Western norms and values

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Heavy times in Europe right now. Everybody was shocked when the first boat sank. But now, when we have to share our land, we are not that shocked anymore. Sinking boats are something from daily life. Suddenly we have to share our little country with another nation, with another culture and another religion. Nobody ever said it should be easy.

When I was little I was taught not to burp at the table. Always to look people straight in the eyes, to have respect for everyone and every culture I was with. These are norms, with the value to respect everyone. In Europe a big discussion is going on right now: do we have the duty to welcome these people? Even though they stick to another culture, another religion?

A few famous, populistic, politicians say we have to overthink our own Western Norms and Values and protect them first, instead of just taking everyone. Even though they see norms and values, which are normal to us, in another way. So, my question, what are these norms and values exactly?

Je suis Charlie. Paris 7th of January 2015. Two men in black suits shot cartoonists. Cartoons emerged afterwards: cartoons from ‘western people’ with duck-tape stuck to their mouths. It seems so important to us: our freedom of expression. We have this famous politician in Holland: Geert Wilders. He is repeatedly accused for insulting remarks/expressions against Muslims. His expressions and speeches are banal and heavy, and many people wonder why he has so many followers. It is because of this, we all had the same feeling when the cartoonist got killed: our freedom of expression is in danger. ‘We have fought for it through history’. I think this is an important value in Holland, so it is in Europe. People get angry when they feel they cannot say what they want, even though it is hurting other humans. Right now, in Poland the government decided to lead the state television, which means they can control when and what people say on television. According the rules from the EU-membership this is forbidden. But with another crisis to carry, the EU doesn’t pay that much attention to this problem. Even though it imparks the Polish citizens’ freedom of expression.

New Year’s Eve. Cologne 1th of January 2016. Sexual harassment is a big issue and was put on the spotlights after the incidents in Cologne on New Year’s Eve. First the refugees came to ‘touch’ our freedom of expression. Now they’re touching our women: the world has gone mad.

So, safety should be a value. Safety on the streets to walk everywhere and at every moment you want, in the clothes you like. So, according to our European identity there are two important values: freedom of expression and safety (no sexual intimidation). The most important values, but in my opinion also the most empty values. I wonder, are you free when the government checks everything you are doing on the streets and on the internet in the name of keeping terrorists away from planning attacks?

For example: in Amsterdam you can be who you are and by that I mean the gay community. The Ministry of Education in Holland decided to educate asylum seekers in gay rights in the Netherlands. As the minister Jet Bussemaker told the media: ‘Refugees often come from countries where female- and gay rights are not always self-evident’. I think this is not only a Dutch value: discrimination is also not allowed in other European countries. So I think we can say that ‘no discrimination’ or ‘tolerance’ also are Western values.

So with this we come to a few important values belonging to our Western European World: Freedom of expression, safety (on every area), against discrimination, tolerance. And with these we also come to another value: the European Identity. Some European citizens are afraid Europe will lose her identity and her dominant culture, when lots of people from other cultures come to live here. I think this is not true, because I think diversity and tolerance towards other cultures and religions is one of the strongest values a country can have. We have to defend this values, but not because they’re ‘our Western values we have fight for through history’. We have to defend and think about them because these are values that are always very important.

What allows us to teach refugees not to condemn people on their sexual preferences if we still condemn people on their culture and religion ourselves?

 

About the author:

Adinda BlankAdinda Blank (18) participated in our workshop in Amsterdam in 2014 as a student of Montessori Lyceum Amsterdam. She is dreaming of becoming a journalist and enjoys history, singing, rowing, drawing as well as writing stories.

Syrian conflict: what is it all about and why we should be interested in it?

syria-1151151_1920Most Europeans do not possibly remember when they last saw a news show where the Syrian conflict was not mentioned. It sometimes appears that we almost got used to hearing about renewed bombings, numerous casualties and fruitless attempts of diplomats to alter the course of events in the Middle East region. However, taking a closer look at the developments in Syria might help to understand many processes in the contemporary world starting with the refugee crisis and ending with the continuing hostility between the United States and Russia.

The roots of the Syrian Civil War lie in 2011. Following the Arab Spring movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, public uprisings against the government of President Bashar al-Assad began in Damascus. The peoples of Syria, however, were not as successful in forcing their leader out of power as the protesters in North African countries. A civil war between the government and the rebels began.

