All 40 entries tagged Politics Of Our Time

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February 14, 2008

Wim van de Donk best wel zelfverzekerd katholiek wetenschapper

Writing about web page http://www.roodkoper.nl

Katholiek Nederland komt uit de (boeken)kastLas zo-even een interessant interview met Prof. Van de Donk in tijdschrift Roodkoper.

Ik lees Roodkoper (“tijdschrift voor cultuur, religie en politiek”) weleens online, omdat het een van de weinige opiniebladen is die bijna integraal gratis is te belezen. Bovendien is het weer eens wat anders om opinieschrijven vanuit de religieuze hoek te lezen, en de veelal gerenomeerde besprokenen praten vaak net iets vrijer dan in niet-christelijke publicaties. Plus, het tijdschrift heeft een coole intellectuele cover die op de welkompagina van de website staat.

Van de Donk, voorzitter van de Wetenschappelijke Raad voor het Regeringsbeleid (WRR) is met zijn 46 jaren een redelijk jonge leidinggevende aan een belangrijk overheidsinstituut. Sinds hij daar op zijn post kwam, stelt het blad terecht, kwam ineens het ene na het andere spraakmakende rapport uit. Bijvoorbeeld dat over “de Nederlandse identiteit” (geloof ik de eerste keer dat ik een van mijn vrienden iets over een WRR-rapport hoorde zeggen!), of over “islamitisch activisme”, waarop Hirsi Ali en Wilders zich ineens boos begonnen te maken. Van de Donk reageert hierop desgevraagd met een dosis ironie en wint daarmee gelijk voorlopig mijn sympathie. Een beetje discussie is goed, zegt hij. Maar: “Bij zo’n krantenkop denk ik aan Jan Schaeffer die, geloof ik, ooit eens gezegd heeft: prima jongens, morgen verpakken we de vis erin”.

Over de hele lijn lijkt Van de Donk een man die zijn woorden zorgvuldig kiest (zodanig dat het me opvalt) en tegelijkertijd wel zelfverzekerd een woordje klaar heeft. Zo verklaart hij zonder er doekjes om te winden: “Wij dwingen de macht te leren. Dat is de essentie van onze missie”. Waar dan precies het dwangelement vandaan komt wordt mij niet geheel duidelijk, maar de missie kennen wij nu in elk geval. Zijn ideologie komt uit het katholicisme en dat voelt voor hem vanzelfsprekend. Vanuit een seculier oogpunt heeft hij wel het een en ander te zeggen waarvan het de moeite waard is mentaal notie te nemen. Zo is hij van mening dat de katholieke kerk als sociale en ideologische kracht in deze tijd best zelfverzekerd vanuit de marge mag werken: “Het brede midden van de samenleving is het ingeslapen burgerdom dat vaak alleen nog met zichzelf bezig is, om het provocerend te zeggen”. Hij citeert de titel van een lezing van Govert Buijs om die idee kracht bij te zetten: God is terug – maar voor de kerk is het nog even wennen.

Tenslotte nog even kort het volgende over christelijke broederschap rond de kernen van de centrale macht der natie. Van de Donk, een sociale CDA’er, spreekt zijn respect uit voor de verguisde Ab Klink en zijn ideeën voor de “waanzinnig complexe materie” van de gezondheidszorg. Van Balkenende schreef men uit zijn mond op: “Hij stelt scherpe vraag [sic], en heeft grote belangstelling voor wat wij hier doen. Hij voelt zich thuis onder wetenschappers”. Daar ik voorlopig nog een optimist ben zal ik dit maar zien als een positieve lezing van de voorman van kabinet Balkenende IV.


February 07, 2008

Chicken Factories

Writing about web page http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpbtBgLfl90&feature=related

Broiler ChickenLive Fast Die Young – the Story of a Broiler Chicken” (2007) is a short film made by Compassion in World Farming, an animal welfare organisation. It can be seen on YouTube, and I urge you to take 8 minutes and see it.

