Thursday, June 23, 2016

Brexit motivated by xenophobia

Britain goes to the polls on Thursday 23 June 2016 to decide in a referendum whether the UK should remain in the European Union (EU) or leave. Like in most elections across Europe these days, immigration is a huge question and there are campaigners and voters who think that without immigration - or free movement of people as in case of EU membership - all a country's problems would somehow disappear. There can not be further away from the truth.

The referendum question, according to The New York Times will ask eligible voters - British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens 18 and older living in the UK, UK citizens living abroad who have been registered to vote in the UK in the past 15 years  - whether the UK should "remain a member of the European Union" or "leave the European Union." According to the BBC there are three million EU citizens (excluding Britons) living in the UK, and immigration is one of the most important issues for EU referendum voters. Three million foreign EU citizens seems to be too much for Britain, but nine member states of the EU reportedly have higher proportions of foreign EU citizens than the UK.


An intense four-month campaign centered around questions on immigration, the economy and national sovereignty reached its climax with the assassination of Jo Cox, a British MP who campaigned for Britain to remain a member of the EU. Ms. Cox, 41, was reportedly killed after getting out of her car in Birstall where she was scheduled to hold a meeting with constituents.

The New Times reports that immigration - including worries that Turkey will join the E.U and expose Britain to a new wave of Muslim immigrants - and national identity have been central to the "occasionally bitter clashes over the referendum. Those campaigning for Britain to leave the EU also evoke economic concerns to make their case - although more than 1,280 business executives, including directors from 51 FTSE 100 companies reportedly signed a letter in the Times newspaper supporting the Remain camp. Companies on the list reportedly employ 1.75 million people. It is fair to mention that some business leaders like Sir James Dyson and one of the UK´s oldest firms, Tate & Lyle Sugars, support the Leave camp. But most economist believe, according to The New York Times, that Brexit would among other things "create havoc with the pound." Even people in the Leave camp like economist Andrew Lilico, the Executive Director of consulting firm Europe Economics, agree that leaving the EU would be detrimental to Britain's economy until around 2030.

My view

A mere look at the names of those who support the Leave camp tells me that xenophobia is the driving force behind Brexit. Names that have become synonymous with racism and xenophobia in Europe; names like Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and supporting from abroad - polarizing figures like Marine Le Penn, leaders of the French National Front - a party known for "its vituperative denunciation of migrants, its uncontrolled hostility towards Muslims, its xenophobic 'France for the French' message" - among other things.

Supporters of the Vote Leave campaign are not in good company.

Brexit appeals to nationalists - some of whom are far right extremists like Thomas Mair - the man who assassinated MP Jo Cox because of her political views - according to her husband. After the cold-blooded killing Thomas Mair gave his name in court as "death to traitors, freedom for Britain". That is the rhetoric of Brexit. Blind (and possibly deadly) nationalism. Supporters of the movement claim that as part of the EU, Britain is not free and anyone who opposes their push to leave the bloc is a "traitor".

Of course not all EU exit propagandists are extreme and xenophobic. Justice Secretary Michael Gove for instance distanced himself from UKIP´s xenophobic "Breaking Point" poster - a poster reminiscent of Nazi-style propaganda. Other decent politicians who are in bad company with the Vote Leave campaign include Boris Johnson, former mayor of London.

Britain is stronger in the EU despite the bloc's shortcomings. Staying in a reformed EU would be a smarter choice. A vote to leave the union would weaken the influence of UK in Europe and jeopardize the lives of numerous Britons living and working abroad thanks to the free movement rule in the EU. It would adversely affect the movement of money, people and products thereby affecting big business negatively. There is a reason why 55% of members of the British Chamber of Commerce favor staying in a reformed EU. According to Yle, Britons living and working in Finland for example are worried about the possibility of Britain leaving the EU due to the impact it would have on their work and residency. Majority of them oppose leaving the EU.

