Lone Wolf, Terrorism & Related Violence

Terrorist attacks make headlines, but policy-makers should be just as concerned about other forms of violence High-profile attacks on major cities in Belgium, France and the United States have set the world on edge. Commentators are talking of a new type of protracted guerrilla war stretching from the Americas and Europe across Africa, Asia and the Arab world. This one is irregular, hybrid and networked, involving a constellation of terrorist organizations such as ISIS and Al Qaeda. Rather than hitting specific groups of people or symbolic sites, cities are coming under siege. Complicating matters, violent extremists are recruiting directly from poorer and marginal neighbourhoods across the West.
The extent of local recruitment and so-called “extremist travelling” from Western countries is certainly cause for concern. One estimate is that as many as 31,000 people from 86 countries have made the trip to Iraq or Syria to join ISIS or other extremist groups since June 2014. It is not just Western Europe or North America that is proving to be fertile ground for so-called remote radicalization, but also Russia and Central Asia. Many foreign fighters are killed while fighting abroad, but as many as 30% of them eventually make the trip back home. Politicians are scrambling to respond and hate crimes against minority groups are on the rise.
It is statistically undeniable that terrorist violence is on the rise. But is today’s terrorist violence really more intense and widespread than in, say, the 1960s and 1970s? Are Western European and North American cities really the new front line of a global jihad? The answer partly depends on how terrorism is defined. There is currently no international legal or even academic agreement on what constitutes terrorism. Some experts say that it consists of violence perpetrated by non-state actors against civilians to achieve political religious or ideological change, but that sounds a lot like armed conflict. Complicating matters, the local governments tend to, as a matter of routine, inflate terrorism and insurgency.
However first let us study the Inner world of lone wolves. The conventional explanation for the diasporic jihadist, radicalisation, may not be the complete one. “Man is ruined”, wrote Salman Rushdie, “by the misfortune of possessing a moral sense”. Though some beasts were odious, even dangerous, he conceded, “a jackal is a jackal, and a leopard is a leopard, and a boar has no option to be boarish one hundred per cent of the time”. “Only Man’s nature is suspect and shifting. Only Man, knowing good, can do evil. Only man wears masks. Only man is a disappointment to himself”.
For Omar Mateen, author of the largest terrorist killing in the United States since 9/11, that sentiment may have been familiar: A failed marriage to a woman who could not be battered into submission; a hoped-for law-enforcement career that never took off; above all, sexual urges he loathed in himself.
Killing is redemption: In recent years, this script has played out often with so-called Lone Wolf terrorists drawn from the Muslim diaspora in the US and Europe. The attack in Orlando is certain to have seismic political impact, and makes it imperative to carefully examine just what is going on.
The conventional explanation for the diasporic jihadist is one word: Radicalisation. In essence, the proposition holds, some individuals transition from conventional, pietist Islam to more extreme versions, and then to violence, propelled by the impact of wars raging in West Asia. Internet propaganda, put out by the Islamic State, or al-Qaeda, is in this rendition of events, a vector that drives the radicalisation process.
It is a not-implausible story, especially attractive to those who hold that belief in Islam in itself is a potential cause of violence. The problem is, it doesn’t stand up to the facts.
For one, the evidence doesn’t suggest religion had much to do the trajectories of many jihadists. Salah Abdeslam and his brother, Brahim Abdeslam, who shot up the Bataclan theatre in Paris, were known for smoking pot at the Les Beguines bar, as local residents prayed at the mosque across the road. Khalid el-Bakraoui, and Brahim el-Bakraoui, who bombed Brussels airport in March, showed no great interest in religion, either. In other cases, diasporic jihadists had, at most, an uncomfortable relationship with the Islam they grew up with. Mohammed Sidique Khan, the leader of the 7/7 London bombers, stayed away from his local mosque and refused an arranged marriage — leading his parents to all but disown him.
The converse is also true. Rizwan Farook, who with his wife Tashfeen Malik carried out the San Bernardino massacre last year, appears to have become obsessively religious at a young age — the consequence of witnessing his westernised, hard-drinking father’s savage violence against his mother. There’s no evidence, though, that he ever joined an Islamist religious group, or party. Put simply, as the scholar and intelligence analyst Marc Sageman has often pointed out, there is no one path to become a jihadist — any more than there is to other political choices. The additional problem with the radicalisation thesis is that it doesn’t actually explain anything. Wars pitting Western imperialism against Muslim countries have raged through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, as have violent Islamist movements — but no suicide bombers or terrorists flourished in the West at those times.
The real question we ought to be asking, as the scholar Kenan Malik has pointed out, is why jihadism has emerged among young people in Muslim communities in the West at this particular historical moment.
Islamism, for Omar Mateen or the el-Bakraoui brothers or Mohammed Sidique Khan, is not a religion in a conventional sense. It exists free from traditional institutions of mosque and community, free from the historical contexts which their parents’ generations brought with them from their homelands. Inside small groups, online or physical, they give their diasporic Islam meaning — and act on it to dismantle the world around them.
The ultra-violence of the Islamic State, or al Qaeda — it matters little which — thus provides a language for the anger of a generation alienated from the political system, with no personal or political agency. The crisis has come at a moment when traditional political parties seem disengaged, more than ever before from the lives of ordinary people, especially the working class.
Farhad Khosrokhavar, author of an authoritative study on France’s jihadists, casts this transformation as a kind of spiritual experience: “Through jihadism,” he writes, “they transform the contempt of others into fear”. For the diasporic follower, the jihad allows entry into a feared tribe, the global Nation of Islam. Entry to this tribe comes with adoption of a sexually-neurotic code. In 1949, Syed Qutb — the founding patriarch, with the Pakistani ideologue Abul A’la Maududi, of political Islamism — visited the US, on a trip organised as part of the CIA’s efforts to recruit the savagely anti-Communist Muslim Brotherhood. In 1951, he would publish The America I Have Seen — compelling reading today, as we struggle to understand the moral dystopia young jihadists inhabit.
In the US, Qutb visited a dance organized by a local church in Greeley, Colorado. “They danced to the tunes of the gramophone”, he recorded, “and the dance floor was replete with tapping feet, enticing legs, arms wrapped around waists, lips pressed to lips, and chests pressed to chests. The atmosphere was full of desire”. For Qutb, the American woman was “a naked, screaming temptation” — a metaphor for the broader seduction of the Enlightenment, which placed human agency at the core of its project.
The experience of America’s “spiritual wasteland” was to lead Qutb to write his 1964 opus, Milestones, which fired the imagination of two generations of jihadists. He rejected modernity, a “system which is fundamentally at variance with Islam and which, with the help of force and oppression, is keeping us from living the sort of life which is demanded by our Creator”.
Islamists are far from the only ones seeking escape from the complex, often agonising, ethical choices modernity confronts us with. From the secession of the New Age spiritualist or the junkie, to the ugly violence of the anarchist and the white supremacist, liberal values are under siege as never before. The assault is evident in the West, from parties of the right, but also in India.
Each of these challenges can be contained by better policing and gun control — but defeating them requires something more fundamental. These are fundamentally political challenges, and require politicians to engage in a clear-eyed defence of the principles that define liberalism — individual freedoms, democratic rights, and the rule of law. For a large cohort of disenfranchised young Muslims in the West, jihad has emerged as a language of rage — just as crime or drugs have done for others. Liberal political forces need to demonstrate that there are other paths to redemption.
