Month: February 2015

Chasing The Illusory Peace

 

Thirty Years War [Source: Google images]

Throughout history, the end of wars has required negotiations between the warring parties.  The most prominent negotiation being the Westphalian Peace Settlement that ended the Thirty Years War [1618-1648] that had desolated Europe. The settlement comprised three treaties which are considered by many jurists to have birthed the international legal system.[1] Confronting a state of perpetual war, the parties to Westphalia negotiated the conditions in which they could agree to cease their hostilities and enter peaceful relations.

The contemporary importance of Westphalia is that it established two fundamental principles that are now codified in the Charter of the United Nations: sovereign equality and territorial integrity.[2] As most can probably surmise, these principles were intended to have anti-hegemonic effect. However, in reality they enabled superpowers to emerge as a result of ‘radical inequalities among states in size, wealth, and power in international role’.[3] This is evidenced in the composition of the UN Security Council, exemplified by the five permanent States that hold veto power that they can and do use for their own political ends.

Admittedly, although negotiations have ended past wars, the Iraq (and similarly Syria) war is more complex. Firstly, IS is not a State in any formal sense despite their assertion to the contrary. Secondly, it is a civil war not a war where one sovereign State agresses against another equally sovereign State threatening their territorial integrity. It is in this context, that the do not negotiate with terrorists (DNNWT) rule arises.

Whether the DNNWT rule has acquired customary status, I am unsure, but a good case could probably be made given it’s widespread acceptance among States and the clear evidence of State practice. Additionally, it would be consistent with the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties principle that a treaty must be concluded between States in order to achieve international legal standing.[4] As terrorist designated organisations are not States, then no internationally binding treaty with IS could ever be legitimately concluded, unless they were to be recognised as a State (which would bring with it a very complex and contentious set of considerations). However, there is always the possibility of a domestic treaty negotiation situation.

However, the DNNWT rule serves both the anti-hegemonic and hegemonic agendas. For the reason that, it protects the sovereign equality of States, but it also allows superpowers to heavily influence the direction of international security policy and to dictate who are legitimate resistance groups according to their own political and economic interests. This might seem reasonable when limiting the scope of discussion to IS given the heinous atrocities that form the basis of their resistance strategy. But the implications extend further than those groups. It is not difficult to conceive of a circumstance when internal resistance might be necessary, such as, when a society is ruled under a violent dictatorship. For instance, many (contentiously) see the resistance of the Free Syrian Army as a justifiable belligerent act against their autocratic government and some States were prepared to support the FSA despite their lack of legal standing at international law.

The logic of the DNNWT rule seems perfectly reasonable.  In order to protect the political sovereignty of a nation, the obvious strategy is to refuse to allow a belligerent militia to influence the decision making of that State.  Of course, there are times where that logic is stretched beyond what is reasonable. Recalling Prime Minister John Key’s assertion that not going to war with IS was essentially allowing them to interfere with New Zealand’s political sovereignty. Absurdity abounding on the very fact that his decision to deploy troops to Iraq comes off the back of pressure from other nations that New Zealand cannot simply be a passive ally. Moreover, that doing nothing or doing what the government have decided to do are both decisions based on the influence of IS.

On the other hand, ruling out negotiations, as mentioned above, removes the very process by which conflict could ever hope to be resolved with enduring peace. I’m not so naive as to think that negotiating with IS would immediately resolve the long history of religious tension within Iraq and its surrounding regions. Nor am I suggesting that IS would even be willing participants  to negotiate a resolution. However,  eliminating the option arguably casts us back almost 400 years to once again face the reality of a perpetual war. Sheldon Richman also alludes to the perpetuity of war arguing that when governments invade and occupy other countries, or ‘underwrite other governments invasions or oppression, the people in the victimised societies become angry enough to want and even to exact revenge’.[5] I’m certainly not convinced that raining hell fire over Iraq and areas controlled by IS will bring about any solution at all.

