Film Review – An Artistic Window into the Horror of Islamic Fundamentalism

imagesCitizens and leaders of the Euro-Atlantic community are scared, and to some degree fascinated, by the rise, power and influence of fundamentalist islamic movements such Al-Qaeda, AQIM, and most recently with the notorious Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL). These powerful networks are attracting Westerners, especially their young adults, to either join the fight in Syria, Mali, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan or even taking it to their homelands, like in Paris, Toulouse, Brussels, and in the Thalys. Westerners are trying to understand the logics and thought process of these networks. So far the narratives have been engrained in the traditional framework of us versus them, Christian versus Muslims, and the inevitable clash of civilization. The recent picture Timbuktu offers us an artistic look into one of these islamic networks, their ideologies, their contradictions, and the horrors perpetuated in the name of bigotry and oppression.

Aside from traditional hollywood mainstream pictures, Abderrahmane Sissako dug deep, his powerful Timbuktu (2014), into the darkness of an fundamentalist islamic movement ruling over Timbuktu, the historical Malian city and a scholarly centre in Africa. Sissako, a Mauritanian-born film-maker, decided to make this movie after hearing about a story of a unmarried couple being stoned to death by a fundamentalist islamists for having children outside of the sacred bound of marriage. This movie is, as titled by a Guardian’s article, ‘a cry from the heart,’ which shows the horror, stupidity, ignorance of radical islamists over the inhabitants of Timbuktu. However, the picture is much more than a basic criticism as it  confronts the viewers to a complex conundrum. Sissako is very careful in maintaining the humanity of these men fighting the jihad.

One of the most beautiful scenes of the movie is a group of young Malian playing soccer on a soccer field without a soccer ball. On a previous scene, a young Malian is being physically punished by the newly-established Islamic tribunal enforcing the Sharia law for owningTimbuktu 5 and playing with a soccer ball. The scene of soccer game, so well choreographed playing with a red sunset light and the yellow dust of the sand, offers one of the most stunning moments of the picture. While the youngsters are playing ‘virtual’ soccer, which includes corner kick, penalty kick and counter-attacks, two jihadists are riding in circle around the field on their motorcycle in order to assure that no soccer ball is being used. In some way, the game illustrates the limits of oppression and Sharia law. The soccer match offers a powerful moment demonstrating the power of the mind and the desire for freedom under oppression. One can compare this scene as one of the many examples written in Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.

Throughout the movie, one cannot stop making connection with any authoritarian regimes, from the Nazis to the Soviets and so forth, about the basic concept of power and authority (reference to Foucault, Freud and other great thinkers can be undeniably made throughout the picture). Even though scenes of oppression and injustice are ever-present and make the movie difficult to watch at times, Sissako wanted to give humanity to the fundamentalist fighters, the jihadists, by showing their doubts, lack of convictions of their actions and beliefs, and their violations of their bans on the inhabitants. For instance, one leader continues smoking even though it’s forbidden; another one, in a moving scene, is dancing ballet-like; others are continuously talking about the best soccer players being Zidane, so on and so forth.

A large part of the success of ISIL and other group has been to attract muslims in joining the jihad either at home or abroad. A lot of emphasis in Western media has been done on the successful PR campaign of these groups recruiting in US, France, Britain either in person (in prisons and/or in mosques) or through social media (facebook, youtube, twitter and so forth). Sissako spends a look moment filming the making a video for recruitment, wherein the speaker, a young fighter, talks with a real lack of conviction about his past ‘sins’ being a smoker and a rap singer. The man, behind the camera whom is much older and clearly not from Mali (as it has been the case in most of these terrorist networks), is desperate by the lack of conviction of the young jihadist.

1214559_Abderrahmane-SissakoTimbuktu whom was nominated for an Academy Awards for Best Foreign Picture and for a New Regards at the Cannes Film Festival, was celebrated by receiving Césars Awards, the French equivalent of the Oscars, for Best Picture and Best Director in February 2015. This movie offers the only artistic look into the horror of oppression, violence, power, and morality. It does respond to the growing interest, fear and fascination of Westerners about ISIS and alike networks.

For instance, a recent study produced by the Pew Research Center looking at the perceptions of global threats by citizens of the world demonstrates that ISIS is considered as the greatest threat in every members of the Euro-Atlantic community. ISIS is perceived as more dangerous than global economic instability and climate change.

Source: Source: Carle, Jill. 2015. "Climate Change Seen as Top Global Threat Americans, Europeans, Middle Easterners Focus on ISIS as Greatest Danger." Pew Research Center. July 14. Online: http://www.pewglobal.org/files/2015/07/Pew-Research-Center-Global-Threats-Report-FINAL-July-14-2015.pdf [Accessed on September 15, 2015]
Source: Carle, Jill. 2015. “Climate Change Seen as Top Global Threat Americans, Europeans, Middle Easterners Focus on ISIS as Greatest Danger.” Pew Research Center. July 14. Online: http://www.pewglobal.org/files/2015/07/Pew-Research-Center-Global-Threats-Report-FINAL-July-14-2015.pdf [Accessed on September 15, 2015]

Interestingly enough, if climate change has been considered as a direct threat to humanity as whole for decades, ISIS was a non-factor two years ago. Al-Qaeda was the principal network since 2001. It is quite interesting to see that Westerners consider ISIS as a greater threat than climate change.

In the case of Mali, the French have been the only Western power to use their military2_TIMBUKTU force in order to protect Timbuktu and block the progression of the radical islamists. At the time of the 2012 American Presidential campaign, between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, only Mitt Romney acknowledged the growing threat taking place in Mali. When François Hollande launched Operation Serval 63% of the French citizens were in favor of the use of military force in order to maintain order in Mali, block the progression of radical islamists in Mali and throughout the Sahel region (read a previous analysis on Operation Serval here). A little later, President Obama provided assistance to the French army through transports and through intelligence gathering.

Timbuktu offers Westerners a needed look into the reality of oppression in the case of Mali. It falls in the same category of great movies looking at bigotry, power, oppression, violence, injustice and stupidity like Path of Glory and Dr. Strangelove. It confronts the viewer with contradictory emotions of anger and amazement. Dark as it is, Sissako’s core message of the unbreakable human spirit is an ode to hope.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
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Once upon a time, the EU was a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

 

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Three years ago I wrote a piece beginning by: “It all started in the aftermath of World War II and in the emotional and material rumbles of Europe. The visionary great men of Europe — Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman and Konrad Adenauer —understood that peace in Europe would only be possible through deep economic integration, strengthening an irreversible degree of cooperation between Western European powers.” This was in mid-October of 2012, when the Norwegian Nobel Committee gave the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union (EU). The rationale behind the prize was that the EU was a process permitting to make war unthinkable and allow for economic growth. This was a proud moment for Europeans, even though most of them did not pay much attention, and for Europeanists.

Radicalization of Domestic Politics

Today it is with real sadness to realize that in less than three years the survival of the EU appears in direct jeopardy and on the brink of implosion. Domestically, nationalism is ramping through either the rise of extreme-right wing parties, like the Front National in France, UKIP in Britain, Golden Dawn in Greece, or more recently through the

Image: AFP/Getty Image
Image: AFP/Getty Image

reemergence of extreme leftist parties like Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, and the newly elected Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. In addition, the narratives and actions demonstrated by the Obrán government in Hungary talking of a Christian Europe is affecting the overall normative message of EU (read a previous analysis here). These movements demonstrate a radicalization of the political debate directly informed by a highly emotional and confused electorate witnessing a continuous and unstoppable decline of their socio-economic condition.

Directly related to the rise of European nationalism is the financial crisis, which has spilled over to the Eurozone. The euro crisis has left the 17 Eurozone economies, at the exception of Germany, into a state of economic lethargy. In the case of Greece, the country has been on the brink of default for years and its future does not look promising based on the reports produced by the International Monetary Fund, a member of the Troika. In the case of France, still an economic pillar of the Eurozone, the succession from right to left has demonstrated the inabilities of traditional political parties to build confidence, implement meaningful structural reform, and lower inequalities. Part of the problem is the divide between a common currency and national fiscal policies.

Regional Inefficiencies

Regionally, the lingering war in Ukraine is a direct illustration that war on the European continent continues to live on. A last minute cancelation by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych of a bilateral agreement between Ukraine and the EU in November 2013 sent off Ukraine into one of its darkest periods. Two years later, Ukraine lost a piece of its territory, Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in spring 2014 after a quickly organized referendum (read here an analysis on Russian influence over Europe). Since the annexation of Crimea, not only as Ukraine lost the peninsula, which is never mentioned by

Photo: Kremlin.ru [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Kremlin.ru [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

the 28 EU Member States, but the war in the Eastern border of Ukraine has severely affected the political, economic and stability of Ukraine. The only instrument implemented by the EU, which has been very successful, is a series of sanctions against Russia. But unity among the 28 on keeping and deepening the sanctions is slowly disappearing in favor of national gains.

The second serious regional crisis is the current migration crisis. After the 2007 Arab Spring, many in the West and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) were hopeful for a democratic transition of many countries under long-term dictatorships like in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and Libya. The time of euphoria quickly turned sour for Arabs and Westerners, witnessing either the reemergence of authoritarian regimes (Egypt), their survival (Syria) or simply collapse of the state (Libya). Since then, the EU, which has not done enough with its American counterparts in assisting in the transition of these states, is seeing an unprecedented number of refugees fleeing their homes, which have become war zones like in Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia and so forth. The mass of refugees seeking for asylum in the richest EU countries is not new, but the current mass of refugees is unprecedented and is underlining the weaknesses of the EU (institutional) and dismantling European solidarity.

A Crisis for Ages – The Migration Nightmare

If the Eurozone crisis, or at least a Greek default, were framed as the event that could kill the Euro and ultimately the Union as whole, these were the good old days. The migration crisis is directly threatening the future of the Union. If Germany and Sweden have been the good Samaritans in welcoming refugees (in 2015, it is estimated that Germany could welcome between 800,000 and 1,000,000 asylum seekers), Chancellor Merkel with her Minister of Interior, Thomas de Maizière, have reinstalled border control at the frontier with Austria. This move by Germany has started a snowball effects with other EU Member States implementing similar measures. The closing of borders to control the movement of people is a direct violation of the Treaties. The border-free Schengen agreement is one of the most successful and visible symbols of the European Union. It is too some extent a sacrosanct dimension of the EU.

European Integration in Danger?

The European integration process is a complex story of crises and adequate responses through policy changes and bargaining power. The period of the empty chair, the end of european_crisisthe Cold War and the reunification of Germany, the war in Kosovo, the divide between old and new Europe around the Iraq crisis, the no to the 2007 Constitutional Treaty and the Eurozone crisis have all been serious crises, but yet manageable for the European leaders. It appeared that European actors understood the need to solidify the Union and put aside differences in order to solve a crisis. The migration crisis is showing the worst of Europeans and their leaders, and European solidarity remains to be seen. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the Commission, called for courage in remaining altogether and implementing meaningful measures like quotas. With a weakening Euro, as the Eurozone crisis has yet to be solved, the Schengen agreement under attack, a possible Brexit in 2016/17, the EU appears to move towards an ‘ever-lesser Europe.’ Yes, once upon a time, the EU was a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

 

Re-Humanizing the Migration Crisis through Images

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Five months ago most European citizens were unaware of the number of refugees seeking to reach the richest EU Member States like Germany, France, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The first wake up call for Europe was after the Lampedusa tragedy costing the lives of more than 300 refugees on October 3rd, 2013. Europeans were shocked, as the world was, to wake up with hearing such tragedy taking place at their doorstep. From 2013 to 2015, the issue of mass-migration from Syria, Eritrea, Somalia and other countries in the region left the front pages and the minds of Europeans, but had remained extremely present in the world of experts and the International Organization for Migration was calling for actions. The second wake-up call, which marked the beginning of the seriousness of the crisis, was the shipwreck killing an estimated 900 migrants on April 19th, 2015 off the coast of Italy.

