Sanjay Suri

Could a Person of Color from an Immigrant Family Be Elected in Europe?

Nobody quite remembers the first name of that relative of Colin Powell. Or his second, for that matter.

Their families had left Jamaica about the same time. Colin Powell's moved to the U.S., the other to Britain. Colin Powell retired as U.S. secretary of state, the other as a bus conductor.

On his last visit to Britain, former United States Secretary of State Colin Powell was asked, politely, whether he thought Britain could give a black man the opportunities that the U.S. had given to him. Just as politely, Powell said he thought not.

And now that Barack Obama has been elected U.S. president, a question is being whispered around among the black and other minority groups in Britain and elsewhere in Europe: can a black man move into 10 Downing Street in the foreseeable future? Or the Elysee Palace? Or someone of Turkish origin become the Chancellor in Germany? Everyone thinks No, and no one is particularly polite about it.

The Germans were happy to turn up and listen to Obama and to applaud him. But somehow very few think of making that connection between the sort of person the U.S. elects, and the sort that Germany, or France, or any other European country might.

Europe in fact appears headed in quite the opposite direction. "There is quite a great deal of hostility in Europe against immigrants at the moment," Prof. Daniel Joly, director of the Center for Research in Ethnic Relations at Warwick University tells IPS. "This has built up over many years -- also as a result of politicians' discourse which has been very negative regarding immigrants."

And it doesn't stop with immigrants, she says. "Unfortunately, this also affects people who are not immigrants, who are children or grandchildren of immigrants that are taken within the same wave of hostility. This is the general climate in countries like France, Germany and Britain at the moment."

Europe seems to offer neither popular nor political acceptability to someone from the minorities, says Joly. "In France there are no people of black immigrant origin who are MPs or who have any post of any significance in the parties. So I don't see how they could rise.

"In France it's not much easier than in Britain, because of the way the system is structured but probably because political parties at the moment in France have not integrated people of immigrant origin. They even find it very difficult to integrate women; there is a very small percentage of women who have positions in parties, and certainly a very small percentage who have MP positions."

So whether a president is elected directly, as in France, or a prime minister by an elected college as in Britain, neither offers room for a black person at the top -- or even to a thought there may be one.

In Britain, the Powell cousin would count himself fortunate just to last a career on the public buses without being abused or assaulted. Because while the U.S. elects Obama, Britain's black community is struggling to look for basic rights in jobs, education, housing, health care...the list is as long as the list of things anyone could possibly be doing.

As recession envelops the European economy faster than anyone anticipated, fears have deepened that the environment for the minorities will actually get much worse now. Trevor Phillips, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, warned this week that anti-immigrant sentiment may rise in such an environment.

"In what is to come, the best defense against prejudice against immigrants will be to make those who resent them competitive, to give them a place in society," he said. "We may need to do so with the sort of special measures we've previously targeted at ethnic minorities."

Philips added: "What we are seeing is that there is a whole group of people, a large proportion of whom are white, who are going to suffer from this crisis who are going to be the people we should want to help, particularly because they come from the wrong side of town. We are going to have to do something special for them. We are going to have to put extra resources where young people can't compete with migrants' skills."

Lasting the day in Europe as a non-white person is a struggle for far too many. Almost routinely now, one after another police officer in Britain who is from the minorities -- and the police are meant to ensure safety and decency for all -- has been complaining of racial discrimination. And new research from the Sainsburys Center for Mental Health (SCMH) shows that many black people are deeply disturbed by the environment, and in a double blow, do not then get the medical help they need.

People with mental disturbances face major barriers to getting and keeping jobs, a report from the center says. "For black people these barriers can be especially hard to overcome. Mental health and employment services need to be able to respond positively to this challenge and offer targeted support where it is needed," says Dr Bob Grove, director of employment at the Sainsbury Center.

Currently 63 percent of black people in Britain are in employment compared to 72 percent of white people, with research showing that since 2005 rates of employment amongst black people remain about 10 percent lower than the national average.

