Astonished by RBS

No need to add much text here- I discovered last night that my RBS account has been accessed and money taken. Instead of proper service, however, I was transferred to a “fraud department”, treated to rudeness and evasion. I do not feel very reassured at all. But I have had an hour this morning to draw their boss:

What he says should give hope, and I have no doubt he means well, but he said this two years ago.

ross mcewan by tim

Indy 2

Nicola Sturgeon enters a fantasy world

nicola sturgeon 2 by TIMBritain’s first referendum was held on June 6th 1975 to approve or reject the EEC agreement reached 2 years’ earlier by Edward Heath. Clement Attlee said that referendums were “a device for despots and dictators.” In the 1970s, Mrs Thatcher thought Lord Attlee was probably right. Louis Napoleon (Emperor Napoleon III) used 2 referendums just over 12 months to overturn the fragile French Republic in 1851 and confirm his December coup d’état as legal and constitutional. Hitler held 4 referendums in 1933 (to leave the League of Nations),  1934, 1936 and 1938 (they were then banned for 60 years), so did Mussolini in 1934 (ostensibly an election, it was seen as “the second referendum of Fascism”) as did Pinochet in 1980 and Ferdinand Marcos (who used 3) and JR Jayawardene in Sri Lanka who used a referendum to prolong parliament by 6 years. Colonel George Papadopoulos and the Greek Generals seized power using a referendum in 1973 to legitimise their rule. Putting too much trust in Referendums, in other words, is to cosy up with some very disturbing bedfellows. We have just had two referendums in two years. Surely that is enough for now.

Today, when we might have expected the news to be dominated by the final stages of the Brexit bill going back through the Commons, the First Minister of Scotland said she planned to trigger Indy 2.

While I think there is a case to be made for a version of Brexit that recognises the 62% vote for remain in Scotland, and while I think a compromise approach may well give the UK overall some access to the EU, however we pursue Brexit, I also think that now is not the time to be discussing these details. More than that, Nicola Sturgeon demonstrates today that she is prepared to pick and choose which referendums she accepts and which she rejects. Either we accept in principle what is returned in a referendum or we do not hold a referendum at all. I am not a fan of the referendum as a concept-I think it is a very clumsy tool, but we cannot keep rerunning referendums until we get the result we want. Isn’t that what is done in Europe? Isn’t that why we have rejected Europe?

In 2016, Greece voted in a referendum by 61% to 39% to reject the Austerity measures. No one paid any attention. In 2008, Ireland voted against the Lisbon treaty by 53% but it was ratified nonetheless after Ireland held a second referendum (as it also did in 2001 when it rejected the Nice treaty and had to try again). The Lisbon treaty was a replacement for the TCE which was roundly rejected by referendums in France and the netherlands in 2005. Significantly, Lisbon was not the subject of a second French referendum.

As for the actual substance of Indy 2, this is very confused. The first Minister might have a case that the Brexit decision represents a “significant and material” change and chimes in with the SNP manifesto, but the practice of holding another referendum and getting the result she wants is by no means certain. More than that, even if she gained a “Yes” for independence, which is far from certain, there is no guarantee that Scotland would even be allowed to stay in or moreover re-enter the European family as a separatist state. The Spanish, for instance, mindful of their own Catalonian issues, might well be reluctant to reward such displays of independence.

Travel bans

The current stand-off between Holland and Turkey actually centres around the divisive figure of Gert Wilders and his supporters across Europe. Certainly, his attitude to Islam and to the treatment of refugees makes the charge of Fascism seem quite reasonable. What is more worrying is that this current fight may well bounce Wilders into power after Wednesday. The whole story shows Europe in the very worst light possible. It looks xenophobic, cheap and chaotic.

Gert Wilders by TIM

A few points are well worth noting. The first is that the various attempts to stop Turkish ministers from speaking in Europe have been couched in the language of “putting public order and safety in jeopardy”, but in fact there is clearly an agenda going back weeks if not months to stop these rallies at all cost. Indeed, this is what Mark Rutte originally wrote on his facebook,

“Many Dutch people with a Turkish background are authorized to vote in the referendum over the Turkish constitution. The Dutch government does not have any protest against gatherings in our country to inform them about it,…But these gatherings may not contribute to tensions in our society and everyone who wants to hold a gathering is obliged to follow instructions of those in authority so that public order and safety can be guaranteed.”

What I find particularly disturbing, therefore, is the late claim by the Dutch Prime Minister filmed by AlJazeera that holding a rally to promote a political cause in another country is actually illegal in Holland. This is how the AlJazeera joiurnalists have documented the comments later:

In the Netherlands it is illegal to hold a public rally about another country’s politics.

“The Dutch authorities appear not to want to allow any Turkish government minister to address any rally in this country,” Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane, reporting from Rotterdam, said.

“That’s in their law, and all the parties appear to be supporting the position of the government.”

However, no one appeared to think it was illegal before Saturday and before the damage had been d0ne! Indeed, Dutch News reported a few days ago ”

Legal experts say that the government has few options but that Aboutaleb can ban the meeting on public order grounds.
http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2017/03/dutch-look-at-legal-options-to-stop-turkish-referendum-rally/

It would have made so much more sense, then, if it is truly the case that it is illegal to hold foreign rallies, to have said that at the outset, rather than to have whimpered on about “security and timing”. It smacks of mendacity. It is certainly not straightforward and it is thoroughly regrettable.

More to the point, there is a good record of Mr Wilders’ lengthy campaign to stop these rallies and of his personal opinion of Mr Erdoğan. The British press have chosen to conflate the various events of the last few days, suggesting that Mr Erdoğan’s language was intemperate and that the removal of the Family Minister was sparked by that. In fact, Mr Erdoğan was simply articulating the fact that Mr Wilders’ campaign was winning and I certainly do not see a vast gulf between the sort of things Mr Wilders promotes and the views of Fascism.

It has been a view certainly shared by the UK which issued its own travel ban to Mr Wilders, in force from 2006 to 2009. Following his most recent visits at the request of Lord Pearson, and Baroness Cox, and the screening of his film, “Fitna”, the Home office noted that his “statements and behaviour during a visit will inevitably impact on any future decisions to admit him”. It is unclear what the official British position might be, but Maxime Verhagen was quite candid. She said,

“He incites discord among people in a distasteful manner. And in the meantime he damages the interests of the Dutch population and the reputation of the Netherlands in the world”. In the article where this is quoted, Wilders is also abusive of the President Erdoğan: “En de Turkse premier Erdogan noemde hij een ‘total freak’.”“Verhagen: Wilders beschadigt reputatie Nederland” 

Indeed, as Lord Ahmed said, Mr Wilders’ presence in the UK was a platform to “provoke violence and hatred”. He has clearly done that in Holland, and the effects of his manipulation are now dictating the way Turkey behaves. What a mess!

Deeply uncomfortable

Today the Dutch authorities denied entry to the Turkish Foreign Minister who was to address a rally in the Netherlands in support of proposed changes to the Turkish Government. This comes on the back of a denial for a similar rally in Germany.

This makes uncomfortable reading. Today’s action was apparently taken directly by the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, himself who said that, as Holland is approaching a General election on Wednesday in which “the immigration issue” plays a significant role, a the visit of The Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Çavuşoğlu, was “a threat to public order”.

Cavusoglu by TIM.jpg

While authorities may disagree with the proposals presented by Mr Erdoğan’s government, what appears to be a prolonged demonstration of pique by Europe’s ruling elite is almost unprecedented. Other countries, admittedly, like Russia (which banned 89  EU politicians from entering Russia in 2015, among them Nick Clegg and Uwe Corsepius) have also denied senior politicians from visiting their counties, but this sets a foolish precedent and one that the EU itself protested about in 2015. It causes offence, inconvenience and, more importantly, it closes opportunities to engage these people in meaningful conversation. If the Foreign Minister is coming to speak to a rally in Holland, it stands to reason that he should make time to talk to the Foreign Minister in the Netherlands. It makes no sense that his plane should be re-routed.