The migration crisis, aside from geopolitics and economics, is quite interesting for several reasons. Movements in policy-recommendations and policy-making by European leaders seem to have occurred in relation with direct materialization of the crisis through very powerful (in the negative sense of the term) images. Below are the most marking pictures that were featured on front pages of global newspapers. For the last four months, images of misery, death, pain, innocence have illustrated the failures of European leaders on the international stage, brought back humanity (which has been missing for too long), and the moral responsibility of all Europeans – leaders and citizens included – (read here a superb piece by Judy Dempsey).

Death at Sea – From the Lampedusa tragedy (2013) to today

Credit: Reuters
Credit: Reuters

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Credit: Reuters
Credit: Reuters

Crossing Eastern Europe

Photo: AP
Photo: AP
Sources: The New York Times and Associated Press
Sources: The New York Times and Associated Press
Credit: AP
Credit: AP

 

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Getting to Germany

Source: AP
Source: AP
Source: AP
Source: AFP/Getty Images

The Picture that Re-Humanized the Migration Crisis

Credit: Reuters
Credit: Reuters

The last picture showing the lifeless body of Aylan Kurdi, a 3 year old Syrian boy, lying on a turkish beach has moved world citizens and European leaders (the New York Times published a powerful story about this image). Since the EU meeting in June, the EU (even though President Juncker and HR Mogherini have been active on the issue, but hardly visible) and its Member States have failed to agree on receiving asylum seekers and implementing real policies.

The migration crisis lost all of its humanity because of the national rhetorics. But the picture of Aylan appears to have been the shock necessary for European citizens and leaders. Even David Cameron, British Prime Minister, whom had used very derogatory words in regards of migrants seeking to reach the United Kingdom (read a piece on the issue here), responded by claiming that the UK will try to do more in the short and long term as it has a “moral responsibility.” During an address to the House of the Commons, David Cameron has announced that the UK will be re-settling 20,000 Syrians over the four and half years. “We will continue to show the world that this country is a country of extraordinary compassion,” said Cameron “always standing up for our values and helping those in need.”  France and Germany have announced as well that they will be taking an additional 55,000 refugees over the next two years (24,000 for France and 31,000 refugees for Germany). François Hollande of France said that it was a “fundamental principle” of France to accept asylum seekers. But the British and French numbers are well below Germany’s.

In some way, the power of this picture has mobilized world public opinion and put pressure on European leaders to deliver at the up-coming EU interior and justice ministers meeting on September 14th. But an EU leaders meeting will be necessary afterwards to solidify the decisions. As the Eurozone crisis, the migration crisis highlights the lack of integration between a European asylum policy with 28 national migration policies. Until the European and national levels will either be merged or fully disintegrated, the migration and eurozone crises will not be fully solved.

If the world was not watching in May during the meeting setting the Agenda on Migration, it will be paying close attention in September. The EU and its Member States have to deliver by respect to European complex history and heritage, to European values, norms and principles, and by simple humanity.

Interview

Gabriela Esquivada of the Infobae contacted several experts, including myself, to reflect on the migration crisis, on its origins, its consequences and on European actions. Here is the link to the article (in Spanish): http://www.infobae.com/2015/09/06/1753338-por-que-medio-oriente-seguira-expulsando-refugiados

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Dehumanizing Migrants – European Strategy to Buck-Pass a Serious Crisis?

Source: AFP / Getty Images
Source: AFP / Getty Images

The current influx of migrants in direction of Western Europe exemplifies more than a simple migration crisis (listen here to a fascinating discussion with Ryan Heath of Politico and Leonard Doyle of the IOM). In fact it exposes two crises: a political and a civic. The human tragedy behind the dangerous voyage of these migrants fleeing war, terrorism, violence, economic misery, human right violations and social tensions should move Europeans towards a genuine desire to assist them through newly designed immigration policies (asylum policies and quotas), social inclusion and assistance, and eventually more humanitarian assistance through Commission’s programs and using the CSDP in unstable countries. But instead, Europeans are blaming the others, blaming the European Union, blaming the other Member States. The migration crisis has dropped fuel over an already powerful nationalist fire. Europe is undeniably facing a serious ethical and internal crisis (read previous analyses herehere, here and here).

Interestingly enough, if one remove the emotional dimension in order to analyze the current migratory challenge facing the EU and looks at numbers, the picture become clearer in demonstrating one simple fact: Europeans are not committed in trying to solve this crisis. The numbers tell a very different story and in fact should make Europeans think about the forces limiting the design and implementation of sound policies to at least try to be in the driver seat.

Data – The Case of Syrian Refugees

The graph and two tables located below illustrates the numbers of migrants seeking to reach Europe (the three documents come from a report produced by the International Organization for Migration, access it here).

Migration
Source: IOM

So from 2014 to 2015, the number of migrants loosing their lives in the Mediterranean has increased making it the most dangerous migratory route in the world.

Arrivals
Source: IOM
Origins
Source: IOM

As illustrated above the bulk of the migrants come from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Somalia. Each of these countries are facing terrible security, economic and political conditions. Afghanistan has been a country at war since the 1979 Soviet invasion (one can argue that violence in Afghanistan goes even further). Nigeria and Somalia are facing serious political and security issues. Both countries host vicious terrorist networks like Boko-Haram (Nigeria) and some factions of Al-Qaeda (in Somalia) terrorizing the population and underlining the inabilities of their governments to protect their citizens. Eritrea is a police state with vicious policies including “forced labor during conscription, arbitrary arrests, detentions, and enforced disappearances.” Last but not least, Syria has been destroyed by war starting right after the Arab Spring in 2011. Since then, the regime of Al-Assad has waged war against the opposition. The war has shifted and saw the rise of new powerful player, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The European Commission wrote in a recent factsheet, that “the Syria conflict has triggered the world’s largest humanitarian crisis since World War II.” Migrants from Syria usually pass by Turkey and Greece in order to enter into Europe, as it is much shorter than using the Central Mediterranean route and arriving in Italy. “The total number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria” writes the Commission “has reached 12.2 million, approximately 7.6 million of whom are internally displaced.” And a total of roughly 4 million Syrians have fled Syria. Out of the 4 million Syrian refugees, 1.8m are located in Turkey (reports demonstrate that the local population have embraced and included the Syrian refugees), 1.1m in Lebanon (a country of 4.4 million inhabitants, so the Syrian refugees represent 25% of the overall population.), 630,000 in Jordan (a population of 6.5 million), and 250,000 in Iraq.

