Updates from April, 2010 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 2:59 pm on April 16, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    What is to be learned from success of right-wing parties across Europe? 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH ProIgual

    The most recent electoral gains for another ultra-nationalist party, this time in Hungary, where anti-Roma Jobbik shoot from nowhere into the tie for the second largest chunk of seats in the parliament, brought up another round of discussions about the economic crisis´ impact on the voters. Mainstream politicians, especially the left-leaning, are going to get it wrong again. It is not the crisis per se. It is not even deep-seated xenophobia in many European voters. It is simplicity with which right-wing/nationalist leaders explain their message to the voters, something that the more sophisticated politicians do not seem to be capable of, and that keeps costing them votes.

    If we remember the previous elections to the European Parliament in 2004 (not at all a crisis period, on the contrary, a period of economic boom), right-wing parties had made considerable gains there. And elections, for example, in the early noughties in the Netherlands when Pim Fortuyn´s message was so well received, the country was not doing too bad economically, either. So, without discounting an economic crisis as a factor,  let´s admit that on its own it is not a decisive factor for people voting for right-wing parties.

    The message of xenophobic parties is always quickly dismissed by the mainstream and especially left-wing counterparts as not worth talking about. But perhaps this is a mistake? Perhaps, the message, and especially the way it is presented, needs to be dissected, studied and in some ways even used? Just listen to the brilliant simplicity of “2 legs bad, 4 legs good,” or “foreigners steal our  jobs.” Trying to explicate that foreigners actually take jobs that natives do not want and make contributions to economy through paying taxes, work product, etc., somehow muddles up the message.

    Perhaps, some liberals or even centrists are too well-educated and too sophisticated and that becomes a problem? Instead of using simple words, black-and-white images, and clear/memorable slogans they delve into all sorts of shades of grey — and get lost in translation, or even in their own message.

    Of course life, and any public issue, is more complicated than black-and-white. But the European voters have grown accustomed to information presented with a lightening speed, whether it is a toothpaste commercial or presentation of a political platform. To be ahead of the game, mainstream politicians should refine their message — without losing its integrity. And who knows, maybe when pro-diversity, pro-immigration, pro-inclusion politicians learn to present their messages with similar, enviable simplicity of their opponents, the political landscape of many European countries might become quite different.

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  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 9:38 pm on March 16, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    Who oppresses Muslim women in Europe? 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    The EU countries seem almost obsessed with fighting for women´s rights within their Muslim minority communities. While intentions to secure rights for Muslim women may be laudable, the object and methods chosen are not. The burqa/veil debate is quite telling. Most ardent anti-burqists claim that women in Muslim countries are oppressed, that burqa is a sign of oppression, that oppression of women cannot be tolerated in free countries, and therefore burqa in Europe must be banned. But does this all hold up to scrutiny?

    It is a fair statement that in some Muslim countries women are oppressed. But it is an equally fair statement that most people in those countries are oppressed, because they are not free countries. Those countries are unfree not because they are Muslim countries, any more than other countries are unfree because they are Christian (or atheist). And if  people decide to leave their unfree countries and come, for example, to the EU, they probably hope to be more free than they were in their countries, be it Muslim, Christian, animist or atheist.

    Unfortunately for Muslims, though, they seem to get the LFR (“least favoured religion”) status in Europe. There appears to be a preconceived and deeply ingrained notion in many host countries that “European values” are necessarily good, and Muslim values are necessarily bad. (And if it seems like an overstatement, preparatory works and public statements on the European Constitution are quite elucidating.)

    Some states act simply irrationally when pretending to deal with the “integration” of their Muslim communities. Thus, Holland for example, pushed through a legal ban to prevent some 300(!) women – most of whom, by the way, are European converts – from wearing a full veil in public (see: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/5414098.stm). One may only wonder whatever has happened to the Dutch common sense. Surely, the public monies expended on preparing, debating, adopting and enforcing that legislation could have been put to much better use, such as providing the Dutch lessons or CV-writing workshops for the immigrant Muslim women to ensure their better integration.

    Currently, France is also debating whether to ban the burqa in public places, including transport. It would be interesting to see to what depths the state machine will go to implement this, essentially absurd, ban in practice.

    Why burqa/veil gets such attention is puzzling. The fact of the matter is that only a few Muslim women wear burqas. As Nazia Hussein of the Open Society Institute put it in her blog Not another Headscarf, there is

    the vast majority of people who have a Muslim background but who do not wear their religion on their sleeve or indeed their head. The debate raging in Europe on the burqa completely misses the point that it’s only a tiny minority of women who wear this apparel, and it’s not the uniform of Muslim women.

    The intentions of European countries to support the rights of Muslim women, if indeed genuine, would have been much more credible if individual Muslims, women and men, received equal treatment in all areas, including employment, education, and justice system, and not just burqa emancipation. Such equal treatment could reinforce a positive message of tolerance and freedom. Instead, it seems to be  a permanently open season to ridicule, harass, and discriminate against Muslims under banners of free speech, terrorism crackdown, and immigration control.

    Further, to make declarations of its commitment to human and women´s rights credible, the EU could try and help improve the human rights situation in Muslim – and non-Muslim – countries by applying its soft power, economic incentives, and aid. Unfortunately, the EU is very far from consistent when it comes to human rights commitments in its foreign, or even home affairs, policy. The EU members are clearly more concerned about keeping their citizens fed, warm and comfortable, than triggering potential conflicts with economic partners, many of whom happen to be unfree countries.

    Instead, the EU countries, behaving in this case much like a school bully, choose to pick on the ostensibly weak and defenseless –  Muslim women. Burqa ban very clearly targets women, because men do not wear burqas. But burqa ban is not the only way Muslim women are targeted for discrimination and exclusion. Ethnic profiling, media bias, and societal prejudices are all feeding on the lack of genuinely equal and participatory debate on the situation of Muslims in general, and Muslim women in particular. This only perpetuates the communal divide and mutual mistrust. And as happens with other marginalised minority groups, Muslim women are bound to be affected in more ways than men. So, while Muslim women may have been oppressed in their unfree countries, they most certainly have not escaped oppression in free Europe.

    And what lessons can Muslims, and especially Muslim women, take home from all this? As far as the Muslims are concerned, the EU´s most consistently upheld common values appear to be Islamophobia and double standards. So, who is then the real oppressor of Muslim women in Europe?

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 11:23 am on March 6, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    Something rotten in the state of Netherlands 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH ProIgual

    Geert Wilders, a controversial Dutch politician, is riding high in the polls. “The fact that he has been charged with fomenting hatred and discrimination has, if anything, only served to increase his popularity, at home and abroad”, report the media: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8549155.stm .

    Well, if being branded racist helps win the elections, what does it say about the society? Ironically, the Netherlands used to be synonymous with tolerance and open-mindedness. But it feels so long ago that not many even remember it. In the past decade the headlines about that country were mostly about controversial politicians (Pim Fortuyn, Rita Verdonk, Geert Wilders), Islamophobia, restricting immigration, banning muslim dress, and the like.

    Tolerant reputation, as any good reputation, is much easier to lose than to earn. Too bad the Dutch politicians don´t seem to bother.

    Some may ask, why should anyone bother about their country´s racist reputation? Perhaps, the counterparts from Australia can answer that. Following a wave of hate crimes against foreign (mostly Indian) students there, the number of willing to study in Australia Indian students dropped considerably, costing the economy almost $70m (£44m) in one year, see: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8444870.stm .

    So, if moral considerations are not enough, the money should do the talking to convince those in the Netherlands who believe the country would be better off if they chase all the undesirable groups away. Just do the math, please!

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