All posts filed under: World Affairs

The Bolivarian God That Failed

The day after Venezuela’s National Assembly voted to declare its president, Juan Guaidó, interim President of the Republic, I received a text from a former friend. “If the U.S. topples Vz [Venezuela],” he wrote, “I will hold you responsible.” I would have been happy to accept this responsibility had I done anything important enough to deserve it. But the idea was absurd and he knew it. If the Venezuelan regime falls—and I hope that it does—it won’t even be possible to credit (or blame) the United States. It is the Venezuelan people who finally are taking their destiny in hand and rejecting an intolerable status quo. The message was not a serious attempt to apportion responsibility for Venezuela’s current upheaval; it was an attempt to shame me for my treacherous betrayal of the Bolivarian cause. An early supporter of the Revolution, I had traveled to Venezuela in 2013 to cover the April presidential elections. By the time I returned to the US, I was disillusioned and depressed. I decided I needed to start writing and …

The Case Against a Second EU Referendum

The possibility of a second referendum offers, to many, a tantalizing prospect of rescue from political deadlock. Since Parliament cannot decide on a deal and largely refuses to contemplate “No Deal,” this argument goes, we should allow the people to “choose” once more. Barrister Oliver Conolly has offered a well-written and thoughtful case for a second referendum here on Quillette, which acknowledges some of the flaws that advocates of this plan often ignore. Yet his analysis, in my view, suffers several major drawbacks. I will discuss these in loose categories, starting with the least important before broadening my analysis out to more substantive complaints. Bias The first category consists of examples of bias. To his credit, Conolly restricts his discussion to the official campaign groups in the 2016 referendum, rather than appealing to the excesses of the unofficial campaign groups. Yet he still maintains that the Leave campaign was more deceitful than Remain—a debatable proposition. Conolly also uses the loaded term “People’s Vote” throughout the article—not always in inverted commas. As numerous objectors have pointed …

The West’s Betrayal of Iranian Dissidents

Next month, Ayatollah Khamenei’s theocracy will stage celebrations commemorating 40 years of revolutionary power. It will do so amidst widespread acts of civil disobedience, street protests, labor strikes, and ubiquitous resentment produced by a collapsed economy and grotesque corruption. Even prominent regime insiders are now openly proclaiming the emptiness of the regime’s authority, with critiques resembling late analysis from the Soviet nomenklatura as it was confronted by cascading legitimacy crises manifested by the primordial contradictions of an ideological state. When the Iranian people rose up against an authoritarian dictator four decades ago, they were rewarded with one of the most politically ruthless and socially backward totalitarian regimes the world has known. Falling for the siren song of populist Islamist rule, they failed to win the justice or the freedoms they had been demanding, and instead lost everything they had taken for granted under secular, modernizing rule: personal liberties, social progress, and economic opportunities that had birthed a middle class. South Korea and other countries economically inferior to Iran before the revolution are now towering over it, despite …

Agnès Bun’s Invincible Summer

Meeting Agence France-Presse photojournalist Agnès Bun is a disarming experience. She looks younger than her age, but her youthful appearance belies an intensity forged in her frequently dangerous and sometimes harrowing line of work. As we talked about her career and her reluctant memoir, There’s No Poetry in a Typhoon (translated from the French by Melanie Ho), she spoke quickly and wasted few words, which made our interview a challenge and a pleasure. What is a reluctant memoir? It’s one written as a result of benevolent pressure from her peers and admirers, who implored her to aggregate a series of blog posts she had written for the AFP website about her experiences in the field. Eventually, she agreed but she hasn’t looked back since. “I wrote most of the chapters in one go,” she says, “and I haven’t reread it since it was published.” She isn’t the type of person to be detained by self-aggrandizement—she seems to be endowed with more humility than egoism. Instead, she reports and moves on. But sometimes her work leaves …

The Case for a Second EU Referendum

There is a great deal of talk in Britain at the moment about a “People’s Vote”—a referendum on the terms of the withdrawal agreement between the UK government and the EU, with an option to remain in the EU. It was predictable in June 2016 that sooner or later minds would focus on the terms of the agreement that would need to be reached as part of the process when the British government triggered Article 50, the clause of the Treaty on European Union that enables member states to secede. One of the advantages of the time-limited nature of the Article 50 process is that it means the issue cannot be delayed indefinitely. This focusing of minds has, unsurprisingly, led to widespread calls for a “People’s Vote.” It is equally unsurprising that the proposal should encounter stiff resistance. Many voters were led to believe, not least by the British Government, that their vote in the 2016 referendum would settle the matter of the UK’s EU membership once and for all. Against that backdrop, many people …

