QAnon across the pond

By: Conrad Yiridoe

Scott’s article on the QAnon continued presence in Europe was intriguing. The idea that a seemingly American based conspiracy being able to gain some popularity in Europe appears nonsensical at first glance. However, Scott does a great job of explaining that the ambiguity and flexibilities of the QAnon phenomenon are its strength that allows it to maintain a grasp on European affairs. The article goes on to explain that the pandemic has provided solid ground for QAnon to take off in the continent, and I agree with this to an extent. The idea that because of Covid-19, many more people are finding themselves online, plus spending even more time online is a fair argument. However, the idea that just because people are online more, leads to them automatically taking QAnon to heart, I tend to disagree with slightly. More likely, the fact that we are in the midst a major global event that affects many, is more likely a reason for this. Historically, whether it’s with the Brexit affair, the migration crisis of 2015, the economic crisis stemming from the late 2000s, major events in the world tend to be a great breading ground for increasing conspiracy related activity. However, to ignore some of the unique characteristics this pandemic has brought up, would be foolhardy. The ever presence anti-vaccine campaigns have continued as expected. The most interesting concept brought up during the pandemic, has been the lockdowns. Ranging from economic consequences, to the idea of individual freedom infringements, lockdowns have provided further fodder for QAnon to continue.  

The Vox video on some of the conspiracies in Germany provides a great example of a few of these concepts in action. Whether it’s the concerns with the vaccines, or the idea that a few global elites are using the pandemic to control the masses, the pandemic has clearly given different people different things to believe in. Now, given the apparent stalled momentum that Afd have had lately, perhaps this is a sign that the QAnon phenomenon will not be taking on the rapid momentum, at least politically, as has been observed in the US, given the recent election to the House of representatives of a committed QAnon follower.

The masked hypocrisy

By: Conrad Yiridoe

France bans niqab, hijab for Muslims but mandates face masks : Rough  Translation : NPR
A painting of a group of women wearing various headwear plus the a medical mask

One of the most neutral and non combative countries in the world, Switzerland, has joined the list of countries and regions using, to violate a group of people’s rights to choose what to wear. Once again, it is traditional Islamic culture which is the target. It is interesting to note that the vote to ban face coverings has occurred during a pandemic in which face coverings have been exempted, for public (health) safety reasons.

The ban of facial coverings has been a trend in the country for the past few years. Multiple regions (or cantons) had already passed their own versions of “burqa bans” in the past few years, showing the anti-freedom sentiment emendating from this most recent national referendum is not unique. In Switzerland, citizens voting against government opinion in religious topics such as this latest referendum, is not new. In 2009, a vote to ban the building of minarets (Islamic buildings of worship) passed, with 57% approval. The actual number minarets in the country (4) was quite small. Fast forward to 2021, no women in the country even wear the burqa. With the niqab, the number is estimated to be around 30 women for the whole country suggesting the aim of these acts is more anti-Islamic in nature. This joins a growing trend seen across the continent over the past decade, via using the “burqa ban” concept to directly target Islamic groups. Though the vote may suggest a major shift in the right-wing anti-immigration direction, at least historically some argue that this is not the case, to the extent this shift has occurred in other countries. Instead, data suggests that anti-democratic feelings were rejected more strongly by the Swiss, compared with another nations. As well, even the right leaning Swiss People’s Party (party with the most seats in parliament currently) who proposed the 2009 minaret ban, are not as populist as other comparable national parties. The trend seems to be a somewhat mixed in that, antidemocratic sentiments are not okay, but there is always room for add some anti-Islamic sentiment.

It seems fair to guess that this issue may play a significant role globally. In Europe, with national elections occurring in the coming months in major countries such as Germany and France, the role of not just facial coverings, but Islam’s spot in society will come up in different ways. Canada is not exempt from this growing trend either, though for now it appears to be a provincial rather than national issue. In Quebec, the introduction of a law to ban facial coverings in public spaces received a lot of attention, both from supporters as well as critics. This suggests that the right leaning thoughts regarding restricting the rights of certain people to dress as they choose, has found some legal footing to stand on, worldwide.