And in the week where Obama's election was being celebrated, another report in Britain showed that black Caribbean pupils are being subjected to institutional racism in English schools which can dramatically undermine their chances of academic success.

The research shows that teachers are routinely under-estimating the abilities of some black pupils. The findings, based on a University of Warwick survey which tracked 15,000 pupils through their education, are in line with a general perception that low achievement among some black students is made worse because teachers don't expect them to succeed.

Countless black people in the U.S. doubtless face segregation, discrimination and the usual. But the U.S. has witnessed a huge revolution of the possible; Europe is a long way from it, and not many believe it will ever come.

Name the Liar

The long-awaited inquiry report into intelligence failures that led Britain to join the invasion of Iraq reveals what went wrong, but stops short of saying who went wrong.

The 196-page report by Lord Butler discloses "serious flaws" in intelligence that led to Britain's involvement in the war. Key intelligence relied on third hand sources and was unreliable, the report says. And yet the report does not blame the intelligence services, because intelligence was pushed to "outer limits but not beyond."

The report says there is no reason that John Scarlett, head of the joint intelligence committee who put together the intelligence on Iraq should not be appointed head of MI6, Britain's external intelligence agency, as planned.
The report also points out that the dossier presented to the public did not contain the caveats and qualifications that had been included in the reports that the intelligence services handed to the government.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said in Parliament after the report was tabled Wednesday: "Don't blame the intelligence community, blame me."

Blair was saying the right thing but several opposition leaders said he was not doing the right thing. And the report itself does not blame Blair for any wrongdoing.

"The report talks of lies, but does not say who the liars are," Mustafa Alani, Iraq expert at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) told IPS. "It is good news for Blair but bad news for democracy and for a system of accountability."

Going to war is the most crucial decision any government can make, Alani said. "At the end of the day Britain's decision has been shown to be based on a set of assumptions. This is very serious. You cannot justify the most important decision you take on just an assumption."

That view was expressed in the House of Commons but to no effect.

"Somehow, no one is to blame for all of this," Welsh nationalist leader Elfyn Llwyd said to Blair. "Why don't you take responsibility and do the honourable thing?"

Opposition leader Michael Howard said: "When presenting your case to the country, you chose to leave out those caveats, qualifications and cautions (of the intelligence services)àthe issue is the Prime Minister's credibility. The question he must ask himself is, does he have any credibility left?"

Former Tory chancellor of the exchequer (finance minister) Kenneth Clarke pointed out how Blair had misled the parliament and the country, as brought out in the Butler report.

"Do you believe that if you had come to this House and if you had used the actual language of the intelligence assessment you had read when you made the case for war, you would still have won the vote that carried this country to war?" Clarke asked. "I must tell you I do not think you would have done."

Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary who resigned his cabinet post over the decision to invade Iraq added: "Had we done so we would have been spared the unavoidable conclusion from the content of the Butler Report that we committed British troops to action on the basis of false intelligence, overheated analysis and unreliable sources."

But Blair remained defiant. "No one lied," he said. "No one made up the intelligence. No one inserted things into the dossier against the advice of the intelligence services. Everyone genuinely tried to do their best in good faith for the country in circumstances of acute difficulty."

Blair said Britain had been right to invade Iraq. "I cannot honestly say I believe getting rid of Saddam was a mistake at all. Iraq, the region, the wider world is a better and safer place without Saddam."

Officials are talking of a shake-up in the intelligence services, but not a shake-up in the government.

Alani says Blair's future will rest on how the situation plays out within Iraq. "If there are positive developments, those would justify the mistakes of the government," he told IPS. "But if the situation deteriorates, then the mistakes of the government and this whole issue will be forced again to the front."

The Red Thread of Abuse

There have been human rights abuses enough before, but last year saw "a pervasive culture of attack on global values, standards and institutions," Amnesty International secretary-general Irene Khan told IPS in an interview after the launch of the annual Amnesty report in London Wednesday. "And that has been fuelled very heavily by a security agenda pushed by the U.S."