Similarly, Dr Jeremy Moses (Senior Lecturer, UCNZ) tweeted:[6]

“…there are no good outcomes from [the] Iraq situation. [The] [r]ole of NZ can be nothing more than a favour to the US…NZ will have no material impact on what will be a long, brutal battle for Mosul. And even if IS falls, what then? No-one knows”

And before someone calls me an IS apologist, this is not about defending IS at all. To make that claim is both lazy and unintelligent. As humans in common, we all have an interest in avoiding the spread of hate and unnecessary death. We all have an interest in avoiding a world in which fear is normalised and the quality of our lives debilitated. We cannot pontificate under the pretence of ‘the others’ intolerance when our governments commit or support other governments that commit equally heinous crimes.

Richard Jackson makes the point much better:[7]

…what counts as cruelty and barbarism in war is shaped by our cultural values and historical context. Objectively, it is perverse to insist that burning a man to death with petrol is a greater moral evil than using munitions like phosphorous bombs in military operations which we know will burn a great many innocent people to death, including children. It is the nature of every society however, to point out the cruelty of the enemy while obscuring the cruelty of one’s own actions.

John Key has insisted that the New Zealand must join the club and choose the ‘right side’.He has made the executive decision that New Zealand will deploy troops to Iraq. That does not mean Aotearoa supports him in his crusade. Contrary to the PM’s suggestion that New Zealand’s contributions must exist on some kind of binary – sending troops versus doing nothin,  we can meaningfully contribute to improve the lives and outcomes of Iraqi’s through genuine humanitarian aid while finding a way to open dialogue between IS and the Iraqi government. For instance, New Zealand could consider relaxing our refugee quota, sending food and water, medical supplies and unarmed medical personnel rather than exporting guns, bombs, drones and people armed with what is ultimately a violent mission.

Expanding the war in Iraq will surely aggravate the incapacitating conditions that Iraqi peoples already endure. That is not help, that is hindrance. It is insane that our governments (NZ and abroad) support the export of violence to an area already riddled with instability and fear under the illusion that foreign arms will introduce peace amid the chaos. It’d be good if foreign policy wonks realised that peace is not something you can just bomb into existence.

 

 

 

[1] The Peace of Westphalia comprises three treaties, namely, the Peace of Münster, the Treaty of Münster and the Treaty of Osnabrück see Anuschka Tischer “Peace of Westphalia (1648)” in Oxford Bibliographies online < http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199743292/obo-9780199743292-0073.xml>.

[2] Charter of the United Nations, arts 2(1) and 2(4).

[3] Richard Falk “Revisiting Westphalia, Discovering Post-Westphalia” (2002) 6(4) The Journal of Ethics 311 at 314-317

[4] Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, art 2(1).

[5] Sheldon Richman “Domestic Fear Is the Price of Empire” Free Association: Proudly Delegitimizing the State since 2005 (25 February 2015) < http://sheldonfreeassociation.blogspot.co.nz/2015/02/domestic-fear-is-price-of-empire.html&gt;.

[6] @jeremy_moses <https://twitter.com/jeremy_moses/status/570669388245962752&gt;.

[7] Richard Jackson “IS and the Barbarism of War” RICHARDJACKSONTERRORISMBLOG (12 February 2015). < https://richardjacksonterrorismblog.wordpress.com/2015/02/12/is-and-the-barbarism-of-war/&gt;.

Transmisogyny Lurking in Supposedly Liberal Spaces

It is a difficult thing to have to outlay your own prejudices – past or present knowing that you have actively participated in the harm that befalls trans people on a persistent and unrelenting basis. As someone who grew up in a small provincial town, trans people were not present in my insulated world. Well, actually, they probably were but given the social conservatism that gripped the town, I imagine trans people were forced into hiding their gender identities to keep themselves safe from the violent identity-denying vultures.

This is by no means an attempt to justify the prejudices I held. But I cannot write this post pretending that I have always treated trans people in a dignified way. I have denied trans people their right to define their identity under the illusion that my vagina gave me superior rights to define who was and was not a woman, or indeed a man. It is certainly not a position I hold now, but it would be remiss and dishonest of me to ignore my own destructive role in transphobia of which I am deeply regretful and to which I offer my sincere apology to trans people everywhere.

