Politics, Terrorism

Al-Baghdadi killing — the eight year counter-terrorism cycle

The news echoed on Europe 1 in the car radio, that Donald Trump claimed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead. That he died like a dog, like a coward. It brought back memories of 2nd May 2011, as I received, on my way home, a text from my classmate, with whom we were out clubbing the night before. The message is still there on my phone –

“Osama hunted down – killed”.

As we breathe a sigh of relief on the news of the assassination of the heinous criminal, who spread his reign of terror for nearly a decade, other thoughts cloud in mind. We are nearly at the end of 2019. A new US presidential election is due next year. Do you remember the year of the capture of Saddam, and assassination of Osama bin Laden? It’s 2003 and 2011. Yes, eight years apart, as is the year al-Baghdadi is killed. A year before the US presidential election. Also note, that nothing happened in 2007, or 2015, in terms of a breakthrough in fighting terrorism.

  • 2003 Capture of Saddam Hussein

  • 2004 George Bush Jr. re-elected

  • 2011 Osama bin Laden assassinated

  • 2012 Obama retains office

  • 2019 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi terminated

  • 2020 New presidential election. Trump holds office?

This raises a question – whether the main threats to western civilisation are only killed off or captured on the year before the US presidential election, to help a president hold the office through re-election? The dates uncannily give you a déjà vu feeling. Remember the famous starting line for Obama in 2012 electoral speeches? “Osama bin Laden is dead”. Trump is many degrees less suave than Obama, and he brashly claimed, “He died like a dog”. Were they mere coincidences, or, irrespective of the political spectrum, did the previous US presidents always knew the whereabouts of America’s Most Wanted criminals? Perhaps they either turned a blind eye in the name of diplomacy or they waited until the encounters would have benefited them personally? And perhaps due to this reason, in 2007 or 2015, the previous US presidents, who were completing their full-term, did not bother?

One would rejoice to the fact al-Baghdadi is dead, considering how much blood was shed in Syria and Iraq by his jihadist supporters. On top of it, like al-Qaeda, Daesh managed to take their atrocities into Europe and beyond. Not only did their fanatical deeds cause loss of many lives, but they also made lives of Muslims, the people they were purported to be helping, more marginalised elsewhere. Sadly, the word terrorism is redefined to be Islamist terrorism these days, and Muslims are bearing the brunt of white supremacists in the US and Europe alike. It’s worse in the US, but Europe will soon follow suite. We’ll never know if that was a calculated move from the jihadist groups, to instil more anger in the Muslim communities against the state. If it was, their tactic did work, but benefiting far-right groups than Muslims, when we see a polarised Europe with the context of Islam.

So, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead. Is he actually dead? He probably is. Is his legacy dead? We’ll soon find out. His rabid supporters are now busy butchering Kurdish fighters in Syria. Once the dust has settled, we’ll know what has happened to Daesh. Does this mean anything for the extremely complicated and sensitive situation in the Middle-East? Probably it doesn’t. Al-Qaeda is still active eight years since their leader was killed. So my guess is Daesh will continue their horrific killing spree, but now that the link to the Caliphate is erased, there will be less funding. And fewer volunteers to affiliate with them. But there will probably be another leader with another group spewing their propaganda of hate and bloodbath. Daesh fighters will probably join the new group and carry on their jihad. And again, we’ll be waiting for eight more years before the US hunts the leader down. Unless, we see a decent president in the White House, who would break this eight-year jinx.

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France, Paris, Politics, religion

Faut-il sauver Notre-Dame?

Après le terrible incendie de Notre-Dame en avril, je trouve la polémique vraiment intéressant et pertinent s’il faut sauver Notre-Dame et qui paie pour la restauration. J’ai rencontré plusieurs articles en français et ainsi que sur les réseaux sociaux britanniques qui discutent et se disputent sur ce sujet. Voici, j’exprime mes pensées sur la tragédie d’incendie de Notre-Dame et sur la manière quelques familles d’investisseurs ont réagi après la catastrophe.

Tout d’abord, il faut dire que c’est une tragédie sans doute. Pas seulement comme un bâtiment religieux, mais Notre-Dame faisait partie du patrimoine français, du patrimoine parisien. Quand j’ai entendu les gens parler de l’incendie, j’ai pensé que c’était un incendie comme d’habitude et les pompiers vont y aller et le feu serait éteint. Mais quand j’ai vu que la flèche est tombée, j’étais choqué. J’avais peur que l’église soit complètement détruite. Tu te souviens que je t’ai raconté nos vacances à Paris et toutes les fois nous sommes allés à Notre-Dame. À mon avis, j’étais triste comme l’image de Notre-Dame ne resteront que dans nos souvenirs. 

Le lendemain, après avoir entendu que le feu a été enfin éteint, je me suis senti heureux que la façade n’a pas été détruite. Mais en même temps, j’ai trouvé que deux familles françaises les plus riches ont décidé de faire un don plus de €600 million. C’était énorme. J’étais en colère. J’ai pensé que ma théorie marche : « Que la majorité de l’argent a été ramassé par quelques individus dans le monde tandis que millions souffrent chaque jour ». On dit qu’il n’y a plus d’argent pour payer les chômeurs, ou pour la santé, mais comme un clin d’œil, on ramasse environ un milliard d’euros pour reconstruire un bâtiment religieux. Cela m’a aussi exaspéré plus que fâché « avec la situation des réfugiés. On dit, ils ne peuvent pas arriver ici comme il n’y a plus d’argent pour dépenser. Y compris que c’est un défi pour le gouvernement, mais les individus comme ceux qui ont fait le don peuvent ramasser des milliards s’ils le veulent.

J’ai noté que dans les médias français que les gens parlent pourquoi avoir oublié les misérables ? Je suis complètement d’accord avec cela. Quand il y a une telle pauvreté, pourquoi dépenser une telle somme sur un projet vaine pour l’Homme ? Et aussi dans les réseaux sociaux anglais, j’ai vu un exemple qui ressemble à la situation et la réaction du public en France. En 2017, il y avait un incendie dans un bâtiment en Londres. Plusieurs personnes sont morts. Mais dans ce bâtiment vivaient des pauvres, la plupart d’origine Afro caribéenne et le bâtiment appartenait à la mairie. Rien est fait pour la centaine de familles qui ont tous perdu et sont devenues sans-abri. Ils habitent encore dans les logements temporaires. Le gouvernement leur a donné une certaine somme d’argent qui n’était pas suffisant, et rien est fait pour restaurer ces habitants dans un logement permanent. Mais quand on voit, qu’il y a une telle urgence pour restaurer un bâtiment religieux, les gens disent, s’il y avait une flèche en haut de ce bâtiment, connu comme Grenfell Towers, peut-être il y aurait beaucoup de don, d’argent et d’aide pour eux. 

Incendie sur Grenfell Tower, Londres
Source: Metro

On peut demander, est-ce qu’on peut laisser détruire un des patrimoines français ? Bien sûr que non ! Mais cela ne doit pas être une urgence comme s’il y avait une catastrophe gigantesque ! Il y a le budget pour les projets de restauration des bâtiments classés et anciens. Peut-être le gouvernement peut financer la restauration de ce budget. Peut-être que le Vatican paie la somme. Je suis sûr que les pratiquants autour de monde veulent voir un patrimoine catholique soit restauré. Mais pourquoi ignorer la crise des pauvres, des sans-abri, des chômeurs qui luttent chaque jour pour survivre et donner une telle importance à un bâtiment ? En fait, on parle aussi pourquoi les familles ont fait leur don avec un grand geste, comme veulent-ils profiter de ce cadeau. On ne le sait pas encore. Peut-être, il le récupère par des crédits d’impôt sur leur société donc ils ne donnent rien en fait.