As calculated by the UNHRC, the number of Syrians seeking for security and refugee in Europe has increased by only represent 6% of the overall number of Syrian refugees, or 240,000. Since January 2015, the numbers of Syrian asylum seekers have certainly increased, but solely represent 90,000. The UNHRC shows that 49% of the asylum applications are being shared between Germany and Sweden, second with 29% for Austria, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Hungary, and 23% for rest of the EU which includes France, the UK, Denmark, Poland and other powerful EU Member States.

Source: UNHRC
Source: UNHRC

These numbers, only looking at Syrian refugees, demonstrate the lack of commitment to either solving the crisis in Syria or assisting Syrians in getting a better life in Europe. It is difficult to believe that the richest economic bloc in the world with a population of 500 million can neither absorb 100,000 refugees on a long period of time, nor provide temporary infrastructures when developing countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are dealing with 4 million refugees.

European Crises – Politics, Nationalism and Inhumanity

European leaders like British Prime Minister David Cameron, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and other national politicians like Marine Le Pen of the Front National, Nicolas Sarkozy of France (to name a few) share all in common one strategy: dehumanizing the refugees. They all imagesremove the humanity from these refugees in order to appeal to a scared, uneducated and to some degree lazy electorate. The fact that these elected and non-elected officials can receive so much attention and support raises an important problem in European societies. Many experts have been calling for an increase of solidarity among EU Member States, but such solidarity cannot occur if the European citizenry feels no emotional connection with the migrants seeking for a better life in Europe.

If some European institutions, like the European Commission, have advanced some ideas of quotas and asylum policies, and some EU Member States, like Germany and Sweden, have welcome more migrants than other Member States, the rest of Europe seems absent. France and the United Kingdom ought to play a bigger role in advocating for greater solidarity and behaving as role-model (take here a 10 question survey about the migration crisis).

The fraught between London and Paris over the camp in Calais, the so-called Jungle, illustrates the level of the debate. On the one hand, London cannot keep believing that migrants will crash the whole British social welfare programs and the homogeneity of its society. While on the other hand, it is unacceptable for France, one of the richest countries in the world, to have a camp, of broadly 4,000 migrants, with no proper structures and supervision. The French government is saying that the local police forces are being outnumbered. The fact that France cannot put in place immigration centers, dispatch enough policemen and social agents on the ground for a total of 5,000 migrants (on a large estimation) is not because it can’t, but simply because it does not want. France, a highly centralized country, has the military and civilian power and capabilities to assist 5,000 individuals on its territory. The government has already over 10,000 soldiers as part of the large domestic counter-terrorist operation, called Sentinelle, in order to protect public and religious areas from eventual terrorist attacks. It is only a matter of priority for France and the other EU Members. Put in perspective with the current situation of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon representing 25% of its overall population, one could talk of a true crisis if France were dealing with 15m refugees on its territory.

And in the meantime, Italy and Greece are left alone dealing with massive flows of migrants (237,000 combined so far this year). Greece is dealing with a serious economic crisis affecting the basic functioning of its state, and Italy is not in its best economic shape as well. Europeans have only agreed on increasing the funding of its two naval missions off the Coast of Italy and Greece. Greece has become a point of transit, while Italy is trying to do what it can with its resources.

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Source: Reuters

During an interview of a business leader, as part of a large study on global perceptions of the EU, I asked the interviewee to describe the image representing the visibility of the EU in the US. The response was fascinating as usually interviewees have identified an historical monument or a European leader, but the response was a small boat with migrants in the middle of the Mediterranean. Such response is fascinating in two ways. First, it shows the power of the images published in the US (which could include the many pictures about the situation in Greece). These images of Europe published in mainstream American media in the last six months have only portrayed misery, poverty and devastation. Second, it demonstrates, either the inabilities or unwillingness, of one of the richest group of states in the world to implement policies to solve a humanitarian crisis and assure its own protection. These little boats are starting to seriously affect the credibility and image of Europe.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

A Shameful Summer for Europe

Photograph: Philippe Huguen
Photograph: Philippe Huguen

It is difficult to look at Europe and its Member States and feel proud of their accomplishments and actions in the last six months. From the continuous migration crisis getting his coverage since April, to the ultra-nationalist national political campaigns (in Britain, Denmark, Poland), to the Greek fiasco, and now to the Franco-British clash over migrants held in a camp in Calais, European affairs have taken a turn for the worst. All these issues/crises share one factor in common: the inability by Europeans to control their present and shape their futures.

