Harriet Tubman – A Fine Choice For The $20 Bill

Harriet_Tubman_Civil_War_Woodcut-300px-wideI must admit, until this week I had never heard of Harriet Tubman. I am not an American so have a bit of an excuse about not previously knowing anything about the first African American women to appear on a US bank note.

She was born into slavery but after escaping, perhaps motivated by her strong Christian faith, devoted her life to helping others escape and build meaningful lives for themselves. She was later involved in the campaign for women’s sufferage.

I think she is a worthy choice for commemoration on the $20 bill. It is not because she is a woman or that she is an African American, it is because what she did was right. She stood up to tyranny, took personal risks for the sake of others and was unwavering in her cause. Her place on the banknote was earned on pure merit. She is an inspiration to all those who stand up to current vested interests who use their power oppress others.

As a campaigner for women’s suffrgage she is very relevant to the present day where democracy is gradually being subverted under the pressures of globalisation. In America and in countries around the world large corporations can buy politicians via the lobbying process and manipulate opinion via their control of the media. We live in a world of backroom deals and legislation by treaty, a world where the simple vote has become a debased currency. It is a world where currency itself is debased due to the hidden machinations of our system of central banks which often amount to organised officially sanctioned theft (her presence on the $20 bill in this sense is rather ironic).

We live in a world where cherished freedoms are being eroded, the kind of basic freedoms that were hard won by people like Harriet Tubman. Her presence on the $20 bill will be an ever present reminder of the idea that the only antidote to tyranny is eternal vigilance.

Harriet Tubman provides a lesson on how a person from humble origins and limited, or even non-existent means, can achieve great things. She also reminds us that freedom isn’t free and that to be free often requires real effort and sometimes even personal sacrifice.


United In Tyranny – The United Nations Human Rights Council

UN 1

Above: United Nations Headquarters, New York, New York.

An article published a few days ago at alarabiya.net[1] reported that Saudi Arabia had been elected onto the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).  Once again, the concept of human rights has been brought into disrepute at the United Nations.  Saudi Arabia should not be judging human rights, it should be answering charges!  This dysfunctional nature of the United Nations itself is clear for all to see.

The old discredited incarnation of the Council – the United Nations Human Rights Commission was discredited because states with appalling human rights records were members. On 15 March 2006 the BBC reported on its website:

“The existing body has been heavily criticised for having countries with poor human rights records as members…. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan welcomed what he called an “historic resolution… that gives the United Nations a much-needed chance to make a new beginning in its work for human rights around the world”.”[2]

One word change to the name and six fewer members is does not demonstrate a renewed commitment to human rights.  So what happened?  The lyrics of Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who come to mind:

“Meet the new boss Same as the old boss”[3]

Nice repackaging but so much for the “new beginning”!

Saudi Arabia is a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) which itself is against human rights as defined by the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This group of states were so opposed to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that it set up its own declaration to compete with it and undermine it.  This was the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI) that was signed in 1990.  This declaration subordinates all human rights to the Islamic sharia and therefore is clearly at odds with the UDHR).

Back in 2007 Jackson Diehl writing in The Washington Post made the following astute observations relating to the newly constituted Human Rights Council:

“If the first year of the United Nations Human Rights Council is any indication, it’s grown sick and cynical — partly because of the fecklessness and flexible morality of some of the very governments and groups that claim to be most committed to democratic values….

The European Union includes countries holding eight of the council’s 47 seats. It has made no serious effort to focus the council’s attention on the world’s worst human rights violators.”[4]

The attitude of nominally democratic states comes as no surprise to the International Civil Liberties Alliance (ICLA).  We have for many years been highlighting human rights abuses by such countries in our interventions at Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Human Dimension meetings.  With regard to the European Union (EU), we must point out that it is not a democratic organisation – executive power is held by the unelected European Commission and the European Parliament is little more than a rubber stamping body.  Indeed the EU repeatedly highlights its profoundly anti-democratic credentials by its own actions – actions too numerous to go into here!  The actions of EU member states such as the United Kingdom also indicate contempt for the principles of the UDHR.  It could be argued the UK’s status as an observing member of the OIC[5], its decision to sign a memorandum of understanding with the OIC in September 2012[6], and its attendance at the OIC meeting in Cairo in February 2013[7] together represent an endorsement of the OIC’s view of human rights that formalised by the CDHRI.  This may suggest that the United Kingdom itself is not really committed to the United Nation’s definition of human rights and that in the future it may be willing to concede that human rights are indeed subordinate to the Islamic sharia!  Perhaps this all explains why Saudi Arabia’s membership of the Human Rights Council is countenanced by countries who claim to support human rights.

