Most recently the United States chose to use a MOAB or mother of all bombs to target terrorists; easily the most powerful non-nuclear device ever built, it’s a further escalation of an already raging fire. Just how far can Trump and the United States go? Will the bombs ever stop dropping? As an administration and as a country, they must rethink their attitude and approach now. Pompous use of military muscle can only lead to more conflict and more profiteering at the expense of innocent people.
(Images used for the purposes of review and criticism under fair use)
2016 was a difficult year in many ways, there was much in the way of bitterness and little in the way of understanding; what went wrong over the past 365 days could almost be considered a chain reaction of sorts; there was something radical about this year, a point where numerous systems and sensibilities were suddenly thrown out the window in a blind rage. This is something I’ll try to consider and reflect on here, however difficult it may be from a purely UK perspective.
When talking about the Western world however, most eyes point to the UK and the United States who both took grossly misguided steps that may well end up destroying the values of openness, acceptability and freedom. The picture above explains better than words what happened to both nations in 2016; two lying conmen, masquerading as anti-establishment standing in a gold-plated lift with smug grins on their faces over how they managed to trick two of the most powerful western nations into voting against their own interests. They really did bring change this year; specifically, they made things worse and both times, events that should have derailed the two conmen had little to no effect. In the UK, MP Jo Cox was murdered by a far right terrorist chanting “death to traitors, freedom for Britain” while in the US, Trump could get away with making vulgar remarks about women and walking free from his criticism of a disabled reporter and countless ethnic minorities. It was blindingly clear that the two cons were disastrous. Britain has been hurled to the back of the queue on the world stage and into a period of uncertainty without any plan or a deal that would leave us better off and the United States has an incredibly misguided and potentially dangerous presidency coming in January 2017. On both sides of the world, the two big votes were fraught with infighting, vitriolic exchanges across social media and many instances that whipped some (not all) people into frenzies of anger and resentment. This often happens with any election but 2016 felt so unhinged and furious in the West that the structure of politics, left and right, looked set to come crashing down; not for reasons of progress but for more efficient division and manipulation of the masses to go down a specific path.
This erosion and hacking of Britain’s democracy didn’t stop at the EU referendum; Theresa May’s government passed the snoopers charter into law, perhaps the most extensive surveillance laws in the world; no discussion, no debate, they were simply put through and will come into effect next year. All companies will be required to hold browsing data (Categorised by who, what, when and where) for thousands of people across the UK with public authorities having free rein to access devices. On top of this, the government can demand a backdoor into devices from companies to allow for even more intrusion; consider the notion of all MPs being exempt from the charter and you have an extremely suspicious law coming into effect. Then there was the successful bid for Sky by media mogul Rupert Murdoch; after his last attempt was derailed by the phone hacking scandal in 2011, NewsCorp will now take over the large British broadcaster for £11.2 billion, handing over even more control to corporate media. It doesn’t bode well for public perception (which for years has been manipulated by the tabloid press) and it certainly doesn’t bode well for journalism either as a greater control and agenda is enacted on the media. Some have stated that Sky News won’t turn into Fox News in the States, but it may be worth taking their future coverage with a grain of salt. What could happen next? According to an account in the book: Hack Attack by Nick Davis, Murdoch may wish to steamroll British regulator Ofcom, imposing a complete domination of the UK press without any barriers. That’s worth keeping an eye on.
Looking ahead to 2017, what kind of progress can be made? Can we manage to learn from the massive uptake of xenophobia and division? Or will some nations, especially the West, descend into further nastiness? It may well come down to common people, who can’t be blamed for 2016’s missteps as they were horribly misled by the people above them, to make the biggest action against changes that will negatively impact them in the future, not to mention challenge racism, bigotry and those who would cause further damage and division. To close, I think this alternative Christmas message from Brendan Cox suits best; it’s something that everyone should watch and consider as we go into the new year.
(Images in the public domain used for the purposes of review and criticism)
Why did Trump win? What was it that convinced millions that he had their best interests in mind? Really it was a collection of factors and components, some of which were hardly down to Trump himself. First of all the media attention was concentrated on him beyond reasonable doubt; from beginning to end, Trump’s face was plastered across every TV station and every front page, his unethical behavior being under constant viewing; according to the New York Times, Trump received two billion dollars worth of free media. The likes of Tim Cruz and Jeb Bush had no chance of gaining the Republican nomination when the media wasn’t interested in them. In the eyes of the media Trump was a source for an endless string of stories sure to get some attention and clicks but right from the get-go, the election proved to be very one sided, especially during the nomination process.