It seems clear that the fight to resist the introduction of Islamic tradition into “western civilization” has found some legal arguments that appear to be sticking, at least for now. Switzerland has now joined a host of other countries and regions (as noted earlier) who feel it is appropriate to decide what can and cannot be worn. This is especially true when these different forces can use this to target specific people, namely Muslims. From an ethical point of view, this continues to raise interesting questions about who exactly gets to determine levels of individual freedoms. The fact that this decision has taken place during a time when facial coverings specifically are suggested (even required in many places), adds to the idea that maybe these arguments about facial coverings and safety are not as innocent as they are presented. In fact, this very concept is slowly starting to be questioned, and hopefully will continue to shine a light on this hypocrisy.

The Islamic Invasion of Europe?

By Conrad Yiridoe

Ornishi’s brief piece on Renaud Camus’s and his insight on the idea of the great replacement is interesting as well. Unfortunately, the thoughts behind Camus’ viewpoint are not hugely surprising. Camus even admits that “in fact, he acknowledged that his understanding of such people was based mainly on Twitter and Facebook. He said he almost never read newspapers or watched television.” Of course, he is not alone in developing opinions chiefly from social media, nor is he the first person of “influence” to do so. In addition, this is not an argument to state that news media or television sources are more or less reliable in comparison. However, it does provide a timely reminder of the power the new online social media platform provides.

What I find even more intriguing are some of the other quotes from Camus explaining his specific viewpoints on migrants and Muslims. For example, his view that “the immigrants are “colonizing” France by giving birth to more children and making its cities, towns — and even villages — unlivable” does not appear well polished, given that the blame here is directly tied to an increasing birthrate. It also, in a sense is confusing (at least to me), as I would have thought that given his apparent detest for immigration, he would prefer these migrants give birth to their children in the country, instead of allowing them to grow up and learn abroad before then moving in to the country. Hence, allowing said children to learn and be raised in French society. Camus goes on to state that, “they came as conquerors and colonizers, filled with hatred and a desire to punish France. He singled out Muslims for “not wanting to integrate” into French society.” Again, it is interesting to note how Camus is quick to single those moving into the country as apparent “colonizers” who do not wish to ingrain within the country, but then also criticize those that continue to bear children in the country. Whether one agrees or disagrees, the differencing viewpoints are thought-provoking to say the least.

El-Tayeb sums up the ongoing sentiment rather well I feel, by saying ““The framing of Islam not only as a ‘social order’ dictating every aspect of the life of every Muslim, but as an order incompatible with, if not actively opposing, ‘European values’ of tolerance and democracy has been thoroughly mainstreamed.” From these readings, it seems that the focus on instilling a fear of any change that welcoming Islam into certain European states may bring, has become a prevailing political attitude. It also appears as though this attitude will not be going away anytime soon.  

Nouvelle Droite: a brief new way to think of the right

By: Conrad Yiridoe

Through these readings, summarising the central idea of the Nouvelle Droite (ND) movement can be tricky. I think Bar-On noted it best in ‘Transnationalism and the French Nouvelle Droite’ by writing, “…the French ND is neither a political party nor a violent extra-parliamentary outfit. The ND is rather a ‘cultural school of thought’, and a metapolitical movement that originated largely as a synthesis of two ideological currents: the revolutionary right-wing Conservative Revolution (CR), and the New Left.” From this, the theme appears clear that the ND movement was not something that could fit inside a particular political box or another. After the second world war, there was somewhat of a political vacuum.