Terry Sanderson of the UK’s National Secular Society reminds us of the OIC’s desire to destroy one of the most fundamental components of human rights, the right to freedom of expression:

“The blasphemy law which is being proposed by the OIC on behalf of its members would be an entirely dangerous and regressive step if it were to be approved at the UN. It is quite clear that it would be used to persecute and oppress non-Muslim minorities in Muslim-majority countries, as the domestic blasphemy law in Pakistan does at present.”[8]

An article on the website of The Economist by B.C., that carries the rather appropriate phrase Theatre of the Absurd in its title, does not seem to hold out much hope for the UN’s ability to be a champion of human rights:

“Given that more governments (including some Western ones) violate human rights than respect them, I’m not sure that global, inter-governmental bodies in this field can serve any purpose. It may still be useful for groups of governments (like the Council of Europe) to band together to agree to observe certain standards. But for an organisation to work credibly for human rights at a global level, with no geopolitical or cultural bias, it needs to be as independent as possible from all govermments [sic], and hence from all violators.”[9]

The willingness of Western states to endorse the OIC, their lack of willingness to oppose human rights violators influencing policy at the UN, and their own deteriorating human rights records at home all suggest that human rights are now in serious danger across the board.  It is therefore unlikely that the UN will be capable of getting its own house in order any time soon.  The UN itself seems incapable of following and supporting its own principles; indeed by not acting to actively oppose alternatives to the UDHR it is undermining is own reason for being.  In some ways this inability or unwillingness to act is similar to that experienced by the old League of Nations which failed to stop the rise of the illiberal movements that were eroding human rights in the 1930s.  History does appear to be repeating itself in our institutions of collective security!

Currently the UNHRC is not about human rights, it is a forum for states to conspire to undermine them!  The UN should act and act as a matter of extreme urgency to regain legitimacy in the field of human rights.  The BBC stated in that article that we referred to earlier:

“There will be periodic reviews of membership, and any state accused of systematic human rights violations could be suspended.”[10]

Time to either remove Saudi Arabia from the UNHRC or reform the UN completely!  Saudi Arabia’s presence on the Council undermines human rights globally.  To have Saudi Arabia involved in anything remotely related to improving human rights is grossly offensive!  Saudi Arabia’s membership of the Council tells the world that the UN does not give a damn about human rights.  The United Nations itself is clearly in desperate need of root and branch reform.  As things stand, the United Nations and its member states are united, but united only in tyranny!


Recommendations of the International Civil Liberties Alliance (ICLA):

(1)    ICLA calls for the urgent dismissal of Saudi Arabia from the United Nations Human Rights Council on the grounds that it is guilty of systematic human rights abuses.

(2)   It also calls upon the United Nations to reaffirm its commitment to the universal nature of human rights as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) by repudiating all alternatives to it such as the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI) (1990).

Only then can confidence be restored in the United Nations’ declared commitment to human rights.


[1] Saudi Arabia wins U.N. Human Rights Council seat, 12 November 2013, AlArabiya.net, http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2013/11/12/Saudi-Arabia-wins-Human-Rights-Council-seat.html

[2] UN creates new human rights body, Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 March 2006, 19:49 GMT, BBC.co.uk, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4810538.stm

[3] WON’T GET FOOLED AGAIN LYRICS – THE WHO, Sing365.com, http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/Won’t-Get-Fooled-Again-lyrics-The-Who/761EF79AAB42FA9C48256977002E72F9

[4] A Shadow on the Human Rights Movement, Jackson Diehl, The Washington Post, 25 June 2007, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/24/AR2007062401373.html

[5] Organisation of the Islamic Conference Admits UK as Observing Member, Islam Today, 17 June 2011, http://en.islamtoday.net/artshow-235-4102.htm