This “whitelash” and sense of entitlement against the establishment was evident across America. A perspective was taken on by the masses; if a media outlet is supporting Clinton then they were automatically assumed to be bribed or part of the corrupt establishment. The more the media pushed against Trump, the more people vowed to go against it, proclaiming that they were taking control; even when they were being truthful, people chose to disregard it; some became so hell bent on mistrusting anything remotely close to the mainstream that viewed Trump with a reverence unheard of in any election. Combine this with a massive complacency on Hillary’s part and you begin to see why Trump claimed the Oval Office this year.
If a nationalist can obtain the most powerful position in the world, then there is absolutely no doubt that other far right parties will be spurred more than ever to spread their toxic perspectives. Most recently French far right leader Marine Le Penn celebrated Trump’s victory, proclaiming that their new world was being constructed. What kind of world could this be? One where the far right triumphs all over Europe, seceding from union into isolationism and selfishness? It’s a scary prospect indeed.
But all of this fear could be completely unfounded; Trump could get into the Oval Office next year and suddenly do a 180 on much of his hateful rhetoric, or perhaps his drastic policies may need scaling back and thus reduce the damage they might do. Was his campaign all lip service to get him into the most powerful office in the world? Already he has stated that he will not completely scrap Obamacare as he initially promised and will not throw Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran out the window either. Despite his many failures as a businessman though, Trump certainly knows how to get people on his side because of a sly charisma that Clinton just didn’t have; his speeches were uninhibited and vulgar compared to every other candidate in recent memory. This in turn weaponised the populous against his opponent, creating a group that would follow him religiously. This comes back to a point I made in a previous post; “if you are an American who for years “if you are an American citizen who for years has listened to politicians sound sophisticated while accomplishing nothing, you might just be primed for something that is everything they are not”. It’s this kind of approach that has fuelled the rise of post-truth politics and in turn it’s created a nasty collection of borderline evangelicals in the political space.
‘Mr. Brexit’ Nigel Farage Speaks at Donald Trump Rally in Jackson, MS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oj4K9fr_WgY
How Donald Trump made hate intersectional: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/11/how-trump-made-hate-intersectional.html
Trump recorded having extremely lewd conversation about women in 2005: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-recorded-having-extremely-lewd-conversation-about-women-in-2005/2016/10/07/3b9ce776-8cb4-11e6-bf8a-3d26847eeed4_story.html
America and Britain Are Being Hit by the Same ‘Whitelash’: http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/america-and-britain-are-being-hit-by-the-same-whitelash
Marine Le Pen: Donald Trump has shown how we can ‘build a new world’: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/11/13/marine-le-pen-donald-trump-has-shown-how-we-can-build-a-new-world/
After campaigning against Obamacare, Donald Trump wants to keep two major provisions: https://mic.com/articles/159253/after-campaigning-against-obamacare-donald-trump-wants-to-keep-two-major-provisions?utm_source=policymicFB&utm_medium=main&utm_campaign=social#.8Jg9YJsyo
Trump Just Announced He Will Not Cancel Obama’s Iran Peace Deal: http://occupydemocrats.com/2016/11/12/trump-just-announced-will-not-cancel-obamas-iran-peace-deal/
In Context: Hillary Clinton and the ‘basket of deplorables’: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2016/sep/11/context-hillary-clinton-basket-deplorables/
As with any point in history, the world has some issues to grapple with, but in 2016 in particular I’ve noticed an especially ugly trend that’s creeping about; black or white. There is hardly any room for a middle ground to satisfy both sides, no room for a happy medium in-between; it must be one extreme or another; keep it simple and the people will remain riled up and they too eventually become susceptible to easy influence.
