What Did You Miss While You Were Following the US Elections?

Yves here. As you know, we are a teeny site with big ambitions. One ongoing frustration is there are way way way way more things happening of importance, not just in the Anglosphere but also in the rest of the world, than we can hope to cover, even with our Links and Water Cooler news surveys. And the US elections really did eat the news, not just here but even to a fair bit overseas. And we are further limited that none of our main writers reads a foreign language with fluency (my French has gone completely to pot) so we are also at risk of falling prey to spin when we do encounter English coverage of offshore developments.

So this is a long-winded way of saying that we hope you find the snippets below informative and we trust that readers who are closer to the action will pipe up with additional details and any needed corrections or recalibrations.

By Adam Ramsay, openDemocracy’s main site editor. You can follow him at @adamramsay. Adam is a member of the Scottish Green Party, sits on the board of Voices for Scotland and advisory committees for the Economic Change Unit and the journal Soundings. Originally published at openDemocracy

People across the globe have been mesmerised by the US elections, horrified by Trump’s failure to concede, and entertained by a certain landscape gardening business. I asked my colleagues what we’d all missed in the rest of the world.

France Cracks Down on Muslims and All Who Defend Them

openDemocracy Europe editor, Rosemary Bechler, has been horrified by growing Islamophobia from the French government. In reaction to the horrific murder of school teacher, Samuel Patti, President Macron has been “targetting a whole load of institutions and individuals who had nothing to do with the murder”.

His government and its allied intellectuals have also got in their sights on “a new category… ‘Islamo-Gauchism’, or ‘Islamo-Leftism’, where they say that anyone who stands up with Muslims against the existing discrimination… [is] part of the problem,” she told me, comparing the term to the anti-semitic concept of “Jewish Bolshevism”.

“This has now become a big movement, led by the French government, to intervene in academic freedom of speech… basically it’s saying academia has to reflect republican values, and what that means is you have to present a history of your nation which doesn’t talk about colonialism, doesn’t talk about genocide… restricts itself to ‘we’re in favour of the republic… and against Muslims’.”

openDemocracy has published a letter responding to the French government crackdown, signed by 2,000 French scholars.

Tanzania Moves Towards One-Party State

In Tanzania, a presidential and parliamentary election was “at least as dramatic, if not more dramatic” than the US election, said openDemocracy’s Africa editor, Lydia Namubiru with the incumbent president seeing his vote soaring to what she called “a suspicious” 84%, “the government clamped down hard on opposition, slowed down social media”. Ten voters in Zanzibar were killed in clashes with the police, and the main opposition candidate was arrested “at least twice in the week of the election”. “One opposition party official was beaten so badly he was hospitalised,” she added.

“This election, which nearly wiped out opposition MPs in parliament, returns Tanzania to a one party state. Tanzania had become a multi-party democracy in 1995, but now, with hardly any opposition MPs in parliament, it looks like it’s returning to a de-facto one-party state,” Lydia told me.

UK Brings Back Furlough Scheme

On Thursday, says our UK editor, Caroline Molloy, British Chancellor Rishi Sunak sneaked out “his biggest U-turn yet, a pretty embarrassing one”.

“He’d been pressured to extend the furlough scheme and had persistently refused, but on Thursday, he said that that scheme would be extended until March 2021, bowing to the inevitable”.

Caroline criticised Sunak’s provocarocation, adding “we’ve seen record redundancies in figures released today, 314,000 people were made redundant in the three months to September, with a lot of employers saying they let people go because Sunak kept saying this scheme wasn’t going to be extended”.

War in the Caucuses and Continuing Protests in Belarus

My colleague Tom Rowley highlighted the “tragic” situation in war over Karabakh in the south caucasus. “At the end of September, Azerbaijani forces launched an offensive on Karabakh. That war has continued throughout October, until the weekend, and has led to thousands of people having to flee their homes, and thousands of deaths – we still don’t know how many people have died from the conflict,” he said.

Turkey, he explained, has aligned with Azerbaijan, forcing Armenia to give up territory in an agreement this weekend, which has been met by protests in the Armenian capital, including the occupation of the country’s parliament building and an assault on the speaker of the parliament. The events could mark the end of a period in Armenia which began with the overthrow of the previous corrupt regime two years ago, said Tom.

Meanwhile, he added, protests against the rigging of August’s election in Belarus continued, as the government cracked down with increasing violence.

War Starts in Ethiopia, Winds Down in Libya

Our Middle East/North Africa editor Walid el Houri hailed positive signs of peace in Libya, “we’ve had a very important development – the agreement between warring parties to implement a cease-fire that they had agreed in October”. In what he called “an important step,” the different parties met in Libya, rather than abroad, and “agreed on actual practical steps to implement a ceasefire.”

However, he added that, while this “is a very important agreement” which “will affect the lives of thousands, not only Libyans, but also African migrants trapped in the country,” it’s also “too early to celebrate… only yesterday, there was the assasination of an opposition and prominent lawyer and activist.” She was killed by an unknown gunman soon after announcing she was about to expose corruption in the entourage of one of the main generals in the country.

Walid also raised concerns that “violence is mounting” in Ethiopia. “We have a new conflict that will likely be quite an important development in the region. The government “has gone to war with the Tigray province in the north of the country,” he said. “There is not much information from the ground, but we know that the two sides are heavily armed, and there are reports talking about hundreds of deaths”. He added that it was likely that the conflict would last for a while, and numerous refugees were arriving in Sudan already.

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  1. Halcyon (formerly AnonyMouse)

    It was widely noted in the UK that the furlough scheme’s extension to March not only covered the period of the new lockdown (until 2 December), but also the few months after the end of the Brexit transition period.

    The UK government’s ludicrous policy of flinging money at a network of corrupt Friends of the Tories and extending billions in furlough – as is now mapped in graphic form – https://sophieehill.shinyapps.io/my-little-crony/ – while quibbling over relatively much smaller amounts of funding to eliminate child poverty (as championed by footballer Marcus Rashford) does not appear to be tanking them in the polls nearly as much as you might expect.

    If ever there was a time for the general population to learn about MMT, you would think it was now, with such obvious examples going on around us all the time; yet the chancellor and PM continually remind us that more austerity is coming, and the chancellor himself felt the need to specifically attack the foundations of MMT in a particularly disingenous video


    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Halcyon.