Our future rests on an ability to talk to one another. It is talking that has kept world peace for 70 years and if we abandon that, we are taking a very uncertain step in a new direction.

The Presidential system

If we think the changes proposed by President Erdoğan threaten democracy in Turkey, then we should engage with the Turkish leaders. Personally, I think the proposals will enshrine in law a constitution that finally pushes the army into its proper place. There is much to commend in that fact alone. Moreover, there seems little point in having direct elections for a President who is then denied the appropriate executive power of a democratically-elected leader. The change to the Presidential system simply recognises what is already happening.

The Language of Europe

Of course, there have been some high profile incidents in Turkey where journalists have either been detained or denied entry. While the arrest of Daniz Yüzel who is currently held in Silivri prison is by no means straightforward, despite the rather glib reports in the media, he is certainly not alone and that is worrying. Again, this runs in the face of free speech and the chance to engage and inform. But there is, I am afraid, a big difference between turning away, for example, Rod Nordland, a New York Times Journalist, and turning away a senior leader of a Democratic country and Nato ally. And for EU leaders to hide behind bureaucratic nonsense about security or to treat fellow leaders so casually and repeatedly is concerning. The EU is here being less than honest because the repeated problem suggests an overall policy to stop Turkish leaders from addressing their own people. So this is not so much about a threat to democracy from Turkey- it is a demonstration that democracy is itself threatened in Europe. You cannot have it both ways!

At a time, then, when Europe needs the voice of reason, we are packing our bags and planning to leave. Maybe we are going too soon- because we cannot leave Europe in this mess, where mendacity has evidently replaced diplomacy.

To make matters worse, this comes across in the Turkish media as something of an EU agenda. An event in Zurich scheduled for yesterday was cancelled as also rallies in three other Austrian towns. In the south German town of Gaggenau, the Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ was to address a rally organised by EETD (the Union of European Turkish Democrats).  At the last minute the event was cancelled by the local mayor who cited security concerns about on-site parking. Later, the authorities in Cologne said that a meeting scheduled for 5th March when the Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci was to have addressed a rally  was cancelled because the appropriate permission had not been granted “There was no agreement for March 5, and there will not be”.

This might have been dismissed as some sort of bureaucratic mess-up but that Germany’s opposition party is already on record in advance of the Gaggenau rally demanding that their government deny the Minister entry. There are 2.3 million Turks living in 57 countries outside Turkey and legally entitled to cast a vote in the forthcoming referendum. The largest community of expats is in Germany and came to Germany at Germany’s request. Cologne’s decision about the visit of the Turkish Economy minister looks political whatever excuse is provided. More than that, it is the same city which prevented President Erdoğan from addressing supporters by video link after the FETÖ coup last year, and that had meanwhile allowed a senior PKK commander Murat Karayılan to address a rally at a culture festival. PKK is a group that both the EU and the US label as a terrorist organisation and yet it still able to raise nearly £12 million in Germany alone. The EU approach is inconsistent and insulting. It is not calculated to win hearts and minds.

Mr Erdoğan has already reacted with fairly fierce rhetoric but his real response may well be to “open the gates” allowing migrants back into mainland Europe. Already, the EU has indicated that Turkey does not meet the requirements agreed last year for visa-free travel in Europe. Turkey has already shouldered the migrant-burden and should get something more than snubs for its goodwill.

Ex-pat votes

Is it wrong for one country to appeal to expat voters by holding rallies in another country? The present Papacy, for example, has built its entire ministry on the principle that it can hold rallies anywhere in the world. But certainly, when Turkish Prime Minster Binali Yildirim spoke to 10,000 countrymen in Oberhausen in February, a debate was sparked across Continental Europe.

Yet rallies to support foreign groups take place all over the place- indeed, there is a german anti-Islamic group called Pegida, led by Lutz Bachmann, which has now launched its own political party (FDDV with links to AfD) and which has held rallies here in the UK – rather pleasingly, while it commands rallies of up to 25,000 in places like Dresden, only 375 people marched to support the group in Newcastle, and an estimated 2000 Brits staged a counter-demonstration. That’s surely the way democracy should work!

Dr Fatma BETUL Sayan Kaya by TIM

Coda:

This evening the family minister, Dr Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, already in Germany for other talks, was denied access to the Turkish Consulate in Rotterdam. The Consular staff are not allowed to meet her and she is also so far not allowed into her own Consulate. Instead, the Dutch authorities have invited her to be escorted out of the country. Presumably, she was not stopped on the German border: none of this makes alot of sense but it most certainly raises tension; already Geert Wilders has gone public with a cry to “Clean our country” referring to the Turkish protestors as “500 allahu akbar screaming Turks in Rotterdam”. This was action calculated to play into the hands of Right wing bigots and it has. I am deeply shocked. This is not the sort of Europe I think we should be seeing. It is certainly not the sort of Europe I could ever or would ever support.

 

Varoufakis is wrong

Austerity and class warfare

I like Yanis Varoufakis even if he has chosen to spell his name in an idiosyncratic way. I like his enthusiasm and his style. I like his motorbike and I am personally indebted to his party for giving me time when facing serious problems in Greece in the early part of this century. His party, certainly before they got power, understood their role then in and to society in a way that the established parties of Pasok and New Democracy did not.

Nevertheless, for all my respect, it does not mean I think he is right! And as Yanis would have to admit, there is a big difference between what might be done in theory and what must be done in practice.

A while back, Varoufakis was quoted in the Independent suggesting that “Austerity” is actually a form of class-warfare. While Varoufakis is actually quoting Noam Chomsky (unacknowledged incidentally, or are they really joined at the hip?), his claim remains simplistic and at best, it merely acknowledges that, as a crypto Marxist, Varoufakis thinks class-conflict ought to play a role in the way economic policy has been dictated simply because Marxism says it plays a role in the way history develops. If there is class conflict in recent Austerity programmes then I suspect that is entirely incidental. I think, though, that it is also a bit rich coming from a man with a degree of domestic comfort that makes Mr Corbyn’s tax return look modest.

The poor have suffered from Austerity. That is quite true, but that alone does not make Austerity itself a “class war”. It simply means that Austerity causes casualties and that, as a remedy to the current economic crisis, the Austerity package is not properly thought through. “Austerity” is probably badly named anyway – it is not about being frugal with the national or international economy; it is about reducing public expenditure at a time when we are spending more than we are making. High debt, in other words, is recognised as an impediment to growth and should be curtailed. One way to do this is to increase taxation and the other is to decrease public spending. In fact, while claiming to be pursuing a policy of Austerity until 2015, our Government did not actually reduce public spending by much at all. (and there is an argument that the Government simply abandoned Austerity in 2012 and that this led to our recovery whatever the rhetoric. It again, rather suggests that “Austerity” does not work.)

Greece

In the case of Greece, Austerity has pretty-well destroyed the country, (the debt has gone up rather than down so proving that Austerity was the wrong medicine for the illness) but arguably the greatest destruction has been to impose an Austerity programme from outside and so to compromise Greece’s sovereignty and National self-esteem. To make matters worse, it was imposed by Germany -a country that benefited from debt cancellations after the war. Her post-war growth can be directly attributed to that. More than that, Greece was among the countries that cancelled the debts Germany owed it (one can think of the Viannos and Kalavryta massacres or of the 218 men, women and children slaughtered in Distomo, for example, in 1944 or indeed of the demand, in 1942, for the Greek bank to give Germany an interest-free loan of 476 million Reichsmarks which was used to pay for the military occupation of Greece?) on the understanding that a conference would be held after the reunification of Germany. That conference never happened and the debt Germany owed Greece was never paid (though Germany paid Greek individuals about 115 million Deutschmarks. If repaid now, the total debt to Greece would amount to between $14-$95 billion depending on the way it is calculated. The Syriza government calculated the amount to be 341 billion euros). If Greece had been allowed to devalue its currency, and had been given some form of debt forgiveness, then it would not have had to reduce public spending so suddenly and relentlessly. In practice, this process was interpreted both within Greece and by the International community as a punishment and has stifled growth. No one wants to sit with the naughty boy in the corner.