Military use is a prime suspect in when choosing one extreme over another and when looking back at the strategies in the Middle East, it’s all too easy to point fingers. Bush’s military strategy for Iraq and the War on Terror was hackneyed, charging in with reckless abandon. Applying military intervention without careful thought led to the Iraq War and in turn the deaths of thousands of people. The trend has continued somewhat with the constant airstrikes and drone attacks sent by President Obama to the Middle East and of course Trump, paying no regard to the damage and civilian casualties caused, said he would “bomb the sh*t out of ISIS” thus amplifying and furthering the issue of terrorist radicalisation. Looking at the awful comments below the video supporting his wretched morals leaves me shocked at the lengths people sink to.
Now Trump is going to the other extreme; the possibility that America won’t help out its NATO allies at all. He said that the financial contributions from the likes of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania would be reviewed; in other words, if they aren’t paying enough, then they don’t deserve America’s help, according to his statements. It’s an unbelievably selfish and self-centered move from the Republican candidate whose focus is entirely geared towards putting himself first while also driving a wedge between Americans and anyone who isn’t from their country. Cutting off bonds to other countries can only lead to more conflict and a greater leaning towards a gross nationalism that is sweeping through politics today.
Division is a trend that has never burned more strongly in the modern western world and with this the notion of a careful approach is quickly tossed aside; we already had the infighting in the UK over the EU Referendum. The anti-immigrant rhetoric was an incredibly toxic aspect of the campaigns; all too often I’ve seen countless comments that categorise the influx of refugees as the importing of terrorists with no thought paid to the victims fleeing conflict (Many of which we in the West created).
This kind of extreme leaning also applies to race relations in the United States; to Trump and many Republicans, there is no consideration that maybe not all Muslims are terrorists. Yet again generalisation and stigmatisation sweeps in; either the entire religion is guilty or not at all; there is no middle ground there. No discussion, no debate, just the common people being led blind by a man who preys on fear and emotion, simplifying everything in the process. Blind labelling has given ridiculous ideas further traction, most notably the possibility databases for American Muslims and Syrian refugees, segregating groups off to be constantly monitored. It will undoubtedly fuel further bouts of racism and discrimination; that sends a message that these people are to be treated with suspicion.
And now most recently we’ve had the announcement of a wall, yes a wall, to keep refugees and migrants from coming to the UK from Calais; no doubt a direct result of the Brexit vote several months to appease the selfish racists of the country who fell for the fear-mongering leave campaign. No thought there, not a single consultation of how we could create a balance between taking in refugees while also securing our borders from illegal immigration. If this announcement proves anything, it’s that irrational decisions are slowly becoming the new norm in today’s world. To those who made this horrendous decision I ask what kind of benefit this will bring? I see it doing three main things; adding momentum to Trump’s vile campaign in the United States, add another tool for terrorists to use in their propaganda and create even more sentiment against foreigners.
This flawed perspective on world issues is creating divides and allowing the views of the ignorant and inconsiderate to be pushed to the forefront. There needs to be a better understanding promoted in the world, an attitude that emphasises a middle ground when dealing with difficult issues we all face from the simple civilians to the highest government officials.
“Trump would “bomb the sh*it out of ISIS”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWejiXvd-P8
It has taken seven years, 2.6 million spoken words and over ten million pounds, but the UK has reached a relatively definitive conclusion on the Iraq War, its motives and the legality of invasion which took place in 2003. The war itself stands out as a foolish and ultimately highly unethical conflict, one which resulted in thousands of unnecessary deaths and plunged the country into further instability. It was also a failure of both the media and intelligence operations to provide a clear picture of whether war was the right course to take.
The prelude to the conflict was marked with heaps of concerns surrounding terrorism. I was six years old when the events of September 11th took place, but I still remember coming home from Primary School and seeing my parents just standing in front of the television, fixated on the horrific events that day. The sentiment towards Muslims and Islam also took a drastic turn, particularly in the United States; 9/11 itself was arguably a substantial catalyst that triggered the widespread Islamophobia that we know today.
There’s no doubt now that in the aftermath a fire raged inside the hearts of thousands, especially in the United States, many of whom were livid at what had happened; realistically there was no way armed force wouldn’t be used in response to such devastation. President Bush launched the War on Terror soon after 9/11 on the 21st of September 2001, vowing to destroy any would-be terrorist organisations. This then lead to the War in Iraq in which the then Ba’ath Party (Led by Saddam Hussein) was accused of harbouring Al-Qaeda by the United States. It was soon suggested by military intelligence in both the UK and the United States that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and this further compelled both President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair to launch the invasion, or “Operation Iraqi Freedom” as it was known.
