international affairs, muslims, politics, war on terror

Charlie Hebdo and Kang Xi

Published by The Islamic Monthly on January 17th, 2015

What happened earlier this month at the Paris headquarters of Charlie Hebdo has been commented upon ad nauseam; some really good pieces have resulted alongside some terrible ones.  What needs to be said has probably been said already, and readers can look here and here if they are interested in what I have to say about the tragedy. The incident is being imprinted onto our collective psyches as an event with the clear-cut imprimatur of “Islamic terrorism.” Without going into the myriad stupidities and misunderstandings that mediate much of our popular interpretations of what happened, I dare say that the event is emblematic of much more than meets the eye.

The world is a transitory place, and the globalizing effects of commerce and travel have prompted many in the so-called “East” to migrate out of their geographical, social, political contexts, and into the Western world. This broad physical transition has resulted in the proliferating of communities in the West that represent ways of being that, at once modern in appearance, is the 21st century representation of pre-modern traditions that used to dominate mankind. The West’s primary alphabet of secular materialism is often unable to fully penetrate and comprehend the complete meanings of such modes of being, resulting in a kind of tension that makes it difficult for many to see the world through the migrants’ eyes. Islam, as is often the case in the modern era, finds itself caught in the middle of this interaction.

The miscomprehension of lived Islam in the Western world is directly related to the misinterpretations of the violent episodes of Muslim fundamentalism. It’s quite ironic that places like North America and Europe, where political repression of the dictatorial kind is supposed to be least pervasive, are often incubators for the least sophisticated sort of cross-cultural understanding. There are many barriers: institutional racism, historical baggage, personal prejudice, etc. But an opportunity does exist. Today, for example, it’s impossible to talk about the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations in China. The Communist Party censors all searches of it on Google, and other search engines. It’s very difficult under such circumstances to form a comprehensive history of China without Big Brother looking over one’s shoulder. So, ironically (some would say, with sadness), much of the great works on Chinese history, philosophy, and literature have originated in institutions in the Western world. Jonathan Spence’s seminal 1990 masterpiece In Search of Modern China is a primary example.

So goes for pre-modern traditions like Islam, which, like many other traditions, is most misunderstood in lands that have the most potential of accentuating its public comprehension. The most overlooked tragedy to result from centuries of imperial/colonial activity and its subsequent post-colonial effects is the degradation of one’s heritage. It is, to take one example, why the masterful 20th century writer Lao She, who wrote Rickshaw Boy (Noam Chomsky’s favorite novel when he was a child, incidentally), and who once taught at SOAS, University of London, ended up committing suicide after being humiliated by the Red Guards during China’s tragic Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). A parallel can be made between this kind of tragedy and the bizarre post-colonial aftermath in the Muslim world, where, in certain countries, the Friday khutbah has to be of a certain flavor according to the state. Such strictures don’t necessarily exist in the so-called liberal, democratic West, which presents its own set of head-scratching oddities, tensions, and crudities.

Yet, within this cauldron of confusion lies an opportunity. As the post-9/11 West staggers onward in its own confused struggle to understand the “Other”  (a generalization, I know), banal crudities have received far more favor than nuanced understanding or deep empathy. Detailed explications of certain traditional or religious principles are often seen as a kind of “liberal” obfuscation conducted in the name of superstition, backwardness, or pure ignorance. The negation of this pattern toward a one-off glossing-over of complex systems is where the opportunity lies for young, non-Western (or, perhaps, partly-Western) intellectuals (Muslims or otherwise) to reclaim their own heritage. Here, in the West, is where the staging point can be for the recollection of memory and history. Not to do so would be, in fact, to surrender any opportunity of narrating one’s own existence.

