1998 in line with Brexit ideals. It is arguably designed to "help prevent trivial human rights claims from wasting judges" time" and to make it clear UK courts do not always need to follow the decisions of European courts. However, public consultation found people were "overwhelmingly against the proposals", with victims of violence against women, care home residents, and those whose family members have lost their life due to the actions of the police among those raising concerns. The reforms would undermine the universality of human rights by making it more difficult for certain groups to bring cases. Also, it contains clauses that make it easier to deport foreign criminals. The intention is to ensure a proper balance between the rights of individuals and effective government in line with British common law traditions and reduce reliance on Strasbourg case law. For the record, A refugee, conventionally speaking, is a person who has lost the protection of his or her country of origin and who cannot or is unwilling to return there due to well-founded fear of persecution. Such a person may be called an asylum seeker until granted refugee status.

Exceptionalism goes even further.  The Taliban in Kabul, Afghanistan, demand to be left alone to implement their own religious and cultural values at home without foreign interference. Leaders in Kabul insist on not being judged by the norms of others --especially in the West. When America's Western allies tell it that the U.S. capital punishment system is barbaric, local politicians and courts reply that it is their way and no one else's business, precisely what the Taliban says. The United States insists, for example, on the right to execute persons who committed crimes as minors. Never mind that this violates U.S. obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). It is the American way, representing American values and ethics. Many other countries, such as Egypt, Sudan, Turkey, and China, practice a variety of cultural exceptionalism, some more exaggerated than others; such was the case in South Africa's system of Apartheid as is today alleged in Israel.

Pakistan Arrests “11th Imam of Islam” Under the most stringent laws in the world
and carry a possible death sentence

On the other hand, the safety net created by The Universal Declaration of Human Rights treaties setting out civil, political, cultural, and economic rights, as well as the rights of children, women, ethnic groups, and religions, made no room for cultural exceptionalism. In my opinion, wavering ideas of what is Right for you is not right for us; runs unsteadily towards injustice, since the freedom of an individual is inalienable. The challenge now is to create a globalised culture universalising the idea that human rights drive decision-making and overcoming false beliefs that its provisions weaken state sovereignty. On the contrary, Human rights, democracy, and the rule of law create an environment in which countries can promote freedom, protect individuals from discrimination, and ensure equal access to justice for all. Freedom is a natural desire, but for many, freedom is a struggle discriminated from understanding what it is to be free, to have no fear.

With freedom, however, comes responsibility and in this modern digital age control of the internet is an essential part of the universal order. It ensures the rights of all concerned while protecting children from harmful influences. Surveillance and regulating the internet is an added part of the Bill of Rights I referred to earlier. One of the methods used is Artificial Intelligence (AI). Although using this method, there is the likelihood it leads to the erosion of individual freedoms and human judgment with automated control Human rights remain central to what it means to be human. Governments need to ensure they are used as shields, monitoring what can be harmful and overseeing accountability and remedies for any breach of those standards. . Protecting us in the digital age will determine the internet will be a force that liberates, not enchain us. Action to control harm neither constrain freedom nor encroaches on privacy.  

Women have been stripped of the Right to be a Woman.

In conclusion, I believe the government’s à la carte approach to human rights would not do and would not sustain a democratic system. While policing Human Rights does not create authoritarianism but ensures a balance with the Rights of every individual. Obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights ensure that these rights continue to be highlighted by the State’s Rule of law as set out under the convention. To move away from shared ideas of conformity versus autonomy but build an interrelationship within state society in line with Democratic values. Democracy is a universally recognised ideal based on shared universal values, irrespective of cultural, political, social, and economic differences. In tandem with its content values of the Rule of Law and equality of Justice, it preserves and promotes the dignity and fundamental rights of the individual. Sadly Human Rights are in retreat; seeking utopia is not real. The widespread exceptionalism, discrimination, torture, and abuse of the individual are increasing in this ever more turbulent world.  

According to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the situation is so desperate for Afghan women that they commit suicide at a rate of one or two a day.

Sunday, 24 July 2022

The Race to number 10


A fight to the finish, no doubt it will be a bruising contest. Whoever wins this race will come out the loser. Britain is ailing, and none of the arguments put forward by both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss makes much sense in the long run or stands on enough firm footing to win an election in two years. Britain can not afford a test of time because economically, it is bleeding and fast becoming the sick man of Europe.  

Britain is facing the prospect of reliving the nightmare of the 1970s, when inflation, interest rates, price rises and wages were chasing each other. Fifteen, twenty, or even thirty per cent rise in wages to accommodate price increases. All spiralling out of control. The strong trade unions at the time, trying to protect the standard of living of their members, were indirectly fanning the flames of inflation by asking for higher wages. Today, we have a limited labour supply thanks to Brexit policies of closed borders. The basics of supply and demand plus Social media help to embolden attitudes risking the appeal for higher pay. Then as today, the steep hike in energy cost was partly the reason for this nightmare.   

The two contenders have to deal with an array of problems they would face from day one. Prices in the UK have been rising at their fastest rate for forty years. Lorry drivers were first in the queue for wage increases. Then on Teachers, public sector workers, British Airways, Barristers, Nurses, and more. The central bank faces a balancing act with setting interest rates between applying too much pressure to deal with the prospect of high inflation. The politicians need to deal with the fallout. The cost of money, as well as the cost of all services, food and energy, are picking up. The signs that the country is heading for a recession. The cost of the living crisis must force an incumbent government into action.

Britain faces massive interest payments from debts dealing with the Pandemic. Cutting taxes to protect consumer income at this stage is another debtor finance policy the country can ill afford. Easing the pain in the short term will not make it go away. One of the priorities for the government is to deal with falling output, invest in technology in industry and infrastructure and build prospects for the future. To deal with problems of worker numbers, the taxpayers are declining, dependents on either side, the very young and the old are increasing. The incoming Prime Minister's priority is a need to orchestrate the recovery from the present economic shocks and cut taxes when the country can afford it.
On balance, the chances of the two contestants lie on a knife edge.   Whether Rishi is premiership material remains doubtful. He lacks the charisma and appeal; his knowledge and intellect don't make up for either, perhaps too honest for a politician. Besides, whether Britain is ready for a Brown face occupying number ten is a shot in the dark. Liz portrays herself as a giver by not raising taxes. A populist in the Johnsonian mould is more about style than content. Winning is all that matters; varnishing what matters and hitting all the right notes makes her the darling of the Party's right-wing. In a recent Gallup poll, she is placed way ahead of her opponent in popularity. So take your pick.

Sunday, 10 July 2022

The End of the Johnson Era


Finally, we see the back of Boris Johnson. His wish came true; he didn't want to be a one-term Prime Minister. He never was fit for Downing Street; he should've stuck to his columnist and magazine editorial jobs where he is at ease with words. His facility with words largely helped to get him through that famous glossy black door of number ten.  He ignored the anger of many of his MP's and the calls for him to resign by loyalists, he could have done so with dignity instead he leaves office in disgrace. 

When campaigning for the conservative party's leadership, he had a talent for expressing a lie that made it believable. He won that contest, and not long after, defying expectation, with the same approach, he won the premiership in a landslide election victory with the highest majority since Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. That gave him a mandate to "get Brexit done". He will go down in history as the person who got us out of Europe. 

Not telling the truth was a fixation that marked his term of office. His career as a correspondent, journalist and early political position was littered with untrue statements for the sake of just saying something instead of reporting the truth. Throughout that period, he got the sack from a stream of jobs. But the strangest thing was he always had people rallying towards him. Maybe his buffoonery or just a comic-like appearance with a Chirchellian delivery had a special appeal that pulled them in. After dinner, speaking awaits most probably at £100,000 a go.  

But things have changed since he won that massive majority, effectively creating a coalition of North and South of the country under the banner of levelling up. Jeremy Corbyn is no longer on the scene, Brexit has not gone to plan, and the economy is in dire straights, signifying the winning mandate has gone to shreds. That was realised early enough, so it was a matter to keep to it or concentrate on voter appeal and window dressing. Disagreement on geography spending became a simmering dispute between the Prime Minister and his then Chancellor. Hence, the direction of travel was lost, most probably at the gates of the Pandemic. Taking tough decisions was not the make-up of Boris Johnson. However, unfortunately, for replacement, we don't have much to go on. We don't have anyone with enough charisma to pull the country together. 

The end came after the revelation of a series of scandals, cutting corners with the truth, chaos, parties during lockdowns, breaking his own laws and getting fined by the police, and their cover-up led to the loss of trust by both the public and his MP's. He knew nothing for one minute, and then it turned out he knew quite a bit but had forgotten. Later his memory recovers, and he apologises. And to wrap it up, now is time "to move on"—a matter of drip-drip allegations and drip-drip denials. More than anything, supporting the scandalous behaviour of one of his senior ministers was one drip too many. Finally, Rishi Sunak, his Chancellor and Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, had enough and could no longer defend the indefensible, so they decided to resign. The former blames differences on economic policies, and the latter accuses the government of lacking integrity. Both together, losing trust in their leader, triggered the avalanche of resignations.

He has gone but not gone. He wants to stay on as caretaker Prime Minister despite the collapse of his authority and allies deserting him on all sides. That means his Presidency-like status goes on but lame until his successor is chosen despite the chorus of conservatives asking him to step down immediately. Aside from the good for the country was the good of the conservative party's reputation. To save what good is left of it. Unfortunately, however, no one in the wings to take over the party's leadership. No challenger, a serving minister or otherwise, had emerged to take over. So we are into an interregnum government of three months or so. Unless, of course, the system of choosing the next Prime Minister gets speeded up, which is likely. Many have put their hats in the ring, but at any other time, not one of the incumbents considered of material quality, let alone the premiership. But, we have to choose from what we have. Not much left in the barrel, though.

Tough decisions, to jump on one thing or another, you can not be all things to all men. But at such juxtaposition, the mind could play dirty and fuzzes the way forward; eventually, ambition for power overwhelms reason. And here we have good examples. Power corrupts, a flawed personality corrupts further and defending such a character carrying the lies forward as Nadhim Zahawi, Liz Truss and others that remained, in his inner circle, immediately put them on the spot. Moreover, the effect of supporting that same shady limelight would ruin their reputation, seriously undermining their political future. Zahawi, a 33-hour stay at number eleven, will go down in history as serving the shortest term in the role of Chancellor ever.   At last, he had the nerve to submit his resignation. But, alas, too late to save his political future. 

