When the International Office of the Liberal Democrats first mooted the idea of a fringe meeting at this weekend’s Spring conference in Liverpool on issues surrounding radical Islam some voices urged caution, fearful this could inflame tensions. But what is a Liberal party for, if not to stand up for the freedom of expression in a tolerant, diverse society? The recent bloody excesses of ISIS in Syria and Iraq — one of whose victims was the noble aid volunteer from my home town of Eccles, Alan Henning — have highlighted the need to tackle the scourge of Islamism head-on. This is absolutely not the same as criticising the religion Islam, whatever some critics might say. Islamism, the radical ideology that seeks to impose its own extreme interpretation if Islam on society is as far from the core values of Islam as the Spanish Inquisition was from the core values of Christianity. Indeed, as (Baroness) Kishwer Falkner — a secular Muslim LibDem peer of Pakistani origin — declared at the controversial fringe meeting last night, ISIS are essentially fascists, far more extreme than just extreme. Maajid Nawaz, the LibDem candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn at the forthcoming general election also spoke passionately of the need to defend the right of people to have any religion or none, or even to change religion if they wish — though apostasy is a capital offence in some conservative Islamic states. Such issues were reprised in a plenary debate at the conference this morning, when a very detailed motion on protecting freedom of expression was overwhelmingly passed. I spoke in that debate, highlighting the fact that journalism has become a much more dangerous occupation than when I first started as a teenage cub reporter for the Manchester Evening News in Vietnam. These days, journalists are often deliberately targetted, not just in the Middle East but in countries such as Brazil, Mexico and Russia. It is essential that we champion the principles of free expression enshrined in both the European Convention on Human Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including in relation to the media. As the late US statesman Adlai Stevenson once said, a free press is the mother of our liberties — something we should bear in mind this Mothering Sunday.
Posts Tagged ‘Liberal International’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 15th March, 2015
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Adlai Stevenson, Alan Henning, apostasy, Christianity, ECHR, Hampstead and Kilburn, ISIS, Islam, Islamism, Kishwer Falkner, Liberal International, Liverpool, Maajid Nawaz | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 3rd June, 2014
Last night at the National Liberal Club, Liberal International British Group hosted a panel discussion on the political situation in Egypt, with former Nile TV presenter Shahira Amin, democracy activist Ahmed Naguib (via skype), the Treasurer of Liberal International, Robert Woodthorpe Browne (who has been involved in a lot of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s recent work in Egypt) and myself. As the discussion was (rightly) held under the Chatham House Rule, I cannot divulge what any of the others said, but I can share some of the things I talked about. As the two Egyptian participants gave such a comprehenesive and coheremnt picture of today’s political realities and challenges, I complemented their presentations by reminding people about the highs and lows of the mood on Cairo’s Tahrir Square in January/February 2011, including the prominent role played by brave women and the way that Muslims and Christian Copts protected each other when they were at prayer. But those who dubbed the phenomenon that started in Tunisia the previous December “The Arab Spring” were always way out on their time-frame. I believed that then and believe it even more strongly now: it will be 30 or 40 years before it becomes clear how the whole New Arab Awakening works out, but what is sure is that Egypt is the test case of its success or failure. It has always had a pole position in the Arab mentality, not just because it is by far the most populous nation in the the Arab world but also because of Cairo’s (Sunni) religious and intellectual pre-eminence. Field Marshal Sisi’s victory in the recent presidential election was a foregone conclusion, though it was notable that in each electoral district there were tens of thousands of spoiled ballot papers. But for the majority of Egyptians (rather than the wealthier, educated elite) the prime concern at the moment is economic survival: bread not ballots. Western commentators like myself rightly focus on matters such as human rights abuses, including the systematic use of torture in detention centres. But the key thing that any Egyptian government, now and for the foreseable future, has to tackle is how to overcome the huge inequalities in Egypt and to provide enough, reasonably-paid work for the predominantly young population. Otherwise, there is likely to be a growing, disenchanted body of youth who could be tempted by something far more radical than the Muslim Brotherhood that was ousted from power. And that bodes ill.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Ahmed Naguib, Arab Spring, Cairo, Copts, Egypt, Field Marshal Sisi, Liberal International, Liberal International British Group, Muslim Brotherhood, Muslims, New Arab Awakening, Robert Woodthorpe Browne, Shahira Amin, Tunisia | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 26th April, 2014