One way to better map out the extent of the terrorist threat is to follow the data. Notwithstanding serious challenges relating both to the quality and coverage of statistics on terrorism, warfare and homicide, it is possible to detect trends and patterns by honing in on the prevalence of lethal violence.
A not-so global jihad
It turns out that extremist violence is much less pervasive than you might think. It is significantly more prolific outside Western countries than in them. A recent assessment of terrorist risks in 1,300 cities ranked urban centres in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Somalia as significantly more vulnerable than those in Belgium, France, the UK or the US. At least 65 cities were described as facing extreme risk, with Iraq – especially Baghdad, Mosul, Al Ramadi, Ba´qubah, Kirkuk and Al Hillah – fielding six of the top 10. Consider that between 2000 and 2014, there were around 3,659 terrorist-related deaths in all Western countries combined. In Baghdad there were 1,141 deaths and 3,654 wounded in 2014 alone.
It is true that there have been dozens of terrorist attacks in recent years, but how are they spread around the world? The Global Terrorism Database (GTD) tracks terrorist-related fatalities between 2005 and 2014 in 160 countries. In a handful of cases where there is ongoing warfare – including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen – the GTD sometimes conflates terrorist and conflict-related deaths. The authors of the database go to great lengths to avoid this from happening, but it is unavoidable. There are alternative datasets that apply much more restrictive inclusion criteria, but they are not as broad in their coverage and also suffer flaws. Rather than focusing on absolute numbers of violent deaths, it may be more useful to consider prevalence rates.
On the one hand, most countries at the top of the list of most terrorism-prone are clustered in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. They include war-torn countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Israel, Yemen, Pakistan and Syria. Other countries in the top 15 are more unexpected, not least the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, Central African Republic, and Kenya. Belgium comes in at 86th place while France and the United States come in at 98th and 105th respectively. These latter rankings will obviously shift upwards given recent attacks in 2015 and 2016, but not by as much as you might expect.
Fatalities are classified as terrorist-related if the action occurs outside the context of legitimate warfare activities, insofar as it targets non
combatants as expressed by international humanitarian law.
Victims of war
Innocent civilians are much more likely to be killed during the course of armed conflicts. The difference between the two is that terrorism is intended specifically to indiscriminately kill civilians, while in wars the killing of innocent civilians and prisoners is expressly prohibited, even if it does occur. War-related killings may be labelled criminal or even terrorist when they are determined to be disproportionate. So how does the risk rating of violent deaths occurring in war zones compare to those due to terrorism? The Uppsala Conflict Database Program records conflict deaths occurring in more than 60 wars between 2005 and 2014. After adjusting the absolute numbers of violent deaths relative to the total population per country, it is possible to determine an approximate conflict death rate per 100,000 people.
It turns out that the risk of dying violently from war is considerable higher than the probability of being killed in the course of extremist violence. Although in some countries this risk is an order of magnitude higher, the overall conflict death rate in conflict zones is still far lower than many might have predicted. For example, the average conflict death rate is sky-high in Syria – site of some of the most horrific warfare over the past decade. But it is comparatively lower in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan, Chad and Yemen, countries that have been exposed to industrial-scale violence. The conflict death rate of course varies according to the ebb and flow of warfare, but the average prevalence is surprisingly low.
Conflict deaths are defined as “battle deaths” caused by warring parties that can be directly attributed to combat. This includes traditional battlefield fighting, guerrilla activity, bombardment of bases and other actions where the target are military forces or representatives of the parties. Collateral damage, including civilian deaths, are counted.
The greatest threat of all: homicide
And now for the most surprising finding of all. A review of the data reveals that civilians around the world are much more at risk of being killed as result of homicide than either terrorist violence or warfare. Drawing on the Homicide Monitor, it is possible to track murder rates for more than 225 countries and territories from 2005 to 2014.
Although homicidal incidents are steadily declining in most parts of the world, it still presents one of the greatest threats of what public health experts call external causes of mortality – especially among young adult and adolescent males.
As in the case of terrorist and conflict-related violence, there are also hot spots where murders tend to concentrate. People living in Central and South America, the Caribbean and Southern Africa are more at risk of dying of homicide than in most other places. The most murderous countries in the world include El Salvador, Honduras, Jamaica, Venezuela, the US Virgin Islands, Guatemala, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Belize, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Brazil. About46 out of 50 most violent cities are concentrated in the Americas. Also included in the top 15 most murderous countries, though located outside the Americas, are South Africa, Swaziland and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
And beyond these pockets of extreme homicidal violence, the risk of murder is also more widely distributed than violent deaths associated with terrorism or war. There are roughly 85 countries that are consistently above the global average of around seven homicides per 100,000 people. In fact, about nine out of every 10violent deaths over the globe over the past decade were due to murder; just a fraction can be attributed to either war or terrorism. This is not to minimize the real dangers and destruction associated with these latter phenomena, but rather to ensure that we keep our eye firmly on the ball.
Homicides are defined as the deliberate and unlawful killing of one person by another and are registered by police and health departments.
Drawing lessons from the data
So what does this morbid retreat into the data of violent death tell us? First, it is a reminder that a relatively small number of countries are dramatically more at risk of terrorist and conflict-related violence than others – especially Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. While they must protect their homeland from terrorist events, diplomats, development experts and defence specialists would do well to double down on preventive diplomacy and conflict prevention in the most badly affected countries. Doing so could have a dramatic effect on reducing the global burden of terrorist and conflict violence and related humanitarian consequences such as refugee flows and internal population displacement.
Second, there are also a handful of countries – most of them in Latin America and the Caribbean – where homicidal violence is off-the charts. Most of the murders in these states are concentrated in fast-growing large- and medium-sized cities. If homicides are to be reduced there, it is essential that federal and municipal planners focus on risk factors that are driving urban violence – not least social and economic inequality, high rates of youth unemployment, poor and uneven governance, and the limited purchase of the rule of law. There is mounting evidence of data-driven strategies that work – including focussed-deterrence, cognitive therapy and targeted prevention, but they need sustained leadership to have lasting effect.
Finally, we need to get better at nurturing resilience – the ability to cope, adapt and rebound in the face of adversity – in high-risk communities. While obviously distinct in their causes and consequences, there are still many commonalities connecting terrorist, conflict and homicidal violence. When communities are disorganized and suffer from neglect, there is a higher likelihood of politically, criminally and ideologically motivated organized violence erupting. Governments, businesses and civil society groups need to make sure that political settlements are inclusive, that marginalized groups and broken families are taken care of, and that resilience is designed into communities from the get-go.
A handful of hastily written emails spread shock waves across the United States last month. The threats were familiar, warning of gunfire, backpack bombs and mayhem in schools across New York and Los Angeles. The messages were routed electronically through Germany, but the author’s whereabouts are still unknown.
The two cities responded in dramatically opposing fashion. The Los Angeles Unified School District shut down over 1000 facilities, preventing over 640,000 children from attending class. Officials said that more than 1,500 buildings were searched and that police patrols would be expanded throughout the week. The price tag is estimated at around $50 million.