“Austerity” alone was not the problem. It was the way Austerity was imposed and the failure to keep the government fully on board which explains the problem. In Greece, a series of governments, from PASOK, new democracy to Syriza, has always pandered to its core vote. In the case of Syriza, that is the retired and current civil servants- hence bizzare pension reforms, a reluctance to cut public expense as well as a rise in unreasonable taxes (for instance, while public employees have remained fairly secure, the Self-employed have been penalised- Insurance contributions today often exceed half the monthly earnings and all private businesses are now expected to pay 29% of next year’s earnings! There are instances where the self-employed have to pay up to 70% of their income in taxes and insurance. It is unfair and completely absurd as it simply encourages tax evasion, bankruptcy and prologued unemployment because smaller businesses can no longer afford to take on staff).

Question time

On Question time, Varoufakis identified a number of tax issues in the past that may have needed clarification but certainly do not point to a class war. “To be talking about reducing the state further when effectively what you are doing is reducing taxes like inheritance tax and at the same time you are cutting benefits – that is class war.” A reduction in both corporation and income tax stimulates investment.

keynes 2.jpgThis is, at heart, something proposed by Keynes, even if it is often quoted by people on the Right and even if what most people remember about Keynes is his third option that Governments should borrow money and spend it. President Bush told Congress years’ ago, “To create economic growth and opportunity, we must put money back into the hands of the people who buy goods and create jobs.” Even so, it is worth noting that while reducing the amount of tax paid at the higher end, the Coalition Government was responsible also for raising the tax threshold in 2011, (helping the poor) and I think on principle there are some very solid reasons why we should cut taxes overall -cutting tax for both the rich and the poor, a principle incidentally that is absolutely the sort of thing Mrs Thatcher advocated.

Putting this into practice, though, is tough and events often get in the way of ideology and principles.

Ideal business policy

There are two ways to run a business. To employ as few people as necessary and pay them as much as you can or to employ as many people as possible and pay them each as little as is legally necessary. I much prefer the first model and I have seen the second model in action in both Greece and Russia. It is strikingly obvious that people who are not paid what they are worth, or who are not inspired or encouraged to do the most they can, are frustrated and unhappy. Yet exactly this second model has been rolled out with tremendous success recently in Turkey. A call went out to small businesses to employ more people and, so far, over 1 million workers have moved from welfare to work at minimum wage, with the Government topping up insurance contributions and tax. Once again, one size does not fit all. What might work in Turkey is unlikely to work here, but we should admire Erdogan’s direct appeal to a sense of National Responsibility.

Ideal taxation

Austerity is about a choice between increasing taxation or reducing public spending. I think there is a third way: I think we can reform public spending and also, at the same time, reduce tax.

We should look at what Turkey is doing and be inspired- because we also need our own sense of National Responsibility: specifically, we need to address the ways we collect tax and how we spend the money we get.

So, firstly, we need to recognise the principle that people of all backgrounds should keep as much of the money they earn. As I mentioned, that is something that was dear to the heart of Mrs T and I think it remains a worthy goal. (I was recently told that as a foreigner working in a State university in Russia, I should be taxed at a higher rate than nationals; indeed, I should pay twice the tax. Astonishing! It was made much worse to learn this after a very small amount was paid into my bank account. “I thought you knew” is not really an adequate explanation.) It still seems to be the case that individuals use money more wisely than large institutions and the higher the taxes, the less investment there seems to be, the less incentive there is. We need to look again at incentives to invest in public works.

I think Varoufakis is confused, because there are a number of models that support the principle of reducing tax, mostly to the rich- the laffer curve, beloved of Reagan, which suggests that taxable income changes in response to the percentage taxed, and so allows for the possibility that the less percentage we tax, the more people earn and so in theory, the amount the Government receives would be pretty much the same while the trickle down theory (which suggests favouring the rich ultimately benefits the poor) sounds patronising. In the end, the only moral approach is to reduce taxation overall. But part of that approach must involve a reduction in VAT. VAT is about not class-warfare. It is indifferent to class but it hurts the poor more.

By offering tax cuts to both rich and poor, George Osborne was not quite following the principles of Austerity, but rather reviving Thatcher’s moral vision- to reduce taxation as a whole. He was finally applauded by M. Lagarde who said, “At the IMF we have learned that there is no single best way to reduce the fiscal deficit. We clearly underestimated the growth of the UK economy in our forecasts a year ago.”

Secondly, we need to look at both the health service and social security because both systems are spiralling out of control; as we live longer, both long-term health-care as well as welfare dependency cannot be sustained in the present form. We know that is a problem with the current system, but there is also a problem with the way the system deals with those who fall outside the norm- I think it is appalling that we can see homelessness in Britain today, and it is appalling that many people struggle to access a proper doctor outside office hours. We have been seduced into thinking that one size fits all: it does not. We need to have a number of parallel systems -where one system might pick up what the other leaves behind. So, as we need to look again at welfare and health, both currently failing, we are not to embracing class warfare. Quite the reverse and we have a limited time to get this right. We must do more of this, not less.

Bureaucracy

The quick fixes of the last twenty years have, in effect, increased the number of bureaucrats who have managed a form of hybrid care that is neither genuinely private nor fully public. Bureaucracy is an attractive way to put a problem on hold because it is about passing the buck, but every new department that is created adds to the overall bill we must still pay. And in the end, the problem still needs to be addressed.

bureaucracy by TIM.jpg

We need to reign back the Bureaucrats. And what an opportunity we have: just once in a lifetime, there is an event that will actually decrease the numbers of bureaucrats- because Brexit will cull their numbers in Brussels, so we should be careful not to create yet another class of bureaucrats to replace the ones we are “letting go”.

Attracting clever people to generate clever solutions

If we want to improve social equality, then we also have to find both the money to pay for it and the people to run our schemes more imaginatively. We need to do that through an efficient tax system. Our progressive tax system, as it stands, incidentally already taxes the rich more than the poor, but VAT remains a scourge: it is a fairly inflexible tax that hits everyone and hits the poor more than the rich; it is something that we inherited from the EU, even if a rudimentary version of VAT was once introduced here during the war.

We need to attract top business brains to get us out of this mess. We cannot do that if they know they will be penalised themselves by a punitive tax system. (How would they react when they look at their first month’s pay? “I thought you knew” is no way to command confidence) We need to reduce tax overall not increase it, and that is an aim we should nurture across the board. Lower tax means an incentive to invest. Lower tax means attracting the right people who will devise systems that work!

Whether we like it or not, the coming Brexit will create a Government spending spree that would make both Keynes and Michał Kalecki smirk. But that should really be where it stops. Kalecki has emerged from the shadows of post war Poland to be cited both as an inspiration for Keynes and Varoufakis as well as a solution to our current woes. It is from Kalecki that we get the perfidious idea that a tax on the rich might help us. It will simply drive the rich away. The French have tried it. It does not work!

Brexit is change. And change is a chance for new ideas to emerge. It is no time to drive people away, but to invite them to contribute to the new reality of a post-Brexit Britain.

Part of the process of inviting people into Britain to help us and keeping the best people here is getting our taxation system right.

