A very British crisis

What a crazy, heartbreaking few days it has been. Slowly it has dawned on the world that the UK voted to leave the EU. Most people did not expect this outcome, including the UK government which asked for the referendum to enable it to win the last election.This has been more political change, more history in a matter of days than we usually get in years. The big subsequent revelations are that David Cameron has resigned as Prime Minister and made clear that nothing concrete will happen until at least September. The upshot of this is that it revealed that the government had no plan whatsoever for this eventuality. As I write the British civil service is frantically  working on all the possible options to put to the UK leadership, when the UK eventually has one. Somehow the government will have to bumble through the next few months or even years in a very British way until some sort of solution is found. Remembering the leave campaign, there were many conflicting ideas about what a Brexit could mean, but no coherent plan, only a list of possibilities.

This extended period is a crisis and potentially tragic: Firstly for plunging the economy into an extended crisis, because financial markets hate uncertainty. Secondly because immigration was a focus of the debate, without the issue being properly addressed, in consequence it has inflamed racism in the UK. The media has been full over the last weekend of attacks on both European citizens and those who are not purely of white Caucasian descent.  With both the two major political parties, the Conservatives and the Labour party, deciding to enter into the internal squabbling of leadership elections, it leaves most of the UK without effective leadership and no clear answers to many questions.

On top of all this is the constitutional crisis’. Scotland voted to remain in the EU and retain the option of holding a referendum to remain in the EU, adding to the complexity of any change in arrangements with the EU. This is further complicated by the issue of timing. The easiest option may be for Scotland to vote and if the vote is yes negotiate leaving the union of the UK, before the issue of the EU is dealt with, then separate talks can be conducted between the EU and Scotland and between the EU and the remaining parts of the UK. However, there have been suggestions of a new deal with the EU, which Scotland may be happy with and remain in the UK, in which case the EU would have to be prepared to negotiate everything before Article 50 is invoked, then either a fresh referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal or a UK general election to everything some sort of legitimacy. There have been many suggestions, and much U-turning from various EU authorities over if and when any negotiations can take place, I have never known so many politicians U-turn in such a short space of time. Furthermore the issue of getting Brexit through the UK parliament isn’t clear with a majority of MPs, the peoples representatives, in favour of remaining in the EU by around 500 to 150. It is entirely possible that after all the chaos, it may be decided that it is simply easier and less traumatic to stay as a full member of the EU after all, the vote wasn’t actually about Europe as such and more an expression of dissatisfaction with the political establishment (see my previous post), to shrug and proclaim that “We’re British, you did know that we are all quite quite mad didn’t you?” . Or possibly put Brexit on hold whilst the UK deals with it’s own internal issues first, which may take years. Meanwhile the people of Britain have somehow got to get on with our daily lives through a possibly extended period of uncertainty.

Then there is Northern Ireland which  voted for Remaining in the EU too, even the Unionist communities were not completely behind Brexit. Basically, it’s an issue for Northern Ireland for various reasons: One, the border to the Republic of Ireland is open [no border controls], many roads criss-cross the border, erecting an official international border would be a nightmare. Two, citizens of Northern Ireland hold dual citizenship rights of the UK and the Republic of Ireland (which is in the EU), effectively meaning Northern Irish citizens would retain full EU citizenship, even though they may live in a country outside the EU. Three, any change in the status of Northern Ireland risks re-igniting the long and bloody conflicts of the troubles of Northern Ireland, the peace between the two sides in which has been after a very long struggle, agreement between the two sides is still fragile, this is a huge huge risk.

Then there is Wales, which has kind of been forgotten about amidst these huge difficulties Wales voted for Brexit, but again, whether this is the true desire of a majority in Wales isn’t clear. Wales is waking up to the fact that it could be left as the even poorer relation of England, run by a rUK (remainder of the UK) government not in the interests of Wales. Wales receives large amounts of regional funding from the EU, largely because the UK government neglects investing in the regions, as most other states do. We are waking up to some potentially very dire drops in our economic condition. Wales could be the big loser from all of this.

However there is always hope. For a devolutionist like me, our hour may have perhaps come. A solution may be full federalisation of the UK. By which each country of the UK achieves full statehood, whilst retaining membership of the United Kingdom (kind of like a mini EU) on equal terms.  England could even have it’s own regional parliaments to sort out it’s own regional funding issues. a constitutional quirk of the UK is that England does not have it’s own parliament, using the UK parliament for solely English matters. It can be imagined that the the Houses of Parliament could retain two chambers, an all England parliamant and an all UK parliament.