The way I see it, Britons living and working abroad have a broader worldview and understanding of the global impact of Brexit. Those at home have little or no clue about what it means to be a citizen of the EU. All they see is immigrants coming into Britain. They are oblivious to the fact that should Britain decide to leave there would be a new breed of "immigrants" in the form of British returnees from other EU countries, and British livelihood across the EU would be destroyed. "Free movement", one of the main principles of EU membership, is not a one-way rule. There are British citizens living and working in other European countries. And as indicated by those living and working in Finland - they would like Britain to remain in the EU.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Human life or animal life? Case of Harambe the gorilla

The killing of a gorilla at a zoo in the US city of Cincinnati after a toddler fell into its enclosure sparked outrage -  with many people saying the male gorilla should not have been killed since the animal, in their view, did not intend to harm the child. This raises the question as to whether or not the gorilla should have been given the benefit of the doubt after dragging the child around heavy-handedly "like a rag doll".
A gorilla was gunned down on Saturday May 28, 2016 at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. According to CNN the 17-year-old western lowland gorilla called Harambe was killed to save a boy who slipped into the animal's habitat. Critics, many of whom blamed the child´s mother for failing to look after her son, believe the killing of the gorilla was "unnecessary". Others reportedly criticized the zoo for using "excessive force", and demonstrators called for a boycott of the zoo. An online petition seeking "justice" for the dead gorilla earned 8,000 signatures in less than 24 hours, according to CNN. As of the time of this writing the petition titled "Justice for Harambe" had garnered 502,198 supporters. The creator of the petition and its signatories want the parents of the child to be held accountable for "lack of supervision and negligence" that caused Harambe the gorilla to lose its life. The signatories and the creator feel that the parental "negligence" at the zoo is reflective of the child's home situation. It is worth mentioning that the petition, which is, addressed to the director of Cincinnati zoo and Hamilton County Child Protection Services, completely vindicates the zoo of any wrong doing and focuses solely on the parents of the child.

My view

First and foremost, I will not sign the "Justice for Harambe" petition - not because I do not like animals but because I believe the petition is misguided. To completely absolve Cincinnati Zoo of any responsibility and focus solely of the parents of the child - one of whom was reportedly not present at the time of the sad incident - is not the right cause of action. The petition is framed to give the impression that the creator, Sheila Hurt, has the interest of the child at heart but the way I see it, it is designed by someone who feels an animal's wellbeing is more important than - if not equal to - the wellbeing of a human being; someone who thinks that the gorilla should not have been shot to save a child. The petition states that the 17-year-old gorilla was "perceived" as dragging the child. The dragging is not a question of perception - the gorilla in fact dragged the child around in water and reportedly on rocks. Any unbiased observer who has watched a video of the incident would agree. Stating that the gorilla was "perceived" as dragging the boy screams bias. According to the BBC the boy was dragged by the silverback gorilla for about 10 minutes before the zoo officials made the decision to shoot it down.

A lot of people are upset about the killing of the gorilla, and rightly so. The western lowlands gorillas is a critically endangered specie - reportedly numbering less than 175,000 in the wild with an additional 765 in zoos around the world, according to CNN. However, no one really knows whether or not Harambe the gorilla at Cincinnati zoo was protecting the child who fell into the moat - as claimed by critics of the decision to shoot and kill. But one thing is clear: the gorilla was dragging the child around pretty violently as evidenced by numerous videos, and the child's life was in danger. I do not think the gorilla should have been given the benefit of the doubt. It would have been too risky to do so. Zoo authorities should not gamble with a child's life.

I like animals but from a parental perspective, Cincinnatti zoo made the right - and at the same time unfortunate - call. If it were my son in there with an agitated silverback gorilla I would expect zoo officials to do whatever it takes, including using lethal force to get my child out of there - alive. I would not give a gorilla the benefit of the doubt with my child in harms way - irrespective of whether or not the child got into the situation due to so-called improper parenting. Even the best parents, I think, slip off sometimes and what happens at a zoo is not necessarily "reflective of the child's home situation". Anyone who has children knows that children get themselves into difficult and sometimes dangerous situations even under "proper parental supervision". All it takes is a second or two for a child to get into trouble. Urging child protection services to consider taking away a child from his parents because of an incident at a zoo is not justice for Harambe; it is, on the contrary, unjust, vindictive and a step too far.