What was interesting, was the slight contrast of the use of ND in Portugal. Marchi in The Nouvelle Droite in Portugal: a new strategy for the radical right in the transition from authoritarianism to democracy notes that “Portuguese intellectuals seemed to be influenced less by the content and more by the methods of the French ND.” With the enthusiasm of the young students noted in the piece, they really helped to energize and spearhead this new direction in the country.  What I found most interesting in the piece, was the explanation of the extent towards which the sciences played a bigger role than I expected to see in this. Marchi states that “that the radical right had to expand its analysis across all the fields of human knowledge, applying a scientific method and the theoretical contributions of the new sciences. These tools would allow the right to achieve the cultural hegemony previously enjoyed by the extreme left”. From this, the uniqueness of this movement did not stop there. Bar-On notes with regards to the origins of the ND that “it rejected time-honoured pillars of the right: namely, the nation state and nationalism.” The general theme here being that ND was not a simple straight forward ideology, but a combination of different variables.  

Convolution continues in Catalonia: The more things change, the more things remain the same

By: Conrad Yiridoe

A man wearing a mask of the Catalan independence flag

The recent election in Catalonia might finally provide a path forward, but also provides continued confusion and disarray.

In the past few weeks, the Catalan Socialist Party secured an extremely narrow popular vote victory, through equalling the number of elected seats that the Catalan Republic Left (ERC) received (both with 33 seats). Meanwhile, third place Together for Catalonia received 32 seats. Critically, this result means pro-Independence parties have received a majority vote (plus 50%) in parliament now. Another surprise was the far-right Vox party receiving 11 seats. However, as seen in other regions in Europe (AFD party in Germany for example) most other parties have already agreed to distance themselves from working with them.

From this election, Catalonian independence is not the only major issue during this time. Amongst other issues, a destructive unprecedented health care crisis and a struggling economic climate, provide more than enough problems for voters to focus on besides Catalonian independence. Hence, the various parties need to address these factors going forward, and not simply focus only on independence as their sole priority. The apparent failure of the 2017 independence movement as well as these other issues suggest why there were some different results for a few of the parties compared with the 2017 election. Besides the far-right Vox and their improvements as mentioned above, the Citizens party whom in 2017 led in most votes and seats in parliament, suffered a dramatic decrease this past election. Without question, their poorly handled independence issue of 2017 may have played a significant role in this.

A critical issue that also needs to be sorted, is to better understand the public viewpoint on this issue. Turnout has always been lower than one might prefer to see. For example, in the 2014 referendum, turnout was 37%. In the 2017 referendum, this increased slightly yet was still low at 43%. Finally, this latest election turnout of 53% while not directly comparable to the referendums in the past, is still lower than hoped, especially given the 2017 election turnout (79%). Though given the presence of Covid-19, this turnout figure is rather impressive. Though there are obvious differences between referendums and elections, the fact that the independence issue continues to be maintain a higher priority, combined with low turnout, is interesting. Citizens against the pro- independence movement are more likely to abstain from the voting in the referendums. Hence, the over majority support for independence given the average votes counts over the years clearly does not provide the full extent of its actual support amongst all Catalonians. Hence, it is not a huge surprise that there is such disagreement between the different parties over how best to go forward.

In 2017, with the referendum carried out by the Catalan government in the region kicked off arguably the biggest political discord in decades for Catalonia and Spain. It escalated to the point, that the Spanish government stepped in with unprecedented measures, such as dissolving the current (at the time) Catalan government. The full extent of the crisis at the time is beyond the scope of this piece. However, the point remains that this rather disorganised and overly ambitious attempt did not start off with the most solid foundation possible. With even the EU essentially siding with the Spanish government, the Catalonian government officials might have been more successful with a more patient response that crucially, had the backing of more significant figures.

Currently, this issue is certainly not going to go away, and this recent election confirms this fact.  The newly elected anticipated pro-independence coalition appears to be taking a softer more nuanced stance than was previously taken. The willingness to come to the table to negotiate, rather declare their sovereignty point blank without any actual feasible plan to put it into action is a potential sign of a way forward. This more careful approach will hopefully provide a path for the newly elected Catalonian government to achieve their aims.