The advantages of a federal UK could be the solution to this crises and deserve consideration. The issue of borders would not apply, borders would remain open, each state could impose whatever restrictions they wanted to on non-nationals owning property and working in the country, whilst allowing people and goods to pass through unimpeded. Each region would be free to make it’s own relationship with the EU. For example, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland could, if they wished, remain full EU member states, whilst England could have a separate relationship, doing whatever it wants such as restricting inward migration and being free of EU regulations etc. Each state could even ‘dual currency’ having their own currency and a common UK currency. Of course the rest of the EU would need time to accept a federal UK as a very special region, but I think it could be a workable solution, that could keep all parties reasonably happy. There is a precedent in the position of Greenland, Greenland is part of Denmark but not in the EU, whilst Denmark itself is in the EU.

I have long been an advocate of federalisation of the UK, it may just be an idea whose time has come and a way of resolving the various continuing crisis of the UK.

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I want my country back

This phrase has been heard numerous times over the course of the UK EU referendum. I have wondered what exactly it means to the people who utter it. Most accounts of this phenomena describe it as a  nostalgia for a society from the past, for simpler times and a desire for some of those elements to make a return. This is a sentiment to which anyone over over a certain age can relate to at some point.

For some it is a desire for a monocultural monoethnic conformist world where everyone thinks and behaves the same way. Quite why anyone would want that is beyond me, I grew up in such a world and hated it, I couldn’t wait to get away and explore the world. This view betrays a fear of the different, a fear of our fellow human beings. We are all different, so such a view just seems nasty.

However, often this nostalgia is for positive things. A friend and I of similar age were talking about growing up when we just went off exploring with our friends, climbing trees, building elaborate dam systems in local streams, making complex underground maze systems in barns full of straw bales, generally getting very muddy indeed. As long as we made it to someone’s house in time for tea or not home before it got dark, we were not reprimanded  (well only about getting muddy and we sensed our parents didn’t really mind, that the criticism was for forms sake). This is a world that can be longed for. a world where children are not stuck inside, lacking socialising with their peers, exploring themselves and the world around them. Longed for because it was a healthier childhood.

This EU referendum has highlighted this desire for better things from the past, such as affordable housing, education, secure employment or food. however it seems that instead of looking for the fundamental reasons why, much of British society is now worse, people are instead looking for someone else to blame, in this case immigrants (whoever they are, as we are all immigrants). There was a video on YouTube of a man being shouted at in Bristol to be told to ‘Go back where you came from?’, to which he replied ‘Do you mean Cardiff? [where he was from!]’. I don’t understand why anyone would blame people for things, or specifically people who are in some way different, for the problems. It is systems, governmental policy, not thinking things through, that are the problem.

A hatred of people, creates it’s own destructive downward spiral. Once you start blaming ‘other people’, you disconnect yourself from other people. This is highly dangerous and antagonistic. This is the force that creates terrorist groups such as ISIS, who hate everyone who is not a member of their group. So, people then hate ISIS, which leads to hatred of the people in ISIS, then fuzzy thinking and group-think take hold and suddenly it is all Muslims who are to blame, then all Arabs, then one day you have a referendum on membership of the EU where the debate becomes about immigration. Culminating in today, where a MP (member of the UK parliament) was shot by a gunman because he apparently disagreed with his locally elected MPs views.

For me, the country I want back is one of respect and tolerance. Where you behave as you see fit, without fear that some maniac isn’t going to shoot you, where children will return home at the end of the day.  A world where extremism, such as Nazi Germany was something we read about in history books.

This modern curse of extremism affects all of us, whoever we are, wherever in the world we might be. Last week another gunman killed around fifty people in a nightclub in Orlando, USA. Once we got over the shock that another fifty lives had been lost to this extremist disease, we realised that this was an attack on the LGBT community. I am not a member of the LGBT community and being a white, male heterosexual I haven’t encountered or really able to empathise with such discrimination. Anyway the attack was in a LGBT nightclub. LGBT nightclubs are safe spaces, places where members of the LGBT community can be themselves, with less fear. If you are not discriminated against you don’t know what it is like. I’m only really getting my head around this myself.

Last year I was in Germany. I was walking down the street and a guy shoulder charged into me and ran off. I turned to my friend (my host in Germany) to ask what had happened. He said “Well if you are going to walk around in a floral shirt, this sort of thing happens”. I was wearing a floral shirt and it was pointed out to me that almost all the German men wore striped shirts. It wasn’t for being Welsh, or foreign that I was charged at, but because my attacker assumed that I was LGBT. This incident didn’t affect me, I continued to enjoy my holiday. However if such things were a regular occurrence, an everyday thing, I would feel more and more excluded and perhaps seek out safe spaces where all the other non-stripey shirted people went.

So it seems that extremism enforces sub-cultures, which is the opposite of this nice simple world everybody really wants. So to get out of extremism perhaps requires strange things to happen.

