Politics & The World

There is not much that we can be certain about. One thing though seems pretty certain to me: that we live in troubled times. Not because us Westerners face any true hardships, but because it appears to me that these days many decisions need to be taken that will deeply affect generations to come. Proponents of historical path dependency will interject that this is always true. Maybe so.

Anyhow, we now face many great challenges: climate change, a situation in the Middle East and beyond where state failure is the norm, unprecedented migration, and terrorism – to name just a few. How we handle these challenges will be decisive for how we will live in the centuries to come. Liberal democracy claims to be the pinnacle of political systems, yet so far its response to the challenges mentioned above is anything but effective or even remotely close to well deliberated.

During the last weeks I made some experiences that have led to deep frustration with how our politicians behave.

A week ago Friday and Saturday some close friends and I walked the streets of Brussels in complete disbelief. Police and military personnel everywhere – everywhere! Armed to the teeth! In front of Brussels Centraal stood a military vehicle that looked like something from Jurassic Park. Sirens. Flashing blue lights. A drunk guy ran past us at some point screaming: “C’est la guerre! C’est la guerre!” (“This is war!”). While we were strolling through the comparatively empty streets of Brussels, we were making jokes about all of it. Maybe that was our way of handling it. But a day later, it really hit me. What is going on? State of emergency had always been an abstract concept to me.

Then, last Thursday, in Berlin, I was watching the news in which German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen was being interviewed. She was asked whether Germany was now at war. The decision to deploy German troops to support the pseudo coalition fighting ISIS in Syria had just been made. Von der Leyen replied that this was not war since it is not two states that are fighting each other – let that sink in.

So here is the German Minister of Defence claiming that there is not a war going on against ISIS or at least that the German support does not constitute an act of war. Either she has never heard of Mary Kaldor’s concept of “new wars” or she is knowingly lying to the public, both of which would be equally scandalous.

Friday, as I was boarding my flight to Frankfurt my anger at the current situation turned into plain, numbing shock. My mom, standing beside me asked the man in front of us if they maybe knew each other since his face seemed familiar to her. He said that he was a member of the Bundestag, the German parliament, and that she might know him from TV. They exchanged a few words and then he turned to me. So, we started talking. I present to you the end of our conversation.

Yannic: “So what’s it like at the Bundestag at the moment? High alert?”
MP: “No, everything’s normal.”
Y.: “Oh ok. I was in Brussels last weekend.”
MP: “Shit was hitting the fan there.”
Y.: “Yeah, it was crazy. I have never seen anything like it. [I elaborated on my experience, see above]
MP: “It truly is crazy what is going on. [pause] And every day new ones are coming. We need to shut the border now!”
Y.: “And then what? The refugees will be stuck at the border.”
MP: “Good. That’s the pictures that should be going out to the world. The message must be: don’t come.”

No more words were spoken between us. My mom and I exchanged glances of disbelief. I will not name the MP, but I will say that he was a member of the CHRISTIAN Democrats.

So why am I telling you all of this? For me the following became clear:

  1. We are in a state of emergency – in many respects.
  2. There are leading politicians who are either uneducated in their main fields of activity, deliberately deceptive, or both.
  3. There are parliamentarians who seem to be ignorant of the fact that the Paris attacks were conducted by EU nationals, not refugees and that these refugees are fleeing the very same terror that has now reached EU soil. Or even worse, they are aware of this, but still choose to conflate the terrorism and migration discourses for reasons of political opportunism.
  4. My faith in democracy is deeply shaken by all of this. Who are we electing? Do we need a more elitist government? Isn’t it the time for experts, technocrats?

Troubled times indeed. And troubled times produce troubled minds. Let me know what you think about my observations. How are you experiencing our democratic systems these days? Isn’t it time for radical change?


