Category Archives: Current Affairs

Terror In France

terror

Terror In France –
The Rise Of Jihad In The West
By Giles Kepel
Princeton University Press – £24.00

”On Friday, November 13, 2015, a group of killers connected with the Islamic State in Iraq spilled blood in Paris. This massacre came hardly ten months after the tragedies  that took place on January 7-9 at the offices of Charlie Hebdo and at a kosher supermarket at the Porte de Vincennes. In response, the hashtag #jesuisparis (I am Paris) proliferated over social media, just as #jesuischarlie (I am Charlie) had done at the beginning of the same year, and an immense movement of solidarity arose              around the world. Monuments were illuminated with the colours of the French flag,        and ‘The Marseillaise,’ remixed, was sung from America to Australia.”

                                                  ‘Paris, Saint-Denis, Friday, November 13, 2015’

I remember all of the above very well; even the then US President, Barack Obama and the actor George Clooney came out in very visible support of what was happening in Paris. This partially explains why one can read this altogether unsettling book and come away feeling many things: disturbed, upset, (un)convinced, somewhat enlightened or highly frustrated. Or perhaps a mixture of all of these feelings.

Whatever the case, there’s no denying the sheer amount of scholarly integrity that has gone into its publication. For Terror In France – The Rise Of Jihad In The West is both precise and concise, not to mention written in such a reportagesque kind of way, that one cannot help but come away feeling just a little more secure in the knowledge of having been (wholly) alerted.

Alerted to what the hell has been going on in France in recent years.
Or, as the author of the Isis Apocalypse, William McCants has since written: ”The doyen of Jihadist studies has not only penned a masterful study of recent Islamist violence in France that is meticulous in its detail, comprehensive in its scope, and stimulating in its analysis; he’s written a blinking-red warning to his countrymen and fellow Europeans not to overact to the provocations of an enemy that seeks to turn them against one another.”

Suffice to say, this is so much easier said than done, as recent events within the wider European social context have clearly shown. And while these 198 pages (excluding Preface to the English Edition, Paris, Saint-Denis, Friday, November 13, 2015, Acknowledgements, Chronology of Events, Key People and Organizations and Index) illustrate the degree to which home-grown terrorism is a nigh self-perpetuating, kaleidoscopic problem, it does nevertheless, home in on certain, fundamental key issues.

Secularism for instance, where, quoting the then Minister of National Education in Le Journal du dimanche, Vincent Peillon, Kepel writes: ”the goal of secular morals is to allow each student’s self-emancipation, because secularism’s starting point is the absolute respect for freedom of conscience. To allow for freedom of choice, we have to be able to detach the student from all kinds of determinism, whether familial, ethnic, social, or intellectual, in order afterward to make a choice” (‘Secularism as an Irritant, The Reversals of the Muslim Vote’).

Given the inflammatory subject matter, I personally found Terror In France – The Rise Of Jihad In The West to be a wholly trustworthy, very readable read. There again, it has been something of a sensational bestseller in France – regardless of the fact that it is rather stark in nature.

Even the cover, with its harsh, block white lettering on a fierce black background, may be construed as being a little jagged. But if anything, it’s the opposite: well written and idiosyncratically informative.

David Marx

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The Extreme Gone Mainstream

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The Extreme Gone Mainstream –
Commercialization & The Far Right Youth Culture In Germany
By Cynthia Miller-Idriss
Princeton University Press – £24.00

          Nazis don’t look like Nazis anymore.

               Justin, seventeen year-old carpentry apprentice
               (‘Branding Identity’)

          Mi Casa is not your fucking Casa.

              2016 T-shirt from the Erik and Sons collection
              (‘Global Symbols, Local Bans’)

It really is disconcerting to ascertain, let alone fully comprehend that this book is so uncomfortably and uncontrollably pertinent to what is currently going on within certain sections of western society.
The US for instance, which is referenced throughout.
Although, as its secondary title confirms, these 214 pages (excluding List of Organizational Acronyms, Archival Sources, Preface and Acknowledgements and Index) essentially focus on current day German society.

What with recent deplorable events which took place in the former East German city of Chemnitz, and with more predicted, this book couldn’t be more jaggedly acute, even if its authoress, Cynthia Miller-Idriss, tried her utmost.

Each of the six chapters (the latter three with such pernicious titles as ‘Dying For A Cause, Causing Death,’ ‘Global Symbols, Local Bans’ and Soldier, Sailor, Rebel, Rule Breaker’) wholly tackle and elaborate upon the degree to which many young Germans openly embrace Nazi ideology.