In a short time the conflict was no longer limited by the Syrian borders. Iran’s support to Assad’s regime together with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States declaring their support to the rebel forces followed by the involvement of the United States (on rebels’ side) and Russia (on Assad’s side) caused a polarization of all the countries having interests in the Middle East region. The situation was even more complicated by the Kurds (a national minority in Northern Syria) renewing their struggle for independence.

Finally, the conflict gave an opportunity for the emergence of the Islamic State (also referred to as Daesh). The terrorist state was formed after the Syrian al-Qaeda branch fighting against Assad’s regime bearing the name of al-Nusra Front merged with the Islamic State of Iraq and occupied large territories in Eastern Syria. Daesh’s ambitions of establishing a global caliphate and several terrorist attacks have brought the attention of every single nation in the world towards Syria.

What are the results of all this mess? According to Amnesty International, the number of victims of the conflict had reached 220 000 by the end of 2015 and is constantly growing. During the five years of the conflict the economy of the country suffered irreversible damage, numerous human rights’ violations occurred and a chemical weapon was used. At the moment about 50 per cent of the Syrian population is displaced and 4 million people fled their country as refugees.

The question that one may ask is why the conflict continues? Who is it beneficial to? The ones who win the most are, doubtlessly, the terrorist groups. The lack of order in Syrian governmental institutions makes any control of Syrian territory almost impossible, thus allowing the Islamic State to establish its own institutional and economic mechanisms in the east of the country. Uncontrolled Syrian borders also give the IS a possibility to perform international terrorism.

However, the Islamic State is not the main factor preventing either the reconciliation between the rebels and Assad’s regime or the decisive victory of one of the sides. In some ways the situation in Syria surprisingly resembles the local conflicts of the Cold War that took place in Korea or Vietnam. The involvement of Russia and the United States on different belligerent sides turns Syria into the arena of an international conflict between the two greatest military powers in the world.

This clash of the two Cold War enemies also leads any legal international intervention attempts to an impasse: both countries have the right of veto in the United Nations Security Council, which makes passing an effective resolution to solve the Syrian Civil War issue practically impossible. From this point of view the situation cannot be expected to change soon as the conflict remains a matter of influence in the Middle East region which both Russia and the US always sought for.

European countries played little role in the beginning of the conflict but are now being drawn into it more and more firmly. Europe’s role in the Syrian conflict mainly consists of two aspects. First, Europe becomes one of the main destinations of civilians fleeing Syria. Some countries of the European Union advocate the open-door policy while others oppose it, thus causing the internal division of the EU. The problem aggravated as the continuing flow of Syrian migrants gave a pretext to many economic refugees from Northern Africa to search for a better life in Europe despite the absence of any military threats.

The other way in which Europe contributes towards the developments in Syria is the fight against the Islamic State. Following the attacks in Paris France and Great Britain have carried out several bombings in the territory of the IS. However, it is always difficult for democratic governments to receive the popular approval for military actions, which makes it doubtable whether the European role will be significant in giving a decisive blow to Daesh.

The main interest of the European Union is, of course, finishing the conflict. This would sustainably solve the refugee crisis and the newly formed Syrian government would be able to regain territory from the IS. But as military intervention is hardly possible and hardly desirable the main role the EU should play here is that of being a diplomatic intermediary striving to reconcile the belligerent sides. Remaining completely neutral is no longer possible: the conflict taking place in Syria is no longer a local one and it is a duty of every single nation in the world to contribute to solving it.

 

About the author:

Picture Gediminas GodaGediminas (18) took part in our workshop in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 2014. He attends International Baccalaureate course at Vilnius Lyceum and is dreaming of being a professor at university in the future. His interests are literature, politics and board games. More…

Europe’s role in the worst humanitarian crisis since WWII

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It is a commonly held opinion that Syria’s civil war is the worst humanitarian disaster of our time. Nowadays, it is believed that it all started in the Syrian city of Deraa where the Assad family held the power. In March 2011 locals took to the streets to protest after 15 schoolchildren were arrested and tortured for writing anti-government graffiti on a wall. The protests were peaceful, calling for the release of the children, democracy and greater freedom in the country. The government responded with the army opening fire on protesters. The opposition is split between groups of rebel fighters, political parties and people living in exile, who cannot return to their country. The war is now between those for or against President Assad. In Iraq 2014, an extremist group (Islamic State) began to take over large areas of the country (they are a radical militant group which has used violence against anyone who doesn’t agree with their point of view). Many Syrian people have been forced to leave their homes and escape to other countries with a desperate need of help. Europe has said they will accept refugees. But is this feasible ?

