Amidst the debate over recent events in France, there’s been, particularly online, a sub-text. In short, it’s summarised as “Yes, we know all Muslims aren’t terrorists, but…” The Irish have an insight into the thinking, having experienced it directed towards us when we were in the UK during the highpoints of Provisional IRA terrorism. Plenty of British people looked suspiciously at the Irish and struggled to separate the murderers of Enniskillen or Hyde Park from the millions of Irish who didn’t support the IRA. Statistically, as with Muslims now, there was a higher probability that a terrorist would come from an Irish Catholic background.
There was no shortage of talk that the Irish as a people “weren’t doing enough” to condemn and oppose terrorism. Yet, what would a crack down on the Irish population in the mainland UK have done for reducing terrorism? As much as the hardline did in Northern Ireland for IRA recruitment?
The awkward reality is that Europe is faced with a choice. We can single out and target our Muslim citizens, or we can accept and treat them as we treat everybody else and fight the terrorists as simple criminals.
Speaking for myself, I don’t want to live in a Europe where the targeting of one religion is regarded as a solution to our problems, even dressed up as something like fighting terrorism. We have been here before, the only difference being that our great grandparents in the 1930s had never experienced the outcome. We have. We’ve seen the footage and we’ve stood in the places that result when you single out one religion. It starts small, with registration. Then certain jobs are restricted. Then they are made live in certain controlled zones. There are those, when faced with this argument, who say that The Jews weren’t carrying our terrorist attacks. Either are The Muslims. Nor were The Irish. Some Muslims are, and the moment we start pointing at a group as a single monolithic bloc, well, we know where it leads.
Europe is the freest place on Earth, where you can sit on a beach and on one side see Muslim girls wearing hijabs and on the other women sunbathing topless. Where a Muslim, a black and a white police officer be honoured for defending our and their way of life. The threats to that freedom come from extremists on many sides, and we must be vigilant.
But the biggest single threat to that freedom is not a savage attack on a magazine. We can face that down. We are stronger than those bastards. The biggest single threat is the temptation to destroy our freedom by forgetting the lessons of our European past, by listening to those who point to one group of Europeans and say that they are the problem and we must find a “solution” to them.
As a general rule, there’s something pretty obnoxious about setting out to insult someone else’s religious beliefs. In a free society, one has a right to do it. But good manners sometimes dictates that you keep your opinion to yourself. We all have to live here, after all, and the mark of a civilised society is that we all tolerate and respect each other, even those we disagree with.
Having said that, the right to offend has to be pretty much inviolate, because like democracy itself, mankind has yet to devise a better system. Surrender the right to offend with your opinions, surrender it to the state or some other authority, and you chip away at freedom itself.
Too much freedom of speech is always less of a risk than too little, and those who advocate restricting freedom of speech are nearly always talking about other people, not themselves.
But using violence to define the borders as to what opinion is acceptable? That has no place in the free world. Believe in that, and there is no place for you here. Go to one of those lesser nations who believe in the approved opinion, the ones whose people are always fleeing to live in Europe or North America or Australia or New Zealand.
This is not negotiable, if you are born here or came here. Freedom of speech, democratic elections, the rule of law, religious freedom, equality between men and women are not some a la carte menu to be chosen from when it suits. This is our society, and it works. The United States and the countries of the European Union could give away a million free passports in a day if we wished, with no doubt that there’ll be no shortage of takers. These are the fundamentals, and we may tinker with them, but they aren’t going away. If you can’t bear to live in a society where people can tweet cartoons you don’t like, then you should go away.
If you choose to take up arms against that society, then we will take up arms against you, and there are literally millions of us ready to fight to defend what we have built here.
Our society, for all its flaws, is the pinnacle of Human progress. It separated church and state, ended slavery, defends the rights of minorities and believes in individual freedom.
It is not up for negotiation, and as the millions on the streets of France and across Europe tonight have shown, it will be defended.
2024: As Scottish voters go to the polls in Scotland’s third general election since it voted Yes to independence in 2014, many will be pondering how things turned out in the Scottish republic after its first decade as an independent nation.
The fact that it is a republic will certainly have come as a surprise to those who voted Yes in 2014. The passing of Queen Elizabeth II in 2019 gave the SNP the moment to dust off their plan to complete the project, rushing through a bill in Holyrood creating the office of President, to be filled by parliament itself. After much negotiation, a beloved Scottish actor agreed to take the position, although only as a strictly non-party head of state. The headlines were variations of “President Who?”
