What is internationalism anyway?

To celebrate their 40th anniversary, New Internationalist held an event at Amnesty International UK HQ called ‘What does it mean to be an internationalist today?’ An impressive panel of speakers was tasked with answering the question: Jessica Horn, Asad Rehman, Dan Smith, John Hilary, Mariéme Jamme, Nitasha Kaul and Jonathan Glennie.

I wrote a summary-cum review of the event for the New Internationalist blog but to see the speakers themselves check out the videos from the night, also the great blog series ‘The Internationalists‘.

Gender and Social Movements

This summer I started work at the Institute of Development Studies, based at Sussex University. I do a variety of editorial based things but one of the most exciting projects I have been involved with is the BRIDGE Gender and Social Movements report and online resource.

Exploring issues close to my heart, the report explores the role of gender justice within and between social movements, arguing that sexism, racism, or any kind of deliberate or non-deliberate discrimination can’t be left until ‘after the revolution’ to address. Just because women or gender minorities are present in a group, or if a movement has some kind of ‘justice’ goal, it doesn’t mean that everyone is happy or has the same change to participate. The report also addresses, gender violence, intersectionality, gender justice within the feminist movement itself and includes some really interesting case studies. Written by by the inspirational Jessica Horn, contributions came from 150 activists, scholars and supporters from around world.

I wrote this post based on the report for the IDS Participation, Power and Social Change blog: ‘How to build a gender-just social movement‘.

This also gives me the chance to share one of my favourite passages on sexism and patriarchy: ‘Are you a manarchist?‘ Aimed at anarchists but a challenging read for anyone, of any gender, who considers themselves a feminist and an activist. Gave me something to think about anyway.

More from the New Internationalist website…

I’m now into my last month at New Internationalist. I’ll be sad to leave but who knows what exciting things the future may hold – I don’t yet!

Things have been busy on the website and I’ve been out and about blogging. Here’s some of what I’ve been up to:

I spent two days in London covering G8 mobilisations on the day of David Cameron’s Hunger Summit and the Carnival Against Capitalism. I also headed to the People’s Assembly in Westminster on 22 June, as did New Internationalist co-editor Vanessa Baird.

I also wrote  a post on a new campaign to raise awareness of FGM in Oxfordshire, spearheaded by writer and campaigner Abigal Muchechti.

Does multiculturalism have a future in Britain?

This post was originally published on the New Internationalist website on 14 May 2013…

In February 2011, British Prime Minister David Cameron gave a speech at the Munich Security Conference outlining what he saw as the failures of ‘state multiculturalism.’ For him, it seemed to be about young Muslims getting involved in terrorism. ‘We’ve allowed the weakening of our cultural identity,’ he lamented.

Inspired by this speech and the gravitation of British politics towards an anti-immigration blame culture, ‘multicultural newspaper’ The Prisma, set up the debate: ‘Does multiculturalism have a future in Britain?’

Held at the House of Commons on 9 May 2013, the panel for the event was introduced by Colombian journalist and founder of The Prisma, Mónica del Pilar Uribe, and included social scientist Nigel Pocock, writer and lecturer Mike Jempson, activist and artist Zita Holbourne, international speaker on Islam Abdullah al Andalusi, Peruvian philosopher Claudio Chipana Gutiérrez and Labour member of parliament Jeremy Corbyn.

Most of the panellists were keen to point out the often conveniently forgotten fact that multiculturalism has always existed in Britain. The problems begin when it is used as a political weapon. ‘You can’t collect pebbles from the beach and then complain there are too many stones in your room,’ said Mike Jempson.

When talking about multiculturalism it can be hard to separate race, culture, religion, and immigration. Zita Holbourne argued that the recent pandering of the mainstream parties to the anti-immigration UK Independence Party (UKIP) empowers people with racist views to express and act on them.

An audience member made the point that equating multiculturalism to immigration excludes non-white British people like herself, and those children could grow up British but not truly feel it because the establishment rejects them. What was telling in Cameron’s 2011 speech, which focused on young Muslims, was the repeated use of the terms ‘we’ and ‘they.’

Jempson said we all need to do more to challenge everyday racism and likened his experience of growing up in an Irish Catholic family in 1950s Surrey – with ‘no Irish’ signs and being stoned on the street – to the experiences of some young Muslims in Britain today.

But how can human rights be protected in such an environment? How to view these rights was something that provoked the most debate. Are they based on universal humanity or some other code specific to certain groups, such as religion? Jeremy Corbyn and others seemed to think they could be universal and secular but for Abdullah al Andalusi, true multiculturalism, freedom of expression and recognition of rights is impossible within a society with one law for all. He argued that a person’s conscience, including their belief in God, was the most important factor in determining their actions and that they should be able to act on this freely – as long as they don’t commit murder.