If Syria´s civil war is the worst humanitarian disaster since World War II, every single person should think; what are we doing wrong? If in 2015 an atrocity of that size happens, the whole world should make an effort to help and understand. In the first place, not only Europe but every single continent of the world should have an open border for anyone who needs it.

On the one hand, allowing refuges into your country is an act of humanity. As it refers to Europe; having an open border for all refuges is necessary by all means. As people may not know Syrians could bring a new culture to Europe and Europeans should accept them, regardless of their cultural and ethnical background. As there are hundreds of thousands of refugees, at least half of them are children which means an opportunity for the growing economy and an increasing number in the European population. The major European obligation come from the fact that we know that more than 11 million are forced to leave their homes, more than 220,000 have been killed, and over 12,2 million are in need of assistance, and that it is only up to us to improve their situation.

On the other hand, it is easy to be against having an open border, because people are used to seeing first the negative side of everything. For Europe, having an open border and accepting refugees in each country means having at least half of the population against them. As Syrians are coming to Europe to be safe, they do not plan anything, and they cannot bring anything, that means Europe will have to provide them food, medical assistance, homes, schools for the children, water etc. All of this has to be paid by Europeans.

Moreover, Europeans cannot feel safe in their country as a consequence of the prejudiced anti-Islamic attitude which considers Islam to be equivalent of terrorism, which makes Europeans believe that refuges will not be able to adapt to their lifestyle.

We can conclude by saying that it is a fact that when people are in front of a problem like this, they often think it is impossible to solve and leave the problems to others. I honestly believe that we should intervene in this civil war in Syria, and we have the resources to help them.

 

About the author:

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetPaulo Ordoñez is a 16-year old student from Spain who enjoys sports ,traveling and photography.

 

Opening the borders for refugees

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Nowadays the current refugee crisis is, perhaps, the most widely debated issue. This is affecting a lot of people from Afghanistan and Syria which are involved in a terrible war, thousands have left everything looking for safety. Also it is a problem for Europe, because there are too many people arriving to the European coasts, people that European countries have to maintain. Whereas some people believe that these people have to be rescued and accepted in Europe others think that Europe shouldn’t let them in. We all know that on what all the refugees are going through is an inhumane suffering, but why is this negative for Europe?

Having an open border would be very positive in two ways: In the first place, the refugees would not have as much problem as they have now to reach Europe. Secondly, Europe would not have to make sure that there are no crimes against humanity are produced and comply with the fundamental human rights. Finally, it would also reduce the political problems between countries. Apart from that, as an opposite case we can find Hungary’s one, which is deterring the pass of the refugees through their territories. This decision has had very different opinions attached to it, the great part doesn’t agree on what Hungary is doing and in addition they are contributing to the distribution of the migrants.

On the other hand we have the negative aspects of this massive migratory movement, which mainly belong to the economic facts. When all these people come to Europe and they are inserted, they obviously will need to eat, to sleep, and all those basic needs everyone needs to fulfill, everything they need is paid by the European Union which is affected at the same time by a huge economic crisis, and many countries like Hungary will not be able to take part in the distribution of the refugees mainly because the situation there is quite bad already. Besides that, no one knows when all these people would be able to return back home, so for how much time is Europe going to pay the maintenance of all these people. It is okay, we will help these people, they are suffering an ordeal just to be safe, but economically Europe cannot maintain all these people for a long time.

We can conclude by saying that fundamental human rights have to be respected, but maybe in the middle of an economic crisis we should be taking care of the European citizens mainly and then give help to all the refugees.

 

About the author:

David Fernández Peña David Fernández Peña (16) is a student from Spain and interested in politics, technology and sports.

Refugee crisis

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“The number of people living as refugees from war or persecution exceeded 50 million in 2013, for the first time since World War Two” states a report by the UN refugee agency. Not surprisingly at all, the current refugee crisis has become one of the most widely debated issues due to its repercussion on a global scale. While everyone agrees that the origin of such crisis was the Arab Spring, a series of peaceful, pro-democracy movements that began in 2011 across the Middle East which, unfortunately, led to terrible wars in Libya and Syria, most people fail to have similar ideas regarding what should be done in order to tackle the problem of how to host millions of people.

