Editorial The Guardian

The Observer view on Pope Francis’s comments on a world at war. Editorial de The Guardian

Pope Francis walks through the gate of Auschwitz on Friday. Photograph: Filippo Monteforte/AP

Pope Francis walks through the gate of Auschwitz on Friday. Photograph: Filippo Monteforte/AP

guardianEditorial, 30 julio 2016 / THE GUARDIAN

Pope Francis is a thoughtful man whose views should be taken seriously. So his unusually dramatic declaration last week that the world is at war deserves closer scrutiny. The pope was responding to the shocking murder in Normandy of a Catholic priest, Father Jacques Hamel, by two French-born Isis recruits and two earlier Islamist attacks in Germany. But his remarks raised wider questions reaching far beyond the immediate struggle against random acts of terrorism.

“The word we hear a lot is insecurity, but the real word is war,” the pope said. “We must not be afraid to say the truth, the world is at war because it has lost peace.” Continuing, he sought to clarify what he meant. “When I speak of war, I speak of wars over interests, money, resources, not religion. All religions want peace; it’s the others who want war.”

Is Francis right? Is the world at war? Looking at recent events, including the Bastille Day atrocity in Nice, a string of lesser attacks in German cities and, for example, the ongoing, merciless bombardment of 300,000 people trapped in what remains of Aleppo, it is tempting to answer with a heartfelt “Yes”. Day after day, our televisions, radios, mobiles and newspapers deliver awful tidings of yet more egregious examples of man’s inhumanity to man.

Yet our perspective is skewed. Figures compiled by the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database show that, in western Europe, the number of civilians killed as a result of terrorist acts has fallen sharply in recent years from peaks in the 1970s and 1980s. Even then, at the height of IRA, Basque separatist, Red Brigades, Baader-Meinhof and PLO activity, the annual toll numbered a few hundred. Current fatality levels in Europe are significantly lower, despite the rise of Isis.

In point of fact, the vast majority of civilian deaths from terrorism in 2015 – 74% – were confined to five countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria and Pakistan. Or looked at another way, between 1969 and 2009, there were 38,345 terrorist incidents around the world. Of these, 2,981 were directed against the US, while the remaining 92% were directed at other, mostly poor nations. The worst single atrocity since 9/11 took place this month in Baghdad, where Isis bombs killed hundreds.

If the pope’s claim about a world at war is set against a broader measure of armed conflicts, similar doubts arise. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, about 167,000 people died in armed conflicts in 2015, historically far fewer than in the post-colonial and Cold War periods of the last century. This figure is itself distorted by Syria, which accounted for 55,000 of the total. Again, a handful of countries accounted for most of the remaining deaths, notably Nigeria, Afghanistan and Mexico.
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These figures suggest three things: that, overall, worldwide levels of organised state against state, internal state and non-state (terrorist) violence have significantly declined over the past 50 years; that the conflicts that persist are mostly confined to a diminishing number of countries or regions, not in Europe or the US; and that most parts of the world are enjoying an unprecedented period of prolonged peace. The big picture, as delineated by academics such as Harvard’s Steven Pinker, is not one of a “world at war”, but of a world that may, slowly, be learning to deal with problems by non-violent means.

Such conclusions plainly fly in the face of popular, western perceptions of heightened physical threat, as enunciated by the pope. This may be because violence, particularly Islamist terrorism, is suddenly much more in evidence on our own doorsteps. It may be because, thanks to mass media and the internet age, ordinary citizens are more aware now of global contemporary events than at any time in human history. The result is an exaggerated, disproportionate sense of the dangers presented by our own times. This may also stem from woeful, collective ignorance of recent and not so recent history.

But this disconnect between the objective reality of present-day conflict, the emotions and fears surrounding it and the language and terminology used to describe it, may be deeper rooted. As Francis suggested, the shared conception that we are living in a time of war arises from conflicts in many other dimensions, such as the “war” over disappearing natural resources and environmental protection, the “wars” on poverty, on drugs and on preventable disease, or the “war” between business interests, represented by global corporations and international capitalism and the common people’s recurring aspirations, now ever harder to crush or deny, for fair, equal and just societies based on human rights, shared responsibilities and agreed laws.