      Further to Sophie Hill’s diagram, two names stuck out, Rachel Wolf and James Frayne.

      The pair are founding partners of Public First, a public affairs / policy consultancy, and used to work at Tory HQ.

      Public First provided administrative support to Change UK, the party set up by defectors from Labour and the Tories, and helped write its December 2019 manifesto. Public First also bundled donations to the party and individual MPs.

      Wolf co-wrote the Tory manifesto in December 2019.

      One wonders how many people realise the extent of Tory involvement with Change UK and, by way of editor Katharine Viner, diplomatic editor Patrick Wintour (brother of Anna “nuclear” Wintour, husband of the Times’ Rachel Sylvester and son of the Evening Standard editor Charles), Boris Johnson’s sister in law Amelia Gentleman (married to Jo, all at Oxford), and columnist Jonathan Freedland, its main media cheerleader, the Grauniad.

      As soon as Corbyn announced his bid for leadership in the summer of 2015, the Grauniad quartet met Cameron. Within days, the ritual smears began and, after the leadership victory by Corbyn, the leaks and talk of a split began.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        In so many ways, the UK is mirroring US politics these days, with soft left liberals seeing their real job as fighting the left and progressivism. I had some hopes for Starmer, but I see the cynics have largely been right about him.

        The only cause I see for UKers to be more optimistic than USasians is that at least some of the UK establishment understand that if you treat the great unwashed with complete contempt, they will bite back, so they realise the importance of keeping some sort of social contract. The US establishment don’t even seem to have that level of strategic awareness.

        Once again, we come back to electoral systems. I don’t believe any system which favours a rigid duopoly of power will ever be genuinely democratic. There is no perfect electoral system, but as minimum it should allow for viable political parties that can represent minority views.

        1. vlade

          On your last point, I believe we can now firmly say that the “big tent” parties are a failure, leading to duopolies that will get taken over (on both sides of the spectrum).

          UK’s politics would have been much much different IMO if you could have say MMP. That way both local politicians could get in (famously, there was a pol in the NZ who pretty much always won his district, but as a party they got sub-0.5%), as well as all-country parties. Yes, the likes of Farage’s Brexit party would have got in when they got 10+%. So what? Tories now look like his Brexit party en-masse, and there’s no space for anyone else.

          Yes, it leads to coalitions. What’s wrong with that? People know that life is a compromise, so why should not politics be like life, but instead of an artificial winner-takes all?

          1. PlutoniumKun

            Absolutely. Coalitions can be horrible (just look at the one in Austria, where the far right are worming their way into power), but thats just a reflection of politics. I think it seems inevitable that big tent parties get assimilated and controlled by their own elites, or outside elites. Just look at what is happening to the SNP.

            The best you can hope for I think is a genuinely good leader. The South Koreans are fortunate in that they have Moon, the leader of the generally soft left governing party – he is slowly but surely putting in place better policies. The same in NZ and Taiwan to an extend. But his party itself isn’t really all that different from UK Labour or the Democrats it its nature.

            The various coalitions we’ve had in Ireland are not great, but they aren’t the horror stories they’d be if any one of the centre right parties had sole control (its basically the two centre/centre right parties with the Greens as minority partner). My twitter feed is full of complaints from left and green activists about how the Green leadership is ‘propping up’ bad right wing policies. They never explain how it is that a party with 10% of the vote is supposed to dominate parties with more than 50% of the vote. If people wanted a left wing/green government more of them would have voted for left wing/green parties. Unfortunately, they didn’t.

            1. Terry Flynn

              I think Ireland would have better coalitions and it’s just the special case of the historic Fine Fail-Fine Gael fight plus “not enough historical experience of a non-Westminster system” that has led to oddities. I think that over time, electorates do gain “institutional knowledge” and you get more sensible coalitions. It’s still not THAT long since the good friday agreement was signed and it’ll take perhaps another generation for things to settle.

              1. PlutoniumKun

                For all its faults, the Irish electoral system (proportional representation on multi-seat constituencies) is very effective at encouraging thoughtful strategic voting. As an example, its clear that many FG and FF voters gave preferences to the Greens to boost their vote as potentially more palatable coalition partners than other left wing parties.

                Its not unique to PR systems – in Northern Ireland, the voters can be highly sophisticated in how they use their votes (mostly to block parties they don’t like), but PR allows subtlety in how you use your vote. For whatever reason, you rarely see that sort of sophistication in Britain – I suspect primarily because the Tories and Labour resist any attempt at encouraging strategic voting.

                If you are nerdy enough to look closely at vote transfers after Irish elections you can clearly see patterns in how people are thinking. The Greens benefited from a lot of transfers from people clearly seeing them as partner material for their favoured party. On the other hand, a lot of Sinn Fein transfers flew out quite randomly, indicating to me that it was a bit of an ‘FU’ vote from disgruntled supporters of other parties.

                1. Terry Flynn

                  At the risk of referencing people in my field (but who I never directly worked with), I have always been curious about how most-least voting would work. It is designed to “make people think explicitly only about who they really value and who they really hate” rather than encourage ‘FU’ voting as seen in full rankings.

                  It differs from existing ranked voting in a mathematically obscure but practically important way – namely that the ‘least’ votes get exactly the same weight as the ‘most’ votes.

                  SF really have to think about who they consider most acceptable (and least) acceptable and they can’t have their cake and eat it.

                  1. PlutoniumKun

                    To an extent STV works a little like that. One striking feature of Irish elections – a positive or a negative depending on your point of view – is that it tends to favour ‘likeable’ politicians over others. Its been said of the Irish parliament that it might not be the most efficient Parliament in the world, but its certainly the most fun on a Friday night.

                    Being able to choose within as well as outside parties, and to vote strategically, means that generally dislikable candidates fall by the wayside, as well as those seen as ideologically extreme. The result is a lot of vaguely wishy washy centrist, and often quite dimwitted elected representatives, many of whose main qualification is an inability to say no to anything.

          2. ChrisPacific

            Yes, it leads to coalitions. What’s wrong with that? People know that life is a compromise, so why should not politics be like life, but instead of an artificial winner-takes all?

