With 2017 soon upon us, Conatus News contributors give their their ‘top picks’ of stories from 2016.
ISIS Continues to Wreak Havoc:
In Syria and Iraq, ISIS continues to wreak havoc on innocent men, women, and children. This is particularly true for the Yazidi minority in these regions. 3,000 Yazidi women and girls are estimated to have been captured as sex slaves.
ISIS’s terror has brought about several conversations on the need for Islamic reformation.
The US and UK Shock the World:
This summer, the UK voted for a referendum commonly known as “Brexit,” in which the UK separated from the European Union. Brexit will disallow immigrants in Europe to move freely to the UK. Concerns regarding immigration largely stem from the scarcity of jobs in the UK, but they also stem from concerns over Islamic extremism being brought in by immigrants from Muslim majority countries. This has lead to several xenophobic hate crimes in the UK.
The US also experienced a shocking event: the election of Donald Trump. This election brought to light serious issues with the American political system allowing an electoral college to have the final say in which candidate wins, despite the majority voting for Clinton. It also brought to light the false dichotomy between denying that Islamic extremism exists, and xenophobia. Similarly to Brexit, Trump’s election has brought about several xenophobic hate crimes.
Baha’is Remain Persecuted in Iran:
In Iran, Baha’is are still denied the right to attend colleges and universities, as they have been since the Islamic revolution of 1979. In September, a Baha’i was stabbed to death in a hate crime in Yazd.
The Syrian civil war rages on. Russian President Vladimir Putin, allied with Syrian president Bashar Al Assad, has rained a series of airstrikes down on Aleppo. Chemical warfare has been used.
In the midst of the chaos, Al-Nusra rebels burned buses from which Shiite villagers planned to evacuate.
Meanwhile, it appears unclear how much power the Free Syrian Army still have, and where they have been throughout all this. The question remains, what is Syria’s future?
In 2017, Britain needs some true leadership:
2016 was a year in which the unexpected happened. This recurrent theme was perhaps best exemplified by the twists and turns of British politics through the year, including the radical shake up of our political establishment in June.
At the start of the year, David Cameron was Britain’s Prime Minister and looked to be in a relatively strong position, having increased the Conservatives’ share of the vote in the 2015 general election; his party winning a majority in the House of Commons for the first time since 1992.
What’s more, the Labour opposition he faced, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, was the best a Prime Minister could hope for. All he had to do was win the in-out EU referendum in June, as he’d promised, and he would rule the roost in government until at least 2018. He told EU leaders he would win the vote 70 to 30.
Then the referendum came, and despite all the Stronger In campaign’s arguments on the economic benefits of EU membership, it was the Vote Leave and Leave EUcampaigns’ messages on sovereignty and immigration which won. Cameron resigned; a Tory leadership election was triggered; Theresa May ascended into office, ruthlessly sacking many of the Cabinet’s Cameroons hours after her victory and heralding a new political age for the nation – with Brexit at the top of the agenda.
Less unexpected was the re-election of Corbyn in Labour’s internal election last summer, winning with an increased majority in spite of his abysmal leadership of the party.
Labour’s latest polling is the worst the party has seen since 2009, when Gordon Brown was dealing with the catastrophic effects of the global financial crisis. Yet whilst the Conservatives are continuing to enjoy polling in the low forties, May’s handling of the Brexit negotiation plans has been dissatisfactory at best.
At a time of deep uncertainty for Britain, when its place in the world is up in the air to an extent not seen since the disintegration of its empire after the Second World War, the country needs bold leadership – with a strong vision – to guide it through the rough turbulence Brexit is expected to bring.
Yet, looking at both sides of the house at the end of 2016, that leadership is nowhere to be seen.