Maybe Francis was also pointing, opaquely, to what might be termed a war of minds, a global war of ideas, one that rages ever more fiercely in a 21st century whose dawn, supposedly, marked the beginning of a post-ideological age but that now grows desperate (and violent) in its search for belief, certainty, conviction and truth.
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How else to account for nationalists, populists, demagogues, charlatans and rogues from Trump Towers to Vienna’s far-right Freedom party to France’s Front National to Greece’s Golden Dawn, which peddle absolutist solutions, perverse panaceas and divisive, separatist slogans with such evident, partisan support?

And how else to interpret the religious rift, or fitna, within Islam between Sunni and Shia, and between Islam and the west, if not in terms of a battle of dogma and belief? The pope may be correct that this is not a war of religions, certainly not a war led by established religious leaders such as himself. But to claim that the current, intensifying global battle for new, viable credos for the new century is not, in part, a religious and spiritual struggle, too, is surely delusional.

Thomas Hobbes believed man’s natural, eternal state was “warre”. The aim and duty of every human society before and since has been to prove him wrong – and to resurrect Francis’s “lost peace”.

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The Guardian view on Brexit and our partners: a letter to Europe. Editorial

 Protesters in Parliament Square during a demonstration against Britain’s decision to leave the EU on Saturday. ‘Please, bid goodbye in sorrow, not anger; and for all our sakes, do not bolt the door.’ Photograph: Neil Hall/Reuters

Protesters in Parliament Square during a demonstration against Britain’s decision to leave the EU on Saturday. ‘Please, bid goodbye in sorrow, not anger; and for all our sakes, do not bolt the door.’ Photograph: Neil Hall/Reuters

guardianEDITORIAL, 3 julio 2016 / THE GUARDIAN

The shockwave from the Brexit vote now reverberates through Europe. The dismay felt by so many in the UK is shared on the continent. Some of you reached out to us before the referendum, asking us to stay and stressing our common interests. Now it is our turn to appeal to you. Rebuffed by the result, and alienated by the crude triumphalism of Nigel Farage and other leavers, you may consider any request an impertinence. Your citizens have been among those targeted by the xenophobia unleashed. Continental Europeans may feel we do not deserve an audience.

Almost half of those who voted sought to continue our membership. The Guardian was one of the most determined voices on this side of the divide. But we, like the rest of the 48%, must now respect the verdict that we dreaded. You assumed that British pragmatism would triumph. We share your shock and anxiety. Tempted as you are, don’t write us off entirely. Many Britons seek the closest possible partnership with the European Union, and it is more urgent than ever to continue cooperation through every viable means.

Some of you are angry. Britain was already seen as an unwilling partner, dragging our feet and demanding endless concessions. Many more now see us as a wrecker, too: gambling with a fragile European economy; imperilling an institution created to safeguard peace. Others feel pity or contempt for a nation that backed Brexit on a series of fantasies and lies, already retracted, or schadenfreude as the cost of the folly becomes evident. You may wish to punish us, or simply tell us: good riddance. Britain should not expect special treatment. Nonetheless, at this precarious moment, we ask you to pause – in all our interests.

Above all, we need time. Britain voted against membership; we did not vote for an alternative. The public has not fully confronted the choice it faces between turning its back on the single market, or accepting continued EU migration in whatever form. For sure, make it clear to Brexiters that they cannot have the rights that come with the EU without the obligations. Spelling out Britain’s choices may help us to be more realistic. The country has decided against continuing down the same path, but our new route and eventual destination are unclear. There is a great deal to think through, and further decisions to make. They could involve parliament, perhaps even a general election. You hope for certainty and stability, but pressing too hard for the invocation of article 50 could force us to rush into choices that you may also regret. While Britain chooses a captain for turbulent waters, you will be preoccupied with your own decisions, cast into starker relief by the referendum vote. The UK no longer has the right to express any preference as you determine “how much” and what kind of Europe you want.

