All posts filed under: Europe

Labour Power-Games Threaten 150 Years of British-Jewish Identity

We live in an age of demonstrations – but the one protest you never see is a Jewish one. Until this week, when it was revealed that the leader of the British Labour Party had posted approvingly about a Protocols-of-Zion style public mural. This triggered the first public protest against anti-Semitism since 2012. But taking to the streets is a huge departure for the Jewish community, whose security has typically rested on fitting in. Unlike other minority groups – which now self-organise at the smallest provocation – Jewish organisations try to keep calm and carry on. This was the thrust of last year’s major report into anti-Semitism by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (IJPR), in spite of it being commissioned in response to a 30 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents. Sitting behind this enforced calm is the memory that Jewish de-assimilation can be fast and fatal. Berlin and Vienna were both thriving Jewish centres right up to the First World War, in which German-speaking Jews served with distinction. What came next was too fast …

It’s Time for Evidence-Based Gender Policy

For decades, it was fashionable to call the concept of truth – even scientific truth – into question. For those who considered modernity to be completely surpassed, reality was a simulacrum, everything was relative, there was no such thing as objective references but “texts”, and “truth” was nothing but masked oppression. This intellectual trend, despite facing some resistance and ultimately being ridiculed by the Sokal Affair, is alarming. It coincides with the rise of the term “post-truth”, which was proclaimed “Word of the Year” by Oxford Dictionaries in 2016. In a world living in peace with relativism, or at most with “liquid” and “weak” truths, the preoccupation with truth is back. What was long considered a topic for philosophers or theologians is now reaching newspapers’ op-eds and the political and legislative agenda. Everyone in a position of power and influence seems concerned by the dissemination of so-called “fake news” and illiberal extremism. But this strong revival of populism and irrationality is provoking a reaction. There is much talk nowadays about fact-checking, Big Data, or mechanisms …

Why Walls Work

When Constantinople finally buckled and fell in the spring of 1453, it was before the awesome power of the Ottoman siege cannons. A Venetian surgeon, Nicolo Barbaro described the barrage during the desperate final days,  When it fired the explosion made all the walls of the city shake, and all the ground inside, and even the ships in the harbor felt the vibrations of it…No greater cannon than this one was ever seen in the whole pagan world, and it was this that broke down such a great deal of the city walls. The siege cannons were created by a Hungarian engineer named Orban. He first offered his services to Constantine XI, but the nearly insolvent Emperor couldn’t afford his retainer. He subsequently sought out the young Sultan Mehmet II who immediately understood their potential use in his planned attack on the seat of the dying Byzantine Empire. The fall of Constantinople was the dramatic final chapter of the Middle Ages. Powerful cannons radically changed the value of walled cities, and thus the nature of …

Catherine Deneuve, #MeToo, and the Fracturing Within Feminism

The letter signed by Catherine Deneuve and 99 other French women offering their take on the #MeToo movement and feminism has stirred many reactions both in France and internationally. Among the responses, the novelist Leïla Slimani wrote a beautiful and heartfelt piece in Libération affirming her right to freedom from being “importuned”. The use of the expression is deliberate to contrast with the original letter’s title which defended the freedom to importune. Slimani’s article has been shared by many to express their disagreement with the Deneuve Letter. That the two opinions are made to sound opposing is, however, more the result of unclear vocabulary rather than conflicting ideologies. The list of odious behaviours that Slimani pleads that we should be free from—“a boss asking for sexual favours in exchange of a promotion” or “a man ejaculating on a woman’s coat”—shows that she and Deneuve are not talking about the same thing. No sensible person could possibly refrain from condemning these acts. The fault perhaps lies with the writers of the original letter, for not using more …

Femen’s Inna Shevchenko: Fear of Causing Offense Has Cost Too Many Innocent Lives

Editor’s note: As we enter 2018, brave women are protesting Islamic modesty culture and laws in Iran. Jeffrey Tayler has documented women’s protests against modesty culture in Europe for years. What follows is an interview conducted by Tayler with Femen’s leader, Inna Shevchenko, in 2017. A female activist has just sawed down a giant Christian cross on the central square of the capital city of Ukraine, in protest against the prison sentence meted out to Pussy Riot band members for the “punk prayer” they had performed in a Moscow cathedral earlier that year. What fate awaits her when she flees, personally threatened by her country’s president for her audacious deed, to France, the self-proclaimed “homeland of human rights?” Upon her arrival in Paris, do orchestras greet her with rousing renditions of La Marseillaise? Do accolades of support pour in from the French media? Does she settle, finally, into secure environs, certain, for the first time in her young but politically active life, that she can pursue unhindered her feminist struggle for human rights and the propagation of …