Image by Patrick Willemark, taken from flickr


Politics & The World

On this dreary Tuesday morning, November 24th, the people of Brussels are yet again waking up to a city on lockdown. The metro, the central transport system that connects the city centre to the suburbs, remains closed, as too do the schools, universities, colleges and crèches of Belgium’s capital. Parents have no other choice but to stay home and mind the children, leaving offices understaffed or closed for the second business day. The boutiques lining the fashionable shopping avenues are not yet daring to un-shutter their windows, although yesterday the hastily scribbled notes of « exceptionellement fermé » were replaced with more sensible and typed signage, explaining that they would open later in the day for security reasons.

But, for what? Many curious friends and relatives have enquired about Brussels this weekend as the city descended- and remained – into lockdown, asking about the mood or the atmosphere in the city. Four days in, it is hard to explain. The streets are far quieter than before, some shops remain closed and people seem to hurry about their business. The presence of the military is both unnerving and comforting- while the sight of a heavy armed military makes some fear that something is about to happen around them, others have taken to getting their own “lockdown selfie” complete with a tank or soldier. The city feels safer with military patrols, but how long can this continue? The capital of Europe has been reduced to an effective ghost town, where soldiers often outnumber pedestrians on its streets and squares. Although it has been announced that the metro and schools will open tomorrow, Joelle Milquet, Minister for Education, Culture and Youth, suggested that schools should designate a safe room where staff and pupils can retreat to in the event of an emergency.

We still speak of a level 4 threat level, warning of “serious and imminent” threat of an attack, despite not knowing what caused the level to rise. The attacks on Paris naturally heightened tension across Europe, and many were horrified, though not necessarily surprised, to hear that Molenbeek  had become a breeding ground for jihadists. The level was not raised, however, until early Saturday morning, a week after the attacks, and we still are unsure as to what excatly triggered this. Charles Michel, Prime Minister of Belgium, announced that terrorist groups had planned a similar attack on Brussels, and advised people not to congregate in groups and to avoid shopping centres, tourist attractions, travelling by metro. The first reaction is, of course, panic. But this panic has been quickly followed by confusion, and frustration. At the heart of this is the media’s, and indeed the government’s, tendency to hyper-dramatize the events that are going on around us, without properly explaining the reasons behind the orders they give.

People are becoming more and more impatient with the lockdown. When friends and I learned that the level 4 warning was staying in place for another week, we did not resign ourselves to another week of caution and vigilance. Instead, we expressed frustration and annoyance that our lives could so easily be disrupted by something in the unknown.

Of course, it is not the enemy unknown that we should fear, but the enemy within. We must rationalise and think of what we know: there is a serious threat that Brussels will be hit by a terrorist attack. This threat was present before the atrocities of Paris, and will be there tomorrow. We live in a world where Western values and our modern, liberal and free society represent all that is wrong to violent and cruel terrorists. Some of these terrorists live among us, some preach hate to indoctrinate European youth. They do not represent the totality of any group, and to persecute or target any demographic even vaguely associated with them would simply strengthen their case.

The threat is omnipresent, and it is disconcerting to think that such evil is in our midst.

If the media continue to present the threat as existing only when the level is raised, however, they do both themselves and the public a great disservice. The Belgian government runs the risk of becoming the boy who cried wolf if they persist in raising and lowering the threat level without properly communicating the reasons for such measures with the public. The public understands the need for “radio silence” while the police continue their operations, and appreciates this necessity. We know that there are some things the public cannot, and should not, know. But, by extending this period of public ignorance, the police, government and media run the risk of doing more harm than good.

Unless it is sufficiently explained, there is a risk of the vacuum opening for speculation, to be filled with unsubstantiated reports, suspicion, and worse of all, hate for the immigrant communities, certain disadvantaged areas of the city, and/or the Muslim population. Perhaps a more serious and imminent threat is that the people of Brussels will in the future ignore warnings like the one received this week. Should les Bruxellois become immune to government warnings, this could leave the city even more exposed to attacks.

This whole exercise in confusion could develop into something far more dangerous than the threat we are supposedly under this week in Brussels. In reality, we need to accept that the threat will live among us always, and adopt vigilance and caution into our lives without allowing it to impede our enjoyment. So, with that, let’s tweet a few more cat pictures, shall we?


Picture by Miguel Discart, taken from flickr.