Some clarification:

  1. Rather than a crypto Marxist, Varoufakis calls himself an “erratic” Marxist. So I am being a bit coy here. I should be more direct.
  2. I think the point of this article is a bit lost. (a) Austerity is a fairly aggressive treatment and like chemotherapy, it can cause damage and is often not effective. It does not seem to have been effective in Britain and it has been deeply destructive in Greece and Brazil. But the principle of reducing debt is perfectly sound. It is simply about how it is done. (b) Varoufakis’ claim that “Austerity is class warfare” has become a mantra of the left. In fact, austerity budgets in France and Italy have imposed surcharges on those with incomes over 500,000 and 300,000 euros. Hardly an attack on the poor, but I think equally not a very effective source of revenue.
  3.  I did not address the issue of “retribution”: a theory that says the rich should be taxed more as a punishment for causing the banking crisis. In fact, over 40% of British do not pay any income tax (23 million people) so the burden of taxation has already shifted towards the richer Brits and the top 3,000 earners here (that is 0.01% of the total paying income tax in the UK) contribute 4.2% to total Government revenue as calculated in 2013. At the time the Treasury said, “The rich pay more under this Government than under Labour. The people who pay zero tax are the millions of low earners who have been taken out of paying income tax altogether due to George Osborne increasing the tax free personal allowance.” Across the Atlantic, the richest 1% of Americans pay 1/4 federal tax and nearly 40% income tax. So much for taxation. As spending cuts, however, hit the poor more than they hit the rich, the aim should be to restructure public spending rather than to cut it.
  4. Varoufakis, incidentally, I understand, also wants to reduce VAT. We agree on that of course! He is not so wrong after all.

Three Last Things

Three issues have dominated this week. The first is the vote in the House of Lords that frankly at this stage comes across as self-indulgent and posturing, and the second is the continued failure of Mr Corbyn. I think the two things are linked. It is, of course, Corbyn who should have questioned whether the Government’s current approach to Brexit is “unreal and optimistic”, but it fell to Sir John Major to make that point and in those words. In both cases, of the Lords and Corbyn, there is a manifestation of ideology over realism, and this is not good for the way we are seen in Europe. At  a time when we need to be united and strong, we look divided and weak. That brings me to the third point which is “Indy 2” and Nicola Sturgeon’s flirtation with yet another referendum.

A change is always an opportunity for a fresh start. I wish more had been achieved between Mrs May and Nicola Sturgeon at the beginning of Mrs May’s premiership. But when article 50 is triggered that is also a significant change and a time once again to mend fences and move forward. I hope we are ready for that and Mrs May has shown with her visit to the US that she is ready to bite the bullet! Certainly, there is an opportunity to think of flexibility in the way Brexit is implemented across the UK and Nicola Sturgeon’s recommendations should perhaps be taken seriously. At the same time, her threats to break up the Kingdom are foolish because she cheapens what amounts to a solution by tying it too strongly to the tails of her Independence kite.

nicola sturgeon

As for the EU citizenship thing-

For what it is worth, I think we should have offered unilateral residency to all EU citizens currently in the UK and it should not have been dependent on what Mrs Merkel agreed or thought. The Lords agrees with me, now, though my argument has actually hardly been mentioned- specifically I have argued that granting citizenship now effectively offers no more than is already on the table, but it signals so much more and it provides security. It is the right thing to do. Because, by the time Brexit is negotiated and implemented, almost all those here on the date of the referendum would have qualified anyway for British residency, assuming they have collected the relevant paperwork. I also think, incidentally, such an offer would have established a claim to the moral high-ground, would have been a show of goodwill at a time when there is already and going to be a good deal of nastiness and would have put pressure on Brussels to match our goodwill removing this issue from the negotiations. We could not be blamed for using people as leverage, and we could have got on with the important issues of how we will do trade and politics together. There are better things to negotiate than this issue of citizenship and we need all the goodwill we can muster to get the best deal. More to the point, while I am mindful of the 900,000 Brits abroad, the fact remains that they are spread over diverse countries each with its own naturalisation processes. The EU does not have a “one-size fits all” approach to granting citizenship. For example, in Greece, citizenship might well come packaged with demands for military conscription. We would have done well to have set the terms for this debate, but we missed that opportunity. Whatever the Lords recommend at this stage is all a bit late and it looks shabby. If this offer was to have been on the table at all, to be effective, it needed to have been divorced from Mrs May’s triggering of article 50.

Bluntly, whether an undertaking by Britain now to grant unilateral citizenship to 3 million EU residents when or just after we trigger article 50, amounts to much the same thing and Theresa May is right: At this stage, it must become part of the package of Article 50 negotiations, because that is how it will now be perceived. We missed the boat. The ideologues were too late and quite simply, in pressing the issue at this stage, they have weakened the argument.

There is a time for action, and that time passed a while ago!

So, while I support the idea, that is what it should remain. A great idea, and one that should indeed have been enacted nearly 6 months’ ago. But it is too late now.

corbyn-tim

Mr Corbyn suffers from the same nonsense. He does not know when to speak and when to shut up. Of course, he should have been more vigorous in leading his party against Brexit. He was not. And as a follow-on, of course, he should not have whipped the same MPs who followed his pathetic lead in arguing to Remain into now supporting for the Brexit bill. It is not that his support of the bill or his lack of support would have seriously damaged its passing through the chamber, anyway, but his job is to challenge the government to present the best possible case, to make our legislation more robust. Instead, he thinks he imagines he is still on some sort of activist campaign. Mr Corbyn seems to have given up his effective role in the commons- if he cannot govern, maybe he thinks, and even he must recognise that he will never be Prime Minister, then he might have concluded that it is not really worth the effort at all. He is wrong and he is arrogant: he thinks there is something noble about the idea of contra mundum, but this King Canute approach to politics is simply stupid. Politics is about getting things done- governing the Polis, the city. It is entirely practical. It is not the slogans of the banners of protest that matter- it is the quality of the debate that Corbyn leads that dictates the way policies are defined- and he has long-since abandoned that responsibility. A shame because it is actually the one job he might have done well. As a result, other peoples and groups, whether they be the Ken Clarke’s, (Wonderland!) the Judges or the Lords have taken on the job Corbyn demonstrates he is incapable of doing- the debate on Brexit has shifted, therefore, to an unsightly squabble with the House of Lords. It is unnecessary. Good debate is about raising the issues that matter before they hit us. Today, when we should be controlling the Brexit issue, instead, because of Corbyn’s arrogance, we are increasingly reacting to events as they hit us. If the debate does not take place in the proper forum, it moves elsewhere. Paul Drechsler, the President of the CBI who should have been on board the Brexit bus, was left to observe recently that he feared the PM would open “a Pandora’s Box of economic consequences.” There is another vote coming that many Lords think is more important than the issue of the EU Citizens here (and note the numbers 3 million to 900,000: in terms of parity, it simply does not add up, but there we are! This is about principle not some sort of straight-forward tit-for-tat) — that parliament should be given the chance to veto whatever is agreed by the negotiating teams, so once again all a bit late, and why would anyone want to enter negotiations with the fear that everything will be rejected anyway- not by one of the 27 countries in the EU but by our own parliament! It is madness. But once again it confirms that because Corbyn has failed to do his duty, others, including two of our recent Prime ministers feel they must take over and do it. They are all playing catch-up, they are washing our dirty-linen in public and it is all too undignified. The man responsible for this mess is Mr Corbyn- he is not only messing up the Labour party- he is seriously damaging our Government and our reputation at a time when we need to pull together.

A great Victory

The by-Election result last night is not only a resounding success for and endorsement of Theresa May, but it is also a brilliant kick in the pants for the appalling Nuttall and the whimpering leadership offered by Corbyn. While Labour beat UKIP in Stoke, the votes were down and in fact only the Liberal party increased its overall share by any significant amount (Conservatives up by nearly 2%, as was UKIP, but labour down by 2% as were the Greens). In Copeland, however, a real turn-around (UkIp down by 9%, Labour down by 5% and Conservatives up by nearly 9%) and the first time in years that a sitting Government (7 years in) has taken a seat from the opposition. I was delighted to see Prof Green among the crowds- if rap is the voice of youth, he is in the right place at the right time. And Theresa May was quite right, just a few minutes ago to visit the seat to personally congratulate Trudy Harrison. Mrs May said,

“Trudy isn’t just somebody who talks about things, she actually rolls up her sleeves and gets things done.”