Anxiety About Immigration is a Global Issue

Much has been written about anti-immigrant sentiments in the West in recent years. Brexit, Trump’s election, and the moderate success of political movements hostile to immigration in countries like Italy, Germany and Sweden have provoked much admonishment of Western societies by various intellectuals and commentators, usually of leftist leanings. What has not received much attention are contemporary attitudes to immigration in countries outside the Western hemisphere. What do Nigerians, Indians, Turks and Mexicans think about migrants coming to their countries? This we don’t hear much about. Two recent surveys on the issue provide interesting results. Pew Research queried respondents in 27 nations across six continents, asking whether they felt their countries should let in more immigrants, fewer, or about the same as they do at present. In European nations like Greece and Italy that have had huge influxes of migrants in recent years, the numbers wanting fewer or no more immigrants were high—82 and 71 percent respectively. But in several other Western countries, including some perceived as being hostile to immigration, people are more sympathetic …

Solzhenitsyn: The Fall of a Prophet

The 100th anniversary of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s birth on December 11 was an occasion for many tributes. A decade after his death, Solzhenitsyn remains one of the past century’s towering figures in both literature and public life. His role in exposing the crimes of the Soviet regime is a historic achievement the magnitude of which can hardly be overstated. But his legacy also continues to be the subject of intense debate among people who share his loathing of that regime—and those controversies, which have to do with freedom, traditional morality, and nationalism, are strikingly relevant to our current moment. Solzhenitsyn was once my childhood hero. Growing up in the Soviet Union in the 1970s, in a family of closet dissidents, I knew him as the man who defied the system and told the truth about its atrocities—the man idolized by my parents, especially my father, himself the son of gulag survivors. I was eleven when Solzhenitsyn was arrested and expelled from the Soviet Union; our Stalinist political instructor at school bellowed that he should have been …

What Does the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Mean Today?

“What is man, that you are mindful of him, human beings that you should care for them?” The question the Psalmist asks God is the same question philosophers have been asking one another for more than three millennia: What does it mean to be human? What makes us different from the rest of creation? For Aristotle, the answer was man’s political, or “social,” nature. For Blaise Pascal, it was man’s intellect: “Man is only a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed.” Renaissance philosopher Pico della Mirandola, author of the famous Oration on the Dignity of Man, maintained that man’s distinguishing feature is his volition. Immanuel Kant located humanity’s uniqueness in our moral nature. The United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which turned 70 on December 10 this year, offers a different answer: to be human is to have an innate dignity that gives us an irreducible moral worth—a worth that makes all human individuals fundamentally equal to one another and distinct from other forms of life. The UDHR’s …

What We Talk About When We Talk About Immigration

My father moved to the UK from Iran in the 1970s to study engineering when he met and married my mother, who is from a small town in the Welsh valleys. Many people from that town would not have met a non-white person before they met my father. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, my parents made the eminently sensible decision that they would build their life together in Wales and not Iran. To this day my father remains the hardest working person I know. He always worked two jobs, became a successful engineer and I recall watching him take part in publicity photos in the 1990s as the first non-white retained fireman in Wales, which he went on to do for 25 years. He is by any measure a credit to his community and can easily be held up as a model for “integration.” However, he is just one person. I sometimes wonder how different things might have been if there had been even one or two other Iranian families living on our street. …

Individuals and Symbols

In the past few weeks, we have been watching the fall out of what has been dubbed Sokal Squared, the effort by James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose, and Peter Boghossian to expose the low standards and hateful ideology to which much of the humanities have been in thrall in recent decades. In my response, I highlighted the postmodern assault on epistemology. I said, it has been “the explicit goal of post-modernity to reject reason and evidence: they want a ‘new paradigm’ of knowledge.” During this same period, we also saw a sad episode in US history, in which this rejection of reason and evidence arrested the Democratic Party, as well as the media, academia, Hollywood, and several notable legal institutions, who each marched in quasi-fascistic lock-step in their attempt to eviscerate Brett Kavanaugh, now a Supreme Court Justice. It has been notable after the confirmation how quickly the media—who were nothing less than Orwellian in their complicity—have sought to move on from this ugly affair. They lost, but the toll that the nation had to pay …