Monthly Archives: March 2017

Beijing brings order to its colonial “Savage Reservations”

Turpan Bazaar in Xinjing, in February, 2017. Photo by Sergio Tittarini via Flickr, Creative Commons

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
April 1, 2017

Beijing is reaching back into the excesses of Maoist Stalinism and forward into the high-tech social control of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” to try to contain the restive natives of its colonial outposts, Tibet and Xinjiang.

And Beijing’s problems with its occupied territories don’t end there. After a farcical process to “elect” a new governor for Hong Kong, the stage is set for more grief for Beijing from the territory’s people, who increasingly feel themselves culturally and philosophically divorced from the Mainland.

Lhasa, Tibet, in October 2015. Photo by Laika ac/Flickr/Creative Commons

Beijing has beefed up its campaign of cultural genocide – no other phrase adequately describes what is happening – in both Xinjiang and Tibet since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012 as China’s Communist Party leader and President.

The campaigns are not quite the kind of cultural dislocation and reprogramming foreseen by Huxley in his 1932 novel “Brave New World.” But the effects are similar, and Beijing has been swift to understand and adopt the opportunities for the control and management of its dissident citizenry offered by technological innovations.

For example, authorities in Xinjiang issued orders in February that all vehicles – not just new ones — must be equipped with GPS trackers. The system will allow police to pinpoint the position of cars and trucks at any time. “The car is the main means of transportation of terrorists, and is often also used by them as a weapon,” said the police statement. “It is imperative that we move to a GPS and electronic license plate system to manage vehicle positioning.”

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At the same time, about 40,000 high-definition surveillance cameras with riot-proof protective shells had been installed throughout Xinjiang. Nearly 17,000 were installed in the territorial capital, Urumqi, the state-run Xinhua news agency has reported.

Since the middle of last year these campaigns have shifted into a higher gear. The intensified repression appears to be only partly in response to unrest on the ground, and primarily to reaffirm Xi’s well-established reputation as an uncompromising autocrat ahead of confirmation later this year for a further five years at the helm.

Many of the tactics used by the Chinese regime to culturally, politically and economically destablize the Tibetans and the Uighers would be familiar to the old Communist dictators Mao Zedong and the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin.

Indeed, the repression campaigns appear be largely successful. There has been little trouble in Xinjiang since the last serious outbreak of civil unrest in 2009, when nearly 200 people died in fighting between Uighers and Han Chinese, and during the intervention of security forces.

In Tibet and the Tibetan regions of Sichuan province there was a rash of self-immolations in 2012 by Buddhist monks and nuns protesting Beijing’s destruction of monasteries and monastic life. There were seven such suicides in 2015 and three in 2016. The International Campaign for Tibet says the first one this year was on March 18, when a farmer and former monk, Pema Gyaltsen, set himself on fire in Kham in the Tibetan region of Sichuan. He may have survived the suicide attempt, and his relatives and supporters have been detained and beaten by police.

At the same time, Human Rights Watch says there is a massive campaign underway to remove monks and nuns from Buddhist monasteries and communities in Sichuan’s Larung Gar and Yachen Gar. The local government has ordered the monks running Larung Gar to reduce the number of monks from the estimated 15,000 to 5,000. To enforce this order on March 12 the local authorities began the demolition of nearly 3,300 homes associated with the monastery.

Meanwhile scores of nuns evicted from monasteries have been subjected to “re-education” that amounts to psychological abuse. Human Rights Watch says one video on social media shows young Tibetan women with shaven heads, who appear to be nuns, dressed in military clothes and drawn up in military ranks. They are chanting words from a propaganda song used by the authorities. “The Tibetans and the Chinese are daughters of the same mother, the name of the mother is China.”

Another video on social media shows a dozen Tibetan nuns in religious robes dancing and singing on a stage in front of what appear to be Chinese officials. They are singing “The Song of the Emancipated Serf,” another Maoist propaganda hit. Tibetan novices usually make a vow to refrain from singing or dancing when they become nuns. The performance thus seems to be an attempt at humiliation aimed at breaking the nuns’ religious dedication.

Beijing accuses the Tibetans, most of whom are devout Buddhists, of being separatists and mired in archaic superstition. The native Muslim Uighers of Xinjiang are also accused of “splittism” – separatism — by Beijing, but it also says they harbour Islamic terrorists. Beijing has managed to get an acquiescent Washington to agree to designate some Uigher groups as “terrorist organizations.
Meanwhile in Xinjiang, the regional Communist Party Secretary, Li Jianhua, has cited the example of Donald Trump’s putative Muslim travel ban to justify a clampdown on Islamic practices considered “manifestations of extremism.” These include men wearing beards, women wearing veils and anyone opting for Islamic weddings and divorces instead of civic procedures.

The campaign of repression in Xinjiang has been stepped up since the issuing of a video last month, purportedly by the Islamic State group. The video detailed official actions against Uigher Islamic observance, and then showed Uigher-speaking fighters vowing to “shed blood like rivers” in Xinjiang.

And in both colonial territories – China took full control of Xinjiang (“New Frontier”) in 1949, and invaded and occupied Tibet in 1950 – Beijing has intensified programs to move Han Chinese settlers into the outposts. This is both to provide work and opportunities for Han Chinese who need employment, but also to make the Tibetans and Uighers into politically irrelevant minorities. The Uighers are already a 46 per cent minority among Xinjiang’s 21 million people. Beijing insists that 90 per cent of the just over 3 million people living in Tibet are still Tibetans. But the exiled Tibetan religious leader, the Dalai Lama, believes the Han Chinese population is much larger, and increasing daily, in large part because of the opening of the first railway line into Tibet in 2006.

Much of the apparent success of Beijing’s campaign of repression and cultural dislocation seems to be the work of one man. Chen Quaguo was the Communist Party secretary in Tibet from 2011 until the middle of 2015, when he was appointed party boss in Xinjiang. Australian professor of politics and Asian studies at Melbourne’s La Trobe University, James Leibold, and Adrian Zenz, lecturer at the European School of Culture and Theology in Korntal, Germany, have studied and written extensively about Chen’s methods.

One of Chen’s most successful strategies has been to give a modern twist to an ancient system of urban district surveillance and control. Such systems go back to the Roman Empire and perhaps earlier. District-level party snoops were at the heart of Mao’s command and control system, and to a large extent still are.

Chen, however, has adopted what is known as “grid-style social management.” This involves building and manning a police outpost to cover an area of up to 500 meters in radius in order to monitor the 400-or-so people living in that block. In order to give the impression that these outposts are just shelters for the local kindly bobby on the beat, they have phone battery re-chargers for the public and even umbrellas for those caught in rainstorms.

But the police posts, say Leibold and Zenz, “are equipped with the latest anti-riot equipment, and, in some cases, high-tech surveillance equipment such as face and voice recognition software, which is used to track suspects and even build profiles of likely troublemakers.” The purpose of the grid monitoring posts, said an article in a state-controlled Xinjiang newspaper, is “complete coverage without any chinks, blind spots, or blank spaces.”