Migration – All the Roads Do not Lead to London

The question of migration is more than a European problem, it is a global tragedy. Reports, from newspapers, think tanks, NGOs, and other international agencies, all identify the current migrants as political, economic and environmental refugees.Faces of defiance and a despairing message as migrants prepare for the French onslaught on the Jungle These migrants are in fact for most of them coming from countries destroyed by war (Syria, Libya, Sudan, Afghanistan), by terrorism and political repression (Eritrea, Yemen, Somalia) and so forth. These migrants are traveling thousand of miles through the toughest conditions imaginable all in direction of one of the richest and most stable region in the world, Europe. As previously reported (read here and here), the routes to Europe are by the Central Mediterranean region in direction of Italy, or by the short distance between Turkey and Greece (more Eastern route). Once in Italy, the migrants just go North in direction of France, Germany and some Scandinavian countries. In Greece, migrants go North through Macedonia and then West in direction of France and Germany (see the map below)._82353692_key_migration_routes_624

Once on the European continent, these are the different routes and final destinations of most migrants as illustrated by a map produced by Europol:

Print

This massive migration wave is highlighting two problems: a human tragedy for all these migrants (the episode of Lampedusa and so forth illustrate the dangers of such journey); and a political tragedy of European inabilities to deal with this crisis seriously. Instead of developing a serious set of policies in order to adjust their national laws, the tensions have increased among neighboring Member States. For example, France and Italy had a rift over several hundred migrants being stuck in the border-town of Vintimille, and between France and the United Kingdom over what captphoto_1253605518858-1-0is described by London of an invasion of migrants located at the infamous so-called ‘Jungle’ camp near Calais. This camp is counting between 3,000 and 5,000 individuals (as a comparison, Turkey and Lebanon are dealing with camps from 1 to 2 millions refugees, so it is difficult to believe that one of the richest country in the world, France, cannot manage a camp of roughly 5,000 refugees). American and European media have covered in recent days a little more the camp, even though this precarious camp has existed for years and was preceded by the camp of Sangatte. Interestingly enough, all migrants in the Calais’ camp are not all trying to get to Britain. Some of them are trying to remain in France.

National Rhetorics and the Fear of the Other

The problem of migration – legal and illegal – is a central one for anyone wanting to understand the current political debates at the national and European levels. Even legal migration between the 28 EU Member States is a cause of domestic tension even though such sort of migration is directly connected to the freedom of movement, one of the four freedoms guaranteed by the common market.  So in the case of illegal migration, it is not difficult to imagine the tone of the debate.

Domestically, the radical parties (especially the extreme right) have risen above their former status of opposition parties, to becoming a shaping-force of the national debate. In the case of France, the Front National (currently facing internal family-feud) is now considered as one of the top french parties, with the Socialist Party and the newly-renamed right wing party, Les Républicains. The Front National (FN) has made its name by blaming all France’s troubles and decline on Europe, globalization and the immigrants. In the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), led by Nigel Farrage, was as well an important actor framing Britain’s crises because of Europe and immigrants. His sudden rise, despite some disappointing results in the May elections, has forced Cameron’s government to talk tougher. Ensuing the June elections in Denmark, the anti-EU and anti-immigrant party, Danish People’s Party (DPP), has risen to the second rank of national parties. And these radical parties have only been identified because of the recent elections in each country. But other EU Member States, like the Netherlands, Hungary, Poland, Austria, Italy, Greece, and so forth, are as well dealing with a powerful extreme right political force changing the tone of the debate.

Now, two questions remain to be answered: First, to what extent are these extremist parties throughout Europe influencing the debate on migration? Second, are mainstream right wing parties eventually showing their true colors? For instance, the recent rhetoric emanating from London are quite worrisome. Prime Minister Cameron has had some24A20A8C00000578-0-image-a-20_1421106386798 tough words about these migrants ‘invading’ Britain. In July, PM Cameron compared the migrants stuck in Calais as a “swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean” and has been advocating for stricter immigration rules in Britain. Weeks later, British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, made comments aligned with his leadership about the current migration crisis and claimed that Europe “can’t protect itself.” He continued saying that “The gap in standards of living between Europe and Africa means there will always be millions of Africans with the economic motivation to try to get to Europe.” In France, under President Sarkozy, the tone towards immigrants was very negative and aggressive. Sarkozy and his Minister of Interior, Brice Hortefeux, stole some of the narratives from the Front National either for political gain or by sympathy for such belief. For instance, in June 2010, Brice Hortefeux was fined for making racist comments towards a man of North Africa origins.

It is time that center-right parties finally opposed once and for all the xenophobic and anti-EU narratives advanced by extreme-right parties. If their electorates increase it is not because Europeans are becoming more racist or anti-EU, but that they are tired of a visionless, leaderless, and scared political class. All these radical national parties in Europe share this commonality of stating clearly what they think, even though it is not true (like linking terrorism to immigration; or opposing globalization and returning to a protectionist economy). In addition, the current socio-economic climate in Europe is propice to such rise as the center-right and left parties have been unable to real make the required changes in order to launch the economic engine.

Creative Thinking for a Complex Challenge

The fear of the immigrants has always existed and Europe is not the only continent to face such problem. The current political debate in the United States about securing the southern border with Mexico and the legalization of long-term immigrants will play an important role in the 2016 Presidential election. In the case of Europe, the flow of migrants continues to grow every year and require some serious discussion, reflection and policy change at the European level.

Credit: The New York Times
Credit: The New York Times

Europe is facing serious crises requiring long-term thinking and necessitating cooperation and solidarity. In trying to ‘control’ the influx of immigrants seeking refuge in Europe, the 28 Member States will have to agree at the EU level on a ‘real’ set of measures such as quotas per countries (all the MS) based on a 10 year plan, an increase in common border control, national and european reforms of the current laws on asylum, and eventually more international operations in order to stabilize the political situations in countries of origins.

These measures can only be agreed on if the national leaders are serious in finding long-term solution and are ready to defend such plan before their electorate. On the one side, European leaders have become visionless administrators enslaved by polling numbers and reelections. On the other, Europeans have to realize that solidarity will be necessary even in these dire economic times. There are not that many options and the influx will continue. The Europeans still have the time to open their doors to these migrants with cohesive European policies and real structures to integrate them in the different societies. Integration of these migrants is possible and necessary. Rejecting them will only widen the gap and push European cohesion to its limits.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Year in Review – A Relentless 2014

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2014 has certainly been a complex and eventful year for the world; and 2015 already started at full throttle with the recent terrorist attacks in France. The relentless year was marked by a succession of events affecting directly or indirectly the Euro-Atlantic community at every level of analysis imaginable: individual, domestic, national, regional and naturally international. This year Politipond has identified six axiomatic issues occurring in 2014 with likely future repercussions.