Meanwhile, New York authorities swiftly dismissed the threats as a hoax. Their snap assessment was made possible by massive investments in counter-terrorism capabilities since the devastating 9/11 attacks. New York’s tough talking police chief said the sender probably indulged in too many episodes of the popular television drama, Homeland.
While publicly chastised by New York’s mayor for over-reacting, the Los Angeles authorities’ can hardly be faulted for taking the terrorist threat seriously. The anonymous warning came on the heels of a brutal massacre of 14 people in San Bernardino, and then in Orlando. It turns out that counter-terrorism experts had been expecting the attacks.
More and more cities are being held hostage to the threat of terrorism. In Europe, New Year fireworks and festivities were cancelled in Brussels because of a terror alert, while Munich evacuated two major railway stations on 1 January after an intelligence agency warned of an imminent attack.
The sense of unease in the US is palatable. In just the past few weeks, copycat threats were issued in Washington D.C., Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, and Dallas. In New Hampshire, 17 schools were closed due to emailed threats sent to a single school.
Alerts issued by US Homeland Security are seldom accompanied with specific information. And with law enforcement agencies bogged down with dozens of warnings a day, the probability of more devastating attacks is growing.
Prank or not, the consequences of foreign and domestic terror are spectacularly costly. That is of course the point. Yet for many people there is wary resignation: urban terrorism is the new normal. They have a point. Reported terrorist events have skyrocketed in recent years. In the U.S., a new study documented a 158% increase in the number of threats to schools in 2014. More than a third of these were sent electronically and resulted in evacuations and shutdowns.
Cities are on the frontline of 21st Century terrorism. Islamist fanatics and right-wing extremists can literally email, post or phone in their threats. Counter-insurgency specialist David Kilcullen believes that cities themselves are under assault. “The goal is to shut [cities] down for as long as possible, separate people from one another, break down communities, and push them into mental fortresses,” he said. The result is that different ethnic and religious communities stop trusting one another and are more susceptible to exploitation.
Notwithstanding a recent surge in asymmetric threats, North American cities have a lengthy history of terrorism. Los Angeles was rocked by home-made bombs back in 1910 and parts of Manhattan´s Wall Street were decimated by a wagon-full of explosives in 1920. With the exception of 9/11, the vast majority of terror attacks in the US are homegrown.
Western European cities are even more accustomed to the threat of terrorism. Well before the ascendance of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, Londoners, Madrileños and Romans were battered by Ireland’s Republican Army (IRA), the Basque separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) and Italy’s Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari. According to the University of Maryland´s Global Terrorism Database, there were more than 16,000 terrorist attacks in Europe over the past 45 years, most of them occurring during the 1970s and 1980s.
It is easy for Westerners to forget that the vast majority of terrorist actions occur in less well known cities far from the media headlines. A recent study of more than 1,300 cities ranked Baghdad, Mosul and Ramadi as the most terrorism-prone settlements on the planet. It also showed that Afghan, Egyptian, Libyan, Nigerian, Pakistani, and Somali cities are far more vulnerable to terrorism than their counterparts in the United Kingdom, France or the U.S.
Consider the numbers. Between 2000 and 2014 there were 3659 terror related deaths in all Western countries combined. By way of contrast, there were 13,076 terror related deaths in Iraq alone and that too only in one year in 2014. Cities in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia arguably have considerably more experience dealing with foreign and domestic terrorists than those in North America and Western Europe. So what are the take-away messages for city planners?
While obvious, there is no one-size-fits all response to urban terrorism. Preventing attacks by so-called “lone wolves” or “sleeper cells” in the U.S. requires a very different set of tactics than those used to counter sophisticated networks of highly-trained operatives in an active war zone like Yemen. In cities like Mosul, Mogadishu or Mumbai, terrorists are fielding highly elaborate operations and weaponry. Their goal is to deny the government’s ability to secure the city for as long as possible.
With the goal of shutting shut cities down, terrorist groups frequently target “soft” targets where people are most likely to gather. Extremist groups such as Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, Boko Haram and Islamic State are expert at separating different population groups from one another. They then exploit this alienation to violent effect. By bombing street markets, transport hubs, sports stadiums, theaters and police stations, they force people indoors. According to terrorism expert John Sullivan, this amounts to physical and psychological siege.
More and more cities are designing-in-resilience to counteract urban terrorism. Common procedures include extra layers of police surveillance in crowded spaces and the re-routing of traffic away from critical infrastructure. Other measures include unobtrusive adaptations and reinforcements to city landscapes to reduce blast exposure, physical barriers around government offices and major businesses in order to restrict access to would-be attackers, and the appointment of counter-terrorism advisers. The goal is to minimize risk without choking city life altogether.
Positive police-community relations are also widely acknowledged as an essential feature of counter-terrorism strategy. This is not about deploying more officers on the street, but rather investing in strengthening their cooperation with local residents. Kilcullen has observed how in many slums and degraded areas of Mumbai, Paris and Gaza, “locals simply don’t trust the police – and often for good reason”. Until the mood changes, potential terrorists will find safe haven.
In the meantime, technology firms are lining-up from Baghdad to Boston to equip city authorities with the software and skills to disrupt foreign and domestic terrorism. Today there are more than 75 data fusion centers in major urban centers in the U.S. sharing information between federal, state and municipal agencies. The Los Angeles Police Department has used predictive policing algorithms to positive effect since 2013. The LAPD is mapping historical crime trends to predict where future incidents might occur.
Cities are also shoring-up their intelligence and counter-terrorism arsenal. For example, New York recently launched a cyber intelligence unit that taps into conversations of potential Jihadi recruits. Advanced electronic surveillance systems are commonplace from city air terminals to city streets. Some of these measures confuse lines of authority, undermine privacy legislation, and militarize law enforcement. The real question, according to Kilcullen, “is how to make a society more resilient in a way that does not destroy our way of life in the city”.
A new generation of social media monitoring system is also held up as another front against urban terrorism. The idea is to track millions of Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Instagram feeds to detect potential terrorist threats from those who might telegraph their intentions. A threat awareness group focused on schools, “each threat needs to be surfaced and addressed in the context of the public safety officials existing programmes. Alert services can augment the existing safety and security plans within schools, municipalities, and those responsible for protecting critical infrastructure.”
There are clearly limitations with what physical, policing and technological enhancements in cities can achieve. Not every bit of critical infrastructure can be made blast-proof. The introduction of more CCTV cameras in a city like London or Nairobi may help with investigations, but they won´t necessarily prevent new attacks from taking place. Or will they? French railway authorities are planning to rollout about 40,000 new cameras that are designed in genuine Orwellian fashion to track would-be terrorists by monitoring excessive body temperature and signs of anxiety.
The truth is that there are not many examples of cities getting it right. Urban authorities are grappling with fast changing environments. In extreme cases such as Baghdad, metropolitan officials are applying the urban tourniquet of gated communities. In Tel Aviv, city residents are simply getting used to a heightened threat environment.
For the former advisor of the mayors of New York and London, Martin Powell, the strategy is straight-forward: “invest in good planning and coordination, actionable intelligence and strategies to harden targets.” While dull, these strategies deliver results: the New York Police Department claims to have disrupted at least 16 terrorist plots since 2001. London says it foiled seven terror plots only in one month.