[6] Agreement signed to bring Islamic countries closer to UK, Murtaza Ali Shah, The International News, 27 September 2012, http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-2-134325-Agreement-signed-to-bring-Islamic-countries-closer-to-UK

[7] Baroness Warsi attends Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Summit, Gov.uk, 7 February 2013, https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/baroness-warsi-addresses-organisation-of-islamic-cooperation-summit

[8] UK signs agreement on “religious freedom” with OIC, National Secular Society, 27 September 2012, http://www.secularism.org.uk/news/2012/09/uk-signs-agreement-on-religious-freedom-with-oic

[9] Human and religious rights at the UN: Theatre of the absurd, B.C., 12 November 2013, Economist.com, http://www.economist.com/blogs/erasmus/2013/11/human-and-religious-rights-un

[10] UN creates new human rights body, Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 March 2006, 19:49 GMT, BBC.co.uk, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4810538.stm

Hope And The Third Rome: The Rise Of Russia As Guarantor Of Human Rights


Recent events surrounding the Syrian crisis have indicated that a geopolitical transition may be taking place that will have a profound impact on human rights across the world. For a great deal of time the human rights superpower, the world power that prided itself on an impeccable human rights record and respect for the rule of law was the United States of America. The statesmanlike approach of Russian leader Vladimir Putin over the Syria crisis, in contrast to the frantic warmongering of his American counterpart, has shown that the baton of human decency may now be passing to a new force for human rights – the Russian Federation. The assertion of the Russian monk Philotheus of Pskov in 1520 was the first one declaring that Russia was the heir of the ages:

“Two Romes have fallen…and the third stands, and a fourth there shall not be” (1)

It seems now that the Third Rome, with its roots in Ancient Greece and Rome, is remerging as a force for good in the world. As the West begins to sink into the despotism once associated with the East, a power with a geographic position predominantly in the east takes on the mantle of civilizational leader. Could it be that Russia is now filling the moral vacuum that has been left in the wake of the West’s retreat from the principles of human rights and human liberty?

The moral authority of the United States as a human rights leader was severely damaged by its intervention in Iraq. However the proposed intervention in Syria is much more sinister from a human rights perspective. It follows a pattern of behaviour in which Western nations have consistently backed the forces of jihad and the standard bearer of Islamism – the Muslim Brotherhood. Islamism is something that will never reconcile itself with human rights yet Western powers increasingly embrace it.

Western elites have effectively empowered Islamists in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, and seem intent on doing the same in Syria. This is mirrored by their championing of Islamist causes at home, with the development of speech codes and draconian sanctions applied against anyone who dares to contradict the Islamist narrative. Sacrificing the most cherished freedom of all, freedom of expression, is now been followed by the sacrifice of freedom of movement and freedom of association in the effort to bolster the power of Islamism in the West. Actions of the Western elites have made their countries tyrannies at home, and expansionists abroad! It is quite ridiculous for them be referred to as champions of human rights!

In countries like Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia Western scheming has led to the overthrow of secular governments and their replacement by governments influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood. The West is now backing Islamist rebels in Syria and is now on the point of intervening militarily on the side of these forces. We have seen in North Africa that Islamists do not respect the human rights of religious minorities such as Christians when they attain power, and religious persecution follows whenever they attain any influence. Western leaders are now in effect accessories to ethnic and religious genocide. If judged by the actions of its leaders, Western respect for human rights has now evaporated.

The recent attack by Syrian rebel forces on Maaloula village near Damascus illustrates the situation. The attack on the predominantly Christian village was carried out by Jabhat al-Nusra and the supposedly moderate Free Syrian Army. Why such “moderates” are fighting hand in glove with the forces of Al Queda remains to be explained. The backing of such forces by Western Governments, backing that is increasing moving in the direction of a military alliance, shows the modern West for what it is with regard to its increasingly appalling human rights record.

A recent article published by the UK’s Daily Telegraph (2) newspaper describes the situation with regard to Syria’s Christians as follows:

“Christians, who make up approximately 10 per cent of Syria’s population, have increasingly become targets in the conflict as sectarian-minded foreign jihadists gain influence in the opposition ranks. Almost a third of the Syriac Christian population has fled the rebel-held northern town of Hassakeh after Christians became targets for kidnappings and assassinations.”

