For Lib Dems, Tough Road Ahead

By Nikita Lalwani

LONDON – As I am nearing the end of my time here in Parliament, I thought it fitting to reflect on the state of the coalition thus far. In an astute article for The Economist – aptly titled ‘The Liberal Democrats dig in for three years of pain’ – the new Bagehot columnist pointed out that Britain’s third party has been the biggest target for coalition critics. In debates, I rarely hear Labour members criticizing Conservatives; instead, they insult and pressure Liberal Democrats, urging them to see the error of their ways. Labour has vilified the LibDems, portraying them as unprincipled and power-hungry politicians.

Paradoxically, however, Bagehot argues that Labour’s vilification of Liberal Democrats is neither productive nor strategic:

[One] Tory notes that his Lib Dem colleagues are “taking much more flak than we are” from the press and the Labour party, when it comes to cuts. The same Conservative argues that the coalition is strengthened not weakened by this asymmetric pounding. Labour were behaving as if the LibDems belonged to them, he suggested, and the LibDems have noticed this. Labour’s rage was rather inept, he felt: it would be more clever for Labour to criticise the LibDems more in sorrow than in anger.

He’s right. It is common sense: if you want someone to join forces with you, you should court – not snub – them. Labour’s strategy has united the coalition because it has unwittingly transformed Labour into the common enemy of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Working in a Liberal Democrat office and having heard countless Labour MPs attack Liberal Democrats, I feel much more sympathetic towards the Conservatives than I do Labour, and I suspect my colleagues feel the same.

Yet Labour may end up on top in the end. Liberal Democrats and Conservatives appear to agree that much hinges on the state of the economy over the next five years. Should cuts and austerity lead to a deeper recession, both parties will suffer hard losses in the next election. On the other hand, if austerity leads to growth and balances the budget, voters may yet forgive them. Concerns over the economy, Bagehot notes, may even strengthen the coalition, as both parties have a common stake in the next five years.

But again, Liberal Democrats – whose electorate will be among the hardest hit by public spending cuts – appear to have the most to lose. Disgruntled voters may not forget, as one letter to my office put it, that they “voted Lib Dem but got Tories instead.” Liberal Democrats must rely on forgiving voters to realize that coalition requires compromise, and no compromise comes without tough trade-offs.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Europe, Overseas Bureau, partisan politics

Fasting for Peace

The Kotel on Tisha B'Av

By Diana Saverin

JERUSALEM–Starting last night, the Jewish fast of Tisha B’Av began. At 7 P.M., restaurants closed, and a strange quiet hung over the city. Recreational spots across the country have also been shut down for the 25 hours of the fast.

The fast honors the destruction of the two Holy Temples in the Old City, which are said to have been demolished out of a senseless hate. They were destroyed over 600 years apart, but both on the ninth day of the month of Av. Today I watched as hundreds of Jews congregated at the Kotel to commemorate the loss, and read from the Book of Lamentations.

The fast has been expanded over the years to mourn other hardships the Jewish people have faced over thousands of years, which are said to have happened all on this one day. From the Roman conquerors in the city of Betar, to the Crusaders in France, to Jewish expulsion from England and Spain, to the beginning of World War I, to deportations during the Holocaust, to a bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, the withdrawal from Gaza which forced Jewish settlers to move in 2005, and more, the fast honors mass suffering of the past.

Today in Jerusalem, the concept of a baseless hate seems pervasive. Hundreds have flocked to the Gilad Shalit protest tent, where I attended a march last week, to lament his captivity, and hope for his return. At the same Wall where hundreds of prayers from the Book of Lamentations will ring today, just last week a woman was arrested for carrying a Torah because of her gender. Just outside of the Old City walls, the residents of Silwan I wrote about a couple of weeks ago await demolitions of their households. Is baseless hatred truly a thing of the past to commemorate, or a continuing characteristic of this crazy city?