This afternoon, at the Liberal International Congress in Rotterdam, I successfully moved an amendment on behalf of the UK Liberal Democrats to the Middle East section of the traditional World Today resolution, reviewing topical issues of global concern. Since the text had first been drafted, news came through that Israel was pulling out of talks with the Palestinians because of the new deal between Fatah (the Palestinian Authority) and Gaza’s Hamas, which have agreed to form a joint platform. The British amendment praised John Kerry for working tirelessly to get the peace negotations back on track, but criticised Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for pulling the plug on talks. Moreover, negotiating with a united front of Palestinians is more likely to mean that Hamas will clmp down on Islamic Jihad and other extremist groups, I believe. I argued from the position of a Brit who lived through IRA bombings in Manchester and London and therefore understands that one makes peace not with friends but with enemies. I got quite emotional when recalling the state dinner given earlier this month by Queen Elizabeth to the Irish President, at which former Sinn Fein bogey-man Martin McGuinness was welcomed by the monarch, despite the fact that the IRA blew up her cousin, Lord Louis Mountbatten, in 1979. I said that I looked forward to the day when Shimon Peres, or whoever succeeeds him as Israeli President, welcomes Palestinian leaders, including current Hamas figures to his residence, because that will mean that peace and security have become a reality. It saddened — but didn”t suprise — me that the Israelis present protested that we cannot expect them to talk to “terrorists”, and a few prominent pro-Israelis — including outgoing Liberal Internatinal President Hans Van Baalen also oppossed the amendment and the idea that talks should resume. Fortunately, the amendment was carried — albeit by not a very large margin. and with many abstentions — which I thought was a very positive result. One thing that particularly saddens me, however, is that so many Israelis — even many Liberals — don”t realise that their narrative of the conflict doesn’t hold water and that not just Europe but increasingly many Americans (including American Jews) are no longer prepared to stand up for Israel, right or wrong.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Binyamin Netanyahu, Fatah, Gaza, Hamas, Hans Van Baalen, IRA, Islamic Jihad, Israel, John Kerry, Liberal International, Lord Louis Mountabatten, Martin McGuinness, Middle East, Palestine, Queen Elizabeth, Rotterdam, Shimon Peres, Sinn Fein | 3 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 13th April, 2013
Today at the Liberal International Executive in Beirut there was a special session on Syria, its title asking the provocative question whether the crisis and the international community’s failure to find a resolution to it signals an end to the Responsibility to Protect. Keynote speakers included former LI President John Alderdice, who I have often worked with, and former Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, who I had dealings with when I was doing project evaluation and training for his Democrat Party in Bangkok a few years back. I not surprisingly agreed with almost everything John said though I argued that to call R2P a “doctrine”m as he did, was unfortunate as it is rather a principle of evolving International Law. Kasit, as a good Buddhist, argued that the lessons from Indonesia (Suharto) and Burma (the military junta) suggest that we should not seek revenge for what Bashar al-Assad and his family and cohorts have done, but rather show forgiveness. I countered that the Syrian regime’s crimes have been so heinous that for justice to be done he and his brother Maher should be brought before the International Criminal Court in The Hague (which got a gratifyingly hearty round of applause from the Lebanese present, in particular). I maintained that Western military intervention in Libya had been correct, under R2P, even if the outcome is not entirely smooth, whereas I fear any Western military intervention in Syria would only make things worse. Instead, the Arab League — possibly with the addition of Turkey — should take the lead and try to convene a workable peace conference, though in the meantime considerable diplomatic pressure needs to be brought to bear on Russia and China, two of Syria’s strongest allies.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Bashar Al-Assad, Burma, Indonesia, John Alderdice, Kasit Piromya, Lebanon, Liberal International, Maher al-Assad, R2P, Responsibility to Protect, Suharto, Syria, Thailand | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 12th November, 2012