It shows quite graphically how meat chicken are born and bred in factories, moved over conveyor belts, being spat out by tubes, stacked in crates – to then be kept in overcrowded spaces where they compete for space, food and water. Each year, millions of meat chicken die outside of the slaughterhouse, from heart failure due to their unhealthily fast growth (the achievements of modern science: chicken can be made to grow several times faster than is natural and sustainable for them), dehydration and starvation. Another couple of million die from overcrowding in the slaughterhouse transports.

Not just the suffering, but the sheer commidification of these animals shocks me. They are in the first place produce, thrown around, handled roughly and kept inside factories from birth to death: becoming meat is the only purpose in the life that human consumers allow them. Modern science and technology have been developed to establish cruel and horrific animal conditions in which only the money economy seems to count. I find it difficult to believe that we still accept such a situation.

So, next time in the supermarket, think before you shop. Don’t support the bioindustry any longer, get organic and free range products.


February 04, 2008

Super Tuesday's Coming!

Superbowl… Super Tuesday… and now… Super Obama Girl! In case you’re like me, a bit clueless about the entire media circus that swings political fates around on a daily basis, perhaps a pop culture approach to the whole thing can clarify a lot. Or maybe you’re just trying harder than Teddy Kennedy to abstain from endorsing any candidate before the primaries. In any case, a little Youtube search was enough to find an alternative political campaign there.

Super Obama Girl

I’ve Got A Crush On Hillary

And, finally as I was suddenly made aware of the fact that there are also still some Europeans backing Republicans (This is true! I met one the other day!), the following. As Obama Girl was becoming quite a hit in the US, other candidates came up with their own thing.

McCain Mama


January 31, 2008

No Platform May Be Necessary

Why I hesitantly feel I must agree with last week’s Boar column on No Platform practices against the BNP.

In last week’s Warwick Boar an opinion writer whose name slipped my mind argued strongly in favour of the so-called No Platform policy which in short argues in favour of excluding the British National Party (BNP) from as many public debates as possible: they should not be granted a platform. Rather than being undemocratic voice oppression, the columnist argued, it is in fact the exercise of one’s own democratic rights which eventually help democracy to stay healthy: in a mass democracy as that of the UK, we choose who we want to listen to (i.e. consider relevant), just as much as we welcome some people into our house and keep others out [NB: my metaphor, not his].

Close as it comes to the truth, things are not entirely so: the house, after all, is the UK, and the BNP is already inside. Similarly, as the author already seemed to hint at, BNP radicals will – even in the face of overwhelming counterevidence and refutation – continue to speak their unchanged minds. Perhaps sadly, extremist nationalism is a pocket that will continue to exist in all countries, but we must be realistic, recognise it as such, and act accordingly.

As a convinced democrat and social liberal, I feel all groups in a society must be heard and let others be heard to come to genuine reflections of the democratic will. This is a condition which applies to all groups, and it serves to keep the body politic healthy. However, what the BNP appears to be doing, seems very much like tactics of the communists in central and eastern European countries after the second world war: play a double game of democracy (broad national platforms, cooperation, etc.) on the one hand, and coercion (infiltration, targetting political opponents and eventual subjection of all parties to their will) on the other. A party seeking to place its own agenda above that of democracy must be handled with velvet gloves.

If what the Boar column states is true, extremists affiliated to the BNP have bombed a leftist bookshop in 1993, continue to target vocal opponents on the internet inciting violence against them, and seeking invitation to debates to foster an image of party equality. In this light, the last practice seems suspiciously much like an infiltration technique through seeking a platform: the acceptable tip of an ugly iceberg.

For me, this seems enough not to invite them into my house. This is the way democracy ought to protect itself against extremist protuberances: through watchfulness and civic decency, which does not always means engaging in discussion. Eventually, No Platform stands or falls with the number of people denying the BNP their platform.


January 30, 2008

Being a Refugee

Writing about web page http://www.covrefugee.org

Refugees along the wayToday I had a workshop on asylum questions in the Coventry Refugee Centre.

We were split into groups and presented with a scenario which we had to elaborate upon. “Imagine the BNP wins the elections in Britain”, it said, “and your situation is no longer safe inside the UK. You decide to flee to Kazakhstan. How would you go about this?”