Indeed, as evidenced at Chemnitz just under a fortnight ago – where mobs of young German youths were openly filmed and photographed sieg heiling the police (an act which has throughout Germany, been outlawed and strenuously banned for years) – The Extreme Gone Mainstream – Commercialization & The Far Right Youth Culture In Germany, powerfully addresses that which could be construed as being the fervent kernel of hatred.

As such is wholeheartedly substantiated by the mere fact that Miller-Idriss immediately underlines as much, very early on, when she writes: ”Some of the images and comments I discuss in the following book are disturbing and offensive. It wasn’t always easy to look at them, nor to hear the anger and vitriol that some youth communicated when they talked about Muslims, migrants, and others […]. More importantly, the hardest words to listen to are, I believe, the most important ones. It is my strongest belief that we need to understand as much as possible how young people are thinking in order to develop effective strategies to address this kind of hatred.”

The final word, ‘hatred,’ is of course, fundamental here.
Hatred is after all, very powerful.
And very negative.
Although one really does need to ascertain where it comes from; which, in the utmost cold light of day, is either our parents, our politicians, or the media. Or, as is quite often the case, a combination of all three.

One need look no further than Donald Trump – who is the unquestionable, absolute pristine epitome of all three.

As the singer/songwriter Billy Bragg once said: ”So join the struggle while you may/The revolution is just a T-shirt away.” which, to all intents and unfortunate purposes, The Extreme Gone Mainstream surely clarifies. Unfortunate, not because of what Bragg happened to state, but because, as is often the case, so much of today’s youth are fully embracing that which they are (sometimes subliminally) force fed via populist, tyrannical, scapegoatism.
By the harrowing likes of the aforementioned Trump for instance.

One need only dip into a mere few pages of this overtly enlightening, and rather excellent book, to ascertain as much.

David Marx

Us Vs Them: The Failure of Globalisation

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Us Vs Them: The Failure of Globalisation
By Ian Bremmer
Portfolio Penguin – £14.99

Add the migrant crisis that brought the largest influx of homeless people since World War II, many of them Muslims fleeing violence in the Middle East and North Africa, and Europeans begin to feel much less secure about the future of their nations. Recent terrorist attacks, many like those in Paris (2015), Brussels (2016), and Manchester (2017) carried out by Muslims born inside Europe, have added accelerant to the political fire.

                                                                       (‘Winners and Losers’)

For as long as there are the likes of Venezuela’s Chavez, Turkey’s Erdogan and America’s Trump shouting that their utterly vile, nonsensical rhetoric from the rooftops of so-called protectionist populism, there will always be an abundance of uninformed people, readily prepared to believe them.

As we have clearly seen in the case of Venezuela, Chavez triggered disastrous economic effects, while so far as Turkey is concerned, Erdogan hasn’t so much as inaugurated an economic disaster, but more of a highly contentious and inflammatory, nationalistic one.
Whereas the US; well what more is there to say?
The country appears to be in the grip of spinning out of control – so well done Donald.

In all three instances, globalisation has played an ever increasing part, which is what accounts for this recent book by Ian Bremmer (whose previous publications include The J Curve, Every Nation for Itself, The End of the Free Market and Superpower) being so pertinent – and as a slight reason thereof: totally readable and totally convincing.

Right from the very outset of the Introduction to Us Vs Them: The Failure of Globalisation, Bremmer’s language and example(s) nigh immediately entice the draw reader to continue reading:

”Why do Palestinians throw rocks? To attract attention? To improve their lives? To make progress toward creation of a Palestinian state? They throw rocks because they want others to see that they’ve had enough, that they can’t be ignored, and that they can break things. Voting isn’t helping them. Outsiders don’t care. Where are the opportunities to bring about change? There is nothing left but to throw rocks.

In that sense, there will soon be Palestinians all over the world. Workers everywhere fear lost jobs and wages as a shifting global economy and technological change leave them behind. Citizens fear surging waves of strangers who alter the face and voice of the country they know. They fear terrorists and criminals who kill for reasons no one can understand. They fear that government cannot or will not protect them. Gripped by anxiety, they get angry. To make themselves seen, heard, and felt, they start to throw rocks.”