If cities are going to get to grips with these threats, they also need to think further ahead. Kilcullen is convinced that mayors and police chiefs may need to start normalizing the threat, investing in both prevention and consequence management. Businesses must regularly update their continuity plans and governments must improve their inter-agency communications to separate the signal from the noise. What is more, urban planners and private businesses would also be wise to invest in progressive urban planning, especially social inclusion and cohesion building in low-income and marginalized groups.
An inescapable conclusion is that city dwellers around the world will need to get used to the new normal. Governments cannot be expected to foil every terrorist plot. The trick is not to lock cities down, introduce mass surveillance and strangle the city. There is a temptation to erect barricades and build higher walls after each high profile terrorist event. Urban planner Richard Florida worries that “this could create a debilitating culture of fear”. What is needed is the empowerment of urban residents who, with the help of proactive police and new technology, can assume a more central role in preventing terrorism.
Terrorist attacks make headlines, but policy-makers should be just as concerned about other forms of violence High-profile attacks on major cities in Belgium, France and the United States have set the world on edge. Commentators are talking of a new type of protracted guerrilla war stretching from the Americas and Europe across Africa, Asia and the Arab world. This one is irregular, hybrid and networked, involving a constellation of terrorist organizations such as ISIS and Al Qaeda. Rather than hitting specific groups of people or symbolic sites, cities are coming under siege. Complicating matters, violent extremists are recruiting directly from poorer and marginal neighbourhoods across the West.
The extent of local recruitment and so-called “extremist travelling” from Western countries is certainly cause for concern. One estimate is that as many as 31,000 people from 86 countries have made the trip to Iraq or Syria to join ISIS or other extremist groups since June 2014. It is not just Western Europe or North America that is proving to be fertile ground for so-called remote radicalization, but also Russia and Central Asia. Many foreign fighters are killed while fighting abroad, but as many as 30% of them eventually make the trip back home. Politicians are scrambling to respond and hate crimes against minority groups are on the rise.
It is statistically undeniable that terrorist violence is on the rise. But is today’s terrorist violence really more intense and widespread than in, say, the 1960s and 1970s? Are Western European and North American cities really the new front line of a global jihad? The answer partly depends on how terrorism is defined. There is currently no international legal or even academic agreement on what constitutes terrorism. Some experts say that it consists of violence perpetrated by non-state actors against civilians to achieve political religious or ideological change, but that sounds a lot like armed conflict. Complicating matters, the local governments tend to, as a matter of routine, inflate terrorism and insurgency.

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Unholy Crusade on Children’s Books- the Sweden Way

In 1966, one of Sweden’s most popular children’s writers, Jan Lööf, published Grandpa is a Pirate, an illustrated children’s book, which featured, among other characters, the wicked pirate Omar and the street peddler, Abdullah. The book has been a bestseller ever since, and has been translated into English (as My Grandpa is a Pirate), Spanish, French and other languages. Ten years ago, 100,000 copies of it were even distributed to the Swedish public with McDonald’s Happy Meals, as part of an initiative to support reading among children.
Ah, but those were the days of yesteryear! Now, fifty years later, the book is no longer tolerable. The now 76-year-old author told Swedish news outlets that his publisher recently said that unless he rewrites the book and changes the illustrations, it will be taken off the market. The publisher also threatened to withdraw another of his books unless it is redone: it features an illustration of a black jazz musician who sleeps with his sunglasses on.
Lööf’s publisher, the Swedish publishing giant Bonnier Carlsen, says that it has not yet made a final decision and that it only views the rewriting and re-illustrating of the books as “an option.” There is no doubt, however, that they consider the books in question extremely problematic. “The books stereotype other cultures, something which is not strange, since all illustrations are created in a context, in their own time, and times change,” said Eva Dahlin, who heads Bonnier Carlsen’s literary department. “But if you come from the Middle East, for instance, you can get tired from rarely being featured on the good side in literary depictions. Children’s books are special because they are read over a longer period of time and the norms of the past live on in them, unedited. As an adult, one may be wearing one’s nostalgic glasses and miss things that could be seen as problematic by others.”
Dahlin further explained that the publishing house spends a lot of time reviewing older publications, to check if such “problematic” passages occur. She added that the publishing house does not check for only culturally sensitive passages: “There are many female editors, and therefore we have probably been more naturally aware of gender-biased depictions than these type of questions. But now we have better insights and a greater awareness of these issues.”
One of Sweden’s most popular children’s writers, Jan Lööf, was recently told by his publisher that unless he makes his bestselling 1966 book, Grandpa is a Pirate, more politically correct by rewriting it and changing the illustrations, it will be taken off the market.
Sweden is no stranger to “literary revisions” of this kind, or other cultural revisions in the name of political correctness. Both Pippi Longstocking and other children’s books have gone through assorted revisions or have even been taken off the market. In the Pippi Longstocking television series, a scene in which Pippi squints her eyes to look Chinese has been edited out altogether, so as not to offend anyone. In 2013, a popular, award-winning Danish children’s book, Mustafa’s Kiosk, by Jakob Martin Strid, was taken off the market in Sweden after complaints on Swedish social media that it was racist and “Islamophobic.” Ironically, the author wrote it in 1998, when he was staying in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, as “an anti-racist statement.” Tellingly, the book had been on the Swedish market since 2002 with no complaints. In his response to the criticism, the Danish writer noted that an equal and non-racist society only comes about “when you are allowed to make (loving) fun of everyone.” “I also make fun of Norwegians,” he added.
In 2014, after complaints on Swedish social media that some of its candy was “racist,” the Haribo company decided to change one of its products, “Skipper Mix,” which consisted of candies shaped in the form of a sailor’s souvenirs, including African masks.
The question arises: How much purging and expiation will be needed to render a country’s culture politically correct? That question raises an even bigger one: How high is the price of political correctness in terms of “cleansing” the past and present of perceived slights, anywhere, to just about anyone?
Taken to its extremes, the urge to cleanse a culture of elements that do not live up to the politically correct orthodoxy currently in political vogue unsettlingly echoes the Taliban and ISIS credos of destroying everything that does not accord with their Quranic views. The desire “not to offend,” taken to its logical conclusion, is a totalitarian impulse, which threatens to destroy everything that disagrees with its doctrines. Crucially, who gets to decide what is offensive?
What begins innocently enough, by taking out passages from books that may hurt someone’s feelings, can end up turning into something far more sinister, as it indeed has in Sweden. Former Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt famously stated in 2014 that Sweden belongs to immigrants, not to the Swedes who have lived there for generations. He thereby communicated that he believes the future of Sweden will be shaped by non-Swedes, showing a curious contempt for his own culture.
This contempt has spread fast throughout official Sweden. In 2014, a Swedish school in Halmstad forbade displaying the Swedish flag, after a student painted his face in the Swedish colors for a carnival. In its new rules, the school specified why: “Most students look forward to school traditions. When we have days of carnivals and music the goal is that these days should be experienced as positive by everyone. The Swedish flag is not allowed as part of carnival dress. … Positive and bright feelings must be in focus. … School photos must obviously be free of national symbols.”
However, the “precedent” for such rules had already been set ten years prior, in 2004, at a school in Vaargaarda, when two girls had worn printed sweatshirts which happened to display the Swedish flag and the word “Sweden.” They were told that this kind of clothing was not allowed at school. One of the girls told reporters that singing the national anthem had also been forbidden at the school.