That support was against the backdrop of Johnson's loyalists quickly having read the script jumped ship, draining away at speed. 

So what is the road ahead for Britain? Whoever succeeds him or she will be greeted with a monstrous in-tray: the economy, Energy, Ukraine, Health, confusion over the Northern Ireland protocol and the overall Brexit disastrous after-effects.   The post Pandemic economic stall, worker shortage across all industries and raging war in Europe have caused Britain to have one of the lowest economic growth in the world. Are we going to see a rescue, or are we in it for the long term? A cycle of economic tensions, inflation and squeezes on household income will cause severe hardship for many.

Moreover, Britain has become unproductive as a nation, making it difficult and unaffordable to ease the pain. Welfare, ageing, health, investments and income will suffer as a consequence and will be an incredible challenge for any incoming Prime Minister. Who is up for the job is anybody's guess, but one thing is for sure, we won't see food becoming cheaper and zero interest rates will be a thing of the past.

My money is on Jeremy Hunt, the only candidate who never served in Johnson's government, but unfortunately, at the time of writing, he still has not declared to be standing for the leadership. He is also a remainer, so hopefully, if he makes it, Britain will stand a good chance of getting back into Europe its rightful place. My next favourite is Rishi Sunak. I see him as the most competent person to tell it as it is. He is more conservative, advocating sound policies of spending only what you have. Tax cuts will be a dominant feature in the race; he is the man to consider how to go about that. Zahawi is a chameleon if ever there was one. He did not jump ship in good time; his loyalty got the better of him, and he got soiled from the relationship with Johnson. Javid is focused and an excellent communicator, but his disciplinarian approach could be his downfall. Finally, Liz Truss is a latter-day Thatcherite but with a more hands-on approach, acquiring leadership skills early in her political career. The present-day favourite, Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, has declared himself out of the race. It would be interesting to see whom he backs. His support could make a vast difference to his or her electoral fortune. There are others, but for now, I have discounted them as they also ran.  

Source: Oddschecker as at 10/07/2022

Britain needs a change in its culture of politics at the top table, and Downing Street needs to be more generous with the truth. 

Sunday, 22 May 2022

The Unborn and the The Living

"The people are the only legitimate fountain of power, and it is from them that the constitutional charter, under which the several branches of government hold their power, is derived. "

    - James Madison, 4th President of the United States.

More than anything, that quotation should go down as the ultimate definition of democracy. And more than anything, it is the people of the United States who are failing to honour this remarkable declaration. America today is in a downhill spiral on many fronts, most of all its democratic eminence on the world political stage. Its Constitution is not far behind in tracing that same path. The trajectory of the United States Constitution, designed to serve the people to uphold the Right of the individual and seek justice for all concerned, is failing. Those magic attributes are coming under constant strain as the political elite's institutional partisan approach to governance is continuously undermining its legitimacy. Aided and abated by a biased judiciary headed by a Republican-inspired supreme court. Strange as it may seem, as often happens in America, these combustible dynamics fall under the influences of the Evangelical movement. The Church is increasingly engrossed in right-wing politics, putting it ahead of its religious ideology.

As I see it, three issues are tearing American culture apart today. In that endeavour, I need to unpack my opening paragraph to outline what is proving most contentious, to show a widening gap in moral relativism in American society. Many believe the Anti-abortion movements are supported by the Constitution's fourteenth amendment, Gun control and vigilantism are shielded by the second amendment, but both are guided by the Supreme court deficiencies. With the Republican majority of the Justices on the bench, the present Judiciary is drenched in right-wing conservative bias, determined to undermine the values of precedence long rooted in the legal system. Such evidence of a failing system of political-cultural discrimination is increasingly seen as an ethical aberration by the rest of the world.


There is Anti-Abortion, Pro-life, and the Right to Abortion. The first two are the same; it just depends on how angry you are. Anti-abortion, a populist term spearheaded by leading city governors and senators right-wing politicians, has become highly politicised. Pro-life is a term held together by right-wing legal processes and assumed moral justification. In recent times, having lost the fight against sex and sexuality, a geographical switch over has taken place from the Catholic majority Northern Bostonian states to the more conservative Southern Mississippian states, which are now more concerned with upholding moral rights. Even though millions of American Christians who, after a lifetime, spent considering their political affiliations in the context of their faith, are now considering their faith affiliations in the context of their politics.

In 1973 a landmark ruling took place in the case of Roe v Wade. An issue where the supreme court set out the benchmark of up to 24 weeks legal to carry out an abortion allowing planned parenthood and giving the Right to liberty. See my blog post here. However, in the recent case of Dobson v Jackson, the state of Mississippi has appealed to the supreme court to water down the ruling bringing the legal limit to 15 weeks, effectively weakening the precedence. In consideration, the majority of the nine Supreme court members have so far sympathised with that judgment, ready to review it. Their argument rests on the absence of explicitly expressed rights of abortion in the amendment. A recently leaked document shows U.S. Supreme Court may even overturn Roe v Wade, passing on rights of decisions to individual States. The result is a patchwork reading of the Constitution and a medley of interpretations. For example, justice Clarence Thomas, a Republican, asked the abortion rights counsel, "What constitutional right protects the right to abortion?". But when advocating to carry guns, he never asked where it says for the individual to carry a concealed handgun in the Constitution.