Nazism and the importance of remembrance

By: Conrad Yiridoe

Smith’s article provides multiple interesting points regarding the preservation of a historical event, in this case being the Holocaust. As, well, it provides an intriguing look at what some motivations that may have been present, for Germans to remember and acknowledge the historical events and the toll they took, in such a public way. The author notes for example that “In my investigations, I rarely read of local activists—those school teachers, archivists, and retirees—who mention being inspired by the miniseries (though some invoke the trials).” Rather, there were factors, often times based out of a local grassroots effort (rather than national governmental) level that provided the motivation to ensure that the harsh lessons of the war, were not forgotten.

The role that Jewish survivors played is that much more impressive given that Smith notes that “ there were not many Jews like the Spiegels who came back to make their homes in the very towns where locals had jeered and howled with approval when the Nazis destroyed and desecrated synagogues.” In fact, “it was precisely when returning Jews gathered the courage to complain about the state of the cemetery in their home town, or to ask why there was no plaque or sign stating what had occurred during Kristallnacht, that something began to move among local people”. This appears to suggest that the impetus seems to have been on Jewish survivors and their families, rather than the Germans (whom in many cases were the perpetrators during that era) to get something done. Over time however, it is described that multiple towns across the country organised “visitor weeks” to invite Jewish people from around the world, which I feel was an important act in order to establish a sense of closure and proper appreciation for what had occurred.

In conclusion, there are some words from the Smith article which perhaps provide a roadmap for achieving some sort of reconciliation and understanding with these difficult topics. Here, Smith says “There are many lessons—local, national, and transnational—that we could learn from this German-Jewish story: the importance of community work, the necessity of reaching across divides, and the crucial role that local schoolteachers, archivists, retirees, hobby historians, and preservationists may well play in the great transformations of a nation’s memory.” One could see this roadmap could be applied not only just to the historical event which inspired this article, but also many other historical events of the past which inspire high emotion and grievance, in order to set a path towards mutual understanding and acceptance.

Challenging female assumption in the eyes of fascist and right leaning movements

By: Conrad Yiridoe

The clearest and most obvious theme to me based from a couple readings this week, stems from the lack of true appreciation of the important roles that women played historically. This lack of understanding is not even fully understood as even multiple authors admit we do not actually understand the full extent to which women were involved in various events through out history. For example, with Lopez and Sanchez’s take on female force in the Spanish civil war, they admit early on the rather obvious fact that historians have significantly neglected the important and critical role that women played during the war.

As well, the extent towards how underrated women were in this period is (in my opinion) well articulated by the authors for example when they note that  the “efficiency of the female-only network of Madrid, which withstood the repression carried out by the Sim, contrasts with the vulnerability of the briefly described, mostly male-controlled, networks in Barcelona, Valencia or Alicante. They were more easily penetrated by Republican counter-intelligence.” Amongst the numerous examples detailed in the article, it appears rather obvious that women played a far more important and significant role in the war, which contrasts with the rather traditionally conservative feminist role that propaganda emanating from that time period would suggest. For example, it is noted that “Nationalist women were supposed to have supported both established social and gender traditions, having collaborated in the war effort without transgressing these roles. During the dictatorship, this was the official truth.”

Another major theme that stuck out to me through all the readings, is the confusion surrounding the idea of women’s involvement in areas that may not have been seen as “traditional”. A modern example of this struggle is described by Chrisafis, Connolly and Giuffrida in their article “ From Le Pen to Alice Weidel: how the European far-right set its sights on women” which dived into the concept of women increasingly moving towards political groups that in the past (as well as now) have roots in opposing “ traditionally feministic” ideologies. What I appreciated with the article, is how the investigation though centered in Europe, avoid the appeal of focusing solely on arguably the most prominent example in Marine Le Pen of France. As well, by describing other examples such as Meloni (in Italy) and Hermannsson (Sweden), the authors convey a sense of scale with how dramatic this movement appears to be growing. It is also interesting to observe that the authors note why these individuals in a sense appear to support these parties for similar reasons as their male counterparts, despite significantly lower numbers in the party compared to their male counterparts. For example, immigration, appears to be a galvanising idea for these party supporters, which is not completely surprising given the continent’s continued and recent brushes with migratory issues (such as back in 2015 with the Syria refugee crisis).