It seems a pretty absurd question, but with the little training we had had about asylum seekers and their stories, tried to throw ourselves onto the case with as much realism as we could conjure up. And we ran into a lot of trouble even before we had imagined our way out of the country…

Just the following considerations:
- How exactly are you planning to get out of the country (by car, train, boat)? and how quickly?
- Will you fake a passport, try to get out of the country with your existing papers, or try to cross the border illegally? (The first seemed a bit impossible to us, given the hi-tech status of UK passports, the second a bit risky, the third a bit difficult.)
- Where will you go to arrange your way out of the country? (London, Dover, Portsmouth?) And who can you trust?
- What about your wife and children? Can you leave them behind? This seems difficult to feel comfortable with. But fleeing from the country and getting to Kazakhstan with wife and child isn’t easy either.
- How much money do you have at your disposal to pay for people’s (smuggling) services?

From here, a highly complex and stressful picture already comes into existence. And now try to reconcile this with the following likely events upon arrival:

- What will you tell the authorities when you seek asylum? Will you be entirely honest? Will it help your case in front of highly suspicious authorities?
- You will be asked why your documents are fake if they are, and if you can prove your actual identity and nationality. If you do have normal documents, you will be asked how you managed to get out of the country if your situation was under threat?
- They will ask you why you came all the way to Kazakhstan and not to another country? In case you admit to having travelled through other countries before, you will be asked why you didn’t apply for asylum there? (Asylum seekers are obliged to seek asylum in the first safe country they enter.)
- If you let your wife and child follow through a different route, you will be asked why you left them to themselves and did not travel with them? Etc.

After all this, surely we still have no idea what it must be like to be a genuine asylum seeker. An attempt to empathise can only point us in the direction of the experience.


January 24, 2008

Is Identity Relevant for Citizenship? An Instinctive Approach

Writing the above question down, I feel almost instinctively inclined to say: yes, of course, how can we be citizens if we don’t identify ourselves as such? But what does “identifying with” mean? Three meanings come to my mind: the relationship between me and this citizenship, the relationship between my small group and this citizenship, and the relationship between my small group and other small groups which are also granted this citizenship. Is there enough common ground for us to unite as citizens? Does it serve our interests evenly? Is the language in which this citizenship is defined couched in the words that the other groups feel comfortable with, or have I also had my say, and can identify with its rights and obligations? And then, how much do I need to agree with it, which part of my identity is called upon to identify with my citizenship?

Although “part of my identity” may in fact already appear significantly less instinctive, this certainly isn’t the case. Although we are at all times citizen, we are only so often reminded by it, which means that at all times we are not, our identity must be focussing on something else. It may be with our village, our student community, our group of indie friends or our climbing club mates. It this which is meant by: “multiple identities”, a concept in fact significantly less post-modern than it may at first glance appear to be. More than anything else, looking at the individual as a posessor of multiple identities, we apply on this individual a sophisticated, fluid mechanism, in which points of reference and focus vary in time and space. All of these identities have their own context, and might not even be coherent, or in the most extreme cases even mutually exclusive. In everyday language, this would mean that in some instances, you are something which at other moments, you will have to conceal. Not an ideal situation, of course, and it would seem preferable to possess a set of identities that is roughly referentially coherent. You then become a thing that at every moment reveals another facet, but at least of the same thing.

So citizenship? In a small community, it can require “thick” characteristics of coercion and obligation. In ancient Greece, city officials would walk the streets with a rope drenched in paint to force their citizens to the meeting. In our time, citizenship has tended to focus more on delivering, i.e. rights, than on coercion. Apart from the absolutely necessary (e.g. taxes and public order) it has tended to enforce little. This is a necessity deriving from the sheer size of our conglomerates of citizens (democracies), asking of the state to respect diversity. This citizenship is “thin”, a thing we have tended to praise, as it is a liberal and tends to value the individual.

Unfortunately, although citizenship in the modern state (or in the current EU, for that matter) does not ask of you to walk and talk in line, it’s requirements of identification are reified in no other way than other identities: they require renewal and participation, they need reshaping according to needs of time, and understanding for the diversity across space, to go short, citizenship needs affiliation. When citizens begin to demand without wanting to contribute, the nation state will start to tear. When citizens are asked to affilliate but are effectively barred from participating, the EU will eventually disintegrate.