Criticism of the SNP administration is rampant, although, for certain reasons, not as boisterous as one would expect. The decision of the government to create and generously fund a Scottish Broadcasting Service dedicated to “the promotion of Scottish culture and values” tends to ensure that the government point of view is always put across. That’s not to say that the opposition parties are denied access. They’re not. But casual remarks about them as “the English parties” by the odd presenter is not unusual. The fact that the majority of the board of governors of the SBS have SNP connections isn’t remarked upon too much.
Likewise, the decision of the Minister for the Protection of Scottish Culture and Heritage to generously subsidise private media organisations which promoted the culture also had an effect on how the media covers stories. Indeed, cultural subsidy of Scottish produced media, very much based on the French model, with requirements that a certain percentage of material broadcast be created in Scotland, is the norm, and is much welcomed by the Scottish arts community. The joke is that former “Taggart” cast members are getting very rich on the royalties. Once again, there are murmurings about journalists not being censored or directed as to what to write, but aware of what side their bread is buttered.
Then there is the Scottish Security Agency. Stating that the first priority of a state must be to protect its people, the post-vote government immediately moved to create an internal security agency, staffed initially by former Scottish MI5 and British Army intelligence operatives. The agency was given the mandate to fight crime, espionage and terrorism, but also to prevent threats to Scottish values. It’s this part of its charter which has been most controversial, especially when it emerged that the SSA had been keeping opposition MSPs under surveillance. The Director of the SSA, meeting with a parliamentary committee, caused both outrage and applause when he defended the practice, pointing out that the former unionist parties had actively fought the existence of the country, and so their loyalty to the country must surely be in doubt.
That attitude is more prevalent than many admit. Many former Labour, Lib Dem and Tory politicians in Scotland chose to move to England after the Holyrood Parliament made it illegal for Scottish office holders to hold UK passports. Likewise, only those holding Scottish citizenship alone can now vote in parliamentary elections. Indeed, to qualify for social welfare payments, a Scottish citizen is required to prove that they had voted.
The period between the Yes vote and Scottish entry into the EU and other international organisations allowed the SNP, almost uniquely without international restraint, to shape the state in their own image, pushing through constitutional changes with a slim parliamentary majority. As the president comes to the end of his term, Scots vote knowing that the next president will, under SNP legislation, have the power to assume executive power, an idea the SNP borrowed from the “staunchly democratic” Erdogan administration in Turkey.
Polls show that the outcome is balanced between the SNP on one side, and the Alliance for Change on the other, but questions must surely be asked as to the ability of the SNP to move the state apparatus in its own benefit, especially with the use of oil revenues to subsidise “strategic” industries, again with the proviso that the SNP government have a direct say in the hiring policy of those firms subsidised. In the universities, membership of the SNP is taken as a wise move, career-wise.
Writers note: this is a pisstake, not a prediction!
President Frank Underwood rises from his seat to greet EU Council President and former Danish Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg Christensen.
Frank: “Birgitte, my God, look at you, it’s youngah you’re gettin’!”
Birgitte: “Thank you Frank, you can take the syrup as poured,”
The President smiles at his EU counterpart, and directs her to a sofa.
Frank: “Would you like a snack, Birgitte? Perhaps some ribs, or maybe I could tempt you to join me in an iced tea?”
Birgitte: “Actually, I would like an apple, if that’s possible?”
Frank: “An apple? How sensible of you.” (sotto voce to camera: “An apple! How European!”)
Frank presses a button on his desk.
Frank: “Maria, can we get President of the European Council of the European Union Nyborg (glance to camera) one of our delicious South Carolina apples?”
He then sits across from Birgitte.
Frank: “Birgitte, I don’t mind telling you, It’s hard enough tryin’ to keep the Kremlin from spoiling the front patio when you guys over there in the European Union can’t agree on lunch, never mind a position on the Ukraine. I’ve seen better organised herds of arthritic cats.”
Birgitte: “I agree, but I think we can come to a common position…”
Frank: “When? When he’s in Kiev? Riga? Warsaw? Birgitte, I grew up with guys like our friend Vladimir. He’s a pretty straight guy, but he’ll only be straight with people he regards as equals. Whilst you guys are debating whether to cancel his subscription to G20 magazine, this guy is gonna keep helpin’ himself to your lunch money. You can win his respect alright: (Frank raps his heavy ring on the coffee table). With the stick. Maybe not used, but ready to be used.”