Or as Mrs Thatcher would have said, “Simply Rejoice!” It is time to see the Conservative party as the party that will deliver social reform. Even in a traditionally safe seat, the traditional labour voters know that Labour can no longer be trusted to deliver!

trudy-harrison-by-tim

The Rohingya

In January this year, following a visit to Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, the UN’s Human rights envoy to Myanmar said,

“There are more than a million Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar deprived of some of their most fundamental rights. This is a million too many.”

She met privately with Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw to discuss the future of the Rohingya.

These people have rightly attracted the attention of the International community. They are abandoned and rejected, and many have tried to escape by boat to nearby States. In Myanmar, they are seen as a “self-defined” an unregistered Islamic community with a militant past, at a time of growing anti-Muslim prejudice. The Rakhine province, isolated by a range of mountains from the rest of Burma, was independent before it was annexed in 1785, and the only text from before the late 20th Century to mention the Rohingya by name dates to just 14 years after this annexation. Rakhine was then a stronghold of Buddhism, with a celebrated Statue of the Buddha, the Mahamuni image, which was later transported to Mandalay. Maybe there is a sense that the State has been sidelined and this is shared by both the Buddhist and Islamic communities. Today, certainly, Rakhine Buddhists say they feel vulnerable.

Aung San Suu Kye on the TODAY programme 24th October 2013

What appears to be a simple humanitarian issue shown in the 2013 Meiktila campaign, the deaths and destroyed homes that followed, the atrocities in Mandalay in 2014, the rise of 969 and in the grotesque camps of Sittwe, and an appalling example of State brutality is by no means straightforward. It is compounded by support for Aung San Suu Kyi who seems to follow an agenda in this instance that is comparable to the Nationalist agenda of her father. In a shocking interview with Mishal Husain that she gave to the BBC’s Today programme in October 2013, she justifies the exclusion of the Rohingya community in terms of the war on terror (what she calls “worldwide perception”) and allegedly commented afterwards, “no one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim”. Her comments on and off record seem to suggest that (a) Aung San Suu Kyi is herself prejudiced and (b) that if she wanted to do something to help the community, she could. Significantly, however, she does not deny the rights of the Rohingya to live legitimately in Myanmar. She simply denies that muslims have been subject to a form of ethnic cleansing and goes on to say that

“Muslims have been targeted but Buddhists have also been subject to violence.”

In that interview, she suggests that the violence suffered by the Rohingya is about adjusting to the demands of becoming “a genuine democratic society.” Yet at the same time, she makes no offer to award the Rohingya any citizenship.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s views are actually supported academically by people like Christian Fink, an anthropologist who admits that the Rohingya have been denied citizenship, but also notes the “Buddhist Rakhine population’s fears of a Muslim takeover.” (“Living silence”). This is no reason to deny healthcare, education and citizenship. It also does not address the historical record that the Rohingya voted in the first Constituent Assembly Elections of an independent Burma in 1947. If they were accepted then, it does not really make sense that they are excluded now.

aung san suu kyi by tim.jpgMuch was expected of Aung San Suu Kyi and in 2015, the Dalai Lama observed, “It’s very sad. I mentioned about this problem and she told me she found some difficulties, that things were not simple but very complicated. But in spite of that I feel she can do something.” The Pope has joined criticisms observing that the Rohingya are targeted “simply because they want to live their culture and their Muslim faith.”

Official Silence and Actual threats

Since this interview, Aung San Suu Kyi has failed to take action, and remained silent about the Rohingya, whose plight has simply got worse. This has involved a rise in hate-speech, travel controls, population control, signed by the then President Thein Sein, to restrict the number of children as well as a migration, now thwarted on rickety boats to Thailand and Malaysia. The few refugees who today make it through, are left in no doubt about their country of origin. whiteboards declare them to be from Burma. In October 2016, Benedict Rogers notes that 2000 Rohingyan villagers were held in fields by the army.

This is what John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch, said:

“Right now, it is routine for Burmese politicians, Burmese people in all walks of life, to say extremely reactionary and hateful things about the Rohingya population of Burma. Nobody is standing up and saying, ‘No, this is not what democracy is, what modern pluralistic societies are like. Aung San Suu Kyi could have been that person, and she failed to do that.”

The militant monks

The Rohingya face the rising popularity of demagogue monks, among them Ashin Wirathu, Ashin Wimala, and Ashin Parmoukkha who stretch the pacific image of Buddhist monasticism to breaking-point, though arguably it is nothing new (cf U. Ottoma also from Rakhine). They also face political discrimination from a topsy-turvy understanding of law, like Section 295 designed to prevent inter-religious conflict, now used to silence any criticism of Buddhist Nationalism. A new law purporting to be for the Protection of Race and Religion forbids conversion and inter-marriage.

Anti-Muslim propaganda, as well as Rakhine Buddhist fears threaten even greater violence that may entrench community divisions and deepen hostility. This may well explain Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence as, after 50- years of military rule, Myanmar is finally moving towards democracy. While the local population is broadly behind the Democracy movement, it does not seem sympathetic to efforts by the international community to solve the Rohingya problem. The muslim population of Myanmar, of which the Rohingya is now the majority, makes up only 4% of the whole population. In 2015, following the rescue of 1000 refugees off the coast of Ayeyarwady Region, protestors led by monks, demanded the expulsion of what they called the “bengalis”. Initial slogans critical of the UNHCR were removed but slogans demanding that “INGO/NGO respect the truth” remained. The truth they wanted to assert is that the Rohingyas have no right to be in Myanmar at all.

The Union Citizenship Act of 1948

This act, following an earlier act the previous year, and coming just a few years after a serious massacre of the Rohingya by “the Rakhine Maghs”, restricted citizenship to any person “from ancestors who for two generation at least all made any of the terriories included within the Union of Burma their permanent home and whose parents and himself were born in any such territories.” (Section 11 iv) Following this, many Rohingyas were formally registered, given identity cards (NRCs) and allowed to vote. (under section 30 of the 1950 Burma Population Registration Rules states that no foreigner may be thus registered). One wonders, incidentally, how long a foreigner needs to be resident before he or she qualifies for citizenship, of course! This is what MA Gaffer, a member of Parliament, said at the time,

“Though Rohingyas resemble a little with the people of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), their literature, names and tittles, dresses, languages, customs and cultures are as difference as the sky and the earth. Therefore to regard Rohingyas as Chittagonians is a grevious hurt to Rohingyas and a matter of tragedy and a great blow to Rohingya and far from actual history.”

“Although Rohingya’s culture, tradition, history and civilization are not inferior to that of other indigenous races of Burma, Rohingyas are always victims of persecutions, specially, the immigration used to arrest them. In June 1959, 76 Rohingyas were rounded and arrested in Akyab and Mayu districts by the  immigration and were sent to Rangoon by steamer for ultimate dispatch to Gawdu-thoung in Pyapon District.”

“…Section 4(2) of the Union Citizenship Act. also pointed out that those persons whose ancestors had made Burma for two generation as their home and who and whose parents were born in Burma were also citizens of the Union. It had been observed by the court that in Union of Burma there were races who could not speak the Burmese language and who nevertheless were citizens of the Union of Burma.”

In the early 1950s, Government officials, including the Prime Minister of Burma, U Nu, and the Defence Minister U Ba Swe confirmed the identity and rights of the Rohingya. This is what UBa Swe said in November 1959,

“The Rohingyas are equal in every way with other minority races like the Shan, Chin, Kachin, Kayin, Kayah, Mon, and Rakhaine. They have lived in Myanmar Naing Ngan for ages, accordingly to historical facts. They are of the Islamic faith. There is historical evidence that they have lived faithfully and harmoniously with other races of the Union.”