            The nature of proportional systems and coalitions is that you can only get anything done if you can rally a significant majority of voters to support it. While that might sound constraining, and means that things can take a long time, it’s really the only way to achieve lasting change. Under FPP systems it’s quite possible for a government to ram something through against the wishes of the majority, but it’ll just get reversed by the other lot a few years later when they get in.

            An example here is the capital gains tax, or lack thereof, which is the subject of a lot of ire directed against the Prime Minister right now for not using the levers of power to implement it (and breaking her promise not to). The problem is that it’s still not supported by enough of the electorate to become, and reliably remain, law. That’s the fundamental problem that needs to be solved before we can do it, not the unwillingness of the PM to act in a sufficiently autocratic fashion. For a successful example, you can look at the fight for legalization of gay marriage in the US, which was not part of the policy of either of the major parties until public opinion shifted to the point where it was a foregone conclusion.

  2. PlutoniumKun

    Re: the UK and the furlough scheme, on a broader sense the government seems to be in some chaos. Power is draining from Johnson by the day as everyone is jockeying for position for what is assumed to be a Spring exit. They are genuinely stunned by Trumps loss, and they can’t work out what this means for the UK’s position in the world, they just know its bad news. Cummings seems to be the big loser, he looks to be getting the blame by senior Tories for everything thats gone wrong (they can’t blame Johnson as everyone remembers they voted for him).

    Sunak did very well in the initial stage of the pandemic, but he seems to have reverted to type, and has caused more confusion than anything else with his u-turns over the furlough scheme. The UK actually responded very well economically to the first wave and did a lot to protect small businesses, but so much of that good work looks be being undone, and I think Sunak’s star has waned somewhat as he is caught in the usual crossfire between pragmatics and austerity fundamentalists.

    I think its going to be a very bad winter for the UK, and the Tories – they’ve been too late to stop the second Covid wave getting a grip and have likely laid the groundwork for a third one in late spring. Johnson will be desperate for a legacy – this has to be Brexit – but which way he will leap is anyones guess. Negotiations are essentially over – the EU know everything is now down to internal UK politics, so are in ‘take it or leave it’ mode. If I was to make a guess, I think that a no-deal is more likely, as the Tories will calculate that the chaos will be time limited, and a no-deal is the only way to stop the party tearing itself apart, as a deal will just mean we go through the whole thing again in a couple of years.

    1. vlade

      I also believe no-deal very likely, or, (*gasp*) a “trade deal in name only”.

      Sunak miscalculated, and while it may not cost him as much in the Tory world, outside that he’s not the golden boy anymore. The late extension of the furlough is too late, as businesses already started laying off, so it’s not going to help much. There’s little to no help for self-employed, and a new tax review, urging for more fair CGT is on. Plenty of ammunition for Labour, should they wish to use it (and they will, at least verbally, because Sunak is more dangerous to them than Johnson now).

      Cummings lost one of his largest supporters now as well, as a lot of senior Tories see it as the begining of the end of Cummings. Given that Cummings, for all his failings was the one who was pushing Tories towards help to the north workers (at least verbally), I don’t think that the take-over of the northern wall may last.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Yes, from a quick scan of the news today it looks like the Tories might well be getting into civil war mode. What lovely timing for the country. Cummings time seems to be nearing its end – I wonder if he’ll go down quietly or decide to pull the roof down off the house as he leaves. He is such a malicious little man there is no guessing what he is capable of.

        The most horrifying thing is that Cummings may not actually be the worst – people like Priti Patel may well be worming their way into positions of real power.

        1. Olivier

          Speaking of Priti Patel and Rishi Sunak, I am nonplussed by the number of Tory ministers with ethnic-sounding names, which seems like a relatively recent thing. Have the Tories really gotten so woke?

          1. PlutoniumKun

            Our friend the good Colonel Smithers would no doubt be able to tell you more on this topic, but for many years the Tory party have had a large number of East Asian members – the influx from certain parts of the ex colonies in the mid 20th Century were of very right wing business people and property owners who found the Conservatives their natural home. They are the UK equivalent of Cuban or Korean Americans (note that some of the flakiest far right recent Republicans elected to congress are Kor-Americans).

            The Tories have often loved to rub Labours nose in the fact that they’ve been far more open to been led by women and various minorities, so long as they are not of the Celtic or Carribean variety. And they have a point.

        2. Terry Flynn

          Meanwhile the local Labour party here have just gone into civil war. When I told the membership secretary my one year membership (as somewhat of a “test of the waters”) was not going to be renewed and that as the only Gen X person who I saw at the branch meeting and the “agendas” I didn’t think Starmer was going down the right path, rather than correct me on any factual inaccuracies I was told she was quitting too.

          Reading between the lines, she and a bunch of others think we’ve got Blair 2.0 and it’s time to bail.

          1. Clive

            Yes, same in my CLP. Age-old factionalism which I thought we’d put paid to is now back, big, better and badder than ever.

            As one of the “old guard” (well, those members who aren’t hopeless Blairites) I’m trying to be neutral and simply state my views about becoming (or reverting back to) a party of metropolitan elites, for the metropolitan elites with policies defined by the metropolitan elites — and that Blair got away with it, but that was probably a one-time-only thing. As you say, there’s an influx of professional career-hunting newbies looking to hitch their wagons to this old horse. Cue, again, as you say, a brewing civil war. I’m patient and will put up with all sorts of rubbish, but if they think I’m trudging the pavements trying to drum up support from voters who (in my pretty hopeless-case constituency in the Conservative heartlands) can get the Real Deal from the Tories if they want this kind of thing, they’re in for a bitter disappointment.

            I knew Starmer would be a bit of a menace, but my goodness, that didn’t take long, did it?

            1. Terry Flynn

              Thanks for replying. I stated in my emails that I just felt disappointment at Starmer, not anger. I don’t want to be a mud-slinger. I do believe he has good intentions – as does my Labour local Councillor (gay like me and going for the NEC and definitely has fought for all constituents).