Et enfin, la question philosophique. S’il y a le Dieu, sera-t-il heureux avec un tel gaspillage d’argent pour un bâtiment ? Pour moi, c’est une question rhétorique, que cela n’a rien à faire avec le Dieu. Mais même pour les pratiquants, je crois que c’est plus important que l’Homme se place avant le Dieu. Comme le Dieu reste dans le cœur des gens. C’est quel type de Dieu s’il voit ses fidèles souffrir quand sa maison est en train d’être couverte en or ? Pas plein d’empathie, je dirais.

Il y a déjà quatre mois quand la flèche a été ravagée par l’incendie. Le chantier ne vient d’être redémarrée que la dernière semaine. La restauration va durer beaucoup longtemps, n’importe qui paie les factures, et n’importe comment se voit la flèche. La somme des dons continuera à augmenter à un chiffre ridicule. Nous espérons que le gouvernement rend compte de cette absurdité et rejette de financer la restauration entièrement avec les impôts. Entre-temps, les internautes étaient très occupés dessiner la nouvelle flèche. Pendant cette période grave et triste, de perdre un des patrimoines français, j’espère que ces articles et les dessins vous feront sourire.

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France, Politics, Populism

Dialogue with a Frexiter — loss of centrist appeal amid the wave of nationalism in the EU

During the men’s FIFA World Cup 2018, I was following the results of every game with an avid interest like I’ve always been. Gone are the crazy days of bickering, taunting, goading your friends about their favourite team’s performance. Now we live hundreds, and in my case, thousands of miles away; but the same excitement still remains, as we replace direct communications with social media. Once I came across a meme that it’s not France, but Africa that has gone into semifinals for the first time. With immigration and vain nationalism close to my heart, I replied stating the obvious that they were all born in France. The discussion ended there. A few weeks later, after Les Bleus lifted the cup for the second time, I saw another piece of news, but this time in France, with a title «C’est l’Afrique qui a gagné». Although on the Africa rhetoric, there is a positive angle many tried to highlight — that France football team represented a great example of an inclusive society, neither version of the memes circulated was acceptable. It was perhaps less shocking seeing such a meme in a different country than one going around in social media in France. And that’s just after they have won the World Cup.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

A few weeks later I met a French contact I have known for last two years. We had many interactions but not a tête-à-tête as such. Trying to find a bit more about France and French life, I thought it would be an easy start to talk about Brexit and find out what the view is sur le continent. When M. Ch’ti (imaginary name, of course) said in his opinion UK will be better off because it’ll be able to source goods from anywhere else, I thought something must be amiss. The rest of the conversation was somewhat like this:

C: And here, you’re looking at one of the supporters for French Brexit.

Me: A French Brexit! But why?

C: Because EU has too much control over the French people and I think it will be good for France to be outside the EU.

Me: There might be a point, but why would you walk away from the world’s largest economic zone? What’s the cost of it? Look at the UK.

C: Of course Brexit is a lesson for French people as well. They need to be ready to negotiate straight away.

Me: I know Macron said under his presidency if there was a referendum, France may well have voted to leave. But is that true? Is that the sentiment?

C: Well, a lot of people think that. Also, we are paying into EU economy so our salaries will be higher.

Me: What do you mean? In what way?

C: EU has been a vanity project for the Germans. They were worse off before EU, unlike the French economy that was doing better.

Me: I found the actual value of the Euro is quite different in different countries. I found it quite surprising how that unbalance was allowed to happen. If you have the same currency, it should be the role of the EU to make sure that the purchasing power should be the same as well, or at least similar.

C: Yes, I remember when Euro was first introduced there was a complicated chart and people just charged anything they pleased.

Me: So do you think outside EU, wages in France will be better? Do you think with a smaller market, the French economy will have to offer a lot more to big corps to appear lucrative to them? Every country will have to follow the Irish model of offering tax havens. That will only benefit a few compared to the mass.

C: Yes because the French economy was better at the time when we joined Euro and to avoid the effect on the economy, they put a cap on wages. I believe once outside EU, we will have a lot more negotiating power especially with our close ties with African nations.

Me: Ah yes the ex-French colonies.

C: Yes, just like there are many ex-colonies the UK can benefit from. And also, not just business, there will be less expenses on security, with all these jihadists, and it’s been crazy in France the last few years…and it’s the same in the UK as well I’ve noticed.

Me: Don’t think the security expenses will come down, and besides, if France exits, you’ll lose all the access to Europol. But true, UK and France have been biggest targets on the list of the terrorists.

C: It’s just crazy. And you need to look at the profile of these people. They lead western lifestyle, drink, smoke, go to nightclubs and then one day they get the illumination that I have to kill people now. The government needs to be stricter about who they let in. The UK has got a much stronger immigration policy than in France. You can just come in and disappear from the system.

Me: It’s not that it doesn’t happen here either, but much less I believe. But you need surveillance on the terror suspects. I believe for the attacks in Bataclan, and in Nice, the attackers were known to the authorities?

C: Yes but there’s a bit conspiracy going on. They want to appease the human rights organisations but they aren’t worried about the general public. There are people who go to Syria, to Iraq, they fight with the jihadists and come back and we just say yes, welcome back and they then disappear before making an attack again.

Me: it’s much stricter here, I mean incidents do happen but they are under heavy surveillance I believe, and some are charged as they come back.

C: That’s the right thing to do. In fact, they should be turned away and we should tell them, go back to where you went fighting.

Me: You can’t take their citizenship away, you can charge them.

C: And then they go to jail and convert other people so they blow themselves up. There is a big cover-up.

By this time I started to wonder what must be the equivalent of Daily Express in France and whether I’m talking to a reader. A well-timed interlude arrived in the shape of an omelette. I tried to change the topic to speak about the last holiday in France.

Me: I thought I’d come and see your office when we were on holiday.

C: Where did you go? In Disneyland?

Me: No, just north of Paris. It’s a place near Compiègne.

C: Ah I know. Very nice place. Very green. Did you see the big palace?

Me: Yes it was awesome. And we liked Soissons.

C: You know there is a place in Compiègne where the Germans surrendered the first big war, and during the second, when they defeated France, they wanted the treaty signed at the same place.

Me: Yes the Versailles treaty. We went to that place in Clarière d’armistice.

C: You know that part of France is so beautiful and it’s the cradle of France. It’s very green. And l’île de France actually comes from this region where the old Frankish kingdom used to be.

Me: I did wonder a long time back why Paris is called that name. I thought it’s all the rivers around it.

C: Yes it’s confusing, you call it the Isle of France but there is no island. But that region hasn’t changed with time, the houses, way of life everything just remained the same.

Me: We really enjoyed there and definitely will go back.

C: That part of Paris is beautiful, around the river Oise. Well, there are other areas that are not so good…

Me: That’s probably the same in every big city. London has some notorious boroughs. What sort of problem are there in Paris?

C: It’s the Japanese mafia.

Me: I see, what sort of problem is there? Gang violence?

C: Yes, mainly. Recently Japan government has a big cultural event in Paris so they had to send people to clean up some of the areas.

Me: Sounds crazy.

C: Yes. Paris used to do such a nice place. And now it’s dirty, full of graffiti, gangs…I was away for a few years, and the first time I went back to Paris, I was horrified. And now you go to Eiffel Tower, it’s covered with security, it doesn’t feel the same.

Me: Yes last year we went there. We just wanted to go to the garden, but even then you have to go through security, so we didn’t bother in the end.

C: It’s a shame, I know it’s needed so deranged people don’t blow us up.

Me: Yes, but in Paris, after so many attacks, you see armed guards and you feel secure that the government is doing something. We don’t have any armed guards.

