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Month: February 2016

Keeping it real? Corbyn, Trump, Sanders and the politics of authenticity

Written by Mathew Humphrey and Maiken Umbach. 

His words have not been scripted or prepared for the press; he speaks from the heart.

It’s now clear to every voter that [he] is nothing but himself.

No Bullshit. Unvarnished opinion and beliefs.

One of these statements recently was made about Donald Trump, the man causing upset in the race to become the Republican presidential candidate. Another was made in reference to Bernie Sanders, the candidate causing similar upset among the Democrats. Another referred to Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the British Labour party. But which statement refers to which politician? It is, of course, impossible to tell.

Despite the radically different stances of these candidates on all kinds of issues, the statements about them are entirely interchangeable. They all refer to a single quality, taken by many to be a great asset in political life. All of these candidates are considered “authentic”.

Why Boko Haram is the world’s deadliest terror group

Written by Vincent Hiribarren.

On Christmas Eve 2015 the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, was publicly confident that his country had “technically won the war” against the Islamist group Boko Haram. Less than two months into 2016, and the group is still wreaking havoc across northern Nigeria and beyond.

Since the beginning of the year, the group has killed more than 100 people and continued to drive many more from their homes as they flee for their safety. Its most recent atrocity was the February 10 suicide attack on a refugee camp near Maiduguri that killed 58 people.

The End of Turkey’s Kurdish ‘Peace Process’?

Written by Aytac Kadioglu.

Turkey’s Kurdish peace process was cut off by two catastrophic incidents in July 2015: the Suruc suicide bombing took place during a press statement outside the Amara Culture Centre which claimed 32 lives and two police officers were murdered by the PKK in their home. These incidents were the beginning of a terrifying escalation of violence. Hundreds of militants belonging to the insurgent Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), many Turkish security officers and civilians lost their lives in subsequent security force operations and PKK attacks as of 2016.

Philippines 2016 at the Institute of Asia and Pacific Studies

Written by Pauline Eadie and Francis Domingo.

Thirty years ago in February 1986 the Philippines saw a bloodless revolution that ousted President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda Marcos from Malacañang Palace. This revolution was known as the EDSA Revolution and the non-violent tactics of the masses became known as ‘People Power’. These events are embedded in the political psyche of the Philippines. The Philippines has a vibrant civil society and elections are a time of celebration but also violence. The stakes are high as political office at all levels equates to power and control over a chaotic and deeply unequal society. Philippine politics runs on a bicameral system, an arrangement that is hardly surprising given its history as an American tutelage (and a Spanish colony before that). Philippine politics also tends to lack ideology (notwithstanding leftwing or feminist parties such as Bayan Muna or Gabriela respectively) and politicians frequently defect to other parties for personal gain as opposed to ideological commitment.    

Working into poverty?

Written by Lucia Pradella.

Unemployment has reached unprecedented heights in Western Europe — wages are declining and attacks on organized labour are intensifying. Nearly a quarter of Western Europe’s population, about 92 million people, was at risk of poverty and social exclusion in 2013. That’s nearly 8.5 million more people than before the crisis. The number of working poor — employed workers in households with an annual income below the poverty threshold — is growing, and austerity is going to make things much worse in the future.

Critics of austerity argue that it is absurd and counterproductive, but European leaders disagree. During the latest round of negotiations with Greece Angela Merkel argued: “This is not about several billion Euros—this is fundamentally about how the EU can stay competitive in the world.” There is some truth in this. What Merkel does not mention is that workers in Europe, in Europe’s South in particular, increasingly compete with workers in the Global South.

The cost of caste in India’s universities

Written by Diego Maiorano.

Last week I was supposed to give a couple of lectures at the University of Hyderabad, India. However, the students there – some of whom are on ‘indefinite’ hunger strike – had locked most university buildings and were not in the mood to let normal academic activity to be restored.

A few days before, on 17 January 2016, Rohith Vemula, a Ph.D. student, had hanged himself to the ceiling of one of his friends’ room, sparking off the students’ protest. In India, between 2007 and 2013, 25 students ended their lives on campus; 23 of them were Dalits (former untouchable castes) like Rohith himself. Indeed, his caste identity – which relegated him at the very bottom of India’s social order – is what brought him to kill himself. “The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity”, Rohith wrote in a very poetic suicide note. A few weeks before, in a letter to the Vice Chancellor, Prof. P. Appa Rao, Rohith had suggested to equip all Dalits students’ rooms with “a nice rope” and to provide them with poison “at the time of admission itself”.

On Disasters and the Yolanda/Haiyan Experience

Written by Jan Robert R Go.

Since 2000, natural disasters, it seems, have become a commonplace in the Philippines more than ever—not simply in terms of numbers, but also in terms of magnitude. Many studies and reports, both national and international, have already highlighted the geographical exposure of the Philippines, which makes it a disaster-prone country. A recent report of Harvard Humanitarian Initiative Resilient Communities Program notes the frequent calamities in the Philippines due to typhoons and floodings, as well as volcanic activities and earthquakes. Meanwhile the Deutsche Welle news agency has called the Philippines ‘a country prone to natural disasters’.

The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and the Belgian-based Centre on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) identified the Philippines as the fourth most disaster-prone country in the world with 274 natural disasters recorded from 1995 to 2015. In 2014 alone, Typhoons Rammasun (locally named Glenda) and Hagupit (locally named Ruby) displaced around 2.99 million and 1.82 million people, respectively. Given these figures and situation, it becomes imperative that the Philippine government, including the local levels, must have disaster prevention, preparation, mitigation, and response mechanisms.

Breaking Boundaries

Written by Matthew Francis.

On the final afternoon of last year’s Rethinking Modern British Studies conference a small group gathered in a corner of the University of Birmingham’s Arts Building to sing the Political History Blues. The panel – subtitled Whatever Happened To Political History? – explored the ‘strange dearth’ of political history, and concluded that political historians had ‘drawn back from the methodological barricades’.

The panellists had a point. If Rethinking Modern British Studies was, in many respects, an indication of the present vitality of contemporary British history, historians working on aspects of what might be thought of as conventional politics – that is, on high politics, on political parties, on think-tanks, and so forth – were notable for the relatively small part of the programme they occupied. The headline acts of the conference were for the most part working in the fields of social or cultural history; political history was present at the conference, but was confined to rather smaller stages. Political historians, it seemed, had not been doing very much ‘rethinking’.

What next for devolution in the UK? The Return of a ‘Dual Polity’

Written by Simon Toubeau.

Although Scottish voters decided to remain part of the UK in September 2014, the question of Scotland’s constitutional future remains an important concern for the Conservative government. Its efforts to deal with this matter have resulted in the ratification of The Scotland Bill in November 2015, which drew on the work of the Smith Commission.

The bill promises to offer an ‘enduring settlement’ that anchors Scotland firmly in the UK. But, in reality, it is another instance of reform that heralds the return of a ‘dual polity’.