Welcome to the West, But Please Don’t Integrate…

In the late 1980s, when my family arrived in Germany, I assumed that we had left behind forever the ideologies that had ruined Afghanistan. The country was plunged into a vicious civil war where the hard-right Islamists fought the hard-left Marxist–Leninists, who were then in power. The West’s own ideological wars had thus moved geographically and were now surfacing in the rest of the world. In Afghanistan, their impact was felt in the 1980s with the Marxist–Leninist military coup that started the war—the same war still being waged today. Prior to this, there was indoctrination of young Afghan intellectuals, poets, journalists, and teachers in totalitarian ideologies of right-wing Islam via Egypt and hard-left communism via India and the Soviet Union. On my very first day of school in Germany as a teenager, I encountered sympathy for the Soviet Union. Nothing had prepared me for what I experienced that day nor for what was to come in the following years. Looking back, I realize that the reason for my failure to spot the ideology was that …

Ratko Mladić’s Conviction and why the Evidence of Mass Graves Still Matters

Ratko Mladić has been convicted of genocide and persecution, extermination, murder and the inhumane act of forcible transfer in the area of Srebrenica in 1995. He was also found guilty of persecution, extermination, murder, deportation and inhumane act of forcible transfer in municipalities throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina and of murder, terror and unlawful attacks on civilians in Sarajevo. In addition, the former Bosnian Serb army general was convicted for the hostage-taking of UN personnel. But he was acquitted of the charge of genocide in several municipalities in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992. The events that occurred in and around the Srebrenica enclave between July 10-19 1995, where an estimated 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, mostly men and boys, lost their lives, are well documented. These atrocities, culminating in the “biggest single mass murder in Europe” since World War II, not only resulted in a tremendous loss of life and emotionally scarred survivors, it also left behind a landscape filled with human remains and mass graves. Forensic investigations into the Srebrenica massacre assisted in convicting Mladić, who stood …

The Poverty of Cosmopolitan Historicism

When the Soviet Union fell, Marxist utopianism came to an end. In the decades since, a new breed of utopianism has gripped the collective imagination. Cosmopolitanism dreams of a borderless world united in peace and understanding, and it is underpinned by a powerful narrative of historical progress that has much in common with its Marxist cousin. Its name is cosmopolitan historicism. In The Open Society and its Enemies, Karl Popper wrote that “we may become the makers of our fate when we have ceased to pose as its prophets”. In Popper’s view, historicism was defined by its simplistic understanding of history, viewed as an unfolding of inexorable iron laws. Based on what they saw as their unique insight into these presumed laws, historicists issued wild prophecies about the future of human society. For this they were mercilessly critiqued by Popper. In his eyes, dogmatic attachment to a utopian blueprint provided by what was understood as history’s ultimate destination caused historicist zealots to doggedly push ahead toward the end of history while ignoring signs that their …

Austria’s Snap Election and the End of the Grand Coalition

It’s been a busy year of voting across Europe. Elections in the Netherlands, France, and Germany have dictated even the international news. On October 15, Austrians will go to the polls. A prosperous country at the heart of Europe, it has become used to relatively predictable politics. Two parties – the Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the People’s Party (ÖVP) – have dominated political life since the end of WW2. Yet Austria is also home to one of Europe’s most successful populist radical-right parties, the Freedom Party (FPÖ). Comparisons between the FPÖ and the French National Front or German Alternative for Germany are unavoidable. Even though these parties share more enemies than policies, talk of a ‘populist international’ movement is now rather crudely used to explain their rise. It’s true that the political, economic, and social shifts present in Austria have been visible across the EU. Parties have converged, markets have opened up, post-materialism is on the rise. But the FPÖ’s success is also a product of Austria’s very specific history and more recent political dynamics. …

Sweden’s Sexual Assault Crisis Presents a Feminist Paradox

Sweden prides itself on being a beacon of feminism. It has the most generous parental leave in the developed world, providing for 18 months off work, 15 of which can be used by fathers as paternity leave. A quarter of the paid parental leave is indeed used by men, and this is too little according to the Swedish government, which has made it a political priority to get fathers to stay at home longer with their children. Sweden has never ranked lower than four in The Global Gender Gap Report, which has measured equality in economics, politics, education, and health for the World Economic Forum since 2006. Of all members of Parliament, 44 percent are women, compared to 19 percent of the United States Congress. Nearly two-thirds of all university degrees are awarded to women. Its government boasts that it is the “first feminist government” in the world, averring that gender equality is central to its priorities in decision-making and resource allocation. But while Swedish women rank among the most equal in the world, they increasingly …