              Trouble is, I just feel as if Starmer (and by extension my councillor) are chasing mythical and notoriously unreliable millennials on identity politics. I really don’t care about that and I know suffering local people here don’t. I used a phrase like “What happened to Starmer 1.0 who fought McDonalds? His “pro student” collegiate with Boris approach was a public health disaster we predicted. This is very very sad.”

    2. Clive

      There’s plenty of heat being turned up on everyone over Brexit and the FTA.

      Both the DUP (no surprise there) and Sinn Féin (which is a surprise of sorts, but while it’s easy to love the EU when you don’t have to actually deal with it in a serious getting-anything-done capacity, even the most Moonie-like True Believers can find their ardour cooling if there’s essential work to be done on a deadline) have — in a rare display of public solidarity — said, in diplomatic language, you need to stop your messin’ around.

      Barnier to Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neil? “Drop dead” (or a similarly diplomatic version of it).

      Then we’ve got good old Micheal Martin waffling on as only he can, with all the usual fretting (“you’ll be ruined! ruined I say!”) which pre-COVID-19 might have meant something, but looking out on a UK economy which has gyrated crazily with a 20% GDP fall then a 15% raise within the space of a mere three quarters, means the prospect of something causing some supposed ruination will just have to take a number and join the queue. Brexit, deal or no deal, barely moves the dial now. Certainly in terms of political perception. This goes for both the UK and the EU.

      And no-one believes in yet another hard end date (this time, it’s supposed to be the end of next week) — but we’ve been here many times before.

      So, wake me up when it’s (almost) over.

  3. Alex

    Regarding the Karabakh war, I mostly agree with the assessment here https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-54903869 – basically Russia has managed to achieve a tolerable outcome and will have a leverage against both Armenia and Azerbaijan thanks to the peacekeeping force. However it’s also a fact that Turkey’s influence has grown a lot, Erdogan has demonstrated that he is ready to support his allies and the Turkish drones proved really effective. It appears that Armenians have been unbelievably careless – they could have fortified the border and laid minefields in these 26 years since the previous war – and if the war had dragged on it would probably have saved them.

    As I wrote earlier, I travelled once in the sparsely populated north-west of Karabakh and it makes me very sad that the people in whose houses I lived and who were extremely hospitable will now be expelled.

    1. Cocomaan

      Turkey had been really aggressive over the past few years. Their involvement with Libya was a real demonstration that they no longer feel constrained.

      Payback for not letting them into the euro zone.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      Yes – the Armenians are the big losers – they have a large and quite politically influential population in the US, one wonders what the impact of this will be on Biden’s new policies.

      I think that while tactically it has favoured Turkey, strategically its a set back. The Russians have again strengthened their position and its made the Turks even more unpopular with the US and NATO. Turkey is increasingly running out of important allies, Erdogan is not personally trusted by anyone, and they have potential conflicts on multiple fronts, thats not a good situation for a relatively poor country.

  4. David

    I suppose I had better say something about the French story, in case anyone is inclined to take it seriously. Apologies to those who have read me saying some of these things before.

    This is not about Muslims as such, and it’s not about Islam as such. The government has no interest in targeting the country’ sizeable Muslim population, and there are no signs it is doing so. There has been a lot of solidarity expressed by the Muslim population since the murders, and the National Council of Muslims, the Rectors of all the main Mosques and many Muslim intellectuals have supported the government’s action. The rector of the Grand Mosque in Paris came out with a swingeing endorsement of the government in Le Monde. This is hardly surprising, because he and his colleagues are on the same death list as Paty, because they acknowledge the existence of the Republic and obey its laws, which is a deadly sin for these fanatics. Intellectuals like Boualem Sansal, the exiled Algerian novelist, have been complaining for years that the Left in France is happy to support religious obscurantism at home, but not leftist intellectuals who have been murdered or forced to flee the country (as he was) by death threats.

    Who are these head-choppers? We are dealing here not with Islam as such, no matter how extreme, but with Political Islam, a modern political theory, originating with the Muslim Brothers in the 1920s, and found today in a rather different form in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and a much more extreme form among the numerous Islamic State franchises. In contrast to the traditional quietism of Islam (even among the Salafis), which accepted secular political systems, Political Islam (“Islamism”) puts the Koran and the Hadith above any secular laws. Both the laws of the country and the behaviour of its citizens must conform to this model, and Muslims abroad who obey the laws of a secular state are apostates, deserving of punishment, including death. Most of France’s Muslim population comes from the Maghreb and the Sahel, where these traditions are not found: they have been imported from the Gulf and Turkey, with Imams paid for by the governments of those countries as a form of soft power. (Qatar, a major dispatcher of Imams to France has a significant stake in the French economy, has massive property holdings and owns the Paris St-Germain football team. It’s all part of the same policy). This has resulted in radical changes to the lives of French Muslims, as the freedoms that many of them came to France to enjoy are being increasingly cut off).

    There is no threat to “academic freedom” apart from that from the Islamists. French schools are expected to teach the values of the Republic. Recently, and largely as a result of IdPol influence from across the Atlantic, they have gone in for historical revisionism, and young people are now likely to learn more about the evils of slavery and Empire than the Revolution. Nonetheless, French schools are secular and you can discuss religion but not promote any particular one. Over the last twenty years though, Islamist influence through the mosques has produced aggressive and sometimes violent challenges to freedom of discussion in schools. In the view of the Islamists, schools should not be allowed to teach or practice anything that conflicts with their literalist understanding of Islam. Teaching the theory of Evolution is heresy, conducting mixed swimming lessons is morally unacceptable, and so pressure has been put on schools to stop doing so. One of the more positive effects of the Paty atrocity has been a realisation of for how long and to what extent, those in power have allowed this to happen, all the time telling teachers not to “make waves.”

    Islamo-gauchism is a well-known thing. It’s an extreme form of IdPol in which a faction of the Left has found another group it can patronise and on whose behalf it claims to speak. It leads to the ludicrous situation of radical lesbian feminists marching side by side with imams who believe in throwing lesbians off roofs. There are signs now, though, that some of the Left are beginning to realise that they’ve been had by Islamic radicals, just as happened before in Iran and Tunisia. Olivier Faure, the head of Socialist Party, came out strongly in support of the government, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who actually went so far as to march with the Islamists, has done a screeching 180 degree turn and is now their enemy (he has realised, of course, that they’d be quite happy to see him killed as well). Actual opposition is pretty much limited to those with a financial or professional stake in the “struggle against Islamophobia.” There’s also a wider community which worries, quite reasonably, about the effect on human rights and community tensions. Various organisations which were fronts for Political Islam have indeed been disbanded, and few (even in the Muslim community) regret this.