The problem came when Tony Blair was so insistent on following Bush’s lead, saying “I will be with you whatever”. Already our Prime Minister was pigeon-holing himself into a difficult position as going back on a massive statement like that can be perceived as a sign of weakness. Weakness equals something to exploit and that in turn can be the deciding factor in elections.
For every action, there is a reaction and while the likes of the War on Terror and Operation Iraqi Freedom did remove a tyrant from power, the destabilisation imposed ended up enacting a greater toll on the region. It was eventually revealed that there were in fact no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and by the time the war came to an end in 2009, around 251,000 violent deaths (According to Iraq Body Count) had occurred, including both civilians and armed combatants. To this day, the now metaphoric “War on Terror” has never truly ended and that may be down to an endless cycle of bombing, occupation and an anger that flairs within the people, making some of them more susceptible to indoctrination by terrorist organisations. 2009’s The Hurt Locker taps into many aspects of the Iraq War but the one moment that always sticks out to me is towards the end where a group of Iraqi children throw rocks at an American Humvee as it returns to base. Think about it from their perspective; if a foreign military force comes into your country, subjects you to a new order and stays long after the fighting is over then that’s sure to instill some kind of resentment, something which can eventually lead to terrorism. Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator but did the ramifications of invasion outweigh the benefits of removing him from power?
A lack of preparation for post-Saddam Iraq left the country fragmented and open for other terrorist organisations. When looking at the UK’s participation in the Iraq War, the biggest consequence often points to the 7/7 bombings in 2005; joining the conflict the way we did made us a target of terrorists. This could have been avoided if we had taken a step back rather than charging in blindly; even to this day, the UK is still near the top of the Western World hit list for the likes of ISIS and other terror groups. Why? Because in their eyes we’re the ones who messed with their country and now they want some kind of twisted revenge which they view as a holy war. Even today we’re still sending bombers and drones to the Middle-East, bringing destruction to the lives of thousands and to terrorist organisations; this feels cowardly to them and the West can only play into their hands by continuing to authorise this.
One of the lesser areas covered by the Chilcot Report is the oil that flows throughout the Middle East; a widely desirable resource for certain. Was the central aim of the Iraq War to oust a dictator from power and put a democratic government in its place? A deeper underlying reason for invading Iraq exists; according to Stop The War Coalition, Iraq possessed almost a tenth of the world’s oil resources; considering how Saddam Hussein had already destroyed several oil fields in Kuwait in a scorched earth policy towards the end of the Gulf War, it could be argued that we charged in to prevent further losses of the precious spoils.
Now that the Chilcot inquiry has been released, the masses now shift to what will happen next. Will Tony Blair receive some kind of judgement or ramifications for his actions? There are still thousands of protesters calling for him to be punished for going to war so hastily. The vast majority of the blame will be pinned on him as the UK’s leader at the time and so long as he refuses to offer an official apology, the war criminal signs will keep flying in London. But it’s also worth remembering that many other MPs at the time supported him in the decision to go to war. The press, most notably Rupert Murdoch’s papers also fed into the decision, supporting the rationale and promoting the entry of the UK into the invasion; Paul Dacre, a former editor of the Daily Mail was quoted as saying: “I’m not sure that the Blair government – or Tony Blair – would have been able to take the British people to war if it hadn’t been for the implacable support provided by the Murdoch papers. There’s no doubt that came from Mr Murdoch himself”. While the war itself may have passed, the effect it has had on the Middle East undoubtedly sent much of it into a downward trajectory rather than progressive development. The entire affair is still quite a stain on not only the UK, but the Western World as a whole. Perhaps the most shocking part of all is that democracy didn’t influence the overall decision. Blair himself called the protests “Fatuous”, meaning silly and pointless. We invaded a country for dubious reasons, failing to make necessary considerations and ended up dragging a region and its people through the mud; thousands continue to pay the price for that decision to this day.
April 2016 has seen a major event occur at the hands of investigative journalism; what some outlets call “the biggest ever data leak”. The Panama papers, revealed by a source named “John Doe” are just one of many dirty secrets almost entirely concentrated towards the rich and powerful within our democratic systems. The leak itself is a fine example of the power journalism has towards exposure and holding individuals to account. At times, these events can bring about change which is often for the better but on other occasions they fail to alter the balance of the elite.
