A cycle of mutual reinforcement – The Israel-Palestine conflict and omens for the future

As with all violent conflicts, a process of othering and a gradual dehumanisation of the opposition becomes an instrument of justification for those on both sides of the crossfire. The insidious combination of fear, racism and stigmatisation can distort a society’s view of other humans to the extent that systematic acts of violence can be committed without empathy and without remorse. Often, this combination is administered by one side so effectively that despite, for example, a comparative contrast in military might, a disparity in social standing or economic development, or perhaps using some of these realities as further justification, violence descends into a cycle of mutual reinforcement. On the other side of the conflict is often an enfeebled, comparatively weaker state, that resorts to symbolic forms of violence to deliver a message about the perceived injustice they face. Only then to be labelled subversives or terrorists in the process. This cycle is one of the most powerful catalysts for conflict taking place on both national and international scales.

The most pertinent example of a conflict locked in a cycle of mutual reinforcement is the Israel-Palestine conflict. Importantly, the cycle itself is perpetuated not just by physical and military violence, but also by cultural violence (Galtung,1990). Israel and Palestine remain separate entities. The Israeli’s, a powerful advanced economy with state of the art military technology. The Palestinian’s, an unrecognised entity living under occupation in the West Bank or under military control on the Gaza strip. Furthermore, the Palestinians remain separated from Israel by a wall and a series of military blockades. The power of this divide is the physical manifestation of the process of othering (Said,1978). The symbolic significance is that it is very rare for an ordinary Israeli to encounter a Palestinian – or an ‘Arab’, as they are almost exclusively referred to by Israeli’s (Peled-Elhanan,2012). The historical significance of this divide is that both Israeli and Palestinian education systems teach alternate and contrasting histories of the region. Not only contrasting histories, but the media depicts two contrasting versions of the present and the future, that only cross when violence has been committed by one side to the other (Deprez & Raeymaeckers, 2010). Thus, the social development of Israelis and Palestinians are mutually constituted by a belief that the ‘other’ is the enemy.

Israel is depicted in Palestine and by the Arab nations as an American agent of destabilisation, the product of colonial pursuits and a heavily militarised denier of Palestine’s collective history and social existence. Palestine is barely depicted by Israel at all. The unacknowledged occupants of a ‘land without a people, for a people without a land’ (Muir,2008). When they are depicted, it is in inflammatory terms. Even for many in the West, particularly in the US, Palestinians are synonymous with terrorism, a lack of development, resistance to democracy and rampant anti-Semitism. It is these carefully cultivated caricatures that allow the cycle of reinforcement to take place. When a terrorist attack happens, it is blamed on Palestinian resistance to the state of Israel and an instinct for violence and anti-Semitism. When Israel responds excessively, with the full force of its indoctrinated and vastly superior armed forces, it is because Palestinian’s are viewed as sub-human terrorists.

This legitimising discourse on both sides necessitates and condones internationally condemned treatment of Palestinians in the form of excessive military responses, widespread displacement and settlement building. Whilst Palestinians continue to fight for nationhood with what little power they possess, usually via demonstration or suicide bombing. This is the reinforcement process, with perceptions carefully conditioned to utilise and distort the narrative of the violence the opposing side has committed. It is unfortunate that this will continue until Israel forces Palestine into submission or Israel contradicts its founding doctrines and recognises a state of Palestine. However, with Benjamin Netanyahu’s and Naftali Bennett’s far-right coalition in power, and the continued settlement expansion into the West Bank, a two-state solution seems impossible (Al Jazeera,2017). And with the Rohingya crisis displaying some similar characteristics to the conflict in Israel, the power of mutual reinforcement continues to threaten international peace (BBC news,2017).

 

Deprez, A. and Raeymaeckers, K., (2010). Bias in the news? The representation of Palestinians and Israelis in the coverage of the First and Second Intifada. International Communication Gazette, 72(1), pp.91-109.

Galtung, J., (1990). Cultural violence. Journal of peace research, 27(3), pp.291-305

Kibble, D, (2012). A plea for improved education about ‘the Other’ in Israel and Palestine. The Curriculum journal. 23:4, pp.553-566

Muir, D., (2008). A Land without a People for a People without a Land. Middle East Quarterly.

Peled-Elhanan, N., (2012). Palestine in Israeli school books: Ideology and propaganda in education (Vol. 82). IB Tauris.

Said, E. (1978). Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 199.