The present state of affairs reminds me (as a matter of contrast) of how the first emperor of China’s last dynasty (the Qing, 清朝), Emperor Kang Xi (康熙), who came to power in 1661, spent a lot of money and time wooing the Han Chinese intelligentsia, most of whom were loyal to the Ming Dynasty (明朝) rulers that the Qing displaced. Kang Xi, the representative of the nomadic Manchu people of the North (hence, Manchuria), ruled China for an astonishing 61 years. His problem was that the Manchu-ruled Qing dynasty were not established by those who held the same Confucian traditions that the Han Chinese (who continue to make up the vast majority of China’s population) did, and therefore didn’t have the loyalty of much of the empire’s most brilliant minds. The Han see themselves as a distinct ethnic group who are central to China’s over-all makeup, and regarded the Qing as outside invaders to their long-established homeland.

Faced with this administrative challenge, Kang Xi didn’t impose a monolithic set of Manchu dicta to marginalize the traditions that featured centrally in the lives of his Han subjects. Instead, he treated the Confucian legacy (which, by then, had many centuries to permeate China) with the kind of sensitivity that’s quite uncommon among most rulers. He assembled a team of tutors (comprised of both Han and Manchu intellectuals) to teach him all the Confucian classics, and, in 1670, issued the “Sacred Edict,” a list of 16 maxims that summarized what Kang Xi thought it meant to live the Confucian life. Whisperings of his scholastic efforts were “leaked,” and, soon enough, many were praising his majesty’s intellectual precociousness and cultural sensitivity. Combined with nation-wide strategies to incorporate more and more Han minds into his orbit of power, Kang Xi made it clear that he didn’t want to caste aside thousands of years of complex philosophical tradition.

Without romanticizing the Qing emperor’s reign (it was not, after all, sensible to dissent against him, for obvious reasons), I wonder how many rulers in the democratic West even have the time to learn just a little bit about the traditions of those they claim to represent? Probably not many. So the work is to be done, then, by civil society—by those who, with one eye on their own past/tradition, dare to peek over the fence to see what’s happened on the other side. This is a crucial intellectual pluralism from which Western Muslims can benefit (if adopted), as the task of explaining one’s own self is often coupled with that of being in someone else’s shoes for a bit. This is the essence of being an migrant, or exiled person, I think: one who discovers him or herself not through narrow provincialism or angry selfhood, but through the painstaking, though worthwhile, interpretation of others.

Photo: Inside the Palace of Preserving Peace (保和殿), one of the major halls within the Forbidden City (故宫), which was the imperial palace of China’s monarchs from the Ming to the Qing Dynasty/CC

[http://www.theislamicmonthly.com/charlie-hebdo-and-kang-xi/]
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international affairs, middle east, muslims, politics, war on terror

The Left’s Ignorant Islam Critics

Published by The American Conservative on January 9th, 2015

Criticism of Islam has become a staple of contemporary politics as observers and practitioners alike wrestle with the myriad implications of Muslims living in the post-9/11 West. For the most part, one could argue with great force that the social panic generated by current fears have been “much ado about nothing,” as Muslims have not shown themselves to be an existential threat to their civilizational counterparts.

That’s not to say that no one can or should criticize Islam, as many have. The problem is whether or not such criticism stems from true understanding or total conjecture. Sadly, the latter has been much prevalent, and the culprits aren’t always raving Christian fundamentalists who, in depicting Islam as a “Satanic religion,” prefer an Armageddon-style showdown between faiths. Rather, it’s arguable that some of the most unfair and ignorant assessments of Islam and Muslims have come from those who label themselves as “progressive.”

The attack on France’s satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo is a horrid and barbaric response to some of worst, most unfair “criticisms” of Islam. The cartoons that depict the Prophet Muhammad are meant as a provocation, as was the ensuing massacre which left a dozen people dead. The magazine is now being lionized as a platform that’s been at the forefront of free speech guardianship. A look through its so-called satirical treatment of Muslim figures and it’s quite obvious that the outlet’s top priority when it comes to Islam is to offend and provoke—none of which are crimes, let alone offenses punishable by death. There’s a difference between having one’s expression being protected by free speech principles and actually being a defender of such principles. All of Charlie Hebdo’s writings and cartoons deserve protection (even though their management has fired cartoonists before for anti-Semitism), the framework used for their (mis)interpretation of Islam is awfully similar to those used by the far right.