Confusion over 1973 census

There are two approaches to the historical evidence: the first is to establish the origin of the Rohingya peoples and the second is to establish the use of the name “rohingya” itself. the two issues, however, are often (deliberately?) confused by people on both sides of the debate. Certainly, the modern term is a political construct while the weight of evidence suggests that the Rohingya have been in Myanmar for about seven centuries, though there is some confusion about nomenclature.

In the 1973 census, though, they were recognised along with 142 other ethnic groups. This put into law the statement by the Prime Minister in 1960 on Sept 25 that the Rohingya of Arakan were one of the ethnic races of Burma.

However, this was later delisted, admitting only the Kamen to the number of recognised Muslim groups. While this effectively made the Rohingya “foreigners” in Arakan, local Government records at the time do not note an increase in the number of registered aliens. Indeed, in 1972 there are 1192 foreigners recorded by the Arakan Divisional security and administration committee, while in 1975-6, there are 1037 people recorded in the three monthly report by the Arakan State people’s council. No adjustment is allowed for the thousands of Rohingya excluded in the delisting.

1982 Citizenship law

The Rohingya appear today to be utterly displaced, rejected both in Bangladesh and in Myanmar.

“There is after all, very little in common – except common religion – between the Rohingya of Arakan and the Indian Muslims of Rangoon or Burmese Muslim of the Shwebo district. These are different groups that do not identify with each other, do not share the same goal and aspiration.” Moshe Yegar, The Muslim of Burma: A Study of a Minority Group  p. 111

But I believe the Political key to their future lies in the repeal of a fairly recent 1982 Citizenship law which defined citizens as Kayah, Karen, Chin, Burman, Mon, Rakhine, Shan and other ethnic groups settled within Myanmar before 1823. At the same time, this law accepts the Rakhine historians’ claim that the Rohingya were slaves settled in Myanmar after the first Anglo-Burmese war in 1824 and therefore foreigners. (It is this law that effectively brands the Rohingya as foreign, non-indigenous and/or “illegal immigrants” without cultural, religious or social ties to Myanmar) But even so, aliens should be given proper human rights.

Moreover, if the law were quite as clear as it appears, I do not understand why the Myanmar government repatriated so many refugees from the 1992 Rohingya exodus.

The 2 groups

The issue is complicated by the existence of two lists of ethnic groups that underpin the 1982 Citizenship law, one of 101 groups, that is pre-colonial, and a later one that includes 135 specific groups. Neither list mentions the Rohingya. It seems that any legal advance must involve a review of these lists and a recognition that the strict definitions of the past need to be loosened today. In other words, a solution to the Rohingya problem should involve change throughout the country. Some observers question whether it is even right to talk about “national races”.

Defining a group

It is certainly not clear how any of these groups were ever actually defined- is this by self-awareness, language, political affiliation, or some sort of (dare I say?) colour-coding? There is a fundamental, legal and philosophical question that underpins this: Is ethnic identity something we choose for ourselves or something that is imposed on us? Identity is often contested; it is actually fairly fluid and becomes more so as one group is exposed, intermarries and interacts with another.

This is what a British writer in 1945 records,

“The Musulman Arakanese generally known as Bengalis or Chittagonians, quite incorrectly…To look at, they are quite unlike any other product of India or Burma that I have seen. They resemble the Arab in name, in dress and in habit. The women and more particularly the young girls, have distinctive Arab touch about them.. .As a race they have been here over two hundred years.” Anthony lrwin, Burmese Outpost (London: Collins, 1945) p.22.

Just to draw an uncomfortable parallel here- The concept of Jewishness may have seemed clear to the Nazis, but it would not be a definition shared by the average Jewish beth din. In other words, identity is by no means a clear-cut issue.

A solution today?

International Observers today tend to favour the government granting full citizenship and rights to the Rohingya community, but this solution also overlooks the growing tension on the ground. A solution “from above” or from outside the country itself would be unlikely to sort out the tension between the communities, and given the jigsaw of differing ethnic groups that make-up modern-day Myanmar, a solution that is rejected by the Buddhist majority threatens to tear apart this newly emerging Nation.

De facto recognition from 1961-1964

In this historic process of ethnic categorization, the Rohingya has been a largely illiterate group, now denied basic education, that falls by the way. Nevertheless, there is a collective understanding among the Rohingya that they have lived together in the North of Rakhine state for many generations.

Indeed, from 1961-1964, under the “Mayu Frontier Administration” (MFA)there appears to have been some sort of de facto recognition of the community which was governed as a separate province from the rest of Rakhine by the Burmese army. Rohingya language programmes were broadcast on the radio from May 1961-March 1965.

The name “Rohingya”

There are four distinct etymologies that I can find.

The first is that the name Rohingya appears to be an indian form of Rakhine. Bluntly, the term Rohingya could mean simply the people who live in Rakhine. The second, that it derives from the terms Rohai and Roshangee which denote Muslim peoples in old Arakan. It could be a version of the word “Roshanga”, used in Bengali literature in the Chittagong region. Thirdly, it is suggested that it is a corruption of the arabic term Rahim (blessing) or Raham Borri, meaning the Land of God’s blessing.

The fourth etymology is most interesting because it suggests the word derives from the Magh language and refers to the Pathan General Wali Khan and General Sandi Khan who helped to restore Narameikhia to the throne of Longgeret, setting up the Maruk-u-Dynasty in 1433. Narameikhia had formerly been in exile in Bengal.

It is clear that from the 1950s, the Rohingya has emerged as a political and military unit (the RLP and from 1974, the RPF led by Muhammad Jafar Habib and the RSO, disbanded in 1998) with an aim to defining a homeland within Myanmar. The community represents today the “largest Muslim community in Burma” (Andrew Selth 2003). The Rohingya appears to have defined itself in the 1950s but that does not rule out a clear historical record of the community in Myanmar that goes back much further. Three issues are linked: the legal status of the group, the humanitarian crisis and human rights’ violations. The Buddhist Rakhine community have, for the last 30 years contested the legitimacy of the group and it is not immediately clear from the modern debate whether there is a culturally distinct muslim identity but the same debate also confirms the view that the Buddhist majority is the aggressor and the Muslim minority the victim.

“A Comparative Vocabulary of Some of the Languages Spoken in the Burma Empire” by Francis Buchanan 1799

History is about perception and, in this case, there are 3 competing historical narratives, from Arakan, Burma and the Rohingya.

The documented history of the Rohingya -“the people that call themselves Rohingya” as David Steinberg (OUP) in 2009 classifies them- begins with an 18th Century reference which is worth examining. That single instance seems to establish both the existence of the community in Myanmar as well as its own claims to a unique and geographical identity. The 18th Century source, admittedly Colonial, specifically deals with the dialect employed by the Rohingya. In the text, Hamilton says that this is one of the dialects of the Burma empire “spoken by the Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan.”

Claims to earlier communities from 8th Century

There is an argument that the Rohingya community today is the remnant of a much older Bengali settlement that might even predate the arrival of the Buddhist communities. DGE Hall writes, “The Burmese do not seem to have settled in Arakan until possibly as late as 10~ century AD. Hence earlier dynasties are thought to have been Indian, ruling over a population similar to that of Bengal. All the capitals known to history have been in the north near Akyab.”(M.S. Coilis and San Shwe Bu, “Arakan’s Place in the Civilization of the Bay,” Journal of the Burrma Research Society, 50th Anniversary’ Publication, No. 2, Rangoon, 1960, p.486. Hall, D.G.E., A History of South East Asia. (London: Macmillan, 1958) pp328, 389.) and there is a record of Muslim trading in the area  going back to the reign of King Mahatyaing Chandra (780-810). Shipwrecked muslim sailors are said to have settled in villages in Arakan by decree of the Arakanese king. (Sir Arthur P. Phayre, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. XII, Part I, 1844, p.36. SLORC Government, Thathana Yong War Hmn Zay Poh. Rangoon, 1997, pp. 65-70. M.A. Rahim, Social & Cultural History of Bengal, Vol. I, Karachi, 1963, p.37. U Kyi, B.A. (History Distinction), Myanmar Jazawin Thi Hmet Bweya Apyapya, pp 156-157. The Glass Palace Choronicle, Vol. 2, p. 186.) Ceratinly, tehre is evidence of a large number of captives taken back to Arakan after the rebellion in Chittagong in 1246. As Bengal became Muslim in 1203, it is reasonable to assume that these captives were predominantly Muslim.