For where else in the world do two nations live together on one land, and fight on the battlefields of civilian neighborhoods with construction and demolition? And where else does a religious minority control a democratic government to the point where prayer, religious conversion, and marriage have to follow the rules of the most extreme sector of the religion? And where else do all three of the most prominent religions of the world flock to visit holy sites within yards of each other?

These unique qualities of the city are pulling it apart. A Ynet-Gesher poll of 505 Hebrew-speaking Jewish Israelis revealed 42% of respondents believe the religious-secular divide causes the most tension in Israel and 41% said it was the Jewish-Arab situation. The baseless hatred is palpable amid these divides: 54% believe Arabs are the most hated in Israel, while 37% believe the Haredi Orthodox are the most hated. Jerusalem is a microcosm of this polarization. With the city 35% Arab and 22% Haredi, racial and religious divides are everywhere.

None of this is news. We are all at least vaguely aware of the constant tragedy and complexity of this ongoing conflict, and can recognize the baseless hate on both sides. I often think of the different sides as looking through mirrored windows, only reflecting back the very real pain each has experienced as a result of the continuing tension and the absence of any sustainable or long-term solution, without being able to see past the wall to the suffering on the other side. The tragedy for me lies in this blindness. Both sides have blood on their hands, both sides have pain in their hearts, and both sides bear the responsibility of making it better.

On this holiday, though, I appeal specifically to the Jewish people. Among the many Jewish traditions I have learned to love and admire this summer is the social justice teachings in Judaism. In a lecture last week, a religious man spoke about the role of this Jewish morality in the conflict, and used the metaphor of a grasshopper to describe the respective positions of Israelis and Palestinians. He said that for centuries, the Jews have been the grasshopper, and continue to ask for sympathy for this terrible position they were in for so long. On Tisha B’Av, it’s impossible not to be aware of the gross hardship the Jews have faced, and I sympathize deeply with this position. As the lecturer said, though, Israel is not the grasshopper in this particular conflict anymore; Israel has the upper hand and has become the aggressor. The Palestinians are now the grasshoppers, and Israelis, he says, have a responsibility to realize their privileged position and incorporate Jewish values into their actions moving forward.

This is not to say Jews or Israelis do not continue to face hardship inside and outside of the conflict, or have not in the past. They have, they do, and they will continue to face baseless hatred and adversity. Today, though, I implore Israelis to look past the mirrored window, and see the hatred and adversity Palestinians are facing in this conflict. Israel’s success enables it to change the ongoing tragedies in the region. The Jewish state has been created. Israel has internal and external problems, but it is a recognized and developed nation. Today, Jews can celebrate their promised land, but what can Palestinians celebrate?

Leave a comment

Filed under conflict, culture, human rights, religion, Uncategorized, war

Tour de Paris

By Charlotte Parker

PARIS — I think one of the most wonderful feelings in the world must be that of when the geography of a new place begins to map itself in your mind. For me, in Paris, that process began when I found a bicycle.

My fascination with the Metro lasted approximately a week and a half. By the start of my second week, the variety of people had begun to lose its magnetic appeal, and a commute of an hour and a half each day become heavy. When the sun finally came out at the beginning of my third week, the last thing I wanted to do was hurtle under a beautiful, summery city in a grimy tube full of unhappy people.

Thus, in order to prevent myself from resorting to the world-blocking headphones so common in the Metro (NB: big, over-the-head devices in various colors are popular, especially with gold accents. If you’re really cool, you leave them around your neck even once you’ve met up with your friends — bling of choice for chic young Parisians), I went in search of a bicycle. My path to Velib, the Paris city bikes, was almost thwarted by my American credit card. In order to purchase an access card, one needs a credit card with a chip — something the rest of the world possesses but which, like the Metric system, our country has decided to ignore. Fortunately, my French friend offered to set me up — and I was off!

I will not deny that, as I pedaled along the Seine that first afternoon, an enormous smile spread across my face. I’ll let you guess if I really did sing a few verses from the Sound of Music. It was just such a wonderful feeling to zip along! My first ride took me all the way across Paris, from beneath the Eiffel Tower in the 7th arrond. to bustling Place des Fetes in the 19th. As I passed a number of the Metro stops on my regular commute — above ground, this time — I had the sensation that Paris was becoming real.

