Sunday, 11 June 2017

Angela Merkel shows how the leader of the free world should act

Suzanne Moore                  Guardian/UK                 30 May 2017

There’s a statesmanship – a vision, a morality and a core – to her that was thrown into sharp relief by Donald Trump’s shambling visit to Europe

Angela Merkel – or “leader of the free world” as she is now to be known – did not wait long to see the back of Donald Trump before she made it clear that things have changed. She told a rally of 2,500 people in Munich where she kicked off her campaign to be re-elected that the EU must now be prepared to look after itself, that it could no longer depend on the UK or America. “The times in which we could completely depend on others are, to a certain extent, over … I’ve experienced that in the last few days. We Europeans have to take fate into our own hands.”

This is a truly dramatic statement from a leader who doesn’t do drama. She is not going to be holding Trump’s hand any time soon. He may be relieved to hear that, but then the underestimation of Merkel as a dowdy physicist has often allowed her to run rings around egotistical male leaders.

It was said to be a coincidence that she met Barack Obama the same day as Trump. It took a while for her to establish a friendship with Obama. She apparently disliked the “atmospherics” around him when he was first elected and wanted a more “conversational” relationship. She got it.

Watching her at the G7, her statesmanship, her ease, her ability to broker deals and relationships is ever more impressive. More and more I hear people say they that they like her. Even those on the left respect her though she is a centrist. While Trump shambled around Europe with his goon display of ignorance of other languages, cultures or even basic manners, Merkel was in her element. While he was trailing behind in a golf cart as he lacked the stamina to actually walk anywhere at all, she strode out with the other leaders.

Every gif of Trump shows him vacantly bumbling away, arrogantly shoving or being batted away by Melania. Gifs of Merkel, on the other hand, are a delight: her bemused expression when she has to deal with him, that twinkle, that little shrug she gives. She is at the top of her game – a game he has no idea how to play. Vladimir Putin knew she was afraid of dogs, so brought a labrador to meet her on 2007. She didn’t flinch, later observing: “I understand why he has to do this – to prove he’s a man … He’s afraid of his own weakness.” No wonder Emmanuel Macron pulled off that wonderful swerve last week walking straight to Trump but greeting Merkel first.

Of course not everyone likes her. The Irish, the Portuguese, the Greeks, the Spanish and the Italians have felt the force of her pushing through stark austerity measures as the price of EU membership. At one point Greek protesters portrayed her with a Hitler moustache. Her expansionary politics, whereby every other country should seek to be as wealthy as Germany, have come at a huge price to countries she sees as fiscally irresponsible. Critics in Germany say she achieved a kind of “paralysed consent”. They complain about the number of opinion polls she has commissioned and her methodical, scientific way of dealing with politics. et this, in reality, is why Mutti is considered so good at crisis management. Theatrics don’t interest her but there is a vision, a morality, a core to her that meant she could push through a policy of taking in refugees that required real guts.

Asked if she was a feminist while sitting next to Ivanka Trump, Ivanka immediately raised her hand to say she was, and Merkel, who has done so much for women, hesitated and then said: “If you think that I am one, go and vote on it.” Friends say that she always considered herself emancipated by her studies and growing up in East Germany, where it was normal for women to work. Her husband, professor of theoretical chemistry Joachim Sauer, needs no security. They lead an unshowy life. The pictures of Merkel nipping out for chips, ecstatic at the football, drinking beer, are not set up. It’s what she does, though she no longer smokes or bites her nails to the quick in the way she did when she was younger. This all added to the geekiness that helped her to rise up through the party.

And look where she is now, unlike our prime minister, able to oppose Trump directly and to say his America is not a friend of Europe. What an extraordinary woman. There are no problems, she says, only “tasks” to be solved, as she sits rapidly texting in meetings. Refusing to see herself as a female leader, she prefers to think of herself as part of a class of political heavyweights. Increasingly she is in a class of her own and watching her, one thought comes to mind: this is what strong and stable actually looks like.