    There is one problem, though, which is not mentioned and which is genuinely disturbing. A significant proportion of French Muslims have been exposed to these ideas for several decades now, and opinion polls suggest that the young, increasingly, accept the Islamist position that you should not obey a law that conflicts with your religious beliefs, and that you are justified in forcing those beliefs on others. If polls are to be trusted, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Muslims are at least sympathetic to this view. Yes, more can be done through education, job opportunities, social investment and so on, but the harm has already been done. I can’t think of a precise analogy, but imagine that there were millions of catholics, say, in the US, who refused to obey secular laws and believed violence against unbelievers was not merely permitted but required. But there we are: a generation of not making waves, and you get a tsunami.

    Apologies for the length of this, but it’s only scratching the surface.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Thanks for this. I remember back in the 1990’s when I used to regularly pass the Saddam Hussein mosque in north Birmingham, and an impressive building it was too. Somewhat belatedly, the security establishment realised that his funding of moderate Islam was the only counterweight to the Wahhabist mosques funded by ‘our friends’ in SA and UAE and Qatar.

      I’ve had muslim friends who have told me with horror of meeting younger relatives in Europe who have embraced a brand of Islam far more radical than their families at home – in some cases, their parents left precisely because they wanted to live in a more secular society. Its instructive to read some histories from the mid-20th Century and earlier to see just how open and secular many Middle Eastern societies (including parts of western Saudi Arabia or countries like Yemen and Afghanistan) were before the rise of oil funded Wahhabists and external intervention (not just from the West, the Soviets made a horrible mess in their muslim hinterlands as well). Such a terrible missed opportunity.

    2. DJG

      David: Thanks for this. I think that one of the most important matters that you point out is that the majority of French Muslims are from the Maghreb–Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, which have different traditions. Islam is less militant in the Maghreb–although the experience of the horrors of civil war caused by militants certainly looms large among the Algerians in France.

      Further, many of the Muslims in France from the Maghreb are Berbers, who have plenty of differences with the Arab world.

      You mentioned groups in the U S of A not obeying the law for religious reasons, but then we have Mike Pence, who considers himself a “Christian” first, a conservative second, and a Republican third. All overlaid with the joy of being Tartuffe.

      Many in the U S of A have some weird idea that laïcité is somehow oppressive because the French government limits use of religious symbols. This is the usual U.S. imposition of U.S. racial and social hysteria on the rest of the world. It’s amazing how much time Americans have to spend listening to religious blubbering, let alone the endless intoning of “Amazing Grace” as some kind of cultural norm: It would be a real advantage here in the U.S. if we didn’t have to.

      1. Carolinian

        In the Links I mentioned Taibbi’s talk from yesterday. He also talks about how utterly disconnected “secular” liberals are from religious people and how they lately seem to create their own religion around idpol dogmas. Taibbi says one reason for the rise of Trump is the degree to which people in the heartland feel disrespected by the elites and their knee jerk condemnation of other people’s non rational beliefs while desperately clinging to their own (Russiagate much?).

        The article I link below makes the important point that “Islamism”–the militant and sometimes terrorist form of fundamental Islam–is often more a response to social conditions than anything to do with religion. Thus the overclass condemns the religious crazies while refusing to address the underlying conditions that often lead to radicalism. Here in the US it may only be different as a matter of degree. It’s easy for Obama–speaking to a group of rich San Francisco donors–to dismiss the “bitter clingers with their guns and religion” as a way of dismissing their very real dissatisfaction with our capitalist utopia. I can hardly claim to be any sort of expert on France but here’s suggesting that Macron is reading from the same neoliberal playbook.

        1. fwe'zy

          Not at all discounting David’s very informative posts. My general impression aligns with your last paragraph:

          The article I link below makes the important point that “Islamism”–the militant and sometimes terrorist form of fundamental Islam–is often more a response to social conditions than anything to do with religion. Thus the overclass condemns the religious crazies while refusing to address the underlying conditions that often lead to radicalism. Here in the US it may only be different as a matter of degree. It’s easy for Obama–speaking to a group of rich San Francisco donors–to dismiss the “bitter clingers with their guns and religion” as a way of dismissing their very real dissatisfaction with our capitalist utopia. I can hardly claim to be any sort of expert on France but here’s suggesting that Macron is reading from the same neoliberal playbook.

          Eg, destruction of Libya because Gaddafi dared to too-generously distribute social wellbeing.

      2. David

        Yes, there was a big influx of Algerians in the 1990s and after to get away from the violence of the GIA, and the increasing Islamisation of the country that followed the end of the war. To their horror, the same fanatics have followed them to France. And you’re right about the Berbers (Kabyle) for whom it’s the Arabs and later the Turks who were the real colonial power. (Data point: every Algerian taxi driver I’ve ever had in France has been a Berber, and they’ve been happy to give me a long list of their grievances).

        1. Bazarov


          I have some questions for you–so it was, uh, a bit of shock how well Mélenchon did during the last presidential election in France. I know that he’s kind of a weird eccentric, a loose cannon, but I found his message somewhat attractive (me being in the US), as he in the past called for a “new Republic” hashed out by a constituent assembly. He ran against the authoritarian, president-focused (with the ability to pass laws be decree!) 5th Republic.

          Because our system in the US is so hopelessly bad/antiquated, I’ve long yearned for a political movement rooted in the desire for a new constitution. Of course, it’s far easier to get a “new Republic” in France, with its history of, well, new republics.

          Do you think Mélenchon will run on that again? Do you think the call for a new Republic had anything to do with his surprising performance in the last presidential election? Or was it a “flash in the pan” type deal, entirely separate from the promise of a new constitution? Do you think Mélenchon will surprise again?

