Je Suis Charlie? Nigeria? I see no difference

Given the past week’s events I feel I should offer my 2 cents. As most will know, radicalised Islamists opened fire on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, a French ‘satirical’ magazine or news journal, killing 7 journalists and cartoonists mainly over the depiction of the Islamic prophet Muhammed in their publication.

What less people will know (although thankfully that number is rising) further across the globe militant Islamic group Boko Haram razed a village to the ground killing approximately 2000 men, women and children.

I am in no way condoning what the terrorists in Paris did, but in my opinion it was certainly wrong for Charlie Hebdo to publish a blatantly antagonising cartoon depicting Muhammed in direct contradiction to the rules of Islam. I understand it is satire and that it is important to call out groups as necessary, but if you consider the definition of satire I don’t think it can be applied to said cartoon:

The use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticise people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues

That being said, the attacks do raise important questions about free speech laws across the country, which number alarming few (perhaps not in law but in practice). I enjoyed reading an LSE student’s tweets naming and shaming the political leaders on their free speech abuses which can be read here, highlighting the hypocrisy this attack has raised.

I had an interesting discussion in my seminar today for a module I have started this term called ‘Contemporary Security Issues’ where my friend noted how it is difficult to get people to care and protest without a spark or a cause – in this case the cause was the murders. But it also made me question, was it really the murders that were the cause?

Across the internet, the outrage about the murders on the principles of free speech quickly evolved into a petty argument about Islam being contrary to ‘European’ (or more appropriately, Western) values. To me, this just shows how these murders acted as a catalyst for what had been not-so-quietly bubbling under for the past new years. It is no secret that the public here in the UK as well as across Europe have conflicting, often negative opinions on Islam. I found this article by the Economist particularly enlightening, showing perceptions of Islam across Europe and it really confirmed what I believe – that most people, wrongly, have negative perception of Islam.

The attacks in Paris provided a good platform for talks about “Islamification” outside of the religion’s heartland in the Middle East, probably because if I recall correctly, it has been the first major terrorist attack in the name of Islam for a good many years. Yet, I am not sure it really reached a conclusion in either direction.

Everyone (now including me) has had their say on the issue, but I think the Guardian’s coverage has been the most balanced so far. The Guardian posted a ‘panel verdict’ covering 6 different journalist’s/prominent people’s perspectives which ranged from anger to support in the face of Charlie Hebdo’s newest cover, again depicting Muhammed.

Personally, I feel it was arrogant and stupid to print again what caused the attack in the first place. I agree that it would be wrong to back down in the face of terror, but to me I do not see the point in antagonising for no good reason? All Muslim’s will be upset over the picture, yet by printing that cartoon, it is almost silencing them. The power of the white voice in Europe is far greater than that of the Muslim minority and given the attack, it seems that if any Muslim takes a stand and disagrees with the cartoon, they will just be attacked and branded a terrorist sympathiser.

I have many Muslim friends and certainly know that this is not the case.

ALthough it may seem like a non-sequitur, please stay with me. Above, I mentioned the attacks on a village in Nigeria by infamous militant/guerilla group Boko Haram, the same people who abducted 200 school girls (who are still missing) last year. Everything Boko Haram seem to do is terrifying and disgusting – but my question is why it didn’t get more coverage than it did? I guess it boils down to a few main reasons:

  1. I mentioned above how the Charlie Hebdo massacre was one of the first terrorist attacks in a big public city in Europe for a while. This makes it news-worthy, but simultaneously so because of the fear it instills in us; Cameron this week said he wants to ban private messaging apps like Whatsapp, he gave more power and £100m to secret services like GCHQ and also put special security forces on standby in case of ‘repercussions’ in London.
  2. The Paris shootings being so close to home probably makes them more important. In fact, ti appears that most UK press works in the following format: UK -> Europe -> Rest of World.
  3. People just don’t care. Consider that kidnappings of the 200 schoolgirls, since forced into sham marriages with Boko Haram members, used as sex slaves and made to convert, what happened to them? Because it is Africa, often considered a “lost” cause/continent, nothing seems to get done. Africa is too risky to go into, and problems have grown to big. Perhaps then, the attacks in Nigeria are not being covered because there are no journalists there to report on them.

I recently read about and saw a painting called the Rape of Africa and it really affected me because you just know it is all true. Africa is a lost continent, compared to the rest of the world the majority of it is so ignored and underdeveloped, and so it is no wonder why countries in Africa have apparently seen a huge rise in militant (admittedly often Islamic) groups over recent years.

If anything, the existence of groups like Boko Haram in the corners of the world most ignored by the “ever-powerful” West are the most dangerous. Yes, the attacks in Paris were shocking, unexpected and cruel but in reality, do a couple of radicalised young adults (a tiny, almost microscopic proportion) really represent a threat to Western society as has since been harped on? No. It is these groups in less economically developed countries that pose the real threat to Western values, because they are the ones who have the vendetta about them. Western interference in Africa is seen as just that – countries and leaders wanting to ‘make their mark’ or ‘a change’ when in reality they are just messing up complicated political systems which need to develop on their own. However, I must also say that the opposite can be thought of – perhaps groups like Boko Haram exist because of the lack of Western intervention. Groups looking to terrorise and bring down governments only do so through extreme disenchantment with the establishment in that country, disenchantment that could have been avoided if the West had interfered to guarantee a democracy which has given life to so many in Europe.

Either way, to me the attacks in Nigeria and in Paris are important, for ways that are different yet cross the same boundaries. I am not one to quantify the importance of such events by the number of deaths but nevertheless, I feel worse for those in places like Nigeria who not only have to deal with the prospect of being uprooted and murdered at any moment by their own country-folk but also all of the associated traumas that come with them.