C: That’s just a decoy. The government can do a lot more. This Macron is useless.

Me: I thought he’s quite liked in France at the beginning? I know he made a few unpopular moves, especially with unions…

C: Macron is secretly building an army. It’s not French national army but his own army. No president has ever done that…well maybe Charles de Gaul during the Algerian war, but that was a different time and he was heavily criticised for it. But what’s Macron’s motive? Nobody knows.

Me: That’s bizarre. What’s his motive? Is he planning a coup? You’d understand when you’re in opposition but he’s the president of the country!

C: Macron is an awful choice. People were besotted by him, but now they can see his true colours. The whole of Europe has become pacifist. I don’t like it now.

Me: Well the EU is above all an economic union. There are a lot of contradictions amongst its member states and a lot of scepticism between each other. It will eventually fail because of the inherent differences between the countries. Just think about Eurovision.

C: Haha yes that is a big farce now. But the biggest challenge is Europe has to close its doors. We can not afford any more people.

Me: But there’s plenty of room, it depends on the governments approach and how much they engage with the population to tell them why they need to help the refugees.

C: I agree with you, they need to be helped, but there should be a limit. Some say it’s in the bible, if somebody comes to your house, you should let them in. But that’s the concept of a pilgrimage. You left them to stay, get rest, then they will be away. Bible doesn’t say that when someone comes to your house you feed them for the lifetime.

At this point, I was beginning to despair. I was wondering whether to prolong a painful discussion by bringing colonialism and its effects into the argument. But before I did, he carried on-

C: And then you host them, then they’ll do petty crimes, go to jail and be converted. Then they become jihadists trying to cut your throat. They could just go back to fight the countries they came from. But they want to bring the war in here.

Me: But that’s what governments are for. They should ensure that people coming here are not socially isolated. And that’s why it can’t just be a government process. The people will need to get involved in that process.

C: Or I have a better solution. They want to come to France? Let them come to France. But send them to a remote island in Pacific that is owned by France. I bet you have places like that with UK as well…sovereign territories.

Me: Yes, the old colonies…

The conversation died off then. The omelette was gone, and it was time to go back to a more comfortable business. But that conversation cast some doubts on the demographics of the populism supporters. And it also cast shadows on the long-term future of a unified Europe. C is undoubtedly a Marine Le Pen supporter from his views about migrants and how to solve the terrorism issue. But he is not a working class, what one would expect a populism supporter to be. He’s not deprived or oppressed by the system and venting the failure of the state towards the scapegoats. One may say based on a sample size of one, my statistical generalisation of French middle-class educated population is crass. It doesn’t hold any credibility. And I know that well. But I’d expected that when I start discussing Brexit with someone from the EU, the general reaction would be — “I pity you, what on Earth were you thinking”? With my first sample doing a volte-face, I’m now worried if more and more people turn out to be closet fascists.

But from another angle, it just proves another thought I’ve had for a while. That the liberal and the left are not loud enough because they have mixed loyalties. The general vibe from the public is that the western society is consumeristic. Aligning a party or oneself too far from that stance would alienate themselves from the public, and they’ll lose their appeal instantly. At the same time, we are prisoners of our own vices. While talking about equality, we still want to enjoy life — holidays, technology, property, investments. Due to that hypocrisy, we cannot go gung-ho against a society that still is failing and widening the gap between its layers. On the other hand, the populism campaign is driven by a rosy picture that’ll never happen. Nor that it ever was. But it’s also characterised by its campaign of fear. And hatred. It’s very direct. There is a culprit, an enemy that you point your finger at. The message from the populist leaders is direct and unequivocal. They froth malice as they open their mouth. They don’t give a toss about political correctness. They tell their followers what to do. And the public meekly comply. Meanwhile, somewhere in the virtual world, a liberal/centrist/moderate expresses their dissent by clicking a dislike or angry button. Or they sign a petition.

On the other hand, the liberal engagement has been feeble, to say the least. Apart from a lack of conviction from our part, the liberal ideology always assumes a moral and intellectual high ground and most of the believers consider themselves much above than getting meddled into a debate. The lack of conviction was apparent prior to Brexit vote — if you asked a remainer, you’d get an answer “that’s the only logical choice isn’t it? I mean who in their right mind would want to leave?”. But when you spoke to a leaver, they always spoke with great conviction, statistics, confidence. All that they said were false because they have been lied to, but the damage was done. The reluctance of the liberals to engage in dialogue with the people who held a view contrary to theirs has already caused enough havoc in the world politics. Yet, we haven’t learned from that mistake, and still look at the world from the ivory tower of our own ideology and think how stupid the other camp is. We don’t try to see their thought process, we don’t see their desperation where they’d believe anything as long as there is someone to blame.

It’s not that there weren’t fascists before Brexit happened. But they didn’t have the platform, the limelight they always wanted. Most of their activities were limited to bravado after the terrorist attacks or commemorating their fascist ideologues. Brexit and Trump gave them a new impetus. It gave them hope, and within two years, we have FN as the second largest party in France, the Netherlands barely scraped through being led by Geert Wilders, as was Austria. Hungary did, in the end, get a right-wing PM, and Italy sleepwalked into a pandemonium in the form of a coalition between nationalist and far-right parties. The European states are becoming partisan, forgetting the virtues and the history that brought them together. The only two leaders that stayed firm against the tide are Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron who constantly spoke about European integration.

It’s not that Macron has no flaws, but during the discussion with C, I expected, like most of the French population, he’d be pro-Macron and inclined towards a vision of EU for the coming years and share their disbelief at the decision taken by the British public. I think beyond Macron, this expectation stems from my idea of France, the epicentre of the modern philosophy and renaissance, from Descartes to Camus. In that biased vision, I think every French person upheld the three basic virtues — liberté, égalité, fraternité. And it’s for that reason when someone didn’t fit into that stereotype, it came as a surprise to me. Perhaps C was just an outlier who doesn’t represent the views of middle-class Parisians, perhaps I have just picked the biggest odd as my first sample. Perhaps, I need to speak to more French acquaintances. I wish I had the same luck with the lottery in picking the odds.

Going back to the meme that made me think about this first, it is clear that people don’t think before endorsing casual racism. It’s also apparent that there is an undercurrent of growing hostile environment for the migrants, waning tolerance between communities and a disbelief over the EU. I wonder how many more distress signals would we need before we start to work on it. Before it’s too late.

PS: I’m going to meet a few Italians soon. Some from the North and some from the South. It’d be enlightening to see their views on Lega Nord. And on the coalition. And on the man who once introduced populism to Italy vowing to drag the country out of the mess it was in, and his famous lines:

E Forza Italia
É tempo di credere
Dai Forza Italia
Che siamo tantissimi

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Brexit, Politics, UK

People’s vote march: A few thoughts on why, how and what’s next

I did not go to the people’s vote march on the 20th. I should have. It was a remarkable day, and it would have felt involved being part of the movement I have supported since the catastrophic day of 23rd June 2016, which some refer as the Independence Day of the UK. This post is not about them; they get enough media exposure anyway, through their fucked up mouthpieces — Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Sun — they can carry on their tantrums. This post is about Remainers, and the last straw of hope that the Brexit car crash may be avoided. Few thoughts crowded my mind thinking about the sheer spontaneity of the event.