The recent upsurge in (predominantly European) fear and anxiety, is herein put into context immediately. There’s no beating about the bush, no diversionary explanation; nor, as Malcolm X oft used to say: no flim-flam. Which all in all, accounts for Us Vs Them: The Failure of Globalisation being a most absorbing read.

David Marx

Developing England’s North

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Developing England’s North –
The Political Economy of the Northern Powerhouse
Edited by Craig Berry & Arianna Giovannini
Palgrave Macmillan – £92.00

The whole deal with developing England’s North ought to be just as deeply and as equally entrenched within the staid stasis of attitude, as it is within the all to considered sphere of finance and economics. But it isn’t; which, given much of the mire in which the North invariably finds itself, is a mighty big shame.
If not an inexorable problem.

Reason being, in the so-called futuristic, (B-I-G) scheme of all things progressive, one of the most fundamental issues which ultimately holds the North back, is the North itself.
By which I mean, its devout desire to assert it’s very ‘Northerness.’
If you’ve ever spent time in Yorkshire, you’ll know what I mean.
If you haven’t, let me put it this way: Yorkshire prides itself on it’s idiosyncratic stubborness – plain and exceedingly simple.
Regardless of issue.
Regardless of what’s at stake.
Regardless of anything ‘other.’

This essentially explains why most of the North, along with Cornwall and vast swathes of South Wales, voted for Brexit; despite the fact that Brussels has been keeping much of these deprived areas financially afloat for years.
Talk about biting the hand that feeds you, but that’s Yorkshire for you.
Along with most of the North.

This partially explains the background behind a lot of Developing England’s North – The Political Economy of the Northern Powerhouse, as the editors Craig Berry and Arianna Giovannini make abundantly clear at the outset: ‘Brexit’ – the UK’s decision, in the referendum of 23 June 2016, to withdraw from the European Union – looms large over the book’s content. Like the UK in general, most parts of the North are highly integrated with, and as such dependent upon, at least in the short-term, the wider European economy. More generally, the EU’s political and economic structures and processes are in an integral dimension of the (evolving) political economy of the North. Interestingly, the areas of the UK (including large parts of the North) where jobs and production are most dependent on European economic integration (and indeed EU investment) are those that voted most strongly to leave […].”

Therein, I’d have like to have read a little more about the North from as much of an ideological perspective, than that which the book’s secondary title suggests. As again, the area’s social attitudes, wants, needs and desires, will continue to play just as big a part within the realm of The Political Economy of the Northern Powerhouse than is generally given credit.
Or realised.
Perhaps even more in fact, as the subliminal trajectory thereof is huge.

Might this be just one reason why it is never ever, truly confronted?
Might this go some way in explaining ”the fact that the Northern Powerhouse as a specific discursive ploy appears to have been marginalised within Theresa May’s government?”

Compartmentalised into three specific sections (‘Economic Policy and the Political Economy of Northern Development,’ ‘Place, City-Regional Governance and Local Politics’ and ‘Inequality and Austerity in the Northern Powerhouse Agenda’), all the fine contributors to this book have done a most magnificent job within the economic area(s) of their own committed fields. But with possible exception of Chapter Ten’s ‘Regionalisation and Civil Society in a Time of Austerity: The Cases of Manchester and Sheffield’ by David Beel, Martin Jones and Ian Rees Jones, far too much of Developing England’s North is far too entrenched within a myopic quagmire of it’s own linear design.

David Marx

The Germany Illusion

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The Germany Illusion –
Between Economic Euphoria and Despair
By Marcel Fratzscher
Oxford University Press – £25.49

Merkel’s declaration ”Wir schaffen das” is likely to be the sentence that defines her chancellorship historically. Her mindset and attitude became even clearer in fall 2015, when under attack from German critics who wanted her to be much tougher in rhetoric and action, she stated, ”if we now have to start excusing ourselves for showing a friendly face in an emergency situation, then this is not my country.”

     ‘The Refugee Crisis’

What I rather like about this book is the fact that it traverses a number of very pertinent issues facing today’s Germany.

As Marcel Fratzscher makes clear in the Introduction: ”In particular, I focus on the roles of economic and social issues, where they have succeeded and where they have failed. I highlight Germany’s impressive economic successes, but I also try to puncture some of the myths about Germany’s economic might and identify the key economic and social challenges for Germany in the years ahead.”

To be sure, Fratzscher succeeds in most coherently doing just that throughout, even if on occasion, he does occasionally fall into a staid trap of slight repetition. There again, given some of the dry density of the subject matter, this is understandable.

