The British public has become more sensitised to the plight of refugees fleeing conflicts in Syria and Iraq with the publication today of pictures of two little boys who died (along with their mother) when their father tried to take them from Turkey to Greece, en route to Canada, where his sister lives. But until this evening the Conservative government had failed to step up to the plate on the issue, unlike Germany and several other EU member states. However, Prime Minister David Cameron has now bowed to public and media pressure and agreed that the UK will take in several thousand refugees, over and above the few score that have been admitted already. This is a very welcome development.The British government has also been very generous in providing aid to refugees in countries neighbouring the conflict zones and Mr Cameron says it is important to focus on finding a solution to the Syrian civil war, in particular. That is true, but with the best will in the world, including organising an international peace conference involving Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the US and the EU, among others, as well as the warring parties, there is not going to be a solution in the short term. So Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande were right to call for an EU-wide plan, with quotas, to deal with the refugee emergency. It is a matter of regret that Britain was not in there at the time. But better late than never. At a meeting of Newham and Barking & Dagenham Liberal Democrats at View Tube in the Olympic Park this evening, I pointed out that Britain has an historic responsibility for some of the current troubles in the Middle East, from the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, by which Britain and France decided how they would divide the spoils after the inevitable collapse of the Ottoman Empire, to the 2003 Iraq War. But Britain can also give a moral lead; it was after all in London that the first meeting of the infant United Nations was held and British human rights lawyers were central to the formulation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Mr Cameron’s Conservatives are very wobbly on human rights, thinking it more important to cosy up to Saudi Arabia and President Sisi’s Egypt than to stand up for values. As I said this evening, this situation poses for Liberal Demorats the moral duty as well as the political opportunity to campaign hard on these issues, to be seen to be taking the lead, above all because that is what is right.
Posts Tagged ‘France’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 3rd September, 2015
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 5th February, 2015
Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande are in Kiev today and tomorrow will move on to Moscow — all in aid of trying to mediate a peace deal between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed rebels on Eastern Ukraine. They are to be congratulated for confronting head-on the most serious threat to security in the European Union’s neighbourhood since the Cold War. They are right to believe that the European Union should be pro-active in its commitment to peace and stability, not only within and between EU member states but in the neighbourhood as well. But where is Britain in all this, or more precisely David Cameron? The UK is a major player in NATO operations, but under Mr Cameron it has increasingly side-lined itself from EU activity. The Ukraine peace initiative would have been stronger with the involvement of the three most powerful member states: Britain, France and Germany. But once again, as so often over the past half century and more, the British government has left it up to a Franco-German alliance. David Cameron might claim to be too busy to drop everything to go to Ukraine and Russia, though Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande cleared their diaries for the trip. Besides, Mr Cameron had no problem dropping everything recently to go cap in hand to Riyadh, to pay his respects to the Saudi Royal family. No, what I fear is all to obvious is that the Prime Minister didn’t want to be seen as doing anything too ‘European’ out of fear of UKIP and his own Tory backbench MPs. So once again The UK has missed the boat at a crucial moment in the EU’s evolution. And Mr Cameron should hang his head in shame.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Angela Merkel, Britain, David Cameron, EU, European Union, France, Francois Hollande, Germany, Kiew, Moscow, NATO, Riyadh, Russia, Saudi Arabia, UK, UKIP, Ukraine | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 15th January, 2015
Last night, at short notice, I was asked to take part in a live TV debate on the Charlie Hebdo affair on PressTV, the Iranian channel, to give a European perspective on things. There was incomprehension from some of the interactive viewers as to why the French satirical magazine would once more produce a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad on its cover when it knew that millions of Muslims would find this offensive, even blasphemous. I said that it was an act of defiance by the publication and remaining members of its team to show that they would not be cowed by the appalling assault on the editor and his colleagues, and that millions of people who do not normally buy Charlie Hebdo were doing so this week as an act of solidarity with free expression. What took me by surprise, however, were the views of an American Muslim (convert?) also participating in the programme from the US who declared