The notion that Europe should take in a number of refugees as large as necessary has been backed up by many using the following arguments. In the first place, since the article 14 of the UDHR states that everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy asylum in other countries, the advocates of an open European border claim that it is the duty of all to host the refugees. Besides the fact that it is a basic human right, empathy makes people want to help to the extent possible to those exposed to inhumane situations; would a normal person not want help when he has been forced to abandon everything he knew, to live in harsh conditions in refugee camps, or even to attempt to cross seas with no safety measures risking his life and the lives of his loved ones? Secondly, developing regions hosted 86% of the world’s refugees. Taking into account that according to UNHCR, it would cost $20,537,705 only to finance the Syria Regional Refugee Coordination Office, it becomes clear that the costs are high. Developing countries appear to simply not be able to afford to invest the necessary money on refugee camps as opposed to European countries. Lastly, refugees have skills, talents and aspirations, and the ability to contribute socially and economically.

On the other hand, a number of European nations have made it clear they are not willing to welcome many newcomers, despite the current crisis, e.g., Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban built a barbed-wire fence along Hungary’s border with Serbia and introduced a new migratory law making any fence crossing a criminal offense. Those who agree with the Hungarian Prime Minister often argue that taking in all asylum-seekers would have a negative effect on European societies as well as economies. Refugees will not only be a “loss of capital” for the states but also a threat to their civic identity. People shudder at the sight of the potential change that the refugees might bring with them, something which contributes to the rise of an anti-immigration feeling. Illustrating this point, Orban stated: “Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian?”

In conclusion, the EU has announced an emergency quota system that will spread out the influx of refugees across its member states, aiming to improve the situation and avoid irrevocable mistakes. I strongly support the opinion of having open European borders for all Syrians and Afghans and honestly believe that the European Union should be realistic about the number of refugees that will arrive in the near future to our continent as to handle the crisis appropriately.

 

About the author:

Photo Mónica Martínez Jorge is 16-year-old student from Spain who is interested in politics. 

Message to our world leaders

Professor Pohl

Today we stand at an era of major change, but we are also at a crossroad where we have to make decisions on how we want to live our lives in the future.

The terrorist attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015 and the terror in many parts of the world today (e.g. IS and Boko Haram) illustrate in an extreme way that patriarchal structures are still very dominant in most parts of the world.

Not only have men invented religion but they also use religion to justify their actions. They want to decide on how people should live their cultural, religious as well as their social and professional lives. They misuse religion as a justification for their terrorist acts and want to create chaos, fear and a feeling of insecurity worldwide.

The consequence in western countries is not only the fear of more terrorist attacks but also an increase of right-wing extremism. In other words, liberal democracy is threatened from two sites: Global terrorism and right-wing radicalism.

We also know that the world has become more connected through modern digital communication systems that enable the sharing of information on a global level within seconds. Yet, at the same time terrorists are also using the same media for their own purposes.

Thus, the world has become more connected but also more vulnerable. What can we do about it?

  • We need a global territorial reform. The main world leaders, who are currently meeting at the G20 summit in Turkey have to send a strong political signal showing that they condemn the terrorist acts and that they do not tolerate war and terror. Moreover they need to demonstrate their will to solve current and arising conflicts between their countries. This means that state borders have to be determined and guaranteed. The use of armed forces will be necessary to carry out this task.
  • Furthermore it is indispensable to promote the inclusion and equal opportunities in countries with a high number of socially deprived groups and a high unemployment rate. It is important to create structures with equal access to education as well as economic and social help for those who need it, so that people get the chance to live in their own countries and are not forced to be refugees in the search for a better life.
  • Finally, the separation of state and religion is necessary for a successful global territorial reform. Moreover, the acceptance of every culture and every religion are fundamental requirements for a peaceful coexistence.

All of this might seem utopian. However, it is a project that is feasible if the powerful of the world today are willing to put it into practice.

 

About the author:

MP1Prof. Dr. Manfred Pohl is the Founder and Chairman of Frankfurter Zukunftsrat, the think tank that organises “My Europe”. more…