Admittedly, not the most inspired title in the world, The Germany Illusion, does nevertheless, shed an abundance of new light on the much mis-perceived perception of Germany being the so-called economic powerhouse of Europe. Hence the secondary title, Between Economic Euphoria and Despair, upon which the author further deliberates: ”The central argument of the book is that Germany suffers from two illusions. The first is the perception that Germany’s economic policy is impeccable and that the future for Germany is bright – thanks to its strong industrial base, its successful export sectors, and its flexible economy […]. The second illusion is the widespread belief in Germany that what is good for Europe is bad for Germany. This illusion is shared by many other European nations, where bashing Europe, the euro, and EU institutions has become a popular sport.”

So popular in fact, that the deplorable rise in populism has nigh taken over the whole shebang of Europe’s questionably faltering future. One need only surmise the disastrous fork-in-the-road that the United Kingdom has chosen to take with Brexit; not to mention Le Pen in France and the most hideous rise of populism in such countries as Hungary and Turkey. The latter especially, which really is responsible for some of the most fraught, economic repercussions throughout Germany as a whole. Berlin in particular.

Perhaps all the more reason to come to terms with the German illusion.

Let’s face it: what economically effects Germany today, will fundamentally effect the rest of Europe tomorrow. Something Fratzscher endeavours to clarify throughout these 183 pages, as substantiated by Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator with The Financial Times: Marcel Fratzscher has written a book that is both excellent and important. It provides an analytically-balanced and historically-informed account of the remarkable strengths and significant weaknesses of the German economy. But it is also an effective plea for Germany to abandon resentments and play the role it alone can play, in leading Europe on the essential path of reform and revitalization.”

Essentially written with succinct, clear clarity by someone who obviously knows (as well as cares about) their stuff, The Germany Illusion – Between Economic Euphoria and Despair, is as Wolf has said, an important book.

The probable outcome of which, will, to some degree or another, effect us all.

David Marx

The Presidency of Barack Obama

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The Presidency of Barack Obama –
A First Historical Assessment
Edited by Julian E. Zelizer
Princeton University Press – £20.00

Obstructionism tended to hurt liberals more than the right.

     Julian E. Zelizer
     (‘Tea Partied – President Obama’s Encounters with the
     Conservative-Industrial Complex’)

America’s system of mass incarceration provides BLM (Black Lives Matter) activists with their most compelling evidence of contemporary racism in all of it’s tragically panoramic glory. The fact that this system continued to thrive under a two-term African American president is one of the great ironies of our time.

     Paniel E. Joseph
     (‘Barack Obama and the Movement for Black Lives – Race, Democracy, and Criminal           Justice in the Age of Ferguson’)

There might admittedly be something to be said for Joan Walsh’s comment: ”This book captures the paradox of Barack Obama’s presidency better than any so far: Conventional wisdom aside, Obama was a better policy maker than a politician.”

Equally, there might also be something to be said for she who penned What’s The Matter With White People? having surely missed one fundamental point: it was the very acute acumen within the sphere of Barack Obama’s policy making, that enabled the former President to become President to begin with. Not to mention having set, as well as left the presidential bar so morally high, that it will no doubt take a number of high-reaching, soul-searching, ethically astute induced politicians to come anywhere near as close.

And what with the current American President being so utterly and morally bankrupt, he doesn’t even warrant comparing, let alone mentioning – other than to perhaps mention that it’s surely only a matter of time before Donald Trump will be reprimanded and globally invited to attend the International Court of Human Rights and Justice at The Hague in The Netherlands.

Moreover, what accounts for these seventeen chapters being so invitingly readable – the second of the above opening quotes from chapter nine being a good example – is the degree to which the reader is so readily drawn into the clarity and the persuasion of The Presidency of Barack Obama – A First Historical Assessment.

Indeed, to refer to these knowingly engaging, 279 pages (excluding Acknowledgements, Timeline, Notes, List of Contributors and Index) as thought provoking, might be construed as substantiating the obvious. As such, a continuation of the aforementioned quote from Paniel E. Joseph’s chapter nine (‘Barack Obama and the Movement for Black Lives – Race, Democracy, and Criminal Justice in the Age of Ferguson’), does go some way in honestly reflecting this book’s rather inflammatory anchor: ”Black Lives Matter activists, although no less inspired than the president, interpret the movement as exemplifying the destructive power of state-sanctioned violence, racial oppression, and economic injustice. The movement’s most radical edges were surveilled, harassed, imprisoned, even killed at the hands of white vigilantes working in concert with local, state, and federal authorities, with the FBI being the most well known offenders but far from the only ones. The continued persistence of racial segregation in neighbourhoods and public schools, high rates of black unemployment, and continued assaults on voting rights by no less than the Supreme Court of the United States underscores the rank hypocrisy of a nation that annually celebrates a King holiday and Black History Month.”