On a bicycle, the city unfolds itself with each turn of the pedals. Over the next few weeks, I began to understand where everything is in relation to each other, how distinct pockets fit together and discreetly melt into one metropolis. I became aware of Paris’ neighborhoods, as mind-blowingly diverse as the people I had observed on the Metro. One afternoon, under the big bruised clouds of a brewing summer thunderstorm, I rode along Boulevard de Menilmontant/Belleville. In this traditionally immigrant neighborhood in the Northeast of Paris, the bike lane was full of colorful litter and the air whooshing by brought a sonic amalgamation of Arabic and French. It stood in stark contrast to where I had ridden the day before, the bourgeoise 9th, where I had shared wide-open cobblestone boulevards with BMWs and the occasional Ferrari. Nonetheless, had I continued past the turn-off for my host family’s house and pedaled for another ten minutes, I could have easily connected the two neighborhoods on my growing mental map.

Two observations on bike riding in Paris:

  1. Heels are appropriate footwear. And one can make no concessions to clothing coordination, no matter how sweaty one may get; the first morning I rode to school, I pedaled behind a woman whose toenail polish matched her dangerously high platform espadrilles. She also was able to dismount and park her bike gracefully, a fact of which I was extremely envious, having just spent ten minutes attempting to get on my bike without splitting my dress and/or flashing the world (my success in this arena was questionable; a creepy man watched the whole spazzy process and told me it was “better than the cinema”).
  2. As most of Paris’ bike lines are separated from the street by a curb, you don’t really need to worry about motor vehicles. I would like to warn you, instead, about the rogue pigeons, who on multiple occasions sat calmly in my bike lane and refused to fly away until a split second before I had almost killed myself in attempting to brake. I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere in Paris there are a few nice pigeon crepes.

Leave a comment

Filed under culture, Overseas Bureau, transportation

Culture and the Cup, Dispatch 7: Madrid

Spanish fans watch the World Cup Final at the Plaza de Cibeles, where three giant screens were set up to show the game. (Bruner/TYG)

By Raisa Bruner

MADRID – Never underestimate La Furia Roja.

I can’t make any comments about the style, skill, or success of the Spanish national soccer team on the field in the World Cup final Sunday night against the Netherlands – I am neither an expert in soccer nor someone who was able to watch the game in full. I can’t tell you if Spain deserved to win, or if it was a fitting end to the month-long tournament, or even if the Netherlands played an honorable game. No, I’m not qualified to discuss any of that – because instead of watching the game and the athletes on the screen, I was gazing mesmerized at the crowd of crazed fans at Plaza de Cibeles in downtown Madrid.

Never underestimate the power of soccer to excite.

Sangria funneled down plastic vuvuzuelas into the open mouths of strangers? Sí. An army of red-and-yellow jerseyed fans, Spanish and Australian and American and any other nationality? Sí. Every face, arm, chest, and scalp striped with the red and yellow of the Spanish flag? Sí. Fist-pumping? Absolutamente. At Yale, we get into the spirit of The Game (Yale-Harvard football) and throw on a jersey for our favorite team’s turn in a championship. But in comparison to this experience, whatever sports fanaticism we have back home looks like little league. This much enthusiasm – however drunken – isn’t found every day. Spain’s supporters breathe, sweat, and bleed La Furia Roja.

Never underestimate the power of soccer to focus.

The crowd – which spread in a riotous, rowdy mass for miles throughout the center of Madrid – roared, chanted, vuvuzuela-ed, cheered, booed, sang, yelled, became borracho in unison. And that’s a big deal. To have the cultural power to take all of that energy and send it directly towards one event happening at the other end of the world is a pretty splendid feat. But soccer can do that for Spain. Soccer can take the Catalonians (a million of whom attended a separatist rally on Saturday, the day before the final) and the Basque (who also rallied in support of the Catalonians on Saturday) and the Andalusians and the Galicians and the countless other nationalities, ethnicities, and visitors living in and loving this land and bring them together in one very boisterous, very united movement towards victory. Impressive.