Briefly, the amendment states: "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property". If leaks are confirmed, the judge's ruling would automatically remove the individual's Right to freedom on a broad scale. Many see it contravening the Rights given under the Constitution and Human Rights recognised by International Courts of Justice to which the United States is a signatory. Such rolling back of precedence taken on a personal level rather than a consensus of opinions by experts in science, humanities, and legal professionals can undermine public trust and confidence in the Judiciary, if not the Supreme Court itself. 

Based on such prediction, some southern republican states have competed as to who would be the most pro-life state. Oklahoma has outlawed abortion outright, and Texas has both criminalised abortion even in cases of Rape and Incest. That includes self-induced and the morning after pill. Contraceptives are not on the table just yet but may soon be. Any party that helps in the process in any way would also be liable. Other states have outlined laws ready to trigger come June 2022 once the supreme court sets out its final ruling on the subject. They have also outlawed anyone who aborts in so-called sanctuary states, such as California, where the law is likely to remain more relaxed in sympathy with the old ruling. The law would go so far as to attempt to extradite a doctor engaged in abortion in an outlawing state but living in a foreign country.

Gun Control

The wild West is alive and well in America, where the Right to bear arms is a fundamental Right. Most states have virtually unrestricted rules for the concealed carrying of guns outside the home. The Right to bear arms at home or in public, concealed or otherwise, triggered or with safety catch on, are all subjects to each state to decide for itself.  Another handful of subjects polarising American society today. Centred on how to interpret the second amendment. In brief, it reads, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." In translation, it has taken on a patchwork and degrees of interpretations by individual states. Many states do not see the amendment confine itself to a military meaning but it translates into the public domain of Self-defence.  That of course can also encourage vigilantism which is what is happening more often across the country.   The overreach here is; in making every citizen a soldier and every soldier a citizen. If that 'soldier' outside or inside the home kills in self-defence the second or fourteenth amendment can see him right, and who can also find sympathy with his action in the supreme court. 

Keeping a registered pistol, shotgun, or automatic rifle (depending on the length of the barrel) with a safety pin is lawful and enough as a self-defence measure in some states. The Supreme Court ruled otherwise, meaning to keep the firearm loaded and unlocked for immediate self-defence. The judges ruled it is unconstitutional for a State to prohibit people from keeping and bearing arms "to deprive the United States of their rightful resource for maintaining the public security", conveniently dismissing the military meaning of the amendment. Recently the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment right to bear arms is an individual right, not associated with the militia.

In the case of New York, where state law requires individuals to get a license to carry a concealed gun outside the home. Here is what Justice Kavanaugh (Republican) has to say: "On the standard of particular to them, [...], why isn't it good enough to say I live in a violent area and I want to be able to defend myself?" commenting on difficulties obtaining a gun license. Justice Samuel Alito (Republican) wondered how the New York law was not "consistent with the core right of self-defence." Surely immature questions: "keeping and bearing Arms" is not the same as hiding them on your person. Imagine a densely populated New York where most carry guns in public, making it easy to take the law into your own hands.

Incidentally, these judges setting out these guidelines contradict their earlier definition of the constitutional Rights expressed in earlier cases. The U.S. Supreme Court justices appointed by Republican presidents repeatedly assure the American public they respect precedent, do not decide crucial constitutional questions based on their own policy preferences, and are not legislating from the bench. However, a simple change in court personnel should not dramatically alter the rule of law. Unfortunately, time and again, that is proving hollow.  Mass shootings in recent weeks in Indiana, Georgia, Colorado and California have become routine; the public is almost immune to the news.

Controversy arose in two crucial cases, highlighting the absurdities of the mishmash of enacting independent State law and the political bias expressed by the Jury. The Arbery case is a racially charged shooting of an unarmed black young man out jogging in a quiet neighbourhood. An affluent area in Atlanta, Georgia,(Democrat), where recently there have been some robberies. He was followed by three white men and was shot dead on suspicion of committing a crime. Lawyers for Mr Arbery's family have called his death a "modern-day lynching". The men argue that they were defending themselves (self-defence), while trying to make a "citizen's arrest". Instead, they were found guilty of murder.

While in another case, a young white man was cleared of all charges relating to two Black men he shot and killed during unrest in Wisconsin (Republican). Armed with a military-style semi-automatic rifle, he roamed the streets, telling the police later that it was his job to keep the streets safe. He was found not guilty and set free. One of the charges brought against him was possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18. It was later dropped when his lawyers successfully argued state law allowed for someone under 18 to possess the firearm.

If the second amendment is not enough to free you, try the fourteenth. When you are finished with the amendments, your fortune is dependent on the bias of the Jury. Like members of the public, they can be orientated by the effect the current socially trending climate is having on society. They look at justice through the woke goggles of today, assessing their verdict on the life of the victim and the liberty of the living.