Likewise, the following from Julian E. Zelizer’s altogether brazen Introduction: ”Few Republicans were willing to buck the party line. When the president repeatedly reached out to Republicans to support him on pressing legislation such as the economic stimulus package and financial regulation, both of which seemed to command strong popular support in the middle of a severe economic meltdown that had depleted the nation’s wealth and left millions unemployed, most Republicans refused to go along with any deal. And even though much of his response to the financial crisis built on the policies of President Bush, including the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP, which Eric Rauchway calls the ”Bush-Obama financial rescue program”), many Republicans acted as if Obama were virtually a socialist.”

The Presidency of Barack Obama is a most stimulating and refreshing read. As The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb has so succinctly put it: ”The essays in this volume are among the most nuanced, thorough, and incisive perspectives we’ve yet seen regarding the complex, contradictory, and besieged tenure of the first black president.”

Besieged being the most unfortunate, yet operative word.

David Marx

 

The Long Hangover

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The Long Hangover –
Putin’s New Russia and The Ghosts of The Past
By Shaun Walker
Oxford University Press – £20.00

Evgeny had been invited to Red Square for the parade and planned to attend; he liked the fact that 9 May was still celebrated. But although he enjoyed wearing his army jacket, festooned with medals, and he took understandable pride in being part of the victory, his bearing and tone were very different to the official propaganda. He spoke of the war as a terrible, not a glorious, experience: of loss and violence and unspeakable imagery. I doubt he would have wanted to dress his great-grandchildren up in Red Army uniforms, as if for a party.

We don’t need blind patriotism. We need the truth!

If you really want to know the truth about modern day, Vladimir Putin’s Russia, then read this overtly courageous and compelling book.

Written by Shaun Walker, The Guardian’s Correspondent in Moscow (and previous Correspondent for The Independent), The Long Hangover – Putin’s New Russia and The Ghosts of The Past, does, as its title might suggest, address both the past and the current. Or, to be a little more blatant, the good, the bad and the ugly; in which all three, the biggest and without any shadow of a doubt, one of the most captivating countries on the planet is deeply mired.

Thorough, to the point, occasionally melancholic, yet exceedingly readable, Walker has herein captured all the inflammatory essence of modern day Russia, by way of re-telling what ought to have been told many, many years ago.

Furthermore, a lot of the said telling is more than humanistic, if not quintessentially regal in its execution. This is directly due to The Long Hangover being wholeheartedly anchored within a sphere of real people. Ordinary people.

Quite often, extraordinary people, of which the following excerpt from the conclusion of chapter two’s ‘The Sacred War,’ is a most pertinent example: ”Evgeny’s lines were well rehearsed. He rattled off figures and dates with the precision of someone who had told his story a thousand times before. If I had returned a month later, I suspect he would have repeated the same sentences almost verbatim, in the way that distant memories coagulate into set monologues. And yet, despite that, the old man’s voice became rasping and he would gulp for air, as if he had surprised himself by the emotions the stories still raised, seventy years and hundreds of tellings later.”

Indeed, there are many occasions where one has to simply put this book down – and reflect upon what one has just read.

Be it Walker’s account of the entire Kamlyk people being deported en masse in 1943 (”People think only dogs can sense this kind of thing, but the livestock also knew something bad was happening. It was such chaos, such a terrible, terrible scene. The dogs ran after the trucks as we drove away, howling like mad. I’ll never forget that scene”), or recounting the words of former President Yeltsin – and now Putin’s – Chief of Staff: ‘I was delighted that the end of Communism had come about. But the Soviet Union was my homeland. That was different. How can you be happy about your homeland collapsing?”

In the words of Peter Pomerantsev (author of Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible): ”in this skilful and vivid book, Shaun Walker allows us to understand the region’s current affairs through ordinary and extraordinary people’s experience of an un-dealt with past.”

As a further caveat, I’d also like to add that The Long Hangover may well be the best book I’ve read on modern-day Russia in years.

David Marx