In any case, all we can take from these tragedies is a positive attitude forward – something good will surely come from the forum opened by radicalised Islamic attacks in Paris, and hopefully, now awareness of the situation is growing, help can be found for the floundering government in Nigeria (which has done barely anything, likely due to the governmental elections in a few weeks).

 

 

Mansions, Bedrooms and a Tax on the Rich

This was definitely not the biggest news story this week, but a potential Mansion Tax has interested me for a while. Labour support it, the Greens support it, the Liberal Democrats did, but have since moved away from supporting it, but unsurprisingly it’s shock horror to the Tories.

I find the proposition of a mansion tax very interesting. It, apart from a high income tax on the top 1%, is one of few “in the news” policies which would significantly effect the elite, rich people (and as it happens a lot of normal people). Because of this, a plethora of misleading facts and detail has permeated the media. There is a lot of confusion over what a mansion tax would actually entail, which would be this: a tax on the value of a property above £2 million in value. As an example, a house worth £3 million would be taxed on the £1 million excess value.

In order to write this post I did a fair amount of research in order to attempt to balance my admittedly left-leaning view point that a mansion tax is a good thing. Doing so led me to this website: http://mansiontax.co.uk/. This website (a blog really) is at the forefront of anti-mansion tax webpages when you do a simple google search, and almost immediately attacks Labour and the Liberal Democrats (who do not support a mansion tax anymore, leading me to have less faith in this biased blog’s reliability) for supporting a tax that would place an ‘unfair property tax on 500,000 ordinary Londoners’, which is fair enough, but also leads me to ask: what about the rest of the UK? I do however, agree; there are many properties in London which I certainly would not consider mansions, and this is why I am primarily critical of the tax proposals themselves, but not the principal.

The arguments against the tax are, on the whole, fair points to make. People cannot help if their property has soared in value due to ridiculously out of control property markets. Many of these people are elderly people who have lived in their homes for the majority of their lives and are by no means rich. To saddle them with a tax that they cannot afford would be unfair (although we do not live in an inherently fair society). Consider the Daily Telegraph Article entitled Ed Miliband’s mansion tax and death duties will eat up inheritances, Treasury aide says. The article notes how ‘those who live in expensive homes but have limited means will be able to defer paying the tax until the property is sold.’ This shows how a mansion tax of which payments have been deferred for 20 years could leave bereaved family members with an unfair tax bill of £300,000. However, it is also important to consider this point in the BBC’s article How would a mansion tax work?: ‘At present, council tax bands are still based on valuations of homes made in 1991’, a time when many of the properties which at current valuation levels would be considered mansions, would not. That being said, the aforementioned Telegraph article poses more sinister questions. The article notes how the tax would be imposed ‘to help raise £1.3billion for the NHS.’ How then, could this tax be a bad thing if it is being used to fund the best part of the UK’s political and societal system? To me, this seems to be further evidence that the ultra-rich are becoming increasingly frustrated to have to pay towards everyone else’s healthcare, and if this is the sort of issue that the Telegraph wants to turn the mansion tax into, then I fully support its implementation. (For readers’ information, a similar article can be read on The Daily Mail)

Interesting as always, were some of this month’s Comment Is Free articles in the Guardian that concerned the mansion tax. This article, by Jonathan Portes immediately raised important points when it comes to an opinion on the tax, and these are points that I feel are important to raise:

Whatever one thinks of the so-called bedroom tax, there is no doubt it has led to considerable hardship for some poorer families […] as well as being an administrative burden for local authorities. It’s worth remembering that when evaluating the hysterical reaction in some quarters to the mansion tax, and in particular, the claims that it would be uniquely difficult to implement or desperately unfair to those who just want to continue living where they’ve always lived without having to pay an extra tax.

Yes, what about those who just want to continue living as they have always lived? How on earth is it fair to penalise poorer people for living in a council house with unused bedrooms (council houses that were allocated to them by the council) of which they have lived in for the majority of their lives, my grandparents as an example. It makes me angry that the rich can decry a mansion tax yet champion the mirroring tax on the poor. The seemingly fundamental hypocrisy that runs through the core of today’s domestic politics is infuriating, yet I am unsurprised to see hyperbolic mountains of comments from the public lining right wing articles that concern this issue: ‘Trouble is that with the escalating cost of benefits they have to try to find new ways to get money out of those that earn it, or have earned it, as there are not enough tax-payers around any more to pay for the feckless and the many many children that they think they are entitled to have on someone else’s dollar’. The notion that the expansion and continuation of the benefits system is the main point of a mansion tax highlights to me how little the media actually educates their readers, the tax being used to fund the UK’s biggest cost – the NHS.

I appreciate that the bedroom tax taxes the poor on homes which do not belong to them, but nevertheless, can we not tax the rich on the number of unused bedrooms in their homes? Mansions above a certain size, say of 10 bedrooms, mansions that were afforded off of the backs of the poor workers the rich utilised, mansions (if you take country manors as an isolated case) that were built on land taken from the poor that owned it, land that was given to the lucky few by those in power.

There is no one answer to the issue of unjust wealth distribution in the UK, but I feel that a mansion tax if properly imposed (on homes that are actually a mansion, or on £2 million+ properties on a case-by-case basis) would be beneficial to filling the widening social gap between rich and poor. It is true that the UK property market is by nature unfair and leaning in favour of the rich, especially on the climb up out of a recession, yet the government has a responsibility to its citizens, the 94% of which do not own a house worth over £500,000, let alone £2 million. Whatever happens, a tax on the rich that have amassed their wealth by using state funded projects, such as roads, public companies that are huge markets to privatised producers, and subsidised television (as examples), is necessary and fair, and I am completely supportive of the creation of a more level playing field for the rest of us trying to get by.