That agenda has brought a situation where powerful governments can operate outside the rule of law, Khan said, making the fundamental situation in Abu Ghraib so similar to Guantanamo Bay, she said. "There is a red thread that runs from Guantanamo Bay to Abu Ghraib to Bagram."

The global security agenda promoted by the U.S. administration "is bankrupt of vision and bereft of principle," Khan said at the launch of the report. "Violating rights at home, turning a blind eye to abuses abroad and using pre-emptive military force where and when it chooses has damaged justice and freedom, and made the world a more dangerous place."

Khan pointed out that Amnesty had handed a report to the U.S. government highlighting abuses within Iraq, but had received no response. "It seems accountability in Washington D.C. is better generated by Kodak." But evidence of the abuses is only "the natural outcome of the policy openly followed by the U.S. administration to pick and choose which bits of international law it will apply and where, and to put itself outside the reach of judicial scrutiny or international accountability."

But it is not the United States alone that is responsible for major violations. The annual Amnesty report says "violence by armed groups and increasing violations by governments have combined to produce the most sustained attack on human rights and international humanitarian law in 50 years."

Amnesty condemned the armed groups responsible for atrocities such as the March 11 bombing in Madrid and the bomb attack on the United Nations building in Iraq on August 19, 2003 which killed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello.

It said attacks on civilians and on institutions established to provide solutions to conflict and insecurity, such as the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross represent a "significant new threat to international justice."

Abuses were widespread, the report shows. The report details widespread armed conflict in Africa, along with repression of political opponents, persecution of human rights defenders, violence against women, and limited access to justice for the most marginalised in society.

Within the Americas "human rights continued to be violated in the name of security, the report says. "Most governments interpreted the concept of security narrowly, failing to address effectively the threat to human security posed by hunger, poverty, disease, environmental degradation and other such factors." In Asia and the Pacific region "human rights protection remained inadequate across the region and in some countries human rights violations increased as a result of renewed or ongoing armed conflicts," the Amnesty report says. In Europe governments brought in 'anti-terrorist' legislation, launched attacks on refugee protection and imposed restrictions on freedom of association and expression.

In the Middle East the death toll continued to rise with the war on Iraq and the ongoing conflict in Israel and the occupied territories. In these countries and in Algeria, Morocco and Saudi Arabia attacks by armed groups escalated against civilian and government targets.

But a reverse pull seems evident in countering many of the wrongs and unravelling the red thread. "The pictures at Abu Ghraib have shaken public opinion," Khan told IPS. "They have shaken the U.S. Congress. We have asked for an open, independent and impartial inquiry by the U.S. Congress." Finally that pull towards the unravelling could come more from people than from governments. "We are finding new ways in which people are coming together," Khan said. "There is a movement for global justice. We have seen it in Mumbai, in Brazil, in Madrid, where people have come up very spontaneously. Ordinary people believe in human rights, and not that you can cut human rights for security."

The new report, like its earlier reports, raises again the question what exactly Amnesty can do by way of action over its reports.

Amnesty is strengthening its "world-wide web of ordinary people," deputy chief of Amnesty Kate Gilmore told IPS. "Amnesty has the support of two million people, and there are many more who support us tacitly, who are telling their governments that we will not tolerate you being a party to the erosion of global values." The campaign is being fed by the "power of truth and empirical data," she said. Amnesty advocates implementation of international human rights law "but we did not invent it," she said. "Governments made these promises, and Amnesty invites governments to be promise-keepers." Pressure on governments will finally come from ordinary people who set up "a constituency of insistence" for the implementation of rights.

"From the United States to al-Qaeda each is claiming its constituency," Gilmore said. "Amnesty is working with another constituency dedicated to the rights of others, not the self. It is through this constituency that humanity can be advanced."

BRAND NEW STORIES

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.