What I’m Watching: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is a satirical and serious show that looks at current events issues. Every week, Oliver focuses on an important issue from the news. In two episodes, he focused on the refugee crisis. In one video, he parses the hateful language used by European governments, especially in The Netherlands, Hungary and Denmark. He softens the language with jokes, as when he calls a Polish minister who calls the refugees ‘human garbage’ “the Polish six flags guy” (Oliver 2015a). He backs up every joke with a bit of research, including research about how helpful refugees and immigrants actually are to an economy, especially ones in Europe with a slow birthrate (Oliver 2015a). The end of the video is a tribute to Noujain Mustaffa, whom he especially highlights in the clip. Unlike short clips on the evening news, this first segment from John Oliver places the crisis in some historical context. However he neglects to mention the full context of the crisis itself; that is, the attack on dissidents in Syria and the civil war there.

In the second clip, released after the 13 November 2015 attacks, Oliver updates the situation and adds to it the US response. One of the attackers was rumoured to have posed as a refugee, setting off fears of refugees coming into America on the same pretenses. After the attack, 31 state governors banned refugees from coming into their state, a pointless bit of grandstanding as Oliver points out they have no legal right to do so, and that refugees can just go to more accepting states (2015b). He also debunks a fear-mongering video from Fox News showing a group of Muslim men calling out Allahuakbar whilst riding the metro; the video had been uploaded five years previously (Oliver 2015).

Oliver places the crisis in context for the American audience in the second clip; he points out that Americans have been slow to accept refugees, even sending a boat with Jewish refugees back to Belgium in 1939, and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two (2015). With the recent news that the United States is lowering its threshold of refugees it will accept, there is a certain sense of déjà vu.

Oliver’s sarcastic take on the hyperbolic language used by politicians and the media is a less scholarly, but still important, way to explain how media influences policy, and why it is added to my bibliographic resources for my thesis.

photo: geralt

What I’m Reading: Les disparus

europe-2069532_1920.jpgI am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Les Jours is an independent French media source bankrolled by subscribers and investors. (Full disclosure, I am a subscriber.) Each ‘obsession’ is a long-form multimedia article that can be read on any type of technology. It is almost an online magazine, with each article being called an episode and filled with photos, sounds and other information. The obsession that I chose to read, amongst others, was Les disparus: sur la trace des migrants morts en Méditerranée (The vanished: following the path of dead migrants in the Mediterranean). The first episode is available to read, and is in French. I chose three particular episodes on which to focus: episodes five, ten and twenty. I am solely responsible for the translation, and regret any errors.

Released over a span of seven months, Taina Tervonen describes efforts to identify dead or missing migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from objects left behind from sunken vessels. She also describes the European Union’s reaction to the crisis–mostly negative and unhelpful.

In episode five, Après les tragédies, l’Europe refermée (After the tragedies, Europe shuts down), Tervonen visits the island of Lesbos, where many asylum seekers washed ashore, dead or nearly so. She writes that “in October [2015] alone, there was a peak of 220.579 people” arriving from the Mediterranean (Tervonen 2018). Instead of helping Greece and Italy, the European Union decided to reinforce border controls and not much else (Tervonen 2018). This may have been the simplest measure, but it did not reduce the flow of people. The people of Lesbos, according to Tervonen, were “abandoned by Europe, whilst also suffering under austerity imposed by Brussels” (2018). Showing a strong front against refugees and asylum seekers may assuage the minds of xenophobes within the EU, but does nothing to help the people aiding refugees and asylum seekers.

Tervonen writes that at the height of the crisis, in September 2015, the EU entered into negotiations with Turkey “to limit and organise the influx of migrants” (2018), and then also with some African states to propose development aid in exchange for better border controls. She writes, “for the first time, development was officially conditioned on border control” (2018). Numbers, whilst reduced, did not fall to zero; however, the European Union has made those seeking refuge and asylum more and more uncomfortable, meaning they make more dangerous choices in crossing.