Fittingly, last year’s polls show Marine Le Pen of the Front National, France’s ultra-right party, as the leading presidential candidate. Le Pen has wasted no time in linking the Charlie Hebdo attack to immigration, something she’s vowing to crack down on, all the while emphasizing the “religious” dimension of the massacre, and even calling for a referendum on whether to bring back the death penalty. Given all their differences, it’s almost strange that part of the left finds itself aligned with ultra-rightists when it comes to assessing Muslims and their religion.

Take Michael Moore’s recent defense of the odious Bill Maher, host of “Real Time,” who, along with Sam Harris, faced off against actor Ben Affleck on Maher’s show, setting off a firestorm of Internet commentary. Moore, a prominent progressive, argues that Maher shouldn’t be vilified for his harsh criticisms of Islam, and portrays his friend’s insults as being limited to the bashing of “crazy people professing to be Muslim.” One need not look all that far to identify the misrepresentation here of Maher’s vitriol, which hardly ever bothers to distinguish between traditional Islamic beliefs and extremist misinterpretations of the faith. The truth is that those who perpetuate ISIS or al-Qaeda-like violence in the name of Islam are very small in number. The vast majority of orthodox Sunnis, who make up most of the world’s Muslim population, fall within the mainstream of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), which is divided up into four main schools of thought (among others), none of which permit the killing of innocent people.

Within this huge corpus of scriptural interpretation can be found laws that govern essentially every important aspect of life (marriage, commerce, jihad, etc.), and though there’s much overlap, the schools recognize each other’s positions and the reality that there’s much room for interpretation when it comes to God’s words, as well as the actions of His messenger (known as hadiths or “Prophetic traditions”). The most “liberal” interpretations of certain verses or hadiths can be found within the existing body of Sunni orthodoxy. Yet, progressives who see monotheistic religion as a relic of the medieval past essentialize Islam in a way that doesn’t recognize its internal diversity. Perceiving the Islamic tradition as one, big, monolith akin to a desktop computer from the 1980s, they call for a “reformation” within Islam so the religion can update its hardware, making it more palatable to the modern world.

The analogy here is obviously with the Christian Reformation associated with Martin Luther, who some progressives misinterpret as a solely democratizing figure, eliminating the middlemen priests so believers can interpret scripture for themselves. What they fail to note is that present-day manifestations of Christian fundamentalism derive their origins from the consequences of the Reformation (which also involved a good deal of bloodletting). Seeing this Protestant transformation as inherently “progressive” in its “democratizing” effects, the logic is now applied to Muslims and to Islam, religious content be damned.

Even a scholar like Cornel West, who has consistently argued against some of Maher’s caricatures of Islam, has often talked about Muslims having to develop what he calls “Prophetic Islam.” The term sounds pretty and comes from West’s desire to see an Islam that takes up causes of justice, but the underlying assumption is that the religion needs to wake up to some sort of modern condition that demands inherent change. It’s ultimately a proposition borne out of “progressive” ignorance, blindly assuming that Islam doesn’t have the tools to engage with the world that preserves both tradition and the rights of others. The truth is that Islam isn’t quite as amenable to reform as its monotheistic cousins. In a way, it sees itself as a religion that came to reform Judeo-Christian sectarianism.

In Western modernity’s virtual casting aside of faith, the necessity of having to understand religions prior to issuing criticism also seems to have gone out the window. This is exacerbated when it comes to the post-9/11 scramble to make sense of the Islamic tradition and how it ought to comport to modern sensibilities. Since secular modernity and/or liberalism are portrayed as the default settings of contemporary Western societies, then, the argument goes, it’s reasonable and logical to expect older religious traditions to conform to its demands. There’s no sense of mutual understanding or negotiation, and the relationship is inherently imbalanced.