The kings of Arakan acquired Muslim titles from their association with Bengal. A stone inscription from 1442 speaks of Muslim kings of Arakan. It is certainly not clear that these were Muslim kings as is sometimes claimed.

19th Century observations of a distinct Muslim group in Rakhine

A protestant missionary, JC Fink who omits the term Rohingya but can hardly be describing another community says, “They were not Mughs converted to the Mahomedan faith, but bona fide Musulmans whose ancestors had been imported into the province from Bengal… Many still retain the language and habits of their forefathers;”

In 1834-1844, another Missionary, Cormstock records “within a few years past, many BengaleeMusselmans have immigrated to Arakan, to get higher wages and better living, than they could procure in Chittagong” (Notes on Arakan) and Charles Paton estimates the size of the Rohiongya population in Rakhine to have been about 1/3 of the total population. The Reverend Comstock puts it at a more moderate 10%. By 1869, when a more reliable census was conducted, it appears to be 5% rising to 30% in 1912. In James Baxter’s report on Indian Immigration in 1941, he estimates that 1/5 of the Rakhine population was of Indian origin. Much changed the following year when Burma was invaded by the Japanese.

It seems that a report published in The Scotsman, and reprinted on the same day in the Hindustan Standard in 1949 established the current attitude in Myanmar to the Rohingya. It reads:

“the great majority of Arakan Moslems are said to be really Pakistanis from Chittagong, even if they have been settled here for a generation. Of the 130,000 Moslems here, 80,000 are still Pakistani citizens.”

While a number of authors have confidently asserted like Andrew Selth, that “most Rohingyas arrived with the British colonialists in the 19th and 20th Centuries” (Burma’s Muslims:Terrorists or terrorised?”), there seems little further evidence to confirm this claim. Until the 1990s, in Myanmar, the same group that is identified in the 18th Century and is possibly enlarged by Colonial movements in the 19th and 20th Centuries is routinely been referred to by non-muslims in Burma/Myanmar as “Bengalis” or, during the Colonial time, as “Chittagonians”. In modern Burma, there are a range of often derogatory terms used to describe any Muslims, from “kalar” and “mus” and “Bengali”. To further confuse the issue, it is indisputable that a number of migrations from Bangladesh have swelled the Rohingyan numbers considerably, after 1971 and then again in the early 1990s.

Human Rights watch 1993 refers to “Burmese refugees from Arakan”; an account in 1995 by Martin Smith notes a distinction between

“those who have traditionally described themselves as ‘Arakanese Muslims’ as a religious group within the Arakanese people- and those Muslim nationalists, largely concentrated in the north, who prefer to call themselves ‘Rohingyas’.” (The muslim Rohingyas of Burma 1995)

In contrast, it is also well-documented that the Rohingya are not recognised as such in Burma/Myranmar. So, “the muslim Rohingya in Arakan State are not recognised as an ethnic group by the SPDC but rather are labelled as ‘illegal immigrants'” (Mikael Gravers 2007). Indeed, recent reports from Al Jezeera suggest that if Rohingya are prepared to accept that they are immigrants and have not lived for generations in the State, then they might stand a chance of getting residence permits. I fear this is simply a ruse to get Rohingya to confirm their status as aliens and to abandon their claims to a homeland.

A number of Burmese writers beginning with KhinMaung Saw have written a good deal to establish that there is not a reliable record of the term “Rohingya” in use before 1950. Indeed, the name itself is missing from the 1951 “charter of the Constitutional Demands of the Arakani Muslims”. But this is by no means a secure way to establish or deny an identity. Even the fact that there have been official acknowledgments of Rohingya rights at various times over the last 70 years should be enough to guarantee those rights today. More than that, a group and individuals confirming residence in the country for so many years should not be denied rights.

 

Recommendation

About a month ago, the British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson visited Myanmar, following up a visit by David Cameron in 2012. Although the military retain control over key ministries, and new laws about foreign relatives prevent Aung San Suu Kyi from taking up her rightful position as President, but even as Foreign Secretary, she is the effective leader of the country. There remains a significant exodus from Rakhine, with 66000 fleeing to Bangladesh because of a military crackdown since October. 65000 are registered as living in camps. There are stories emerging of brutality, arson, rape, murder and infanticide. This is unacceptable. But while condemning the violence, we must also condemn the “delisting” of the Rohingya and demand that they are given proper recognition. It is their lack of citizenship and questions about their identity that has encouraged such brutality. What is clear from even a quick review of the history of the Rohingya is that they have had rights to citizenship in the past and there are no reasons for the current Myanmar government to refuse these same rights today. Rather than silence or petulance about who interviews her, Aung San Suu Kyi should be giving proper leadership on this issue. She needs to ensure that ships offering humanitarian help are routinely supported, that a political solution is found, and that proper education and representation is provided to the Rohingya peoples and their Buddhist neighbours. This is an opportunity to empower the State of Rakhine as much as it is a demand that Myanmar observe international norms and demonstrate that prejudice and discrimination have no place in modern democracy.

Some other references

Aye, Sumon and Aung Ye Maung Maung. “Myanmar Arrests Hundreds After Mandalay Violence.” Voice of America, July 7, 2014, News/Asia. http://www.voanews.com/content/myanmar-arrests-hundreds-after-mandalay-violence/1952483.html.

VOA News. “Myanmar Police Break Up Buddhist Mob.” Voice of America, July 2, 2014, News/Asia. http://www.voanews.com/content/myanmar-police-break-up-buddhist-mob/1949083.html.

Reuters. “Myanmar Buddhists Threaten to Kill Muslims.” Voice of America, July 4, 2014, News/Asia. http://www.voanews.com/content/myanmar-buddhists-threaten-to-kill-muslims/1950712.html.

http://www.dvb.no/analysis/the-r-word-and-its-ramifications-burma-myanmar-rohingya/43271

The fact that a colonial power does not acknowledge the identity of a particular group or calls it something else should not be the basis on which the same group is treated in post-colonial times. Nor indeed has it always been in Myanmar. While local prejudice may have been on-going, it is only relatively recently that this has been compounded by National “delisting” and institutionalised Islamophobia.

 the designation “Rohingya” was completely unknown to the British who administered Arakan from 1826 to 1948. It is not to be found in any of the eight censuses compiled between 1872 and 1941. Nor does it appear in any gazetteers, reports or other official documents, nor yet in private reminiscences and correspondence. This total absence of any British record has readily been acknowledged by the Muslim politician U Kyaw Min, who was only released from prison in January 2012 and has a brilliant pedigree as a fighter for freedom and democracy, a former member of the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament during the dark days of the military regime, and currently chairman of the Democracy and Human Rights Party.

