Posts Tagged ‘Geert Wilders’

The Shoehorn

February 11, 2013

Here’s another in an occasional series about a remarkable London journalism-plus-agitprop magazine, for which I once wrote. This time: the United Nations, or: how to shoehorn a pretty good article into the editorial agenda and mangle the result in the process. 

 

If you are a small and poorly-resourced country, you can still wield influence at the United Nations, provided you are focused, united and diligent.

Indeed. I can cite the example of my own country of origin, The Netherlands, tiny but certainly not poorly resourced. Over the past 20-odd years, though, it has substantially dropped the ball on international issues, a perfect reflection of the nation’s newfound obsession with its own navel. It got so bad that one major international magazine (and I think it was The Economist) famously described the Lowlands as “small, pink and irrelevant”. Mind you: that was before the rise of Geert Wilders’ dog and pony show messed up the country’s reputation even further…

The simple truth quoted above was taught by experience and brought home by representatives to the UN from Kenya, Gabon and emerging African heavyweight Angola. But they appear in a story about the UN in this month’s New African, which leads a crusade against a selected few large international organisations. Is there something terribly wrong with the UN?

From the magazine

From the magazine

Where to begin?

It has sclerotic bureaucracies, to start with one of its minor ailments. It is prone to cynical political horse-trading, for instance for the much-hyped Millennium Development Goals. Nobody believed in them and the whole shebang has been quietly dropped since. You can also take a look at the behaviour of various “UN Families” in countries in and around Africa, behaving like wasteful parallel governments that thrive on foreign resources.

And what about the out-of-date Security Council, which is dominated by two powers that still matter (China and the USA) and three ageing former empires (Great Britain, France and Russia)? Can we get rid of The Obsolete Three and replace them with Nigeria, Brazil and India? Thank you.

Early on, the author of the story zooms in on Kofi Annan, the former head of the large Department of Peacekeeping Operations. He went on to become one of the UN’s “most charismatic Secretary Generals, ever.” Fine. But why does she not mention the momentous event that Annan and his Department watched from the sidelines – the Rwanda genocide? There is no shortage of material about it (Samantha Power’s Bystanders to Genocide springs to mind) and it would have told us quite a lot about what is wrong with the UN.

But none of the above qualifies. I can imagine the editor poring over the story and thinking: but why does she not write about…what I asked her to cover? Because, you guessed it, the UN has a major flaw. It is…wait for it…racist. One diplomat – and the only anonymous one in the entire story – pontificates that Africans at the UN are not taken seriously and the only African countries that matter have stuff that the West needs.

AHA! The West! Home to those racist, colonial, slave trading….er, Not Very Nice People. Somehow, this meme had to be woven into the piece. I think the author, having done a decent job, was either sent back to find that quote – or it was made up. Why would this diplomat not want to be named? You don’t put your career on the line with such a quote – not in an organisation where there is a daily shower of all the politically correct buzzings: race, gender,climate change and tolerance, nay: acceptance of the manifold isms in the world. So if he said what was quoted, he has chosen to remain anonymous…out of sheer, ocean-deep embarrassment.

 

This one is rather mild. I am working on a more spectacular one, relating to New African’s hostility to the International Criminal Court. A year ago, that hostility spawned an absolute trainwreck of an article. Coming up at some point in time! 

Four Easy Pieces – 3

December 24, 2012

Early evening, October 4th, 1992. It’s five months after my return from Zimbabwe. Resettlement is not proceeding well. But this evening, all private musings become irrelevant background.

There is a massive accumulation of noise. Sirens, hundreds of them. Police, ambulances, fire brigades.All hurry to a place where apparently something absolutely massive has happened. And so it has. A cargo plane belonging to the Israeli airline El Al has lost two engines, made a last attempt to return to Schiphol Airport and has plummeted to the earth, smashing through a ten storeys high apartment block in Amsterdam’s Southeastern Bijlmer district. Fire, death and destruction. The Bijlmer Disaster, as it became known, leaves 43 people dead – probably more.

The Bijlmer is an area planned and designed in the 1960s to provide modern comfortable housing to city dwellers. It was spectacularly unsuccessful. After all, when left to its own devices, an ideology that seeks to uplift an entire society eventually gets to suffer from hubris. Of this Amsterdam social democratic hubris, the Bijlmer remains a powerful symbol.

The area stood largely empty for years. In the 1970s, it became home to many thousands of Surinamese, who were leaving their newly independent country en masse. It is at least ironic that the Independence of the sole existing Dutch colony on the Latin American mainland had been ordained, post haste, by the most progressive cabinet in Dutch history. And then, in one of those inexplicable historical twists, the Surinamese were joined by the descendants of some of their forebears, whom the Dutch had forcibly moved to Latin America, as slaves, mainly from Ghana. The Bijlmer became the destination of choice for African migrants, with papers or without. At the time of the crash, no-one knew for sure how many people were inside that stricken apartment block.

A few days later, the right-wing national daily De Telegraaf, had a picture on its front page of a long line of people waiting to get a paper that would qualify them for some compensation or other, in the aftermath of the crash. The newspaper, not known for its subtlety, asked its readers to note the faces in the line. Black faces. All pronounced to be illegal inhabitants of the disaster area. This is the precise moment that a well-orchestrated campaign began against immigration, with no end in sight.

And so it finally was back with a vengeance: identity politics, of the wrong kind – but identity politics all the same. After all, “we” had been very busy teaching people the virtues of identity politics – of the right kind, n’est ce pas? This old-but-new identity politics, the one “we” had thought we had kicked out of the house, has grown worryingly large, especially after those other plane crashes, this time deliberate, that destroyed the Twin Towers in New York. Immigrants, asylum seekers and Muslims – more and more groups have begun to qualify for exclusion. That is the central message of Geert Wilders, an abnormally successful populist politician in the Netherlands. What you see here is identity politics coming full circle. Fascism: say hello to feel-good fascism, and there is nothing the latter can do about the former: ideologically, politically, morally.

Is there a way out of this mess? Yes, I think there is. It’s called: back to basics. Final part tomorrow.