Heteronormative Constructions of Masculinity:
2016 saw the parting of three of the twentieth century’s most iconic musical pop stars who had subverted heteronormative constructions of masculinity. The irony of this cannot be overstated in light of the distortions the concept of gender suffered in the same year at the hands of a Transgender movement that misleadingly re-definedmasculinity as an innate (and presumably biological) psychological or mental state. No longer were ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ industrial-strength social conventions into which we are all indoctrinated, but which we might, perhaps with help of a gender-bending musical artist, seek to transgress. Now they were to be understood as internal biological entities that went far beyond obvious reproductive differences between men and women. Masculinity and femininity became allegedly ‘real’ sets of personality traits intrinsic in our brains or psyches, prior to and irrespective of social conditioning. Thus was the nature – nurture distinction so beloved of feminists and queers of the past century rubbished in one fell swoop by a ‘Trans rights’ movement whose overnight meteoric rise had the full backing of the establishment corporate media, big Pharma and clinicians at the ready to assist children as young as five in understanding their ‘condition’. No longer would kids who exhibit ‘tomboyish’ or ‘sissy’ behaviour be left free to explore, or God-forbid develop, their own identities. Now they would be clinically treated for an unhappiness that allegedly has nothing to do their ‘deviance’ from sexist behavioural norms and everything to do with having the ‘wrong’ bodies – ‘wrong’ because their behaviour and emotions do not mesh with how all people with male (or female) bodies must act and feel.
Owen Jones and the Orlando Massacre
In a singular instance of stellar journalistic integrity, British journalist Owen Jonesbroke ranks and refused to be cajoled by SKY News presenter Mark Longhurst and fellow guest Julia Hartley-Brewer into chirping from the corporate media’s script during a live broadcast on 12 June, just after the Orlando massacre in which gunman Omar Mateen executed 49 people inside the Pulse gay nightclub. Jones confronted their “bizarre attempt to deflect” from the fact that the incident was a “homophobic terrorist attack”, unclipped his lavalier mic and walked off the set.
Media analyst Marshall McLuhan’s “global village”, conceived in 1962, referred to the ways in which modern mass communication facilitated an increasingly interconnected world – one in which news of most places in the world is only a keystroke away. What MacLuhan could not have predicted was that only five decades later this interconnected world would become an inter-conned world – one in which psyopswould be used on an unprecedented scale to manipulate language and transform journalism into propaganda. Nor could he have foreseen that, by 2016, his “village” would come to bear an uncanny resemblance to M. Night Shyamalan’s eponymous 2004 film. The ultimate irony of 2016 was that the concept of “post-truth” – so poignant and relevant – would itself become a rhetorical weapon in the propagandist’s arsenal against the kind of critical journalism that once spoke truth to power.
2016: A turn to the dismal and the shunning of the light:
In the Hollow Men, T.S Eliot wrote “This is the way the world ends not with a bang but a whimper”, and as our year-long adventure into farce and engineering our own downfall comes to an end, we can say this much – Eliot was wrong – we are going down, and we are going down screaming. The last year reaped death in the world of celebrity: David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and now Carrie Fisher all listed casualties. The politics of 2016 reflect this turn towards the dismal and the shunning of the light.
One can describe democratic life in the same sense one can describe a malformed piece of software – ‘the bug is also a feature’ so say the computer scientists. A few of the emergent bugs that feature in democracy have been the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos, Alex Jones, and Breitbart News. The media speaks of them in hushed tones, only referring to them as part of spoiled orchard in Hillary’s basket of deplorables. We know them collectively as the Alt- Right. The power of a movement cultivated in large part by the aforementioned fruit-loops is manifest in the fact that they were, and promise to be, the media arm of the Republican nominee, turned President-elect, soon to be President. We must wage an intellectual war on these Trumpeting hacks who contributed too much to the dire political climate we find ourselves in.
Speaking of hacks, let’s turn our attention towards the election. It was not only the likes of Breitbart shilling for Trump. Who else could be so cruel as to propagandise for a man with all the hallmarks of corruption and a cabinet composed of gay hating oil men if not the Russians? Vladimir Putin used his cyber-army to infiltrate DNC emails and distributed them to the world via. his proxy, Wikileaks, to undermine the democratic process of the United States. The fallout? President Obama just announced sanctions on Russia that might well last a month and a half, if Trump isn’t too busy discussing his real estate assets, of course.
How did this happen? Liberalism is sick! Chauvinistic, patronising, rude, lying, self-obsessed, ahistorical whining does not win elections. The global Left has lost its heart and – more importantly for the world right now – its voters. What’s the cure? Empathy? Love? No on both counts. The Left needs to grow a brain: to think rationally, discuss empirically, question socratically.
2016: A Year of Terror
This year will perhaps be most remembered as the year that terror struck the West. Carrying on from the daring attack in Paris in November 2015, this year has seen Brussels, Nice, Orlando, Columbus (Ohio), Istanbul and now Berlin attacked: the list of cities blighted by terror increases.