January 14, 2008

A Monger of Hope

Much talk in the current American presidency race centres around the future, which is anticipated with gloom. While a part of the electorate clenches on to Obama’s message of hope for change, American voters do not seem to look at the future in quite positive terms at all. A recent Economist poll stated that around 50% of Republican voters and around 70% of Democratic voters believe that America’s best years were behind it.

Yet this sense of endemic pessimism does not remain limited to the United States. Europe finds itself currently plagued by an identity crisis centering around the future of the EU, while in countries like the UK, the Netherlands and Poland (but not just these) populists have been able to mould this discontent handsomely into political capital. Issues of immigration suddenly seem to rally people around Christianity in opposition to the Islam, in the case of the Netherlands to newer further-from-the-centre political parties that attack the political establishment, while politicians are increasingly mistrusted. Newspaper columnist Wagendorp to the Dutch daily De Volkskrant registered severe disbelief within his circle of friends when he made the case that the world was getting better and better. They simply could not believe it.

Instead, what can be observed is on the one hand an increasingly blasé and disinterested attitude with political affairs, on the other an increasing sense of irritation with what can be called the “honesty deficit” of politicians and institutions. Where this blog reported last year on the massive scale of CIA operations outside of any form of legal systems with many a European government implicated, we now a UK and Dutch government which refuse their citizens a referendum on the new EU Treaty on the outrageously dishonest claim that it has been substantially altered. We see a US administration which until a few months ago denied the link between global warming and human activity, while many a citizen feels like a disempowered bystander.

What is also worrying is the number of instances in which politicians manage to stay on despite obvious breeches of promises or, worse, straight-forward dishonesty. Bush and Blair (“Bliar”, another message on the wall) stayed on despite a provoked war, the Dutch Labour party denies with a straight face that it ever promised a new EU Treaty referendum, Wolfowitz insisted that he walk out of the World Bank with an unsmothered name despite arbitrarily giving his girlfriend a well-paid job, and the world’s two mightiest trade blocs throw mud at each other over their agricultural protectionism and lack of commitment to environmental protectionism.

The crude and instinctive question that arrises is: who is going to break the cycle? And however much more simplistically put than may do justice to the complicated truth, this may be at the core of the Gordian knot. The problem is that however often we vote, certain policy makers won’t go away. However much we protest, politicians won’t draw their conclusions. However urgent a situation pushes itself to the forefront, institutions are too inflexible to address it in a satisfying manner.

Obama presents himself as a monger of hope. For all that it may be worth, let him and others capitalise on this hope through four old and proven methods: transparency, democracy, honesty, and the rule of law. For the moment, my view of the future remains gloomy.


January 09, 2008

Wat doet jouw bank aan klimaatverandering?

Writing about web page http://www.nietmetmijngeld.nl

Hou je bank tegen het lichtEen prima initiatief voor verantwoord burgerschap, de afgelopen weken onder de aandacht gebracht op treinstations door het land.

Milieudefensie heeft, in samenwerking met het actieplatform Hier.nu, een website gelanceerd waarop in enkele seconden een eenvoudig beeld wordt gegeven van de rol die Nederland’s grootste banken spelen in de klimaatkwestie. In tijden zoals de onze, waarin banken en bedrijven een steeds zwaardere impact hebben op sociale en ecologische kwesties, kan het geen kwaad om zelfs de gewoonste kwesties onder je dagelijkse gebruiken eens te inspecteren. Ik was wat onthutst over het feit dat mijn bank, de Postbank, op de vijfde plaats staat van zes vergeleken banken. Zo belegt deze bank onder andere meer dan een miljard euro in ExxonMobil en investeert hij slechts 0,16% van de totale begroting in duurzame energie.

Alhoewel de getoonde resultaten nogal beperkt zijn en weinig worden toegelicht is de website zeker een kort bezoekje waard om eens te zien waar jou bank mee bezig is. En wie weet zet dit je wel aan tot de overweging om van bank te ruilen, of om eerst gewoon eens verder te klikken naar bijvoorbeeld Hier.nu.


