I have been visiting Brazil for 17 years, and the election tomorrow (round 1) promises to be the most interesting in the post-dictatorship period. There are 6 or 7 serious candidates, but only three really matter:
- Jair Bolsonaro, the hardline militarist law-maker from Rio, former military officer and congressman since 1991 – Social Liberal Party (PSL);
- Fernando Haddad, ex-mayor of Sao Paulo, minister for education 2005-12 under Lula and Dilma Rousseff, with an academic background in philosophy, law and economics – Workers Party (PT);
- Ciro Gomes, ex-state deputy in the northern state of Ceará, ex-mayor of Fortaleza and a lawyer – Democratic Labor Party (PDT).
Bolsonaro is controversial to say the least. I won’t explain here, but for English language readers, this Guardian article entitled How a homophobic, misogynist, racist ‘thing’ could be Brazil’s next president by a Brazilian journalist summarises well enough. For outsiders, Bolsonaro would seem something like Trump, but less dumb, more racist, homophobic and with the same interests in democracy (i.e. only temporary). The closer parallels are with Turkey and the rise of Erdogan, and Duterte in the Philippines. Think about that.
On 8 November 2016, a reality show celebrity and business man with no political experience of any kind became US President Elect, against all expectation. Earlier that year, on June 23 2016, the UK voted to leave the EU, against even the expectations of those vociferously running the ‘leave’ campaigns. These events need some explaining.
Let’s have a look at Trump first. There’s a prevailing view that people who voted for him are essentially racist, misogynist, xenophobic, Islamophobic and generally nasty. Internet memes such as this one make fun of this.
I laughed too. And then, on 8 November, Donald Trump won the election.
The UK in/out referendum result on 24 June 2016 should go down as a black day in British history, for reasons that not everyone will agree on. Like many, I went to bed late on the night of the 23rd assuming the opposite result would occur. The political discourse on all sides has now taken alarming leave of reality and is spiralling out of control; on the streets racist hooligans are attacking anyone they think is an immigrant. This is not the UK anyone wants.
Cafe, Corsica, 2013
Like many people in the UK, I will vote in tomorrow in the EU referendum (the turnout itself will be most interesting to see). The vote has given occasion for us to examine the many issues around this question, and in doing so I’ve learned things and challenged some of my own previous thinking. My main conclusion is that we should not be having this referendum, a) because it has opened up the possibility of political, economic and social isolation for the UK, something which I think particularly the younger generations will live to regret; and b) because it isn’t going to address the very serious problems with the EU raised by both Leavers and Remainers. Although I disagree with the conclusion, one pretty good articulation of the structural problems of Europe as seen by thoughtful Brexiters was published by Alan Sked, Professor of International History at the LSE in November 2015.
In Joseph Anton – A memoir, Salman Rushdie’s account of the fatwa years following the 1989 publication of The Satanic Verses, he provides many reflections and ruminations on the political situation of the time. Some are in the form of letters written to public figures (many of whom behaved abominably in siding with Islamic theocrats and mistaken apologists for the dead-hand moral relativist ‘multiculturalism’ project infecting western countries in recent decades) but never sent. This one, addressed to the then well-known radical black British MP Bernie Grant encapsulates perfectly what was wrong then, and what is wrong today in the public discourse of terrorism, religious fundamentalism and freedom of thought.
Dear Bernie Grant, MP,
“Burning books,” you said in the House of Commons exactly one day after the fatwa, “is not a big issue for blacks.” The objections to such practices, you claimed, were proof that “the whites wanted to impose their values on the world.” I recall that many black leaders – Dr Martin Luther King for example – were murdered for their ideas. To call for the murder of a man for his ideas would therefore appear to the bewildered outsider to be a thing which a black member of Parliament might find horrifying. Yet you do not object. You represent, sir, the unacceptable face of multiculturalism, its deformation into an ideology of cultural relativism. Cultural relativism is the death of ethical thought, supporting the right of tyrannical priests to tyrannize, of despotic parents to mutilate their daughters, of bigoted individuals to hate homosexuals and Jews, because it is a part of their “culture” to do so. Bigotry, prejudice and violence or the threat of violence are not human “values.” They are proof of the absence of such values. They are not the manifestations of a person’s “culture”. They are indications of a person’s lack of culture. In such crucial matters, sir, to quote the great monochrome philosopher Michael Jackson, it don’t matter if you’re black or white.
The Middle East refugee crisis has become multi-dimensional. We still have the immediate problem of trying to save people from drowning between Turkey and Greece, not to mention others entering through all variety of land routes in the freezing cold. The latter have put the border protection of EU countries to the test, with the result that since the Union can’t manage anything collectively, countries like Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia had to start fencing their lands unilaterally. Norway is arguing with Russia about returning thousands of illegal entrants on their bicycles some 400km north of the arctic circle in -20oC temperatures.
Then the problem of the inevitable social friction became apparent over recent months, although suppressed by the press and certain governments and police forces notably in Germany and Sweden. This culminated with the ‘Cologne scandal’.
Syrians search for survivors amidst the rubble following an airstrike in the Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo (Picture: Getty)
I’ve just listened to a couple of hours of debate. David Davis (unsurprisingly) came up with what was needed – some actual facts: