Notwithstanding Brazil’s position as the seventh largest economy and fifth most populous nation on Earth, its political crisis of late has received relatively little attention in the foreign press – or, at least, in the American and British press I follow. Part of that is no doubt due to the fact that both countries are fixated on their own respective political dramas: the US its presidential election, and the UK its upcoming referendum on EU membership. Journalists and commentators have precious little ink to spare on the domestic turmoils of a ‘developing’ country, many thousands of miles away – not when they could be agonizing over the latest Trump or Farage gaffe for their readers.
32 of the 50 states in the US still accept the death penalty as legal sentence for certain criminal offenses. Despite overwhelming evidence that the death penalty is an ineffective deterrent to crime and that it is grossly tainted with racism and other types of prejudice, the US has failed to abolish this medieval form of punishment nationwide. Globally, this puts the United States in strange company – most nations of the world have abolished the death penalty entirely, with a few notable exceptions: China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia all maintain it, and lead the world (in that order) in the number of executions they carry out per year (the US comes in at 5th place, followed by Yemen and the Sudan, two other great beacons of freedom and social justice). These are all nations we in the West like to describe invariably as oppressive, ruthless states, and in at least two of them we have threatened or carried out forceful regime change in order to rid the world of their brutality. Yet when it comes to the most violent act a state can take against its own citizens – legalized murder – we stand shoulder to shoulder with them.
During the Peninsula War in 1808, French forces under Napoleon’s command invaded and occupied Spain, installing Napoleon’s brother, Joseph Bonaparte, as king. The Spanish people, incensed at having to live under a foreign ruler, revolted, and on 2nd May took to the streets of Madrid in rebellion. The French responded with violent reprisals against the rebels, depicted in this painting by Francisco de Goya, titled “The Third of May 1808”.
206 years later, this iconic photograph from the recent protests in Ferguson has an eerily similar style:
How, if at all, should we criticize religion and religious convictions? For large swathes of the population, especially in the more liberal hubs of North America and Europe, religious conviction has been treated with a mix of apathy and polite tolerance. For most of these people, religion forms no part of their daily routine – they do not pray, or regularly attend a place of worship – and yet they will rarely actively criticize or even comment on religion, despite the shockingly dominant influence it has over our nation’s politics, touching everything from foreign policy to domestic social issues. According to a recent poll, 15% of Americans claim no religion, yet only 0.7% were prepared to say that they were atheist. The discrepancy here I think can be put down to the belief that an outright rejection of religion might attract accusations of intolerance, and this seems too high a price to pay in a debate about something which to them is of so little consequence.
Amidst the war of words raging on in the media regarding the recent Gaza war, supporters of each side have tended to distill their vocal support into a handful of oft-repeated phrases. Having ready-to-go, prepackaged phrases like these make it easy to shore up support for your side, since people tend to think that if something is said often and loud enough, it must have at least some degree of truth to it. But that is precisely what makes these platitudes particularly damaging: they become so common-place and so easy to regurgitate, that newcomers to the debate enthusiastically adopt them without considering the validity of their content. In fact, when someone brings one up, it is an almost sure sign that they don’t have any arguments of their own to use to defend their position and so have resorted to using one of these ‘off-the-shelf’ arguments instead. The wide proliferation and constancy of these points does nothing to shore up their validity.