Birgitte: “I agree Frank. I’m a nice caring European liberal, but I know a fascist when I see one. I just think we need a little outside the box thinking.”
Frank: “Go on.”
Birgitte: “I’ve spent two days assembling a peacekeeping force. Denmark, Poland, Germany, France, Belgium and Luxembourg for a start…”
Frank: “Luxembourg? Does Luxembourg even have tanks?”
Birgitte: “They have anti-tank missiles and professional well-trained soldiers who know how to use them, Frank, and a Luxembourgish missile will take the turret off a Russian tank just as effectively as an American one. It’s a small force, Frank, just 160 vehicles. But I also have been studying this…”
Birgitte handed a file to the President. He opened it.
Frank: “Public tenders for various building projects across Europe and the US. I don’t…”
Birgitte: “Look at who is bidding on them.”
Frank reads on, smiles to himself, then turns to the camera: (“The Chinese are bidding on all these. Two Chinese firms in particular, both owned by members of the Chinese Military Commission. I Like the way her Nordic mind works!”)
Frank: “You’re thinking of a pincer movement, aren’t you madame President?”
Birgitte smiles slightly.
Birgitte: “NATO command tell me that the Chinese have a major exercise planned for the Russian border for three weeks from now. Of course, if they were to suddenly mobilise and bring the exercise forward.”
Frank: “Even the Kremlin doesn’t want to be worrying about an EU force entering the Ukraine…”
Birgitte: “A small but well-equipped peacekeeping force with US support available if needed, at the invitation of the Ukraine government,”
Frank: “Of course. At the same time a million heavily armed Chinese are testing their shiny new armoured personnel carriers and fighter bombers on their Eastern flank.”
Birgitte: “We’ll have to convince the Ukrainians to respect the Russian minority, of course, and perhaps devolve some autonomy to the Crimea and some other regions, but we leave the Kremlin very clear as to our lunch money.”
Frank: “That we do, madame President. Let me see what happened to your apple. I wonder did they send someone to South Carolina to pick it!”
The “Occupation” protests in Wall Street and elsewhere are understandable. However, there is a certain tone to them which is disturbing, primarily because of its vagueness. In short, they’re heavy on emotion but light on rational think through, focussing not on what economic model we should be utilising, but instead the idea that there is an evil 1% who have ruined everything for everybody else, and if those people vanished everything would be ok.
As a means of venting frustration, this makes perfect sense. But it doesn’t point to an idea as to how we choose to run this planet. Many of the protestors are quick to dismiss capitalism as a failed model, but the reality is that post-1945 spike in living standards in the west was funded by capitalism. The welfare state, although initially funded by social insurance and taxation, eventually expanded to require the much hated capitalist bond markets to make up the deficit. We created a welfare system where people believe in a right to healthcare regardless of actual cost and a fixed retirement date even though advances in healthcare (brought about mostly by capitalism) have led to huge increases in healthcare costs and also increased the cost of funding pensions for people living far longer than when their retirement date expected them to. Follow that with the low taxes movement of the 1980s, led by President Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, which moved to slash tax revenues whilst doing relatively little to match those tax cuts with spending reductions, which then put an even greater demand on the bond markets to fund the welfare system. Today, we’re reaping the reward of that.
Could we create a model that doesn’t need capitalism and the bond markets? Probably, provided we are willing to live in a society free of the baubles of the capitalist system. We could build societies based on the revenue generated within that society, but you’re talking a bare bones society free from iPads and designer labels and Sky Sports, or foreign holidays, credit cards or multiple cars and it’s there that the anti-capitalist occupiers start to lose commitment. You are asking people to work hard for far less disposable income, in effect, a form of permanent austerity programme.
What we are talking about is a more equal society closer to the 1920s in terms of consumer choice and standard of living, and let us not forget that the much hated 1% included Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg and the musicians and filmmakers and many of the people that innovated the products we have grown to love. If we are to have a society where accumulating substantial wealth through innovation is not to be permitted, fair enough. But don’t expect those people to just sit quietly. Somewhere in the world will welcome them, and there they shall go, and prosper, because there is a reason why hardly any of us have products in our homes from actual communist economies. Unless, of course, you decide that they are not permitted to exit the state, and must stay and work. Problem is, the whole of Russia and Eastern Europe tried that from 1945-1989, and it didn’t work either, at least, not without shooting a lot of people.