Beijing’s investment in this tight network of surveillance and control in its colonial outposts is massive. Zenz and Leibold say that Chen oversaw the building of 698 police outposts in the Tibetan capital Lhasa alone during his tenure. The system is now being applied to other Tibetan towns and cities, and even out into villages.

In the Xinjiang capital Urumqi there are nearly 1,000 police outposts. Again, the grid monitoring system us being set up in other Xinjiang cities, and especially in areas where the Uighers still outnumber the settler Han Chinese.

It has, of course, taken a massive increase in manpower to manage this intense program of social control. The two academics reckon that about 200,000 Communist Party officials are being dispatched to village and rural areas to keep an eye on the Uighers. They have also studied government recruitment advertisements and calculate that 31,000 additional police officers were taken on in Xinjiang last year, three times the number recruited in 2015. Leibold and Zenz also reckon that Xinjiang’s total security budget was the equivalent of about $30 billion in 2015.

So far, Beijing has been constrained from using similar tactics in Hong Kong by the “one country, two systems” agreement by which the former British colony was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. But that has not discouraged Beijing from taking every opportunity to undermine or discard the rapid advance to democracy, and maintenance of the British-style independent judiciary and rule of law Hongkongers were promised in the handover agreement.

Beijing’s contempt for meaningful democracy was on display again last weekend when a new governor, known as the “Chief Executive” was selected by a 1,194-member “election committee.” The committee is dominated by people who for one reason or another are beholden to Beijing. In the run-up to their final vote for the Chief Executive, the committee members look to Beijing-controlled media and the speeches of Communist Party leaders to learn what is expected of them. This time, the message from Beijing was clear. It’s favourite from among the three candidates was Carrie Lam, the departing head of the Hong Kong civil service, and the fourth governor picked by Beijing since the handover nearly 20 years ago.

The last three Chief Executives have been disasters to varying degrees and all have been down the list of the leaders Hongkongers would have chosen given the chance. It appeared there might be a change in the system in 2014 when a proposal for a popularly elected Chief Executive was on the table. However, that fell through the floor when Beijing insisted there could only be a free elected if the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party first decided on the list of candidates.

Tens of thousands of young pro-democracy activists occupied Hong Kong’s main commercial centres for nearly three months and this upwelling of discontent pushed the territory’s legislature to reject the Beijing proposal. So now Beijing has total control of picking the governor, and will doubtless be happy to continue with this system for as long as it can.

The prime qualification for becoming Chief Executive is “loving China,” which means in this context not doing anything of which the Chinese Communist Party does not approve. It is very difficult for a Hong Kong Chief Executive to do that and also keep the confidence of Hong Kong’s 7 million people. Most of them cherish their liberties and polls show a growing proportion – now well over 50 per cent – think of themselves either as exclusively Hongkongers or Hongkongers first and Chinese only second.

Beijing likes to blame these sentiments on un-reconciled leftovers from British colonialism or people infected by “foreign” propaganda. The reality is that the vast majority of the young people who took to the streets in 2014 and those who continue to demand democratic reform were either toddlers at the time the British left or have been born since 1997.

In her first speech after her “election” Lam said her first task will be to “reunite Hong Kong people.” That job was immediately made more difficult when within hours of her taking office police laid charges against at least nine people, including two members of the legislature, involved in the 2014 demonstrations.

It is hard to dismiss the notion that the timing of these charges is politically motivated and that Beijing is pulling the strings on the Hong Kong police force. There are now several examples of Mainland Chinese police kidnapping or otherwise spiriting over the border people from Hong Kong who they wish to detain and question. Also, Hong Kong has a very efficient judicial system, and the mere fact that it took nearly three years to bring the charges against the demonstrators speaks volumes. The timing of the charges suggests too that everyone – Lam included – was being told that any moves on political reform in Hong Kong are a matter for Beijing and Beijing alone.

The Chinese Communist Party may come to regret that position just as it may come to regret its oppression in Tibet and Xinjiang. All of the serious or successful political revolutions in China in the last 160 years have begun in the Cantonese region of southern China, of which Hong Kong is a part.

 

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact Jonathan Manthorpe, including for queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Sri Lanka’s slow shuffle to lasting peace

Colombo City, Sri Lanka, in 2014. Photo by Photo by Anuradha Dullewe Wijeyeratne via Wikipedia, Creative Commons

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
March 25, 2017

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — After all wars, the euphoria of peace quickly gives way to the bleak, forbidding reality of the human and physical toll that must now be rebuilt.

Occasionally there is a peace dividend. The energy and optimism required to deal with physical reconstruction overshadows and makes less daunting the human and social damage that must be nursed through convalescence. For example, in retrospect it is extraordinary how quickly Europe rebounded from the Second World War.

It is perhaps easier to face the challenges of peace when the causes of war were foreign and came from elsewhere. They disappeared just as quickly when defeated. Resolution is less simple in the aftermath of civil wars. Civil wars are caused by internal social dislocations of one sort or another, and if those root causes are not addressed, the peace is often just a ceasefire.

That’s the conundrum facing Sri Lanka eight years after the 26-year civil war ended in 2009. The cause of the war was an attempt at religious and linguistic imperialism by the Buddhist Sinhalese majority over the Hindu Tamils, who speak their own language and make up 15 per cent of this island’s 21 million people.

Maithripala Sirisena official portrait, by Sudath Silva Public Domain

It was a particularly bitter, barbarous and unforgiving war, in which up to 100,000 people were killed. Among its bequests is the suicide bomber equipped with an explosives-ladden vest, who the separatist Tamil Tigers – the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam – used throughout the war.

The war ended conclusively in 2009 when Sri Lanka’s then President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, decided, probably correctly, that the Tamil’s messianic leader Velupillai Prabhakaran had no intention of abiding by a negotiated ceasefire and political settlement.

Rajapaksa launched a merciless military campaign against Prabhakaran and the remaining 10,000-or-so Tigers. The rebels, their camp followers and thousands of civilian human shields were bottled up on a sliver of land in northern Sri Lanka where they were obliterated by artillery and small-arms fire. According to the United Nations, about 40,000 civilians were killed, most of the remaining 10,000 Tamil Tigers and about 5,000 of their camp followers. Over half the victims of the entire quarter-century war were in those final weeks of blitzkrieg.

Talk to any Sinhalese these days, or very many of another minority, the Muslims known as Moors, who make up 10 per cent of the population, and they are most likely to applaud Rajapaksa. They usually say with varying degrees of enthusiasm and verve that Prabhakaran would never have honoured a political settlement and, as brutal as it was, Rajapaksa did what had to be done.