On Saturday 21 February 2015, the annual Pride Parade took place in Auckland. The event included a float by both the New Zealand Police and the Department of Corrections. A small group gathered to protest their inclusion.  For those unaware, when trans women are arrested, they are placed in men’s prisons in which they often become subjects of violent sexual and physical assaults. These institutions do not recognise the identities of trans people and are unsympathetic to the risks they impose on trans women in the process. The protest was derided by many as unnecessary with calls to the group that they were ‘ruining the parade’. The protest was in fact a necessary act of resistance to highlight the impropriety of including these institutions as part of the pride event given the routine mistreatment of trans people who come into their custody. A trans woman was removed with such force that it broke her arm, and as she was pinned to the ground crying in agony, a Police Officer stood atop of her. That the majority of people are quibbling over the minutiae of facts rather than being upset and incensed that a woman’s arm was broken during a forcible removal for participating in a legitimate form of protest, stuns me. This is an explicit act of violence against a woman.

From the responses I’ve seen circulating social media, I suspect if she were a cis woman, those same people would be banging on their keyboards in support of her. That just speaks to the harrowing extent of transphobia and transmisogyny lurking in supposedly liberal circles. After all, only a few weeks back cis people were bemoaning the mistreatment of a cis white woman who was called a hua on national radio. This is not intended to minimise Eleanor Catton’s experience, but is invoked here to highlight the blatant hypocrisy regarding the reactions to both situations. Catton, an author, was criticised for expressing a political opinion at a book/author event. Cis people everywhere (rightly) backed her rights to speak freely and validated her voice. A Māori trans woman dared to express a political view to challenge institutional transphobia at a Pride event. Cis people everywhere blame her for injury (“she was being aggressive”), attempt to silence her voice (“she was ruining the parade”), and invalidate her experience (“she was lying”).

This physical and emotional violence carried out by cis people against trans people must stop. If you can’t see your own hypocrisy or refuse to acknowledge your prejudice and work to overcome it, then you are not just part of the problem, you are the problem. Rather than dismantling structural inequality, you are reinforcing it.

 

We really going to ignore white terrorism?

For the most part, I support the idea of a media. I mean, the point is to question events and hold power to account. Depending on the particular media outlet, these things are done to a greater or lesser degree.

But when the collective industry by and large choose to ignore the execution style killings of 3 Muslim college students by a white man, the outcry should be vast and vociferous.

We can be assured that if it were 3 white college students shot in the head, that it would be framed as a ‘national tragedy’. And you know what? It would be a national tragedy. But THIS IS a national tragedy – no matter what religious, political or other views or identities the victims held.

We may also be assured that if the shooter were a person of colour or a marginalised identity, that scorn would be scrawled across every media headline in breaking news.

The blanket of silence is in the context of an ongoing global effort to homogenise the diversity of Muslim communities in an attempt to demonise Islam as a terrorist faith. The political goal: hegemonic stability.

We already know the answer as to ‘who’ these media organisations are protecting and ‘why’. Another question is ‘what’ are they protecting and ‘how’?

One answer is their carefully crafted (but incredibly ghastly) message that dare not depict any Muslim deaths in a manner that might induce empathy from the public because this would interfere with their ability to continue to persecute all Muslim peoples.

We talk about Islamophobia too often in abstraction, but the reality is that the architects of Islamophobia are the same entities and organisations that bury the truth to muzzle white outrage when Muslim blood is spilt in hate. The rationale being that white outrage is a threat to hegemonic stability, because the mainstream system already invalidates non-white voices.

The response from major media outlets (if any) has been that the 3 Muslim lives stolen was not a particularly newsworthy event because the ‘shootings’ were the actions of a ‘mentally deranged’ (white) man angry about a car park. But minimisation of the crime that took place is an indirect mode of persecution. The mass persecution (direct and indirect) against all Muslim peoples practiced by a white dominated media is a manifestation of white terrorism. The executions carried out at Chapel Hill are the savage and soulless actions of a white terrorist.

Are we really going to ignore white terrorism?

