Archive | July, 2013

A sign of age

17 Jul

From the first point I stepped into a formal office environment, I’ve always been keenly aware of my age. When people find out that oh so important number of years that you have lived on this earth, it doesn’t matter how much respect or confidence in your abilities they built up before hand. It can all be completely shattered with just one (relatively) little number. Suddenly your valued opinion flies out the window and it’s all they can do to not pass you a lollipop in the meeting room just to keep you quiet until the end of the day.

So I’ve always played the trick of avoiding telling as far as possible (much more difficult in Sweden than the UK), and appearing older to be taken seriously. Even today, after numerous years of professional experience and three academic qualifications under my belt, I get this. I’m currently working in a predominantly male world of 40-50 somethings. There gets a point when you are  tired of this attitude, want to be taken seriously because you’re a serious person with enough perspective of your own to be able to comment on an issue, with very different life experiences that can add to the discussion – in short, merit.

It’s at this point that I’ve come across people several years younger than myself in the office space, striving with those early struggles of trying to push themselves forward in a world dominated by older people. It’s like looking at yourself in the mirror five years ago. They consider me one of these older types with a world of experience they’ve yet to attain, but I’m still battling with those above me to think of me as something more than just a young one that still has a lot to learn.

While I’ve felt quite proud of not getting overly freaked out about ageing and keeping my own increasing numbers in perspective, I must admit this weird limbo between the two worlds has got to me.

Another recent realisation of age was reading about the changes in political leanings in my home country. It was with a heavy heart – after reading about privatisation of the NHS and more talk about withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights – that I read that the younger generation in Britain today is becoming more and more conservative in its views. For me, this can be attributed in part to the attitude of a government that seems to have forgotten that a nation is built on its people. Too many fundamental things are being taken from the people – be it their privacy or their access to basic services or the sense that justice and the rule of law will prevail – in the interests of national security for almost everything, in an effort to save the physical land that is the country.

Sigh.

Perhaps I’m simply out of touch with my age group, but it makes me feel old now to feel a collective conscience and leaning towards an ideal above individualism. Perhaps it’s living in a country where the attitude towards work, home life, community and government is so tremendously different that people at home simply can’t understand how a Government can deliver on collective benefits, a national heath system and better working conditions generally.

It’s not a perfect system and they’ve got their own problems, but it’s still worth reflecting on why Sweden has ranked consistently high on the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Better Life Index. The sad thing is I don’t think this is out of reach for the UK. But in the current climate with such a defeatist attitude, it may well be a step out of reach.

Perhaps all these feelings about age are just another sign of the times.

Vacationing in Vienna: Mujica speaks for Morales and for Latin America

5 Jul

Are you tired of reading Anglophone media covering the issue of Evo Morales’ trip to Vienna in the light of the extreme statements issued by Bolivia’s Vice-president or the declarations of other extreme (whether we like them or not) leaders of South America? I am.

Personally I don’t agree with everything Morales has done, I certainly disrespect Maduro and the way he campaigned for his election and I am suspicious of some of Fernandez’ more extreme measures of capital control, despite her achievements in human rights protection in Argentina. But that is beside the point. Whether Morales and his friends are leftist or not shouldn’t really matter.

Most articles I’ve read only focus on the “bad facts” of the leftist presidents when reporting the UNASUR meeting called by Humala to discuss this situation, but I’ve also been surprised by the lack of reporting of this issue, though I probably shouldn’t be as this is usually the way it is when it comes to Latin American issues.

It has to be said: it’s not just the leftist countries who feel attacked in Latin America. The OAS has issued a statement condemning that four countries (France, Spain, Italy and Portugal) revoked flight permission while the presidential plane was taking Morales home. Also, besides the UNASUR and ALBA countries, Costa Rica, Mexico, Brazil, Nicaragua and Cuba have also condemned this act. Note the first two on the list are actually right wing governments. So it’s essentially  about a sense of regional humiliation and a right to demand, at least, an apology.

Was this legal? A question few media channels have cared to answer. BBC Mundo (Spanish version) consulted a professor of international law from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid who described the deviation of Morales’ presidential plane to Vienna as a “clearly doubtful act”:

This is not any plane, it is a presidential plane carrying on board a Head of State and as such, it enjoys full immunity and the same inviolability and freedoms it would have within its own nation. A measure of these characteristics, prohibiting the flyover, must be very justified: for example, that the president is being pursued for  an international crime. But when he isn’t, as in this case, it is very clearly an abuse of his sovereignty and highlights the impropriety of many governments.