Brexit reversal will not be undemocratic:

This is reportedly the second largest gathering of people, taking part in a rally. The scale of the gathering reflected the extent of anger and the extent of distrust in government. The Leave campaign has been complicit throughout in baffling the voters who sat in the fence. They broke several electoral law, made false promises that disappeared on the day the results came out. If these factors alone wasn’t good enough to repeal the result of the referendum, as the political parties hid behind the democratic process, the huge turnout does point out that people are genuinely worried about the uncertainty of the outcome and the government hasn’t got a fucking clue either. If the whole scenario is in utter shambles, is running another vote going to be so undemocratic? I saw a great example last Saturday, that British people were once given a choice to name a boat, and the democratically chosen name wasn’t selected and they gave it a different name. And that was a fucking boat, while we are talking about the future of 60 odd million people! If the democracy doesn’t allow its people to reconsider a wrong decision, the word democracy has lost its meaning.

Posted by The Crisis Actor on Wednesday, October 17, 2018

JC—where were you?:

I have been a staunch supporter of you since your name floated as the labour leader prospect. I have even renewed my membership to vote for you during the leadership challenge. However, your involvement, or lack of it, on Labour’s stand on Brexit, is deeply disappointing. I know politics in national level is a lot trickier than student politics, like turning up like a star at Glasto. You need to weigh the party’s stand with voters, unions and the future direction of the party. From a left-wing politics point of view, EU fosters capitalism, which I believe is the main obstacle behind your decision not to go completely against Brexit. EU has its follies but is a much better place to be after the next election when Labour will win than in the post-Brexit UK. If Brexit fails, it would be because of the callousness of the Conservative party, not because of Labour’s stand in it. Thinking beyond the capitalist perspective, the concept of EU is about collaboration amongst the member states, eliminating barriers to businesses and to its citizens, encourage social cohesion across the union. The post-Brexit UK, on the other hand, will replace the supposedly domineering EU with cockroaches like Boris or JRM, who’d undo all that has been achieved in the past four decades of membership. I’m pretty sure your silence is part of a big plan, and Labour is waiting for the moment; but once the deadline is over and we end up in a No-deal Brexit, there is no coming back. By not taking a stand Labour has already allowed too much time to the Tories to regroup and reshuffle. This rally would have been the perfect moment for you to declare that Labour is now aligning itself to the second referendum. Or were you worried that your silence had already caused much animosity from the people who joined the march? Believe me, that’s the less-harder position to be in, rather than looking at the same crowd to vote for you in the next general election. You were the elephant not in the room in the crowd of 700 thousand attendees, and your absence and lack of acknowledgement for the second referendum was deeply missed. There’s time to change, but not a lot of it. Tick…tock…Tick…tock…Tick…tock…

EU—Take notice of the EU solidarity:

What has been noticed since the Brexit negotiations began is the role of the EU. And that’s entirely the fault of the pig-fucker David Cameron government to drag the country into this nightmare. Without any preparation, needless to say, the meetings must have been a delight to the EU negotiators. However, the rhetoric from EU came across as if they want to set the UK as an example, of what happens to the dissidents who dare to undermine the EU. It was not very vitriolic at the beginning, but as it turned out that just like during the time in the union, UK want to pick and choose the clauses and benefits they want to keep while leaving it, the criticisms from European leaders became harsher. Undoubtedly, that bolstered the nationalists in the UK who mainly voted Leave, but it also put a few Remainers off – considering their choice if there was a second referendum. Ultimately, if there is a No-deal Brexit, UK will suffer. But it won’t cease to exist. It will clutch at straws to keep afloat for a while, striking dodgy trade deals with rogue states like USA and Saudi, but after a decade or so, the balance would be found. But that’s the worst case scenario. That has a tremendous cost associated with it. And for that acrimonious split up, there will be a cost to the EU as well. The March showed that the UK has not transformed into an EU-hating, protectionist, nationalist state and there are plenty – probably the majority if the vote was conducted on reality and not on fairytale promises – who stand by the common goals of the EU and want to be referred to as a citizen of the EU, and British and European identities can coexist. These people are fighting their corner, as much as they could, in order not to scupper the future of the millions by the Tory profiteers. They don’t need the word of encouragement from the governments in the EU, but in the war of the words and the bravado between the two sides, let the leaders on EU states not lose sight of these efforts from inside the UK and dissuade the only people who can prevent the huge cost to both sides.

Working-class=Racist, Youth=Remain:

Some very common generalisations were found in the Remain camp since the vote. First one was that the old people cost us the Brexit. That myth was debunked soon after, although some still maintain that view. Perhaps it’s true that the older generations mainly voted Leave, but it’s also true that the number of youth voters was a lot higher who didn’t bother turning up for the vote. Also, they thought that all under 30s who didn’t vote would have voted Remain. I haven’t seen the statistics of the absentee voters, but needless to say that all the youth wouldn’t be from the same social class, they would be from an array of social, cultural, economic background. Considering the fact that even some university students end up as Tory scum, it’s unlikely that the absentee youth alone would have created enough swing in the balance. It would be preposterous to assume that only the uni-goers would vote Remain and the rest wouldn’t. Perhaps the section of the population who have experienced and benefitted from the European integration would be more likely to support the union, and perhaps the percentage is higher amongst the youth who went to uni. But that’s just another stereotyping with no statistical backup. The second one is on race and religion. Brexit vote is ultimately decided on xenophobia. And there are some more cliched stereotypes observed in the last two years. That the white working class is against European free movement. Perhaps that is correct. Perhaps most of them voiced concerns about the influx of skilled and unskilled labour from Europe. Because they were the worst affected segment of the population, at least apparently. Because the migrants were an easy red-herring to deflect criticism from the real perpetrators. There is also a speculation along this line about the disenfranchised north. That basically stems from a higher distribution of the white working class population in the region. However, none of this is entirely true. Looking at the results, rather than north, the decisive results were in the south. Below London, most of the constituencies voted Leave — an area with much less working class and much more middle-class population. So what went in there? Did the class who benefits more from the union turn their face away from it? Why? For more profit? Probably true, considering the same regions are predominantly conservative heartland as well. So the vilification of the white working class may be too unjust, considering the fact that irrespective of their location, they are indeed disenfranchised. On the other hand, since London voted broadly Remain, due to its multicultural character, it’s assumed that a multicultural population would vote for Remain. Again, a generalisation. The main factor was xenophobia of two types — about The unskilled Eastern European labour and about the Muslim refugees from the Middle East and North Africa as well as possible influx Turkish people if they were to be added as a new member. While the Eastern European labourers raised economic concerns to be seen as drain to our resources, mainly by the working class who need the resources the most and they don’t get it, the prospect of the increase in Muslim immigrants touched a nerve for many communities. It was not just economic concerns, but also the cultural, religious and security aspects that turned out to be pivotal. To the sceptics, every Muslim immigrant was seen as a potential terrorist and this view was not only shared by the white Christian population but other communities as well. When you’d think multicultural concentrations would unanimously vote to Remain, such factors played a large role, when the result was decided on a knife’s edge. All this shows is racism, xenophobia is rife in today’s British society and for reasons far greater than Brexit, these inner demons need to be faced and banished.