Tervonen describes the effects of the ‘better border controls’ in episode ten, L’Europe délocalise le tri des migrants (Europe outsources the sorting of migrants). The European Union sorts exiled people into two groups, refugees and economic migrants, and for the most part, that sorting happens in Greece and Italy (Tervonen 2018). However, after 2016 negotiations, that sorting started happening in Libya and Niger, the former a country with no central government and the latter incredibly poor and unable to handle the amount of people that are trying to cross through.  The refugee camp in Agadez, Niger is run by international organisations, and concerns itself with the sorting of ‘real’ refugees and ‘fake’ asylum seekers (Tervonen 2018), as if people leaving their country are doing so for some sort of amusement. There are many steps and interviews at these camps, where there is not enough food or sanitation for the numbers that keep arriving. Also, the development aid is slow to come, angering people in the city (Tervonen 2018).

In episode 20, Le jeune homme et la mer (The young man and the sea), Tervonen updates the story with new measures from Europe. They are cruel and Kafkaesque, and do not help the countries from which people flee. The conditions in Libya, a country that deals with the sorting of asylum seekers, are “well-known and regularly denounced in NGO and various UN agency reports” (Tervonen 2018). There is a system of voluntary returns, but as Tervonen writes, ‘voluntary’ is a laughable concept when you’ve been starving in a camp or prison in Libya and Niger (2018). As of July 2018, Tervonen writes that there are “at least 6500 people detained in official prisons and multiple thousands in clandestine ones, according to the UN” (2018).

The European Commission put forth three possibilities for a continued system of sorting: asylum centres in Europe organised by Frontex and the European bureau of asylum; asylum centres in Northern Africa organised by the UNHCR; finally, countries neither EU or NATO, in Europe or in Africa, with no real oversight by any organisation (Tervonen 2018). The extreme right in Europe does not like the first option, and the second and third options are places where asylum seekers are being treated poorly.

Though the numbers of new arrivals has lowered, there are still thousands in camps waiting for some word. A legal route is nearly impossible; the EU is only concentrating on “border surveillance, on sending people back and [so-called] control centres” (Tervonen 2018).

This control is only one way, of course. As Tervonen (2018) writes, sitting in the Gambia in Palma Rima, enjoying the sun: “There are so many White [Europeans], like me, who travel without issue from one continent to another, without any risk except for a pick-pocket or a hangover.” Europeans do not give the same rights to those to whom they have caused harm, and it is most obvious in these countries that must support tourism but are not allowed to seek something better, or receive help from those countries that used them in the past.

photo credit: Kreative Hexenküche

What I’m Reading: How Europe’s far right fell in love with Australia’s immigration policy

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Australia’s immigration policy is based on racist French rhetoric from the 1970s. In Sasha Polakow-Suransky’s 2017 article, he writes that Tony Abbott’s [former Prime Minister of Australia] argument in regards to refugees seeking asylum was that they were all trying to cheat the system. Abbott’s speech was a fascist diatribe for some, and a heroic nationalist stance for others (Polakow-Suransky 2017).

Australian refugee policy is to warehouse them offshore, where they cannot access the legal protections and welfare benefits accorded to asylum seekers (Polakow-Suransky 2017). For European far-right political leaders, Australia’s policy is seen as a glittering gold standard. By invoking fear of the “coming horde” (or David Cameron’s “swarm“), far-right political parties are gaining strength across Europe.

Many far-right politicians, Polakow-Suranksy argues, have been inspired and perhaps emboldened by Jean Raspail’s 1973 book The Camp of Saints (2017). Whilst the book advocates violence, Australia’s policy is close enough.

For Australia and Europe, asylum seekers have been rebranded in the wake of terrorist attacks in both continents. No country wants to let in terrorists, so it is easier just not to let anyone in. By making people smuggling illegal, people who use people smugglers to escape horrific circumstances (Polakow-Suranksy 2017).