And in the Sinhalese heartland of southern Sri Lanka now it would be hard to tell there had ever been a war. Tourism from Europe, China and Russia is booming. The scent of economic optimism is heavy in the air. In the years immediately after the war, Rajapaksa courted Chinese infrastructure investment to build badly needed roads, airports and sea ports, though Beijing’s clear lust for Sri Lanka as an Indian Ocean outpost is now meeting strong and sometimes violent resistance on the streets.

At the same time, Rajapaksa turned his face firmly against demands by the UN, foreign governments – including Canada and others in the Commonwealth – and local opposition groups that he account and atone for how the war was ended. It didn’t help that Rajapaksa was as bull-nosed and intransigent in running a peacetime government as he had been at war. He had no qualms about trying to impeach the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court when she ruled against one of his brothers, a government minister. His government was liberally dotted with his relatives in high positions, and corruption ran riot.

Rajapaksa overplayed his hand. In presidential elections early in 2015 Rajapaksa was defeated by Maithripala Sirisena, whose campaign claimed the country was heading towards a dictatorship with rampant corruption, nepotism and a breakdown of the rule of law. Sirisena won 51.28 percent of all votes cast compared to Rajapaksa’s 47.58 percent.

Rajapaksa did not take defeat well. There are well-founded stories that he called in the heads of the army and police, and demanded that they support him annulling the election and imposing a state of emergency. To their credit, they refused, and Sirisena became president. The downside of the police and armed forces sticking up for democracy is that the Sirisena administration is reluctant to press home legal action against members of the security forces for human rights abuses in the final days of the civil war. The President cannot be sure the generals will not turn on him if he starts insisting they are arraigned to account for the wartime atrocities.

Another barrier to confronting the social and political fall-out from the war came in parliamentary elections in April, 2015, when Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party came second to the United National Party of Ranil Wickremasinghe, who has become Prime Minister.

The two parties have formed an uneasy alliance in order to gain a parliamentary majority, but they are uneasy bedfellows. Progress on advancing the two agendas of constitutional reform and what is called “transitional justice” – accounting for the depredations of the war and affixing blame for abuses – has ground almost to a halt.

This was noted in a largely sympathetic report by the United Nations Human Rights Council published on Wednesday. The report applauded what progress has been made in returning to Tamils land that had been seized by the military, the establishment of an Office of Missing Persons, and the start of a constitutional reform process. But the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, regretted the resistance in Sri Lanka, especially among nationalist Sinhalese, to the appointment of foreign judges, lawyers and investigators to oversee the transitional justice process.

“It is important for the country’s future to send the signal that impunity is no longer tolerated,” Al Hussein said.

Maybe so, but Sirisena has made it known that he does not believe he can proceed with both the constitutional reform and the transitional justice agendas at the same time. There is a large chunk of supporters of Rajapaksa in Sirisena’s party and administration. They have little interest in rewriting the constitution to give the Tamils some form of greater autonomy in northern Sri Lanka. And they are vehemently and loudly opposed to allowing foreign judges and lawyers into the country to root out abusers of human rights.

Sirisena has overseen the creation of offices to push forward the judicial and reconciliation processes. But he fears that if the pursuit of war criminals becomes the central focus of the reconciliation process, the whole project will collapse. And that carries with it the ultimate concern that there could be a return to civil war.

Sirisena and his close advisers believe that constitutional reform is the less divisive objective of the two. And, indeed, there has been some progress on that front as the UN report noted. Even so, Tamil demands for a federal state seem to have been abandoned in favour of incremental changes to the existing constitution.

Sirisena is attempting the difficult trick of giving the Tamils enough to convince them that their legitimate political demands are being met – however slowly – without triggering a Sinhalese backlash. It is a performance where every day without a crisis is both a victory and progress. And time with perceptible advances, however small, eventually creates its own reconciliation.

But added to Sirisena’s problems are that many Sinhalese see his administration as weak and indecisive on the economy, especially in dealing with Chinese investors. There is some yearning for the decisive days of Rajapaksa, and the former president is indeed contemplating returning to frontline politics with a new party.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact Jonathan Manthorpe, including for queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

 

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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McGill University mangles academic freedom

McGill University in Montreal. Robert Cutts, Creative Commons

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
March 25, 2017

I recently experienced a moment of cosmic irony.  I had just learned that Andrew Potter, a former editor of the Ottawa Citizen, had “resigned” as head of the Institute for the Study of Canada at McGill University in Montreal, when I received an email from McGill touting that another of their own, Karina Gould, is the youngest female cabinet minister in Canadian history, as Minister of Democratic Institutions.

How sad that Gould won’t be able to include her alma mater in her new area of expertise.

“Resigned”  is such a polite word for Potter being forced out. It occurred after an editorial he wrote for Canada’s Maclean’s magazine that enraged many Québécois.

All its denials to the contrary, and its pledge that “academic freedom is a foundational principle of McGill University,” are only so much equine excretion. In cases like that of Potter, actions speak louder than words. McGill’s actions do not speak of an institution that cares about academic freedom.

Potter’s sin – offending Quebec provincial political, media and chattering classes – is hardly a sin at all.

He wrote an opinion for Maclean’s magazine that criticized the lack of civil culture in Quebec, for want of a better term, after hundreds of motorists were left stranded on Highway 13 in Montreal after a recent snow storm. His opinion piece received much criticism, which is fine. As a former journalist, I’m sure Potter was used to that. Anyone who writes an opinion piece does so with the knowledge that it’s not going to make everyone happy, and will probably make some people mad. (I could write an entire column alone on the things I’ve been called and the people I’ve made angry with things I’ve written over the years.)

McGill, however, panicked when it realized that provincial politicians were angry. First it released a tweet saying that Potter’s views were not those of the university. Then Potter, obviously under pressure from higher ups, apologized for the piece (a mistake in my books), saying he “went too far.”

This apology was not enough for the potentates at McGill it seems. On Thursday Potter stepped down as head of the Institute, a position he had only held for one year, although it appears he will be “allowed” to continue teaching at McGill.

This smacks of a professor being told what to do. I imagine the conversation might have gone something like this.: “If you resign we will let you keep on teaching here. But we’re too afraid of provincial politicians and the backlash in the francophone tabloid media to let you remain as head of the Institute. If you do it this way, it won’t make us look like we caved so quickly, when we should have been standing up to protect your right to be offensive or even wrong.”

Perhaps even more puzzling to me was the comment by a fellow academic at McGill who opposed what Potter had done, who said that while Potter was a great scholar, the opinion piece was not “product of great scholarship.” No kidding. It was an opinion piece in a popular magazine. It was not meant to be “scholarship.”

Let’s be blunt about what really happened here. Potter was a victim of Canada’s two solitudes. He is an English-speaking Canadian criticizing the culture of a majority French-speaking province.  The province’s francophone political and media culture took exception to what was written and demanded a pound of flesh, which McGill helped them acquire.

Academic freedom was the ultimate loser.

Academics need to interact more with the world at large. If they have to worry about watching everything they say, or face dismissal from their institutions, then free speech at Canadian colleges and universities is on its way to the scrap heap.

 

Copyright Tom Regan 2017

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Further reading: 

Andrew Potter’s column in Maclean’s: How a snowstorm exposed Quebec’s real problem: social malaise — 
The issues that led to the shutdown of a Montreal highway that left drivers stranded go beyond mere political dysfunction, March 20, 2017:  http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/how-a-snowstorm-exposed-quebecs-real-problem-social-malaise/

CBC report: Andrew Potter resigns from McGill post after Maclean’s essay on Quebec
Resignation from Institute for the Study of Canada prompts questions about academic freedom
By Benjamin Shingler, CBC News Posted: Mar 23, 2017 10:48 AM ET

Why Andrew Potter lost his ‘dream job’ at McGill, by , Macleans.ca: http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/why-andrew-potter-lost-his-dream-job-at-mcgill/

Andrew Potter writes at In Due Course, A Canadian Public Affairs blog: http://induecourse.ca/

Andrew Potter’s Twitter feed: https://twitter.com/jandrewpotter?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

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Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

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Turkey’s dispute with Europe feeds Erdogan’s power thirst

President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 10, 2017, in Moscow. Photo handout from the Kremlin

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
March 18, 2017

The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte this week saw off a serious populist challenge from bleach-blonde Islamaphobe Geert Wilders, but in so doing he has unwittingly given another demagogue the leg-up he needs to achieve supreme power.

The diplomatic face-off between the Netherlands and Turkey in the last days of the campaign undoubtedly had a significant effect on the outcome of the Dutch election. But it also was a gift to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is in the final weeks of a referendum campaign that, if successful, will give him almost dictatorial powers.

Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting of the Russia High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council. Photo handout, Turkish press office

Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting of the Russia High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council. Photo handout, Turkish press office

 

Until now, Turks have been sharply divided on whether or not to transfer almost all power from parliament to an executive presidency under Erdogan. And Erdogan himself had run out of new ideas about how to entice the two or three per cent of voters he needs to fulfil his lust for power.

Then came resistance to his campaign, first from Germany and then from the Netherlands. Both countries blocked Erdogan’s ministers and campaign organizers from holding rallies among the very large Turkish diasporas in both their countries. Erdogan reacted by going into rhetorical overdrive, accusing both Germany and the Netherlands of nursing Nazi sentiments.

There are about 400,000 Turks in the Netherlands, where the population is 17 million, and around 2 million Turks in Germany, whose population is 80 million.

In both countries the Turkish immigrants are sharply divided over the April 16 referendum. And both the German and Dutch governments had good reason to fear that campaign rallies on behalf of Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party could get out of hand.

In Germany, several cities banned planned rallies where members of Erdogan’s government would address the crowds. Some of the excuses sounded slender – lack of parking spaces in one case and fire safety concerns in another – and were easily derided by Erdogan. He accused the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel of “Nazi practices.”

The Dutch had even more reason than the Germans to be wary of allowing Erdogan’s backers to excite the sharp political divisions among Turks in the Netherlands. The Netherlands was in the final days of the parliamentary election held on Wednesday, March 15, and issues around the country’s Muslim immigrants were a central theme of the campaign. Wilders and his Freedom Party led in the polls for much of the campaign with a manifesto of ending Muslim immigration, banning the Koran, closing mosques and taking the Netherlands out of the European Union (EU).

Last Saturday the Dutch government revoked landing rights for a plane carrying Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, who planned to speak at a rally. Then Dutch police blocked Family Minister, Beytul Kaya, from entering the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam and forced her to drive back to Germany, from where she had come.

The Rotterdam incident spurred hundreds of Erdogan’s Turkish supporters to take to the streets, and the Dutch police deployed riot squads to restore order.

Erdogan’s government manufactured some fine outrage. The president’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, pushed out a tweet saying the Dutch action was “a dark day for democracy in Europe. Shame on the Dutch government for succumbing to anti-Islam racists and fascists.”

Erdogan chased this theme down the road on Friday in a speech to his supporters in the western Turkish city of Sakarya.

“My dear brothers, a battle has started between the cross and the half moon. There can be no other explanation,” he said in a crude reference to the symbols of Christianity and Islam that adorned the opposing flags in the Crusades of the Middle Ages.

He was even more explicit when he said a ruling on Tuesday by the European Court of Justice permitting companies to ban employees wearing religious symbols, including the headscarf worn by devout Muslim women, as the beginning of a European “crusade” against Islam.

Erdogan went on to threaten to jettison the year-old agreement with the EU to control the flow of Syrian refugees into Europe.

There are nearly three million refugees from the six-year Syrian civil war in camps in Turkey. In 2015, the Erdogan government turned a blind eye and may even have encouraged about one million of the refugees to leave the camps and make the short sea crossing into Greece, the closest EU member country. The torrent of people seeking sanctuary caused a humanitarian and social crisis across the EU, especially as the Syrians added to tens of thousands of people fleeing other parts of the Middle East, Central Asia and West Africa.

Under the terms of the March 2016 deal, Ankara agreed to stop asylum seekers from crossing by sea to the Greek islands in return for the equivalent of $5 billion to finance support for the Syrians in Turkey.

Syrian refugees who had reached the Greek islands were to be returned to Turkey, while qualified Syrian asylum seekers in Turkey were to be resettled in the EU.

Erdogan is now saying that Turkey will no longer readmit failed asylum-seekers from the EU, which raises the prospect of the whole deal unravelling. The Turkish leader is clearly prepared to open the tap on another flow of refugees into Europe if it suits his political purposes.

He is playing a risky game, with potentially disastrous effects on Turkey’s long-term relation not only with Europe, but also with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), of which Ankara is a member.

For close to half a century Turkey has been flirting with joining Europe’s economic community. There has been mixed enthusiasm for the match on both sides.

European leaders have looked askance at the very intrusive role the Turkish military has played in politics until very recently. The military regarded itself as the trustee of the secular Turkish state founded by Kemal Ataturk in 1923, and regularly launched coups – or threatened to do so – when politicians headed off in directions the generals didn’t like.

An over-crowded graveyard is pictured in the rebel held al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

Erdogan, however, since he came to power first as Prime Minister in 2003 and then as President in 2014, has successfully turned Turkey towards becoming an Islamic state and has nullified the independent power of the military at the same time. An attempted coup by elements of the military last year played into Erdogan’s hands. Since then about 140,000 members of the military, the judiciary, academia and the media have either been imprisoned, detained, or fired from their jobs.

Erdogan’s Islamization policies have made European leaders even more suspicious about welcoming Turkey into the EU than before. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke for many when he said Turkish membership of the EU is “unthinkable.”

Even if the major European leaders were more amenable to Turkey in the EU it would be vetoed by member state Cyprus. The island has been partitioned since 1974 when Turkey invaded and occupied northern Cyprus to protect the majority Turkish population in that region against Greek annexation. The dispute remains unresolved and EU member Cyprus, the southern portion of the island with its ethnic Greek majority, will block Turkey joining the EU until there is a settlement.