And then there’s me. I have written about how I used to be an extremely anxious person. Someone who tried to exist in the shadows, not stand out, not say what I really thought. I tried to say and do what I thought people expected me to do, but I couldn’t, I failed at this, it is just easier to be myself. I was behaving as if I was being discriminated against, when I wasn’t at all, so I was really happy to realise that I am able to be myself, to do such things as cry when Wales loses to England at the football as I did today. However I have since learned how much of this awful discrimination there really is. It’s not just race, it’s gender, sexuality, age, nationality and many other things. There is this ‘expectation’ that we are supposed to be able to conform to, but no-one can say what this conformity actually is, or what it is for? Traditional values? like living in mudhuts, scraping a living off the land with no modern tools? Following one interpretation of a contradictory religious text, written thousands of years ago, when most people did live in mudhuts?

It’s quite simple, there is nothing wrong with respecting other people. Jesus taught that we should respect other people, why do so many ‘Christians’ act contrary to Jesus? Respect has to be learned. We do all get angry. Anger wells up for all sorts of reasons: when we hear people whistling when our national anthem is sung or when a gunman shoots a hard working woman with two young children. We all get angry.

Anger does not have to lead to hatred, we should all learn to control our anger. Like as children climbing a tree when the branch starts to break because of our weight, after getting to safety our first instinct was to blame the tree! We learn the folly of anger. When our football team loses, we don’t hate the winners, we learn to walk away knowing that our day will be some another day, when a gunman goes on a gun rampage in Florida, we do not blame the non-LGBT community, we feel sorrow for those with lost loved ones. When a politician is killed, though we do really get angry at politicians a lot of the time, we appreciate that they are a human being too and that the gunman is a flawed human being too, just like the rest of us.

So, lets stop blaming the tree. Lets go back to a world where we listen to each other with respect, where we exclude no-one, where our mothers would scold us if we ignored the new kid, where we don’t have problem with people being different as we are all different.

 

 

 

Fighting Extremism

To my eternal shame, when I was a teenager I was somewhat racist. I thought that people from different races and cultures, had different morals and because of this should not integrate into my own culture. I grew up in a community in rural Wales, which back then was exclusively white Caucasian with a Christian background, a monoculture. Racism does exist in this community, even today, because some local people think that the way things are done around here are somehow better than that which occurs in the rest of the world. The media is partly to blame for describing bad news in such a way as to lay blame on a community that locally is not fully understood.

Fortunately, Wales is a multi-cultural society, the capital city, Cardiff, historically a major world port, attracted people from all around the world. All it takes to debunk any notions of that people from other cultures are less moral, it to talk to them, and understand their culture. From this increased understanding comes the realisation that any cultures moral system is no better than any other, every culture attempts to be moral.

People fundamentally are very different, however certain traits are more common in some races and cultures than others. It is these demographic differences that leap out to outsiders. It is crazy though to then immediately judge that culture for these differences, based on only a very partial understanding of that culture.

This craziness, this leaping to generalisations does happen. For example, if say an Afro-Caribbean man comes to the culture and makes a minor social indiscretion, people often then extrapolate from this one instance to blame an entire race for this minor mistake, because they are the only Afro-Carribbean person they have interacted with, so based on their experience, 100% of that race are seen to have this negative trait. Of course, anyone should know not to form conclusions based on one experience. It is sometimes difficult to assert if people are just criticising an individual or an entire community.

This phenomena of judging without understanding happened to me recently in the wake of the Paris attacks. Certain people I know, who are Atheists expressed the opinion that it was religion that was to blame for extremism. I explored what they were saying with them, I conceded that it does happen that some religious people do become extremists, but not all. In any case extremism occurs in atheist cultures too. The point is that these people had leapt to the generalisation that religion in itself caused extremism and they didn’t really understand what faith is, what prayer is. It is people that cause extremism, not religion. Really, the concept of cultural relativism is so important.

People cause extremism by making judgements before having a good understanding of a culture. Groups of extremists then gather together who share these same naive views. Extremism exists everywhere.

The debate in the UK this week is how to tackle the extremist group ISIS. The question is portrayed as should the UK bomb Syria, where ISIS have political control, in addition to bombing ISIS in Iraq. Syria is already beign bombed by various other cultures. It seems a cosmetic change in policy and arguably a distraction from tacking extremism. However governments can’t defeat extremism, people must defeat extremism. How do people fight extremism?

Firstly, we must not be quick to judge.  Acknowledgement that our own and all other cultures are imperfect. To be wary of the easy answers peddled by politicians and the media. To commit to study the other culture in depth to see if there is any truth in these easy accusations.

Secondly, to not tolerate intolerance. To not allow extremist views to propagate, to challenge the views of people in our communities, to not allow extremist views to become acceptable. Really extremism shoudl be tackled worldwide, in every community, globally. Only then will extremism be deafeated.