Politics & The World

I will not add the French flag filter on Facebook to my profile picture. I am not putting a picture of the Eiffel tower with the hashtag #prayforparis. I will not write condolensces to the victims, will not endorse the public outrage with the events that took place in Paris. Before you condemn me about being apathic about these events, I would invite you to read further as to see exactly the reasons why I take this stance.

It doesn’t mean that I am not shocked by those events or that I don’t care about what happened. I just find it hypocritical that people add the French flag filter on their profile pictures and think that in this way, they are showing solidarity. Can someone explain to me just how is this solidarity?

Or is something else the reason for this social network phenomenon?

Being the guy that I am, I had to find out just why some of my friends changed their profile pictures to endorse the French flag filter. Most common answer was, of course, because what happened in France was shocking and terrifying.

I had a question for them at that point, and would like to ask you, our dear readers and followers the same thing:

Did you know tat militants and suicide bombers from ISIS performed a very similar attack in Lebanon two days before the Paris massacre? Did you know that at least 40 people were killed in Beirut, over 200 were wounded?

Did you know that on the 3rd of April 2015, 147 people were killed in the Garissa University assault in Kenya? Al-Shabab militants stormed the University, killed two security guards and then started shooting and indiscriminately killing students.

Where was Facebook on these occasions? Why wasn’t there an option to filter the Lebanon or Kenya flag on our profile pictures? And although I hate being vague, I have to in order to ask the following: Are the French lives worth more than the ones in Kenya or Lebanon?

Where was the Facebook community on these occasions? Why weren’t there hashtags #prayforkenya or #prayforlebanon? How were these attacks any different from the one in Paris? How were they not as shocking or not as terrifying as the one in Paris?

Or is it our hypocrisy that we only feel solidarity towards things that happen in Europe or USA,  in these so-called lullabies of civilisation?

Another thing I would like to point out. A really fair argument was brought up by one of the Republican party president candidates of the USA. The person in question is of course, Donald Trump, who said:


‘People are getting their heads chopped off. They’re being drowned. Right now it’s far worse than ever [than it was] under Saddam Hussein or Gaddafi,’ […]

‘I mean, look what happened. Libya is a catastrophe. Libya is a disaster. Iraq is a disaster. Syria is a disaster. The whole Middle East. It all blew up around Hillary Clinton and around Obama. It blew up.’


Needless to say, I realize the fact that he is trying to blame the Middle East situation on the Democrats and Obama, because he is actively trying to rack up the votes. But, he wasn’t wrong.

ISIS was created after the war in Iraq. Now it is spread and active in other countries as well, namely Libya and Syria. As we all know, the war in Iraq has proven to us time and time again that it was a mistake. After overthrowing Saddam Hussein, Iraq hasn’t been transformed into a democratic community. Things have even deteriorated.

The West forces led by USA and UK were adamant, a country led by the dictator Hussein is evil and should be disposed off. Little that they know, after the disposal of Hussein, a far greater and more vicious evil was born.

Isn’t it a bit weird and even ironic that France and Europe are now trying to fight ISIS? After all, they are one of the parties that helped them, not much different than the USA (ironically enough) helped Al-Qaeda in the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980’s.

Let me answer that for you. It is not weird. It is not even ironic. It’s just.. karma. The only problem is, it is not the politicians who are paying for their past sins. The people who died are paying for the sins of their politicians. Innocent lives were lost. Where is the justice in that? Why isn’t there a public outcry for this?

I would like to be clear again: I do not urge you not to change your profile picture and endorse the French flag filter. On the contrary, if you really feel the need to do so, then please do. But if you really feel solidarity, don’t let it stop there. Don’t get swept in this social network frenzy because ‘it looks good’ or because ‘it will generate likes’.

Try and understand that we live in a world that is involved with war every single day. Thousands of lives are lost every year due to military struggles. Let it be known that you care about each and every one of them, not just the ones that come with a social-network agenda behind them.

Let those lives be worth more than a hashtag. Let those lives be worth more than a filtered profile picture.

Image by Christiaan Triebert, taken from Flickr.