December 27, 2007

Wantrouwen

Op de Gooise afdeling van Wilders’ jongerenpartij Jong & Wilders is het zo kort na kerst alweer een koortsachtige mierenhoop van activiteit. Wij treffen een verontwaardigde Staf Stormers aan, die ons met een kordate duw het politieke hok probeert uit te duwen. “Linkse media, die hebben we wel genoeg gehad hier!” briest de joviale afdelings-partijbons. Na enig sussen en geruststellen wil Stormers wel aan ons kwijt:

“Het is de afgelopen maanden te gék voor woorden. Iedereen is maar tegen ons! Het is duidelijke dat de hoge heren politici in Den Haag en de linkse krantenbonzen door heel het land samenspelen om Wilders kwaad af te schilderen. En daar plukt ook het Gooise Jong & Wilders maar weer de wrange vruchten van. Toen op kerstavond bijvoorbeeld enkele van onze afgevaardigden in de kerk zaten, hoorden we met eigen oren de pastoor een oproep doen voor meer tolerantie. Duidelijk een directe en geplande aanval op ons werk en onze integriteit.” Stormers vervolgt boos: “Ook worden we consequent buiten de plaatselijke gemeenteraad gehouden. We ontvangen geen vergaderstukken, geen uitnodigingen, niets!” Op de verbaasde vraag of Jong & Wilders dan zetels heeft in de raad, wil hij niet ingaan. “Altijd weer die suggestieve vragen”, bromt het aanstormende politieke talent sikeneurig, doch geoefend in partij-jargon.

“Eerst die buitenlandse, Máxima met haar knettergekke mening. Maar dat mevrouw de koningin nu ook al iets te zeggen heeft over verdraagzaamheid, gaat toch echt te ver. Die dame drijft verknipte politiek.” Stormers erkent dat de afdeling gisteren tot in de late uurtjes heeft vergaderd over een mogelijke bijdrage aan Wilders’ boycott op de koningin. “De komende periode dragen we niets maar dan ook niets oranjes. Zelfs nog geen sjaal laat staan een t-shirtje.” Stormers, smalend: “Wilders in Den Haag: hij vat ze nog wel in de kraag!”


December 19, 2007

EU Treaty: Give the People a Voice

Writing about web page http://www.erc2.org/10.0.html

Democracy InternationalThe wind of change seems back in Europe. Within three years after the French and the Dutch rejection of the Constitutional Treaty for Europe, Barosso and Brussels are back with a “new idea”. Last week Europe’s leaders cheerily signed the document, which, according to the Portuguese EU leadership, marked an important day for Europe. Project developers and member state masters patting each other on the back in the absence of an audience: a familiar sight in the history of the European project.

MEPs make noise for a referendumMeanwhile, in Brussels, MEPs from different countries (among them Italy, Poland and the UK) raised a protest against the process’s lack of accountability. They wanted European citizens to make up their minds about the document that might mark further integration and Euro-identification through a referendum. These people, while not always my choice of politicians, have a point. Apart from the question of the need for a referendum, it seems certain European governments are quite systematically presenting an image of a quite different document than the previous. Yet, some most eminent authorities reject this presentation of the facts as misleading. A UK Government council flew in the face of PM Brown’s statements by declaring that the new treaty has overwhelmingly stayed the same, while the Economist and former EU Commissioner Bolkestein agree that if a referendum was decided last time, so it should be this time. Otherwise, they say, people will feel that a hardly changed document is brought in through the back door.

The matter is hardly a question of ideology. In fact, the pro-referendum camp transcends political creed and focuses on the need to consult the people on this treaty rather than whether they should vote for or against. The European Referendum Campaign, for example, can be seen to have gathered subscribers from very diverse political backgrounds. The ERC has set itself as a goal to promote the introduction of referenda in as many EU member states as possible. They want a free and open debate about the desired future of Europe. And while Eurocrats may protest that this future has already been subscribed to years ago, a public debate about the European project is a fresh and praiseworthy phenomenon.


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