But U Kyaw Min went on to say: “Then what about some present-day Rakhine state ethnic peoples: Mramagyi and Dai-net who are also not found in British censuses?” The implication is that the British did not really know what was going on…” DEREK TONKIN 17th Aug 2014

Richard Hering (TV Journalist who has worked with indiginous people- “Plunder for Profit: the UK and Brazilian mahogany trade”) writes:

Colonial records can be a dubious source for establishing the history of an ethnic group, for all kinds of reasons. For instance, the favouring of one cooperative group over another may result in the mis-characterisation of the latter for political reasons, as happened in Kenya. The Belgian empire in Rwanda classified two inter-related and -married groups as Hutu or Tutsi based on their appearance, again for reasons of control, with genocidal consequences later. Often names are simply misunderstood or mis-translated, for instance the group known as the Kayapo in the eastern Amazon do not call themselves that name – it’s actually a rude name given them by other groups (“those who look like monkeys”). Also many indigenous peoples have in recent decades started to use again older names so as to revive or preserve their identity, or have taken an ancient name which does not have a strict continuous lineage, nor even necessarily an unimpeachable historical source, in order to argue for their rights as a people.

It is important also to see also this rebuttal of Tonkin: http://www.newmandala.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Rebuttal-to-Tonkin-long.pdf

The ethnogenesis of the Rohingya which I have tried to sketch out in this article does not make it a more “artificial” or “invented” ethnicity than any other, but it does not fit easily in the all too narrow concept of “national races” as is currently understood in Burma: ethnic groups which were already formed as we know them now in pre-colonial times. Others, perhaps the Kachin or the Chin, would also fail the test, because the test itself stems from a misunderstanding of ethnicity and group formation, but it is the political context that has determined that the Rohingya, and the Rohingya alone, should fail it. Their mere existence as a people is a serious challenge to the weak mainstream historical narrative imposed by the military regime.

https://islamicommentary.org/2013/10/matthew-walton-a-primer-on-the-roots-of-buddhistmuslim-conflict-in-myanmar-and-a-way-forward/

Vague and woolly

Today, the Guardian writes more on its campaign to get Mrs May to grant residence to EU Nationals in the UK. It is an issue, I think, that we have already mismanaged and may continue to do so.

In fact, we have very little to lose and much to gain. Here is the calculation: if it only takes 5 years to qualify for UK citizenship, then taking into consideration the 9 months we will have already had, after two years of negotiation, and a further 2 years of transition, almost all EU nationals resident here when the referendum took place,  would qualify anyway to stay. An announcement at this stage, therefore, simply shows our good-intent. Signally, the process of applying for full-time residence in other EU countries is by no means as simple.

In other words, if someone currently here as an EU national, wants to stay, the opportunity is available; if someone does not have all the paperwork now, they will have it in a few years’ time. To offer unilateral residence is simply to bypass that process, but it shows goodwill and that is sorely tested at the moment. We need that goodwill.

Of course, the 85-page document that is currently being used by the Home Office is both confusing and off-putting and I am sure a much simpler, stream-lined application process could be developed: anything that cuts unnecessary bureaucracy cuts further expense.

Meanwhile, Do-gooders on the left wring their hands in despair at our lack of progress, but the Guardian also goes on to record the thoughts of ms in’t Veld – on the face of it, this is an important intervention by a Dutch MEP but here is what was actually written:

Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch MEP who is leading a European parliament taskforce investigating the residency issue, said the UK government had acted “immorally” in failing to offer security to those who had made Britain their home.

“We are receiving so many emails every day from people in the UK and elsewhere worried about the future that we cannot answer them individually,” she said. “This is immoral. And if this leaked document is right, then it has backfired.”

sophies-choice-int-veld-by-timIt is a bit rich for Ms in’t Veld to point the finger and say we have behaved immorally or that our schemes have “backfired” – when the EU is open to the self-same charges! This may be about our failure to offer residence to EU citizens in the UK but Mr Junker, equally and signally, has failed, thus far, to offer any comparable residence to British subjects currently living in the EU. Indeed, to make matters worse, Mr Junker has actually allowed what amounts to threats today to be issued by an EU committee. And while there is a gathering clan of elected officials militating for EU nationals to be granted residence here, I note no similar clamour in Europe to promote the cause of our own UK nationals there.

Jean-Claude Juncker

When it comes down to parity, maybe Mrs May’s caution is justified because there is nothing positive in what the EU proposes.

This is what the European parliament’s committee on legal affairs is suggesting-  that Britons resident abroad will find their position increasingly difficult:

“specific entitlements acquired validly in the past” – such as a pension or ownership of a property – may continue to apply, “it cannot … be considered that a person who is no longer an EU citizen will have unrestricted rights to live, work and study in the EU, or benefit from social security arrangements such as reciprocal healthcare entitlements, unless specific provisions are made.”

But I do not think this is about parity. It is about what Mr Cameron would have said was “doing the right thing.” The moral prize is still there for the taking but the failure to demonstrate good-will  on both sides is a worrying indication of the way negotiations might go after March. If nobody yet has the courage to take the moral high-ground on this, what will follow is nastiness.

At the end of the article, the Home office is quoted thus:

“This government has been clear that we want to protect the status of EU nationals already living here and the only circumstances in which that wouldn’t be possible is if British citizens’ rights in European member states were not protected in return.

“The prime minister has reiterated the need for an agreement as soon as possible as part of the negotiations to leave the EU. The rights of EU nationals living in the UK remain unchanged while we are a member of the European Union. EU nationals do not require any additional documents to prove their status.”

It all looks very worrying.

We should really be capable of making a distinction between what is morally right, what is politically expedient and what is legally binding. In this instance, it is probable that we will draw three different conclusions about the same issue. What worries me is that both the Home office and the EU are ignoring the first category – the moral case is not about a negotiation or about a trade; it is an absolute commitment to care about those who have made their home among us.

Silence is Golden

The Anglican Church will learn, I hope, the harsh lesson the Catholic Church has finally begun to understand, that to interfere too much in the daily minutiae of political debate is to produce a contradictory, confused and ultimately meaningless flood of well-intentioned platitudes. There comes a time when what is said is simply ignored or rejected. The present Pope is indeed experiencing this- He is not necessarily saying the wrong things- he is simply reaping the whirlwind set in motion by his predecessors and his world-wide congregation has tired or what he is talking about.

It is really better to keep quiet.

justin-welby-by-tim-wilson

Today, Archbishop Justin Welby condemns the government for reneging on a decision never taken, namely to accept 3000 children as refugees to the UK. Of course, I warmly encourage our councils and our country to open their arms to these children and to refugees of all ages, but I recognise that there must always be a difference between what we want to do and the way we allocate the resources we have available.

Last year, about this time, the Archbishop made an extraordinary statement that it was not racist to complain about migration. I thought he was utterly wrong then and I still think so now, but his pronouncement today seems to be completely contradictory. The only logical conclusion is that, in the absence of a credible opposition in the House of Commons, the Archbishop has taken it on himself to play the role so resolutely abandoned by Jeremy Corbyn. Sadly, this is not the office to which the Archbishop has been appointed.

This is what he said last year:

He said that to be anxious about “one of the greatest movements of people in human history” was “very reasonable”. He added: “There is a tendency to say ‘those people are racist’, which is just outrageous, absolutely outrageous.” This was noted to echo the claim that “it is not racist to impose limits on immigration”

At the time, there was a good deal written about the difference between a refugee and a migrant, though in fact that distinction is a legal one, requires a lengthy process, and is rarely established at the border.

welby

But this is what he said this year, today:

“Our country has a great history of welcoming those in need, particularly the most vulnerable, such as unaccompanied children.

“Refugees, like all people, are treasured human beings made in the image of God who deserve safety, freedom and the opportunity to flourish. Jesus commands us to care for the most vulnerable among us.”

“I very much hope that the Government will reconsider this decision, and work with church groups and others to find a sustainable and compassionate solution that allows those most in need to find sanctuary in our country.”

I agree with the sentiments he expresses but his own U-turn is astonishing. Ironically, the Coventry Telegraph headlines its article on this subject: Archbishop of Canterbury criticises U-turn on child refugees scheme. Something here about the pot and the kettle!

Leave the talking to someone else.

There is an opportunity to question the Government’s decision, my Lord Archbishop, but not with this dodgy track-record. It is simply unbelievable and it cheapens the debate.