The tendency of many progressives to internalize this deep assumption has caused much of their interpretation of Islam to square with that of the extreme right wing, whose criticisms stem from a much simpler kind of antagonism. Yet both groups’ misgivings and misunderstandings can be traced back to a basic ignorance that has plagued the West long before the tragedies of 9/11, and can only be mended if observers of all stripes are willing to assess Islam on its own terms.

Photo: Some volumes from the “News Atheism”/CC

[http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-lefts-ignorant-islam-critics/]

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obama, politics

The future of Libya

Published on: The Canadian Charger, April 14th, 2011
[http://www.thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=868]

The airstrikes on Libya, as authorized by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, has a veneer of “internationalism” about that that needs to be addressed.

Compounded by the calls for a no-fly-zone from the Arab League, the African Union, and the provisional council set up by the Libyan rebels themselves, the air strikes—especially in the usual media corners—seem to be much, much more than an effort anchored by the United States.

This is a myth. The coalition forces of France, the United Kingdom, etc. was led by a U.S. commander—General Carter Ham.

The helm has since then been passed on to a Canadian official, who is supposedly heading up a joint NATO venture.  The U.S. has contributed substantially to a barrage of 110 Tomahawk missiles on Libya’s air defenses on March 19th, 2011. Named by the U.S. as “Operation Odyssey Dawn,” the multi-phased no-fly-zone/airstrikes operation was just beginning—and right off the bat, the Associated Press reported that the United States deployed a slew of B2s, F-15s, F-16s, Navy EA-18G electronic warfare planes and Marine attack jets. In other words—despite the carefully crafted image of “limited military action” from the Obama administration—it is clear that the United States is calling the shots and doing the heavy lifting.

The rebels have since then called for a ceasefire after losing one of their key oil ports, Ras Lanuf, while also being stopped at Brega.

Whether international intervention helped or not is a tough question to answer, given mixed results. Qaddafi’s forces have not been able to fight where they wanted to, but rebel leaders have also come out to criticize the foreign airstrikes. “NATO is not doing their job, the airstrikes are late and never on time. NATO is not helping us. Gadhafi still gets ammunition and supplies to his forces–that’s why he is pushing us back,” says Mohammed Abdullah, a rebel who defected from loyalist ranks. The UK Daily Telegraph has also reported that “strafing runs” have been carried out by NATO helicopters trying to rescue fallen allied pilots. This practise has put civilian lives at risk.

The purpose for Resolution 1973 was, basically, to obtain a ceasefire. Barack Obama, on the other hand, has made it clear that Operation Odyssey Dawn seeks to implement genuine regime change. This lack of overlap in terms of end goals gives some indication of what each party has at stake in Libya. Despite its rhetoric of massacre prevention and international cooperation, the Obama administration’s geopolitical vision extends beyond the conditions of war, and into the conditions of peace. Suffice it to say that if Libya was a land known for carrots, Qaddafi’s troops would not be facing constant airstrikes.

By now, the most likely scenario is a partitioned Libya, and thus a divided Libya. The rebels in Benghazi—aside from asking for a ceasefire—have also rejected an overture from the African Union to broker talks, and for good reason, given that 15% of the AU’s expenses were paid by the Qaddafi regime. Furthermore, the Transitional National Council in Benghazi has agreed to a temporary “trust fund” to help channel assets from “international donations,” according to Al Jazeera English. All this indicates that the situation in Libya is perhaps entering a stage of stalemate. Subsequent planning is not clear, and long-term peace may indeed—like many feared—be subject to the interests of the NATO powers who have so much at stake in Libya.

