More News From Nowhere

So here are some thoughts on the news of late.

Edward-Snowden1. Edward Snowdon is a traitor we’ve been told. He is of course to the state but he knew that when he released the information on the surveillance. But he isn’t a traitor to the people of the US or the states around the world. If this had been the Chinese reading American emails, it would be called an act of espionage, sabotage, a threat to national security, a threat to liberty, an act of war. The Chinese computer hacking is nothing new. This has been practiced in some form by all states for decades.

If you thought the ‘good guys’ were immune to this kind of immorality, you are naive. And if you think they have more justification, then your belief in your own democracy is seriously defunct. And finally if you honestly believe only foreigners (in this case non-Americans) are being hacked then just wait. This is just the beginning. The state must protect itself. At least in the US you can argue the truth will come out. Whether that makes much difference I doubt. You just need to shout national security and anyone is fair game. This is the country of McCarthyism and Watergate after all. Anything can be justified.

Protesters in Istanbul2. Turkey

I see great parallels and ironies here. While Erdogan was undoubtedly heavy-handed and continues to drive the discontent with his bluntness and uncompromising views, Erdogan is a popularly elected politician who actually enjoys majority support within the country despite the news coverage. The uprising initially over Gezi park in Istanbul is ironic. The middle class have lost out politically over the last decade and yet ride the economic waves Turkey has enjoyed. Erdogan is primarily elected by the poorer and more pious working class especially in East Turkey. Istanbul, the most oldly, cosmopolitan city in Turkey is in uprising at their way of life and liberty being under-threat. But again remember Istanbul is a huge city of 15m people. Takim Square isn’t the city. There are parallels with Thailand’s red and yellow shirt protests here following similar lines except in Thailand they are merely reflective of selfish economics.

Erdogan is ironically using the very same state infrastructure, previously used by the military to promote secularism, clamp on popular if undemocratic protest. Protesting is one thing but the occupation of public space, hindering the coming and going of the majority is essentially undemocratic if performed by a minority. The argument would be public space is for the public and protests is democratic when the political process is invalid. That is not lcear here in Turkey.

Further irony can be noted in Erodgan’s pathetic calling of foreign fermenting of the protests, the kind of statements which usually come from a despot. Erdogan’s interpretation of what is Turkey is also troubling but somewhat understandable. For decades his politics was forcible marginalised by the military. Now his statements indicate only his movement represents Turkishness. He believes he speaks for the country which in terms on numbers is somewhat true. His large majorities might tell him something of that sort but one vote for his party doesn’t sum up a person, let alone a whole culture.

Qatar's Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani at the 12th Arab Games in Doha3. In other news, Qatar is under-going a leadership change. The Emir who’s been ill of late is handing over power to his 33 year old son Tamin. Little is truly known about Tamin. There is talk of his closeness to the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood but in reality apart liking sport, not a lot is known. His father who took over in a bloodless coup in 1995 from his father has raised his country’s profile and influence greatly over the past decades. Qatar is best known for its asset buying in the West but is now deeply involved in the politics of the region funding groups in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Egypt. The foreign minister is also leaving his post in the change. His influence is significant and his negotiating skills are said to be widely-admired. How Tamin manages this role with all the security implications is paramount.

I won’t say too much about Syria. Despite recent successes for Assad’s army, we are entering the beginning of the end game. Syria is a mess. The G8 talked of intervention through armed aid but in reality when Assad talks of the foreign plots to overthrow his regime he is right. Iran, Qatar, Saudi are almost directly involved. Now Hezbollah is actively there. Its part of the great foreign policy game but now also an active war between the two major branches of Islam. Russia, Turkey, Lebanon, the EU and the US are next. The people left in the middle are the real victims. (But luckily UNESCO are throwing their weight behind saving some monuments!). The end game might be coming but its going to be very destructive.

4. I am going to Warsaw, Gdansk, Krakow, Katowice, Dresden, Prague, London, Oxford, Tbilisi, Yerevan and Istanbul next month! Hope to see you.

I’ll try to do this more often.


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