Note to the liberals — Take to the streets:

The March was an enormous success. It predicted 100,000 attendees, but on the day there were nearly 700,000. It made a bold statement that we are behind a union with the UK in it. A bit too late though. Although the gesture is emphatic, and I’m hopeful that it’ll make an impact on the process to reverse it, but being realistic we are two years too late. Remain voters, including me, have been too complacent about the result. Just as the government brochure that said fuck all. Granted that the Leave campaign was meticulously funded and run by people who are losing out because of the EU legislation, it doesn’t take away the fact that the Remain camp did nothing to persuade many Leave voters who sat on the fence and on the day decide on the toss of a coin. “Someone else will” is the mentality we have seen, and I’m equally critical of myself. Apart from stating to anyone whom I discussed Brexit with that I’ll be voting In, I barely did anything. Apart from curbing the desire to set fire to every Leave poster I came across, knowing who it represented, and what it represented. I think in today’s world, the space for debate is getting squeezed down, and rather than a constructive discussion, we are too keen to say “I’m right and you’re wrong. And that’s the end of it”. Probably because we haven’t got time. Time to think, time to discuss, time to synthesise. Probably the liberals think there’s no point in talking to nationalist idiots. Apart from all other factors why we are here today, it’s us to blame as well. This march should have happened on 20th of June 2016, not on the 20th of October 2018. To show solidarity towards a unified Europe. To show how many people who cared for this issue. To show everyone undecided that there are millions who are on the right side of history. To help them realise that if you want to reform the system, first you have to be a part of it. So next time, maybe in the next general election, let’s not hide behind “someone else will”. Make your voice count as if it was the last time because if you don’t, you’ll be helping UK cave into another disaster. Then there will be no point of arranging another march two years on. Act at the moment, just as the Leavers did.

It’ll be one of my biggest regrets of not doing enough to prevent Brexit. And not going to the march on 20th of October. But I hope there will be another march when Article 50 will be withdrawn. To celebrate over the scheming Brexiters. Now, I won’t miss that!
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Charlottesville-Attack
nationalism, Politics, Racism, Terrorism

Charlottesville: Wake up call to the terrorism we’ve been silent about

I watched Imperium a few weeks back. I was interested in seeing the transformation of Daniel Radcliffe from the Harry Potter stereotype, as much as I was interested in the theme of the film. An FBI agent infiltrates white supremacist gangs and factions to foil a plot to use dirty bombs in a rally. It was a difficult film to watch, almost cringing at the actors portraying the faction members. And it was difficult to watch knowing the fact that it’s not just a film but a true reflection of the society. These groups exist and these ideologies exist — knowing that was revolting enough. But assuming in reality, the clans must be behaving like this as well made the feeling much worse. I knew that somewhere, this must be happening already, as we are sitting on a ticking time bomb, and it’s just a matter of time when it all blows up. The Charlottesville incidents just proved my fears; not the first instance, but certainly the most broadcasted event in the recent times. It’s time to wake up to racism, and terrorism. And more importantly, to rid off the media bias and call a spade a spade. Charlottesville attacks were terrorist attacks and the governments must gear up to quash such extremist views.

9/11 had permanently changed the world. It made the world polarised. On one side, 9/11 meant more woes to the Middle East because that would just let Uncle Sam interfere in the region in the name of national safety, something that it had been doing for a long time anyway. For the Middle East, American intervention is seen as a symbol of West’s imposition of supposedly higher moral values in the region. This resulted in spreading of Islamist extremism like a wildfire since 9/11 that didn’t stay localised in the Middle East but spread across the globe. Disgusting is the ideology — of killing people of different faiths and race, and disgusting are the people who preach this and carry out the attacks. This is straightforward geopolitics so far.

The infographic here shows how the extremist attacks happened across the world.
(Source: YouTube)

Yet the less talked about change about 9/11 is equally sinister, and it’s not easily perceived. 9/11 brought the fear into the minds of the people — especially in the west. That these extremists can run their killing spree in the west, and that it’s not an issue of mad people killing each other in a faraway land — it blew the bubble of security people were living in. Growing up in the subcontinent where India had been constantly battered by terrorist attacks, we never had that safety bubble that it wouldn’t happen to us. In a day, that absurdity suddenly seemed quite possible.

Fear brings the worst out of us humans. We lose our sense of reasoning and stop trusting people. We look at everyone with suspicion. The heightened fear of a Muslim extremist attack became so apparent that overnight anyone with a Muslim name or appearance was subjected to scrutinies, hate crimes and proving their allegiance to the state. I’d like to mention another brilliant film that captured the transition of mentalities about Muslims during this epoch — The Reluctant Fundamentalist. People felt threatened and wanted to do something to feel safe again. And that paved the path for white supremacy and neo-Nazism.

Poster

Poster from The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Source: Covering Media

White Supremacist and Neo-Nazi rhetoric is not new. They have always been around but never reached a critical mass since WWII, because most people didn’t believe in their threats, nor did the groups have issues to preach their hatred against. 9/11 gave them an enemy. And with people losing their sense of judgement, the white supremacist doomsday threats started to appear credible.

Extremism alone didn’t pave the path for these extremist right wing voices. Over last few decades, the world had become more mobile than it has ever been. With an increased level of business and exposure to education, geographical barriers seemed to be disappearing. That facilitated greater global mobility and it’s evident that the net immigration has increased in the West, especially if in G20 states. Also, apart from the skilled migrants, a number of unskilled immigrants had been on the rise as well, caused by heightened social, political and religious unrest in countries. More people in those conflict torn countries were forced to flee in fear of their life. Not only did these new immigrants raise fear of the increased risk of extremist attacks (“who can say they weren’t terrorist disguised as normal people” etc.), but businesses employed immigrants more to pay less for the same work.

And thus, migrants are linked to joblessness, social unrest, their inability to integrate into the society and imbibe ethos of the state. People started to have a feeling that the minorities have better privileges than the non-migrant population of the country. A feeling that they are losing control of the stronghold they had over the local communities. The situation has worsened with the global economic downturn, and the working class was hit by the housing bubble, unemployment, relocation, poverty. In desperate times, people look for either something to salvage themselves or blame someone for their misery. Immigrants were an easy target. And thus the majority of the large economies with a high net positive migration has witnessed a growing sense of nationalism.

I don’t see any difference between nationalism and racism. Nationalism is a concept to differentiate people who belong to the land, pledge their allegiance no matter if the state is right or wrong, and dissuade diversity. The plague of nationalism is on the surge across the world, but it’s particularly noticeable in the US and Europe. There are docile ones, such as outfits like organisers of #whitelivesmatter, and there are the Neo-Nazi clans. It is even horrific to find that the right-wing nationalist outfits are finding their feet as legitimate set-ups. Recent elections in France, Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, Greece, Switzerland – nationalists have not only found their foothold in the legislative system but also were close to winning the elections in some cases. That was scary.

It was scary seeing nationalist parties gather so much support, with their politics of hate, but two biggest events last year completely upstaged the notion that common sense will prevail. The UK left the European Union, spurred by the campaign full of lies and scaremongering about immigration. And on the other side of the pond, Donald Trump has become the most powerful man on earth. Different countries, same rhetoric. The UK, despite its receding importance in the global political landscape, delivered a boost to all nationalist voices around the world. The aftermath of Brexit is, of course, the election of Donald Trump. Desperate working-class people, trying to change their living conditions, have fallen prey to the opportunist vultures, supported by expensive campaigns, sourced from the donors who benefit most from the election results.

It’s a long prelude to the Charlottesville attacks. The conflict was always due coming. The signs were all there. Brexit wasn’t that much of a threat on a global scale, although the heightened levels of hate and race crimes since the Brexit results show that a lot of people wore a mask before, of being open-minded, liberal – and suddenly, their true self is out in the open. But the biggest threat is the orange clown sitting at the White House. A complete moron with immense power is never a good combination and seeing all nationalist people across the world hailing him a hero, it spells danger. This may sound controversial, but Donald Trump, with all his shockingly horrific views on Americanism, being elected to the White House is equally cringeworthy as was the declaration of Al-Baghdadi his Caliphate. One’s vile, the other’s evil, both morons, both have thousands of moron followers who hails them and acts to their orders without thinking…you get the picture, right?

