Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘United States’

Democracy in Decline

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 5th March, 2020

Freedom House report 2019In the 1980s and 1990s there was reason to celebrate, as military dictatorships in Latin America came to an end and Communism collapsed in Europe. But in the 21st. Century democratisation has gone into reverse. According to the latest annual report from the Washington-based NGO Freedom House, democracy is under assault in many parts of the world, including the United States itself. “Dictators are toiling to stamp out the last vestiges of domestic dissent and spread their harmful influence to new corners of the world,” the report laments. China comes in for intense criticism for its “totalitarian offensive” against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, as well as its “relentless campaign to replace existing international norms with its own authoritarian vision.” Russia is lambasted for last year’s “stage-managed” elections, from which genuine opposition was largely excluded, while Iran used live ammunition against demonstrators last autumn, reportedly killing hundreds.

But it is not only the usual suspects who come under Freedom House’s critical gaze. The 2019 Report highlights how democracy and associated freedoms are in retreat across much of the supposedly democratic world. “Many freely elected leaders are dramatically narrowing their concerns to a blinkered interpretation of the national interest,” the report says. “In fact, such leaders — including the chief executives of the United States and India, the world’s two largest democracies — are increasingly willing to break down institutional safeguards and disregard the rights of critics and minorities as they pursue their populist agendas.” Donald Trump comes under fire for exerting pressure on electoral integrity, judicial independence and safeguards against corruption. Moreover numerous foreign governments have mimicked Trump’s attacks on “fake news media”, developing policies or legislation that have criminalized or suppressed free speech in their countries. More than half the world’s democracies have declined in political terms over the past 14 years, Freedom House opines, the worst example being India, which under Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi has registered “alarming departures from democratic norms”. Boris Johnson’s government in the UK is too new to figure in the report, but signs here in Britain are troubling too.

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Trump’s Threats over Jerusalem Backfire

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 21st December, 2017

73DED4EB-9FA8-41BE-A18A-5810B588398D.jpegToday, the United Nations General Assembly voted to condemn Donald Trump’s declared intention to move the US Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, by 128 votes to 9 (and 35 abstentions). I am pleased to say that the United Kingdom, the former mandatory power over the whole of historic Palestine, voted in favour of the motion, as did almost all the other EU member states; none opposed. The nine nay-sayers were the United States and Israel, naturally, plus Guatemala, Honduras, Togo and four micro-states in the Pacific — all poor, developing countries heavily dependent on foreign aid. That latter point is important, because the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, made clear in no uncertain terms that the Trump administration would note who opposed the motion and deal with them accordingly — an outrageous threat in the sovereign body of the UN, confirming that the acid-tongued Ms Haley is indeed the Donald’s loyal handmaiden. However, not all countries were cowed by the menace of financial or trading retribution. On past performance, Canada could have been expected to back the US line on Israel’s capital, but Ottawa was reportedly so incensed by Trump’s threats that Canada abstained instead. So all in all, this was a good day for all those who believe that the final status of Jerusalem must be negotiated between sovereign Israeli and Palestinian states. But Mr Trump, like a cornered bear, is alas likely to bite back.

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May-Trump: An Unholy Alliane

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 29th January, 2017

may-trump-2Normally it would be a matter of celebration that a British Prime Minister should be the first foreign leader to visit a newly-installed US President, but the pictures of Theresa May hand-in-hand with Donald Trump evoked nothing but shame. This is a man who has said the most disgustingly offensive comments about women, declared that Muslims will be banned from entering the United States (though that may prove to be unconstitutional) and demanded that Mexico should pay for a multi-billion dollar wall that he wants to build along the USA’s southern border. But Mrs May kept smiling while she was with the President and said she looks forward to a new era in which the US and Britain will lead the world. Apart from the fact that her image of a globally powerful UK on a par with the United States is nothing short of delusional, she will soon discover just how “friendly” the Trump administration is when the hoped-for bilateral trade deal is negotiated. The reason the British Prime Minister went rushing to Washington once she heard the dog whistle is of course because Mrs May wishes to recalibrate Britain’s foreign and trading relations in preparation for a hard Brexit, exiting the European Union and the single market. By doing so — if that folly goes ahead — she will turn her back on our 27 EU partners, with whom we share not only laws but values, and instead put together a patchwork of ne best friends, many of whom share some disagreeable traits, from using the death penalty, having relaxed gun laws, and abusing human rights. To add insult to injury, the Prime Minster has announced that Mr Trump will make a state visit to Britain this summer, which would mean his staying with the Queen. If that outrageously offensive proposition does go ahead, I trust the monarch will find herself diplomatically indisposed.