Al Jazeera [online], UN: Israel settlements big hurdle to two-state solution, (2017), available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/08/israel-settlements-big-hurdle-state-solution-170829174956923.html [accessed: 20/09/2017]

BBC news [online], Rohingya crisis: Suu Kyi says ‘fake news helping terrorists’, (2017), available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-41170570 [accessed: 20/09/2017]

 

The SNP and Education: radical or just rhetoric?

Education, education, education is once again a priority in Scotland. In the Scottish Queen’s Speech at the beginning of the month, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon set out the SNP’s programme for government, including the promise to ‘deliver the most radical reform of how schools are run since devolution began’ through the introduction of an Education Bill. This is not the first time Sturgeon has promised action on education. Early on as First Minister, she claimed her priority would be to close the attainment gap between the rich and the poor. And yet, the SNP are now under more pressure as not only has this not become a reality, but education standards are rapidly falling. Last year, Scottish schools dropped in world rankings, with tests on maths, reading and science falling to ‘average’ for the first time since 2000. The Scottish Government has also published results showing a drop in Scottish literacy rates, with now less than half of thirteen and fourteen year olds performing well in writing, leading to Prime Minister Theresa May claiming the falling standard of education is a ‘national scandal’. Now more than ever, the SNP need to be seen to be combatting the problem their critics are claiming they have caused.

But are the SNP going about this the right way? John Swinney, Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary, discussed early plans in June for the Education Bill, suggesting wider powers for headteachers and continuing with Regional Education Boards, a supposed ‘middle layer’ of support, encouraged by the OECD which is supposed to be extra support for teachers. The idea would be that these reforms would give teachers and parents more freedom to focus on closing the attainment gap.

And yet, teachers are not so sure. In June, an Education Governance Review was published after the government sought the opinions of a wide range of educational professionals for their opinion of structural reform. The results reflect a widespread belief for ‘no need to fix something that is not broken’ and ‘a strong opposition against the uniform establishment of educational regions’. With results like these, it really draws questions as to why and how the government is justifying these reforms, unpopular and seen not to particularly benefit educational attainment. The benefits of such a reform are unclear, and despite assurances that the reforms should reduce workload for teachers, there are fears the reforms could potentially increase bureaucracy, lose local accountability, and weaken democratic representation.

The changing role of headteachers is also shrouded in mystery as well. It is suggested that headteachers would be responsible over funding, staffing, curriculum content, as well as raising the attainment and closing poverty-related gaps. In theory, these functions focus primarily on the welfare and education of students, removing unnecessary jobs which would distract headteachers from their core goals of supporting students. Critics have argued that these reforms don’t really improve the powers that Scottish head teachers already have. Liz Smith, the Scottish Conservative Education Spokesperson, described the reforms as ‘half-baked and only pay lip service to real devolution’. Indeed, headteachers in Scotland already have control over the curriculum, as well as control over staffing and school budgets. It’s not entirely clear yet how their role will be changed, and doesn’t appear as radical as the SNP government is suggesting.

This Bill is one to keep an eye out on in the future, but the motives behind these reforms seem confusing. All evidence points to these reforms being highly unpopular and not really recognising the problems behind Scottish education. It appears to be a distraction from the real issue – a failure to fund resources in schools to an appropriate level. Rather than reform and radicalism, all I can see is a reshuffle that just serves to annoy teachers even further rather than deal with the root causes of the problems.

Anglo-Saudi Relations: A Study in Realist International Theory

As we in the western world wrestle with the cultural theatrics that come with a modern brand of political correctness. From internet trolls to gender and racial tolerance; issues which are a far-cry from the cultural norms of Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of numerous basic human rights abuses and of funding international terrorism. So why does the UK, the birthplace of parliamentary democracy and a self-proclaimed cradle for modern liberal values overtly engage in the sale of arms and support to the Saudi regime. Realism is a theory of international politics which insists that states act in a rational manner and only to further their own self-interests, as opposed to liberal theory; which posits that states ally themselves in accordance to shared values (known as norms).



In a realists’ world, the UK aligns itself with the House of Saud because the relationship is a beneficial one – in the sense that the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia helps to expand the UK economy. The fact that such weapons are being used with complete disregard for Yemeni civilian life, does not seem to be a concern for the British government, as it should be according to subscribers of Liberal Theory (human rights being a supposed UK norm). In its 2016/2017 report, Amnesty International outlines the ways in which the Saudi state has also tightened its restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. It continues to detain, arrest and prosecute writers and online commentators based on vague charges. It also pursues those who attempt to defend human rights within its borders: including founders of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) and the Union for Human Rights (Amnesty International, 2017).