The war on terror, isn’t really about bombing people or restricting peoples movements. The war on terror is in hearts and minds of those around us. Extremism has to be beaten locally before any community can genuinely help at a wider level. Already, since the Paris attacks, Muslims in the UK have been physically assaulted and abused. The focus should be on talking to these extremists attacking British Muslims. By doing this the cause of extremism can be tackled, rather than the symptom, terrorist organisations.

 

 

 

#parisattacks and Community

Once again, Paris is subject to terrorist attacks and I was affected as the news of the tragedy filtered through late last night. Earlier in the evening I also heard of the terrorist attacks in Beirut and Baghdad , whilst this news saddened me, it didn’t affect me as much, so I wondered why this is. The deaths of innocent people everywhere are surely equally tragic.

I concluded that it was because it was closer to home. In the same way as when there is news of a rape or murder in Wales, it affects me more deeply than when there is news of rape or murder in, say, Australia, because it is more local. I believe that as human beings we view the whole of humanity as the targets used in archery, the rings closer to the centre have a stronger significance to us, as they are closer to us, I think everyone is at the centre of their own sphere of influence:

Zone 1 : Partners, immediate family and close friends – These are the people I care about the most and whom I am most effected if there is bad news and I am motivated to go to the ends of the earth to help.

Zone 2 : Extended family, casual friends, work colleagues, members of local social groups

Zone 3 : Local community, people I interact with more occasionally, who share the same lived in space

Zone 4 : National community, in my case Wales

Zone 5 : National neighbours, for me, Ireland, England and Scotland.

Zone 6 : Similar cultures, for me, Western society: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Northern, Western and Central Europe.

Zone 7 : The global community, the rest of the world.

To me, this hierarchical system, makes sense. Incidentally it explains why I regard myself as Welsh first and British second. Being aware of ones place in a community, enables individuals to learn that everyone elses archers target is different, that people closer to us tend to have their centre closer to our own centre. It is always interesting to be open to and learn about people in other cultures, to learn how their ‘archers target’ is different to our own.

Understanding that our own target, our own values, whilst important to us individually, on a global level are equal. no one individual is more or less important than anyone else. As rational beings, people know that any individual ‘archers target’ is no more important than any other. What it is is that we are more affected by change to our local community than the wider community, yet, are able to realise that  local effects affect us locally, whilst a murder close to home or a long way away is equally tragic.

It is perhaps when this ‘archers target’ system is ignored, that conflict arises. It is possible, especially in a globalised world, for people to regard social groupings that they belong to, for people in outer zones to be more important than those locally. For example, as a Christian, I may feel more affected by the murder of a Christian in say, Pakistan, that the murder of a Muslim in Wales. I don’t, I am more affected by the local murder, but I know people who do feel this way. As society is more global, our social sphere becomes global and there become sections of our local communities that we don’t interact with, because we spend more social time online, then this distortion of how we care for people can become affected.

There is so much trouble, so much conflict in the world and with the internet and global news coverage, we know a little about what is going on all over the world. People do care, if there is a tragedy anywhere in the world, people want to help. Perhaps the difficulty is that in helping, people, naturally, in the first instance wish to help in a way that imposes the slightly different values of their local community, rather than listening to troubled community and responding to the needs identified locally.

For example, I worked on a camp alongside an isolated village in Madagascar, surrounded by one the last remaining areas of  primary forest. I went there with the motivation that such areas of such natural beauty and diversity should be preserved, as much of Madagascar has suffered from the loss of it’s forests. In my first few days there, I saw evidence of tree felling and clearing of areas of forest for farming by the local villagers. An initial reaction was how daft are these people for razing such an important and increasingly rare resource. After spending time there, I realised that these Malagasy villagers are not daft, but witty, friendly, cooperative people.

Slash and burn agriculture has been used for centuries throughout the world. An area of forest is cleared, the wood used for building and fuel, and the area cleared, farmed until the soil nutrients are depleted. Then another area of forest is cleared and the process repeated. This was sustainable, as over time, the forest would re-establish itself, it would be generations before that area was cleared again. The problem is population growth and finite areas of forest. To the villagers there has always been more forest to clear if need be. However the villagers learned from us that the forest wasn’t infinite and they were interested in developing ways to preserve the forest, whilst maintaining the resources needed to sustain their village. Indeed, they were wondering why the price for wood products at their local market was rising. Local solutions work, simply going in and telling people not to cut down trees, only creates conflict.

I suspect, there will be many calls in the next few days to do something to solve the problems of the broken fractured societies in the Middle East. Perhaps we should all remember, not to join in with the loudest, angriest voices, but to keep listening to all voices, maybe one day, humanity can learn to work together and respect one another, before conflicts get out of hand.