If the endgame involves the removal of Qaddafi and the dissolution of his regime (it is hard to imagine the coalition forces allowing Qaddafi to stay in power), then an imposition of a no-fly-zone will most likely be protracted into a “long war”. Indeed, according to a report by Reuters, Obama has already signed off on a presidential “finding” (although no admission has been made), that authorizes “covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, government…”

The best case scenario of course is for Qaddafi to be eliminated permanently, or to have him remove himself from power. This may be a possibility if the no-fly-zone is kept in place and works fluidly in order to protect places like Benghazi and Tobrouk from reprisals. If this happens, it may be possible to negotiate a political settlement. The talks can be brokered by international coalition forces and will most likely include the removal of Qaddafi—or at least an agreement from him to submit to parliamentary elections (or a trip to the International Criminal Court?). This, however, may be wishful thinking. For now, Libya’s war of liberation is looking more and more like a civil war. Support for Qaddafi is tough to quantify, and estimates have ranged from 10% all the way up to 30%.  Obama may do well to let the pro-Qaddafi towns alone, and focus strictly on protecting civilians. This will prove to be more and more difficult as airstrikes take on new configurations.

One can only hope that Resolution 1973 (1) does more good than harm when it comes to civilian protection, (2) works to facilitate more civilian involvement instead of restricting it, and (3) does not lead to foreign troops on Libyan soil.

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middle east, muslims, war on terror

Niqab-ban in France: Contextualized and Dispelled

“Toleration of those that differ from others in matters of religion is so agreeable to […] the genuine reason of mankind, that it seems monstrous for men to be so blind as not to perceive the necessity and advantage of it.”
—John Locke

Much a fuss has been made of the recent ban that has gone into effect in France that forbids the wearing of the niqab in public. At once an opportunistic tactic, but also a misinterpretation of Enlightenment principles, the legislation is not necessarily worth the amount of press and anguish devoted to it.

Nicholas Sarkozy is the least popular French president since the founding of the Fifth Republic. Hovering at around 25% approval from his people, Sarkozy has so far enacted a two part play in order to rectify his image. First, his overt conjecture in the NATO bombing campaign in Libya was supposed to rally his countrymen behind his veneer of Manichean populism (while he let the U.S. do the heavy-lifting where it counted). Next came the ban, something less than novel at this point in time (recall Quebec, Belgium, Turkey, the Netherlands, etc.). Sarkozy knew this was a sure-fire route to take when his heart sank at the prospect of Marine Le Pen out-prejudicing him on the Islam front. The horror! Halal food and minarets have gone through the same treatment.

But it seems that every time something like this comes along, one is forced to enter into another nebulous philosophical debate with “clash of civilizations”, “secular freedom under siege”, “repression of women” and other clichés bouncing off of one another. Every single time, the same arguments are re-argued, and the same anguish is recycled. However, with each subsequent joust, the discourse becomes more unclear, eventually mediating the representation of the big picture that finally gets lost in the fold.

Let’s quickly dispel the three main arguments deployed by those who are for the niqab ban. (1) No, the fewer-than-2000 niqabis in France do not constitute a security threat. A backpack is a much better place to hide a bomb, should we ban them? Should we also ban ski masks (much more common in robberies) and balaclavas (popular among violent protestors)? (2) No, banning the niqab is not on the same plane as banning frontal nudity in public. Most free societies do have some sort of regulation in term of dress, but compromises can be reached when particular difficulties like the niqab are presented. There are ways around problems like this, like getting a female bureaucrat to check ID when necessary. Not the end of the world. (3) The “mobile prison argument”, that women are forced to wear the face-veil by their fathers and husbands. Suffice it to say that one should speak to those who wear the niqab in order to evaluate the merit of this argument.

Where does that bring us? Back to square one, a most basic and fundamental principle of Enlightenment expression and tolerance: cartoonists who drew demeaning portraits of the Prophet Muhammad have to put up with the face veil, and the niqabis have to put up with the cartoonists. One may not “approve of” or respect a particular way of life, but—like it or not—that is the deal in a free society: one must to learn to live with practices that one “resents”.

Therefore, the Sarkozy ruse is, like its progenitors, an easy one to untangle. It fails politically due to its easily detectable hypocrisy and opportunism, but also philosophically (if one is to grant him the audience of an unnecessary debate), for it disrespects the vows of a free society and the guiding principles of free-expression/religious-freedom.