Seeking to punish us to prevent further exits is an understandable urge. The right policy will be that which prevents Britain’s exit becoming a ruinous catalyst. Across Europe, there is disengagement from mainstream politics, anger towards the elite and a hunt for foreign scapegoats, and in many places these have coalesced into anti-EU sentiment. We shared your alarm as Marine Le Pen’s Front National and other far right parties celebrated the British decision.

Large numbers of people feel ignored and ill-used, with little sense that they are benefiting from integration. In the UK, lies about straight bananas and exaggerations about the EU’s opacity fuelled feeling against the institution, compounding a sense that the political classes are out of touch with ordinary life and have often put profits before people.

The UK must establish new bonds at home without turning its gaze entirely inwards. Let us continue to work with you wherever we can. We don’t expect to take the lead or make the rules; we can still offer expertise, resources and intelligence in areas such as security. Cooperation between our citizens – cultural collaborations, academic exchanges – in the long run does most to bring Europe closer, and will be more crucial than ever. Remember that younger Britons who voted were overwhelmingly pro-European, and help us to nurture that spirit and the opportunities it may one day present.

Britain, once outside the EU, cannot and should not expect a swift return. It would be politically dangerous at home; it would require generosity on your part. But those facing Brexit with reluctance hope that one day we may rejoin the club. Please, bid goodbye in sorrow, not anger; and for all our sakes, do not bolt the door.

 

The Guardian view on post-Brexit politics: the price of neglecting parliament

British democracy still starts with Westminster. Brexiter Tories will not get a grip until they accept that, and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership will continue to crumble until he does the same.

guardianEditorial, 28 junio 2016 / THE GUARDIAN

The British constitution was traditionally summarised in a single sentence: “The crown in parliament is law”, which is to say that things passed by the Commons and the Lords and then signed by the monarch would come to pass. Like every one-liner, it was an over-simplification, blurring over the role of international treaties and the role of the courts among other things, but – at this time of tumult – it is useful to recall the most fundamental of our ground rules. Britain is a parliamentary democracy, and though we do not love our MPs, the law of the land, the taxes we pay and the hands that hold the levers of power are all inescapably questions for them.

The chaos cascading through both the UK’s main parties just now is because they have, in different ways, forgotten this basic truth. The referendum came about because David Cameron could see no other way to manage an irreconcilable minority of Europhobes among his ranks. But in taking such a weighty decision away from parliament, and then producing an answer that the overwhelming majority of MPs disagreed with, he has ended up destroying his premiership, his government and – for the moment, at least – the governability of the realm.

With the European foundation stone of the Cameron government’s foreign and economic policies shattered, the logic of the referendum is that a new administration must be established – built upon new Brexit policies. There is, however, currently no majority among the MPs – who would have to constitute that government, and then sustain it through confidence and supply – for these new policies. Thus there are rising expectations that the new Conservative leader now set to be installed on 2 September will engineer an early election to seek a fresh mandate, even though this would involve circumventing the law on fixed five-year terms, and going to the country a mere 16 months after it made a decisive choice for Mr Cameron. What a mess. Friends of Theresa May are, reportedly, whispering that as the continuity candidate, she might be able to avoid the early dash to the polls. In truth, even if this low-key remainer can prevail, there could be pressure because, thanks to party rule changes since the 1990s, she would be the first ever prime minister in British history to be chosen by party members out in the country, rather than MPs. And in a parliamentary system, that raises questions of legitimacy.

These are questions that Labour activists also need to think through, as they consider the future of Jeremy Corbyn, after the total collapse of his authority at Westminster, which has been wrought by the mass resignation of his shadow cabinet. If he wishes to carry on, he will surely now be required to fight a fresh leadership election. The Labour party rule book explicitly puts the choice of the leader in the hands of the members who elected Mr Corbyn in such numbers last year. It would thus be sharp practice, even if – which is doubtful – it were legally possible, for parliamentarians to block his name going forward to the ballot. The members, however, will need to reflect on the job they would then be choosing someone to do.