Charlottesville is scary for another reason. For the nationalists, the common demographic happened to be white working class – disenfranchised, marginalised public. However, many of the Charlottesville alt-right protesters were university students, a segment typically seen to be left wing. It is worrying that the sphere of influence has grown in size. The anti-immigrant nationalist rhetoric has reached beyond its grassroots support base. People are more prejudiced and eager to show their racial bias under the helm of the new leaders. Yet the situation observed in Charlottesville was more disturbing, seeing the alt-right drop its reformist mask and show their white supremacist face. They gave Nazi salutes, bore the Confederate cross, chanted anti-Semitic slogans, and then stooped to another low by planning to use murdered Heather Heyer’s funeral. This is the real face of America’s alt-right. If their agenda of nationalism is desperate, their white supremacist ideology is pure evil. And if you think that’s an American problem, you’re making the same mistake as done while branding Muslim extremism a Middle East problem. Just look at the anti-immigrant sentiment that swept through Britain post-Brexit. Then there are anti-Islam Britain First and EDL, who want to portray every Muslim in the UK as terrorists. But there’s a larger hidden threat, from lesser known outfits, such as National Action.

Terrorist. That’s a term I consciously avoided so far because media semantics is another area that needs immediate rethinking. Okay. Imagine a terrorist. What do you see? A Muslim man, long beard, possibly carrying a rucksack? Was it far off my guess? What about hate preacher? Middle age Muslim man with long beards and even better if he wore a cap? Well, as far as Islamist terrorist or hate preaching goes, these images probably match the profiles of the most notorious ones. How do the following people fit in the profile of a terrorist? Timothy McVeigh, Anders Breivik, KKK, hundreds of killers involved in school shootings, IRA, ETA. They are all white, perhaps Christians as well. And that’s just one demographic section. There are examples from all corners of the world. There are governments carrying out organised ethnic cleansing – directly or indirectly. The new addition to that list of terrorists is James Fields. Yet, we seem to be too frivolous to use the term terrorist with Muslim attacks and try our best not to use the term for any other community. What about hate preachers? What about The Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express, Britain First, EDL, Nigel Farage and UKIP, Front National, Jobbik, Geert Wilders, Golden Dawn? What about Katie Hopkins? And above all, the Donald Trump, spending more time posting halfwit tweets slagging off half the world’s population? Do you see these people as hate preachers? I guess not, but they no doubt are. The jihadi extremists do it in the name of their religion, and the other bunch does it from a moral high ground. They think they represent liberal western civilisation. They are wrong. Their views are as primitive as is the Islamist terrorists they are directing their hatred.

And this is what is worrying. That these opportunist people are given a platform – by the media, by the public, by the system – to spread their hatred. There was a speculation whether Charlottesville spelled the end of the alt-right in America. On the contrary, it was found that its supporters became bolder and flew Swastikas on their house in the open. It was all there in Charlottesville – Confederate flag, Swastikas, Nazi salute, chants like “Blood and soil” and “Jews won’t replace us”. It was a shameless display of blatant racism and equally shameful silence from a waste of a space president. He stayed silent as long as possible – which already emboldened the Neo-Nazis, and then a meek criticism that seemed completely unlike Donald Trump speech. His vocabulary does not stretch to repugnant. Then he made a U-turn by calling the protesters alt-left and tried to blame both parties of intolerance. And then he defended keeping the Confederate statues that caused the clash. The president spoke of bigotry, yet he turned out to be the biggest bigot during this crisis.

The killing of Heather Heyer and the two police officers are abhorrent. It was unfortunate that it took the death of three people to get the condemnation of the rally it deserved at the very first place. But it’s not all gloomy. The resistance and the counter-protests have gathered more supporters than the white supremacist militias did. It is a consolation that the picture is the same in most of the places, wherever the fascists held a rally, they either give up or outnumbered and overshadowed by the anti-racism supporters. There was a stream of photos that went viral where one Neo-Nazi is seen to be punched in the face after he did a Nazi salute. Now, the judgement is divided whether the use of violence was justified. Probably not. But let’s draw a parallel here. During an Islamist terrorist attack, the entire Muslim community is expected to prove their allegiance to the government, criticising the attack. If they don’t do it, it is expected that they discretely support terrorism. The white supremacists, on the other hand, adhere to the views of America’s dark racist past. If the Muslim terror suspects and sympathisers can be kept under surveillance and arrested, why couldn’t their counterparts? And lastly, it’s crazy how a Muslim terrorist is shot dead within seconds whilst Anders Breiviks and James Fields are safely led away by police, despite their crime was equally despicable. And supporting a movement that committed the most heinous crimes of the twentieth century, the neo-Nazis show that essentially there is no difference in them and the supporters of Islamist extremism. Their objective is no different. But there is not attempt to criticise them as terrorist sympathisers.

From that perspective, the best work is probably done by an anonymous twitter user @YesYoureRacist, by identifying all alt-right supporters on the rally. In a group, people do awful things, but when they realise that they are singled out, that might put an end to their little adventure with the big boys. It’s sort of vigilantism, which is a questionable trend, but it should have been the police and intelligence to identify them and monitor of their movements. They failed, so somebody had to bring it out in the daylight. The little escapades of these tin soldiers had to be made public. Some might end up losing jobs, being socially outcast in the community, rethink their mistakes and follow a normal course of life. The few others, let’s call them terrorist material, should then have to be kept under surveillance by the police as potential terror suspects.

Nazism didn’t happen in Germany overnight. It started with the election of an overzealous maniac by popular mandate. And the history repeated itself again last year. Unless uprooted at its nascent stage, it will be too late. The right-wing already are in the motion. They are given more voice in the media for some reason anyway. The popularity of the right-wing press is mind-boggling. Perhaps the media watchdog wanted to observe the freedom of speech a little more. But what is freedom of speech for rabid dogs? That’s what these fanatics are. It’s a pity that many feel marginalised in the new ethical world but joining a fanatical movement is not going to solve the problem. Brexit happened last year. Trump was elected eight months back. Where did all the promises go? Apart from the failed attempts to implement racist Muslim ban and the Mexico wall, Trump managed to do fuck all. Either people are already beginning to realise that it was all lies and empty boasts, or they are brainwashed enough not to see that nothing’s happening. They have become right-wing automatons. They can’t see that religion, culture, social cohesion — none of it is the root of the problem. It’s the wealth, and its distribution. This sentence might make you brand me as a Commie, but I don’t mind, just as I think that if you support this then you are a racist, and you are trying to sugar coat it with patriotism and culture and all other nonsense.

This is why, it is absolutely paramount that we do everything to prevent this wildfire of hatred. And for that, people will need to speak up. Disagreeing in silence will not give a clear message that you are opposed to the horrific ideas of the neo-Nazis. We need to square up to them. Protest can be as cynical as by brave Saffiyah Khan, smirking on the face of the Britain First scum, or literally punching them. You have to match them strength to strength. Violence cannot be the solution, but where the far-right form militias, hold camps on how to attack/fight the enemy (who is the enemy anyway?), or to the least, resort to intimidation and a racial slur, repeating lines of Das Kapital or Beatles is not going to make much difference, will it? There is no space for debate yet because that’s not what the Neo-Nazis are after. They have the pseudo alt-right mouthpieces like Milo Yannopoulos and Tommy Robinson but they are just red herrings, the agent provocateurs. They are dangerous as their reach spans the furthest, in terms of brainwashing the confused and misrepresented youth, but it’s the lesser known direct action groups that people need to watch out for. They are possibly hard to identify, and their whereabouts, therefore, stay unknown to the authorities and protestors. Take a parallel with the Islamist extremism. You have hate preachers like Anjem Chaudhury, who provokes the youth, and perhaps preaches them about carrying out attacks, but is never found to be linked directly to any of the terrorist attacks. Then you have/had the notorious terrorists like Bin Laden, Al-Baghdadi, the Samantha Lewthwaite…they are masterminds but are so heavily monitored that it’s unlikely that they’ll be involved in the attacks themselves. But it’s the unknown brainwashed misguided marginalised people, working in little sleeper cells, who are carrying out the majority of the terrorist attacks. London, Nice, Barcelona, Paris — it’s the less known or unknown faces that are involved in the attacks. Just like James Fields. An unknown and unsuspecting individual. It is important to gather and pass information so these terrorists are identified. Identified so police track their whereabouts and also identified amongst the anti-racism and other protest groups. Outnumbering the opposition is a great tactic and so far, it worked great in the UK where the protesters relentlessly outnumbered the right-wing demonstrators in every rally. And when the threat of white-supremacist zealots have calmed down, and people see the emptiness of their propaganda, then it’s the time to engage in talks. Talks to the vulnerable, underprivileged section of the population who have been continuously exploited and given false hope of a brighter future. It’s only by education, and by forming a truly inclusive society can we rid of the evils of racism and religious hatred.