Though there is no conclusive evidence that the ruling class in Saudi Arabia is actively involved in the support of ISIL, there are sources which give credence to such allegations. In the famous leaked Emails which plagued Mrs. Clinton’s 2017 bid for the presidency, John Podesta wrote that the Saudis were “providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.” (Wikileaks, 2015) Published diplomatic cables from the US State Department serve to reinforce Podesta’s claim: “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide” (Wikileaks, 2009).

But all of this is disregarded by our government, because to address it would be counter-productive to the UK’s plans in the region. Which are representative of the West’s grander plan for the Middle-East; with the Saudi trade partnership and the mutual exchange of oil and arms at its centre. Besides the economic benefits of such a partnership, the UK is willing to ignore Saudi funding of ISIL because the alliance provides the West with a somewhat reliable ally in opposition to Iran, the Taliban and other actors the UK deems as a threat to her interests.

So a few people have their rights infringed upon, and some people may lose their lives because of terrorism, or paradoxically find themselves imprisoned on vague anti-terrorist charges. The fact is, in a realist world system, these things clearly don’t count for much.

 

Amnesty International, “Saudi Arabia 2016/2017” (2017): Accessible: https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/saudi-arabia/report-saudi-arabia/ (Accessed 17/09/2017)

WikiLeaks, “Congrats!, John Podesta Email Chain” (2015): Accessible: https://wikileaks.org/podesta-emails/emailid/3774 (Accessed 17/09/2017)

WikiLeaks, “Terrorist Finance: Action Request for Senior Level Engagement on Terrorism Finance” (2009) Accessible: https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09STATE131801_a.html (Accessed 17/09/2017)

What is Boris up to?

It has been an exhilarating week in Parliament. The Repeal Bill has passed its second reading, the Government has u-turned on the public sector pay cap and Labour gained victories on NHS pay and tuition fees. It has been quite a few days before recess.

Unfortunately, it has also been the week where terror has returned to the country. An explosion at Parsons Green Tube Station saw a number of people injured, although thankfully it appears no loss of life or life threatening injuries. This has led to the Prime Minister raising the security level to critical from severe, meaning an attack is believed to be imminent.

It is amidst this backdrop that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has decided that now is the time to intervene.  In a piece for the Daily Telegraph, Johnson has set out his vision for post-Brexit Britain. Most prominently in this article, Johnson has repeated the controversial claim that leaving the EU would save £350m a week, which could be spent on the NHS. Unsurprisingly, this has created a lot of headlines.



This article has drawn criticism from some senior figures in the Conservative Party. Will Tanner, a former adviser to Theresa May called the article a “prelude to resignation” and Ruth Davidson in what was widely perceived as an attack on Boris Johnson said at the present time “the only thoughts should be on service.” Another unnamed Conservative MP described this as an “extraordinarily selfish act.”

Allies of the Foreign Secretary have claimed the article was authorised by 10 Downing Street and that Johnson was merely setting out his position. However, accepting this argument is highly naïve. When penning this article, Johnson and allies would have known it would be interpreted as a leadership bid and the resulting problems this could then cause the Prime Minister, who is due to give a major Brexit speech on Friday. Johnson is no novice.

It is unclear what Johnson is up to here. Leadership; resignation; clearing his name; putting pressure on the PM or a mixture of these things. Take your pick! Regardless, the timing is appalling and will not help the Foreign Secretary or his reputation. It was reported earlier this week Number 10 has been attempting to keep Johnson on board. I think we can now safely say this attempt has just failed! Prior to party conference, Johnson has given the PM another headache.

 

 

Donald Trump and The Consequences of Society’s “Attention Deficit”

January 20th of this year seems so long ago now, but I implore you to cast your mind back, as many media moguls and tycoons do so fondly; a day for headlines. Of course, it arrived in tow with obligatory cries of fake news and unprofessional reporting; as pictures circulated on social media showing the extensive size or lack thereof regarding the crowd gathered for Donald Trump’s inauguration. This of course sparked debate across the USA and indeed the world; once again lavishing Mr. Trump with the attention he so desperately needs to sustain his ever-burgeoning ego.