Last year I had the rare opportunity of meeting Nick Davies while I was in Toronto, the investigative journalist at The Guardian who fought tooth and nail to uncover the infamous UK phone hacking scandal which took place in 2011. He gave everyone a free copy of his book which has proven to be one of the most revealing things I’ve ever read. Hack Attack is an inside look of not only the work that went into exposing scandal, but also a glimpse of the corrupt underworld of the power elite. His closing words in the book were “We did nothing to change the power elite”. It’s a fascinating yet grimly realised statement; is there really no clear way of changing such a pervasive issue with society? Hidden away from prying eyes, the power elite have a private opportunity to shape and manipulate the system for their own benefit.
The process of a leak can be a standout turn of events; we saw how the US government responded when the NSA surveillance program was released to the public, branding Edward Snowden a traitor in the process. The powerful always seek to maintain their positions, no matter the impact it has on common citizens. However on occasion, a leak of this scale can have dire ramifications for those in power. Iceland was fairly prominent during the leak; its Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson stepped aside after it was revealed that him and his family had profited from sheltered offshore money. This resignation came two days after the papers were leaked on the 5th of April 2016.
What worked for Iceland is not so easily accomplished in the UK; the overall message and how it affects progress can drastically differ depending on the country. It’s been about two weeks since we learned our own Prime Minister had benefitted from offshore funds and very little has come of it. The #ResignCameron Twitter trend has mostly vanished and the media outlets which covered the protests in London were few and far between, once again raising questions as to where the loyalty of the big media organisations lies. It appears now that the incident is now behind Mr Cameron who is now turning his attention towards the upcoming EU referendum.
Be that as it may, the findings reveal a potentially damning truth about the Conservative’s motives in UK parliament; why would large corporations such as Google pay the tax they owe when the very people who run the country dodge it themselves? The “party of the rich” as some people call them seems to be far more reasonable an assumption than ever before; keeping the biggest and richest corporations happy allows them to maintain their status, reputation and wealth. The power game is a shadowy business, done almost entirely behind the scenes and often going unnoticed by the general public. Revealing secrets to the public is one thing, but openly challenging the elite is another matter entirely.
A year or two ago, I watched the opening episode of House of Cards Season 2; despite it being entirely fictional and a somewhat exaggerated view of our own society, one particular scene I feel can be quite telling of how powerless we ordinary individuals are against people in power. Lucas (Sebastian Arcelus) is determined to expose the truth about Frank Underwood, but Janine (Constance Zimmer) wants to drop the story altogether, terrified after the politician murdered fellow reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara); “He’s got power, he’s got a lot to lose, and right now he is winning”.
As for the Panama Papers leak, the event isn’t quite over yet; Mossack Fonseca is likely still dealing with the fallout over the documents and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) are planning to release even more papers in May 2016. A spark that may ignite further protests and possibly even resignations could be lying up ahead, one that should be watched closely.
The United States Presidential Election for 2016 is quite an anomaly when compared with previous years, most notably with a colourful candidate or two. Of course I’m talking about Donald Trump, the businessman and reality TV actor turned Republican hopeful. At a glance many individuals, particularly those from outside the United States would laugh at his antics and the way his use of grammar sounds like that of an 11 year old. But look past all that and you have a frightening prospect on display, the possibility of the man entering the White House which is becoming less and less far-fetched by the day.
American politics appears to have undergone a degenerative process in the past couple of years as Trump’s cocky and laidback mannerisms lay waste to the usual routines of political manoeuvring and promotion of campaign policies. Political dissatisfaction is one major reason why Trump has grown so popular. People want something wild, something that differs from the norm. The realm of politics is often associated with extended, dry speeches with complex wording that ends up putting people off. As YouTube user Nerdwriter1 brilliantly put it in his video “How Donald Trump answers a question”: “if you are an American citizen who for years has listened to politicians sound sophisticated while accomplishing nothing, you might just be primed for something that is everything they are not”. Politicians have maintained a level of sophistication that alienates many and now comes Trump, a man who quote: “tells it how it is” by using incredibly basic language while often repeating several simplistic words over and over again. What we have is a candidate who presents and talks like no other American politician has before; he has crafted an identity that resonates and stands out, commanding vast amounts of attention from both prospective voters and the media. When you look at Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, Trump is unlike anything else seen before; it’s literally impossible to take your eyes off him whenever he delivers a big speech or dramatic rally. The media has fed into this as well, focusing almost all of their attention on Trump because the other Republicans seem dull and uninteresting by comparison. In doing so, they have also granted additional platforms for Donald Trump to spread his highly questionable views with little to slow him down.
