2016: A year of nastiness unchained

 

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.

Was it any surprise that the same year white swimmer Brock Turner got a lenient sentence for sexual assault was the one in which a misogynistic, lying billionaire cheated his way to being President? The year itself seemed very backwards in general; Brock Turner’s judge was recently cleared of any misconduct while police brutality remained a serious problem in the United States. The Zika virus broke out at the start of the year in Latin America, India and Africa, prompting several relief efforts. Brussels and Istanbul both suffered horrific terror attacks at the hands of ISIS, delivering further prominence for far-right groups across Europe. President Duterte of the Philippines took a dark turn as he launched a violent war on drugs throughout the islands and Venezuela continued to plummet with rapid inflation ravaging citizens, most of whom can now barely afford food, water and other essentials. The internet saw a rise in fake news as it spread rapidly through Facebook and other sources, casting further doubts and requiring further checks and tensions began to flare between America and China as Donald Trump began to forge his own awkward rulebook as a millionaire president. Rising from the ashes of TTIP, CETA, a trade agreement which would put more power in the hands of corporations has made progress in the EU and Canada, a blemish on an otherwise welcoming and tolerant nation who have taken in over 38,000 Syrian refugees as of December, this year.

Image result for Trump and Farage lift
Image credited to Huffington Post UK

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.

Image result for Brexit Protests
Image credited to Flickr user David B. Young. Labelled for reuse

It all came unravelling rather quickly on both sides of the pond; Nigel Farage has never been in the political arena for anyone other than himself; right from the get-go, his act in appearing to support the common man deluded thousands into believing his lies and frankly we should have expected this. The UK public elected him as an MEP where instead of collaborating, all he ever did was run his mouth off about how much he hated the European Union while receiving a hefty salary for it. 2016 saw him become especially bold in his vile rhetoric, spearheading the propaganda of the leave campaign and coming to a head with an utterly shameful comparison of the Hope Not Hate group to extremism and a subsequent disrespect of Jo Cox’s husband Brendan (Who is still grieving along with his family after their loss). Even now Farage is continuing to be a thorn in progressive UK politics, proclaiming himself the bridge between us and Donald Trump and propping up on division and bigotry. Most recently he felt the need to insult the Archbishop of Canterbury and his message of peace and acceptance, as if a country where division isn’t commonplace won’t be acceptable for him.

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.

Image credited to Chicago Tribune

In the United States, things weren’t looking much better; after another horrendous spike in racism and abuse, thoughts turned to President-Elect Donald Trump’s oncoming term. Once again, Trump’s lies quickly came to fruition as his cabinet was filled to burst with the richest millionaires ever seen in a presidential cabinet. Draining the swamp as promised? People will soon learn that what they voted for was a sham. Any hope of the terrible decision being derailed was again quashed, this time by the electoral college, who placed Trump into the White House by passing the 270-vote mark. There’s something baffling about this to me; the electoral college is made up of many educated men and women; surely, they could clearly see that Trump is both unqualified and unfit to lead and yet they put him through all the same. According to an article in The Daily Signal, electors are pledged to support the candidate voted in by the general public; could this be another sign of appeasement, a need to avoid infuriating the masses? Either way, Trump is headed for the Oval Office and his presidency may be a rocky one; lately he has been tossing around the serious topic of nuclear weapons like a game, possibly meaning to rearm America’s stocks rather than disarm; some ties to Russia have also been difficult to swallow.

Then came the 19th of December in which a final flurry of insults was hurled at everyone; Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov was assassinated in Turkey, a truck ploughed through a Christmas market in Berlin in another terror attack and Trump received his key to the White House all while Aleppo burned, the world failing to gain any more clarity on the Syrian battle lines. A chaotic close to a dreary year in world affairs and local politics.