But Erdogan’s spat with Germany and the Netherlands fits into a pattern of actions by the Turkish President over several years, turning his country away from Europe and the West. He is behaving as though his prime objective is to restore Turkey as a major mover and shaker in the Middle East, a position it lost with the end of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.

That is most evident in the often duplicitous role Erdogan has played in the Syrian civil war. Early on, he allowed Turkey to be a highway for foreign fighters seeking to join the Islamic State terrorist, fundamentalist group occupying much of eastern Syria and northwestern Iraq. And when Erdogan did agree to join his NATO allies in military action in Syria, he focussed on attacking Syrian Kurds, who he accuses of being allies and supporters of the independence movement among Turkish Kurds.

Even so, Turkey’s relations with its NATO allies appear to be functional at the moment. Ankara is working with Washington and Moscow in the early stages of talks to fashion a joint plan to bring peace to Syria.

What effects the outcome of the April 16 referendum will have are difficult to gauge. The prospect of Erdogan’s pleasure at a victory and achieving near despotic power is unsavoury. But even more so is the chaos his anger may unleash if he loses.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact Jonathan Manthorpe, including for queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

~~~

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

~~~

Thank you to our supporters. To newcomers, please know that reader-supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free, and will continue only if readers like you chip in. Please, if you value our work, contribute a minimum of.27 per story/$1 per day pass via PayPal — or find more payment options here.

 

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Americans’ Addiction to Drinking the Kool-Aid

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
March 11, 2017

Jim Jones at a protest at the International Hotel in San Francisco, in 1977. Photo: Nancy Wong, Creative Commons, Wikipedia

Jim Jones at a protest at the International Hotel in San Francisco, in 1977. Photo: Nancy Wong, Creative Commons, Wikipedia

The United States is singularly prone to producing charlatans, messianic faith healers, snake oil merchants, flim-flam artists and all kinds of Pied Pipers who beguile, befuddle and bemuse large numbers of the population.

Donald Trump is a representative example of this flaw in the U.S. cultural DNA. But he is not the first American to have ridden charismatic demagogy into the White House, and nor is he, so far, the most horrific cult figure to feed his narcissism with the breath of the baying crowd.

That crown must go to Rev. James Warren Jones, who on November 18, 1978, was responsible for the deaths of 918 people, including nearly 300 children. Almost all died by knowingly drinking poison on Jones’ instructions, with the parents killing their children first.

This was the largest number of Americans to die in a civilian act of violence until the attacks on New York and Washington in September, 2001.

Now, Donald Trump is no Jim Jones. The paths of the two men are different, even though Russia plays a significant role in both stories.

But the story of what led to the mass murder-suicide at the Jonestown commune in the jungles of Guyana in 1978 is a timely reminder that there are usually evil outcomes when large numbers of frightened and gullible people fall under the spells of immoral mesmerists.

Jones was born in 1931 and grew up dirt poor in rural Indiana during the Great Depression. Jones’ sense of being a social outcast pushed him towards communism, evangelical Christianity, and — unusually at that time – sympathy for the plight of African Americans. These three strands in his early life run through Jones’ entire story.

As a 20-year-old, while at Butler University, Jones joined the U.S. Communist Party in Indianapolis, and his emotional loyalty to the Soviet Union intensified during the McCarthy era of persecution of Marxists during the 1950s.

There can be no doubt that at this time, as a young idealist, Jones’ desire to pursue social change in the U.S. was entirely genuine. And with the political routes of communism or socialism closed to him, Jones opted to use Christianity.

“I decided, how can I demonstrate my Marxism? The thought was, infiltrate the church. So I consciously made a decision to look into that prospect,” Jones said later in a recording of biographical ramblings.

In 1952 he became a student pastor in the Methodist Church, but quickly fell out with his overseers because they wouldn’t allow him to have a racially integrated congregation.

As a result, a seminal moment came in Jones’ story when he attended a faith healing service at a Seventh Day Baptist Church. He was stunned by the amount of money the congregation donated while overcome by the full flood of the emotionalism of the event. Jones concluded that this kind of evangelical Christianity could provide him the money necessary to fulfil his Marxist social goals. He was well aware that the so-called healings were entirely fake theatrical events staged by the church with the only aim of separating the members of the congregation from their money.

Jones, like most of his kind, including Trump, was brimming with self-confidence and the capacity for self-promotion. He set out to stage his own massive theatrical faith healing event. It is a testament to Jones’ gift of the gab that he was able to get one of the most well-known and dynamic faith healing evangelists of the time, Rev. William M. Branham, to be the headliner at his “convention” in Indianapolis in June, 1956, that attracted about 11,000 people.

Jones continued to organize similar faith healing conventions and had soon made enough in profits to be able to start his own church. It started out as the Peoples Temple Christian Church Full Gospel and went through several name changes until at the time of its death it was simply the Peoples Temple.

Jonestown Memorial at the Evergreen Cemetery, Oakland, California. Photo taken July 31, 2015 by Wayne Hsieh, Creative Commons via Flickr

Jonestown Memorial at the Evergreen Cemetery, Oakland, California. Photo taken July 31, 2015 by Wayne Hsieh, Creative Commons via Flickr

At this time – the late 1950s – Jones began minimizing his communist beliefs as the depredations of Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin became known, and Moscow’s violent response to the 1956 uprising in Hungary turned even committed Marxists away from the faith.

Instead, Jones began formulating what he later called “apostolic socialism.” He attended a service of the International Peace Mission at Delaware Street Temple, led by the African American cult figure “Father Divine.” Divine’s real name may or may not have been George Baker, but he preferred to refer to himself as “God,” the name used for him in his Federal Bureau of Investigation file.

Jones was bewitched by Divine’s outlandish, fire-and-brimstone preaching style, and adopted it himself. At the same time, Jones began imposing the brainwashing and systems of psychological control over his followers that have always been the hallmark of cults that prey on people with fragile self-esteem. Followers were pressed into seeing the Temple as their family, abandoning contact with their blood relatives and committing their lives to Jones’ goals.

At the same time Jones made the highly significant move into becoming an arm of the reformist establishment. Jones was rigorous in ensuring that about half the congregation of the Temple was African Americans, which brought him to the approving attention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In 1960 the Democratic Party mayor of Indianapolis appointed Jones director of the city’s Human Rights Commission. Jones became a highly public activist promoting the integration of churches, the police department, and public facilities such as restaurants, cinemas, theatres and parks. This was the beginning of Jones being seen by many in the American political establishment, especially Democrats, as a legitimate agent of social reform.

When it finally became apparent to many that Jones was nothing more than the leader of a venal, self-aggrandizing cult, this political support held back the denouement until disaster was inevitable.

In Indianapolis in the early 1960s there was a backlash against Jones’ integrationist activism. There was a number of apparent attacks on the Temple, though there is more than a suspicion that Jones was responsible for several of them to boost his mystique.