So what are the solutions to all these issues? This was an area I think could have been discussed at much greater length but some members of the panel did have their own projects which had begun to explore this. Jempson edits a magazine called the Bristol Globe which ‘celebrates Bristol’s diversity’ while Holbourne talked about her group Black Activists Rising Against the Cuts which is planning a voter registration drive among young people as well as a campaign condemning continued race discrimination in Britain.

Political trends come and go but racism and discrimination in day-to-day life continues – this is why lasting solutions need to come from the grassroots. Cultures mix, branch off and develop all the time and pretending they don’t is only going to lead to less cohesion within, and between, communities. But ultimately how someone identifies with one culture, or many, is not solely down to their immigration status, skin colour, religion or anything else – it is about where they feel they belong.

Rubber barons are robbing Cambodia and Laos

This post was originally published on the New Internationalist website on 13 May 2013…

A new report from campaigning NGO Global Witness has revealed how big-name financial institutions, International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Deutsche Bank are subsidizing Vietnamese land grabs in Cambodia and Laos.

‘Rubber Barons’, published alongside a short film on Monday 13 May, is critical of a culture of secrecy around plantation investments. Two of Vietnam’s largest companies, Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) and the state-owned Vietnam Rubber Group (VRG) have acquired more than 200,000 hectares of land through deals with the Cambodian and Laos governments. Deutsche Bank has significant holdings in both companies, while the IFC invests in HAGL.

Cambodia and Laos have seen more than 3.7 million hectares of land handed over to companies since 2000, 40 per cent of which is for rubber plantations. The report explains a culture of corporate secrecy and shady connections with élites which mean that companies like HAGL and VRG get away with breaking the rules.

Land grabbing has accelerated in Cambodia over recent years, and so has the violence that surrounds it. By the end of 2012, 2.6 million hectares of land had been leased by the government, 20 per cent of which Global Witness says has been allocated to five of Cambodia’s powerful tycoons.

Laos has experienced a growing economy over the last decade that has attracted attention from foreign agribusiness looking to cash in on the quantity of arable land and cheap labour available. According to Global Witness, almost 20 per cent of all villages in Laos have been affected by at least one land grab. Forests are disappearing, along with journalists and activists who speak out.

Megan MacInnes, who heads the Land Team at Global Witness says that HAGL and VRG are adding to the human rights threat in the region: ‘Often, the first time people learn of a plantation is when the company bulldozers arrive to clear their farms,’ she adds.

Local people have complained of increased food and water shortages, loss of livelihood without compensation and poor employment conditions. Indigenous communities have lost burial grounds and sacred forests. Those who protest say they face violence, intimidation and arrest. ‘Rubber Barons’ outlines non-payment of compensation and routine use of armed security forces to guard plantations in HAGL and VRG’s operations.

The environmental impacts are also significant; the report accuses both companies of involvement in illegal forest clearance, beyond their concession boundaries.

‘Rubber Barons’ says that HAGL and VRG’s financial involvement lies behind an intricate web of shell companies, which allows them to disguise the fact that they have exceeded Cambodia’s legal limit on land holdings. Global Witness is calling for HAGL and VRG to be prosecuted for their illegal activities and for their plantation concessions to be cancelled.

‘Until governments bring in and enforce regulations to end the culture of secrecy and impunity that is driving the global land-grabbing crisis, international banks and financial institutions will continue to turn a blind eye to the human rights abuses and deforestation they are bankrolling,’ says MacInnes.

Podcast: Why is housing in such a state?

April’s New Internationalist podcast looks at the state of shelter – from Europe to the Philippines.

My most recent New Internationalist podcast features co-editor Dinyar Godrej in the Netherlands and Iris Gonzales in the Philippines.

Dinyar Godrej chatted with me about the causes of the global housing crisis, ‘generation rent’ and a worldwide wave of homelessness – as well as the need to rethink the dream of property ownership.

I also spoke to regular New Internationalist contributor Iris Gonzales who discusses the forced, and often violent, evictions of the residents of informal settlements in the Philippines. She explained what can happen to these displaced communities once they are removed, and how people are taking direct action for better housing rights.

If you’re interested in any of the issues around housing, why not take a listen here at the New Internationalist website?

Interactive timeline: 40 years of New Internationalist

One of my latest projects at New Internationalist has been an interactive timeline, covering 40 years of highlights…

New Internationalist is 40 in 2013 so we thought we would pull together some of our milestones into an online timeline.