He’s going to disappoint us, you know? Chances are, it won’t even be his fault. How can anyone live up to the intangible touchy feely expectations that are attached to the man.
Having said that, the fact that he got elected……don’t tell me you didn’t tear up a bit watching his victory speech. And don’t forget hope. Hope matters. President Kennedy was quite ineffectual in many areas, but he created a sense of optimism in people, and that matters. In the early 1970s, pollsters in the US were stunned to discover large numbers of George Wallace (The segregationist governor of Alabama.) voters were former Bobby Kennedy voters. They couldn’t understand how people could swing from two such different men. But when they questioned the people in focus groups, they discovered that the people weren’t necessarily attracted by their policy platforms as to their ability to make people feel that they mattered, and that a better future was possible. Same way Reagan got a load of blue collar Democrats to vote for him. Despite the policy differences, he made them feel good about themselves.
Ed Koch, the mayor of New York, said once during an election: ” If you agree with me on nine out of twelve things, vote for me. If you agree with me on twelve out of twelve, see a psychiatrist.” Same with President Obama. He will disappoint us. But if he can make us believe that there are better times ahead, and he knows the way, we’ll forgive him.
After all, even President Bartlet executed a guy. But we forgave him, because we thought he was, on balance, a good guy.
And finally, a little bit of fun from the good folks at Youtube.
One of the bits of political dog poo being waved at the end of the No vote stick is the European Defence Agency, which is in the Lisbon treaty.
The way the No crowd describe it, I had visions of huge ranks of elite EU stormtroopers ready to deploy from their underground lair and crush Europe’s opponents with a stunning array of lethal but environmentally sensitive weaponry.
So I looked up the EDA’s website, hoping to catch a glimpse of our mighty aircraft carrier Charlemagne, or the mighty battlecruiser Giscard.
Boy, was I disappointed. Have a look. Aircraft carrier? No such luck. They do have, however, a “Code of Best Practice in the Supply Chain.” The EDA is basically about stopping EU countries getting screwed when buying helmets. Yes, of course it is about weapons procurement too, but so what? Don’t we want our soldiers to have the best available equipment at the most cost effective price? Don’t the husbands, wives and kids of our soldiers want them to have the best available body armour or means to defend themselves when they are protecting refugees in Chad?
Sure, Sinn Fein object to us spending money on the security forces, but don’t tell me that that certain balaclava wearing gentlemen didn’t haggle when they were buying armalites. (Ah go on! Throw in a kilo of Semtex with every 50 rifles. Now, what about our frequent bomber points?)
Let’s be honest, they’ve never been too hot about ensuring the safety of our soldiers and Gardai. Fact is, Sinn Fein have a grudge about the PDF. Hell, I’ve met Sinn Fein people who even refuse to call them the army.
By the way, I did a search of the word “Conscription” on the site. Maybe there was a secret plan. Got 34 hits. Of the word “draft”. For draft accounts, draft consultancy papers, draft discussion documents.
I’ll tell you one thing: We may not have much in the line of weapons, but if the EU ever gets into a Paperwork War with someone, they’re screwed.
Interesting piece in The New York Times yesterday about acid been thrown in the face of schoolgirls in Afghanistan. Funny how the Usual Crowd (You know who you are.) don’t say much about this sort of thing. If NATO troops were sytematically engaged in trying to stop Afghan girls from being educated you’d have them on the streets.
Still, there are no Jews, Americans or Brits involved, so why would they complain? It’s the man they’re interested in, not the ball.
Russia is using natural gas as a strategic weapon to enforce its will on the Ukraine, and indeed on Europe. It’s true, the Russians may have a legitimate gripe with the Ukraine over gas prices, but the fact is, the EU failure to have a coherent energy policy is now hurting individual EU member states.
Surely we should have an EU gas reserve, jointly funded and owned by the whole union, to assist in situations like this? Secondly, should we not fund a pipeline that avoids Russia altogether and instead goes to Iraq through the Balkans? I believe the Commission is working on such an idea, but it needs to be highlighted as a priority.
This isn’t an airy-fairy issue. Elderly Europeans will die if we cannot guarantee gas supplies for home heating. This is about continental security, and about whether we are masters of our own destiny or should just get fitted for a Moscow saddle.