As far as Australia’s actual policy, asylum seekers are sent to Manus and Nauru Islands, where they are held in deplorable conditions. Many decide to return home to dangerous situations. According to human rights lawyer Daniel Webb, refugees are asked to choose where they want their human rights violated: the country they are fleeing or on these resettlement islands (Polakow-Suranksy 2017).

Europe has a responsibility to aid countries that are producing refugees and asylum-seekers, mostly because the wars, famine and economic collapse can be directly traced to colonial history. The current policies are doing nothing to stop the next war or environmental crisis that will create another human asylum crisis.

 

photo: geralt

What I’m Reading: Five myths about the refugee crisis

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Daniel Trilling’s article, published in June 2018, reminds us that the refugee crisis of 2015 is not only still with us, but just as pressing as it has been. The article is part of the Guardian’s Long Read series, a set of articles about various news-worthy events and societal observations. Trilling, in this article, delineates the beliefs people still have about the refugee crisis and “deconstructs the beliefs that still shape policy and public opinion” (2018).

List articles are always popular and fast reads on most websites. They are highly ‘click-bait’ worthy, meaning that people will choose to read list-based articles first. By separating his article into five myths, Trilling manages to break down the complexities of the refugee crisis into something that is accessible for readers.

The first myth that Trilling debunks is the idea that the crisis is over. Though he mentions that arrivals have declined (2018), he makes sure to stress that “the underlying causes have not changed.” Europe, despite having freedom of movement throughout much of the continent through EU, EEA and Schengen agreements, has shut its borders to non-Europeans in militaristic fashion (Trilling 2018). Making legal routes more difficult for migrants and refugees means that these people will be more likely to turn to dangerous methods, which creates an endless cycle of legal crackdowns to desperate, illegal behaviour (2018).

The second myth is the separation of refugee from economic migrant, as if the reasons for asking for asylum and trying to find better opportunities are disparate and completely different from one another. Trilling points out that what it means to be a refugee “is political, and subject to a constant struggle over who is deserving and who is not” (2018). Economics of a country are affected by any number of calamities, forcing people to make the difficult decision to leave their homes in search of a place where they are free to find a better existence. Until such time as these issues are addressed, there will always be both refugees and economic migrants, and for Trilling, there is no separating the two (2018).

Trilling discusses empathy fatigue in his third myth, and opens with the very powerful line “Empathy matters, but it always has limits, and it should not be a precondition for people to access their rights” (2018). Humans were never prepared to learn about all the terrible things happening around the world at any given moment, but our media is set up to sell tragedy constantly. The refugee ‘crisis’ was certainly media fodder for a time, but like most media coverage, it was intense for a while, and then sputtered out like a dying candle. There is, according to Trilling, a point of being overwhelmed and the could be a point of hostility (2018). Also, when media covers only the crisis, it tends to gloss over any underlying causes (Trilling 2018), choosing instead to focus on the spectacle. And in his last point in this myth, Trilling correctly writes that media have become “commodities by profit-making companies” and therefore subject to market forces like any other commodity (2018).

How the crisis might be a ‘threat’ to European values is Trilling’s fourth myth. There are two visions of Europe currently being espoused during this crisis: one of Europe being a White Christian continent trying to stay both White and Christian and the other of a tolerant, open society committed to fighting oppression (Trilling 2018). Both of these are hyperbolic.  Trilling argues that the former denies the diversity of Europe and denies the fact that many refugees are fleeing places where they have been fighting oppression, and the latter, whilst aspirational, erases the centuries of imperialism and racial supremacy enacted on the very countries that are now seeking both aid and where refugees see no option (2018). There has not been an honest reckoning with the past and the damage Europe has done to the countries whose people are fleeing.

The final myth is that there is no changing the current crisis and that it is just history repeating itself. However, the history of European displacement and the current displacement of people are not the same. As Trilling states, the current displacement of people “points to a dangerous weakness in liberal democratic societies” (2018).  The people being displaced are people that the government does not want, and those who are seeking asylum are continuously bending and breaking rules to get out of immediate danger (Trilling 2018). The history of the flight, displacement and expulsion of people is ingrained in history. However, our current times are unique because we are all “connected to a global culture and global networks of communication” (Trilling 2018).