The election of the European Parliament – the European earthquake

Were the European Parliament elections in May 2014 a wake-up call for Europe? Or the beginning of a new direction for the Union? The elections underscored a trend in most EU Member States, a shift towards the extremes (right and left). Some EU Member States have seen an increasing attraction to extreme-left parties. Greece, which has been at the heart of the future of the Eurozone since 2009, is still experiencing considerable traumas caused by the austerity measures implemented as required by the terms of the bailout. Today, Greece is still facing political problems, which has been a blessing for Syriza, a far-left populist party led by Alexis Tsipras. In other EU Member States, the shift has been towards the extreme-right wing political parties. This is the case in several large EU Member States such as France (with the Front National led by Marine Le Pen), the United Kingdom (with UK Independence Party with Nigel Farage), the Netherlands (Party of Freedom with Geert Wilders), Austria (Freedom Party of Austria and Alliance for the Future of Austria with Heinz-Christian Strache and Josef Bucher), among others.

Among these parties, the Front National, UKIP and the Freedom Party have increased their visibility on the European stage and their influence on shaping national debates. In the case of the Front National, the party received the most votes in France for the 2014 EP elections with 25% of the votes representing an increase by 18.9% from the 2009 EP elections (read analysis on France here). Marine Le Pen even called her party the first one of France. The graph below illustrates the votes received by extreme-right wing parties in the 2014 EP elections.

Graph by Alexandre Afonso
Graph by Alexandre Afonso

The 2014 EP elections were certainly a political earthquake in Europe as large EU Member States fell to extreme parties. However, institutionally, the influence of right-wing parties at the EP remains minor as they only have 52 seats out of the 751. At the end of the day, the EP remains in the hands of the EPP (Social Democrats) and the S&D (Socialists). But the increase of votes received by extreme-right parties underlined several aspects: a high discontentment with the EU; a misunderstanding of the EU; nationalist feelings; and the permanent anger towards immigrants. During Pope Francis’ speech before the EP in December, he described the EU as an “elderly and haggard” Europe. Europe needs to reconnect with its citizens, and it won’t be with the help of its radical parties.

A new EU leadership

2014 was the year of the renouveau in terms of changing personnel at leadership positions in the EU. This was the case for the High Representative (HR/VP), known as the EU foreign minister, the President of the Commission, and the President of the European Council. Ensuing the European elections for the European Parliament (EP) in May, the President of the EP remained the same, Martin Schulz. Considering the HRVP and the

Source: Getty
Source: Getty

President of the Commission, the latter went to former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker (read here an article on the Juncker Commission) and to the former Italian Foreign Minister, Federiga Mogherini. These two individuals have been welcomed as they are expected to bring a new wind to Europe and their respective institutions. The José Manuel Barroso’s years have affected the dynamism of the Commission, especially in his last quinquennat; while, for his counterpart, Catherine Ashton, she never seemed at her ease leading the European foreign policy machine and the EEAS. However, Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council left the position to Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, in excellent standing. Herman Van Rompuy, undeniably discrete but efficient, was axiomatic in holding European unity especially during the period of tense negotiations to save the PIIGS and the Eurozone (read here one of the best peer-reviewed articles on Ashton and Van Rompuy).

Soon after his appointment Jean-Claude Juncker pledged before the EP that he would seek to reboost and/or reboot the European economic engine. Later this fall, he announced his strategy, known as the Juncker Plan, a €315bn investment fund program intended to kick-start the European economy/ies. The Commission argues that the Juncker plan could “create up to 1.3 million jobs with investment in broadband, energy networks and transport infrastructure, as well as education and research.” This public-private investment fund program (the Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) would create a €21bn reserve fund allowing the EIB to provide loans of a total of €63bn, while the bulk of the money, €252bn, would come from private investors) would allow to fund broad construction and renovation programs across Europe. Some experts argue that the Juncker plan is too little, in terms of the size of the investments, while EU Member States are reluctant to invest their shares in such program. In any case, it won’t start before mid-2015.

Sluggish negotiations around the TTIP

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), initiated in July 2013, has become a sluggish and complex series of negotiations between the EU and the US. At first this massive bilateral trade agreement was expected to be quickly completed and agreed. The TTIP consists in removing trade barriers in a wide range of economic sectors as well as harmonizing some rules, technical regulation, standards, and approval procedures. According to the European Commission, the TTIP is projected to boost the EU’s economy by €120 billion; the US economy by €90 billion; and the rest of the world by €100 billion. “The TTIP’s goal” argue Javier Solana and Carl Bildt, “is to unleash the power of the transatlantic economy, which remains by far the world’s largest and wealthiest market, accounting for three-quarters of global financial activity and more than half of world trade.”

Almost two years in, the negotiations on the TTIP are facing serious criticisms inside Europe. The TTIP has provided the arguments to anti-globalization movements, fear of decline of democratic foundations, declining national sovereignty, as well as destruction of national/regional identities and cultures. Nevertheless, as demonstrated below, a majority of European citizens are in favor of the TTIP at the exception of Austria.

Source: Eurobarometer
Source: Eurobarometer

The TTIP is seen as a way to relaunch the transatlantic economy, but mainly European economies stagnating since the financial crisis. The TTIP is as well a response to the other trade agreements, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the rise of Asian economies. Economists and experts argue that a failure to conclude the TTIP in 2015 could lead to the collapse of the negotiations and leave the European economy in difficult position in the years/decade to come.

A Climate Deal for the Earth?

President Obama announced on November 11 the historical climate deal with his Chinese counterpart to control the level of pollution of the two nations. The US pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26% below the 2005 levels by 2025, while China committed to increase its share of power produced by non-carbon sources, nuclear and solar, to 20%. Nevertheless, China recognized that its greenhouse gas emissions will continue peaking until at least 2030.