In the early years of Labour history, the leader was simply called the chairman of the parliamentary Labour party, and the MPs alone made the choice right up until 1981. Even in opposition, the chief day-to-day task is to lead the members on the green benches, as they challenge the government. If a general election is in prospect, attention inescapably turns to whether or not an aspiring PM could ever command a post-election Commons majority, because without it they could pass no law, raise no taxes nor survive in post.

Some, but not all, of those who have walked out of the shadow cabinet have personal or ideological axes to grind, and there has been a dismal collective failure to explain who and what they believe should be put into the place of Mr Corbyn and his programme. That failure is now the greatest reason many members will see to stay loyal if he stands his ground. Weighed against it, however, must be his own failure to dispatch the core duty of holding a shadow ministerial team together.

Brexiters can hail the popular will in the referendum, just as Tory and Labour activists alike can talk about their own “sovereignty” in picking a leader. None of this rhetoric, however, gets around the reality that parliament is indispensable in getting anything done. Neither policies nor politicians who forget it are likely to endure.

The Guardian view on the EU referendum: keep connected and inclusive, not angry and isolated

Economics, foreign policy and Britain’s idea of itself are all on the ballot. But after a divisive campaign so, too, is our ability to get along. Another powerful reason why the wise vote is for remain.

guardianEditorial, 20 junio 2016 / THE GUARDIAN

Who do we think we are, and who do we want to be? Are we so different from others that we cannot play by shared rules? Are we one member in a family of nations, or a country that prefers to keep itself to itself and bolt the door?

All of these questions were always on the ballot in this week’s fateful referendum. But after a campaign that has been nasty, brutish and seemingly endless, the UK will be voting on another question too. With all the differences and the diversity among all of us who already live on these islands, how are we all going to get along? In the run-up to polling day this contest has risked descending into a plebiscite on whether immigrants are a good or a bad thing. To see what is at stake, just consider the dark forces that could so easily become emboldened by a narrow insistence on putting the indigenous first.

Head and heart

The backdrop has been the most unrelenting, unbalanced and sometimes xenophobic press assault in history. The leading political lights of leave have claimed to be pro-immigrant and yet have, at the same time, been ruthlessly fearmongering about Britain being overrun by Turks, after a Turkish accession which they understand perfectly well is not on the cards. The mood is frenzied, the air thick with indignation, and clouded with untruths. The best starting point for Britain to reach a sound decision on Thursday is to cool the passions of the heart, and listen to the head.

All reason tells us that the great issues of our time have little respect for national borders. The leave side has attempted to turn “expert” into a term of abuse, but one does not need the IMF, the Bank of England or any special knowledge to grasp that these border-busting issues range from corporate power, migration and tax evasion to weapons proliferation, epidemics and climate change. Not one of them can be properly tackled at the level of the nation state. Impose controls on a multinational corporation and it will move to a softer jurisdiction. Crack down on tax evasion and the evaders will vanish offshore. Cap your own carbon emissions in isolation and some other country will burn with abandon. In so far as any of these problems can be effectively addressed, it is through cooperation. A better world means working across borders, not sheltering behind them. Cutting yourself off solves nothing. That, fundamentally, is why Britain should vote to remain in the club that represents the most advanced form of cross-border cooperation that the world has ever seen.

We need, too, to remember our history. Britain was formed and shaped by Europe. And we are – in historical as well as cultural, geographical and trading terms – a European nation. In almost every generation of European history until the past 70 years, people from these islands have fought and died in European wars. But within the borders of the European Union, there has been no war at all. This has not been an accident. To turn our back on that is unworthy of our traditions.

This is not to dispute that there are flaws in the way that Europe is constituted and led. The EU is a union of nations working together, it is not and never will be a United States of Europe, and so its leadership is bound to depend on the imperfect leadership of all these countries. The single currency has been a flawed project and has set one nation against another, forcing the poor to pay the price for propping up a shonky structure. But Britain is not part of the eurozone, and the EU is not a plot against the nation state. Britain is still robustly herself too, warts and all.