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middle east, muslims, politics

No-Fly Zone in Libya: let us be clear

What is “liberal intervention” but a deceptively labelled concept meant for making military intrusion possible? The abstract idea of a utopic and humanitarian bouquet of bombs and missiles may be easy to imagine in a world filled with disinformation, but history has taught us that such pseudo-events do not exist. Remember the former Yugoslavia? Remember Iraq and Afghanistan? Those who tell us that Libya 2011 is “unique” embrace the overbearing clichés  churned out by the corporate media.

Libyans must determine their own fate. If a no-fly zone is unquestionably what the rebelling Libyans want, then so be it. But let us harbour no illusions and tell it like it is. Full stop. A no-fly zone imposed upon Libya will be a serious, multifaceted, military operation controlled by the United States and its lapdog, the United Kingdom (perhaps also France). Russia and China have both expressed serious reservations. Thus, the usual suspects have returned, as have the vague “responsibility to protect” (R2P) non-ideologies they espouse. It is like a bad dream recurring over and over again.

The top-dogs of the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Central command, Robert Gates and General James Mattis respectively, have both concurred that the implementation of a no-fly zone means—without any doubt—the destruction of Libya’s air defenses. This appears to be a standard prerequisite for the sending of any jets from a “protecting power”. Getting the United Nations to back a no-fly zone is tough enough, given the reservations by Russia and China, but certain international agreements (rules of engagement) will have to also be addressed, just so the forces controlling the air do not shoot at each other—or a civilian airliner for that matter.

The implementation of a no-fly zone is also commonly perceived as a reduction of violence. This is not true. First of all, it is ludicrous to say that Qaddafi’s instruments of death are confined by the air. His usage of mercenaries (mainly as snipers) is infamous by now. Second, a no-fly zone would mean more—not less—planes and missiles flying through the skies. What will this do to the surrounding areas?  If the Qaddafi air force is as formidable as some R2P apologists will have it, then a battle in the skies will ensue. What will this mean for the people on the ground? Anti-aircraft weaponry also includes missiles shot from the ground, operated by their corresponding personnel. This means U.S.-U.K.-France troops directly on the ground in Libya. What will become of them when—God-willing—Qaddafi is ousted?

Furthermore, how serious is Qaddafi’s aerial power—actually? The official numbers are 227 fighter aircrafts and 35 attack helicopters. It is certainly a scary tally, and should not be underestimated. However, let us again be clear. Most Western countries have their planes repaired, maintained, and serviced around half of the time. The rate is astronomically higher in Libya. So far, not more than a few planes have attacked the rebels. The bombardment of Brega, a key oil port in eastern Libya (quite close to Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte), was carried out by a single jet that dropped all but two bombs. Military and air force analysts have noted that “lone-wolf” operations are extremely rare to begin with, due to high risk, not to mention only to drop two bombs. This is the closest real indication of the Libyan air force one can get thus far. It means that either the Libyan air force has some seriously disenchanted pilots (the two bombs dropped on Brega were—according to some eye-witnesses—purposely off-target, and left no casualties), or that the fleet is so deficient that no more than one or two planes can get in the air at one time.

Given these ramifications, how desirable is a no-fly zone? Suffice it to say that a more serious assessment of Qaddafi’s military power will have to be done by the media (a difficult proposal given that the international media in Libya is  under lock-down and cannot move freely).

Wahid Burshan, a Libyan political analyst and activist, has expressed that “taking Libyan air defenses out…and things like that…in order for them [the U.S./U.K.-France] to manage the skies…could be problematic. The Libyan people may consider that hostile and it may tip the point to Qaddafi’s favour.” Burshan also pointed out on Al Jazeera English’s Inside Story that the military in Libya is not always 100% pro-Qaddafi, and seriously antagonizing the army may not be the best strategy. It may be useful to remember the two Libyan pilots who defected from the Qaddafi camp in February and landed their planes in Malta after a refusal to obey orders and bomb fellow Libyans.