Definitely don’t underestimate the power of winning.

What recession? What unemployment? What sobriety? As we were swept up along with the partying crowd from Plaza de Cibeles toward Puerta del Sol, everything was in a jubilant uproar. Communist protests and workers’ strikes often stride the same route that we paraded down, yet instead of fighting against the concept of Spain, we were marching for it. At Sol, people clambered on top of statues, scaffolding, fountains, even the metro station’s glass roofing in hopes of surveying the scene. Swarming with people in all states of consciousness, the crowd only began to clear at around 5:00am when a man fell off the top of a monument and the police and ambulances arrived to deal with the consequences.

That morning I walked home, blowing my vuvuzuela the whole way. Each car that passed us cheered, even when the birds began to chirp. And now, a full workweek later? Spain isn’t going to sleep anytime soon. The players have arrived home in a wave of glory, the sun is out, the moon is bright, and the sangria is still cheap and flowing.

Leave a comment

Filed under culture, Culture and the Cup, Europe, sports

Historic Preservation Meets Sustainable Development

Copenhagen's oldest buildings are an essential part of the city's character and charm (Armitage/TYG).

By Sarah Armitage

COPENHAGEN – In this city, I am trying to learn about the intersection between historic preservation and sustainable urban development, a niche issue that nevertheless touches on many contemporary issues in city planning.  Three conclusions that I have reached thus far:

1.  Europe really is further along than the United States when it comes to creating sustainable communities.  I held this idea intuitively at the outset of my trip to Denmark, but I did not feel its force until I had experienced the world of European city planning first-hand.

I expected to return from Copenhagen inspired by the city’s imaginative approaches to adaptive reuse, the practice of renovating and retrofitting old buildings to serve new purposes.  Under the leadership of the historic preservation crowd, many of the most progressive voices in the sustainable urban development movement in the United States are calling for city planners to renovate the nation’s existing building stock instead of focusing only on “green” new construction.  They cite statistics such as the 65 years necessary for an energy efficient new building to make up for the “embodied energy” lost in tearing down an old building.  And they point to Europe, where adaptive reuse has become a common way of integrating old and new buildings.

I certainly have found these imaginative approaches to adaptive reuse in Copenhagen.  I have learned through hearsay, for example, that some of the most expensive real estate in Copenhagen can be found in a former silo tower converted into apartments-with-views.  But I have also seen that in Copenhagen, the progressive voices have moved beyond adaptive reuse to recognize that even the most advanced retrofits cannot compete with the energy efficiency technologies possible in new structures.  Thus in the long term, if cities such as Copenhagen are to achieve ambitious goals like carbon neutrality by 2025, they will need to offset old buildings that are worth saving with truly efficient new construction.  While it may exist in places, I have never seen this holistic thinking on such an advanced level in the United States.

2.  At the same time, however, the existing built environment is going to provide an important interim solution.  While I have seen an ultimate goal that is more sophisticated than adaptive reuse while in Copenhagen, I think that American cities could make enormous progress by learning a lesson that Danish planners have already internalized: retrofits and renovations may not seem glamorous or spectacular, but they are essential.  And when we do permit new construction, we must be sure that it will last longer than, say, 65 years.

3.  While historic city spaces may seem dull when compared to flashy new architecture or urban districts, they actually are worth preserving.  Trying to reconcile historic preservation with sustainable urban development does matter.

For one, preserving historic city plans is often a wise decision for urban designers trying to create the dense, mixed-use urban environment so in vogue right now.  In a number of Middle Eastern cities, for example, the preservation of centuries-old city plans could create exactly the kind of city that many of today’s leading urban planners would want.