Image sourced from Google: Labelled for reuse

Looking back at 2016, I feel that an explosion of anger and hatred was unleashed after being bottled up for years, something which the rich, powerful and the opportunists took advantage of to better achieve their goals of manipulation for personal gain. Yet despite all this, there were still some genuinely positive moments for the year. The Paris Climate Agreement, after being established a year ago, has been coming into its own. This was then followed up by Leonardo Dicaprio’s climate change film: “Before the Flood” which fired back at environmental sceptics. War criminals Jean-Pierre Bemba of the Congo, Radovan Karadžić of the Bosnian-Serb conflict, and Hissène Habré of Chad all faced justice at the hands of the International Criminal Court, Belgrade War Crimes Court and African Union court respectively. Austria rejected far-right nationalism in its presidential electionThe snoopers charter ran into trouble at the EU Courts who said general and indiscriminate retention of emails and electronic governments in illegal, ironically providing further evidence that the Brexit con was extremely short-sighted. The Rio Olympics went relatively well despite Brazil’s economic problems and the later impeachment of President Dilma Rouseff. Over 30,000 Muslims in Hampshire protested the disgusting ideologies of ISIS and students turned out in droves in London to protest tuition fees on November 19th, continuing the pushback against rip-off education costs. Dakota’s controversial oil pipeline hit a major wall as communities of indigenous Americans and their supporters showed the power of protest. The final camp of terrorist group Boko Haram was captured by the Nigerian army, leaving them on the run and Israel’s crimes against Palestine were subjected to a pushback by the UN. A vaccine for the Ebola virus, VSV-EBOV was proven to be effective with a 70-100% success rate. Finally, China has announced that it will aim to completely ban the ivory trade by the end of 2017. As angry as we can get, it’s very reassuring to know that our ingenuity can win out in many cases.

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)

Sources

Brock Turner released from jail after serving only three months of his sexual assault sentence: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/brock-turner-released-three-months-sexual-assault-stanford-rape-case-a7222051.html

Brock Turner sexual assault trial Judge Aaron Persky cleared of misconduct: https://mic.com/articles/162780/brock-turner-sexual-assault-trial-judge-aaron-persky-cleared-of-misconduct#.DAAnZPWDI

Zika outbreak: What you need to know: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-35370848

Brussels to Istanbul: Two airports, two bloody attacks: http://edition.cnn.com/2016/06/29/europe/turkey-istanbul-airport-brussels-similarities-elbagir/

Philippines: Death toll in Duterte’s war on drugs: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2016/08/philippines-death-toll-duterte-war-drugs-160825115400719.html

Venezuela on the brink: a journey through a country in crisis: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/11/venezuela-on-the-brink-a-journey-through-a-country-in-crisis

2016 Lie of the Year: Fake news: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2016/dec/13/2016-lie-year-fake-news/

WHAT IS CETA?: http://www.waronwant.org/what-ceta

Jo Cox murder suspect tells court his name is ‘death to traitors, freedom for Britain’: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jun/18/thomas-mair-charged-with-of-mp-jo-cox

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?utm_term=.e4b1a8a3b281

Donald Trump aide Wilbur Ross: ‘Use Brexit to steal UK trade’: http://www.lbc.co.uk/news/world/donald-trump-aide-wilbur-ross-use-brexit-to-s/

Trump fan goes on rant on Delta flight, yells obscenities at Hillary supporters: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/man-calls-passengers-hillary-b-es-trump-rant-article-1.2889096

Nigel Farage launches scathing attack on Ukip’s ‘low-grade people’: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/dec/09/nigel-farage-scathing-attack-ukip-low-grade-people

Nigel Farage insults Herman van Rompuy, calls EU President a “DAMP RAG”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bypLwI5AQvY&index=22&list=WL

Nigel Farage refuses to apologise for ‘Breaking Point’ poster in final pitch to voters: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-poster-nigel-farage-eu-referendum-live-latest-vote-leave-remain-a7095236.html

Nigel Farage faces threat of legal action over Hope Not Hate accusation: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/dec/20/nigel-farage-accuses-jo-cox-widower-brendan-cox-of-supporting-extremism

Nigel Farage hits out at Archbishop of Canterbury over Christmas message: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/nigel-farage-archbishop-of-canterbury-negative-christmas-message-a7495186.html

What is the IP Bill and how will it affect you?: http://www.wired.co.uk/article/ip-bill-law-details-passed