At best, it seems that the Libyan people are divided on the idea of a U.S.-U.K.-France imposed no-fly zone. Based on all the information one can gather from rather opaque reports coming out of Libya, a no-fly zone may not be worth it right now—but a better assessment may be available to us and the people of Libya in the future.

Note that serious reservations for a no-fly zone as of now is not grounded in the opinion that it simply will not work. It may work, especially given Libya’s weak defenses. Rather, serious reservations arise out of several concerns: (1) once Western powers are involved in the Libyan revolution, they are involved in that revolution’s future outcomes—and the future of Libya—Qaddafi or no Qaddafi, (2) the information regarding the will of the Libyans themselves is extremely opaque, and a serious cost-benefit decision has yet to be made by Libyans, and (3) despite some calls not to compare Libya’s situation to other similar (proposed) interventions previously, serious analysts take into account the past behaviour of Western powers.

On that last point, let us just say that suspicion is a much understated sentiment as of now. Given that Prime Minister Cameron recently returned from a trip selling arms to his Gulf despot friends, the principle motivation for this R2P inspired spirit of intervention is just too hard to take seriously.

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politics

European Austerity, European Rebellion

Published On: The Canadian Charger, January 5th, 2011
[http://www.thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=731]

During 2010 as Europe was trying to bring itself out of the pits of a worldwide economic meltdown, the continent’s rightwing forces have tried to usher in an age of austerity/cutbacks amidst the chaos.

A country with a mountain of debt worth up to €300 billion, the Greek government accepted a €110 billion loan arranged by the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The catch?

A slash in salaries for Greek workers who operate the country’s public utilities (known as Deko’s).

In France, the legislature has already approved pension reforms that extend retirement age from 65 to 67.

In Britain, the Coalition government’s decision to raise university tuition fees up to £9,000 per year has triggered the largest protests the country has seen in a generation.

As the world reels from recessions, several European countries have essentially allowed the weight of a dwindling economy fall on the shoulders of its most vulnerable.

Despite the loud and clear voices of their constituents, members of parliament from the aforementioned countries have chosen expediency over principle. 15,000 protestors filled Syntagma Square this in Greece, while hundreds of thousands poured out into the streets of France and Britain. The anger is palpable, and so was the violence that eventually became manifest in protestor-police clashes.

England’s tuition fee vote passed narrowly (323-302), and was accompanied by several resignations and abstentions. Aaron Porter, the president of the National Union of Students stated that the students have won over public opinion. According to Porter, the measure was passed “only because MPs have broken their promises.” Chief amongst the “promise breakers” is Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democratic camp of the coalition government. Clegg campaigned on “scrapping tuition fees” during the elections, and seemed to have gone through an about-face. Assuring that all 17 Liberal Democrat ministers would vote for the fee hike, Clegg has earned his stripes as a “traitor”.

Hardly any substantial difference can be discerned from the anger and frustration in Greece and France. Greek transport minister Kostis Hatzidakis was chased by 200 protestors throwing stones as they chased him into a nearby building while shouting “Thieves! Shame on you!” This followed the massive May 2010 protests in Athens, where at least three protestors died when a bank was set on fire during a general strike. In France, much of the country came to a halt as workers in French oil refineries walked out.

The French president Sarkozy suffered from an approval rating of 29%, which was only bolstered to around 34% after his vicious immigration crackdown.

Those who run away with their coffers full (of taxpayer money) during crises are not doing anything novel. The European people, however, seem to understand this. In the face of tremendous economic pressure, austerity, and cutbacks on social welfare, the people of France, Greece, and England are not afraid to use the language of class warfare. They protest, riot, strike, and shout. They attempt to “throw the bastards out,” and grind the city centers to a halt. When their governments collude with international bankers and institutions to “lift” their failing economies out of debt via austerity, the working classes of these countries immediately note the pillaging that happens.

If only this type of anger and frustration existed in North America. If only downtown Toronto in the summer of 2010 was shut down by citizens instead of oligarchs. If only Wall Street was occupied in the latter months of 2009 by protestors instead of bankers, then perhaps North Americans would have learned something from the people of Europe.

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