forcefully that the massacre had been carried out by French agents, not by the two French-Algerian brothers named, and that this was all part of the West’s oppression of Muslims. As he then went off on a tangent ranting about the alleged Establishment cover-up in Britain of rampant paedophilia he was not an interlocutor I could take seriously. But there a couple of points which I think are worth some reflection. The first is the willingness of many in the Islamic world to frame everything in the context of what they see as a giant conspiracy by the United States and Israel to oppress Muslims (with obvious links to the Palestinian issue), and the second is that there is a genuine gulf between two mindsets: one that cherishes free expression and believes in the right to offend and to be offended, as opposed to those who passionately believe that blasphemy (in its widest sense) is a heinous crime worthy of capital punishment. I don’t believe either side will ever persuade the other of its arguments, but in order to avoid further conflict and bloodshed, a modus vivendi has to be found in our globalised, multicultural world, in which we agree to differ. But that is going to require some inspirational leadership by religious and political leaders, as well as a heightened sense of responsibility in the media.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 12th January, 2015
Given the blanket media coverage of events in Paris over the past week many people will probably have missed the distressing news that on Friday, after midday prayers, the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi received 50 lashes in a public flogging, an act of medieval barbarity that is due to be repeated another 19 times on Fridays until the full 1,000 lashes sentence imposed on him for using electronic media to “insult Islam” has been implemented. Other words banded about in his case have included blasphemy and apostasy (renunciation of one’s faith), the latter meriting the death penalty in some extremist Islamic states. Of course, to any rational modern human being these “crimes” are not crimes at all and certainly do not deserve harsh punishment. I do not believe in gratuitously insulting someone else’s religion, but surely God and the Prophets are strong enough to stand up for themselves in the face of any such criticism, satirical or otherwise? At the heart of the Je Suis Charlie demonstrations in France and elsewhere, in the wake of the murderous attacks in Paris, was the principle of free speech — an essential element not just of modern western civilization but of universal values of human rights, thanks to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been signed by all members of the UN, including gross abusers of human rights, including Saudi Arabia. The Saudis base their antediluvian approach to blasphemy and other such “offences” on their strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, which was, frankly, outmoded in the late 18th Century when it arose, and when the Enlightenment was sweeping Europe, let alone now. On Sunday, a wide range of world leaders gathered in Paris for the Je Suis Charlie march. But many of these same leaders are themselves guilty of curbing free speech, persecuting and even killing writers and journalists. All have a duty to improve their own records, as well as turning the spotlight on the worst culprits, including Saudi Arabia, applying sanctions where appropriate to reinforce their message. Those countries that still have blasphemy laws should repeal them now.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: apostasy, blasphemy, France, free speech, Je Suis Charlie, Paris, press freedom, Raif Badawi, Saudi Arabia, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Wahhabi | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 4th September, 2013
BBC Newsnight last night ran a feature on female genital mutilation (FGM), which is still a huge problem in Africa and some parts of the Arab world. It was clear from Sue Lloyd-Roberts’ interviews in the field that there is still great cultural resistance to ending the practice in traditional societies, and not only among the men. The report mentioned that although there have been prosecutions in France against people involved in FGM there have been no such cases in Britain, despite the large numbers of girls potentially at risk in the UK. I know I wasn’t the only person startled at the end of the item when presenter Jeremy Paxman said that Newsnight had approached the Home Secretary Theresa May and International Development Secretary Justine Greening, as well as her deputy Lynne Featherstone, but that none of these ladies (as he rather sneeringly called them) had been available to come on the programme. Knowing how much work on the subject that Lynne has been doing on FGM in Africa — including publicising the abuse — I suspected there must be something wrong somewhere. Sure enough, Lynne’s office got in touch to say that as the issue directly concerned related to the UK Border Agency, a Home Office Minister would have been the personal responsible to appear on the programme (assuming they were available at short notice), i.e. Theresa May or Jeremy Browne. By coincidence I sat next to Lynne at a meeting this afternoon, and I can well understand while she felt browned off by the way Jeremy Paxman had handled the situation, not only implying that she did not care enough about the subject to come on to the programme, but also by his sneer about the “ladies”. I shall have words with him next time we meet!