Probably, not all the racist daubings on the Temple walls and dead animals left on the door step were Jones’ fabrications because he started to show the signs of paranoia – the conviction that the shadowy “secret state” was out to get him – at this time. Though in cults, and, indeed, in ordinary life those with political power like to instill a degree of paranoia – of irrational fear – among the populous to make social control easier.

In 1962 Jones decided the Temple needed to find a new home. He spent much of the following year in Brazil looking, without success, for a suitable location. Back in Indiana, Jones decided to move the Temple to Redwood Valley, California, which was completed in 1965.

This was the beginning of the heyday of Jones’ cult. The Temple soon established branches in San Francisco and Los Angeles, which became the driving centres of the cult. The headquarters was eventually moved to San Francisco, which in the 1960s and early 1970s was the feeding ground for countless anti-establishment movement. Coupled with this was the establishment of an authoritarian organizational structure for the Peoples Temple, complete with armed guards for Jones, and a membership whose highly controlled lives were dedicated to garnering both donations for Jones and new members.

By the early 1970s, Jones claimed the Peoples Temple had about 20,000 members. This was an exaggeration, but the cult’s work with the homeless, the poor and addicts gave it significant influence with the cities’ and the states’ administrations. That gave Jones political clout, and in 1975 he mobilized his followers on behalf of the mayoral campaign of George Moscone.

After Moscone won a narrow victory he made Jones chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission. This seal of respectability brought Jones and the Peoples Temple the overt support of California Governor Jerry Brown — who has again held that post since 2011 — Assemblyman Willie Brown, and Harvey Milk, the first openly gay candidate for public office who became a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978. Being seen with Jones became a necessity for political candidates, and in 1976 vice-presidential candidate Walter Mondale praised the Peoples Temple and its work. Later, First Lady Rosalynn Carter not only met Jones many times, she corresponded with him regularly on matters of national concern.

But Jones’ fame and success also brought disillusionment among some Temple members, and, as a result, scrutiny from the media and others.

In 1977 San Francisco Chronicle reporter Marshall Kilduff wrote a seven-part series about the Temple based on the testimony of defectors that they were sexually, emotionally and physically abused. The Chronicle, whose publisher and senior editors had been lobbied with great effect by Jones, refused to run its reporter’s articles. Kilduff took the material to the New West magazine. Just before publication of the articles, the editor of the magazine called Jones to read him some of the highlights. She later explained she did this because of all the letters of support for Jones the magazine had received, including from California Governor Jerry Brown.

Jones realized instantly that his game was up; publication of the details of how his scam cult operated would be the beginning of the end. While still on the phone with the New West editor Rosalie Wright, Jones scribbled a note to senior Temple members in the room with him: “We leave tonight. Notify Georgetown.”

Jones’ unsuccessful tour of Brazil did not end his hunt for a foreign sanctuary, safe, as he believed, from the scrutiny of U.S. intelligence and police agencies. In 1974 he had approached the Georgetown government of Guyana, the former British colony and only English-speaking country in South America. He had signed a lease to rent 3,800 acres of jungle-clad land – 15.4 square kilometres – about 240 kilometres west of Georgetown.

About 500 temple members had worked to establish what was officially called the “Peoples Temple Agricultural Project,” but which everyone called Jonestown. Jones said he envisaged his Guyanese colony as a rural communist utopia, and the embodiment of social and racial harmony. However, the reality was very different. The arrival of Jones and the other 500 exiles from California began the rapid decline of the experiment

Away from the U.S., Jones dropped all pretense of advocating “Apostolic Socialism” and became a pure Soviet propagandist. Evenings at Jonestown were spent with the enforced viewing of Soviet documentaries and preparation for what Jones said was a coming apocalypse. During what were called “White Night” sessions Jones commanded his followers to prepare for “revolutionary suicide” when U.S. agents attacked Jonestown. On many occasions followers were commanded to drink grape-flavoured Flavor Aid juice they were told was laced with poison. All did so.

The beginning of the end was in January 1978 when a defector from Jonestown, Timothy Stoen, joined with others to form a group of concerned relatives of followers of Jones. Stoen went to Washington, where he wrote a paper on Jones’ mistreatment of his followers. Stoen lobbied members of Congress and talked to officials at the State Department. California congressman Leo Ryan, understandably, was especially interested in Stoen’s case and took up the cause of the relatives of the Jonestown people.

In November 1978 Ryan led a fact-finding delegation to Guyana, which included several relatives and half a dozen journalists. The group arrived in Georgetown on November 15 and two days later flew to Port Kaituma, the nearest airfield to Jonestown. Jones sent cars for them and on the evening of November 17 hosted a reception for Ryan and his group in the central pavilion at Jonestown.

The group stayed overnight at Jonestown, but left hastily the following afternoon when Ryan was attacked with a knife by Temple member Don Sly.

Ryan insisted on leaving and with taking 15 Temple members with him who had said they wanted to go home to the U.S. Jones gave every appearance of acquiescing, and assigned transport to take the enlarged group back to the Port Kaituma airstrip.

But as Ryan and the group started to board the two planes at the airstrip, a contingent of Jones’ armed “Red Brigade” arrived and started shooting. Ryan and four others were the first to die as they tried to board a Guyana Airways Twin Otter plane. Meanwhile, one of the defectors turned out to be a plant. Larry Layton pulled out a gun and began shooting at other people who had already boarded the second plane, a smaller Cessna. Five people died in the airstrip shootings.

That evening, November 18, Jones ordered all members of the temple to gather at the Pavilion and in a 45-minute rambling speech, a recording of which was later found by the FBI, and told them to commit “revolutionary suicide.” He told them he had for months been negotiating with Moscow to try to arrange for the group to emigrate to the Soviet Union. However, since the air strip killings he did not believe the Soviet Union would take them, and that he expected U.S. agents would soon “parachute in here on us.” He warned the U.S. agents would shoot and torture them and their children. Those children that were not killed would be brainwashed and “converted to fascism.”

Tubs of the cyanide-laced Flavor Aid juice were produced and Jones is heard on the tape instructing followers to first kill their children and then drink the juice themselves. “We didn’t commit suicide,” Jones says at the end of the tape. “We committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world.”

The body of Jones himself was later found sitting in a deckchair with a bullet wound to the head and a pistol by his side.

In all, 909 people in Jonestown died that day, 304 of them children killed by their parents. Four other people at the Temple’s office in Georgetown committed suicide on Jones’ orders.

But four of the Temple followers managed to survive by hiding under beds and in the jungle. Three young senior Temple officials were later arrested and detained by Guyanese police as they headed for Port Kaituma with $US550,000.00 and the equivalent of $US130,000.00. They said they had been instructed by Jones to take the money and give it to the Soviet embassy in Georgetown. The three also had letters for a Soviet embassy official saying the money was to go to the Soviet Communist Party, as was another $US7.3 million in accounts detailed in the letter.