Taken to its extremes, the urge to cleanse a culture of elements that do not live up to the politically correct orthodoxy currently in political vogue unsettlingly echoes the Taliban and ISIS credos of destroying everything that does not accord with their Quranic views. The desire “not to offend,” taken to its logical conclusion, is a totalitarian impulse, which threatens to destroy everything that disagrees with its doctrines. Crucially, who gets to decide what is offensive?
The question arises: How much purging and expiation will be needed to render a country’s culture politically correct? “When we have days of carnivals and music the goal is that these days should be experienced as positive by everyone. The Swedish flag is not allowed as part of carnival dress. … Positive and bright feelings must be in focus. … School photos must obviously be free of national symbols.” — Swedish school in Halmstad. Rome covered up its classical nude statues for a visit from Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, in January 2016. A decade ago, who would have even imagined such sycophancy?
In 2012, two members of Sweden’s parliament suggested that statues of the Swedish Kings Carl XII and Gustav II Adolf should be removed, because they represent a time when Sweden was a great military power, “a dark time in our country as well as in other countries, which were affected by Swedish aggression,” as the MPs wrote in the motion. Instead, the MPs suggested, the squares of central Stockholm should be adorned in a way such that they “signal peace, tolerance, diversity, freedom and solidarity.”
In 2013, a Baroque painting of the nude goddess Juno was removed from the restaurant of the Swedish parliament, ostensibly to avoid offense to feminist and Muslim sensibilities.
These cases should not be discarded as crazy practices peculiar to Sweden. On the contrary, they present a perfect case-study of the consequences of politically correct culture driven to the extreme. Indeed, these consequences are already proliferating across the Western world. One particularly noteworthy instance took place when Iranian president Hassan Rouhani visited Rome in January 2016. To prevent Rouhani having “a hormonal shock and ripp[ing] up the freshly signed contracts with our Italian industries,” as one Italian columnist, Massimo Gramellini, wrote, Rome covered up its classical nude statues. Who would have even imagined such sycophancy a decade ago?
In Britain, students have recently campaigned for the removal of symbols of British imperialism, such as a statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oxford University. These students claim the campaign is not only about the statue itself, but that it is “…a campaign against racism at Oxford, of which the Rhodes statue is a small but symbolic part.” Already in 2000, the London Mayor Ken Livingstone suggested that statues of two 19th-century British generals should be removed from Trafalgar Square in London, based on his own ignorance:
“The people on the plinths in the main square of our capital city should be identifiable to the generality of the population. I haven’t a clue who two of the generals there are or what they did. I imagine that not one person in 10,000 going through Trafalgar Square knows any details about the lives of those two generals. It might be time to look at moving them and having figures ordinary Londoners and other people from around the world would know.” The problem with all this, of course, is that most of London’s wealth and greatness in terms of art and architecture is due largely to British colonialism, so the question is just how many buildings would be left standing in the British capital, if one were to take this issue and bring it to its logical conclusion.
The trouble with wanting to scrub the cultural and historical slate clean, as it were, is, of course, that countries cannot just press “delete” on their culture and history. Such a move would entail not just the removal of books, paintings and statues, but a complete purge. Those who truly care for history will know that this experiment has already been attempted, not once but several times over, by the various communist and Nazi movements of the twentieth century. While there is little comparison between those movements and the culture of political correctness, the impulse governing them all nevertheless remains the same: To forge and impose one singular “truth” on everyone, rooting out everything that does not fit the utopian mold. That is neither “diverse” nor “tolerant.”

What if Nehru had accepted Kennedy’s offer?: A Peep into Indian History

In his landmark speech to a joint session of US Congress, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that the India-US relationship had overcome the hesitations of history. Meanwhile, former foreign secretary M K Rasgotra has provided a tantalising glimpse into what might have been if those hesitations of history had been overcome, say, half a century earlier. Among other things, India would not have needed to beat desperately at the doors of the Nuclear Suppliers Group today.
According to Rasgotra, US President John F Kennedy offered to help India detonate a nuclear device much before China did in 1964. But Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru refused the offer. Rasgotra’s claim looks to me an entirely credible one.
Kennedy was one of the most pro-India of US presidents who sought to empower democratic India vis-à-vis Maoist China, which he saw as a grave danger to the free world (the US seeks to assist India’s rise for similar strategic reasons today, to ensure China doesn’t call all the shots in Asia and to keep sea lanes open).
Nehru, on the other hand, was enough of a pacifist to be vehemently against nuclear tests and nuclear weapons. He had fought the British to win Indian independence, and the UK and US were close allies (although Roosevelt did strongly intercede with Churchill to push Indian independence).
Nehru was also imbued with the pan-Asianism that was part and parcel of Indian nationalism – which saw Asian countries, particularly China, in a favourable light vis-à-vis ‘imperialist’ Western powers. For all those reasons, Nehru would certainly have rejected nuclear assistance from Kennedy if it had been offered.
Only Nehru’s sentimental view of China can account for perhaps his craziest foreign policy move: the big powers offered India permanent membership of the UN Security Council virtually on a platter, but Nehru declined it in favour of China. That may have been the primal act of Indian diffidence which set the tone for its foreign policy.
But history would have been different if Nehru had accepted Kennedy’s assistance and India detonated a nuclear device before October 1962. That would not only have broken with the psychology of diffidence; it would have deterred the Chinese attack and the 1962 war. The thrashing India took in that war psyched it into a permanent appeasement/ avoidance syndrome with respect to China, which has impaired India-China relations since.
The 1962 pummelling also encouraged Pakistan’s military adventurism against India in 1965, in an attempt to seize Kashmir. If the 1962 war with China hadn’t happened, the 1965 war with Pakistan could have been headed off as well. Kashmir would have seemed unattainable to Pakistan and eventually ceased to be an issue between the two countries.
Sceptical that India’s possession of a nuclear device would have deterred Maoist China? In that case, consider another counter-factual. In April 1960 Zhou Enlai visited New Delhi as Mao’s emissary and obliquely proposed an east-west swap. If India recognised China’s claim over the Aksai Chin, China was willing to concede Indian claims in the eastern Himalayas. India would have lost nothing from such a settlement; Aksai Chin is an uninhabited, mountainous area where, as Nehru said, “not a blade of grass grows”.
Nehru hesitated to accept Zhou’s proposal. Relations between the two countries soured and eventually fell off the precipice. But what if Nehru had accepted and the India-China boundary settled on a pragmatic basis? In that case, again, the 1962 war would have been forestalled.
India could have used American technology, capital and access to markets to build itself up, in the days when America was still generous with these things (perhaps due to Cold War reasons; Donald Trump’s crabby outlook wasn’t the norm then). With the border issue settled, relations with China would have been far better and India would have been on the right side of both the US and China.
What happened, instead, was that Pakistan managed to play both the US and China to diplomatically outmanoeuvre India for a long time. That ended with Pakistan’s military adventurism during the 1999 Kargil war, which convinced the US (though not China) that the Pakistani posture is a fundamentally dangerous and irresponsible one. However, Pakistan has strategically used 9/11 to claw back some US favour.