In conclusion, an interesting question raised from this article/situation may be; to what extent that not prioritising “traditionally observed feministic” ideas and instead focusing on other mainstream concepts such as immigration and Islam, will continue to be seen as a winning strategy for increasing larger support amongst women, going forward.

The European Union during Covid-19: overpromising, yet under-delivering

By Conrad Yiridoe

Image result for von der leyen
EU Commission President Ursyla von der Leyen

The EU is right to protect all of its citizens during the Covid-19 pandemic by negotiating for vaccinations for all 27 member states. However, they need to tread much more carefully and pragmatically to avoid further avoidable issues. Multiple mistakes continue to hamper their best efforts, and the latest situation with their various negotiations will continue to make matters even harder going forward and break the faith in the organisation of the EU, not only during Covid-19 but also in the future when other major events come up.

The mistakes the EU has committed during this pandemic have (so far) peaked with the disastrous declaration of Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol, followed by the abrupt retraction of the declaration causing significant criticism and confusion, across the continent. With Article 16, the EU essentially attempted to control how much vaccine could be exported from the EU region. This situation follows the EU’s continued embarrassment with the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, in which Oxford-AstraZeneca confirmed to the EU that a reduction of up to 60%  from the original number of vaccine doses would be supplied as a result of production issues at two plants in Belgium and the Netherlands. This is despite the insistence from the companies that there would be no issues with the vaccine supply chain.

This is not the first major issue that the EU has been involved in where the idea of keeping things in house, rather than to focus on sharing supplies globally. In 2019, the debate over the export ban of masks and other PPE from EU countries, which Germany and France were strongly in favour of last year. Though not the same, the similarities between this and the protectionist in-chief former American president Donald Trump and his attempts to block the export of 3M masks in the same year.

Another serious situation that the EU struggled to manage was during the migration crisis of 2015.  Despite having experiences in the past with having to manage a large number of migrants (though not quite to the scale in this crisis), there were still significant issues associated with attempting to house them.  In this case, it was Germany whom eventually took the lead by continuing to keep the doors open to a significant number of migrants to be able to enter the country, at a time when many other EU nations were instead closing their borders for a variety of different reasons, from xenophobia to simple lack of resources. The point here being that at a time when the EU should have been realistic in their efforts to provide aid and support, they ultimately were not able to cope without significant internal squabbling and disagreement amongst their members. The EU over promised on how many migrants could be safely housed in the union, then under delivered when multiple EU countries declined to take in the higher numbers that the EU wanted. This lack of cohesion amongst EU countries has also been see during the last major health global crisis, Ebola, where some of the lessons learned during the crisis have not been fully utilised during this current pandemic.

It is clear that the EU is battling to maintain the fine line of protecting their citizens and ensuring optimal vaccination supplies for all member states, whilst also trying to maintain the appearance of a lack of protectionism in order to ensure a fair supply to all countries worldwide. There have been a number of missteps along this path already (the biggest so far unquestionably being the recent declaration and retraction of Article 16). The EU have dealt with major situations in the past and they will continue to do so in the future, although the path forward will not be without significant hiccups and obstacles. Though steps have been made to apologise and move on from this issue, the ability of the EU to manage this unprecedented global crisis will depend on their ability to maintain composure and work efficiently in a way that is accountable both to their member states as well as to the whole world.

Gender ideology and sexuality in a new light

By Conrad Yiridoe

Out of the readings assigned this week, the piece by Paternotte and Kuhar (Disentangling and Locating the “Global Right”: Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe) stood out to me personally. It provided a quality prospective on a viewpoint, that can easily be extrapolated to other concepts and ideologies. Here, the authors paint an interesting picture which I feel was summarised perfectly right in the abstract when they explain that “we plead for a more complex understanding of the ways in which distinct—and sometimes competing projects can converge in specific settings”. In this piece, the authors not only dissect how the relation between “right wing populism” and “gender ideology” , but also dive into how the concept of the “Global Right Wing” appears to be glossed over as a rather straight forward ideology rather than being unwrapped and fully examined.