Link: Ending Female Geneital Cutting in a Generation, by Lynne Featherstone: www.http://t.co/ZCzBI3tVUt
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th August, 2013
Britain’s armed forces are preparing themselves for an armed strike against Syria, following the recent use of chemical weapons inside the country, probably by the Assad regime’s forces. As I said in a live interview on the al-Etejah (Iraqi Arab) TV channel last night, the justification for the UK, US, France and maybe Germany taking such a step, along with sympathetic Middle Eastern countries including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, without UN approval, would be the relatively new concept within International Law, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), about which I have written extensively. This asserts that if a government is unable or unwilling to protect its own people, then the international community has a responsibility to intervene on humanitarian grounds, providing there are reasonable prospects of success. Of course it would be preferable if the UN Security Council backed such a move, but that is currently impossible given the fact that Russia and to a lesser extent China are standing behind Bashar al-Assad — though in China’s case this is mainly because of its strong belief in the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. The humanitarian need in Syria is self-evident. More than 110,000 Syrians have been killed, a high proportion of them civilians. There are now between four and five million Syrian refugees and whole swaths of cities such as Aleppo and Homs are a wasteland. Yet still Assad and his thugs continue to try to pound the people into submission. The situation is complicated by the fact that this is not a fight between good and evil, however. Evil the Assad regime certainly is — and has been for over 40 years — but the disparate rebel forces contain some pretty unpleasant characters and radical groups that seek to impose an alien, fundamentalist creed that is alien to the modern Syrian secular society. But things have now reached a stage at which the world cannot just sit by and watch a people and a country be annihilated. The problem is what exactly should be done, now that what President Obama described as the “red line” of chemical weapon use has been crossed? The imposition of a no fly zone is one obvious option, or carefully targeted use of cruise missiles against the regime’s military installations. But there is no guarantee of effectiveness. What certainly needs to be avoided is sending foreign — and especially Western — troops on the ground, which would not only lead to heavy casualties but also risks turning some of the anti-Assad population against the intervention. Russia meanwhile has warned the West against intervention. But I think the momentum now is unstoppable. Unless the Assad clique stands aside — which it has shown no willingness to do — Syria is going to be the latest in a string of Middle Eastern/North African Wars. And the poor United Nations will look even more impotent and marginalised than ever.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Bashar Al-Assad, France, Germany, President Obama, Qatar, R2P, Responsibility to Protect, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, UK, United Nations, United Nations Security Council, US | 6 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th July, 2013
The Basque Country is a land of mountains and valleys — and the sea. The early 16th century Basque navigator Juan Sebastián de Elcano accompanied the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan on his historic sail westwards in search of the East Indies, and unlike Magellan, he survived. The Basques are among the oldest, if not the very oldest, peoples of Europe and their language is unlike any other. Of course it was suppressed under General Franco and for decades Basque separatists — mainly in Spain, but with a few allies in the smaller Basque lands of France — have agitated for independence, sometimes violently. It was while Franco was in decline, in 1975, that the Irish writer and specialist on Spain, Paddy Woodworth, first set foot in Euskal Herria — the land of the Basques. But he became fascinated and over the next 30 years and more penetrated the Basque lands and mentality more than most foreign observers. One result is his book The Basque Country (Signal, 2007), which is far more than just a guidebook or even a cultural history. It is a song of one man’s love for a tiny corner of Europe that has been often misunderstood. Paddy is a canny and opinionated (in the best sense of the world) companion, who relishes the Basque love of food and drink (wine and cider), the echoes of pre-Christian rituals and beliefs and the magic realism of some of its literature and folklore. He bemoans the noisiness of post-modern life in village bars, while at the same time — in a major, central chapter — celebrating aspects of the post-modern transformation of Bilbao (the “Guggenheim Effect”). While decrying the carnage of ETA’s terror campaign, as well as the torture and killings of Basque activists by various Spanish regimes, he remains neutral in his position regarding Basque separatism, at the same time drawing some interesting comparisons with Northern Ireland. Above all, he invites the reader to celebrate an land and its people before they irrevocably change, just as the whales that used to swim off the coast have disappeared and many species of fish have been driven to the verge of extinction.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Basque, Bilbao, ETA, Euskal Herria, Ferdinand Magellan, France, General Franco, Guggenheim Museum, Juan Sebastián de Elcano, Paddy Woodworth, Signal Books, Spain, The Basque Country | 2 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 2nd July, 2013
Like many urban-dwelling wine lovers I had never given much thought about how the stuff is made. I suppose if pressed I would have gueseds that you need the right climate and soil, must pick the grapes when they are ready, then put them in a blender and hey presto! Of course, it is nowhere near as simple as that, but just how complex the process is — especially when French red tape also plays a part — came as quite a shock, as I read Caro Feely’s account of her young family’s “vineyard adventure” in the Dordogne, “Grape Expectations” (Summersdale, £8.99). She and her husband Sean had a dream of a rural idyll in which they would become owners of their own château-label wines while escaping the rat race of a desk-based employee´s existence. But they ended up working far harder than they ever had before, while the sword of possible insolvency hung over their head. It is surprising their marriage survived the pressure, and indeed it barely did. Yet they persevered and overcame the hurdles, both natural and human. And even if the wine-making business doesn’t make one rich they achieved their goal, branching out later into wine tourism and holiday lets. Caro Feely’s style is at times breathless but the central message of this revelatory book is clear: viticulture is not for wimps.
Link: www.summersdale.com ,
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 3rd January, 2013
It’s 40 years since Britain joined the EU and siren voices among UKIP and the Tory right are arguing that it’s time to turn the clock back and pull out. They couldn’t be more wrong. On the contrary, this is the time for the EU to integrate more — as the eurozone now seems destined to do — and Britain should be an enthusiastic participant. In the 1950s it was clear to the Founding Fathers (sorry, ladies, they were all men) of what developed into the EU that a degree of economic integration, notably between France and Germany, was necessary to make wars between western European states impossible. That goal was so smoothly achieved that European peace is taken for granted, especially by the young. A second huge victory since 1989 has been the absorption of formerly Communist states of central and eastern Europe ino the EU. This year, Croatia will be the next. But there is an urgent reason why EU integration should move ahead, namely the way that the global economy is developing, with the rise of new heavyweights including Brazil, Russia, India and China — the BRICs. As EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso has rightly pointed out, by 2050 not a single individual European country will be among the world’s top 10 economies* — not even Germany. So in order to compete — indeed, to survive as an economic force — Europe must unite further and start operating more as not just a single market but also a single economic force. It would be madness for Britain to stay out of that, condemning itself to a form of offshore irrelevance. It is not the Europhiles in Britain who are unpatriotic, as some of our critics allege, but rather UKIP and the Europhobic Tory right who want to consign us to the role of an historical theme park.
*A new entry at number 10, however, could well be Turkey, which makes it all the more important that Turkey be embraced into the European family.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 13th December, 2011
When Angela Merkel met David Cameron 10 days ago, she told him, ‘I want to help you!’ She understood that he had problems with his Europhobic backbenchers and was offering to work with him quietly to help sort out some way that last week’s EU summit in Brussels could help find a structure in which to strengthen the euro (and the eurozone with it) while meeting some of Britain’s particular concerns. But instead of welcoming this offer, when the summit’s opening dinner went on well into the night, the British Prime Minister threw his toys out of the pram, actually jeopardising Britain’s best interests in the process. He had of course already marginalised his party from the European mainstream by pulling it out of the EPP — to which Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and many of the EU’s other big hitters belong — so he wasn’t even present at the crucial EPP Leaders’ pre-meeting in Marseilles, or even properly plugged in to what was happening on the Continent in recent weeks. The Germans were aghast at his behaviour, I am reliably informed from the highest source — and not especially delighted that this allowed Sarkozy to prance around crowing like a cockerel ruling the roost. Nonetheless, the Germans have decided to keep schtum, as they believe that openly attacking Cameron would only make matters worse. They will remain silent while praying that Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats manage to row the Coalition Government at least a little way back from the disastrous place that Cameron has landed us in. German banks based in the City are horrified by the way things are going; far from helping the City of London, they say, the PM risks undermining it. And a final comment from my high-level source from Berlin (with which I can only concur): ‘Those politicians and newspapers in Britain who describe themselves as Eurosceptics are not sceptical at all. Scepticism implies a healthy determination not to accept something until one has examined it thoroughly. They are actually Europhobes, who blatantly ignore or distort the truth unless it happens to fit in with their own prejudices.’