Category Archives: Opinio Anglica (in English)

A more perfect union against guns

By: Ruben Elsinga

But what is overlooked by these bright politicians and the people they claim to lead, is the mere fact that this is not just a scenario, not just an option for tomorrow, but that this is America’s reality today; America is already at war with itself, and the weapons used are guns. At the heart of this war with itself, is ignorance: Ignorance of the American people and of the American government of their own dark side and their destructive powers.

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I have just immigrated to the US and have actively chosen to do so, because I still believe in the USA and in my own ability to thrive in it. The one issue that makes me seriously re-consider my move is the willful social, cultural and political ignorance about America’s position to condone murder, and the rule of fear associated with it. For it is that what is the result of the US gun laws.

Beyond the news of today, yesterday and the day before that of random murder here, there and everywhere in the US, the following scenario makes us consider the magnitude of the potential threat the US second amendment poses for its society:

“What if a ban was introduced and Americans were called to hand in their guns, like has been customary throughout history in the rest of the world?”

Considering the fundamentalism with which some Americans hold on to their weapons and the outdated charter that they use as the sole scripture to support their monomaniac believes – the second amendment of the US constitution – the chances of resistance, armed resistance is real. Armed resistance in this case means civilians taking up their guns against the police that will have to collect those guns and will be the only lawful owners of guns. This means some form of serious civil strife, if not war.

The reason this is such a scary thought is because not only the true nature of the American people, but rather the true nature of the American government and primarily its police force will be put to the test. And the picture of the US police force is not a pretty one. It is one in which militaristic practices have become an integral part of daily conduct against civilians. The situation has deteriorated to the extent that fear for the government and police force is the most prominent basis on which the US government continues to function, with police brutality being seen as a necessity and policemen being trained both on and off the streets to show zero tolerance to the citizens they are supposed to protect. The most prominent reason and excuse for this outrageous behavior being their own fear of civilians pulling a gun on them.

Although this thought experiment indicates that the risks associated with a ban on weapons is real – reason enough beyond sheer political opportunism to keep enforcing the dogma on gun bans – the US continues to  condone guns. The continued silence and ignorance over this issue is even more dangerous, as another scenario indicates:

“What if the economic crisis continues and at some point larger parts of the American people will not be able to feed themselves and indeed áre existentially threatened?”

People, beyond the strayed lunatic will start using the means at their disposal. These means being guns, they will use the guns deadly power to stay alive, for bread, rather than for homeland.

A third scenario unfolds:

“What if the first two scenario’s conspicuously mingle? What if a gun ban is enforced and at the same time people don’t only feel, but also are existentially threatened?”

Another black scenario as of a sci-fi movie unfolds. A fight of scattered groups fighting against each other and a government that is not able to keep unity, but through repression of its people. This scenario is a bleak and threatening one. It’s the scenario American politicians are so afraid of and it is the deeper reason that Americans keep holding on to the little they have: their guns.

But what is overlooked by these bright politicians and the people they claim to lead, is the mere fact that this is not just a scenario, not just an option for tomorrow, but that this is America’s reality today; America is already at war with itself, and the weapons used are guns. At the heart of this war with itself, is ignorance: Ignorance of the American people and of the American government of their own dark side and their destructive powers.

The people’s ignorance of their own dark side is based on the faulty and dangerous belief that ‘we the people’ can control  the deadly power of guns by mere faith in the second amendment. The government’s ignorance of its own dark side is based on their ignorance of the fact that their own police force is not a force protecting its people against itself, but rather ruling it by the fear of itself. A government based on fear – so does history and the grand American saga tell us unanimously – is inherently instable and has indeed made the fabric of American society unwind already.

This is the reality of the USA today.  America’s gun laws are the dark side of ignorance of this country’s self-image of exceptionalism – An exceptionally flawed, foolish and self-destructive image based on mere ignorance. A dark side that will become stronger with every killing, every unnecessary murder. And with the counter adding up deep into the thousands a year the dark side is taking over.

For me as a foolish recent immigrant it is only the belief that America can indeed turn itself around as no other country can – the bright side of American exceptionalism – that gives me hope that there is still a check to balance out the deadly powers of the American condoning of guns. The American government and its people have to see the real threat of guns to their own dreams and lives, and act now, if not to keep their own, then to keep a recent immigrant and his dreams of a more perfect union, alive. Image

The Arab Spring catches up with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

A relic of pre-revolutionary times, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict now demands our attention again. Abbas and Netanyahu have rehashed their plights in front of the UN General Assembly. This shows how the conflict is on its way to becoming an anachronism of Western influence in the Middle East, argues Ruben Elsinga.