The Telegraph article also quoted some eyewitnesses who spoke in the following terms:

“They entered the main square and smashed a statue of the Virgin Mary,”

“First they took a brick factory owned by a Christian guy, who is now missing”

“Some of the rebels entered a home near the checkpoint belonging to Yousef Haddad, a Christian. They tried to force him to convert to Islam.”

It is quite clear that rebel forces in Syria advocate extreme forms of Islam and that that many of their number are jumping at the opportunity to undertake ethnic cleansing. Nevertheless Western politicians continue to do the bidding of their Islamist “ally” Saudi Arabia by continuing to side with these rebels. The lives of religious minorities in places like Syria are completely ignored and Western elites refuse to acknowledge that if Assad was ousted from power he would be replaced by Islamists just as has happened in in other countries afflicted by the “Arab Spring”.

Western countries may claim to respect human rights on the grounds that they are democracies. However, increasingly that democracy is democracy in name only. Many traditional characteristics of democracy are disappearing in Western nations. Elections do not make democracy, the rule of law and equality before it makes democracy – this is something that Western leaders no longer recognise. Western elites have managed to control the democratic process via control of the media, the shutting down of dissenting voices, and a voting system that gives limited choice at election time. This is why they want to “democratise” the world – they are experts at manipulating it to meet elite interests so its trappings can safely be used as instruments of tyranny and elite group imperialism. It is the sort of democracy that used to be “enjoyed” in the German Democratic Republic!

In the USA efforts to whittle away the Constitution that was developed by some of the most enlightened people who have ever lived illustrate this dangerous trend. The Founding Fathers have even been labelled “extremists” by the Department of Defence (3). In Europe it is indicated by the increasing power of the European Union. The anti-democratic nature of the European Union, ruled by a politburo of unelected officials in the European Commission demonstrates an obvious move away from traditional democratic norms. The Commission might well believe that it is legitimised by the existence of a European Parliament, but when that parliament is nothing more than a rubber stamping talking shop that belief is in error. Indeed the European Parliament resembles the Roman Senate after the Emperor Augustus had hollowed out its real meaning and power to make it nothing more than a gentleman’s club for the privileged families of Rome.

It remains to be seen whether the moral decline of the West will continue. If it continues appointing leaders of the current “calibre” the situation looks bleak. It may be that Western publics will increasingly look beyond their own leaders, to places like Russia, for moral leadership and global vision. May Russia continue to strive to be the human rights champion of the world; this is in all of our interests as the human rights vacuum urgently needs to be filled.

(1) The Triumph of the West, by J.M Roberts, 1985, p 166.

(2) Syria crisis: al-Qaeda seizes village that still speaks the ancient language of Christ (The Telegraph)

(3) Obama DOD: Mainstream Conservative Views “Extremist” (Judicial Watch)

The Organization of Islamic Co-operation Needs To Get Its Own House In Order Before It Lectures The West

2008 12 15_0291

Following the lobbying efforts of the Organization of Islamic Co-operation (OIC), resolution 16/18 was agreed by the United Nations.  The resolution reads as follows:

“Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against, persons based on religion or belief”

Is the OIC’s motivation with regard to defamation of religion motivated by a sincere belief in protecting religious freedom or is it a means to protect religious dogma?  The plight of minority religious opinion in many OIC member states may perhaps suggest an answer to this question.

We have therefore looked at two websites that look at persecution: WikiIslam, and persecution.org.  There are relevant links to each site next to the OIC member state listed.  Some member states have more entries than others, there is even an indication of positive measures in a small number of states.

The following OIC states appear to have the best record of tolerance based on a quick look at the two sources and are not included in the list below: Kingdom of Bahrain, Burkina-Faso (then Upper Volta), Republic of Togo, Republic of Djibouti, Republic of Suriname, Sultanate of Oman, Republic of Gabon, Republic of The Gambia, Republic of Guyana, Republic of Guinea-Bissau, Republic of Mali, Republic of Mozambique, Republic of Cameroon, and State of Qatar.