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This climate pact between the two largest polluting nations was agreed weeks prior the Lima summit laying down groundwork for the comprehensive UN greenhouse gas reduction pact expected to be agreed at the 2015 Paris summit, known as the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCC COP21). The 2014 US-Chinese climate pact is an important stepping-stone prior the 2015 climate summit in Paris. The 2015 Paris summit may be a turning point for the EU and the EU-28 to lead on this question after the 2009 Copenhagen fiasco.

A Terrorist Triad: ISIL, Boko Harm, and Al-Shabaab

Terrorism has always existed and will continue to live on. However, the type of terrorism faced by the Euro-Atlantic community since the mid-1990s has been principally based on radical islamic terrorism. The principal group on top of Western lists was Al-Qaeda, which has lost some of its grandeur since the assassination of its leader Ben Laden. The year 2014 was important as three groups have shaped Western foreign policies: the new comer, Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL, also now referred as the Islamic State, IS), and two more established groups, Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab. Each group does fall under a similar category of being inspired by Islam, but have different agendas and different radiance.

In the case of Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab, both groups are located on the African continents. Boko Haram, an Islamic sect, recognized by the US in 2013 as a foreign terrorist organization, seeks to create an Islamic state in Nigeria. Boko Haram became a familiar house-name in 2014 with the kidnapping of hundreds of school girls creating an outcry in the US. In the case of Al-Shabaad, a somali islamic terrorist group, is an Al-Qaeda militant group fighting for the creation of an Islamic state in Somalia. The group has started to increase its attacks outside of Somalia’s borders and especially against Uganda and Kenya (remember the terrorist attack on a Nairobi Mall in 2013) as both states are actively involved in fighting Al-Shabaad.

The last terrorist group, ISIL, is more recent. It has risen from the rubbles of the Syrian civil war, ensuing the Arab Spring. Prior its existence as ISIL, it was identified as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and emerged during the US campaign against Saddam Hussein. The group became ISIL in 2012 when the ambition of the group became regional and some fighters moved their fight to Syria. Even though Western governments were aware of its existence, ISIL became a top priority for Western citizens – regardless of its real threat to Western homelands – in June 2014 after several victories in overtaking large Iraqi cities like Mosul and Fallujah. ISIL has progressively begun a territorial warfare in order to create its own state, a caliphate, over parts of Syria and Iraq.

Sources: Jasmine Opperman, Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium; Hisham Alhashimi. Photograph by The Associated Press.
Sources: Jasmine Opperman, Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium; Hisham Alhashimi. Photograph by The Associated Press. Published in the New York Times on September 16, 2014

The core distinction between ISIL and the two other groups lays in their soft power. ISIL has been extremely attractive to many Europeans and Americans citizens, while Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab have remained more local/regional in their recruiting efforts. A large number of Western citizens, mainly from France, Belgium and the UK, have decided to join the fight aside ISIL fighters in Syria. These fighters have been perceived as a real threat to homeland security (as proven by the January 7th attacks in France against Charlie Hebdo).

Published in the Economist of August 30, 2014
Published in the Economist of August 30, 2014

Ultimately, these three terrorist organizations will keep their importance on influencing Western foreign and defense policies as the US and some of its European allies are already involved in military actions in Iraq and Syria. In the case of Europe, France is actively fighting terrorist networks in the region of the Sahel (Operation Barkhane, read here a previous analysis) and other African nations like in Mali (Operation Serval).

Russia Unchecked?

On the European chessboard, 2014 belongs to Russia. Russia brought back the European continent to traditional warfare with territorial invasions and other types of military provocations unseen since the Cold War (including the destruction of an airliner above Ukraine). 2014 started with the ‘invasion‘ of Crimea by the Russian army leading to its annexation to Russia validated by a referendum. By mid-Spring 2014, Ukraine had lost a part of its territory without any actions by the members of the Euro-Atlantic community. The West started to act against Russia during the summer once reports revealed the presence of ‘green men’ in Eastern Ukraine and movement of military equipments across the border.

During the summer, EU Member States agreed on a series of sanctions against Russian individuals and some financial institutions. At first, many experts thought that20141122_FBC287 the sanctions were too little too late, but in late 2014 the Russian economy was showing serious signs of weakness. However, one needs to underscore that the slowdown of the Russian economy is related to the collapse of the oil prices and a decrease in consumer spendings. In almost one year, the rouble has lost 30% of its value and the Russian economy is on the verge of recession. As reported by the Economist, “Banks have been cut off from Western capital markets, and the price of oil—Russia’s most important export commodity—has fallen hard.”

Despite the economic situation of Russia, at least until now, Vladimir Putin has maintained throughout 2014 a very strong domestic support and sky-high approval rating. Putin’s decision to invade and annex Crimea was highly popular in Russia (as illustrated below). Additionally, the anti-Western narratives advanced by Putin have been well received domestically. However, with the decline of the Russian economy the shift from Russian foreign prestige to more concrete concerns, like jobs, economic stability, and social conditions, may re-become of importance in the national debate.

PutinApproval2000-sept14

2015, Year of the Renouveau?

The economists seem very optimistic considering the forecast of the global economy. According to Les Echos (of December 30, 2014) 2014 was indeed an excellent year for world markets with record results for Shanghai (+49.7% since December 31, 2013), New York (+13.1% for S&P 500 since December 31, 2013), a modest result for Stoxx Europe (+4.9%), a stagnating French CAC40 (+0.5%), and a declining British FTSE (-1.7%). But with rising world markets, declining oil prices, increasing US gas production, and an increasing American growth, 2015 looks bright for the US, but remain mitigated for European economies.