Going back to where I started, talking about Daniel Radcliffe, I am a big fan of Harry Potter books. They drew inspiration from many modern day events and that’s why the significance of the books never fade away from the memory. You just keep on identifying incidents with the book, and you get a new meaning of the series. The reign of terror ran by Voldemort and his death eaters were reminiscent of the Nazi Germany. The persecution of the muggles and witches born in non-wizarding family reminded of the atrocities of the Third Reich. Apart from the historical accounts of the WWII, Harry Potter books showed how the reign of terror actually started. A sudden appearance of the dark mark in the sky. March of past by the death eaters. Death of an individual. The government’s attempt to play it down. Persecution of the ones who asked for tougher measures. Failures of the government to protect the vulnerable. Until it’s beyond control. This is how just things unfold in Harry Potter. And this is how the first signs have started appearing. Terrorism is evil for humankind. The governments are doing enough to curb Islamist terrorism, but not enough to eliminate the threats posed by the Neo-Nazis, the white supremacists, the alt-right. The threat should have been taken seriously for a long time, but the movement is nigh on getting its critical mass. It’s time to act fast. It’s not the time to be philosophical about the problem but quash it brutally, before it turns into a raging wildfire of communal hatred that will engulf our entire society irrespective of colour, race, religion.

I am an alarmist. And I see patterns. And the patterns like above do not bode well. At the end of Harry Potter, everybody fought together to defeat the evil forces of Voldemort. Battle of Hogwarts gave us hope. That in the end, the Good wins. Yet, the reality is far more complicated than the book. We don’t always get the happy ending. Can we fight together shoulder to shoulder forgetting our petty differences? Because that’s what is needed to achieve that goal. To give Donald Trump and his “fine people” alt-right a kick up their backside. Let’s hope that the history doesn’t repeat itself, and we keep on hoping that the threats of white-supremacist and far-right extremisms are uprooted at its nascent stage.

As I write this, 16 people were killed in a terrorist attack in Barcelona, two were killed in Finland, and there were a number of attempts including in Buckingham Palace, Paris and Brussels. So the threat of Islamist terrorism is very real, and it’s not going to be resolved in our lifetime. But creating another monster to eliminate that threat is suicidal. Killing terrorists or even surveillance are reactive measures, which is necessary, but not sustainable. The threat of homegrown terrorism can only be countered through the social inclusion of the youth. And it is essential to change the perception of the public on terrorism. All the events above are well covered in the media. What unfortunately didn’t get so much public attention is the fact that the death toll is much higher in a number of attacks carried out in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Nigeria. Most of these are carried out by Islamist terrorists. The public apathy towards extremism outside Europe and North America is one of the main reasons how the dangers of religious/nationalist extremism have spread across the world. And the proliferation of the nationalism and racism. Islamist and Right-wing extremism aren’t even the two sides of the coin; they are absolutely identical in nature. They rely on hate, they are divisive and wants to destroy the fabric of the modern multicultural society. It’s reassuring that the threat of Islamist terrorism is well identified, but it’s also essential that we don’t turn a blind eye to the other. Wikipedia shows there are 199 terrorist attacks in August across the world. But Heather Heyer does not feature in that list of victims. She damn well should.
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Culture, Film review, Films, Russia

I won’t come back (Я Не Вернюсь) – A fable on screen

I recently came across a Russian film called I won’t come back, or Я Не Вернюсь (Ya ne vernus) in Russian. It took a while to decide which one to watch, from a list of films by the likes of Pedro Almodóvar and Michael Haneke. And I chose to watch the film by an unknown Estonian director Ilmar Raag. But after watching it, I can say the much-cliched phrase that you’ve only failed when you stopped trying. Failing, in this context, is not knowing the world of the parallel cinema, not knowing about a different world away from glitzy Hollywood and Bollywood, not witnessing life in another part of the world so less represented in the media. I won’t come back is a powerful film about two orphans fighting their corner in the world and their desperate search for love. The harsh realities of life, laced with short tales providing a poetic, magical, getaway from the sombre undertone of the storyline, and a brilliant cinematography spanning the vast expanse of the Russian countryside to the Altai mountains in Kazakhstan — the result of the eclectic mix is unforgettable. And above all, I won’t come back portrays career defining performances by Polina Pushkaruk and young Vika Lobacheva.

Russian trailer for the film
(Source: YouTube)

Polina portrays Anya, who grew up in an orphanage, and she becomes a lecturer in an university. There, she falls in love with a professor, but he has a family with children. One day she was accused of hiding drugs she didn’t know about, and she escapes the arrest. To avoid being taken in custody, Anya goes to an orphanage claiming she’s fifteen, and there she meets Kristine, a thirteen-year-old girl, who is bullied by other inmates. Anya defends her, and Kristine began to trust Anya. When Kristine tells Anya that she knows a secret way out, Anya runs away one day, only to find Kristine following her, pleading to take her to her grandma in Kazakhstan. Thus begins the voyage to Kazakhstan, with very little money between them. They had to hitchhike. On the way, Anya receives a call from Andrey, that all charges against her were dropped and she should come back to the uni. Thus begins the clash between the two characters, both desperate to find a tie, a sense of belonging and being loved — Anya, in her lover and Kristine, in her grandma. Anya tries to send Kristine to Kazakhstan in a train but fails. Through various dramatic sequences, it emerges that these two girls needed each other, more than they agreed to admit. But when Kristine said to Anya, she refused to admit it, resulting in Kristine running away and hitchhiking alone in a car leaving Anya behind. After a day of searching for her, Anya finds her alone, walking along the snow covered road in the upcoming winter. Anya finally realises how much she loved Kristine and decided to travel to Kazakhstan. Then in a sudden twist of fate, as they waited for a car, a drunk driver skids and hits the shed where Kristine was resting, killing her instantly. Anya in her grief realised that she’d become an orphan again, and lost the only human being who loved her unconditionally. The film then shows resolute Anya telling Andrey that she’s not coming back, and finally reaches the village in the Altai mountains. Kristine’ grandmother mistakes Anya to be Kristine, and Anya carried on with the lie, to finally find a place to call home.

Ya ne vernus a magical film, despite its dark and sad undertone. A number of scenes were truly emotional, and Polina and Vika made those instances realistic as though the tension between them was palpable. Instances worth specific mention are the time when Anya leaves a howling Kristine in the cemetery petrified of the wolves, or when Kristine kept asking Anya to admit she loved her but Anya kept refusing. Perhaps the most heart-rending scene was when Kristine suddenly dies. With the two girls finally agreeing to go to Kazakhstan, and the viewers expecting a journey to Kristine’a grandmother for a happily ever after, the suddenness of her death left us speechless. Perhaps Anya’s grief in the film moved at a faster pace than the viewers realising that Kristine, the eccentric and dreamy teenager is actually dead. No miracle is happening, Anya won’t be taking her to a farm where Vika would be treated and recover.

