Supremacists Bulldoze American Dream

When two Austin landlords bulldozed a Hispanic family’s piñata store on 20 March, to make space for a party, they destroyed the property of people they regarded as “roaches”.  They destroyed someone else’s American Dream, believing them to be inferior, helpless and without basic rights.

This news story makes disturbing reading.  One of the landlords used language that clearly indicates a supremacist attitude: “Say you have a house that was infested by roaches… You have to clean that up”, though he later said “This issue was never about race” and claimed that his remark had been “misinterpreted”.

A redeeming feature of the story is that the CEO of an organisation involved with the party pulled out when he heard about the bulldozing.  He showed a sense of decency that the landlords entirely lacked.

The family is going to court to obtain compensation for the loss of property, but one of them said “We don’t want money… We want to survive and we want respect.”  The law cannot supply an adequate remedy.  The whole community, white and Hispanic, should unite in ostracising the landlords; moral disapprobation is an appropriate sanction against people who don’t know how to behave and who trample on the rights of others.

The Chinese government is dissipating its legitimacy

If it is to retain its legitimacy, the Chinese government needs to change the way it responds to issues.  Recent incidents, relating to corruption and freedom of speech, suggest that the government needs to update its approach to take account of the increasing difficulty of maintaining a policy of secrecy on matters of public concern.

The government currently has a real basis for political legitimacy:

  • The Party recruits people on a meritocratic basis to serve the population.
  • It is delivering economic growth.
  • It has successfully maintained law and order.

This legitimacy, though, depends upon being seen to try to serve the people to the best of its ability – in accordance with Confucian values.  It is a form of legitimacy which can be lost if people start to believe that those in power are enriching themselves at the public’s expense, or if people feel that their concerns are ignored.

A Guardian report on 22 January drew attention to reports that “more than a dozen close relatives of China’s political and military leadership have been moving large quantities of money into the British Virgin Islands”.  This story was not only published by the Guardian, whose website has now been partially blocked by the Chinese government, but it will have echoed around the Internet (including this website).  It is very difficult to prevent corruption.  The government cannot now pretend that it doesn’t exist, so its only credible course of action is to announce an inquiry to investigate the accusations.

As reported by Sky News on the same day, the government has detained a lawyer who “wrote an online article entitled China Needs A New Citizens’ Movement.  Its aim was to promote government transparency and expose corruption.”  Amnesty has expressed concern over the detention on the basis of human rights, and the government is worried about the publicity given to what appears to be a cover-up on the corruption issue.  Matters were made worse by harassing Sky’s reporter on live television.

The government’s past policy, of cracking down on all opposition, appears to restore law and order but it carries the risk of allowing resentment to build up with no outlet for people to vent their frustration.  In a democratic country, people’s frustration with one government can often be resolved by voting for its replacement at the next election – but this is not possible in China.  The Chinese government could only be dislodged by a revolution, which would be unimaginably costly in terms of lives.  It is therefore all the more important that people can express their concerns openly and that the government can be seen to listen.

Nowadays, with increasing use of mobile phones and the Internet, it is much easier to gather support for a protest.  It is also much harder to suppress news.  The best response is to listen, to announce an inquiry to investigate the complaints, and to regularly publish progress on that inquiry.  The government would be much more secure if it welcomed information about corruption and demonstrated that it was intending to root it out.

Proposed Intervention in Syria

There are obvious comparisons between the current considerations being given to intervention in Syria and the previous political processes which led to the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999 and the Western invasion of Iraq in 2003:

  • The UN Security Council is unlikely to permit an intervention in Syria, just as it refused to permit the interventions in Kosovo and Iraq.  Russia and China would use their vetoes.
  • A long-range bombing strike against Syria’s chemical weapons capability is being compared to NATO’s intervention in Kosovo: intended to help civilians, but illegal in international law.
  • The Western political rhetoric is about military intervention, not about treating the use of chemical weapons as a crime which could be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court.
  • As a result of opposition pressure, the British government is waiting for UN weapons-inspectors to establish the facts – unlike the political impulsiveness of the decision to invade Iraq 10 years ago without waiting for proof of the existence of weapons of mass destruction.
  • The American government has talked itself into having to make an intervention in Syria, but there is disagreement about how heavy it should be and it might not be popular.

There would be risks attached to any intervention, especially without UN agreement, but it is reported that “The United States, Britain and France say they can act with or without a U.N. Security Council resolution”.  There would be less risk if a reformed UN could prevent a government from harming its own citizens.

European Convention on Human Rights

An article in The Mail on Sunday, on 3 March 2013, celebrated the British Home Secretary’s proposal for Britain “to pull out of the discredited European Convention on Human Rights that has allowed dangerous criminals and hate preachers to remain in the UK “.  The newspaper suggested that Theresa May’s proposed move “would mean foreign courts could no longer meddle in British justice”.  This is arguably not in the best interests of the British people.

The article brings into question the whole scope of Europe’s role in the subsidiarity of legal power (5.3.5).  It mentions “such hugely controversial decisions as banning the deportation of radical cleric Abu Qatada and giving British prisoners the right to vote”.  This raises three separate questions: how to reduce the impact of “hate preachers”, whether “foreign criminals” should have any civil rights, and to what extent any person forfeits their rights by committing a crime.  The newspaper ignores the reasons for establishing the European Convention on Human Rights.

As reported by the BBC, Abu Qatada “faces a retrial in Jordan for allegedly conspiring to cause explosions on Western and Israeli targets in 1998 and 1999” but has “never been prosecuted in the UK” because the “director of public prosecutions ….had never been shown any evidence to support a criminal prosecution”.  If British law has a problem in protecting the population from damage inflicted by “hate preachers” that is a purely domestic matter which needs to be addressed as part of preventing ethnic conflict (5.4.6); the fact that Abu Qatada is not a British citizen should be irrelevant in this context.  It would have been convenient for British politicians to dodge the issue, by deporting a single “hate preacher”, but that would not have resolved the problem of British citizens who preach hate.

There is a question relating to the civil rights of denizens – people who live in a country but who do not have citizenship.  They are human beings, so they should have the same basic human rights as anybody else, as defined in the European Convention on Human Rights; that is the prime concern of the European Court of Human Rights.  The extent of economic or political rights for denizens is a different question (6.7.3).

The question of whether prisoners should be allowed to vote is related to the objectives of the penal system (5.2.7).  If rehabilitation is intended, prisoners will return to society at the end of their sentences.  It is surely counter-productive to make them feel that they can never play a constructive part in society; voting is one of the most basic mechanisms by which an individual participates in politics (6.6.1).

Theresa May’s proposal should be judged on whether it would it be better for the population if Britain were to completely withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.  British people have become complacent about their rights, yet this is unwise (5.4.7).  European intervention prevented the loss of the ancient rights which prevent arrest without charge and indefinite detention without trial.  The convention was designed for this very purpose – to prevent national politicians from seizing powers which can be abused.

If her proposal were designed solely to gain support for the Conservative party in a struggle against UKIP, without due consideration of what is best for the British people, she should reflect on the possibility that many voters would give such a party neither their respect nor their votes.