I would not vilify Cincinnati Zoo neither. However, I found is shocking that the barrier at the zoo's Gorilla World was about the height of a baby gate - 3 feet tall, according to ABC News. It is not high enough. If there is any negligence in this case it is on the part of the zoo. A barrier the height of a baby gate is not a good enough barrier at a zoo visited by children of all ages. Curious toddlers climb through baby gates at home and they would climb over baby gate-like barriers in a crowded zoo if they want to. If the barrier was high enough the child would not have climbed all the way without someone noticing. He might not have even tried. The barrier at Cincinnati Zoo's Gorilla World needs a makeover. The fact that prior to this case the barrier had not been breached in 38 years does not mean it is safe. Common sense tells me that a 3 feet barrier separating humans, including children from gorillas is not high enough. It is time for Cincinnati zoo and other zoos with baby gates for barriers to reevaluate. Parents take their children to zoos because they assume zoos are safe. Zoos have a responsibility to protect staff and visitors from wild animals they hold captive. A 4-year-old should not be able to easily breach a barrier in a gorilla exhibit.

It is unlikely that the boy's parents would be held criminally responsible - despite the online petition designed to land them in trouble. Holding them criminally liable would set a dangerous precedent and open a floodgate of cases against parents - because even the best parents slip off sometimes and parental slip offs do not always necessarily amount to parental negligence.

The case of Harambe and the 4-year-old boy is sad on all levels. But if I have to pick who lives between a gorilla and a human being - child or adult - I would pick the human. It does not mean I do not like animals. On the contrary I really like animals, especially dogs. I support human rights - and animal rights. It follows that I oppose cruelty against humans and animals. But in an event where animal rights or animal protection clashes with human rights and safety the latter takes precedence. Ron Magill, communications Director/Curator at Miami Metro Zoo, said something that aptly captures my thoughts on this matter. Speaking to CNN, he said:
"There is no single animal life that is more important than a human life".
Echoing the words of Cincinnati Zoo director Thane Maynard, "they [the zoo officials] made a tough choice and they made the right choice because they saved that little boy's life. It could've been very bad". The director said a tranquilizer would not have taken down the gorilla quick enough. Jack Hanna, an animal expert and director emeritus of Columbus Zoo and Aquarium concurred - "1000 percent".

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Election of London's first Muslim mayor deals blow to Islamophobia

Islamophobia is rife across Europe - with Muslims collectively linked to terrorism, and hated by a growing number of far-right extremists. Even some people considered "liberally minded" - like Zac Goldsmith - intentionally or intentionally fan flames of xenophobia and suspicion against Muslims. The deadly terror attacks in Paris and more recent attacks in Brussels - as well as the refugee crisis - further polarized an already hostile debate surrounding Muslims and Islam in Europe. Despite the toxic environment, London elected its first Muslim mayor -- the first Islamic mayor in a European Union capital.

News broke on 7 May 2016 that London had elected Sadiq Khan mayor. According to the BBC, Sadiq Khan beat his opponent, Zac Goldsmith - a non-Muslim, white Conservative - by 1,310,143 votes to 994,614 to become London's first Muslim mayor. Sadiq Khan's victory, according to the BBC, gave him "the largest personal mandate of any politician in UK history". In other words, a Muslim now holds the record for largest personal mandate for a politician in the history of the UK.