Asian countries with close relationships to the US opened up their economies in the 1970s, enabling them to boom. Had India done the same it would have remained abreast with China, instead of falling behind till it’s become, today, only a tiny blip in Beijing’s rear view mirror. Eventually, Pakistan too would have given up its existential enmity with India and thrown in its hat to join the South Asian boom.
A clarification is in order. Nehru was one of India’s greatest 20th century statesmen and it’s worth nobody’s while demeaning him (least of all by anyone who deems himself a ‘patriot’). Nehru – more than anybody else – is responsible for institutionalising democracy in India when he could easily have been a dictator. That is why Kennedy admired him; that is why we have democracy in India today.
Given India’s size and diversity dictatorship is a recipe for disintegration; democracy is the only guarantee of a stable polity. If India had disintegrated, none of the above counter-factuals could have materialised. Nehru’s achievement stands out and dwarfs all his failures.
Bhutto & US nuclear politics
After the Indian nuclear test in May 1974, the London Suppliers Group was established to strengthen nuclear exports and safeguards. Now called the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), it initially included four nuclear-weapon states (NWS), with the exception of China: the US, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France (after some persuasion) and three non-NWS — West Germany, Canada and Japan.
More than the Indian Peaceful Nuclear Explosions (PNE), the main US concerns to be addressed through this platform were a) West Germany’s agreement with Brazil to export nuclear reactors and construction of a complete nuclear fuel cycle in Brazil in 1975 and b) two French agreements for export of plutonium reprocessing plants to South Korea in 1975 and Pakistan in 1976.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s ‘eating grass’ comment after the 1965 Indo-Pak war is famously related to his determination to nuclearise Pakistan. In his reply to a question about Pakistan’s response if India went nuclear, Bhutto, minister of foreign affairs at the time, had remarked with great resolve, “Then we should have to eat grass and get one or buy one, of our own”.
A decade later as Pakistan’s prime minister in 1975, Bhutto assured the international community of the opposite and said: “For poor countries like us, [the] atom bomb is a mirage and we don’t want it. In 1965, when I was the foreign minister, I said that if India had the atom bomb, we would get one too, even if we had to eat grass. Well, we are more reasonable nowadays.” In reality, his earlier resolve had anything but weakened in the 10 years since.
The US was able to exert pressure on South Korea to cancel the French reprocessing agreement due to its economic and security dependence on the US but Pakistan was not under the US nuclear umbrella and though it was a recipient of US foreign assistance, it was not entirely dependent on it. The US administration was aware that in the absence of leverage over Pakistan due to the decade-old arms embargo (1965-1975), the Pakistan government had sought nuclear cooperation agreements with countries like Canada, France and Germany.
America’s contradictory policies towards Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions have a long history. The talk of refusing arms sales to Pakistan by the US would later only create an air of mistrust and bad faith whilst proving ineffectual as a coercive strategy. However, driven by congressional pressure, the administration decided to reinforce its stance on non-proliferation with Pakistan in explicit terms: no A-7 jets for Pakistan (that were in the offer) if it proceeded with the reprocessing plant deal. Kissinger travelled to Lahore on Aug 8, 1976 to convince Bhutto in person but to no avail.
In public, Kissinger sought reconciliation but his private tone with Bhutto was cautionary. At a dinner reception given by Bhutto, Kissinger proposed a toast to the long-lasting friendship between Pakistan and the American people and sagely articulated that “… in the lives of all nations, there is a process of constant renewal, and nations have periodically to reprocess themselves. And they have to decide what it is that is worth reprocessing and what it is that is better left alone”.
After Kissinger’s visit, Dawn in its editorial raised the issue of ‘dichotomy’ in the US attitude towards India and Pakistan. It mentioned the shipment of 20,000 lbs of enriched uranium to India “for use in the American-built Tarapur nuclear plant” and the US administration ‘taking shelter’ behind the contract signed in the past between India and the US, even after India’s breach of trust. The editorial suggested that if the US wished to be “such a stickler for reliability of contract, it should not find it difficult to uphold the Pakistan-French contract”.
For the Ford administration, rationale for the continuation of US-supplied enriched uranium to India post-1974 was difficult to justify to the domestic as well as the international audience. Immediately after the Indian test, the US had distanced itself from any ‘role’ in the Indian nuclear explosion. Within the administration, there was confusion about its position on the US role in the event. In July 1976, David Elliott, member National Security Council, scientific affairs, outlined the administration’s ‘new’ position in his briefing memorandum to then national security adviser Gen Brent Scowcroft. He said that new information provided by Canada and India had made it clear that the “initial US heavy water loading of the unsafeguarded CIRUS reactor had not completely evaporated or leaked as was previously believed” and that some US heavy water was “in the reactor during the period when the plutonium was produced for the Indian explosion”.
The quid pro quo that the Ford administration was trying to establish in order for Pakistan to quit the nuclear reprocessing deal did not work with Bhutto. Pakistan and France held their positions against strong US opposition. The outgoing French prime minister, Jacques Chirac, before his resignation on Aug 25, 1976 announced that the Pak-French deal would go through despite US objections. However, with Chirac out of office, French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing aligned his non-proliferation policy to that of the incoming Carter administration and cancelled the $1 billion reprocessing plant deal with Pakistan in 1978.
Bhutto had issues with Ford’s differing non-proliferation policy because: a) Pakistan’s attempts to access nuclear technology from France and West Germany, both opposed by the US, were for peaceful purposes, and b) US was contemplating the sale of enriched uranium to India for its nuclear plants even after India had violated the terms of the Canadian-American agreement and conducted a nuclear explosion in 1974 using US heavy water.
These two contradictory policies whereby the US tried to stop Pakistan’s latent proliferation activities while enabling India to continue its nuclear programme by supplying enriched uranium for its Tarapur plant augmented Bhutto’s nuclear resolve instead of weakening it. During the Ford years, Bhutto managed to keep Pakistan’s uranium enrichment project under wraps by keeping the administration focused on Pakistan’s plutonium reprocessing attempts. For Pakistan, Bhutto was the winner for not giving in to US pressure.

Brexit- Why, Now what, & Proper Model

 

Globalization is not working for everyone. Bernie Sanders hit the nail on the head by saying it succinctly on Morning Joe TV that, “Global economy is not working for everyone.” Pernille Skipper, human rights expert, Member of Parliament and political spokesperson of a left-leaning party Enhedslisten, reacted to the British people´s decision to leave by saying that both white and brown people have voted for Brexit and they want a more just system.
Populist leader Donald Trump, on the other hand, is not correct in his observation from Scotland, about the British referendum, in which nearly 52% of Britons voted to leave the EU. Trump`s remark that, “They got their country back..”, indicating that this is Britain´s Trump moment, is a false analogy. This referendum in Britain was never about protectionism, it was primarily about the frustration with rules and regulations dictated by EU bureaucrats and EU commissioners, which were suffocating business life. It was about making bureaucracy more democratic, liberal and efficient.
The British no to EU, or Brexit, as it is termed, is not only about right-wingers saying no to an expansive, collective and enlarging political union of Europe seeking German domination. Millions of left-leaning political party members, too, have voted for an exit from an EU which has failed to protect the interests of the common man in Europe, who is losing his job, living in poor housing conditions, and now often is forced to migrate.
More than 2 lakh British people leave UK every year for a life in a better country since they have given up the hope of finding a better life for themselves and their children. This is happening at the same time when more than half a million people moved to UK in 2015. Some are benefitting from the way EU imposed regulations, whereas the indigenous population is forced to move out of lucrative areas of London, and some even out of their own country to search for better lives abroad. These people are citizens and democracy is also about listening to their worries and demands.
Globalization is benefitting large corporations in London, and they are creating jobs, but there are losers from globalization, and their needs have to be addressed, too.
Boris Johnson, former Mayor of London and right now the most likely candidate to become the Prime Minister of UK, is married to woman with Indian roots, and Priti Patel with Indian roots and minister in the present government, was also campaigning for the ‘no’ vote. This is not about xenophobia, as some might put it. If you live in Europe, you understand the reality on the ground. Brexiteers have given a voice to a huge segment of the population throughout EU, who have gone skeptical of a democracy model, where they are not involved. This is unsustainable.
EU has taken a wrong direction, should have democratized a long time ago, secured the rights of poor workers, farmers and low-wage professions, who often happen to live in rural Europe. Skepticism towards EU is not just a British issue, it is a European issue, and if more countries decide to take a vote on remaining or exiting EU, you will be surprised by the election outcome.
This has to be taken seriously by the EU elites. Those on the right wing voting for Brexit want a stricter control of migration from Eastern Europe and Middle-Eastern countries, that may be true, but there are many grass root left-leaning political parties that have grown bigger because they do not feel that ordinary workers’ rights have been secured.The wages of sin, we have been told, are death. The wages of populist politics can be pretty much damaging, too. Populist politics underlies Euroscepticism and prompted British Prime Minister David Cameron to promise a referendum on leaving the European Union. The mood is populist across America and Europe. Let us not rule out a Trump presidency in the US either.
Margaret Thatcher it was who had led Britain into the European Common market. While Britain never joined the euro — it left the euro’s precursor, allowing speculator George Soros to make a pile betting against Britain staying — nor the Shengen arrangement, it has been a full member of the European Union, allowing free movement of citizens of other members of the Union, allowing banks regulated and capitalised in other EU countries to operate in Britain and complying with EU standards and regulation.
For India, the immediate impact will stem from the impact on stock markets and exchange rates. The pound has taken, well, a pounding. The dollar will soar again, make all imports more expensive and feed into inflation that refuses to remain tamed on a sustainable fashion.
Britain will take a couple of years to disengage from the European Union. But the destabilising effects of dynamic Britain leaving the Union will be felt immediately. The cohesion of the remaining members of the EU cannot be taken for granted.
A majority of Frenchmen and a sizeable proportion of Italians are disgruntled with the EU. The people of Germany, while grumbling about a transfer union that takes from Germany and gives to southern European laggards, were okay with this great instrument of peace in a continent where Germans and the French have waged war for centuries, dragging other nations along into the strife. Yet, the influx of Middle Eastern refugees has turned the European experiment sour for an increasing number of Germans as well.
Border controls have reappeared. Expansion of the European project has ground to a halt, the Dutch having recently rejected, in a referendum, a proposal to give Ukraine closer association that eventually leads up to membership. Britain has been the champion, in the EU, of a liberal economy with light regulation and its departure could well strengthen the move towards greater bureaucratization, less competition and eventual economic sclerosis. This is bad news for the global economy.
Scotland has always been highly pro-EU. Brexit could well accelerate the move towards yet another referendum on Scottish independence. The Irish Republic will stay part of the EU while Northern Ireland, part of Britain, will now be out of it. The disruption this causes for commerce between the two parts of Ireland could be resolved by Northern Ireland also breaking away from Britain and either staying independent or merging with the Irish Republic.
The reconfiguration in Britain and Europe, the disruption of London as a financial centre and the weakening of the pound and the euro will all give a negative impetus to the world economy. A stronger dollar will hurt US exports and make import of dollar denominated goods and commodities, including oil and gas, more expensive around the world.
Brexti is bad news for all, save the populists. Populists around the world can derive considerable encouragement from the success of populist politics in Britain, which disdained experts and expertise, fed off on xenophobia among the less educated and indifference to politics among the better educated and capitalized on the tendency to compromise among politicians who knew better but took the path of least resistance, as Cameron did when he promised a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EU.
The ordinary citizen, the common man on the streets of Europe, feels alienated, wants secure jobs and proper housing and schools for his children, and people everywhere are reacting to the unprecedented income inequality which is plaguing one country after the other. This income inequality has to be addressed. Therefore, even though Bernie Sanders is not a European citizen, he is right in his analysis and Donald Trump is wrong, because the Scottish people, 62% actually, voted in favor of remaining in EU. They did not vote to take their country back.
Brexiteers in Britain have sent a signal to the EU which needs to reform, it needs to get flexible and give some more autonomy to member states. Income inequality and lack of equal opportunity are not just American issues. They are fast becoming European issues, too
Brexit’s Aftershocks
EU must confront its failures, far right movements in Europe will become stronger. The decision shall impact not just the British electorate but also the wider European project.
Britons have voted and a hugely polarising campaign has resulted in a landmark vote to leave the EU and the resignation of the British prime minister. Even as the implications of the result are being digested, there is little doubt that it marks a seminal moment in the nation’s trajectory. The decision shall impact not just the British electorate but also the wider European project.
Britain’s demand for a referendum and its negotiation with Europe had focused on concerns over economic governance, competitiveness, the erosion of sovereignty and migration. Prime Minister David Cameron had urged the electorate to vote “remain” but fellow Tory, Boris Johnson, exhorted the electorate to vote “leave”. The internecine turbulence in the Tories on the subject turned out to be emblematic of the broader conundrum facing voters. It was said to be too close to call and the outcome justified that caution. A night of high drama, which began marginally in favour of the “remain” camp ended with a narrow but decisive victory for the “leavers”. The margin of victory has revealed a nation sharply divided across the socio-economic spectrum.
The leave campaign had positioned the debate as one about “taking back control”. Their narrative was framed as one about reinvigorating Britain’s destiny as a sovereign power capable of determining its own choices. It is a worldview that prefers to see Brexit as an opportunity to break free from the shackles of a centralising and bureaucratic EU. Some of the more erudite leavers articulated a vision of Britain competent enough to strike its own trade deals with emerging economies and controlling its immigration agenda to pick highly-skilled immigrants over low-skilled ones.
On the other hand, the remain campaign had been at pains to point out the possibility of economic self-harm due to Brexit. In this narrative, unrestricted access to Europe’s single market had been trumpeted as crucial to Britain’s trade and economic progress. The remain camp also sought to make the case for the broader benefits of EU membership in an age where critical challenges over international security, climate change and mass migration warrant closer international cooperation.
Clearly, the leavers have persuaded the electorate. But what might the immediate fall-out look like for Britain and others?
First, the immediate aftermath has crystallised the possibility of market volatility with uncertainty for the British economy and associated uncertainty globally. This will likely need calm reassurance from central banks across different regions.
Second, by triggering the resignation of David Cameron, a fundamentally decent moderniser, it sets the scene for a change in leadership by this autumn, and will reorder the government’s agenda substantially. This is remarkable given that it was only a year ago that Cameron won a majority mandate in the general election. T.S. Eliot’s maxim that “in a minute there is time for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse” has been borne out. Third, the spectre of another Scottish referendum can’t be ruled out given that Scottish voters were overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU.