However, the overall picture that is created of the OIC area with regard to persecution of religious minorities is disgraceful.  The OIC clearly has much work to do with its a large number of its own member states before lecturing the West and the wider world about religious tolerance.  If the example of many OIC countries is anything to go by then laws to prevent defamation of religion are far from positive in their effects.  This is just a snapshot based on articles included at these two websites and there are some articles that do suggest positive measures in some cases.

Consider the articles that can be viewed via the following links:

Republic of Azerbaijan: WikiIslampersecution.org

Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan: WikiIslam

Islamic Republic of Afghanistan: WikiIslampersecution.org

Republic of Albania: persecution.org

State of The United Arab Emirates: WikiIslampersecution.org

Republic of Indonesia: WikiIslampersecution.org

Republic of Uzbekistan: WikiIslampersecution.org

Republic of Uganda: WikiIslampersecution.org

Islamic Republic of Iran: WikiIslampersecution.org

Islamic Republic of Pakistan: WikiIslampersecution.org

Brunei-Darussalam: WikiIslam

People’s Republic of Bangladesh: WikiIslampersecution.org

Republic of Benin: persecution.org

Republic of Tajikistan: WikiIslampersecution.org

Republic of Turkey: WikiIslampersecution.org

Turkmenistan: WikiIslampersecution.org

Republic of Chad: WikiIslampersecution.org

Republic of Tunisia: WikiIslampersecution.org

People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria: WikiIslampersecution.org

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: WikiIslampersecution.org

Republic of Senegal: WikiIslampersecution.org

Republic of The Sudan: WikiIslampersecution.org

Syrian Arab Republic: WikiIslampersecution.org

Republic of Sierra Leone: WikiIslam, persecution.org

Republic of Sommalia: WikiIslampersecution.org

Republic of Iraq: WikiIslampersecution.org

Republic of Guinea: persecution.org

State of Palestine (NB. Not universally recognised by the world at large): WikiIslam, persecution.org: PalestinePalestinian Areas.

Union of The Comoros: WikiIslampersecution.org

Kyrgyz Republic: WikiIslam

Republic of Kazakhstan: WikiIslampersecution.org

Republic of Cote D’Ivoire: persecution.org

State of Kuwait: WikiIslam

Republic of Lebanon: WikiIslampersecution.org

Libya: WikiIslampersecution.org

Republic of Maldives: WikiIslampersecution.org

Malaysia: WikiIslampersecution.org

Arab Republic of Egypt: WikiIslampersecution.org

Kingdom of Morocco: WikiIslampersecution.org

Islamic Republic of Mauritania: WikiIslampersecution.org

Republic of Niger: WikiIslam

Federal Republic of Nigeria: WikiIslampersecution.org

Republic of Yemen: WikiIslampersecution.org

It would appear that based on the amount of religious persecution that takes place in many OIC member states their rationale for the expansion of OIC norms to the rest of the world is motivated not by a commitment to religious freedom but by a desire to destroy such freedom?

None of these states should have any say whatsoever on what is permitted speech in the Western world?  It is time for Western governments to end the ‘Istanbul Process’ and tell these states to stop being hypocrites.  It is quite clear that many OIC member states actually need laws to allow freedom of religion.  Perhaps if they are sincerely concerned about the rights of religious minorities they should really be creating laws that allow full freedom of expression with

The Failure of British Democracy and Why a Modern Suffragette Movement is needed


Charlotte Rachael Proudman recently wrote a very important article entitled ‘The New Muslim suffragettes of the United Kingdom’.  In it she highlights the plight of members of a new and progressive movement within Britain’s Islamic community.  She compares these courageous women with the Suffragettes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The comparison is well deserved.  The article reports:

“An increasing number of Muslim women activists are receiving death threats, fatwas and even hate-mail from extremist male and female Muslims. Their crime: Rescuing fellow Muslim women from violent and life threatening situations.”

The anti-sharia movement has been campaigning on these issues for many years now.  During that same period, successive governments have been pandering to the whims of Islamists who claim to be representatives of the entire Muslim community rather than putting their weight behind genuine liberal Islamic reformers.  It is not straightforward for the government because anyone can claim to be a ‘moderate Muslim’ and it appears that most of the political class does not have the wherewithal or even the desire to tell the difference and in any case appear to have a tendency towards gullibility.