UK’s new Snoopers’ Charter just passed an encryption backdoor law by the backdoor: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/11/30/investigatory_powers_act_backdoors/

Politicians will escape intrusive spy powers of the Snooper’s Charter: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/politicians-will-escape-intrusive-spy-powers-snoopers-charter-1594320

Sky reaches agreement for 21st Century Fox takeover offer for £11.7bn: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/sky-21st-century-fox-sale-takeover-agreement-reached-rupert-murdoch-a7477011.html

Why we use electoral college, not popular vote: http://dailysignal.com/2016/11/07/why-the-founders-created-the-electoral-college/

Donald Trump declares ‘Let it be a nuclear arms race’ with Russia: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/12/22/donald-trump-vladimir-putn-signal-renewal-nuclear-arms-race/

The Russian ambassador’s assassination was no work of art: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/22/assassination-russian-ambassador-turkey-9-11-art

Berlin terror attack: Horrifying dashcam video shows truck speeding into Christmas market: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/12/22/berlin-terror-attack-tunisian-suspect-anis-amri-investigated/

Donald Trump Completes Final Lap, Electoral College, to White House: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/19/us/politics/electoral-college-vote.html?_r=0

The crisis in Aleppo: who’s fighting who and why: http://thenewdaily.com.au/news/world/2016/12/15/aleppo-crisis-war-syria-explained/

Simple Politics: https://www.facebook.com/simplepoliticsuk/posts/1437746876270138:0

Marrakech climate conference: world forging ahead on climate action: http://ec.europa.eu/clima/news/articles/news_2016111801_en

Austria just decisively rejected the far right’s presidential candidate: http://www.vox.com/world/2016/12/4/13833796/austria-presidential-election-2016-hofer-van-der-bellen

EU’s highest court delivers blow to UK snooper’s charter: https://www.theguardian.com/law/2016/dec/21/eus-highest-court-delivers-blow-to-uk-snoopers-charter

Brazil President Dilma Rousseff removed from office by Senate: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-37237513

More than 30,000 Muslims from across the world meet in the UK to reject Isis and Islamic extremism: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/more-than-30000-ahmadiyya-muslims-from-across-the-world-meet-in-the-uk-to-reject-isis-and-islamic-a7191306.html

Student march: Thousands protest education cuts in central London: http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/student-march-thousands-protest-education-cuts-in-central-london-a3399941.html

UN Security Council urges end to Israeli settlements: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/12/passes-resolution-israeli-settlements-161223192709807.html

We finally have an effective Ebola vaccine. The war on the disease is about to change: http://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2016/12/22/14039628/rvsv-zebov-ebola-vaccine-trial-effective

China Bans Its Ivory Trade, Moving Against Elephant Poaching: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/30/world/asia/china-ivory-ban-elephants.html

Alternative Christmas Message 2016: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/alternative-christmas-message

Indoctrination Theory: What convinces people to join ISIS?

ISIS Flag

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.

ISIS Territory Map

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…

  1. ISIS commits an atrocity which is reported in the news: The stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists rises with every news report among individuals.
  2. As stereotyping rises, so too does the disdain for immigrants, particularly those who have migrated from Middle-Eastern countries.
  3. This creates a rift between citizens as specific groups are isolated and distance themselves from each other.
  4. 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.

Sources

Haroon Ullah: Why do people become Islamic extremists? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IchGuL501U&index=6&list=LLrF7FenilsftVgeAYyqVntw

Vice News: The Girls who fled to Syria: Groomed by the Islamic State https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JsECHXGgvpA&index=11&list=WL

The New York Times: Flirting with ISIS: How the Islamic State recruits https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwLYhlxvjI4

BBC News: Missing UK family ‘safer than ever’ with Islamic State http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-33393628

The Telegraph: Bethnal Schoolgirl who joined ISIL mocks Tunisia victims http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/islamic-state/11718768/Bethnal-Green-schoolgirl-who-joined-Isil-mocks-Tunisia-victims.html

(All resources and videos are the property of their respective owners)

Images sourced from Google Images (Labelled for reuse)