Tag Archives: freedom

Dia Internacional da Liberdade de Imprensa : UN World Press Freedom Day

In São Paulo on May 15th? Come to my talk at USP on the freedom of the press. Can’t read the Portuguese, just get in touch with me..!

O Consulado Geral Britânico em São Paulo, em parceria com a Universidade de São Paulo e o Observatório da Imprensa convidam para a mesa redonda: Seguros para Falar: Como assegurar a liberdade de expressão em todas as Mídias.

Participarão da mesa o repórter especial da TV Globo, Caco Barcelos, o Diretor do Observatório de Imprensa, Carlos Eduardo Lins da Silva, o jornalista e blogueiro Mark Hillary e Eugenio Bucci, jornalista, professor da ECA-USP, colunista da revista Época e articulista do Estado de São Paulo.

DATA: 15 de maio, quarta-feira, às 9h
LOCAL: Av. Prof. Lúcio Martins Rodrigues, 443 – Cidade Universitária – CEP 05508-020
(Departamento de Jornalismo e Editoração)

Mais informações:

Barbara Reis
Barbara.reis@fco.gov.uk
(11) 3094 1868

Beatriz Corrêa
Beatriz.correa@fco.gov.uk
(11) 3094 2715

11 Angels and 1 Demon

Steel bars and shutters

I had visited Brazil a few times before I moved here to live, so I was aware that they take security pretty seriously. Supermarkets and banks have armed guards, apartment blocks are surrounded by impenetrable steel cages, and all the police are armed – even the humblest traffic cop.

But when I moved into my house, a few things struck me as unusual. Every window has steel bars – like a jail – and both the front and back doors are protected by big steel bars too.

When I moved in, it was unnerving and unusual. My front door in Muswell Hill opened onto the street, my front door in Ealing was not facing the street, but there was nothing to stop anyone walking up to the door. The open spaces at the front of houses, gardens for example, just don’t really exist here. If a house or apartment black has a garden then it is behind bars so only the residents can possibly access it.

Walking down a main street late at night is also strange. Every shop, bar or restaurant will have steel shutters. I know there are some shops in London that pull shutters down at night, but not every single shop. It’s quite normal to walk past shops late at night where only a pane of glass stands between you and their stock.

This sense of security makes me think of when I have visited Luxembourg. The head of state lives in a palace in the city centre that any member of the public can approach. You can walk up and have a look through the window. They don’t feel any need to erect barriers.

Quite a contrast to the average apartment-dweller in Brazil who only feels safe living inside a cage.

But, with the riots in London and across the UK over the past week, will this fear of the unknown and underclass pervade society so bars go up and steel shutters become essential?

I hope not, but I’m expecting the worst.

Palaisde Luxembourg

Bin Laden is dead, but why rejoice?

The US military has killed the leader of al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. Despite the fact that I am not a hand-wringing liberal staging the occasional ‘bed-in for peace’, I am quite shocked and disgusted by the popular reaction in the US – or at least the popular reaction being shown by the media.

Yes, he was a callous, heartless leader who created a network of terror and sheltered behind Islam as a supposed means of justification for his acts. He was responsible for the death of thousands, so he is hardly a person to be missed, but to throw parties on the street because of his death seems like irrational exuberance.

There is of course the sense of revenge. The American public feeling relief that they finally “got” the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks on the USA a decade ago.

But the numerous deaths, both military and civilians, on both sides of this war don’t deserve this reaction – running into the street and cracking open a Budweiser “because we won the war…”

Ask any of those people, what have you won today? Tough to answer isn’t it?

Unfortunately for those drinking in the street, al-Qaeda is not a traditional enemy in the form of a nation state, organised with a single leader and obeying the strategy and ruling of a government. This is not World War II all over again.

This is a war of ideology. And the death of Bin Laden does not mean that the “war” is over at all, in fact it may even serve to generate more intense hatred of the American values that led us to this place.