Since a street vendor set himself ablaze on a Tunisian square, emotions hitherto repressed have broken loose in the Middle East. Squares in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Syria have blossomed and burned. Meanwhile the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, prison in the mids of Arab uprising, has been carefully preserved by the US and Europe, the Arab political establishment and interests in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

As uprisings blaze through the Middle East, Abbas’ and Netanyahu’s “We are still here!” seems only an echo of forgotten times. What is the gathering of thousands in Ramallah compared to the gathering of hundreds of thousands at Tahrir square? What are the stones and graffiti’s of Palestinians and Israeli settlers compared to deadly clashes between army and opposition in Syria? The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is like an old man mumbling about his past.

In Israel the hopes and dreams and fighting spirit of the first generations after independence has seized to exist. The country is split between Tel Aviv’s individualist capitalism and the religious dogmatism of Jerusalem and the settlements, the majority is painfully silent. Politically, Israel has given way to the shortsighted populism of Bibi (Prime Minister Netanyahu) and the bold racism of Lieberman (Minister of Foreign Affairs).

Palestinian society is split similarly between the West Bank’s pragmatism and Gaza’s dogmatic endorsement of violent resistance. People continue with their business, some smuggle it through tunnels, others toil it through checkpoints.

The US routinely proposes a half-hearted peace-deal. Obama did win some popularity in Palestine an the Arab world through his solidarity speech for the Arab people this spring, and now loses it to win the votes of the US Jewish constituency and his domestic financial support base. Europe is trying to support Palestinian statehood, but countries like the Netherlands have obstructed a unified statement in favor or their support to the US and Israel.

While Israelis, Palestinians and their US mediators drift further apart, the world is closing in around Israel and Palestine. Turkey’s new military leadership is reconsidering its relationship with Israel: in the future battle ships will accompany humanitarian expeditions to Gaza. Egypt’s military command is undergoing a less pronounced reconsideration after the political outrage caused by Israel’s (accidental) killing of Egyptian soldiers at the Gaza border.

At another border at the Golan, early in the uprising against the Assad-regime, Syria saw a particular moment: the Golan border was overrun – and entire families marched through before the Israeli forces arrived to quell this unique penetration of their border. Suddenly the Golan problem, which had served both Israel and Syria as an excuse for stalemate, proved not to be as impenetrable after all.

The Palestinian-Israeli state of paralysis becomes increasingly paradoxical as the Middle East is shifting all around it. Whereas the Palestinian-Israeli conflict-resolution process has been planned, controlled and staled, the changes happening in the course of the Arab Spring are unpredictable and seem to be enforcing real change.

Abbas’ appeal for Palestinian statehood and even more so the responses by Netanyahu and the US seems anachronistic and out of touch with a dynamic reality pressing at its borders around. Last weekend showed us that, due to the Arab Spring, Israel and the West are now less able to control the Middle East via the Palestinian-Israeli stalemate.

Israel / Palestine will soon rejoin the Arab world while it redefines itself, and no longer be the crux by which the West defines the Middle East. This ‘redefinition’ of the Middle East does not take place in the hollow halls of the UN, but on the streets of the Middle East.

Ruben Elsinga holds an MSc. in International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He has lived in Damascus, Syria for one and a half years, where he worked at the Netherlands Institute of Academic Studies. To read Ruben’s personal blog visit https://rubenelsinga.wordpress.com/.

Europe’s state of denial rings home, Breivik’s mass murder and the ideological vacuum of Europe

EUROPE’S STATE OF DENIAL RINGS HOME, BREIVIK’S MASS MURDER AND THE IDEOLOGICAL VACUUM OF EUROPE

It is denial and willful ignorance that connects the political murders of lone wolf Breivik with the general ideological climate in Europe. The unwillingness to accept internal faults and deal with them is what created an ideological vacuum in Europe where hollow messages about the invented almighty enemy of Islam rule. Breivik is a product of that world. It is Islam that rightwing leaders like Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who Breivik cited extensively in his manifest, keep as a scapegoat pet, against its will and without deserving it.

Although Islam, and the radical interpretation of Islam particularly, are certainly issues to address in a Europe with a sizeable minority of Muslims, Islam and Muslims are not central to Europe’s problems. What is central to Europe and its problems is the majority of its people, the hollow white post-christian mass that makes up the empty heart of the continent. It is the lack of active dealing with ourselves, with what we really are, in what we believe, that leaves the vacuum at our heart.