Being a Liberal in Russia is a risky vocation, as putting one’s head above the parapet politically is an invitation to harrassment, arrest, criminal proceedings and heafty fines or imprisonment. High profile anti-establishment activists such as Pussy Riot get lots of foreign media attention and noises of sympathy from the outside world, of course, but even in their case that did not stop two of their number being sentenced to two years detention each in different gulags. Alas, as the leader of Russia’s Liberal Party Yabloko, Sergei Mitrokhin, detailed in a speech at Westminster this lunchtime, the long arm of President Putin’s law is getting firmer. He highlighted three aspects of particular concern regarding the current political situation in Russia and the crackdown against Liberal forces. First, there are the political reprisals, which have seen key Yabloko activists charged — often on false evidence — for demanding action against high-level corruption, for example. Second, Sergei stressed the hardening of laws and the suppression of civil rights under various amendments to the legal and civil codes. One good (i.e. bad) example is an amendment which will mean that Russian NGOs receiving grants from international bodies must now register as “foreign agents”. And last but not least in the litany of adverse developments, is what Sergei called the “clericalisation of the state”, in other words the way that a very conservative form of Russian Orthodoxy has now been melded into a state ideology which is dangerously nationalistic, anti-Western and anti-Liberal. Today’s gathering, at Portcullis House, was sponsored by Simon Hughes MP, Lord Alderdice and Liberal International, and in the discussion period after Sergei Mitrokhin’s speech I inquired exactly what helpful actions groups such as LI and the British Liberal Democrats can take to help Yabloko, without jeopardising its activists. Training in election strategies and techniques is something that I and others from the LibDems have done in various parts of the world, through the all-party Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and that may be the best answer — other than heartfelt moral support.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: John Alderdice, Liberal Democrats, Liberal International, Pussy Riot, Russia, Sergei Mitrokhin, Simon Hughes, Vladimir Putin, Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Yabloko | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th May, 2012
It was daring — even brave — of the Armenian National Movement to invite the European Liberal Democrats (ELDR) to convene a Council meeting in Yerevan this week, only days after general elections were held in Armenia, about which they have cried foul. ELDR has never had a meeting on such a scale in the Caucasus before, but it was doubly valuable for European Liberal Democrat Council members as the Liberal International organised a side-trip fact-finding mission to Georgia beforehand. I was involved in both, as the (UK) Liberal Democrats’ representative on the Executive of Liberal International and an elected member of the ELDR Council. I was in Armenia six years ago, travelling widely around the country, so it was fascinating to see how the capital Yerevan has been rapidly modernising, though the countryside has changed little and indeed gives the feeling of still being back in the Soviet era, only friendlier. But there was also a big contrast between Georgia (a first for me) and Armenia. In Tbilisi, our Georgian hosts — the Georgia Dream coalition — gave a very critical appraisal of how they see democracy fumctioning in their homeland, whereas the government — who looked after us for half a day — put a different spin on the state of affairs. But whoever was right about whichever issues there is no denying that Georgia is a place willing itself onto an upward trajectory, much aided by the abolition of widespread earlier corruption and personal insecurity. Most Georgians are anxious to get into NATO and one day into the EU as well; the 12-Star flag of Europe is prominant everywhere alongside the Georgian red cross. We were taken to the Line of Occupation on the edge of South Ossetia to remind us of just how close and real the Russian occupational presence is. In Armenia, in contrast, there is more of a Russian flavour to the capital, but of course there is also a big influence of the Armenian expatriate community from France and the United States, some of whom are presumably financing the massive amount of reconstruction going on. In the ELDR Council and contiguous special sessions we heard a lot from NGOs and others about alleged irregularities in last Sunday’s poll. But there was also, among other things, a fascinating session on LGBT Rights in the South Caucasus, organised in conjunction with the two Dutch Liberal parties (the VVD and D66) as well as International Liberal Youth (IFLRY). Just days ago a gay-friendly bar in Yerevan was set alight by far right activists, but nonetheless there is a lot of positive conscious-raising on equality issues (even in Georgia, where over 90% of the population say they disapprove of LGBT activism). The black hole as far as the Armenians are concerned seems to be Azerbaijan, but as I know from a visit there not all that long ago, things are modernising apace in Baku, financed by oil money, even if the regime is pretty authoritarian. All in all, the Caucasus is a region with huge political and economic potential, desperate to be seen as European, while at the same time retaining its diverse specificities.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Armenia, Armenian National Movement, Azerbaijan, Caucasus, D66, ELDR, Georgia, Georgia Dream, IFLRY, LGBT, Liberal International, Tbilisi, VVD, Yerevan | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 14th October, 2011