Time is long overdue for politicians to end their infatuation with Islamists and reach out to and empower their victims – the liberal Islamic reform movement, and others who question sharia orthodoxy.  The backing that governments have previously given to Islamic orthodoxy made it impossible for a genuine liberal Islamic reform movement to emerge.  Thankfully things are beginning to change, but the government needs to move more quickly.

Slowly but surely the desire to tackle the abuses inflicted by the application of sharia principles and other ‘culturally sensitive’ issues is beginning to become mainstream.  British Prime Minister David Cameron recently gave a speech that covered the issue of forced marriage:

In the speech he said:

“Forced marriage is little more than slavery. To force someone into marriage is completely wrong and I strongly believe this is a problem we should not shy away from addressing because of some cultural concerns.”

Aneeta Prem, the founder of Freedom Charity welcomed this move and said of forced marriage that “…we have been too culturally sensitive in the past in this country and now we need to say what it is…”


It is quite clear from these comments that political correctness has been a barrier to the tackling of serious social problems within the United Kingdom.  This is another reason why it is so important to protect freedom of expression and oppose initiatives like the ‘Istanbul Process’ that seek to deprive us of this important guarantor of freedom and justice in our society.  If people are afraid to speak their mind then the consequences are very rarely good.

A great deal of damage was done to the cause of liberal Islamic reform by the statements made by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips who both appeared to be suggesting that sharia could become part of the British legal system.  Statements such as the ones they made only served to embolden Islamists while simultaneously weakening the position of liberal reformers.  Members of the British Establishment should certainly consider being more thoughtful about the implications of their words in the future.

Of course, British legislators did let sharia into the legal system via the Arbitration Act 1996.  Sharia discriminates against women because under sharia the testimony of a woman is worth half that of a man and this Act gave it a degree of power.  Thank goodness that the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill sponsored by Baroness Caroline Cox has been put before Parliament.  This Bill should start the process of reversing some of the damage that has already been done.  It is a pity that this Bill could not have been put forward by the Government, which seems to drag its feet on these issues and appears to lack courage to do the right thing in a timely manner.  If passed, this Bill should also help take the process of empowering Muslim women forward.  The Christian Institute reported that Tehmina Kazi, director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy has given her support to the Bill.  Are we now witnessing the emergence of genuine interfaith dialogue, a process that can only take place when Islamists are sidelined?

Liberal Islamic reform is only possible if future Government policy is made responsibly.  Such policy needs to make it absolutely clear that sharia law has no role, and will never have a role, to play in British society.  It is important that liberal Islamic reformers are empowered and supported, as the conditions under which they operate is obviously made very difficult due to Islamist intimidation.

The work that has been done by Sara Khan of Inspire, and Shereen Williams of the Henna Foundation is inspiring and should be encouraged and supported.  It is not clear whether they and other Muslims mentioned in this article regard themselves as liberal Islamic reformers, but their work is very positive and worthy of great respect.

People’s Europe for a Bright Future

Hemicycle_of_Louise_Weiss_building_of_the_European_Parliament,_Strasbourg 640 x 427

Above: The European Parliament in debate. 18 May 2010, 15:01. Source:
078 Strasbourg
. Author: jeffowenphotos. Licensing: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Original size of 2,000 × 1,333 pixels reduced here to 640 x 247 pixels. Obtained from Commons.Wikimedia.org

We have heard a great deal in recent years about the process of European integration. Invariably, we have been baffled by political rhetoric, bamboozled by esoteric terms and confronted by economic wrangling that replaces common sense with confusion.

Young people, spared the horrors of European civil war, apparently feel more inclined to accept a European identity. They are more willing to embrace our commonalities as Europeans than react to that which divides us.

We have not known a world in which the United Kingdom has existed outside an integrating Europe, be that in the form of the EEC or EU. Nevertheless, we remain uninspired and uninterested by the current focus of debate.

We need an ideal, something that puts this grand project on a human scale, something that shows how it can improve the human condition or produce a more just society. Discussions relating to legal and economic mechanism fail to motivate the energies of a new generation.

Europe seems to be more relevant to big business and a small elite than to the needs of the people who would constitute the citizens.

This is sad, because the power of Europe could be harnessed to help protect the rights of its people, as the forces of globalisation become more rampant.