Media coverage proved to be a cornerstone of the Trump campaign and indeed it seems likely to play a large role in his presidency. Though many are always willingly enthralled by the President’s latest faux-pas, the result of this 24-hour Big Brother Trump-watch is often that many more important stories go without remark. This phenomenon reveals the true nature of the global media and thus, as consumers of information, we find ourselves bound by an attention deficit; there is an unspecified, finite amount of attention to be divided among various issues. Regarding this, Trump’s titanic share of the day’s headlines can be manipulated by Republican leaders and his administrations’ various antics used to distort the visibility of vastly more important issues.



Famous psycholinguist-turned-activist Noam Chomsky in “A Continuing Conversation with Geographers” commented specifically concerning Trump’s ‘Russia scandal’ and about the way news coverage has been manipulated by high-ranking legislative representatives:

parts of the governmental structure that are beneficial to human beings and to future generations are being systematically destroyed, and with very little attention.

(Noam Chomsky Videos, July 2017)

Chomsky outlines the way in which single-minded programs are being employed by what he identifies as ‘Paul Ryan Republicans’, their prerogative being: offer gifts to the rich and powerful, and “kick everyone else in the face”. (ibid.)

              So, it seems clear that Republicans in both the Senate and the House have come to recognise the utility of Trump in the White House, in fact, they are able to constantly rely upon Trump and his administration as a deflector of negative attention. This allows them to get to work dismantling Obama Care and reducing funding for public welfare programs. But beyond this, perhaps the reality: that there is a distinctly finite amount of attention that the public has at its disposal, is itself a threat to a healthy, modern democracy? Could the fact that, on a cognitive level, we can only follow so many narratives, lead us to become ignorant of what is really going on – of what really matters?

 

How many stories did you miss today?

#Moggmentum

It is impossible to write anything political at present, without prefacing it by saying how unpredictable politics is. Brexit, the rise of Trump and Corbyn’s Labour etc. This, neatly brings us to the curious case of Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Jacob Rees-Mogg is the Conservative MP for North East Somerset. Prior to this summer Rees-Mogg was somewhat a laughing stock. His posh accent and old-fashioned views made him a walking stereotype. This summer though, something has changed. Rees-Mogg has become one of the favourites to be the next Conservative leader. What has changed?

Firstly, there is no obvious pretender to the Conservative throne. This means journalists and pundits are looking outside of the Cabinet for future leaders. Secondly, Rees-Mogg has authenticity. His opinions are controversial, but there is no doubt where he stands on the major issues of the days. Thirdly, he is a good media performer. His dry sense of humour and articulate speaking style has made him a favourite amongst media producers. Lastly, everyone is looking for the next political shock.

So, can it happen? Rees-Mogg has claimed stories he will stand as the next party leader are part of the media’s silly season but other reports claim he has sounded out friends about his leadership ambitions. He has also just topped ConservativeHome’s survey of party members on who they would like to be next Tory leader.

Comparisons have been made with Corbyn’s rise, but it is important to note Conservative leadership contests have different rules to Labour ones. Rather than all candidates being presented straight to the membership, the parliamentary party first whittles the choice down to two candidates. Rees-Mogg would have support from the Right of the party, but it is clear there would be a significant stop Rees-Mogg campaign, indicating it would be difficult for Rees-Mogg to reach the final two.

If Rees-Mogg was to reach the final two, it is possible he could win. His Eurosceptic stance and traditionalist leanings are popular with Conservative members. But, we are a long way from this scenario. Currently there is no vacancy, and it is unclear when this contest would happen and what the political climate will be. Crucially Rees-Mogg would also have to gain support from the Parliamentary Party. That appears unlikely.

#Moggmentum may be picking up, but I still wouldn’t put any money on Jacob Rees-Mogg being the next Conservative leader.

 

Debate Essentials

Debating in public, whether at university or college can seem like an intimidating prospect. The possibility of forgetting your lines, stumbling over your words or even being embarrassed by an opponent are enough to put many off.

This paints a rather daunting picture. So how can these nerves be defeated? And, how can you ensure that you perform to your best in a debating environment?

These are some potential do’s and don’ts which should hopefully offer some guidance on how you can overcome any issues and reach your debating peak.

Do’s

Be Yourself

Every individual person is different. Not all can be great orators, have perfect comedic timing or even be able to retain a lot of information. However, this does not mean that you cannot be an effective debater.

This means you should be confident in your own individual style. There is no point trying to be something that you are not. You need to play to your strengths. Debate in a way and a manner that you feel comfortable with and highlights who you are as a person.