Democracy encourages freedom of speech, but there have been many points where this has opened up opportunities for promoting hate speech and discrimination. Trump cannot be removed from the presidential race because that would be censorship, but should a line be drawn when a candidate willingly promotes this indecent line of thinking? We’ve seen countless examples of racism, bigotry and incitements of violence at many of Trump’s rallies and yet instead of receiving condemnation, many of his supporters openly welcome and cheer at his statements. The comparisons to Hitler are not without merit; as a dictator, he came to power by poisoning the minds of German citizens against Jews and other ethnic groups and now Trump is doing the exact same thing with Mexicans and Muslims. If it were a common individual spreading hatred of Mexicans and Muslims, they would likely be arrested for inciting hatred; when Donald Trump says it, he gets more attention and most importantly, more support. It’s the complete opposite of what was predicted by numerous political pundits and another way in which Trump has carved his own specific perch in the political system.
Lost amidst all the clamouring over Trump’s straightforward politicising is the fact that his so called policies are practically non-existent. The best he offers is a wall dividing America and Mexico; according to Trump the wall will protect US citizens from the “criminal aliens” (Yes that’s literally what he calls them on his campaign website) from across the border and that Mexico is going to pay for it. Ironically I would compare this kind of idea to the Great Wall of China which was also built as a means of border control centuries ago. The prospect of building a wall is already ludicrous, but the most horrifying statement of all came on March 9th when Trump literally suggested threatening war with Mexico in a bid to strong-arm them into paying for the wall. To quote the man from a recent interview with MSNBC: “When I rejuvenate our military, Mexico’s not going to be playing with us with war”.
The burning question now is what an America under Trump may look like; some shudder at the prospect of having the Republican candidate enter the Oval Office, while others bafflingly place their faith in him, confident in his goal of making America great again. Judging by the large level of support he has received, it’s hard not to feel a little uneasy. Trump is bearing down on the presidential election with little to stand in his way apart from his final Republican rival Ted Cruz. What it all comes down to is that Donald J. Trump is more dangerous to America than all the terrorists and threats he claims to be fighting against; why anyone would even consider supporting him is beyond me. Ultimately it will come down to the American people to make their choice this November; I hope, possibly for the world’s sake, that they make the right one.
(All videos and articles referenced are the property of their respective owners. All images used have been labelled for reuse)
America’s problem with guns is one of the longest running and most frustrating issues in its history. Time and again, a mass shooting appears in the new, President Obama makes a condemning statement and yet nothing gets done about it. I spoke to a member of Stop Handgun Violence (SHV) who wished to remain anonymous when answering the questions I had. According to the SHV website, there have been 88,907 (at the time of writing) Americans killed by guns since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. Tech Insider wrote that more pre-school children were killed than police officers in 2013. Why is this the case and why isn’t more being done to change things? Hopefully I’ll try to make sense of things here.
I used to believe that the easiest solution to America’s obsession with guns was to simply take them away, to burn them all up in a furnace and be done with the whole thing; perhaps the second amendment could be changed much like the US’s recent positive move in legalising gay marriage? But I soon understood that it’s never that simple. One, the US is a far bigger country than any other with access to firearms. Two, the right to bear arms has been hardwired into American culture ever since the days of the Civil War; and three, making ownership illegal could inadvertently give rise to a new form of crime and smuggling trade. The black market has been discussed by several major outlets; according to an article from the Guardian, it took someone just two hours to get their hands on an illegal weapon in this way. There’s no denying that the black market would run rampant if all guns were completely outlawed in the States. When talking with SHV, they were able to shed more light on why the right to bear arms can’t be changed as easily; they said that passing the right to gay marriage removed a violation of due process and equal protection clauses. Whilst the US courts may be willing to define the limits of bearing arms, a large movement on the same level as gay marriage is highly unlikely.