A State may decide to close its airspace, but this has been done when a political leader is wanted for prosecution or linked to a measure of punishment, as in cases of international crimes, or to exert pressure to countries linked with these crimes. In this case it was a presidential plane, with a head of state on board, where there was no reason for a government to prevent him from transit and over flight of its space for peaceful behavior. What European countries did was based on a rumor that was not true. And clearly it is an action that is inconsistent with international law.

After a funny and detailed chain of tweets that President Fernandez wrote about her various phone calls with her fellow Heads of State during Morales’ “trip” to Vienna, the leaders of UNASUR decided to gather in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to define what actions they will take regarding these acts.

I just saw the video of José Mujica’s speech on this UNASUR meeting. I might be biased by the fact that I believe him to be one of the few good leaders we have on my continent, and definitely, the most consequent leader when it comes to living what you preach. If you don’t know much about Uruguay’s President, know at least that he was a political prisoner for 14 years, that he lives with his wife in a small shabby farm, refused to move to the presidential palace and gives 90% of his monthly salary to charity. You can read more about him here.

I translated his speech because I believe it to be authentic, and a true representation of what Latin Americans are feeling regarding  this issue. Watch the video if you speak Spanish as well.

First, it seems that there are world powers that want to apply a kind of ideological terrorism over the right to asylum, an institution that all fighters of the world’s history defend. In the name of those that have been persecuted and will continue to be persecuted, the right of asylum is sacred and it’s a principle that we must uphold for humanity.

Second, the worst, to be benevolent, they screwed up. They were wrong. I think they ate a screw! I suppose that the intelligence services that sent them to ruins are probably sitting down folding little papers in a dungeon. I suppose so, because this is very embarrassing for the Old Countries, so called Mother countries.

But the worse is that now, they treat us like toddlers. Instead of assuming, with republican humility, that they made a mistake, no one says anything! It seems that Evo was vacationing in Vienna! No one denied him a right, no one did anything. I mean, the answer is almost an infantilism, and I think we, Latin Americans, have a right not to be treated as toddlers.

We are not their sons anymore, we aren’t colonies anymore, we are what we are, we try, and we deserve respect. And when a country, a leader, is abused, we all feel abused in Latin America. So, we ask them, in name of civilization: dignity, dignity and decency.

Being wrong is part of life. Making mistakes is inevitable. When you do, you have to show your face, assume responsibility and say so to the international community. Not take us for idiots. Thank you.

So at the end it isn’t about left and right, it’s about which countries you can bully and which are treated with respect. Do you wonder if this would have been done to a European leader, or a country that could pose a threat to international peace in response to what Bolivia considers an “act of aggression”? Do you wonder if this would have been covered more seriously by the media if that was the case? If Spain, Portugal, France or Italy would be issuing apologies? I do.

When the private becomes public, and we close our eyes at it

4 Jul

£££250PEOPLE-ONLY-Nigella-Lawson-1955474

We have all read about it. Nigella found herself a victim of domestic violence in the eyes of Britain and the world. The horrible event has been covered by the media from different perspectives that all dance around the Achilles’ heel of this particular form of abuse: are we really still categorizing this as a private matter?

Mainstream media in the UK covered the issue and public figures commented on it. The coverage revealed, with some exceptions, that people will bravely stand against domestic violence as long as they are talking about the topic in general, but not about a particular situation, person or woman. More importantly, we repeatedly read how accusing a man who might just have been joking or trying to make a point is surely not something we should rush into. After all: no one knows what really happened, is what people say. And it drives me crazy.

I saw the pictures and have a pretty good idea of what his actions against her were. I don’t know why he did it, but I don’t think it matters. Saatchi described the situation as a “playful tiff” and people seek to believe it: after all, who doesn’t dream about being choked in public by their husband? People just don’t understand humor these days…

Reading and talking about it, I am shocked by the amount of persons that insist they cannot judge the situation from those pictures. Have they really seen them? Unless these were fabricated (which no one, not even Saatchi, has alleged) the situation is pretty clear to me. Yet, these are some of the comments we were lucky to read from UK media and public figures on Nigella’s personal via crusis:

The only way the Saatchi marriage stands a chance is if everyone – including the Metropolitan Police – back off. Sadly, I doubt this is possible.” Said Christine Odone in The Telegraph. This one is so far out there I doubt I need to comment, right? I love the way she refers to the Saatchi marriage as an institution needing rescuing. Do take a look at the article though; you don’t want to miss Odone’s advice for victims of domestic violence: fry a Mars Bar to overcome your marriage crisis”.

Another one that made my day was Nick Griffin MEP’s tweetIf I had the opportunity to squeeze Nigella Lawson, her throat wouldn’t be my first choice”. Vote BNP!

