Thursday, November 24, 2005

To keep you going for a couple of days

I'll be away for a few days but an interesting Amnesty International initiative is getting underway in Poland today, as reported by Radio Polonia.

The campaign will highlight the human rights violations going on in Belarus in relation to freedom of speech, or more accurately absence of freedom of speech.

So, is this an example of how to put pressure on a regime to change the way it functions without getting heavy handed? Is this another example of an ineffectual approach when we should go in there, guns blazing and overthrow Lukashenko? Or is this a misguided attempt to inflict our values on another culture?

Let me know.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Surely this is all getting just a bit silly now

Over in Poznan, they've followed in the footsteps of Kaczynski's Warsaw and banned a gay pride parade planned for Saturday.

Apparently, a group of people wanting to protest against discrimination are a serious threat to public security and property. Obviously.

It's enough to make me want to book a train ticket and join in; it's bound to go ahead anyway.

More with the beatroot and Aaron.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Paris riots aftermath

So, we've seen the comments made by those with differing opinions on the causes of the Paris riots.

A week on from my post expressing my alarm at the anti-Muslim (or anti-Islamist as they seem to prefer) blogs, I found a very good roundup of the situation at Open Democracy.

Patrice de Beer's main point is to say French society needs to really take these riots seriously and respond to them with imaginative solutions which go further than usual; 'fresh, persuasive proposals' that will do something to counter the harm resulting from decades of 'ghettoism, pauperisation and expensive policies ... that only postponed the current explosion.'

He explains very clearly how the government, and indeed opposition parties, have so far failed to respond with what is needed, being too tied up with presidential candidacies and rivalries. This has left a space for Le Pen's extreme-right voice to be heard and xenophobic sentiment to grow. As de Beer states, if the violence is to stop however, 'the primary need is to douse the flames not pour petrol on them.'

He quotes police figures as indicating that only 6-8% of the rioters are not French, with the violence centering around second-, third- or fourth-generation frustrated, unemployed youngsters.

The central problem according to de Beer is the fact that France has a long-established framework of integration which has stoppped working. The implication is that instead of expecting 'them' to conform, society in general has to start being a bit more flexible ensuring 'we' and 'they' start feeling part of one big group, with differences respected. The headscarf issue has shown the kinds of tensions that refusing to change French society's approach can result in.

This is an issue about housing, employment and education, but more broadly it is an issue of exclusion and alienation. Until there is a more balanced society, de Beer suggests positive discrimination as a worthy tool to readjust the prospects of these abandoned youths.

"Young people need a social escalator that works rather than a police van."

Friday, November 11, 2005

On a lighter note,

This is pretty funny.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

French Riots: What the anti-Muslim blogs are saying

Having a look at blogs this morning I was shocked by the strong anti-Muslim sentiment these French riots are helping to support and inflame in certain people, particularly on the other side of the pond.

I'm all for healthy debate but there are plenty of people out there who seem to be relying on prejudice and stereotype to support their views.

I wonder how many Muslims these people know, personally.

If you want to see for yourself, start here and here. They link to other blogs with similar views. You'll soon get the picture.

Monday, November 07, 2005

French Riots

LIBERTÉ? French Muslims banned from wearing headscarves in school.
ÉGALITÉ? France's non-whites twice as likely to be unemployed.
FRATERNITÉ? French government admits integration policies have failed.
RÉALITÉ: Riots erupt for eleventh night.

John Litchfield has written this and this about what is happening in France at the moment.

The government is not tackling the situation at all well. It looks like Sarkozy set the ball rolling with his comments about hosing out the scum of violent youth gangs. The gangs got the excuse they needed to react to his comments with the death of the youths fleeing police last week, but this seems to be a little more than an excuse. Many of the rioters involved don't necessarily know the details of the boys who died, and are from existing gangs, apparently trying to defend their terroritory and get their moment of television fame.

Even the parents of the boys who died are calling for an end to all violence and a return to a sense of civic duty on all sides.

The government assertions about Islamic influence are unfounded, the problem seems to be more general resulting from poverty and low level crime rather than specific racial tensions, although the two are often linked.

Dispatching more police to deal with rioters will eventually bring about an end to the current situation but until the French government tackles the social problems which lead to poorer members of society feeling alienated and ignored, the problem won't go away.

It's not just the French who need to deal with these issues either.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Poland home of CIA torture camp?

The furore started when the Washington Post published an article which quoted US and foreign officials stating that the CIA has been hiding and interrogating terrorist suspects at Soviet-era camps in 'Eastern Europe'.

Members of the European Parliament swiftly called for an EU investigation but a European Commission spokeswoman said it was an issue between the US and any member state concerned, while Javier Solana said simply that it had nothing to do with the EU.

Events unfolded further when Human Rights Watch claimed the Eastern European countries concerned could be Poland and Romania despite the worry that host countries could suffer terrorist reprisals.

So what exactly has been alleged?

The Washington Post article explains how such camps known as 'black sites' hold unknown numbers of terrorist suspects, for an unknown length of time who are interrogated using unknown techniques. It is not known how the suspects are identified and how decisions are taken about whether they should be detained. A lot is unknown, but the little information that can be gleaned is far from comforting.

The CIA can, and do, use their 'Enhanced Interrogation Techniques' in 'black sites' which they are not allowed to do at home, due to the inconvenience of having signed up to the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

These 'techniques' are basically torture techniques (unless you consider making a prisoner believe he or she is drowning a normal 'rule of law' procedure). These methods of extracting information are restricted by US law, and even by the military tribunals established at Guantanemo Bay.

This is worse than Guantanemo.

Detainees are held in complete isolation with no recognised legal rights. They are seen only by CIA agents, yes that's right, the CIA agents who have been given the power to torture them. This, it goes without saying, is a result of a Presidential order.

And now some officials are finding it hard to justify, even to themselves. Apparently, knowing that you have chosen to ignore the inconvenience of human rights and use barbaric torture methods on suspected terrorists at undisclosed locations, on the run from international obligations is 'just a horrible burden.' You don't say.

Update: Excellent commentary on CIA/gulag developments with the Beatroot.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Rosa Parks. 1913-2005

It's inspiring when what seems like such a small act has such a widespread and deeply felt impact.
A truly inspirational woman.