Know Your Argument

A successful debater will have a strong grasp of their brief. They will be able to provide detailed information and answers on their topic. This means knowing your facts. No matter how you are feeling, having a good grasp of these details is crucial.

A failure to understand your argument or do the necessary research can make you look foolish and can give an advantage to your opponent. Not all the facts or detail has to be used, but you should be prepared to use them if necessary.

Practice

You will not be able to replicate the exact style or format of the debate, but that does not mean you should not practice (bringing friends along to change the atmosphere can also help!) Practice can help with your confidence and can make you feel more secure in your arguments and positions.

Once you are confident with your argument, it is then vital to be able to turn off. Over practising can be potentially damaging and can often make you more nervous. Each individual has to find their optimum level of comfort and walk away from practice when the time is right.

Try and Enjoy Yourself

This is easier said than done! However, it is good to remember why you have put yourself in this place in the first time. This is something that you feel passionate about and that you enjoy. This shouldn’t feel like a chore.

Once you have begun to make your points, you will find that you settle down and that your nerves will begin to dissipate. When this happens, it is quite natural to begin to enjoy yourself and feel comfortable in your environment.

 

Don’ts

Get Angry

Anger is not your friend. Anger will take you out of your comfort zone and will lead you to stop focussing on your argument and the points that you want to make. From a basic perspective, this will make you less effective.

This does not mean that you shouldn’t be passionate, but there is a clear difference between passion and anger. Understanding this, and understanding how to control your emotions is key for anyone in a debate format.

Get Personal

Personal arguments do not win debates or make good speeches. They take the focus away from the points that you are making and give succour to your opponents who will believe they have been successful in dictating the terms.

It is also not good practice. Choosing to attack the man rather than the ball will make you careless. It will take your focus off your argument and your points and could form a habit. This is not a good habit for any debater to get themselves in.

Worry About Nerves

Nerves happy to everyone. No matter how many times you debate or how many times you speak you will always get nervous. Having nerves before you speak is not anything to worry about and in reality just makes you human.

In addition, don’t be concerned about mistakes. Mistakes also happen to everyone. If you don’t believe me just watch a debate in the House of Commons. When you make a mistake, the best thing to do is refocus and concentrate on your initial aim.

Worry about how You Sound

This seems like a really small issue, but is one that needs to be made. Very few people are comfortable with how they sound or how they speak. This can be blindingly evident when you speak in front of people for the first time.

As best as you can, this has to be put to the back of your mind. Remember, it is not how you are talking or the accent that you have that matters, but it is the points you are making. That is what must dictate your performance.

Conclusion

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but are just a few do’s and don’ts. It is firmly up to you whether you take this advice.

Anyway good luck and get debating!

 

What should we make of Labour’s new Brexit stance?

The debate around Brexit has focussed largely on the Conservative Party to date, but this week Labour sought to give further detail on their position. Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer in an article for The Observer confirmed the Labour Party would seek a transitional deal with the EU and would hope to remain in the Customs Union and the Single Market during this period.

The transitional period would be “as short as possible, but as long as necessary” and in that period the country would abide by the common rules of both the customs union and the single market. This means that throughout this transitional stage freedom of movement would continue.

The reaction in the Labour Party to this announcement has been mixed. Chuku Umunna, a leading supporter of the pro-EU Open Britain group described the statement as a “most welcome announcement.” However, some at the top of the party described the move as “unwise” and “incredibly damaging.”

This debate has been ongoing behind the scenes in the Labour Party for some time, but will be analysed as a victory for the ‘Europhiles’ or the ‘Soft Brexit’ contingent of the party and represents a shift in position. Two months ago, Jeremy Corbyn sacked members of his front-bench after they supported an amendment designed to keep the UK in the Single Market and a month ago he confirmed Labour would leave the Single Market.

Although, this position is likely to gain favour with the pro-EU portions of Labour support in student areas and London in particular; it will not be universally popular. To the pro-Leave Labour supporters a transitional deal with no clear end and continued freedom of movement will feel like a betrayal. This could be damaging for the party in Leave marginals across the Midlands and the North.

Accepting the need for a transitional period is sensible from the Labour Party. The refusal, however, to clarify a clear end date for this transitional period will worry voters. Some voters may assess this as the Labour Party looking for a way to stay in the EU indefinitely and renege on their agreement to respect the referendum result.

The Labour Party could now face a difficult few months as they see how this policy lands with their voters and whether there will be any push-back.