This active denial of our own responsibility and the problems that we cause ourselves, does not only reign in the economy of Greece, but runs as a red thread through Europe. It is a red thread that started about a decade ago with the murder on Dutch rightwing politician Pim Fortuyn by a leftist animal rights activist, continued with the murder on Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh by a homegrown Islamic terrorist and now thickens in the line of blood that Breivik left.

It is a thread to that whirls around ‘the other’, around Islam, around Muslims. In the sixties we ‘invited’ ‘them muslims’ over. Some did invite them over just to work for us. Some invited them in as interesting exotic guests. Some invited them as ‘victims’ of the world. Some hadn’t invited them at all and saw them as unwelcome guests. Most though saw them as a solution or at least a distraction of our problems at home. As a solution to our laziness to do dirty jobs. As a solution to come clean with our post WorldWar II trauma’s and guilt. As an exotic solution to the bleakness of our monotonous societies.

‘They’ turned out not to be a solution though, and they only served as the vehicle that allowed us to deny our problems for a while. At some point ‘they’ stood up and manifested themselves, often as animals kept in too small a cage for too long: lashing out and using the only weapon they could fall back on, Islam.

It was the Muslim conspiracy with the left that was blamed. The left denied the problems the Muslims caused and the leftist project of molding them to ‘good European citizens’ failed. This was no surprise since there were no the good Europeans to be moulded after. The left merely assumed that the same dogma they whirled themselves in, but was essentially a lie, would also absorb the Muslims. It did not, the multicultural society faulted. The only thing that came in its place was a similarly dogmatic argument of the right to deny the left power and ‘Islam’ access to ‘their’ society altogether. With Dutch politician Geert Wilders as its main propagator, lone wolf Breivik found refuge in this ideology of denial and used it as a justification of his mad murderous actions.

‘They’ could not be routed out, other than by mass murder or deportation, and therefore the call of war against Islam remained a hollow echo at home, whereas internationally the war was never to be won. That is the argument remained hollow untill Breivik stood up in Norway this weekend and filled the reactionary ideology with blood. With Breivik rightist Europe now feels called out on its empty reactionary dogma, as they called out the leftists during the last decade on their dogmatic denial of problems related to the new Muslim communities.

What remains is a hollow heart of Europe. With bloodstains spreading like a dangerous virus all over it. What Breivik has done in such a horrific way is to finally confront us Europeans with the most ugly side of ourselves. Breivik has brought Europe’s state of denial home. Breivik’s action shows us that blaming Muslims and their Islam for our problems only goes so far. And stops here and now. With the murder of 68 civilians Breivik has also killed Islam as a vehicle of denial for ourselves and our own problems. He has killed the scapegoat, his own argument of death. Now it is up to Europe to wake up and face up, not to the external enemy Islam, but to our problems within.

A Denial of Humanity: The Ban on Unstunned Ritual Slaughter in the Netherlands

A Denial of Humanity: The Ban on Unstunned Ritual Slaughter in the Netherlands

The ban on unparalysed slaughter proposed by the “Party of the Animals” means a de facto ban on ritual slaughter and has caused outrage by the Jewish and Muslim minorities in the Netherlands. The controversy does not only pose questions with the shifting balance in Europe between the rights of religious minorities versus the importance of animal wellbeing based on the absolute power of the majority, it also showcases how European nations are shifting away from a pluralist perspective of humanity incorporating the discussion and co-existence of different views and move towards a dictatorship of an increasingly rigid and hollow cultural homogeneity. Argues Ruben Elsinga

In the Netherlands the “Party for the Animals” (literal translation) which holds between 1 and 2 % of seats in the Dutch parliament and focuses its political program around animal wellbeing, has led their first law through parliament. The law forbids unstunned ritual slaughter, a form of slaughter prescribed by Jewish and Muslim religious law. Although this is disputed by research as well as by the Jewish and Muslim organizations unstunned slaughter is argued to cause animals unnecessary pain, if only for a few seconds before they die.

The ban has caused fierce debate in the Netherlands over the balance to be found between “the rights of animals”, hence animal wellbeing, and the rights of religious communities to practice their religious customs. A majority in parliament has now sided with the animals and downplays the significance of the new law for religious minorities to practice their religious rituals. Jewish and Islamic lobby organizations are outraged by the breach of their basic rights and the fact that the law does not place the measures in the appropriate context.