Sensible solutions to gun violence in the United States have been side-tracked, slowed and often outright cancelled for years. Of course the biggest opponent to better regulation by far is the National Rifle Association. It’s been a constant fixture in America for decades and over the years, their influence in Washington and politics have grown exponentially, ranking them in the top three most influential lobbying groups in the capital. SHV told me that many members of Congress in the United States have “received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the NRA and NSSF (the other gun lobby group)”. The problem may indeed run deep into the US government, creating a kind of power vacuum; can we assume that the NRA would be unwilling to support government candidates if they stood up for better regulation on gun control? The SHV said that “the biggest contributing factor to the lack of gun safety legislation is the cowardice of the congress people and the money they receive from the lobbying”. What do I think of this? Honestly I don’t blame them; pro-gun organisations have massive stakes in firearm manufacturing businesses and rifle clubs. If regulatory laws get passed, they won’t make money and at the end of the day, that’s what matters to them the most.
Compounding this steadfast resistance is the media outlets in the United States; Fox News, which is bafflingly the “most trusted network in the United States” has done a lot of silly and often insensitive things live on air and gun control has been no different. Scapegoating has been rampant in the news organisation, with attacks being made and fingers being pointed at small details, particularly those from pieces of entertainment and culture, rather than analysing the situation thoroughly like a professional media organisation would do. The media’s influence doesn’t end at scapegoating. Just a few weeks ago, Fox host Tucker Carlson claimed that Australians, quote: “Have no freedom” because of the lack of guns. It’s quite frankly a ridiculous statement to make, considering the kinds of regulations around the world that have drastically reduced gun crime. By perpetuating the mind-set of the likes of the NRA and other pro-ownership organisations, this adds another layer to the stonewalling of the US government in their efforts to reduce these kinds of crimes.
Where does America go from here? Is there any way to reach a proper solution to the issues? According to the SHV, ninety percent of the American population as well as a large percentage of gun owners support common sense gun legislation. Despite the overwhelming resistance that blocks the US government, there have been strong support programs and instances where the public may finally be starting to turn things around, even if they are only small ways. Steve Elliot, a father who lives in California drew a strong response by destroying his own firearm with the #onelessgun hashtag. An organisation in New York opened a gun store, but instead of selling firearms left and right, they instead educated the common people on what guns have really done for America over the years. Finally, outside perspectives such as “An Australian’s view on America’s obsession with guns” have become more widespread thanks to social media. Maybe one day it might just be enough to break down the barriers that prevent gun laws from being passed. For now, the United States continues to grapple with the issue, still remaining the nation with the highest number of gun related fatalities in the world.
One of the biggest problems in terrorism that plagues civilised society is that of indoctrination. ISIS, unlike other terrorist organisations before them have a unique advantage; the ability to grow their ranks by corrupting the minds of individuals everywhere. We’ve seen all sorts of stories in the media of the people who have journeyed to the Middle East, most notably the three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green. The BBC published a report in June stating that around 700 Britons have travelled abroad to join ISIS; we’ve never seen a terrorism propaganda campaign succeed in such a way and this raises a lingering question. What causes people to join the terrorist organisation, despite the overwhelming evidence of the atrocities they have committed since their rise to prominence in 2014? In this feature I take a look at the information uncovered by various news organisations, forming a speculative glance on how and why so many westerners have joined the terror organisation.
Haroon Ullah, a foreign policy professor at Georgetown University in the United States argues that most people who become extremists are from the middle class; these people are often well-fed, well-read and they are said to possess a desire for meaning and order. The second reason mentioned by Ullah is how organisations such as ISIS offer clear rules and methods for how things will change according to their strategic aims and objectives. Middle class citizens who join ISIS and other terror organisations, particularly in middle-eastern countries where there exists chaos and corruption seek a change, an end to the turmoil that plagues their countries. According to ISIS, the way to reach this goal is through violent action, following their rules and no others. Ullah says that this promise to create a new form of government combined with a strong sense of victimhood forms a powerful propaganda message that draws in countless individuals to engage with the murder of innocent people. Considering how Osama Bin Laden came from a middle class background and had a degree in civil engineering, this explanation seems quite feasible; the people from western countries joining ISIS may have caught wind of this and journeyed to the middle-east for the intention of being part of a so-called “revolution” in countries where Islam is widely practiced as a religion.
