Finding grace in America and Europe

by Jonathan Todd

“We as a country,” said President Obama in his first statement on the Charleston shootings, “will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.” He spoke with a forlorn resignation that was odd coming from the world’s supposedly most powerful person and realistic, given “the politics in this town foreclose a lot of (gun control) avenues right now”.

In the past week, however, Washington DC has not been the cradle of disappointment that it has for Obama. Through rare bipartisanship, he’s taken a big step towards completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive trade deal intended to cover 40 percent of the world economy and an important plank of Obama’s legacy planning. Obamacare and gay marriage, issues upon which the Supreme Court has this week backed him, also feature in this legacy.

Obama’s America, though, is also a place where, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, black men in their 20s without a high school diploma are more likely to be incarcerated than employed. It will take, of course, much more than TPP to change this. Only in relation to prison services does black America have better access to public services than white America.

The worst racial unrest in a generation, precipitated by the deadly police violence inflicted on Freddie Gray, a black man, in Baltimore, threatens, among other things, to extend this disparity. In spite of the inequities visited upon black America, white supremacists, such as Dylan Roof, the Charleston murderer, feel threatened.

Roof claims that he was never the same after doing a Google search on ‘black on white crime’. It remains to be seen what role the internet played in filling Yassin Salhi, arrested on suspicion of the brutal Islamist murder near Lyon, with hate. But Islamic State (IS) use of this medium is pervasive.

Remarkably, the families of Roof’s victims quickly forgave, which helped avoid angry scenes akin to those after Gray’s death. It will take unusual gifts for the family of the decapitated Frenchman to similarly react. Emotions stirred may benefit the Front Nationale. As they call for “all sermons in Mosques to be placed under surveillance”, France is not at ease with itself.

Terrorism works. French Muslims will be looked upon more suspiciously, creating an opportunity for Front Nationale, sowing further seeds of division for Islamists to exploit. After 38 tourists, more than 30 British, were gunned down in an attack linked to IS on the same day as Salhi, reportedly carrying an IS flag, struck, tourist bookings to Sousse, Tunisia will plummet. And likely across the region, further evidence of terrorism working.

This is a region that spews out desperate people on rickety boats, with Greece being a key entry point to Europe. Until late on Friday, when the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, unexpectedly committed the terms offered by Greece’s creditors to a referendum, I suspected that messy compromise would keep the Greek show going: enough of a Syriza victory to pacify them, enough of the reform programme required by Greece’s creditors for them to not turn off the funding taps.

The uncertain consequences of Greek default, however, now seem more likely. While it is arguable that Greece’s inability to compete in the Euro is such that defaulting and exiting the currency zone is their least worst strategy, this is a perilous course, bringing with it the risk of popular disorder and a state that so fails that becoming a Putin vassal on the Mediterranean appears attractive.

None of which seems likely to increase Greek capacity to respond to the Mediterranean migrant crisis, increasing the risk of IS fighters crossing these waters, while IS uses the internet to inspire sympathisers, whether nascent or overt, already resident in Europe. It appears Europe is vulnerable to porous borders and digital connections.  But Europe, like America, has a more fundamental vulnerability.

This recalls George Orwell’s thoughts on the attractiveness of fascism:  “Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people, ‘I offer you a good time,’ Hitler has said to them, ‘I offer you struggle, danger and death,’ and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet … We ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.” These offers from capitalism and socialism now strain credulity, especially in Greece, as the attractiveness of struggle, danger and death is all too vivid in Charleston, Lyon and Tunisia, not to mention Kuwait.

America suddenly seemed more able to repel this attractiveness when a president who appeared resigned after Charleston found his voice.  Roof’s barbarism is as consistent with Jonathan Sacks’ “altruistic evil” – “evil committed in the name of a sacred cause, in the name of higher ideals” – as the IS behaviour that inspired this term.