Specifically, what I appreciated from the authors was that they were able to dive deeper into the roots of both campaigns and explain their different roots, despite their seemingly similar end goals. In this way, by understanding the nuanced differences present in the unique forms of right-wing populism, one can perhaps be better prepared to cope with it. An excellent example of this comes from the authors’ point on how “right-wing populists do not necessarily oppose gender and sexual equality” and hence “some actors labeled as right-wing populists have increasingly endorsed women’s and LGBT rights”, which hence means that one may not be able to directly state that all right-wing supporters are anti-LGBT, which for me was a new a different way at approaching the subject. As a result, I wonder to what extent this notion of perceiving other broad concepts as straight forward and hence ignoring refusing to dive deeper into investigating potential differences (in some cases rather significant ones) may prevent us from fully appreciating the nuances of a particular group or idea and therefore be able to manage them appropriately.

Moving on, with Healey’s (“Forging Gulag Sexualities: Penal Homosexuality and the Reform of the Gulag after Stalin) piece, it was interesting to read about how the state at the time see homosexuality particularly with women as permissible given the fact that they “tolerated these queer collectivities because they kept order and assured a stable level of productivity”.  In addition, it is noted how “the authorities ignored or even indulged queer relations in many camps”, as it appeared to be useful to some extent to for the state to allow it. Here it is explained that “queer relations did not disrupt the Gulag economic model as drastically as heterosexual relations did”, which is not something that I would have expected in that time.

In conclusion, the readings this week serve to provide multiple examples of how sexuality and gender ideology can be thought of in different ways in order to achieve certain political aims.

Even Fascists need some vacation time

Conrad Yiridoe

With this week’s reading, the focus mainly on fascism though the emphasis on the “less popular” Spanish regime vs. the more well known Germany regime was interesting and engaging to contrast. With regards to both countries, it was surprising to discover how deep the concept of vacation and tourism was present as a strategy from both regimes to continue to strengthen their reign via public support, via engaging as many as they could. In Crumbaugh’s take (in Prosperity and Freedom under Franco The Grand Invention of Tourism), they start off by describing a film which serves to summarise the regime’s overall goal in an entertaining way. By showing how two “commoners” were able to make their way through the system in order to achieve success through the inspiration of establishing an enjoyable tourist attraction (by the help of the Spanish government of course) was a charming way with which to spin what was by no question an attempt at strengthening the regime’s undemocratic hold on the country. The pride with which not only the two characters in the film, but a significant amount of the population had in general towards their booming economy, spearheaded by this touristic focus, can perhaps be best described by the fact that “they could now play a leading role in the administering and marketing of something understood as “Spanish culture. In other words, the spectacle of tourism effectively enjoined people to being to govern themselves and others.” To me, this speaks of a success of sorts by Franco and his regime to inject a significant amount of nationalistic pride into the population in a rather nuanced manner.

As well, based on the short film by Vox, they were able to demonstrate quite candidly to what extent the lust for a return of the previous fascist time continues even today, quite unabashedly.  The aspect that surprised me the most, was the degree to which this “Spanish fascism” preference is not simply kept within borders, but continues to attract a number of persons from the international scene (with the Dutch man being interviewed doing a excellent job of conveying his adoration for Franco and the regime).

This incredible swelling of pride over the vacationing was also explained in Germany (with Baranowski’s longer piece), though the portions of the chapter dedicated to the perceptions of women were surprising and disappointing to say the least. The seemingly hypocritical approach of the various agents when describing the women as borderline traitors to the state was sickening with quotes such as “whether tactlessly chatting with foreigners without regard for national security, flirting with their male hosts or succumbing outright to sexual temptation, especially after abandoning all propriety to alcohol, the brazenness and witlessness of women endangered the racial community.”  It also wasn’t as present to the same extent in Crumbaugh’s description of Spain as well, which was surprising.