In the case of the three schoolgirls, news organisations have attempted to track their current whereabouts; VICE News spoke to the parents of one of the girls; Amira Abase, who have been through a great deal of hardship and difficulty both personally and in front of the authorities. Her mother said that “Someone was pushing her” and that she didn’t wish to contact anyone. Further research carried out by The New York Times focused around the communication between suspected extremists and western civilians. The messages uncovered appeared to show a caring and supportive mannerism, saying things like “You’re a nice person with a beautiful character in many ways ur much better than many so called born Muslims” and “Seek knowledge always. Never be a blind sheep to the masses”. If this same kind of messaging was used to communicate with the three Bethnal Green schoolgirls, it could have tricked them into believing ISIS had something to offer them, something better and brighter than what they had in their normal lives. This is turn may have served a starting point for ISIS recruiters to manipulate and have them accept their twisted morals and guidelines.
Alienation and the feeling of being an outcast is another possible cause of radicalisation; in a discussion I had on Coursera surrounding terrorism, a fellow user mentioned that some families, immigrant or otherwise can feel distant or detached from their home country. As a result, their conservative views on Islam can devolve into extremism. The attitude towards migrants and immigration in the UK has been deteriorating amongst many people over the years and this has been exacerbated by the stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists. This raises the question as to whether or not a cycle of discontent and recruitment is taking place. This could be happening as follows…
ISIS commits an atrocity which is reported in the news: The stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists rises with every news report among individuals.
As stereotyping rises, so too does the disdain for immigrants, particularly those who have migrated from Middle-Eastern countries.
This creates a rift between citizens as specific groups are isolated and distance themselves from each other.
ISIS takes advantage of this gap and issues promises of better living and well-being, urging them to quote: “Race to your state”. This message enters the minds of the alienated people, convincing them to join the organisation.
Linking in with Haroon Ullah’s point, the BBC published a report on one family of 12 from the UK who joined the Islamic State in May this year and according to a statement from IS, they are feeling “safer than ever”. The IS statement went on to say that the family had arrived in a country “free from corruption and oppression”, further proving the primary point put across by ISIS propaganda of change through violent action. There is no hard evidence to suggest the family felt detached from the place they called home, but if they did feel distant from their fellow citizens then this may have been the intention that drove them to join ISIS.
The framing and spread of ISIS and their activities as a whole has also been a contributing factor; some of the more recent news surrounding the three schoolgirls has homed in on Amira Abase apparently mocking the British victims of a terror attack in Tunisia. This has given rise to another debate; where do we draw the line between victim and terrorists? Depending on how events and people are presented, this could inadvertently encourage more individuals to join ISIS. What do we now consider the schoolgirls to be? Victims who were corrupted by ISIS or terrorists who should never be allowed back into the UK ever again? Depending on how they are referred to, more individuals could grow callous to the civilised society they call home and as such, more susceptible to indoctrination. The same also applies to the simple sharing of ISIS propaganda on social networks. Dr Roman Gerodimos, a lecturer in Global Current Affairs at Bournemouth University said: “it’s important not to glorify or perpetuate, the ways they are framed can contribute to a propaganda campaign”. Dr Gerodimos went on to say that even individuals who do not support ISIS and their goals unavoidably assist the organisation by reproducing and sharing videos. Their messages can spread to more people more quickly in this way and in turn this grants ISIS more and more opportunities to recruit.
Ultimately there is no main root cause for the indoctrination of western citizens into ISIS; the propaganda that has spread like wildfire through social media manifests itself in different ways depending on a person’s way of thinking. Because of the mind-sets of common people are vastly different, they may have chosen to join ISIS for different reasons. Some may have been deceived by the so-called “paradise” that the organisation is building for all Muslims after being disappointed in their own lives. Others may have been tricked into thinking that the barbaric ways of ISIS coincide with Islam as a whole. The case surrounding the three Bethnal schoolgirls discussed earlier also suggests that members of ISIS may well be scouring the internet or even local communities in search of individuals they deem worthy to their caliphate. The western world may be able to take action by restricting passports and travel to countries such as Syria, but stamping out the deceitful messages that slip through the cracks to corrupt young minds is another matter entirely.