As Americans take down the Confederate flag that Roof wrapped himself in, sparking hope that a civil war that ended 150 years ago may finally be moved beyond, Paul Goodman writes, not at all implausibly, of European decline. “Altruistic evil”, in various guises, threatens to submerge America and Europe. Whether largely individualistic, secular and materialistic societies can overcome it is debateable. Only America, not Europe, has a president appealing for amazing grace.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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5 Responses to “Finding grace in America and Europe”

  1. swatantra says:

    Don’t forget that here in the UK we’ve also had issues with ‘the flag’ namely in Belfast where it reminded Catholics everyday of the oppression they’ve suffered over the centuries; and the Union Jack being hijacked by facists here, not to forget the Red Cross of the Football facists as they follow in the wake of England. Flags can be a very troublesome issue, and its good that the Confederates can at last be buried in history where they belong.
    On the deaths meted out by the police shootings it is important to remember that most of them involved offenders who were being apprehended and resisting arrest legally, had they not resisted, there would have been no deaths. Only in a very few cases had police deliberately gone out of their way to incite and harm. We’ve had a similar experience here with Mark Duggan a petty criminal who was into gun crime.
    Of course guns are an anathema, and its obscene how easy it is to get a gun in the USA. But its not the guns that kill its the people that use them. And somehow we have to create a psychological profile of the people that are attracted to guns and knives and work on them to desist, or else.
    Roof’s shootings were a racist attack, and that has to be condemned. But there have been mass shootings on university campuses and elsewhere which have had no racial motive behind them Dunblane for example, which are equally horrific.
    Roofs and Dunblane are isolated incidents, random if you like. But the attacks by IS and Al Quida are not; those are coordinated and more sinister and those we must crush completely.

  2. Mike Stallard says:

    You write all this.
    And you cannot draw the obvious conclusion that the fault might perhaps be our inclusion in the EU? They do the immigration. They handle our foreign policy. They are organising TPP.
    I do hope the Labour Party is going to fall in behind Kate Hoey and support the NO campaign.

  3. David Walker says:

    Michael White’s piece in Tuesday’s Guardian, regarding Greece, is the best thing he has ever written and one of the most impressive articles I have read in that newspaper for years. It highlights the nonsense that both the ‘in’ and ‘out’ camps have both been spouting for far too long…

    Now wouldn’t be the worst time for Labour to announce that it is against joining the EU, in principle, given how things have panned-out.

    Labour could claim that it was Brown and Balls that kept us out of the Eurozone, while the previous Tory chancellor (Ken Clarke) would have happily put the country at the head of the membership queue.

    That’s something for Labour to cling on to, as the party attempts to regain economic credibility and they should keep reminding the public about the bear-trap Britain avoided.

    It may not be entirely true, as Clarke could well have been sacked unless he stopped being so vocal in his support of us adopting the Euro. Labour deserves credit for keeping Britain out of it though and the party seems reluctant to claim it.

    It’s time to park the Euro scooter on the Tory lawn!

  4. David Walker says:

    That should read ‘…against joining the Euro, in principle…’, not the EU!

  5. swatantra says:

    Amazing, grace, Barack certainly hit all the right notes.
    I’ve noticed a subtle change in Barak; he’s becoming a bit more bolshie and outspoken of late. Maybe he’s realised that he’s only got 2 years left to leave lasting legacy, enough of a legacy that his face will be carved with pride on Mt Rushmore.
    I’m hoping that the EU kicks Greece out by the end of today; this saga has gone on too long. The EU must make an example of Greece to other members, that you can’t really change the rules of the Club once you’ve joined.
    As for the boat people, surely there must be an uninhabited island in the Hellenes that hey can be shipped too and deposited, rather like the Australian Solution, before being unceremoniously returned to Libya and Syria and Africa and Bangladesh and wherever. It s a nonsense to suggest that any citizen of the world has an automatic right to deposit themselves in another Nation State, whatever their circumstances, so much as by your leave. Its not on.

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