Increasingly we are subjected to global forces apparently beyond our control. Once great powers now stand in line, heads bowed, begging multinationals for their patronage. But what is the price of this financial influx?

As we in Western Europe begin to compete with the non-unionised sweatshop economies of the Far East, wages are forced into a downward spiral, welfare states are deemed to be too expensive and individuals are ostracised if they fall upon hard times.

The very essence of democracy is put into question too. Countries which sign up to treaties that are geared to promote “far” trade become bound to the whims of corporations who use legal technicalities to prevent the formulation of legislations demanded by electorates.

In the absence of international regimes that establish rules to protect individuals and communities, as well as promoting the legitimate requirement for free trade, a social malaise results that impacts negatively on the lives of us all.

The position of Europe as one of the biggest markets in the world would be sufficient to put pressure on these transnational forces and impel them to operate more reasonably.

After all, it is states and not private companies where democratic legitimacy lies. It should therefore be states that have the upper hand when formulating “global rules of the game”.

A unified Europe, speaking with a united voice would thus be able to succeed where competing nation states have failed.

It could act to promote the establishment of such global norms. It could establish a “Fortress Europe”, making access to its market dependent upon countries operating according to European standards of welfare and wage levels.

This would act to create a level playing field, preventing our industries been undercut as a result of our Government’s benevolence in providing the welfare safety net.

We have seen quite recently how the global interests of leading international tycoons are put before basic rights and privileges enshrined in our constitution.

The case of Rupert Murdoch’s veto on the publication of Chris Pattern’s book on Hong Kong illustrates this perfectly.

Imagine a world where all publishers had interests in a country like China, and all refused to publish books that were deemed incompatible with their interests there.

The result could be a curtailment of the right of free speech equivalent to that experienced in any of the totalitarian police states of former communist Eastern Europe. Free market thinkers of the 1980s were all too keen to embark on a moral crusade against such bastions of tyranny. Where are those voices now?

Is it that private organisations and powerful moguls have the right to take away freedoms that were considered too precious to be withdrawn by mere governments?

The arguments in favour of this view are tainted with hypocrisy.

Europe could be big enough and powerful enough to stand up to such companies and individuals. It could shift the balance of power back in the direction of democratically elected governments.

In international forums such as GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), Europe would be able to present the case for its own, more socially responsible brand of capitalism.

It could offer a counter weight to American capitalism that seems to ride roughshod over communities across the world, setting people against each other and driving down the wages of the developed world.

Our generation has been the first truly European generation. However, simultaneous developments in the world economy have meant that we have also been the first one deeply affected and influenced by the process of globalisation.

This has meant that we have witnessed the dismemberment of great industries and seen the image that this has had on the communities in our own area.

We have had our own employment and prospects and choices of career changed and incorporated in to what has become euphemistically known as the flexible labour market.

In this respect, we have seen first hand the awesome powers that are at work in the international capitalist system.

The flexible labour market is likely to have continued influence. It may drive us from our communities to seek opportunities elsewhere in the country and in some cases the world. The real question however is flexibility for whom?

Increasingly it seems that it is the average person who pays the price, working longer hours, often for less pay, increased stress levels and reduced family contact and quality of life.

Society suffers too. Children are increasingly brought up not by their parents but by paid employees.

It seems that nuclear families are going the way of their extended predecessors, as they degenerate into dysfunctional chaos. Individuals look at how they can beat down their compatriots in order to get ahead.

Can Europe buck the trend? Can it take us forward into a new social order that sees us as individuals rather than mere units of production in the global economy.

My view is that it can, but only if it responds to their needs and aspirations, and only if it inspires our confidence.

A people’s Europe is one whose prime purpose is to improve the lot of the mass of the population, not just the chosen few.

It is also one, which reconciles the relationship between the multinational corporations on which we depend for employment opportunities and wealth generation, and the people and communities that help to generate this bounty.

Finally, it is one which captures the imagination of the generation who will one day act as the custodians of its future.

Maybe the Prime Minister can use his apparent genius for international affairs to help bring this about.

By Chris Knowles

Originally published in the REaction! the political magazine of Wakefield District Young Labour (Pilot Edition), ISSN 1464-8105, Mpril 1998.