          1. David

            OK, first, the “Sixth Republic” meme has been around for a long time, and it’s supported with particular fervour by which ever party happens to be out of power at any given time. The problem is that every political system in France since 1789 is essentially a reaction against its predecessor. So the Fifth Republic was a reaction against the Fourth, which was an ultra-parliamentary regime of unstable and short-lived governments that collapsed under its own weight in 1958. The Fourth Republic was a reaction against the authoritarian Vichy regime … you get the picture. On the other hand, the Fifth Republic (which has become more parliamentary over the years for various reasons) is the most successful and stable regime the country has ever had, so it’s not something to throw away lightly. The French have historically been against whichever political system they have, until it fails, when they look back on it with nostalgia. And no, that’s not a cheap shot.

            On Mélenchon, his good showing in 2017 was partly the weakness of the Socialists (essentially destroyed under Hollande’s Presidency), partly Mélenchon’s own relatively charismatic status, and partly general fed-upness, which translated into increased support for non-standard parties (including Macron’s). But that was the high point, and he’s lost support since then (he’s somewhere around 10%) because of personality flaws and a general realignment of French politics. He has a massive ego and a defective autonomous bullshit detector. He refused to participate in a Gilets jaunes demonstration on the basis that Macron would try to have him assassinated if he did, for example, which evoked laughter from across the political spectrum. He also leads, if that’s the word, a shambles of a party which contains wildly divergent tendencies, and he’s more or less forced to take anyone who wants to be a member, so he’s continually being embarrassed by idiots. He took part, as I mentioned, in a so-called “Islamophobia” march last year, not because he wanted to but because, among his wilder elements, there was some who would have accused him of “Islamophobia” if he hadn’t. After the recent slaughters, this looks like one of the biggest political errors of modern European politics. Unless something extraordinary happens, I don’t see him coming back now, and the most likely scenario for 2022 is still a fragmented Left, busy with its traditional hobby of stabbing each other n the back. The trendy PMC leftists have now largely decamped to the Greens.

    3. Olivier

      Thanks, David. I found the bit of french nonsense extremely irritating, too, but could not be bothered to eviscerate it. Fact is: after the UK and US, France is one of the most woke and deranged western countries (and a sorry mess, too), with the extra unfortunate distinction of having the most powerful jewish lobby after the US and a regime: the fifth republic, at the end of its tether. Take everything from or about that place with a grain of salt.

    4. elissa3

      Thanks again for your insights, David. As a former resident of France, many, many years ago, I have been an admirer of the country’s institutional secularism birthed in the Revolution and improved in the early 20th century. I was somewhat disappointed to hear of Melenchon’s error, as in the last presidentielles I thought he was the most interesting of all the candidates.

      I know it’s early days, but I’d be interested in learning of your views on the 2022 landscape. You’ve written that Macron has made many errors, starting with the gilets jaunes, but I just don’t see the right (Le Pen family in the forefront) as getting a majority. Are there any Young Turk leftists who bear watching?

      1. David

        Well, behind the trivia of Covid and terrorism, the French political class is consumed with this question. As things stand, I’m predicting a run-off between Le Pen (whose support has increased recently) and a candidate from the conventional Right, probably Philippe or Bertrand. A lot of Macron’s support outside the PMC is soft, and he’s losing it partly to the Greens and partly to the traditional Right, and partly just to abstention. It’s not at all sure he’ll be in the second round. On the Left, alas, we have the shambles that is the Greens (though Jadot is a capable politician and may be the “Left” candidate in the first round), and Mélenchon, who I think, is a busted flush. Olivier Faure, the Socialist leader has had a good sequence of islamist atrocities, and if there’s any figure who might rebuild the Left it’s him but doing it in 18 months is pretty tough.

    5. drumlin woodchuckles

      Thank you for this comment. That article made me wonder if I had somehow misunderstood what I was seeing with my own lying eyes.

      When the ClintoBama Administration was supporting the same kind of people against the Arab Republic of Syria, I invented the acronyms GAJ ( Global Axis of Jihad) and CLEJ ( Cannibal Liver-Eating Jihadi) for the organizing supporting parties and for their pet jihadistas on the ground. They are re-emerging within France and it is well that they be firmly crushed and snuffed out of existence before they become numerous enough to launch a bloody insurgency within France.

  5. Jessica

    As a complete outsider, I wonder how is it that the Tories in the UK can be governing so poorly yet not be in political trouble? Is this just because the unified anti-Corbyn campaign gave them a unique political space (until they lose all their new northern seats in 5 years)? Or is there a substantial mass base for exactly what is going on? It is almost as though everyone knows that the UK is going to take a big fall and those who see the damage done to other people not themselves are satisfied enough with that outcome to let the nation go over the cliff.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      A simple answer would be that the reasons are broadly the same that inept Republicans and Democrats keep getting elected. In a first past the post electoral system, the voters choice is gradually constrained as the small number of political parties get dominated by self serving elites and the system rots from the head down.

      The deeper answer is more complex, and I can’t pretend to know for sure the reason. Partly, its because the Tory party is very skilled at one thing – survival. It is particularly good at tapping into English nationalist sentiment (never in name, but it is a real thing). The Scots and Welsh have long ago rejected the Tories, and to an increasing extent, Labour too. The Tory establishment has been very good at persuading a good chunk of working people that they are part of the establishment and should vote accordingly.

      The other reason is a combination of luck and the ineptness of the Labour Party. Sadly, Corbyn was no Sanders – he was a creature of factionalism within the broader UK left who rose to power through a freak of good fortune. He never had the political nous or personality to persuade a significant proportion of the centre to vote for him. Obviously, the collective weight of the media and establishment (as well as the treachery of his own supposed colleagues) didn’t work, but he was also simply not someone people could see as leader. Ultimately, people chose the devil they know (its worth pointing out of course that only a relatively small proportion of the population actually cast a vote for the Tories, but thats how the system works).

      As to why people are tolerating so much overt incompetence, thats a different matter. Much comes down to the media and exceptionalism. Quite simply, I don’t think its quite sunk in yet with most of the UK population just how incredibly bad their government really is. It’s one thing to have a malign, right wing government, its quite another thing to have one made up of a mass collective of Dunning Kruger case studies. There is a vast right wing media telling everyone that white is black and the world is upside down. The BBC has twisted itself into irrelevance. The decay in the economy has been slow, so many people are like a frog in the pan, not quite realising that they are getting cooked. And unfortunately, nobody is really pointing out, in a coherent way, that the emperor has no clothes, there is no real alternative now that Labour has chosen a path of keeping its collective mouth shut and hoping that power falls into their laps.