40 years of New Internationalist

Click through to the full timeline here.

It was great to be able to look back over such an impressive history of independent journalism as it documented some monumental social movements.

Thanks to Charlie Harvey who used Timeline.JS to build a really easy to use template for me to put the editorial content into.

Taking on the benefits blame game

This post was originally published on New Internationalist on 3 April 2013.

It may have been April Fool’s day but while Twitter announced it was going to begin charging for the use of vowels and Virgin launched a glass bottomed plane, big changes to the British welfare system began to bite in what is far from a comical prank.

One of the most high profile of these changes, which began to kick in on Monday 1 April, is the bedroom tax. If a claimant’s house is defined as having one spare bedroom or more they will lose 14 to 25 per cent of their benefit money. 660,000 people face losing hundreds of pounds a year and the threat of eviction if they can’t pay the rent. Two thirds of people hit by the tax are disabled, and single parents and foster families will also be among the hardest hit.

Opposition has been vocal: MP Frank Field has called for landlords to brick up windows and doors or knock down walls to help tenants facing the tax which he describes as ‘grossly unfair.’ Bedroom tax protests have already been held across the country and UK Uncut has promised ‘mass civil disobedience’ on Saturday 13 April, ‘bringing the cuts home to millionaire misery-makers.’

Also part of the welfare overhaul is the scrapping of Disability Living Allowance and major changes to legal aid which means thousands may lose access to legal services and be forced to represent themselves in court.

On 15 April the welfare benefit cap will be introduced to four London boroughs and is expected to be rolled out nationwide by the end of September. It is predicted that 80,000 households will be made homeless as expensive cities like London see a deepening of social cleansing.

There are now more billionaires across the world than before the global financial crash. But while the ‘feral rich’ get wealthier, 20 per cent of children in Britain already live in poverty and families increasingly need to use foodbanks to sustain themselves.

Meanwhile the ‘workers and shirkers’ demonization of benefit claimants, immigrants and disabled people by the government and the media has taken hold among those who feel that while they are working as hard as ever and getting less in return, somebody should be made to pay.

A 2012 poll by the Trades Union Congress found that while people mistakenly thought that 27 per cent of the welfare budget is claimed fraudulently (the government’s figure is 0.7 per cent), the most hostility was among those who knew the least about the benefits system.

In this climate, newspapers like the Daily Mail can publish a front page (3 April 2013) calling a man found guilty of the manslaughter of six of his children a ‘product’ of the welfare state and still sell plenty of copies. Claiming benefits does not make people more likely to cause the death of their family.

Where do we go from here? Local and national anti-austerity groups have been campaigning relentlessly across the country – networks like Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) and UK Uncut have mobilized thousands. Some mainstream media are trying to counteract the propaganda machine. But people need to be presented with more than the facts and protest; they need to be truly convinced that blaming benefit claimants and immigrants for their problems is not helpful, fair, or accurate.

However, the deeper austerity goes, the more people will see those close to them affected. Anti-austerity Britain is growing in size and anger. Over 420,000 people have now signed a petition to challenge Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith to live on £53 ($80) a week after he said on national radio he thought he could do it while defending cuts to benefits.

What’s key is a cohesive, accessible and communicative groundswell from the grassroots. Party politics is enough to leave people in despair as politicians jump aboard the blame train conducted by UKIP. Initiatives such as the People’s Assembly may be part of this, as long as they reach further than the usual suspects.

We also need to tell people’s stories, not just in the media, but to our friends and family, even when it’s uncomfortable to do so. And while we fight to keep what we have and strengthen community resilience to austerity, we need to show that we will stand by our neighbours when the blame game comes knocking at their door.

PODCAST: 40 years of New Internationalist

The latest New Internationalist podcast…

In this episode I chat to Chris Brazier, New Internationalist’s longest serving co-editor (he’s been at the mag since 1984!) about 40 years of New Internationalist and the progress (and lack of) the world has made in that time. Is the idea of ‘development’ well and truly dead?

Listen to the podcast here at the New Internationalist website and find out more about the latest magazine, ‘What has development done for me?

PODCAST: Vanessa Baird and Owen Jones on the feral rich

January’s New Internationalist podcast looks at how the super rich are gaining from the economic crisis while the poor get the blame…

My latest New Int podcast features co-editor Vanessa Baird, and author and columnist Owen Jones discussing with me their ideas for turning the tables on the super rich and putting a stop to the demonization of the poor.

As the wealth gap grows, despite the economic crisis, January/February’s double magazine explores how the ‘feral rich’ get away with it and what can be done to stop them.

Listen to the podcast and find out more about the magazine at the New Internationalist website.