Somehow in the story of Jonestown it has become fixed that it was poisoned Kool-Aid that was used for the mass murder-suicides. Hence, the grim lasting legacy of Jonestown is that people who blindly follow the orders of a demented leader are said to have “drunk the Kool-Aid.”

 

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact Jonathan Manthorpe, including for queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Further information:

Transcript of Jim Jones’ speech on “revolutionary suicide,” before the killings, Department of Religious Studies, San Diego State University: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Jones

Wikipedia page for Jim Jones: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Jones

 

~~~

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

~~~

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F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Uncategorized

Environmentally-sound agriculture can support farmers and consumers

Agroecology can help fix the food, water and energy challenges that conventional agriculture has created.

© Deborah Jones 2013

© Deborah Jones 2013

By Andrea Basche and Marcia DeLonge
March, 2017

The past several years have been rough for many U.S. farmers and ranchers. Net farm incomes this year could fall to 50 percent of 2013 levels in a fourth consecutive year of income declines that is leading some producers to seek alternatives. At the same time, rural and urban Americans share growing concerns related to agriculture: worries that water pollution will be increasingly costly and harmful, that water supplies are at risk from extreme swings in rainfall, and that global warming due to fossil fuel burning threatens our food system and will necessitate changes in how we farm.

What if all of these challenges could find a common solution? It might just be that they can. In a commentary published this week in the scientific journal Elementa, we contend that agroecology offers a promising approach to solving food system problems while mitigating, water and energy concerns — and propose a way to overcome the obstacles to fully embracing it.

U.S. agriculture has trended for several decades — as a result of policy, economics and other drivers — toward systems that are more simplified over both space and time. This has had adverse consequences for food, energy and water.

Agroecology takes a different approach, applying ecological concepts to create and maintain diverse, resilient food systems. Promising research demonstrates that bringing diversity back to farms can begin to reverse the problems simplification has created. For example, scientists have found that strategically incorporating perennial plants (including food, energy or non-crop plants) into small areas of commodity crops can significantly reduce water pollution and soil loss. Studies also show that using multiple crops rather than a monoculture is associated with improvements in the amount of carbon (important to help soils hold onto more water and mitigate climate change) and nitrogen (critical for plant growth and soil function) in the soil.

If better farming systems exist, why don’t more producers use them, and why aren’t they more encouraged? Among the reasons:

  • Government policies and economics influence many producer decisions that contribute to landscape simplification. For example, biofuel incentives greatly expanded markets for ethanol, leading farmers to replace grasslands with endless acres of monoculture corn rather than leaving them native or planting more diverse crops.
  • Research has also found that the need to focus on immediate cash flow rather than long-term benefits just to stay afloat can make it difficult to adopt more resilient systems
  • Agroecology research is woefully underfunded. This means that up-to-date examples of innovative practices suited to specific regions are not sufficiently available for many farmers.
  • Change is hard and it can take support for producers to get started. It is critical to find peers and peer networks to learn from — and these are rare.
  • Benefits are narrowly defined. When farmers, policy-makers, and scientists focus primarily on simple measures of progress like crop yields, we lose track of the many other benefits of agroecology — including those related to water and energy.

In spite of these and other obstacles, innovators have begun to demonstrate that diversified land management can be good business, from a cover crop seed company in rural Nebraska, to a food hub supporting local diversified food production in western Iowa, to a consulting group helping farmers optimize land management and costs with a “precision conservation” approach. The dire need for economic opportunity in rural America was a major discussion point in the 2016 election, and these examples suggest how a more diverse and sustainable agriculture can help meet that need.

A shift in perspective that recognizes relationships among food, water, and energy systems and new metrics that value co-benefits to water and energy could go a long way toward further advancing agroecology. In fact, recently published research refutes the idea that we must solely focus on doubling crop production to meet future demand. These researchers believe the actual future yield increases needed are smaller and that we must explicitly define environmental goals to match the production demands that always seem to dominate the narrative around food.

Fortunately, we know that solutions do exist, and with agroecological approaches we can solve these multiple challenges at the same time.

Creative Commons View Ensia homepage

Andrea Basche is a Kendall Science Fellow, Union of Concerned Scientists. Marcia DeLonge is an agroecologist with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Elementa wordmarkThis article was orignally published by Ensia, in published in collaboration with the academic journal Elementa. It is based on “Leveraging agroecology for solutions in food, energy and water,” a peer-reviewed article published March 2, 2017, as part of Elementa’s Food-Energy-Water Systems: Opportunities at the Nexus forum. —  March 3, 2017

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , |

More than 100 million at risk of starvation

An internally displaced man looks at the carcasses of his goats and sheep in the outskirts of Dahar town of Puntland state in northeastern Somalia, December 15, 2016. REUTERS/Feisal Omar - RTX2V8OJ

An internally displaced man looks at the carcasses of his goats and sheep in the outskirts of Dahar town of Puntland state in northeastern Somalia, December 15, 2016. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

By Umberto Bacchi
March, 2017

ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The number of people facing severe hunger worldwide has surpassed 100 million and will grow if humanitarian aid is not paired with more support for farmers, a senior United Nations official said.

Dominique Burgeon, director of the emergency division at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said latest studies showed 102 million people faced acute malnutrition – meaning they were on the brink of starvation – in 2016, up almost 30 percent from 80 million in 2015.

The hike was mainly driven by deepening crises in Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia, where conflict and drought have crippled food production, he said. [nL5N1FF5EX]

“Humanitarian assistance has kept many people alive so far but their food security situation has continued to deteriorate,” Burgeon told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

More investment is needed to help people feed themselves by farming crops and livestock, he added.

“We come with airplanes, we provide food assistance and we manage to keep them alive but we do not invest enough in the livelihood of these people,” he said.

“We avoid them falling into famine but we are not good at taking them off the cliff, away from food insecurity.”

The U.N. World Food Programme said last month more than 20 million people – greater than the population of Romania or Florida – risk dying from starvation within six months in four separate famines.

Wars in Yemen, northeastern Nigeria and South Sudan have devastated households and driven up prices, while a drought in east Africa has ruined the agricultural economy. [nL8N1G06JS]

Famine was formally declared in February in parts of South Sudan, which has been mired in civil war since 2013.

In northeastern Nigeria, once a breadbasket for the country, a seven-year insurgency by Boko Haram militants has uprooted some 1.8 million people, forcing many to abandon their farms.

The government says it has clawed back most of the territory it lost to the jihadist group and tens of thousands of refugees are hoping to return to their crops, although security remains a concern. [nL4N1G65JP]

Burgeon said the FAO had raised less than a third of the $20 million it needs within the next two weeks to support almost 2 million people in the upcoming planting season in Nigeria – an investment he said would save money in the future.

“If you don’t support those who want to return to their area to crop then you have to agree that you will have to provide massive aid assistance at least until the harvest in 2018, which is unbearable,” he said.