      For a deeper read, I’d recommend searching out Fintan O’Toole’s various articles in the NYRB and the Guardian, I think that his outside eye is quite astute at identifying the core cultural weaknesses within the UK system, and why they are coming to a head now.

    2. Clive

      It worth also considering that perhaps 50% of the people are simply weary of the — at best — somewhat overstated rhetoric from the non-Conservative opposition about “going off a cliffs”, “ruinations”, “catastrophes”, “third-world pariahs” and similar.

      We’ve had a 20% decline in GDP as a result of COVID-19 responses. If that isn’t a real, genuine, falling off a cliff, I don’t know what is. A lot of die-hard Remain’ers often say that the responses don’t go far enough and are espousing for (questionably effective) even more drastic lockdowns for even more lengthy periods of time. So it’s hard to assign credibility to pressure groups who are dead keen on one sort of falling off a cliff for one set of reasons but are dead set against another sort of falling off a cliff for another different set of reasons.

      Labour has poor message discipline on both COVID-19 responses and a post-Brexit political landscape (it hasn’t really begun to come to terms with that U.K. has left the EU and ain’t ever ever ever going back, at least not in our political lifetimes). Voters don’t tend to flock to political parties who can neither respond to the issues of the day in anyway other than opposition-for-oppositions’ sakes fashions nor reconcile themselves to to a fundamental shift in the political landscape other than to stick its ideological head in the sand.

  6. Carolinian

    “This has now become a big movement, led by the French government, to intervene in academic freedom of speech… basically it’s saying academia has to reflect republican values, and what that means is you have to present a history of your nation which doesn’t talk about colonialism, doesn’t talk about genocide… restricts itself to ‘we’re in favour of the republic… and against Muslims’.”

    In other words claims that displays of offensive cartoons are about “free speech” were always hooey and indeed a provocation against a disfavored religious minority. It goes without saying that liberal, free speech loving France once had a strong anti-Semitic streak as evidenced by the Dreyfuss affair and climaxing in the horrific Holocaust collaboration during WW2. Films like The Sorrow and the Pity generated national shame and outrage over this but it sounds like the tendency has merely transferred to a different religion where the actions of some are blamed on all by Macron. At least that’s reportedly the view from the Muslim world.


    1. David

      Another piece of drek not to read. See above . What you’ve got here is the equivalent of the TDS bitter-enders talking about Russia. I’ll see if there’s anything more reliable in English I can link to.

      1. Carolinian

        Please do. But are you saying that the article I linked–which says that Arab countries and not just Turkey are offended by Macron’s statements and boycotting French goods–is incorrect in this?

        1. David

          The article is not wrong in saying that, but in Turkey , at least, it’s fairly clear that the protests are officially inspired (indeed in most of these countries, and Pakistan is another example, pretty much all protests against foreign powers are inspired by some faction or other.) Turkey (or at least Erdogan) is a big supporter of the Muslim Brothers, and promotion of political islam is a major part of his foreign policy, not least because of the bitter competition with Saudi Arabia to be top Sunni state. Quite a few of the extremist Imams in France are from Turkey. I haven’t visited anything like the whole of the Muslim world, but it’s worth adding that, for historical and cultural reasons that date back to Ottoman times, conspiracy and paranoia on a scale undreamt of by even Hilary Clinton on Russia, are the norm among all classes in many parts of it. The sentiment of being continually under attack my mysterious forces and dark conspiracies (frequently zionist) lends itself to this sort of reaction, which, of course, is eagerly encouraged by the corrupt and repressive governments concerned.

          Incidentally, this isn’t really a case of bad social conditions producing religious extremism. What we had in 2005 were genuine riots produced by neglect of the rotting suburbs, but they were not religious. More recently, it’s been Salafist and Islamic State propaganda that has done the job, and recent attacks have been carried out by religious extremists who certainly aren’t looking for increased expenditure on social services: they’re looking for the end of the world. And the last three attacks were carried out respectively by a Pakistani, a Chechen, and a Tunisian who had never been in France until the day he arrived to kill some worshippers at a church in Nice.

          1. Carolinian

            The article I linked said that in Egypt people are boycotting French goods because they are mad about what Macron said and about France thinking it’s ok to show naked cartoons of Mohammed, not because anyone in the government is telling them to do so–just the opposite. While I have spent time in France that was a long time ago and I can’t claim to know much about contemporary conditions. But perhaps you can agree that the “they hate us for our freedoms” defense of Charlie Hebdo etc doesn’t cut much ice after George W. Bush used it to excuse hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq. And more recently in Syria we have good reason to believe that the rebellion there was fueled by Western governments as well as Arab rivals and more hundreds of thousands died in the name of intervention. The Chechen who committed the original attack was tied to those “moderate” rebels was he not?

            Then there’s Libya where French intervention was directly the engine of yet another wrecked country and many of those refugees that Europeans are complaining about come from North Africa.

            So, no, the French are not simply innocent victims here and the Arabs are not merely paranoid if they think historical imperialists, along my own country of course, are messing with them yet again.

            1. David

              I think it’s helpful, to distinguish two things here. I don’t know what’s in the minds of Egyptian demonstrators, and it may be that there are some who are genuinely incensed by third-hand reports of what was going on in France. It may also be that, since Egypt was the birthplace of the Muslim Brothers, and they are still very powerful in spite of being evicted from government by the Army, they may have had something to do with it. But the whole cartoon thing is a fairly cynical pretext for mobilisation: it’s the equivalent of the Afghan girl shot in the face by the Taliban and subsequently paraded around the media and at the UN. French policy in the Middle East has been as misguided and destructive as that of any western power, especially over Libya, and Hollande’s government got Syria catastrophically wrong, thinking that Assad would fall soon. There are tensions in France between different groups, as in most countries, and there are complicated love-hate relationships with former colonies, although ordinary Maghrebians tend to see France as the land of opportunity, much as Mexicans see the US.