If the EU has become a whipping boy, that is in large part because of the frustration that many inevitably have with day-to-day life in Britain. There are millions of citizens whose wages have been stuck for many years, whose job security has been hollowed out, and whose hopes of a fair deal are being undermined, all at a time when immigration has increased. People are bruised and angry, and many are ready to take it out on those they feel have let them down. Even if the UK government itself actually bears far more of the responsibility, it must be admitted that the EU is part of an international economic order that has been unkind to many. The wish to kick against it can thus be understood, even though it is mistaken.

For the core issues here are labour standards, and they are more effectively governed collaboratively, or else the great danger is of a competitive pressure to strip away protections covering hours, discrimination or agency and temporary working. More broadly, there is no crisis in Europe which is so serious that it would be better for the British prime minister to be outside the EU knocking on the door pleading to be heard rather than inside the room sorting things out. A leave victory would not solve the problems that cause such anger. On the contrary, it would make most of them worse.

The only argument about the immediate economic effects of Brexit is the depth of the hit that the economy would take, not whether it would take a hit at all. The political victors would not be those who wish to rebuild politics. They would be rightwing Tories, and ruthless plutocrats who want freedom to reorder Britain and make money as they choose. They have no interest in fairer taxes on the rich, or higher spending on the NHS. They have spent their so-called Brexit dividend – which in reality is almost certainly a negative number, not the mendacious £350m a week which has earned them an official reprimand – many times over. A significant group of them are flat-taxers who are whispering about deep cuts to corporation taxes. Facile Brexiter talk of a more buccaneering Britain – presumably a country fit for Sir Philip Green or Fred Goodwin to capture other galleons – offers precisely nothing to assuage the fears of elderly voters who simply want nothing more to change.

It is a fantasy to suppose that, if Britain votes to leave, these victors would want to maintain or extend protections for pensioners or workers. On the contrary. Human rights, equality, health and safety, and aid to refugees would be out of the window. Those who vote to leave as a protest against the elite will, in truth, be handing the keys to the very worst of that very elite. There would be no “taking back control” for most working-class leave voters, just less control over their diminishing share than ever. Those who have not yet made up their mind in this campaign should ask themselves this: do you want to live in a Britain in the image of Nigel Farage? Yes or no? For that’s the choice on offer. If the answer is no, then vote remain.

Fantasy island

Thursday’s vote is in some ways a choice between an imaginary past of which too many in this country cannot let go and a future about which all of us are inescapably uncertain. If it goes in favour of leave it will hand Britain’s young people a country that most of them do not intend to vote for. Is that fair? It may push Scottish nationalists to proceed with a break-up of Britain that was rejected less than two years ago. Is that responsible? It will put the settlement in Northern Ireland – the fragile prize won so recently from decades of hatred – at risk. Is that worth it? Not at all. Instead we should be putting our shoulders to the task of building a democratic, devolved, multicultural Britain with a fair deal for all, connected to the world and working with our European neighbours.

The campaign has further alienated voters who were already disaffected. To an extraordinary degree, it has inflicted the Tory party’s pathological obsession with the EU on a country that does not ordinarily share it. No one bears more responsibility for this whole unedifying event than David Cameron, it is true. In the end, though, Thursday’s vote is not about him. It has become a turn-in-the-road issue for Britain and Europe alike. Imagine a world without the EU – without the clout to face down Russia over Ukraine, without the ability to put together coherent answers to carbon emissions, to protect standards at work from a race to the bottom. Like democracy, the EU is an imperfect way of answering the modern world’s unrelenting challenges. But the answer to its imperfections is to reform them, not to walk away – still less to give in to this country’s occasional hooligan instinct in Europe.

Like democracy, whose virtues are in our minds afresh after the violent death of the committed and principled MP Jo Cox, the EU is not just the least bad of the available options. It is also the one that embodies the best of us as a free people in a peaceful Europe. Vote this week. Vote for a united country that reaches out to the world, and vote against a divided nation that turns inwards. Vote to remain.