Of course, with a Muslim's name on the ballot, the 2016 London mayoral campaign was not without racism and fear-mongering by those on the other side of the political spectrum. There are those who misguidedly think all Muslims have links with terrorism or Islamist extremists. This is illustrated by the fact that during the campaign Sadiq Khan was accused by opponents, including Prime Minister David Cameron for sharing a platform with Islamic extremists. In a comment piece published in the Mail, Sadiq Khan's Conservative rival Zac Goldsmith also sought to link his Muslim counterpart to terrorism. In the comment piece which was published with a picture of a double-decker London bus wrecked by a suicide bomber in the 2005 terrorist attacks in London, Zac Goldsmith questioned whether Londoners wanted to hand the city to a party that thinks terrorists are its friends. According to the Guardian, Goldsmith wrote:
"The number one job of the mayor is to keep our city safe. Yet if Labour wins on Thursday, we will have handed control of the Met, and with it control over national-counter-terrorism policy, to a party whose candidate and current leadership have, whether intentionally or not, repeatedly legitimized those with extreme views."
There were clear attempts during the campaign to paint Khan as a radical. The freshly minted mayor of London later described the electoral tactics employed by his opponents as being "straight out of the Donald Trump playbook". Worthy to mention that US presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a "total and complete" ban on Muslims entering the US, - with fear-mongering being a cornerstone of his campaign. Mayor Khan is not alone in linking London´s mayoral campaign to Donald Trump's chirade. Even a Conservative described the Conservative campaign in an article on the Middle East Eye as "repulsive". A senior London Conservative said the campaign had "blown up bridges" the party had built with Muslim communities.

My view

Not all Mulsims are terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. It is a fact which cannot be overemphasized. And the election of a Sadiq Khan, the first Islamic Mayor in a European Union capital, is an indication that the shameless exploitation of anti-Muslim sentiments and prejudices by politicians and Islamophobes in a bid to score political points does not always work. All the people cannot be fooled all the time. Londoners are smarter than that.

In an infamous comment piece in the Mail, Zac Goldsmith claimed -- wrongly, of course -- that London was "on the brink of a catastrophe" as the capital could elect Saqid Khan -- a Muslim son of a Pakistani immigrant -- to replace Boris Johnson as mayor. Well, I got news for Goldsmith and those who naively bought his misguided narrative: it has been a month, as of the time of this writing, since London elected a Muslim mayor, and there has been no "catastrophe". London was not (and still is not) on the brink of a catastrophe because of the election of a Muslim mayor. The city faces the same security, economic, political, social and other challenges that it faced under two former [white, non-Muslim] mayors, namely Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson.

The election of Sadiq Khan shows that contrary to the industrial scale of xenophobia across Europe, and scare-tactics and hate-mongering employed by politicians like Zac Goldsmith, Londoners at the end of the day can distinguish fact from fiction. All attempts to link Khan to terrorism were fictitious, and failed woefully. Divisive campaign tactics used by opponents of Sadiq Khan clearly did not work. Londoners refused to reject a candidate for mayor simply because of his religious background. The Islamophobic Tory campaign played right into the hands of Islamic extremists who benefit enormously from Muslim-bashing and exclusion of vulnerable groups of people.

Exclusion and discrimination faced by young Muslims and other ethnic minorities in western societies is often exploited by terrorist recruiters. By electing a Muslim mayor, Londoners might just have neutralized a recruiting tool used by radical Islamists. Criminals who use exclusion as a recruiting tool can no longer tell reasonable young Muslims in London in particular and the UK in general that they have no place in Britain or in British politics. What should matter at the end of the day - be it in politics, business or any other field - is the content of one´s character and his or her qualification and ability to get the job done. Any other distinction -- race, skin color or religion is secondary.

In 2003 Sadiq Khan voted in favour of same-sex marriage and received death threats; he worked as a human rights lawyer, he said there´re questions to be asked about the use of hijabs, and he was sworn in as Mayor of London in a multi-faith ceremony in London's Southwark Cathedral -- doesn´t look like what someone who is - in the words of Zac Goldsmith - "radical and divisive" would do.

It is in London´s interest that Zac Goldsmith was not elected mayor after running such a racist, xenophobic political campaign with the backing of his party.

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