Thursday 22 August 2019

PortRAIT of the WEEK

Despite a tense week in Europe, emotional restraint, calm discourse and cat pictures on the internet prove our strength, writes Rachel Lavin

The surreal feeling of being on the brink of World War III did not fully subside last week, as on Tuesday, 12 presidential guards were killed in Tunisia by a suspected suicide bomber which was later claimed by Isil. Meanwhile, after a four-day lockdown in Brussels, which saw the European capital under military guard and residents told to remain indoors, the security level was reduced from 'highest possible' terrorist threat to 'serious' on Wednesday. Isil also released a video announcing that "with Iran, Turkey and Russia joining the fray" the "global coalition" (Ireland included) should "bring it on".

Despite the Isil threat, all is not well amongst this 'global coalition'. A Russian jet was shot down by Turkish forces after it was claimed it entered Turkey's airspace, and Syrian rebels killed one of the pilots while another escaped. Putin claimed the shooting down was a "stab in the back" and warned of dire consequences, and the Turkish embassy was egged in Moscow with Russian protestors burning the Turkish flag.

As the refugee crisis continues, asylum seekers on the Macedonian border sewed their lips together in protest over the fact that only refugees from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan were being accepted through their borders, while Sweden's deputy prime minister broke down in tears as she announced that the most hospitable EU country, having accepted 190,000 refugees, could accept no more as their asylum system can no longer cope. Meanwhile, Western leaders are quibbling over how to respond to Daesh (an Arabic term Isil despise and possibly the only politically correct micro-aggression going at the moment). Right-wing politicians were quick to demand direct action after the Paris attacks. However, the Left remain sceptical over what good this will achieve.

This is a fair point, for as Graeme Wood pointed out in last week's Sunday Independent, the West engaging in direct conflict with Daesh is what they really want. And with radical jihadists living in countries all over the world, this is a borderless war like no other. If we bring war to their doorstep, they will bring terror to ours.

Alternatively, ex-Muslim secularist Maryam Namazie has compared Isil to far right fascists. And so the question is posed, if these were Nazis invading territories, killing minorities and imposing a brutal totalitarian regime, is it morally justifiable to do nothing either? The history of Iraq plagues us, but so too does Nazi Germany.

Despite the angst-ridden questions that afflict our nations, by and large the response to the attacks in the West, particularly amongst Parisians, should be commended. Parisians maintained a restrained silence in the aftermath of the attacks. Efforts to politicise the tragedy almost immediately were scorned here (ahem, Mick Wallace) and abroad, with New York Times writer Frank Bruni branding it "ugly". The public grasped for in-depth understanding of the tragedy and the media by and large supplied it. Discourse has been measured, careful and resists reactionary revenge plots that events like these are predisposed to.

In this calm, Western leaders are continuing with the original strategy. They are not giving Isil what they want, a showdown with the West on Middle Eastern soil, but have not held back either, backing localised forces with intensified airstrikes. This progress is slow but it is working. The US Department of Defense reported a 25pc decrease in Isil controlled territory in April of this year. With that context in mind, the recent terror threats can be seen largely for what they are; the dissatisfied lashing out of an increasingly desperate losing side.

It seems European rationality and restrain could be defeating the irrational psychopathy of Isil. One such example is the amusingly odd Belgians' response to police pleas not to post information of their invasions as they were taking place around Brussels under the hashtag #brusselslockdown, as many eager tweeters tend to do. Instead, thousands of Brussels tweeters took to the tweet machine to lend a hand in confusing terror suspects by instead, flooding the hashtag with pictures of cats. This simple act of intelligent, calm and quick-witted defiance, however odd, shows the triumph of European cool in the face of Isil, which lives and breathes on outrage and irrationality. Now, who would of thought cat pictures on the internet were capable of such a feat?

But don't let my words calm you down too much. The end of the world as we know it is still definitely on the cards, just where we least expect. The United Nation's conference on climate change begins this week in Paris and aims to bring together world leaders to negotiate a deal strong enough to keep global warming at bay. But if they fail to come together and bring poorer countries on board then they may not be able to make moves to prevent rising sea levels, severe droughts and extreme weather, a result of such effects would be more war and displacement. One example of such future consequences was the death this week of Nola, the fourth last northern white rhino in existence.

And if you thought the world of the arts was free of despair, think again. Saudi Arabia sentenced a poet Ashraf Fayadh to death for 'apostasy'. They also threatened to sue any tweeters who compared them to Isil, which twitter promptly replied with thousands of tweets with the hashtag #SaudiArabiaisIsis.

While Saudi Arabia is not exactly as brutal as Isil, protests for freedom of speech are always welcome. And in a land where poets lead whole revolutions, it is tragic to see a poet killed for their words. In that vein, despite all the foreboding of last week, at least we can take a moment to find some beauty in Fayadh's words.

"Your mute blood will not speak up

as long as you pride yourself in death

as long as you keep announcing - secretly - that you have put your soul

at the hands of those who do not know much.

losing your soul will cost time,

much longer than what it takes to calm

your eyes that have cried tears of oil."

(Translated by Mona Kareem.)

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