In between all this, the question of interpretation centred on the individual's Right and the atomisation of liberty. It boils down to the question of Rights and freedom of expressing those remains dependent on a State's political climate. The result is a pixilated understanding or a confused interpretation of the Constitution. Setting a cultural dividing line in a politically highly charged US of A, where, unfortunately, moderation can land you on the wrong side. Interpretation of the U.S. constitution is like the interpretation of the bible; it generates different opinions and interpretations. In politics, that line of misunderstanding gives rise to egregious dynamics toward divisiveness. Never before have I experienced the power and influence of words; that can not only divide a country and society but assume a cultural ideology. The Bill of Rights, enshrined within the Constitution, is not referred to as the Rights of Man. It is a point of reference, a defensive and an attacking tool. In both cases cited above, vigilantism is allowed to live well in the United States; the wild West was not much different. It is down to the Supreme Court, the principal body and source of decisions that lay the grass-roots of American society, but under a conservative trajectory, it suffers from myopia. Tragically, Republican chauvinism defines American justice, ensuring personal interest and public desires do not coincide, allowing the former to overlap the latter. But quashing long-rooted balanced precedence, the United States judiciary undermines its credibility. While saving the life of the unborn, the Supreme Court remains numb in saving the life of the living.

Sunday, 3 October 2021

Turmoil in the Arab World


The dislocated world of the Arab Middle East

Gamal Abdel Nasser, 1918-1970, Egyptian army officer, prime minister (1954–56), and then President (1956–70) of Egypt has a lot to answer for; the Arab – Israeli War of 1967 was his making.  Feeling emboldened having taken part in the downfall of King Farouq, the Pan-Arabism he advocated during the 1950s sought to redeem the grievances of the Palestinian people following the defeat of the Arab army during the 1948 war with Israel. The 1967 Six-day war saw the Arab army defeated yet again, the complete destruction of their air force. Entire squadrons of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan.  The War was over in twenty-four hours.  The five days following, was left for the Israeli army routing the combined enemy armies. On the one hand, it was a humiliating defeat to Arab governing authorities; on the other, it was an awakening of the Arab civil societies leading to a loss of confidence in their governments' legitimacy and ability to govern. More than anything, it was the Islamic awakening.  

Islamists sensed the prevailing uncertainties reading the political weakness took advantage of the moment to show that present authorities have lost their way.  After years of incubation of radicalism, they were out in force to prove Islam was the solution.  The belief is that Islam should guide social and political as well as personal life.  But more than an Islamic awakening, revolts, dissent, and civil agitation of many colours were on the horizon.  After the fall of the Iraqi Monarchy in 1958, the other regional Monarchs became protective, fearing they would soon become endangered species.  Since then, coup d’état, revolutions and toppling of regimes had become part of the everyday lexicon in the Middle East.  All came down to power and control.

The evolution of Islamic ideology, the pressures on the Regimes 
and the consequent Civil unrest


Threats of this kind and more hostile are still perceptible throughout the Arab Middle East, as this essay will hopefully show.  That fear from mounting pressure is here, and fear of losing their grip on power and control is now.  Fear by Arab regimes is felt from the outside as it is from within.  That is a lot of anxiety to contain.  The fear is real whether king, Emir or President because their legitimacy with no exception stands on shallow grounds.  Islam and the activities of the Islamists groups represent the most severe threat of all.  

Ironically without a Caliphate for directions, Islam and independent interpretations of its ideology work to disunite the Arab Muslim world. In this case, as if to fear the United States was not enough, it is more of a question of who's Islam is any way they fear most. To negotiate this maze of thorn infested complexities for Autocrats and authoritarians while also looking behind is a mammoth task. They fear loosening the rein because they well know what partially triggered the uprising in Syria was not only the lifting of the martial law in effect since 1963 but the relaxation of political freedom.

Islamists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and its Sunni offshoots and their Shia counterpart Hizbollah, aka the Party of God, are capable of dislodging the State's authority. Allowing them conducive conditions, such as openness to electoral Democracy, for instance, the movements can gain enough popularity to lead to state efficacy that can fundamentally alter the political landscape. 

However, turmoil can also appear in many other guises, despite an overall show of popular loyalty to the regimes. Since arbitrary repressive and putative measures over the ruled can only achieve veneer thin loyalty. Often enough in the Arab world, commitment to laws and policies are without virtue, verified by their procedural features as they unfold.

Moreover, all governments and their political institutions in all Arab Middle East lack democratic legitimacy-ruling without consent. Consequently,  the countries in the region fail to be nation-states since they all fall under either the King's Will or Autocratic regimes. Lacking the Democratic Right to rule is, therefore, a given. Hence, popular rule by obligation is a weakness. 

Here the Islamists, usually structured within the framework of welfare and education, as a state within a state and culturally embedded in a radical civilisation, can take advantage and are always ready to establish an Islamist State. 

Another weakness the Authoritarian regimes have is their Constitution. Without exception, all Arab countries adhere to Islam as the State religion and have enshrined the Sharia, God's Laws within its texts. The purists' definition of which can defy modern life. This, many would argue, can lead to hypocrisy by the authorities or, at best, contradictions to the laws of Islam, especially when implementing liberal laws. 

The Laws of the lands must explicitly serve religious ends. As for morality, Islam believes its teaching delivers from an exclusive standpoint. The rights to covenants of God's moral codes. Political Pluralism, Proselytising, Minority Rights, Women's Rights, Gay Rights, social justice and of course, Democracy are all a no-no.  As a social movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, the goal was nothing less than the revival of Islam.  To reactivate the once flourishing spread of Islamic civilisation,  in this day and age against an increasing secular people, and to stem all currents that frustrate the incubation of illiberal radicalism.   These are the forces that Arab political administrations have to tackle.  