The Grexit may be back on the table based on the elections of January 25th. With Syriza at the head of the polls, his leader has been calling for a renegotiation of Greece’s loan terms implemented by the Troika (IMF, Commission, and ECB). Neither Berlin nor Brussels want to go down this road. According to Der Spiegel, Berlin is willing to let Athens leave the European Monetary Union (EMU) if it decides to abandon the austerity measures. Two aspects can be underscored: on the one hand, some argues that Berlin is not worried anymore about a contagion to other European economies in case of a Grexit. While on the other, some others are claiming that it is part of a ‘tactical game’ played by Berlin in order to lower the chances of a Syriza victory at the end of the month. In any case, the question of the Euro and EU membership will remain throughout 2015.

Will the Brexit occur? In 2015, British subjects will be voting for the next Prime Minister. The elections are going to be closely monitored considering the possibilities of an eventual referendum on the future of the United Kingdom’s EU membership. The current PM, David Cameron, has been promising a referendum for 2017 if re-elected and has been a counter-productive force in Brussels. Additionally, Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), getting strong results at the 2014 EP elections seem a strong frontrunner for the post of PM. He has, as well, promised a referendum on the EU membership of the UK. The financial hub of Europe, the City, has been concerned about the financial and economic repercussions of a Brexit. The City’s argument is that by being outside a powerful club, the EU, the UK won’t be able to influence its decision-making and direction. In a recent poll, 56% of British citizens are favorable in staying within the Union.

Last but not least, 2015 may be the year of another large debate in Europe about terrorism versus immigration, freedom versus security and the solidification of the rise of anti-immigrants parties. The terrorist attacks of January 7th, 2015 in Paris will change the national and European debate about counterterrorism, social-economic policies, domestic political narratives, and naturally foreign policies towards the Arab world.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

The World a Scary Place? Think Again

Credit: TAIEB MAHJOUB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Credit: TAIEB MAHJOUB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The world may seem to spin out of control, at least from a Western point of view, with the incessant appearance of new crises. It certainly seemed like it this summer. In the post-9/11 world, crises appear to ensue one another in the last decade with the financial crisis, the Arab Spring, Russia resurgence, and the rise of of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Think again argues Bernard Guetta, geopolitical chronicler for France Inter (French public radio), in his recent chronicle (listen here to his short analysis in French). Bernard Guetta argues that one should look back and compare with the world pre-9/11, and it was still a scary place. Following the end of World War two, the Cold War was the backbone of world events. The 40 years of tensions between the Soviet Union and the US/West were surrounded by decolonization processes throughout Africa, the Vietnam War, energy crises (1973 and 1979), fear of a nuclear holocaust, high level of terrorism in Western Europe among many other threats. However, the one element making the Cold War appearing more stable was the West ability to understand and identify his adversary. In the 21st century, the threats embodied by different groups, like Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, are face-less aside from the leaders.

Instead the world, Guetta argues, is doing much better if one takes a moment to reflect on the development and evolutions of many countries around the globe such as Latin America, several African nations, and the rise of Asian powers. These developments, in

See here hosting site
See here hosting site

terms of economic and societal dimensions, translate into broader levels development for more humans around the globe. So why most Westerners feel that the world is becoming more threatening than before? Bernard Guetta responds that in Europe and in the United States, Western citizens have lived inside ‘golden parentheses/bubble’ thanks to permanent progress for too long (Here are his words in French: En Europe, en Europe occidentale, et aux Etats-Unis, nous avons connu une parenthèse tellement enchantée, non pas du tout riche d’ailleurs mais de progrès permanent, que l’incertitude de l’avenir nous est devenue insupportable et nous aveugle, jusqu’à l’obscénité). With the ending of this golden era with the 2007 financial crisis, Westerners have become fearful of their  future looking as uncertain as ever.

This outstanding and refreshing analysis by Bernard Guetta is facing one core problem. Since the end of history, World politics were understood as Western politics. In some way, what was good for the EU and the US was good for the world. However, in this post-9/11 global order, the West is not in the driver seat anymore, and is trying to remain in it. Throughout the last 13 years, the West, led by the US, France and Britain, have waged wars against potential threats around the world. The list of wars and military uses by the West in a 13 years window is certainly impressive: war in Afghanistan (13 years), war in Iraq (a third one is on its way), war in Libya, war in Mali, war in Central African Republic, war in Iraq against ISIS, and these do not include the use of tactical forces and drones in countries that the West is not at war with like Pakistan, Yemen or even Somalia. So the West has maintained a very aggressive approach in order to enforce their interests and perceived security. These wars and military actions contribute to the maintenance of the illusions of Western ability to shape the world.

Public opinions and experts thought that the use of preemptive war for advancing national interest and security died with the end of the Bush administration in 2008. Think again, the military intervention – at least airstrike for now – called by President Obama against ISIS is in the direct continuity of the Bush’s doctrine. In his September 10th speech President Obama clearly underscored the preemptive dimension of his strategy to fighting ISIS. He said “If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States.  While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies.”

The problem with Obama’s foreign policy is the lack of overarching strategy. He had argued in favor of a ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ type of foreign policy. But as demonstrated by Clinton and other experts, this is not a strategy. Obama is in fact doing ‘diplomatic public opinion.’ Obama is risking a new American intervention in Iraq because American citizens are majoritarly in favor of airstrikes against ISIS. But is it really in American interest?

More Say They Are ‘Very Concerned’ about Rise of Islamic Extremism

As underscored in previous analyses, Obama is facing a interesting dilemma, American citizens greatly support his foreign policy, but do not support him as the President.

Partisan Differences in Concerns over Islamic Extremism

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In the grand scheme of things, global politics have always been complex and messy. Yes, a greater majority of humans are living in better conditions that two decades ago. Yes, developing nations have increased their influence, power and provided greater good to their populations. But the West seems to be this declining bloc in search for this ‘golden parentheses’ at any cost. This last decade has been the story of Western powers seeking to prove to the world that their norms, values, institutions and relevance shall be adopted by all. Western powers, and their citizens, see a world going out of control – but when was it ever under control? – and are waging successive wars to remain on top. The lack of clarity and cohesion in Western foreign policies – especially in the case of Obama and some European leaders – demonstrate Western reluctance to fully re-engage with the world.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).