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When Will America Reject Guns?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 13th June, 2016

The massacre of clubbers at a gay venue in Orlando, Florida, is the worst mass killing by a gunman in US history. Fifty people are dead and several others wounded; across the world there have been spontaneous vigils and acts of mourning. The gunman’s ex-wife says he has a personality disorder, which underlines why there need to be stricter controls on who can get access to guns and other weapons. Personally, I don’t think anyone outside the armed forces should have the ability to purchase a weapon that can slaughter so many people (and the armed forces should only have them for defence). Inevitably, there has been much comment — not least on social media — about the fact that the mass murderer, Omar Mateen, is Muslim and that he was said to have been offended recently by the sight of two men kissing. It is true that there are what in modern terms would be called homophobic passages in the Koran, just as there are in the Jewish and Christian bibles, but it would be wrong to use this incident as a stick with which to beat Muslims in general, especially during this holy month of Ramadan. I was pleased to see that Islamic groups in America have been among the first to offer condolences and material relief. Any people who might like to claim that Christianity is so much more enlightened when it comes to LGBT issues should examine how fundamentalist US churches promoted the hateful anti-gay legislation in Uganda and other parts of Africa, or look at the evangelicals in America who parade with signs saying “God Hates Fags”. What is clear is that the fight for LGBT rights and equality is far from over, both within religious communities and in the wider world. But for me the most striking thing about this dreadful incident is that yet again the United States has shown that its adherence to the “freedom” to bear arms has murderous consequences. I would argue that religious intolerance of homosexuality is an anachronism that needs to be confronted, but so too, sure;y, is America’s love of guns, more appropriate to the frontier age of the 19th century than to the postmodern 21st century. Until that issue is addressed, there will be more shootings by hateful or deranged individuals. And although the Orlando shootings have beaten the record for the number of dead, sometime before too long another atrocity will top that figure. While offering the Orlando victims, their families and friends our deepest condolences, we can only hope that one day the American public and legislators will see sense on gun control.

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Trump Is a Chump (and Worse)

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 9th December, 2015

Donald TrumpWere the US Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump a character in a movie he would be good for a few laughs. But he is very real and very determined and not funny at all. He is the worst sort of American redneck populist, with the added twist that he has more than enough money to do whatever he wants in this world — and not to be craven to anyone. Of course, we have seen GOP goofs before, Sarah Palin being a case that springs to mind. But Trump is much more dangerous because his rhetoric appeals to the worst instincts among right-wing conservatives and disaffected working class white voters. He has been in hot water in the more liberal elements of the US and global media before, for example damning Mexican immigrants as potential drug dealers and murderers. But his latest outrage, calling for a complete ban on Muslims entering the US is his most egregious outrage yet. Islamophobia is not limited to far right extremists, but it is chilling that Donald Trump has gone so far, unashamedly. Try substituting the word “Jews” for “Muslims” and the warnings of history are evident. Moreover, Trump is bound to act as an unwitting recruiting sergeant for ISIS, al-Qaeda and other extreme Islamist groups who will ratchet up the narrative that not just America but the whole Western World is anti-Muslim, and therefore deserves to be punished and attacked. In a comedy film, the candidate Trump might indeed become President of the United States, but this is no movie, and were the unthinkable to happen in real life it would not be farce but tragedy.

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After the Moon and Mars, How about Earth?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 25th August, 2012

As someone who quite often writes obituaries (for the Guardian, amongst others) I always have my eye out for death notices (these days more likely to be found on twitter than in the columns of The Times), so of course I spotted news today of the demise of Neil Armstrong, the US astronaut, at the age of 82. I send my sincere sympathy to his family and friends. But it would be hypocritical of me to say that I jumped for joy at pictures of the First Man on the Moon when Apollo 11 landed there in the summer of 1969. I was in South Vietnam at the time, as a cub reporter, not a soldier, I hasten to add. And even though some of my Vietnamese friends were gobsmacked by the footage (though others swore blind it must be a fake), I had two very negative thoughts at the time, neither of which reflected on Neil Armstrong personally. The first was: Why the hell is the United States planting a US flag on the moon instead of the UN flag; this should be a celebration for all humankind, not US power and money. And second: there are still millions of people dying round the world, not only from wars but also from hunger; how many lives could the cost of this mission have saved? Doubtless some people will say I was naive (well, I was only 19) or radicalised by the horrors I had witnessed in Vietnam (which is true). But interestingly, the same thoughts crossed my mind this summer, 43 years later, when NASA’s exploratory craft landed on Mars and gingerly moved about a few steps. Of course there were no human beings on board on this occasion, though I suspect that will only be a matter of time. The cost of the Mars mission is literally astronomical, but again the same worries nagged my brain. Could Mars exploration not be in the name of the world, rather than the United States? And are there not enough problems here on Earth — ongoing hunger, wars, environmental degredation and  manmade climate change — which perhaps ought to be a higher priority?

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Libya and the Responsibility to Protect

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 19th March, 2011

UN Security Council resolution 1973 regarding Libya is a milestone in the development not only of the concept of the Responsibility to Protect but also the realisation of its practical implications. Muammar Gaddafi had shown such flagrant disregard for the well-being of his people, in his brutal attempts to suppress the popular uprising against him, that the international community could not just sit back and watch a massacre take place. This of course goes counter to a longstanding principle in force really since the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648: the concept of the sovereignty of the nation state — in other words, that other countries should not interefere in the internal affairs of sovereign states. That is a principle that both Russia and China are keen to see maintained (because of their fears over restless regions such as Chechnya and Tibet) and explains why they both abstained on Resolution 1973. At least they did not veto it, thus giving a green light to international action, with UN backing. Britain, France and Lebanon took the lead on this, with the United States coming on board soon after. At least two other Arab states — the UAE and Qatar — have also indicated their willingness to be involved in the operation to protect the Libyan people. But inevitably the main thrust will come from NATO, with France and Britain again taking the lead. Like many who opposed the Iraq War, I feel that UN action on Libya was essential. But the challenge will be to bring a swift end to Gaddafi’s attacks on the rebels without things escalating or becoming too protracted. And then ideally Gaddafi must go — perferably pushed out by his own people.

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