Equally problematically, the leavers will need to reconcile their political and economic idealism with actual expectations from their core voters. The truth is that while Boris Johnson and Michael Gove raised the dreamy prospect of a liberal economic approach and an open outlook unencumbered by Brussels, this idealistic posture wasn’t the basis on which the debate turned in their favour. Rather, it was a crude anti-immigration campaign that resonated with sections of the electorate that despise globalisation and prefer isolation. The irony is that an economic shock from Brexit is likely to hurt this segment the most.
Across the EU, the vote is likely to spark an upsurge of support for particular far right movements and leadership, whether it be for Marine Le Pen in France, Viktor Orban in Hungary or Geert Wilders in the Netherlands. The EU establishment will have to confront its “democratic deficit”.
Britain’s EU Vote Is Really An FU Vote
It has been said that the British acquired their empire “in a fit of absent-mindedness”. The UK’s recent decision to leave the EU seems to have about it a similar air of confusion- with perhaps similarly daunting long-term consequences as well. We now know that one of the most frequently asked questions on the Internet in the hours after votes had been counted and Brexit was already a done deal was the guilelessly charming: “What is the EU?”
That this little gap in some of their factsheets did not deter over 70% of UK citizens from strongly expressing their opinions on June 23 – exultantly dubbed “Independence Day” by the UKIP leader Nigel Farage – is telling. For those opinions are certain to “reset the dial” of history for a long time to come. Exactly how independent was this “yes/no” vote, though? I am in the UK during this “historic” Brexit week and it is clear even to me, just a random, visiting stranger, that this vote has often been based less on cool, reasoned arguments than on overheated emotional responses. This is a nation that has long felt fooled, frustrated, fed-up.
The EU vote is really a FU vote. In the aftermath of this unexpected result, analysts have repeated ad infinitum that the UK is a divided nation “split down the middle” with 48.1% voting “remain” and 51.9% voting “leave”. But to my mind, this metaphoric “national schizophrenia” seems to have deeper roots. Talking to people here who voted, it appears that each, as an individual, was also internally divided. For these individuals, the answers did not lie in “yes/no”; not even in “maybe”; the answers lay in a dialogue between British political parties and the populace which simply had not happened for a very long time. The EU was, in this sense, a psychological surrogate for the UK’s own disengaged political parties.
Condemning the EU “other” amounted to condemning the UK “self”. That is why this conflict runs so deep. The “healing” of which all the commentators now speak hinges on grasping the fact that opting out of the EU is far easier than opting out of the UK.
Scotland may still have that choice; most of the rest of the UK doesn’t. The UK will still have to live with itself, its own desires and resentments, its poor north and rich urban, young and old divisions. In this sense, “opting out” has always to be a superficial solution to the sense of an internal wounding. Engagement is required, and the politics of our times the world over, so reliant on media-speak, is strikingly clueless on how to lay out – or even listen to – those “terms of engagement”.
My piece today is therefore about that inner emotional palette which all humans share in which the colours of resentment and rage can combine with those of sentiment, hope and love, not to mention gullibility, to change the future of a country big time. Such “voting from the gut” surely holds lessons for all democracies, including our own. When he read about the Brexit result, my father, a young adult back in 1942, remarked cryptically that we on the subcontinent had had the Quit India Movement long ago.
Of course, few in Britain have remotely heard of that great moment of colonial resistance. Had they, they might have realized that “quitting” has an indelible place in the annals of protest. They might have learnt from world history that theirs is perhaps a smaller, obverse mirror image of persistent human responses to “being had” by a distant “other”. In the historical Indian case, it was the British who were being told to leave.
India wanted swaraj, it demanded freedom. In the present case, the talk is of “taking back control”, being “independent”, being free to preserve the UK’s democratic rights to decide for itself, not wanting to be remotely run by a superior, faraway, fussy and foreign Brussels bureaucracy. The rhetoric sounds eerily similar, the emotions aroused could share resemblances. Yet these historic contexts could not be more different, the root-causes more dissimilar. The UK’s response today appears, on the face of it, to be acutely xenophobic since the debate has centered so disproportionately on “immigration”, a motif distinguished by its absolute absence in the Indian reactions to British rule.
On the other hand, what could be deeply shared is the primal atavism of how we react to the presence of strangers in what we perceive as our “own” territory, especially when we see those strangers as predators stealing our jobs, our land, our rights, our voices. What do we do in such scenarios? In my view, there’s just one simple answer to this complicated question. We can and must invoke our common humanity. That is what democracies are, at bottom, about: human capital not capitalist choice.
The costly mistake the political pundits and market gurus, not to mention David Cameron, made was to misjudge the mood of the rest of the country. Ironically, the “leavers” won decisively in Cox’s own constituency.
The statistics cobbled together by the TV channels tell us while 75% of those between the ages of 18-24 would likely have voted for “remain” and 60% of those over 65 would chose “leave”, Basil’s 30-60 demographic could go either way. But which way still depended on a high emotion quotient.
It is the vote of someone worried and afraid that no one is listening. The vote is against what he sees as the erosion of basic freedoms. The main objection is to being ruled by an EU that decrees, that the garbage be put out once every two weeks rather that one, so that the smaller-sized British bins overflow! – and so on and on. The vote shows me how tiny micro-irritants can turn into the giant macro-influences that shape history under unnatural constraints such as bare a “yea/no” referendum. If India ever holds its own referenda, it should pay due attention to this crazily amplifying emotional factor
The Norway model for Britain
As UK finally voted to move out of the European Union, Prime Minister David Cameron announced his decision to step down in three months. While markets have reacted sharply and the pound plummeted to a new low in three decades, most are concerned about the uncertainty in the near future. But all is not lost, as a ray of hope lies in the Norway model, under which country does have access to EU markets and is yet not an official member.
When Mike Atherton was at his peak leading England’s cricket team in 1994, Norwegians had voted an overwhelming no to joining the EU in a referendum. Since then, the public perception has maintained status-quo with the most recent opinion poll showing that 72% people are against Norway becoming a member. Norway’s annual GDP has grown higher that the EU average and foreign investments have doubled in the past 10 years.
The European Economic Area (EEA) allows Norway to access the EU market by paying an annual sum that has gone up from 280 million pounds in 2010 to nearly 400 million pounds now. Under this agreement, they are not only assured free movement of their citizens across Europe, but also keep their core industries of fishing and oil away from EU interference. There is an European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA) Surveillance Authority which ensures monitoring and compliance of the country, almost akin to the European Commission for member states.
The drawback of the arrangement is that even though Norway enjoys virtual integration, it does not have any say in the running of the EU. They have no right to vote and have limited potential to have any sway over the agenda, and the fact that EU remains a tough negotiator.
From work permits to healthcare, pensions to tax, EU citizens in UK and Britons in Europe worry they could be in a precarious position after 2016’s referendum
The major difference between Norway and UK is while the former was never a part of EU and voted to stay the same way, the latter is an integral part of the union which has voted to opt out. This has complicated matters and there is no clarity yet on how the entire process will reach its logical end. But the big question is whether one of the most powerful countries in the world, UK, will agree to playing second fiddle in Europe. More importantly, will the EU be willing to extend the same hospitality to UK?