The Crime of free speech.  
Israeli made Pegasus Spyware is used to keep people in check.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and their many offshoots, Salafis (purists), Wahabism of Saudi Arabia, and those in Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Iraq, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, all share a common thread. Anti-colonial and anti-Israel. Also, not so much the means they choose that defines them but the nature of their end. From an Islamist individual to an Islamist State. They are patient, seizing the moment when ready.  

According to one of their spokesman, "government have the clock, but we have all the time".  They all provide some degree of welfare: health, education, employment etc., mainly funded by donations from private individuals; the counter-elite. Such freely extended help gave Islamists their prominent role in civil society. And politically, a rising status can oppose pressing regimes for political change to an already fragile political structure. 

What is occurring in the Arab world can be understood as revolutionary change and evolution of Islamism. Under authoritarian rule, they take cover from repressive measures by affiliating to other parties moderate Islamists, such as the Wasat party, or even Christian parties.  Such an arrangement provides them with a layer of protection from government crackdowns or international condemnation, avoiding being labelled as a terrorist organisation by the United States. 

In Lebanon, bearing in mind the current dire situation, people suffering shortages of all kinds, there has recently been a convoy of tankers carrying hundreds and thousands of litres of Iranian fuel across its borders. Hizbollah, supported by Shia Iran, wants to show the Lebanese people and the world that Iran, not Sunni Saudi Arabia, provides such relief. They are the good guys, and Hizbollah is hardly a terrorist organisation. 

Moderate Arab regimes faced with a social movement defined as above are faced with a problem of how to practice their Constitution. First, to contain the Islamists from growing too comfortable and damping down their politicising activities. 

Trying to achieve false neutrality, to leave people living by their conviction, is a loose attempt at separating State from religion. Smok and mirrors are what it is; pretending to preside over Democracy in the hope this would minimise criticism from European and American friends.  Jordan, or where there are democrats without Democracy, for instance, they rig the system, democratic rules are twisted by the king's order, making it harder for The Islamic Action Front (IAF) to gain seats in Parliament. Aware of the fact that Parliament and Democracy are both used as a means to an end of Islamising. This is not exclusive to Jordan, but Jordan will do.  

Equally worrying for regimes implementing rules is the absence of a Califate who can otherwise adjudicate a final authority on the Sharia. The judiciary uses the 'Path' not as a source but as the source for legislation. The Koran and the Hadith covering criminal, commercial and family laws are open to different interpretations. The final authority in countries such as Egypt, for instance, lies in the power of the President. Each head of State takes it on themselves to act as guardians of Islam and its definitions as they see it. Hence it comes down to who's Islam. These different interpretations stand in the way of unity among the Arab States.  Saudi Wahabist would not support Muslim Brotherhood.  Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation supported by Qatar and Turkey on the same side, but unlike Egypt and Jordan, it supports the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis.  

How to spread benign liberalisation such as open nightclubs, access to alcohol drinking, unblocking immoral television programmes, or even allowing men to work in women beauty salons yet remain faithful to the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad is not an easy task.

Administering the Sharia law, the outcome will be the political will of the State and not the religious law of Islam. These hollow claims in the name of Islam by the ruling elites are not necessarily valid made only to legitimise their state control.  According to professor Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim, "Sharia can only be freely observed by believers by its nature and purpose. Its principles lose their authority and value when enforced by the State." The scenario here, however, the Rulers are the State.  In the words of Louis XIV of France “l’etat c’est moi”.

Causes of widespread social and psychological strains and tensions


Problems for the regimes do not stop at the door of Islam. Governments in the Middle East of whatever hangtags are either Authoritarians or Autocracies. With their awareness of the quiet revolution, they acquire different values from their citizens to stay at the top above the law and unaccountable.  Either born into power or having developed political power by a coupe, but in any case, in the absence of popular consent, their legitimacy is wafer-thin. Countering their paranoia to a utopian social order includes oppression, muzzling descent, surveillance, and all manner of civil liberty restraints on the ordinary individual.  They dismiss the democratic fact that people are the ultimate seat of sovereignty. 

In contrast, the elite and tribal leaders kept at bay for support and favour within a symbiotic spiral of advantages. As a result, instead of serving the people to protect the interest of the regime and its cronies,  businessmen became wealthy by buying state assets undervalued or delivering services above value in return for kickbacks.  

However, Modernity and Democracy in an increasingly connected world coupled with rapid population growth change at their doorstep is hard to avoid. These countries that form the heart of this essay are struggling for economic advantages and civil liberties.  Unfortunately, both are not delivered. Those men and women educated with a degree need employment. Still, lack of appropriate investment and lack of innovation job scarcity prevails, and civic clampdown coming on top of all this the resulting discontent and disobedience is not far away. 

Prolonged parental dependency and unemployment are dangerous. They sow the seeds of dissent and frustration. Oil-rich states like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait ease the situation on themselves. These Rentier States can afford to buy obedience and unconditional loyalty. Their more outstanding capabilities enable them to employ those young people into their nationalised oil oriented industries or bring them into their already bloated civil government network. Those less well-off countries like Jordan and Egypt receive generous handouts from the United States and their richer cousins. From the former, thank you present for signing peace with Israel and the latter for containment of the Islamist movements or banning them altogether. 