Tragedy in Orlando:
One of these attacks that most sticks out in my mind is the 12th June attack on the gay nightclub ‘Pulse’ in Orlando, Florida, which left 49 people dead, the youngest just 19. As a gay man, this attack felt unsettlingly close to home. I have never been to Pulse nor Orlando. However, I have been to many gay clubs and bars, and with many of the victims being gay men in their twenties I can easily imagine myself there.
Even today, gay bars are places of sanctuary where LGBTs can be themselves without fear of censure or violence. An attack on such a sanctuary thus has more impact than an attack out in the street. The fear this attack created in my own LGBT+ community was evident when I attended a vigil for the victims guarded by armed police.
The Politics of Fear:
The political fallout from the attacks this year has yet to fully settle. However, one thing is clear – people are afraid. Unfortunately this is a goldmine for right and far right politicians who always prey upon such fears. We have already seen the success of this strategy in both the Brexit campaign and the US Presidential Election, and it remains to be seen if this surge will continue next year.
I suspect that this has been Daesh’s intention all along since such right wing populists will naturally seek to persecute and demonise Muslims – thus playing into the hands of Islamists and their narrative of an Anti-Muslim crusade by the West. Ironically, the far right are the best recruiters Daesh and its ilk will ever have.
2016: The Modern Age of Authoritarianism
2016 has well and truly begun the modern age of the authoritarian. Surprisingly, Trump and Brexit don’t even enter into my calculations when I claim this, but rather a veritable maelstrom of events from around the world.
In the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte, a violent thug who has openly admitted to murder, was elected to office and immediately began a bloody drug war in which dozens of children have died, stopping only to call President Obama a son of a whore along the way.
Meanwhile, in Moscow, the Grand Tsar Vladimir Putin is having arguably his best year as President. He has made himself a major player in the Middle East again after years of relative Russian inactivity in the region, and he has got under the skin of the outgoing Obama administration with alleged hacks damaging the Clinton campaign significantly. And now with an incoming Russia friendly administration, 2017 looks as if it will be a good year.
And it doesn’t end there. All across the world populism has been rising and authoritarian figures have been cementing their power. Bashar al-Assad is winning the war in Syria, and the refugee crisis has provoked a backlash in Europe that has seen the rise of far-right parties. Austria narrowly avoided the first modern far right leader winning power this year, and with Geert Wilders, Marine Le Pen, and Alternativ fur Deutschland all up for election next year, 2017 could be even more of a landmark year for the rise of the right in what used to be considered the homes of liberal democracy.
We live in times that are difficult to predict. For me, only one thing is certain: Liberalism has a hell of a fight on its hands, and things may well get worse before they get better.
From Brexit to Trump, was 2016 the year that voters revolted against the “establishment”?
2016 gave us two major political events that need no introduction: the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union via referendum, and Donald Trump’s election as US President. One must not ignore however that for a large number of voters, each result was a form of anti-establishment protest. A “silent majority” of working class voters, many of whom had not voted for many years previously, were hugely responsible for the results on both sides of the Atlantic. From Sunderland to Michigan, Trump and Brexit drew most of their support from former industrial heartlands. In the ongoing closure and off-shoring of industry, residents flocked with enthusiasm to the anti-globalist option at the ballot box. Trump’s isolationist rhetoric, and the Leave campaign’s promises of tighter border controls and more jobs for British workers struck a cord with these voters. This was contrary to the support the opposing sides were receiving from many mainstream figures in politics and entertainment. Whether the dawn of President Trump, and the UK’s triggering of Article 50, actually helps the voter’s concerns is something that remains to be seen. However, one cannot ignore the underlying attitude that went into producing two of 2016’s most unforeseen events. 2016 should be remembered as the year that those, having not been to the ballot box in many years, finally decided that there was power for change in their votes.
The year that the political “left” became irrelevant?