Reclaiming Northland not an impossibility

The resignation of Mike Sabin as Northland MP provides an opportunity for the people of Northland to elect a representative that is capable of addressing the issues confronting the electorate. During the General Election period locals in Northland voiced as primary concerns: employment, sexual violence, health, education, housing and economic development. But these issues were emphasised as unique to Te Tai Tokerau, that is Māori, despite the reality that Northland in geographical terms falls within those boundaries and many Māori are on the general roll, and many non-Māori are concerned about the same issues.

In saying that, Northland is considered a safe National Party seat. However, no seat can ever really be said to be absolutely safe. If the ALP unseating of LNP Premier Campbell Newmann in Queensland, Australia is anything to go by, a swing is not entirely unheard of, nor is it indeed impossible.

Whangarei Child Poverty Action Group report that 49 per cent of children [in Northland] were identified as being born in the bottom two most-deprived deciles – the highest child poverty rate in the country. Sabin’s resignation presents an opportunity for opposition or indeed minor parties to show the electorate that they are an important part of our social fabric and that parties do care about providing strong representation to confront this and every other issue in the region despite the neglect shown to the region in the past. Leaving the seat uncontested or putting up a candidate simply for the sake of it smacks of bad faith and is just not good enough for the people in Northland, especially given the politically and economically sensitive environment that currently prevails.

Willow Jean Prime was formally confirmed as the Labour Party’s candidate to stand in that seat. Prime ran during the General Election, and while she did not win it by a sizeable majority, that she is committed to running again illustrates her enduring commitment to the region.

There is some hinting that Winston Peters intends to stand in the seat or at least a representative of NZ First. Peters rightly pointing out the social and economic issues afflicting the region remain unresolved and overlooked for far too long.  Colin Craig has also contemplated having a crack at the Northland seat, while Hone Harawira has unequivocally ruled out standing after his defeat in the Te Tai Tokerau seat by Labour’s Kelvin Davis, but has suggested he has someone in mind to represent Mana. Arguably, Northland needs a candidate that can work in a mutually supportive relationship with Davis if any serious ground is to be made on the issues confronting the electorate.

But what about the other parties? NZ Greens, Māori Party, Internet Party.  Barely even a whisper. Yet this is an opportunity for these parties to put their politics where there mouth is and prove they are serious and viable alternatives to the macro parties.

I was wondering about who might be viable candidates in the Northland seat. My reckons are below.

Marama Davidson, NZ Greens. She is next on the Party list, is connected to the region, is incredibly passionate about representing the most vulnerable groups in society and if she still has billboards, she could recycle them. If any party can get away with recycling signage it’s the Greens.

Chris McKenzie, Maori Party. Although he hails from Tokoroa , he is third on the party list and has a raft of skills that he showcased during the General Election particularly with regard to eocnomic development and working with business and iwi sectors.  And if he’s changed his mind about standing as a candidate, then Dr Lance O’Sullivan is surely worth approaching following his endorsement of the party? He has made significant contributions to the many families in Northland and is highly respected and committed to the rohe.

Annette Sykes, Mana Movement. She is second on the party list, is the strongest candidate in the party and presumably has a solid rapport with Northland given her exceptional Tiriti work.

David Currin, Internet Party. He lives in the far north, stood in the seat in the General Election has a unique technology advantage and if the Internet Party intend on sticking round into next election, then its a way to keep the party momentum.

Many wonder why National and Labour remain the duopoly of political power in Aotearoa New Zealand. In short, they are always present. In less eloquent terms, they are like rabbits: they leave their political droppings everywhere. They both take opportunities for publicity seriously. The reality is that National do have the greatest chance of retaining the seat based on habitual voting patterns.  But put up a candidate that can win the minds of Northland, and that just might change.

Reverse Waitangi Day

Waitangi Day is almost always blighted by entrenched racism that much of the country pretend doesn’t actually exist every other day of the year. The stories grabbing headlines are almost always those that attempt to deny Māori their indigeneity, deny Māori never ceded sovereignty or, in general: deny Māori realities.