Whether buying loyalty, or by a US veto, or due to some perversive state activities, or some electoral engineering, the so-called Arab Spring has failed even in Tunisia, where it all started. For now, the power of social media, the "Twitter revolution" that helped bring down Egypt's presidency, has inadvertently brought in the military, which effectively brought down a democratically elected government.  All that with the United States giving its wholehearted blessing despite its pledge to strengthen Democracy and promote peace worldwide.  

Still, there is a very tired and worn out saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely; if ever there was a time to requote this passage, it is now.  Alteration of power in the Middle East does not come easy, if at all. Democratic regime change backed by fraud-free elections is out of the question. Authoritarians and autocrats hate giving up power; their leadership more often becomes ancestral. Or, in Iraq's case, it remains in the hands of the majority since Arabs in Iraq, as elsewhere where governments are weak, people tend to define their identity in the form of religion before the country.  

Inevitably political identity leads to polarisations, and some regimes create the very crisis they wish to exploit.  They fuel these perceptions to drive a wedge between Shia and Sunni.  In such scenarios, regime change can only come about by revolution or assassination or a repeat of Tunisia and Egypt by the Social Media and graffiti or Iraq in 2003 by foreign invasion.  

An image directed at the head of Supreme Council of Armed Forces [SCAF], Muhammad Hussein Tantawy, criticising him for embracing Mubarak's policies and corruption. (Photo: Reuters – Asmaa Waguih)
Extensive use of Graffiti in Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt.

Regime change, if not a total reconstruction of the social order, is bound to come.  Top-down rampant corruption was the leading cause for a popular uprising or the so-called Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Iraq and Lebanon.  All facing severe economic problems such as poverty and unemployment.  Despite police brutality, the masses stood firm.  Unfortunately, those fighting for democratic transformation, which would bring freedom and rights, lacked the backing of institutional structure. They also differed as to what freedom meant.  The social media they used so effectively proved insufficient to sustain a lasting political change.  In the end, they failed to cooperate and settle their internal disputes.  They agreed on ousting a regime but could not decide on the State's future identity and share power.  However, people are still pursuing what modernity offers: bread, freedom, social justice, human dignity, and equality before the law.

Powerful forces such as Islamism, accumulation of social grievances, widespread social deprivation, and calls for freedom and liberalisation are pressurising all regimes in the Arab world to change. To help people consolidate a political identity or introduce a framework of political opposition and remove the sentiments of distrust.   Stalemate is not an option but must consider changes even to the entire social order.  Illiberal democratic rule marking out inflexible Arab exceptionalism needs to be revolutionised.  The globalised world is signalling change, and modernity offers much, so the Arabs can not drag their feet too long; accountability and nation-building are wanting. Internet's role as a space where collective dissent can be articulated is not going away. The problem they have to get over is their paranoia and lust for power, both of which in the liberal world is a challenging mix. Much of what is happening in the Arab world is revolutionary, the awakening of civil society amid civil activism.  This is a rare example of a revolutionary process playing out in real-time before it happens. Still, its process remains in doubt, but one thing for certain democratic cultures is indispensable for the evolution of democratic order to take hold.  

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Cancel Culture

Cancel Culture

"The past controls the present and future.  You can't control the past. Also, you can't control the way the past controls the present and future.  So, you can't control the present and future" - Simon Blackburn, Professor of Philosophy, University of Cambridge.

Modern states have impeachment; ancient Athens had ostracism; Social movement has a cancellation.   Free speech is under assault by the Twitter mob who see it as their legitimate right to shout down speakers of whom they disapprove.  Speaking one's mind, which may turn out contrary to a current fashionable group thinking of the day could lead to internet shaming. People finding themselves on the wrong side of the fence either be cancelled, ostracised or dehumanised.  The dark side has meant some people have committed suicide as a result of saying the wrong thing, on social media, or even between friends.  There is a danger brewing of growing hostilities towards opinion others don't agree with.  Attempts at silencing our most basic liberty to speak our mind; the most fundamental of freedom carries a penalty of disengaging the social-cultural bond of shared values.   Bullying for the hell of it by some marginalised group with their own agenda for a new orthodoxy. Actions are taken on the assumption that the atmosphere would be improved by throwing out a dislikeable character. A judgment hinged on expressing a different opinion - a new polarising attitude in society taking place, that is democratising cruelty.  Cancelled does not mean to cancel an appointment or a meeting but a human being.

In an attempt to put a bulwark against this wave of cultural antipathy by social warriors to silence people holding contrary opinions, Harpers Magazine put out a letter signed by more than hundred people from many walks of life in defence of tolerance and debate. Contained a message that makes it abundantly clear that "a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favour of ideological conformity" for the sake of damage control instances arising, where institutions, Advertising companies, publishers, university professors or individuals who are in the public eye increasingly afraid to be seen stepping out of line. The hasty and panicked decision by these institutions has meant "editors are fired for running controversial pieces. Books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity. Journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study, and the heads of organisations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes". There is genuine concern that free speech is being stifled.  Those who signed the letter include white people, black people, gays, Muslims, Jewish and leaders of their communities from all walks of life.