Lack of funding was also hampering the agency’s response in Syria, where food production dropped to an all-time low in 2016, Burgeon said. [nL8N1DG4UO]

“A lot is going to food assistance and barely anything is going to help farmers who have decided to stay on their land,” he said.

The soaring cost of seeds, fertilisers and tractor fuel was pushing many farmers to leave, making it more difficult to restart the economy once peace or stability returned, he added.

“What we need to do is to help them stay and crop their land and be there for the future,” Burgeon said. “To survive is not enough.”

Copyright Reuters 2017

(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Ros Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Renewed Scottish campaign to leave post-Brexit UK

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
March 4, 2017

 

In happier days, Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon (R), greets Britain's new Prime Minister, Theresa May, as she arrives at Bute House in Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

In happier days, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon (R), greeted Britain’s new Prime Minister, Theresa May, as she arrived at Bute House in Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain, July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

In these times of seething rage, it is increasingly likely that Britain’s divorce from the European Union will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom itself.

As the parliament in Westminster completes the process of giving Prime Minister, Theresa May, authority to start the process of taking Britain out of the European Union, anger and resentment is intensifying in Scotland and in Northern Ireland.

Voters in both Scotland and Northern Ireland opted decisively to remain in the EU in last June’s referendum, but have been overruled by the dominant population of England. The unhappiness has been compounded as it has become clear that May is not going to try to fiddle some form of associate status with the EU and is heading for a complete separation, known to headline writers as a “hard Brexit.”

These glimpses of the road ahead have prompted the First Minister of Scotland’s regional government, Nicola Sturgeon, to say it is “highly likely” she will seek another referendum on Scottish independence. In the first referendum in 2014, Scottish voters decided by a narrow margin to remain in the United Kingdom, not least because that seemed at the time the best option for Scotland to stay in the EU. That equation collapsed when the overriding majority of disenchanted blue collar English voters chose Brexit in last June’s referendum.

The situation is particularly fraught in Northern Ireland, where Brexit could wreck the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, aimed at ending over 30 years of sectarian violence between British loyalist Protestants and Irish republican Catholics. An essential element in the confidence-building of the 1998 pact is the open border between Ulster and the Irish republic to the south under the umbrella of the EU.

The re-imposition of a “hard” border between Northern Ireland and Eire will affect progress in demolishing community barriers. Northern Ireland’s economy will also be far more adversely affected by Brexit than other parts of Britain because of its dependence on EU agricultural subsidies. And there will be domestic political pressure on the Dublin government to interfere in Northern Irish affairs, thus likely inflaming the passions of Protestant Ulster loyalists.

The peace agreement is already tottering, with the collapse on January 16 of the province’s power-sharing executive joining the loyalist Democratic Unionist Party and the republican Sinn Fein. New elections were held on Friday, March 3, but early returns suggest there will be no clear result, and London may have to impose direct rule. That will set back the development of devolved self-government in Northern Ireland. Prolonged direct rule by London could well see the province stripped of the moderate political actors who have begun to mature during the two decades of peace.

Unlike in Scotland, however, there is no clear path by which Northern Ireland could maintain its desired relationship with the EU by, for example, opting to leave the UK and join the Irish Republic.

Sturgeon will set out her argument for a new Scottish independence referendum when she addresses her party’s annual meeting later this month. From what she has said and written already, it is evident Sturgeon will make at least three arguments.

One is that her Scottish National Party was elected to the provincial government in May last year (before the Brexit vote) on the understanding that it “should have the right to hold another referendum if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.”

It is unarguable that the June Brexit referendum result was just such a material change in circumstance.

Another argument is that Sturgeon claims Prime Minister May has not fulfilled her promise to only start the process of taking Britain out of the EU once a common approach had been agreed with the British regional governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Also, her party’s voter mandate includes a clear responsibility to keep Scotland within the EU, Sturgeon has said. “There are various ways in which Scotland’s place in the European Single Market could be maintained,” she wrote in a recent discussion paper.

“One option – in my view, the best option – is to become a full member of the EU as an independent country.”

It will be difficult for Theresa May to refuse to give the Scottish Parliament permission to hold another independence referendum. But the British Prime Minister is likely to insist that no referendum be held before the UK has left the EU. May doesn’t want to be campaigning in Scotland while she is battling out the future with Brussels.

The negotiations to take Britain out of the EU after 45 years as a member will take at least two years. That means no new referendum on Scottish independence will be held before 2019, and probably later than that.

The European world may well be a different place by that time. With anti-Brussels parties gaining significant influence throughout the EU, and conceivably taking power in Holland, France and Italy this year, the union could be a very different beast, and perhaps even a dead one, by the time the Scots get to vote again on independence.

Even if a new referendum were held now, it is touch-and-go whether Scots would opt to leave the UK. While 60 per cent of Scots opted to stay in the EU in the Brexit referendum, polls suggest they are not as committed to leaving the United Kingdom in order to stick with Europe. Recent public opinion surveys suggest there has been little change in public attitude since 2014, when 55 per cent of Scots decided to stay in the UK.

The economic arguments for Scotland to remain in the UK are compelling. But as we know from the Brexit vote itself, and tribal nationalist convulsions that are consuming the United States, Holland, France and elsewhere, measured economic judgements are not always voters’ main consideration.

The Scottish economy is in the doldrums, largely because of the slump in value of its North Sea oil reserves. And EU membership is not as great a direct economic benefit to Scotland as it is for North Ireland. As Scottish writer Alex Massie pointed out recently: “Membership of the UK single market is worth four times as much to Scotland as membership in the EU single market. In these circumstances only a fool would endorse independence.”

First Minister Sturgeon counters this argument by warning that Scotland faces tough economic times anyway, that the fall-out from Brexit will be as damaging to Scotland as the necessary austerities of the first years of independence.

“The case for full self-government ultimately transcends the issues of Brexit, of oil, of national wealth and balance sheets and of passing political fads and trends,” Sturgeon said recently.

And in this age of demagogy and resurgent tribal nationalism who is to say she is wrong?

 

 

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact, including queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Related from F&O archives:

Scotland Decided: what the experts said in 2014

In its independence referendum, Scotland voted to remain in the United Kingdom by 55 versus 45 per cent. An expert panel looks at what happened, and where it leaves the UK and Scotland.

Scotland’s independence referendum: a beginner’s guide, September, 2014

Britain’s tortuous road to “hard” Brexit, by Jonathan Manthorpe

It is becoming clearer just how wrenching a process it will be for Britain to leave the European Union, and beyond doubt that Britain is headed for a “hard” Brexit.

Brexit will save the European project, by Jonathan Manthorpe

When the dust of history settles, the moment angry Britons voted to quit the European Union will stand out as the moment that saved the 28-nation project.

In England’s Mean and Truculent Land, by Jonathan Manthorpe

Britain’s departure from the EU will be a journey across new territory full of terrors and treacherous terrain. Among the many stupidities in Cameron’s management of the referendum was allowing a simple majority for victory.

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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