Second, history sells and can make buildings more attractive spaces in which to live, work, or play.  I recently learned about the development of a former industrial area in Copenhagen where the district’s history was used as a marketable asset.  The site was once home to the Royal Porcelain company, a producer of luxury china.  Developers have embraced the site’s former use, retaining the name “Porcelaenshaven” (a rough translation would be “porcelain garden”) and preserving architectural reminders that many of the area’s buildings were once working factories.  On my site visit, I noticed the classic Royal Porcelain floral pattern gracing the apartments’ doorways.  After all, who wouldn’t want to live in a building that once produced teacups and saucers for the queen?

Third, respecting a city’s history means respecting the intangible elements of a city–the poetry of the urban spaces–all that helps to create attachments between places and people.  I recently learned about two new developments in Copenhagen, one only planned and the other already executed.  In the former, planners have envisioned an environment in which new buildings compliment and celebrate old ones, in which the roughness and unpredictability that come from generations of use are embraced and even deliberately intensified.  In the latter, by contrast, buildings are spaced far apart in a rational manner, and the area is full of spectacular new architecture.  There is far more smoothness than roughness.  The former seems like a space for real people; the latter does not.

And while my conclusions about the importance of historic preservation in contemporary city planning may seem a separate issue from my first two points about Copenhagen as a model of sustainable urban development, I think that they are actually inseparable.  After all, preserving a city’s heritage is, in a way, just a nicer way of looking at the need to plan future city development within the constraints of the existing built environment.

1 Comment

Filed under architecture, Europe, urban affairs

Gilad Shalit and the Absence of Face in American Wars

After the march with Gilad's parents from the North, thousands gathered to listen to different speakers, performers, and children on why his release of immediate concern. (Saverin/TYG)

By Diana Saverin

JERUSALEM – Thousands of people gathered between King David and King George Street on Thursday night in the culmination of the march from the north of Israel to Jerusalem advocating for the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas. Two hundred thousand civilians joined at some point, and the blur of shirts and posters with a blue outline Gilad’s face cultivated a sense of unity.

In many ways, the march could have appeared in support of anything. Jerusalem is a constant hub of protests and marches given the tense political climate that spans a range of issues relating to land, religion, Zionism, education, gender, modesty, and more. This particular gathering struck me as incredibly unique, though, and exposed a great deal about what makes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict something difficult to relate to as an outsider.

First of all, the relationship between citizens and the army is completely different from that in the United States. Because of the obligatory service, almost everyone here has, is currently, or will serve in the army. Further, everyone’s sons, daughters, neighbors, and colleagues will serve. The service cuts across socioeconomic lines. This dynamic creates a different culture surrounding the conflict, and makes it intensely personal. Instead of figures and numbers used for election purposes, faces from next-door infiltrate people’s understanding of war. One eight-year-old girl stood up in front of the thousands of people to refer to Gilad as her brother, as every soldier could easily be her brother, and because of this, she prays each night for peace. While the different sizes of the countries clearly influence this relationship, I have never confronted this sentiment in the U.S. The American army does not proportionally represent the population, as it runs almost systematically on socioeconomic lines, and sentiment towards it thus varies greatly.

The army and the conflict were fittingly shown through a humanistic lens. Gilad’s parents were the focus of the event, as speakers asked, “have they slept in four years?” His mother spoke of the pain of waiting for so long, and a woman whose whole family died in a terrorist attack expressed her desire to have a prisoner exchange, even if that meant the release of her family’s killers, because if Gilad can return to live a normal life that is worth more than anything. Saving a life, she said, is saving a world.

Would such a claim ever be made in the United States? How many prisoners of war are there in Afghanistan and Iraq? I don’t even know the number, let alone march for the return of each one. On both sides here, almost everyone knows a bereaved family. Even Prime Minister Netanyahu’s brother was killed in a hostage rescue mission. This tragic reality makes the implausible possible, hundreds of thousands of people marching for the life of one.