Those accused of new moral orthodoxy argue that opinion and views by public figures should be held accountable for them.  Others believe such grandstanding approach shows an attitude of patronising superiority. The counter-argument being that cancel culture can be a way for the powerless to bring down the powerful. Surely group thinking that suppresses individual thought inducing conformity, by vilification of personality for expressing views incompatible with current opinions, pretends to be the new moral orthodoxy is wholly unacceptable in today's modern society.  Losing a job, a threat to career and friends staying away for fear what may render culture contamination is intolerable. 

Among those who dared to be signatories of the letter are well-known personalities.  JK Rowling, Dame Anna Nicholson,  Salman Rushdie, Naom Chomski are among other giants of the literary world that formed the rich list of celebrities most whom have Ivy League or other prestigious credentials.  For all the good work these people do, they are rubbished and cancelled for some remark or expressing a viewpoint.  They are vilified by the collective herd of intolerance coming from bigoted group think.  Attempt to force those with the intellectual mind to acquiesce to their way of thinking who see themselves as part of the new orthodoxy.  Instead of this tyrannical approach, such exercises of none elastic approaches, they do well to draw a balance between the significant changes of life to that accepted at any one time.  

One can also argue the use of social media has made it possible the power to take down people, a privilege hitherto reserved for the press media, now snatched away, passed on into the public domain. But, somehow, Liberalism and moral freedom have delimited and abused such powers. People are pilloried for criticising a way of thinking, expressing their own standpoints, by objectors who show a tyrannical approach to silence their opinion.   Ideological clusters policing the internet, ensuring that one must not step outside a red line.  A coercive application of censorship by those who assume the power to erase others. A shoal who would ensure one keeps to their way of thinking by attacking free speech and oppressing the individual right of expression into a group-think collective that does nothing more than to acquire a herd type social opinion.   

Of course, they have a moral right to express their views on whichever side they are on.  A time of a reset maybe? Advocating a corrective of what has gone before.  There is no problem with that, but the freedom of expression is a part of a healthy democratic society, they and everyone have the right to engage with that, being mindful not to express a bigoted or hateful opinion.  The application of reason is what is essential here, it should not go missing.    If one is offended, that should be the beginning of the discourse, not the end of it.  Ask why have I offended you and let us discuss it.  Cancellation is the end of discussion. In universities, considered crucibles of free expression, where lecturers find themselves out of favour and hounded out of their jobs as we have seen recently, run diametrically opposed to what universities are about.  Universities are for the application of reason and tolerance. The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away.

It is also important to remember that intolerance has a habit of swinging with the national mood.  An example of this is Winston Churchill.  Half a century ago following his death, the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson described him as "the greatest man any of us have known".The BBC reflecting the national mood documented the funeral procession along the same lines expressing similar sentiments.  The attitude today could hardly be more different.  He is seen today by the same organisation bearing responsibility for the death of 3 million people in the Bengal famine in 1943.  At an interview on Radio 4, no one came to his rescue afraid of the moral contamination.  Indeed with the Black lives matter theme at full swing, he is today held responsible for prioritising white lives over Asian lives" and "precipitator of terrible mass killings" so he should be knocked off his plinth.  Not many do realise, in those days almost everybody on the right as well as on the left was a racist. But, when judged by contemporary moral standards, only the Right stand accused.

Judging and Branding an individual by the present structure of the world for expressing an opinion in earlier times is a twist in the understanding of knowledge reading him or her back to front. Some are proud of the structures built they form the mental housing in which they live, whereas others believe they need dismantling and start fresh.  On August 22, 1862, The New York Tribune quoted Abraham Lincoln saying "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would".   For generations of Americans Abraham Lincoln, known as the great emancipator, should he be cancelled?  Also rather doubtful if anyone wants to destroy Lord Nelson's column in Trafalgar Square for opposing the abolishing of slavery or indeed toppling the Pyramids of Egypt built by slave labour.  Like all balance sheets and the moral one is no exception, objections need to weigh up the two sides irrespective if one opinion runs against the grain of another. Let's face it, rules we have been conditioned to abide by have become our principles. With history, we start to work out what happened then bring in the morality and conclusions to it.  Instead, the warriors start with the point of view of now and re-reading the past in retrospective.

Morality is like a tide, forever changing.  Similarly, acceptance of opinions or moral judgments seems to migrate and mutate from one generation to another, at times expressing views on the right side of the line that could easily be interpreted in the years that follow as unacceptable and charged differently.  Any persons who happened to have merely agreed with that line of thinking, then, but twenty years later faced with the new orthodoxy will also be cancelled; finding oneself at the wrong end.  Moreover, anyone, say, in an old photo is seen with another who may have suffered a slip in moral judgment admissible at the time, can suffer morel contamination and similarly branded. Surely intellectual enquiries must be allowed to flourish.  Subjecting people to mob justice is an abuse of power by marginalised self-assured groups who assume newfound ability to change the world.  Instead, by such McCarthyite witch-hunt on social media, they would inevitably be inhibiting truth and imprisoning free speech.  After all, like someone said, "Because in the end, we all can be potentially cancellable – but you can't cancel my right to think."