The Māori privilege meme serves the purpose of confirming racial bias in favour of Pākehā New Zealand. The veiled message: Māori people are so privileged with their Treaty settlements and their parliamentary seats. It’s as if somehow Pākeha are uncompensated when the government takes their land, or that Pākehā have no seats in the political institutions they designed and imposed on Māori.

So I turn to this brilliant comedic piece by Aamer Rahman, who nails the illogic of reverse racism.

In light of Rahman’s epic effort, if you struggle with empathy this Waitangi season, then below is an attempt (borrowing much of Rahman’s framework) to help you understand the stupidity behind claims of Māori privilege and Māori as reverse racists.

Reverse Waitangi Day: Māori privilege

Let’s first borrow Rahman’s hypothetical time machine.

Imagine Māori went back in time to before New Zealand was colonised and convinced all the independent iwi to join together and to colonise the territory of Great Britain and treat the Pākehā inhabitants as a sub-human species.

Ships full of Māori arrive on their shores rape Pākehā women, pillage and burn Pākehā homes and villages, and introduce diseases that decimate the Pākehā population within decades of arrival. Māori leaders then proclaim that the Pākehā ways are far too savage and lawless, thus allowing them to justify their colonisation because of their superior culture.

To really entrench their power, Māori design a Treaty in two languages that contain entirely different terms. Māori induce Pākehā to sign the Treaty making promises and guarantees about what Pākehā retain. But the Māori representatives had their fingers crossed the whole time, so no “real” promises were ever made. The majority of Pākehā sign the English version because they don’t really understand the Māori language version. But it doesn’t really matter which one they sign because Māori have another trick up their sleeve. Māori intend to establish a system that favours Māori at every social, economic and political opportunity. This means Māori and all the Māori settlers to come, get to determine which Treaty version has precedence and non-English speaking Māori will get to be arbiters of what Pākehā understood about what the Treaty meant to Pākehā. Oh and Māori decided never to give that Treaty any status as an actual law to abide by anyways.

For fun, Māori confiscate almost all Pākehā land and resources and encourage more Māori settlers to come to Great Britain and take land and resources from Pākehā. More Māori arrive and raise families, expand their population, most of whom contribute to the demonisation of Pākehā.

Māori get sick of not being able to understand the Pākehā they colonised and want to maintain the power they have gained, so they decide that Pākehā should conform to the Māori way of life now. They pursue a cultural cleanse by banning all English speaking and the practice of any system of values and beliefs Pākehā have established over centuries so that Pākehā lose every sense of hope of self-determination

Every decade or so, Māori churn out some story about how Pākehā weren’t the first people to live in Great Britain. And despite Pākehā overrepresentation in all the statistics determining social and economic outcomes, Māori insist it’s an issue of personal responsibility alone. Worried the message is losing its grip on the majority, Māori businesses and elites fund different information outlets to lead written assaults on how Pākehā have all this privilege. Those Pākehā Grievers.

Māori then prove their generosity and the equal platform Pākehā share with them by compensating some families with a massive 1% of the total value of their loss of land and other resources. They even gift Pākehā 7 of the 120 seats in the House of Representatives.

As a matter of goodwill, Māori eventually recognises English as an official language. But it turns out pronunciation is unimportant to Māori. So they create a culture that makes it okay to mock the English language and those who speak it.

After almost two centuries of this we could say that Māori privilege exists. That Māori get preferential treatment. That Māori have too many seats in Parliament. That Māori have more rights than everyone else. That Māori are more likely than any other group in New Zealand to succeed because of the institutional framework that favours their interests.

So, if Māori could go back in time and reverse every injustice inflicted on us as a people so that it were inflicted instead upon Pākeha then we could say Māori privilege exists. But none of that is true. And nor do Māori wish for it to be so.

But let’s acknowledge what Māori privilege actually means. Before invoking the meme this Waitangi Day, why not pause and actually think about what you’re saying rather than parroting the views of those reacting to what they perceive as a threat to their own privilege.

Addendum:

If your reaction is immediately a defensive ‘…but [insert historical fact about invasions on British territory]’ then you have missed the entire point of the post. So let me spell it out: Previous invasions of one country DO NOT justify colonisation of another.