Saying 'enough is enough' is to misunderstand terrorism completely

Waleed Aly                   The Age                 8 June 2017

Terrorism once seemed isolated, each attack hitting us like a massive thud, now it is a drum beat: steady, regular, some whacks combining to form a relentless sound track to our time. The exasperation is thorough, real and pervasive. You probably said those words to yourself well before you heard May say them. “Enough is enough.”

But they're also misleading. "Enough is enough" implies a level of control. It's what you say to a misbehaving child just as you decide it's finally time to impose a punishment. It's what you say when you decide to quit the job you hate. But terrorism is nothing like that. It does not exist merely because we haven't yet decided to extinguish it.

To see this, consider that we've been saying this kind of thing more or less since the September 11 attacks. That, you will recall, was meant to be the moment that changed the world, that ushered in a new war unlike anything we've seen. "There was before 9/11 and after 9/11", explained a former CIA director of counterterrorism. "After 9/11 the gloves come off." So we rushed off to two interminable wars. And we've been taking gloves off ever since, introducing new counterterrorism legislation to a drum beat of our own, steadily expanding the power of the state, and its ability to gather intelligence. Still the attacks come. Indeed, they increase.

Australian counterparts haven't quite got to the point of adopting Nazi terminology, but we're flirting with the internment idea. Here it takes the form of proposing special courts for terror suspects in which they can be held indefinitely precisely because we lack the evidence to convict, as both Tony Abbott and retired army general Jim Molan did this week. To be fair, Molan refused internment as a description of this, accepting the "appalling back story" that word implies. But we are talking about incarcerating people on suspicion and without trial. With respect, I'm not sure what else to call that.

"We are at war" tweeted one of Sunrise's regular commentators – who was quite prepared to call it internment – by way of support, as though it was some urgent, original diagnosis. But we've been using that exact phrase, and building policy on it, since at least September 12, 2001. This approach has failed because it has always made the same fundamental miscalculation that terrorism is some more-or-less static, finite evil that can be isolated and destroyed. When Katie Hopkins says "we need to start incarcerating, deporting, repeating until we clean this country up" she's imagining a day when the last potential terrorist is imprisoned, where we've finally caught all the bad guys, and anyone we think might one day become one.

But when the attacks continue because some 14-year-old kid wasn't on the radar, or because authorities monitored someone and decided he wasn't a serious risk, we'll then expand the circle. Even the most fleeting levels of suspicion will become enough grounds for detention. Then, when that doesn't finish it, we'll go for people we think should have known about an attack on suspicion they're supporters of terrorism. Eventually, we'll decide it's all too hard sorting the benign from the malignant and propose the internment of Muslims altogether. This, after all, is the logical extension of the idea of banning Muslim immigration. And then, when potential terrorists start masquerading as non-Muslims to avoid incarceration, what will we do?

What exactly is our end point here? Because there will always be a case to make. Take Iran: an awesomely brutal security state that has shown no compunction in imprisoning and torturing dissenters, and which defines its security threats extremely broadly. However tough we might want to be on terrorism, we will surely never match that. And yet Iran has just now witnessed a major IS terrorist attack of its own, despite being an overwhelmingly Shiite nation scarcely known for housing masses of IS supporters. The truth is that while hard police power is important, the track record of governments trying to eliminate terrorism predominantly by force isn't an encouraging one.

That's because at terrorism's heart is the narrative that sustains it. That narrative is itself a complex of things: social circumstances, an array of grievances and crucially, an ideology that makes these things coherent and directs that anger towards an enemy. Islamism is currently potent because it does this so efficiently. You can't imprison that potency out of existence. You can only try to make it ring less true, so fewer and fewer people are attracted to it. And given one of Islamism's most common conspiratorial motifs is that Western societies are out to destroy Islam and will never accept Muslims, the road to internment seems a fraught one to walk. We're fortunate for now such ideas are marginal in our politics. But we're heading that way unless we can at some point look at our instinctive, visceral responses and say enough is enough. [Abridged]