Yet, despite the dreary backdrop throughout the film, it also highlights the strength of a relationship. The mythical interjections in the film, mostly by the dreamy Kristine, gave the film a fantastic aura. These short intervals of fantasy take the viewers’ attention away from the harsh reality of the central theme. Scenes like Kristine introducing herself to Anya telling there are an eagle and a dog inside her who talk to her all the time, or that she had wings but they were broken and she couldn’t fly anymore because God only gives you wings once. We’ll remember Kristine pouring soda on the road so the road sends them a lift, and that of the swan and the girl kept us hoping that there is something positive happening to these girls. We see the relationship between Anya and Kristine evolve with a background of the out and about places in Russia, captured by the fabulous cinematography — from a busy city to the Altai mountains, from a dark, snow-laden cemetery at night, to busy service stations. The film presented slices of Russian life and culture through various imageries, perfectly blended into the storyline, such as the tale of the swan, as they walked past a deserted lake. As much as the unforgettable character portrayals of Polina Pushkaruk and Vika Lobacheva, the cinematography by Tuomo Hutri was a treat.

“There was a girl in the orphanage. One day she ran away from everyone. She came across a lake and saw a swan. She asked the swan to take her away. So the swan picked her up in his beak and flew away. The swan put the girl in his house. But he went away to see his kids and the girl saw him less and less. One day the girl jumped in the water. But she didn’t drown and turned into a fish. The swan came back and couldn’t see the girl. He began to cry. The fish-girl could see the swan but she couldn’t speak to him. From that day, the fish would come up to the surface every day and see her swan cry”

However, it’s the the relationship between the characters of Anya and Kristine — the turmoils and their love, is the tour de force in Ya ne vernus. Anya’s character is shown as an intelligent young woman, finding her place in the world putting the life in the orphanage behind her. However, as much as she appeared confident in professional life, she seemed helplessly desperate in her personal life. She was looking for stability throughout the film, and that’s why knowing that she had no hope of getting Andrey leave his family for her, Anya clung on to him. Her only hope, still, was to stay in the city she was living and pray that Andrey leaves his wife and family one day. Until then, at least she can still be in an affair with him. Kristine, on the other side, had nothing in the city. She has no relatives, she’s bullied by all the inmates of the orphanage. All she had was a small tin box, inside which was a crumpled photo with an address of a remote village in Kazakhstan, where her grandma lived. Living in a shelter knowing that she had a living relative made her flee one shelter to another until she met Anya who, unlike others, was ready to stand up to anyone harassing Kristine. Kristine saw her like a big sister, she felt loved and cared for. And she felt secure. But her ultimate goal was to reach Chemolgan, the village in Kazakhstan where her grandma lived. It appeared as though one of these girls will have to make a sacrifice or will be separated forever. If Anya goes to Kazakhstan, she’ll never see Andrey again, and if she went back to the city, Kristine will not see her Grandma. It was as if the destiny was playing a cruel roulette with their fate, where whichever path they chose, they will lose one significant person in their life. The director Ilmar Raag depicted through some unforgettable scenes how Anya opened up her feelings towards Kristine, and that the feeling she felt towards Andrey was slowly fading away.

Polina Pushkaruk was phenomenal in portraying the role of Anya but it’s the young Vika Lobacheva who stole the heart away of the viewers. She made the character of dreamy and feisty Kristine very real to the audience. It was amazing acting by a young actor and I wonder why she wasn’t nominated for the best young actors. I was surprised to find out later that Vika Lobacheva actually spent a large part of her childhood in social care. Ya ne vernus is an exceptional film, magically woven by talented Ilmar Raag and supported by the lead actors Polina and Vika. Adding the cinematography featuring the vast expanse of the Russian countryside, it made I won’t come back one of the phenomenal films I’ve watched recently. Many would argue that this may be classed as a road movie, but I’d strongly oppose that notion. It’s true that a large part of the film is about the journey for the two women towards Kazakhstan, but it’s much more than a road movie — it’s a tale about finding home and love. To me, it was a fable, a string of magical moments joined together to a bleak storyline. I’m glad that I made the choice to watch Я Не Вернюсь (Ya ne vernus) over the other films I was tempted by, or else I would have missed this rare gem. It was a lesson, that sometimes it’s worth following a hunch, and not just for choosing which films to watch.

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Equality, Politics, Socialism

Two observations on equality inequation

We were just returning from our week long break in Paris. The day was hot, at times in mid-thirties. We anticipated a cooler weather in the UK. When we reached Folkestone, the temperature didn’t plummet. I thought for a brief moment that it was perhaps the wrong week to be on holiday. It would have been better had the weather here been worse.

But that thought made me think further. Why is it that the weather had to be worse here to make a holiday abroad seem more pleasant? Is it because spending all the money and effort for a break away from the usual cold and damp weather now seemed worthless because anybody who stayed here enjoyed the sun just the same? And is it not the same problem with the wealth? No matter how well off one seems to be, they don’t feel exclusive enough if the others had what they have. That we are not happy with what we have got, no matter how much it is — isn’t that the first symptom of inequality of wealth? Sunshine is ubiquitous, just like all resources on earth that we exploit, but we all want a bigger share. So when we look in contempt at other people for being wealthy and not doing enough to help the poor, we should look at ourselves as well. WE, are part of it, and it needs reminding all the time if we even hope to make a difference one day.

The day after, we were eating Father’s Day dinner in a restaurant. It’s not a Michelin star place, but a chain restaurant mainly catered for middle-class clientele. I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation at the table next to us. A middle-aged man, his Aussie partner and opposite them sat a young man of early twenties with headphone on the ear and a woman about the same age. It seemed it was the boy’s family and the girl was the girlfriend. They were talking about the Grenfell Tower and the young woman was vociferously explaining the shortcomings of the councils, the legal implications, where Labour was wrong, where Tories were wrong. She sounded compelling and had won the debate at the table.

Yet, her argument, albeit filled with facts and legal jargon, lacked a basic factor. It lacked empathy for the families that were ruined — the human factor in the equation of the accountabilities. She is a Uni student, and with her knowledge, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was doing politics. I thought of the a time if she became a politician. She could present an excellent speech but could still be totally aloof from the people she’s standing up for.

The political elite of this country, irrespective of the party, has this issue of connecting with the common public. If not all, the majority of them, especially the party frontbenchers, hails from a privileged upbringing, and learned politics as theory and analysing the history rather than following the first principles of politics — understanding people. And by not understanding the public or by making the public think that politicians are above their class, it alienated public from most mainstream politicians and paved paths for opportunistic populist parties. The image of one Nigel Farage holding a pint of beer comes to mind.

Brexit results showed the danger of populism and the permanent damage it’ll inflict on the course of UK’s future. It’s about time that the mainstream parties start diversifying their candidate portfolio. A number of barriers have been broken in recent years in terms of politics and inclusion of candidates of various background, but classism is another hurdle to overcome. Social engineering in UK public service is a fact, and unless this prejudices are removed, a politician will never be representative of the public they are meant to represent.

And this realisation brought home the two random thoughts together. We live in a society where we are taught seek more, have more than others. Our actions define our own future, and others’ as well. Until we reach a point where we learn to think differently or our inherent tendency to create inequality is neutralised by a system fair to all, we will not be living in a society we can be proud to be a part of. And to achieve an equal society, the equality should not be devolved or merely representative, but the equality which will be entitled, ubiquitous.

But then, will it ever happen? After all, sitting here, writing about all this rather than doing something about it, I’ve just followed the benevolent socialist bandwagon, who talks about reforming the world but does nothing.
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