Nick Clegg in a radio broadcast interview refused to comment on the issue because he wasn’t there and he had only seen the photos: “it could have been a fleeting situation”, he said. After all, it’s not violence if it was just this once… right Nick? He later rushed off to condemn domestic violence due to hard criticism, but only once Saatchi had himself gone to the Police and accepted a caution for assault.

Similarly, Greenslade had to issue an apology in The Guardian, as he initially said it was a rushed judgment to call this domestic violence and that the pictures only told part of the story. He made his point stronger by quoting Saatchi’s declaration: “I held Nigella’s neck repeatedly while attempting to emphasise my point… There was no grip, it was a playful tiff.” In his apology Greenslade claims his doubts in condemning the act come from years of friendship with Nigella. With friends like these…

The Independent’s Ellen Jones could think of nothing better than to attack Nigella for lying to us: “Nigella has welcomed us into her home, but not her heart. More so than any other TV chef, she’s selling the illusion of intimacy – and we’re buying it”. Nailed! How dare Nigella not include her most private, difficult problems in her worldwide show!

While other newspapers took a strong stand on calling this abuse, they immediately dwelled on how this will have a catastrophic impact for her career and gave Nigella’s drama a paparazzi style coverage, rather than a serious analysis of a serious issue.

It’s not surprising to see all these comments and excuses stem from similar, old paradigms:

  • Domestic violence is private and no one should say, comment or do anything about it. It’s up to the couple to solve it and intervening is intrusive and unhelpful.
  • If it’s just once, not very hard, happened very fast, or was in any other way “excusable”; then it’s not really domestic violence and we shouldn’t rush to judge.
  • It’s good to condemn domestic violence in abstract and theory. However, when speaking about real people, let alone friends, one shall never comment on, even obvious, situations of violence.

Thankfully I have also read some articles (an exception to this trend, though) and some commentators still have the courage to call this what it was: outright abuse. Suzane Moore reflected on the fact that no one intervened despite later being eager to report on Nigella’s obvious distress. Moore writes: “If a man had his hands round the throat of another man during a meal would the waiters have carried on as normal?” I don’t think they would have…

Readers’ comments and non-traditional news sites have condemned this act: why didn’t any one help her? Erin Ryan for Jezebel has it right: this is NOT a private matter! And it isn’t really, when statistics say that 1 in 4 women will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime, that one incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute and that on average, 2 women a week are killed by a current or former male partner. It’s a complex issue to analyze and a complete picture of the extent and nature of domestic violence in the UK can be found at the British Crime Survey of 2004. However, those numbers are surely enough for us to conclude that it is a matter of public interest.

The issue is not simple: the reason why domestic violence is still affecting societies where gender equality has otherwise improved is the fact that it combines two problems we have a hard time dealing with; gender discrimination and the private sphere dilemma.

Domestic violence is a form of gender discrimination and a violation of human rights. Yet we seek to justify it or find an excuse for every concrete situation we come accross: there must have been something she said to provoke him, we don’t know his side of the story, etc. Saatchi’s ex-wife said he was never violent towards her, so there must be another explanation. We are desperate to find excuses for the powerful, dominant aggressor. He is, after all, the white, rich, male. If he says he was just joking, that surely should appease us all…

Take that and add the fact that we are taught to never intervene in private issues, and you have a perfect formula for the perpetuation of domestic violence. What should it mean, for the average Joe, that domestic violence is a public matter? And here I’m talking about any kind of domestic violence, where men and children can be victims as well.

It should mean that we should all stand against it when encountering it. A male victim of domestic violence said on BBC’s Radio 4 “Woman’s Hour” that the hardest thing for him was how his relatives, friends and neighbors isolated him when it started becoming obvious. They would look away on the street and it made him feel he was alone in it. His situation ended when someone anonymously called the police, but no one ever offered him help or approached his wife.

So all in all, it doesn’t matter if we all saw the fear and tears in Nigella’s eyes, if we saw the series of photographs of him grabbing her neck or pinching her nose like a school bully, or those of her fleeing the restaurant in tears. Let’s not rush to judge, right? Those must have been happy tears, she was still laughing and was surely just in a rush to buy her Mars Bars at Waitrose.

When we think of it, the reasons why we continue to be silent when we hear our neighbor’s walls bang and a crying voice are far beyond gender discrimination issues. We have lost (did we ever have it?) a sense of community and human solidarity. And I’m not talking about spying on your neighbors but about walking away when we know that there is an abusive situation going on. We say nothing when we see a parent hit his child or yell abusively at him on the street, even if we get enraged by it. We choose to walk away because “it’s a private matter”.

What do we fear will happen should we intervene? Embarrassment? Next time we’re confronted with a public act of violence or abuse we should stop and think. What does the person affected fear? Is our fear that important after all?

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