This afternoon, at the Liberal International Executive at the National Liberal Club in London, I gave a presentation on my paper on Responsibility to Protect, which will be the theme of a day-long conference in the capital tomorrow. I argued that Liberals have to approach the subject from the perspective of their core values, such as freedom, human rights and the Rule of Law. International Law is evolving constantly, and for the past decade or so, R2P — as it’s known in the trade — has become a core issue of concern when governments show themselves unable or unwilling to protect their populations from genocide, gross human rights violations such as systematic rape etc; then there comes a time when the international community must react. Ideally, the first responsibility is to prevent: to take preventive action before things get too bad. Then there might be the responsibility to act: perhaps first by economic sanctions — military intervention must be a last resort, but it will sometimes be necessary. And lastly there is the responsibility to rebuild. As we have seen recently in Libya, such intervention can succeed, when it is genuinely supported not only by a significant proportion of the local population but also by other countries in the region. But often the world is reluctant to intervene or else the UN Security Council blocks things because of the political alignment of one or more of its permanent member states. This may mean that regions increasingly have to take on the role of policing the behavour or countries in their area, though thar is by no means simple in all cases. One hopes tomorrow’s conference might produyce some guidelines.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th June, 2010
Earlier today I joined several of my fellow members of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, numerous red-bandanna’d young Burmese and other well-behaved protesters outside the Burmese Embassy in London’s Mayfair, marking Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s 65th birthday, which actually falls tomorrow (19th June). I’ll be taking part in a big commemorative gathering in Hendon on Sunday as well. Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) had an election stolen from them by the military in 1990 and she has spent 14 of the last 20 years under house arrest. Many of her NLD colleagues and other political activists — including monks — have suffered far worse imprisonment, torture and death. Alas the world seems impotant to do anything about it, although the condemnations of the military’s behavious has been widespread. US President Barack Obama marked Suu Kyi’s birthday with a plea for her release. She has received many prizes — including Liberal International’s Prize for Freedom — but prizes and pleas are not enough. The Burmese regime, which is oe of the nastiest and least accountable on earth, needs to be brought to its knees or its senses.
[right hand photo courtesy Robert Sharp and English PEN]
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 14th June, 2010
At the weekend Executive of Liberal International in Berlin, I successfully moved (on behalf of the British Liberal Democrats) an urgency resolution following on the recent Israeli attack on the Gaza aid flotilla. Though it was slightly softened after negotiation with the Germans and Dutch, it is by the far the strongest statement to have come out of any of the political internationals so far. Only two people present at the Executive voted against it (both Israelis, surprise, surprise!). The text reads:
Liberal International Executive in Berlin:
— deplores the use of force by Israeli commandos in stopping the flotilla carrying aid to Gaza;
— deplores the violence used by some activists on board the flotilla;
— expresses shock at the resultant deaths and injuries aboard the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, and at the treatment of its crew and passengers;
— demands the resotration of the liberty of the Israeli Arabs who have been on board the flotilla;
— supports the UN Security Council’s call for a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent inquiry into this violent clash between Israeli armed forces and activists to avoid immense future damage to both Israel’s reputation and its security;
— [believes] the inquiry must fully examine the actions of all parties, including claims of weapons possession, and establish the precise facts and responsiblity for the chain of events, and report for consideration to the Security Council;
— strongly calls on the Middle East Quartet, and the US government in particular, to urge all partuies to return to the Road Map and observe international law.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 15th March, 2010
The Liberal Democrats are the only truly internationalist party in Britain — as well as being the only committed Europeans — according to the party’s Foreign Affairs spokesman, Ed Davey MP, who gave a brief address at the annual reception for London’s diplomatic corps hosted by the British Group of Liberal International (LIBG) at the National Liberal Club this evening. The warm-up act was (Lord) David Steel, former Liberal Party leader and an earstwhile President of the worldwide Liberal International. Malcolm Bruce MP, LIBG President and Chairman of the House of Commons’ select committee on International Development, ended the formal part of the proceedings by on the one hand welcoming the fact that the Labour government has been moving towards the UN goal of devoting 0.7% of GDP to overseas development aid while on the other, chiding them for not progressing on this more quickly.
It was interesting to see just how many Ambassadors and High Commissioners turned up, which reflects how seriously the Liberal Democrats are being taken by the diplomatic corps in the run-up to what promises to be an exciting election. It was good to spot among those present the High Comissioner of South Africa and the Ambassador of Panama, both of whose countries will be hosting Liberal International meetings in the months to come.