              But this is not about that. It’s not about “France” vs “Islam” or about ex-colonies or the former Empire. It has nothing to do with any clash of civilisations. Political Islam began in Egypt and has shown up in different forms in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Iran, before taking power briefly in Egypt and Tunisia, turning really nasty in Iraq and Syria and now wreaking havoc in Mali and Nigeria, as well as being used as a political weapon by countries such as Turkey and Qatar. Its first and main victims have always been Muslims, and one of its main targets is the Muslim community in Europe, which it wants to radicalise and convert into a political bloc under its control. France has the largest Muslim community in Europe, and is the main target for this apocalyptic death cult, which is feared and detested by the average Muslim. France is also a completely secular state by its Constitution, but other European states which have communitarian politics and no church-state division have also suffered: – most recently Austria of course.

              1. Carolinian

                And why did it start in Egypt. Here’s what the Consortium News author has to say

                Islamism is a product of Western interference in the Middle East to begin with.

                From the early days of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which had a relationship with British intelligence, Western powers have often used violent Islamist groups against U.S. enemies in the region.

                The U.S. worked with Gulf Arab countries for much of the Cold War to arm and finance Islamist radicals to combat communist and socialist forces in the region (from Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1950s and 1960s, to the communists later in Yemen and Afghanistan)

                And accusations of a separatist conspiracy are not new either.

                That Macron links world Muslims to a single Chechen murderer is to hold all Muslims responsible for the murders of each and every individual Muslim. This has been exactly the method of anti-Semites against Jews.

                Macron invoked a new term, “Islamic separatism,” blaming Muslims for living in certain quarters while the segregation is largely class-based. Historically, Christian Europeans put Jews in ghettoes and then blamed them, and attacked them, for living in ghettos.

                You seem reluctant to agree that Macron, who you freely criticized over the yellow vests, is acting badly or cynically here. Obviously I couldn’t say one way or the other but there seem to be some Arab commentators who think that he is.

          2. Olivier

            Turkey is indeed the land of conspiracy theories. To get the flavor you can read for instance the article Subtergenekon and Other Crimes by Claire Berlinski in City Journal. She lived in Istambul at the time and for several years; I found her dispatches very worth reading.

        2. David

          That’s not wrong – there’s a longer reply that has fallen foul of the moderation demon, but will hopefully emerge soon.

    2. Geof

      displays of offensive cartoons are about “free speech” were always hooey and indeed a provocation against a disfavored religious minority.

      I see no contradiction here.

      Free speech is often provocative. That’s the point of free speech. Speech that is not provocative, that does not challenge established thought, needs to protection. Provocation per se is not a problem.

      Let’s agree that a group being disfavoured is bad. Though in any society I expect minority religious groups are going to be disfavoured, and good luck drawing a bright line between religions and cults. Remember when the U.S. was defending the “religious freedom” of Scientology?

      Why should we take this speech so seriously? Who decided that this speech should be forbidden? Is it self-evident? I don’t think so – you can draw cartoons of Jesus. The group itself? Then it isn’t exactly disfavoured. And such one-sided power over speech is guaranteed to be gamed. Perhaps then the powers-that-be should decide which speech to ban. But making it possible to challenge them is why protecting free speech is so important!

      We don’t ban things just because they are bad. Lying is bad. Cheating on your wife is bad – so bad that it can lead to violence and murder. Should we outlaw lying? Ban philandering? Absolutely not. The government cannot reasonably judge most offensive behaviours. The price of living in a controlled society would far exceed any benefits.

      There are societies (e.g. 1930s Germany, 1990s Rwanda) where speech has lead to genocide. It would be wonderful if a ban on hate speech could prevent such bloodshed. Could it? Such speech laws could never have been upheld in societies that were already so steeped in hate. On the contrary, I suspect speech laws would have been turned around as a weapon to be used against the victims. (Just as affirmative action was used against the Jews of Germany.)

      Say the French dispose of free speech. In a democratic country, which do you think would be more likely to be censored: provocative cartoons, or the unpopular speech of disfavoured minorities?

      Any law restricting speech must have a bias, because it must pick and choose. That bias will almost always side with power. The protection of free speech is universal: it has no bias. Those with power can already speak and do not need it. Free speech sides with the powerless, not the powerful. Yet it cannot make up for every problem and every prejudice. Law cannot solve every problem.

      1. Carolinian

        So France, which freely fines and imprisons some over what they call provocative hate speech, is being consistent in their policy? I don’t believe in censorship myself but I also don’t think we should praise those who go out of their way to belittle other cultures. You don’t hear many around here praising Trump for his provocative fight for free speech re Mexicans. And that’s because Trump is not saying those things out of civil libertarian motives and here’s suggesting that many in France aren’t either or at least that’s how many Muslims seem to see it.

    3. occasional anonymous

      Maybe the head-chopping savages should stop thinking murder is a valid response to being ‘provoked’.

      1. wilroncanada

        occ anon
        You must be referring to “Western democratic” governments, I’m sure. Or perhaps, Israel.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          I am not occasional anonymous, but I suspect he is referring to the Global Axis of Jihad, and the Cannibal Liver-Eating Jihadis. The GAJ and the CLEJ. The hordes of scum who tried to destroy civilization in the Arab Republic of Syria.

          1. occasional anonymous

            I’ll elaborate: I said nothing about Muslims. Yes, I’m talking about self-identified jihadis and their sympathizers.

            You can say a million things about French hypocrisy, and a million more about France (or any other Western country’s) crimes, and they all well may be true. But the response is not to saw an old woman’s head off in a church. The people who would do such a thing are, in fact, barbarians. They’re savages.

            Apparently getting some people to acknowledge this very basic, simple fact is like pulling teeth. I distinctly remember a past round of this same nonsense when the barbaric Charlie Hebdo murders happened. If you think these beheadings are remotely justifiable, you frankly need to be deported from whatever Western country you reside in, because you don’t meet any minimum standard of civilized.

  7. Keith McClary

    The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is expected to be announced at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, which Vietnam is hosting virtually. It will involve the ten member states of the ASEAN bloc – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – as well as their trade partners Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea.

    The new economic bloc will thus represent around a third of the world’s gross domestic product and population.

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