It’s too simple to argue that this is about the Muslim v Christian world, or the consumerist society of the west v a more traditional emerging society, or an oil-dependent America v oil-producing states. All these are factors, but at the end of the day when the actions of a nation state (or small group of allies) produce a situation where a group of nations are at war with an ideology, it is a dire place to be – almost an Orwellian cliché.

President Bush created the rhetoric of the “war on terror” and yet how can it ever be won? Should Islam be banned and dismantled because the terrorists all appear to be Muslim? Should nations harbouring terrorists be considered to be at war with the allies? Should every critic of American society be ‘taken out’ because they don’t have the same values in their society as in the US – and their small group of supporting nations?

All these descriptions of Muslim terrorists could equally apply to white supremacists – who happen to be already in the US, and are US citizens, and can arm themselves quite legally utilising the second amendment to the constitution. The war on terror and the demonisation of Islam are quite convenient ways to make this ideological battle simple enough for the evening news bulletin.

I don’t feel sympathy for Bin Laden. He was a killer. But I wish the leaders of the democratic states that profess their desire to fight a “war on terror” could find a better way to do it than through bombing places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Bin Laden turned up in the capital of Pakistan – allegedly a friend in the war on terror – so where does this leave the bombing campaigns of the past decade?

How about spending a few billion on encouraging enforced student exchange programmes? Every US graduate should spend a year at a university far from home, preferably somewhere they can learn about how a different society works just from being engaged with the people. And this would work best if it was reciprocated, so the US welcomed, and funded, foreign students at their own universities.

It may take a decade or more to see some more enlightened attitudes, but then we have just had a decade of bombing the Middle East and what has been the result? Only greater instability and a wider fear of terrorism.

The liberals echo John Lennon by chanting ‘Give peace a chance’ and are mocked by the hawks who feel that the western ideals of democracy and personal freedom need to be spread – almost as a crusade. But regardless of whether hawks or doves are right, the present approach has only created a situation far worse than it was ten or twenty years ago.

We are now two decades on from the Cold war, but attitudes don’t seem to have thawed. Isn’t it time for some radical thinking on foreign policy – particularly from the USA? Or will we just keep on engaging in decades more of ‘regime-change’?
Central Mosque, Abuja

Berlin Wall 20 years on

When I was a teenager in the 1980s there was a general feeling that we might one day have to prepare for a nuclear war. It sounds foolish now. At that time, our political concerns and fears were still linked to states, not amorphous terrorist groups. In western Europe, we were constantly concerned about the relationship with the Soviet bloc across the iron curtain.

Playground conversation would be about Reagan, Thatcher, and what will happen if and when a war does occur. That wasn’t because I was some kind of childhood political junkie, it was just the attitude of that era. The news talked about it. The media in general talked about it. Dramatists talked about it. Musicians talked about it. And us, the kids kicking a ball around in the playground, were talking about it.

Then exactly 20 years ago today – when I was a young student of computer science and sitting in college cutting my teeth on assembly code – the East Germans came crashing through the Berlin Wall.

Granting freedom of movement to East Germans started a process that has yet to finish. We found peace and improved political relationships quite early on, and one look at modern Berlin would lead you to ask if there ever was a division. But, the old Eastern part of Germany is still affected by the years of division. Industry there is less productive, career opportunities aren’t as bright. Even two decades down the line, there has not been a complete assimilation.

Europe has developed immensely since that time, to the point where most of the continent shares a currency and grants freedom of movement to all citizens. Now our union contains 27 nation states, many of whom were Soviet-bloc states just a couple of decades ago.

The destruction of the wall liberated so many people to live their lives in a spirit of greater freedom. Not just the Germans, but all those to the East of the wall who found the government dictating so many aspects of their life. It was an amazing single event that captured the imagination of people all over the world, especially those who have to rail against dictatorial regimes when all they want to do is get on with their life.