Trilling leaves the reader with questions that are at once rhetorical and searingly important. These answers must be answered in both legal fashion and on an ethical plane as human beings.

photo credit: skeeze

#atozchallenge: State of the (European) Union

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The goals of the European Union have morphed. From being the cure to extreme nationalism to a powerhouse economy, the European Union has shifted its targets. Whilst I am a proud European, I also understand the travails of bringing together 28 extremely proud countries with their own cultures, values and beliefs. But there are cracks appearing in the surface, and perhaps they have always been there.

The United Kingdom will vote on its Brexit the 23 of June. I shall be watching this, mostly scared. I called the UK home for many years, and if they remain in the EU, I will call it home again. Many of the arguments in the Leave and Remain camps focus on the economic salvation and-or disaster that might occur, depending on how Britain votes.

Perhaps the United Kingdom and the rest of the European Union would do well to recall their original reasons for becoming a Union. Now, more than ever, Europe needs a strong front against the growing nationalist trends in the UK, France and even Germany. Europe is stronger together, and Britain’s grumbling about leaving is shaking the entire Union.

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If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s challenge, check them out here.

Photo by moerschy

Je suis Bruxelles: On Fear

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My students watched, numb and quiet, as they let the words from France 24 wash over them. After we watched the international reactions, one of my students said idly, ‘What next?’

I said, in as even a tone as possible, ‘When war or terrorism happens, people in general tend to become more “little-c” conservative [to distinguish from Conservative parties] and a little more insular.’ It was as much as I wanted to say. I talked about the 7 July bombings in London, how London reacted, and we talked about assimilation and culture in Europe. I don’t like using tragedy as teachable moments, but it was important for them to begin processing.

After school, chatting with a colleague, I let bitterness and pessimism take over as I said, “Donald Trump will be the next president, and Britain will leave the European Union.” I felt sick as I said it, as if it were a premonition. I feel sick as I think of it now. My even tone in class had fallen away, and I felt angry, as I never had before.

It is not the time to close borders, to hate and to fear. But we will. It has become the first response to this distress. But I choose to celebrate Brussels and the idea of the European Union which was attacked on the 22nd of March.

May there be no next time. – SDM

Photo by Ji-Sun Yoo

#weekendcoffeeshare: Brexit for Breakfast

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I’m drinking a Masala chai from the Curiosity Shop. My week has been wildly busy and my Saturday is full as well. But now I am drinking my tea and contemplating existence. There’s a lot to contemplate. It’s a beautiful sunny day here, and only 5°C!

I’m going to be a bit personal, so if we were having coffee today, I would tell you how anxious I am about the Brexit. I want to live in Britain, but their leaving would make it exceptionally difficult to get a visa. I am wondering what arguments the British people are hearing, and how much of them feel threatened by the EU. I would also be questioning the fact that, though the EU was supposed to create opportunities for everyone living in its borders, it has just become an economic bloc, and a messy one at that.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I am also waiting to hear back about my Master’s application. I have applied to Uppsala University to get my Master’s degree in Peace and Conflict Studies. I would be telling you about how I don’t feel qualified or clever enough, and that I’m worried I did the application wrong.

I’d also tell you I’m worried about Super Tuesday, next week, where Donald Trump will perhaps gain even more delegates. I would be wondering aloud how we got to this place. Is America so bad? Are people so jingoistic and ignorant? Americans who constantly say ‘no foreigners’ are quite blind and wilfully dumb: unless we are Native American, we are just as much foreign as the people arriving to our borders today.

This is a heavy chat I’m having today. I would have chocolate for you, to ease the conversation. I hope you are doing well. Until next week, then? – SDM

NB: Check out the other posts here!

Photo by condesign