This political battle is set in motion though by a larger ideological shift in the Netherlands. It is a shift from a pluralist perspective of society towards a rigid universalist paradigm. A shift that could arguably be found as well in other countries in north-western Europe if not also in the United States. Increasing nationalism bridges growing egotistical individualism with an universalist paradigm of cultural homogeneity and the remnants of a hollowed out system of universal rights. This shifts manifests itself in practice through people cost what cost trying to escape from confrontation with themselves and the intricate contradictions of life by finding refuge in a hollow morality of self-righteousness.

Particularly the perspective of the Party of the Freedom (PVV) led by controversial Islam basher Geert Wilders is interesting in the way it exemplifies this new trend of hollow self-righteous moral hegemony. Geert Wilders’ PVV combines an explicit embrace of animal wellbeing and a profession of the Dutch Christian-Jewish heritage. The Party of the Animals is not the only party pushing for animal rights in recent years in the Netherlands. Testament to the importance the Dutch attribute to their pets is the push for the assignment of 500 animal cops in the Netherlands by Wilders’ party, whereas almost all other government departments face severe cuts. Moreover PVV parliamentarians voted for the bill banning unstunned ritual slaughter with only one party member voting against.

It is a hollowed out Christian-Jewish ideology that Wilders professes. As humanism builds on a Christian heritage devoid of its internal conspicuousness, so does Wilders’ ideology further empty this humanism out of all its spiritual meaning and power. An empty skull of universalist rights, or universal self-righteousness remains: Geert Wilders’ followers hardly attend church nor synagogue, but still base their political stance on an explicit nationalized perspective of Jewish-Christian heritage. Part of the hollowness of the PVV is also the shunning of internal contradictions, let alone internal disconcert.

Although Jewish lobby organizations strongly oppose the new law banning ritual slaughter, Israel and Israeli organizations are fervent supporters of Geert Wilders and his party, indicating that the bond between Israel and Wilders’ party is purely opportunistic. The almost unanimous vote against ritual slaughter is in line with this opportunism of the PVV and the lack of willingness to overcome or address internal contradictions in the party. The internal dictatorship of the party’s political line of partyleader Geert Wilders became apparent during the last elections and indicates there is a complete lack off internal discussion in his party.

Wilders political stance exemplifies a trend running across the Dutch ideological landscape though. His popularity and the fact that his party is an associate member of the ruling coalition are cases in point that the PVV is hardly an isolated case. A trend of popular obedience to a humanism that has been hollowed out from its deeper spiritual meaning runs across all parts of Dutch society. In the spiritual vacuum that is left it is disconcerted egotism that reigns. Egotism exemplified by one’s relation to one’s pet; hence social behavior is reduced to the hollow barks of a dog who does not speak and replaces the difficult but rewarding interaction of real people with real pains, frustrations and plights.

It is the mere idea that one’s ‘humanification’ of animals has come to morally trump one’s relationship to other human beings, that is so frightful. A relationship of egotism projected outward takes the place of civilized co-existence. Instead of finding a solution in the acceptance of human fallibility followed by the continued attempt to elevate oneself in civilised interaction above one’s animate nature, the Dutch population escapes in a measure that only satisfies those who dare not question and ban the question from social and political life altogether.

For the Party of the Animals it is not civilization that is the alternative to cruelty to and of animals, but rather the denial of pain and suffering as a reality of the animal as well as of human kind. The necessary actions of cruelty to get a stake on one’s plate are denied, and a chimeral solution is presented as the only alternative. It is the suffering of a couple of seconds of an animal bred to be killed that is now rooted out to satisfy the masses locked up in denial of their own self-denial. A lack of suffering becomes a universal right, heavily weighing on the false assumption that it is only remotely possible to root out suffering or pain in life, or for that matter the couple of seconds of suffering an animal has to endure on its way to someone’s plate. Instead of finding a solution in human civilization, humanity is denied.

This kind of egotistical self-denial is no overstepping the boundaries of private life and find their way to the public realm of parliament. And that is how egotistical self-denial is projected out into the realm of ideology and political action. This is particularly the case for the Party of the Animals’ law now being passed, but equally for the Party of the Freedom of Geert Wilders and the other parties in the Dutch parliament who (with exemption of the Christian parties) almost unanimously voted in favor of the ban on ritual slaughter.

Not the referral to the Holocaust in which ritual slaughter was banned early on by the nazi’s should be leading in the outrage of the religious, particularly the Jewish community by this law. Rather should it be the overall recognition that today’s shift in the Dutch political landscape underlying this ban, is one away from the recognition of life as it is, that is of a life full of pain and suffering but also full of beauty that overcomes human fallibility through civilization. Accordingly the outrage should be focused on an angst for laws that deny this vital part of humanity, and try and root humanity and human fallibility, suffering and pain out by law and by law only.