Proximity also affects the nature of this relationship. The conflict does not hide; people live it everyday. Just walking around Jerusalem, and seeing the settlements, protests, racially divided neighborhoods, walls and towers left from each conqueror, venerated monuments, divides between the religious and the secular, the wall to the West Bank, soldiers everywhere, different organizations educating the public about the conflict, graffiti, posters, and more constantly reveal the issues pulling the city apart. The reality is inescapable. In the U.S., the reality is all too escapable, and I know I could effortlessly pass days without thinking about the wars. We are fighting two, and while I am quick to criticize the conduct of the Israeli army, what about my own? Are the war crimes any different? Do I feel that each soldier is my brother, and think of their parents’ lost sleep each night as the wars carry on?

The intimate feeling with the conflict is true to both sides. Palestinians and Israelis live and feel it together in Jerusalem, and both are deeply affected by casualties. Palestinians face stark facts in terms of prisoners of war as well, as administrative arrests for security can keep them in prison for up to five years with no court, and Palestinians arrested in the West Bank are subject to military court. As of May 2010, Israel is holding 213 Palestinians in administrative detention.

The pain that ensues this mutual grief brings cohesion and passion. Often, it polarizes people further into stringent views, but it can also unite them to work together to effect change. The Parent’s Circle brings together Israeli and Palestinian bereaved families to tell stories of their experiences losing a loved one to the conflict, side by side.

I have not witnessed this humanistic relationship with conflict in the U.S., for where is the feeling that what the American army does matters in my everyday life? Maybe it is an unfeasible desire, to want to truly understand the effects of “shock and awe,” Guantanamo, and the past decade of pain caused by the two American wars. Without knowing the faces, though, how can I hope to hold a genuine opinion on the wars, let alone work to implement my vision of them? I am grateful to not have lost anyone in the wars, but the loss and pain exists, and I believe there is an obligation to at the very least witness it.

1 Comment

Filed under conflict, diplomacy, human rights, Middle East, violence, war

Moving, Shaking, and Surviving: A Bedouin Woman Stands Up Against Polygamy, Honor Killings, Arranged Marriages, and Unfair Divorce in the Negev Desert

By Diana Saverin

JERUSALEM – This past weekend I stayed with a woman in a town in the Negev desert, Rahat, who used her own hardship and lack of rights as an impetus to assist women in similar positions. Between jokes about hating the beards in Rahat and delicious tea, her story left me with a great deal of hope.

The Bedouins in Israel have lived in the Negev for generations, but have faced a great deal of issues under Israeli governance. With several villages living without recognition from the Israeli government, impermanent structures dominate the expanding landscape of the desert.

Beyond the poverty and racial issues provoked on the surface of this controversy, women face an especially difficult fate. Honor killings, in which family members kill women for such crimes as sex outside of marriage, go unreported, save for a blank grave away from the village. Men take multiple wives, and since this is illegal under Israeli law, the second and third wives technically don’t exist. This leads to several issues, especially for their children who need identification cards. Most marriages are arranged, and when they fail, men automatically gain full custody of the children.

In this disempowering landscape for women, Mona found her voice. Faced with losing her six children in a divorce, she fought for four years to gain joint custody. She was confronted with fierce opposition within her town, but her unpleasant experiences led her to create an organization, Amerat, for Bedouin women in the desert. While many noteworthy organizations offer women economic empowerment and improve quality of life, Mona has crossed into more controversial waters to challenge the destructive status quo in the region.

NGOs are often deterred from addressing cultural practices that violate human rights because of the values of multiculturalism and respect for traditions, but Amerat is taking on this daunting task with passion, and avoids such controversy with a grassroots approach. Mona’s bravery astounds me; as men claim that she isn’t a true Muslim and threaten her, she continues to protect and speak up for women in the area.

Just as I expressed wonder at the bravery of Women of the Wall, who work within Judaism to create reform, I am awestruck with Amerat’s valiant battle within Islam and the Bedouin community for equal rights for women.

Leave a comment

Filed under activism, conflict, Overseas Bureau, religion, women