In relation to the above, part of the reason for Trump and Brexit’s victory has been a collapse in support for politically left parties. 2016 has seen the worst results in recent years for both America’s Democratic Party and Britain’s Labour Party. So called Labour “safe seats” in the North East voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU, despite the fact that the party had taken an official pro-EU stance. Under leader Jeremy Corbyn, support for the Labour Party has been at its lowest in years. Opinion polls from September show that the party has suffered its worst ever approval rating while being in opposition. In the US, states which had long been democrat supporting turned red in support of President Trump. Therefore, one has to beg the question:was 2016 the year that the political left became irrelevant for ordinary voters? Some evidence would suggest otherwise. While not popular with the wider electorate, Corbyn did increase his leadership mandate from 59.5% to 61.8%, beating leadership challenger Owen Smith who only received 38.2% of votes. Among Labour members, therefore, it would seem that Corbyn’s brand of more radical left politics is popular. Whether this support base is enough to capitalise on a general election win, however, is an entirely different question. Across Europe and USA, the left are going to have to repair the damage which they suffered in 2016, and start building a strong narrative of opposition to their political rivals. If this narrative does not address the main concerns of voters, however (which are frequently ranked as being health-care, immigration and the economy), their success will continue to be limited for many years to come.
The Syrian Civil War
The Syrian Civil war has been one of the deadliest armed conflicts of the last years. Since 2011, 300 000 people, soldiers and civilians, have died and 5 million people left their homes.
Despite what it’s been called by the mainstream media, the war is not only civil, but global. The US, Russia, the United Kingdom and France are just a few of the global superpowers that got involved and are still involved in Syria. It’s a war that greatly shapes the foreign policy of the aforementioned countries and it thus can be said that the war has gained international, and not only local status. Despite international involvement on the issue, little can be said on how these international forces aided the war in Syria. Thousands of civilians are trapped in their own houses and hundreds of them are killed every week and the world stays silent and idle. It’s a conflict that the world did not prevent, does not stop from taking place and seems unwilling to do so.
This year has also seen a rise in the support of political correctness. Being politically correct was seen as a way to protect the rights of minorities and promote free speech. However, it seems that it has achieved quite the contrary, in two ways. One, defenders of political correctness have argued that being politically correct protects us from hate speech. Two, that political correctness protects us from being verbally attacked. However, political correctness has nothing to do with hate speech and using political correctness to protect ourselves from hate speech is just using the wrong means to achieve an end we all seek. Also, I’d argue that this is an invitation to understand that debates include active arguments, not passive ones. We choose how we are going to be affected by words – this does not however include hate speech.
Different opinions or arguments cannot be dismissed simply on the grounds that some people do not like them, or even consider them offensive. It’s very easy to be offended and it includes too many emotions and too little arguments.
Year of Progress
It is important to take stock and reflect on those moments in which social progressivism has been contravened, moments that my fellow writers have rightly noted. However, we shouldn’t overlook those successful strides towards creating a more socially progressive society that presage something positive for 2017.
Ebola Vaccine 100% Effective and WHO announced that measles has been eliminated from the Americas:
22 December was a very important day for human-progress. The Lancet medical journal published some very exciting findings from the trial of an experimental Ebola vaccine involving 11,000 people in Guinea. Not a single person vaccinated contracted the Ebola virus and the vaccine was found to be well tolerated and to produce a rapid immune response after just a single dose!
As many of us know, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa claimed more than 11,300 lives, mainly in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, between 2013 and 2016. While it is true that these compelling results come too late for those who lost their lives during West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, this new medical breakthrough shows, as Marie-Paule Kieny rightly pointed out, that if and when the next Ebola outbreak hits, we will not be defenceless.
However, this isn’t the only notable medical breakthrough: the region of the Americas is the first in the world to have eliminated measles, a viral disease that can cause severe health problems, including pneumonia, brain swelling and even death. This achievement culminates a 22-year effort involving mass vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella throughout the Americas.
Peace in Colombia:
In November this year, Colombia’s Congress fortuitously approved a peace deal with the FARC rebel group, bringing an end to more than 50 years of bloodshed and – proponents hope – allowing the country to finally begin a process of convalescence. The deal will see FARC disarmed and demobilised, and its assets used for victim compensation. The group will form a political party, and have a guaranteed 10 seats in Congress. If the agreement, seen as tougher on FARC than the original version Colombians rejected in a plebiscite two months earlier, ends the bloodshed in Colombia, it’ll be a massive win for the country and a massive win for social-progressivism. More than 260,000 people have died in the conflict, mostly civilians, and nearly seven million people have been displaced.
Food, reading and writing:
A very impressive 93% of children around the world are learning to read and write this year. This is truly phenomenal because it marks the highest proportion in human history. What is more, the gender gap between girls and boys in school narrowed in 2016! What is more, world-hunger reached its lowest point in 25 years!