Monday 26 January 2009

BBC Should Overturn Its Refusal to Show Gaza Appeal

This originally ran on my Reuters Alertnet blog on 26 January 2009.


With foot clearly in the crosshairs, the BBC has decided not to broadcast the appeal of the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) for humanitarian relief in Gaza. Blocking the umbrella group of 13 aid agencies from the airwaves doesn't make a lot of sense, but it sure is making headlines.

Writing in the Times, Andrew Roberts defends the BBC's decision, because he believes many of the agencies are "anti-Israeli" and "deeply partisan". It's a pretty rough attack on the cream of the British aid community -- the DEC includes ActionAid, the British Red Cross, CAFOD, Care International, Christian Aid, Oxfam and Save the Children, among others. But worse, the author then goes on to reveal his own ideological bias without any attempt at balance whatsoever, undermining his argument immediately: not showing the appeal becomes just as partisan a move as showing it would be.

But has the BBC really got itself caught in a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't controversy over the DEC's Gaza appeal? Maybe not. Perhaps they just need to put down the political lens and look at this through a different one.

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Czech Art Shocks Brussels

As I walked into the European Council building in Brussels for a pair of meetings yesterday, my eyes were led upward by multiple fingers pointing amidst audible breaths being drawn in to an enormous new art installation. Entropa depicts the EU as a build-it-yourself set of plastic parts, with each country represented by a blunt stereotype.

Italy is a football pitch, Germany a spread of autobahns in which those with the intention to do so might see a swastika, Sweden is wrapped up in a flat-pack Ikea box, and the UK, perceived as more eurosceptic than most, is noted by its complete absence. The Netherlands is under water apart from a few minarets, and in Poland, a Catholic clergy raises the gay rainbow flag.

The group I was with mostly laughed, getting the joke right away: we Europeans have such simplistic prejudices about each other -- and among ourselves within individual countries -- and Europe will not be built until these mental barriers really start coming down.

But many of those gasping at it clearly found it offensive, and it has sparked controversy in the media. Admittedly, Bulgaria, which comes off as a squat toilet, might have a bit more to gripe about than others.

And the Czechs, who currently hold the six-month rotating presidency and commissioned the work, were somewhat embarrassed when it emerged that the artist, David Černý, had apparently scammed them, having initially told them the work was made by 27 EU artists when he created the whole thing himself. But, come on, Prague: you commissioned David Černý -- what did you expect but controversy?

Even still, to me, it's brilliant: great art, provoking some wonderful conversations and hopefully breaking people out of their day-to-day complacency. Once again, I am amazed people just don't get humourous political art.

Let's admit it, here in Brussels we all hear the same kinds of national stereotypes coming from some of those who actually work in the EU institutions. Many people seem to ask almost as a matter of course what member state a person in a particular position in the system comes from, and then they immediately make sweeping judgements about how that person will respond to a request or explanations of behaviour in the style of, "ah, well, he’s from X, so that explains it". Then, a wave of knowing nods around the table. We have yet to make Europeans even among those most likely to feel comfortable with that identity.

Ať žije David Černý!

Monday 12 January 2009

Does Media Commentary Change Minds?

This ran in my Reuters AlertNet blog in January 2009. I think the date was the 12th, but I'm not 100% sure. The original disappeared in early 2011 unfortunately.


I wonder: am I wasting my time? No, that's not the self-pitying observation of a middle-aged man fast approaching another birthday in a couple days time. I mean, professionally, am I putting too much effort into the wrong things?

In my job, I am supposed to be helping to move the public debate -- or at least elite opinion -- in the direction of policies that will assist in the peaceful resolution of conflicts. In trying to do this, I spend a lot of time writing, editing and placing op-eds and commentary articles in media outlets around the world. Now, I've just read an opinion piece that tells me it might not be worth it.

Wednesday 7 January 2009

Gaza: If Not the EU, Who?

My Crisis Group colleague, Robert Blecher, and I penned this for the European Voice on 7 January 2009. It was reprinted in a number of national outlets across Europe.


The collapse of the weak ceasefire in December and the return to all-out conflict between Israel and Gaza under Hamas has tempted many to say, "here we go again", with comparisons to the summer 2006 Israel-Lebanon war flowing freely from the keyboards of commentators everywhere.

Indeed, there are some similarities: provoked once too often, Israel responded then as now with overwhelming military power against an Islamist force and the civilian infrastructure, resulting in enormous casualties for which both sides blame each other. The international community is split on how to act, as the US tacitly gives Israel a green light to carry on its attack and the Arab world shouts and cries with little effect. All the while, the horror and humiliation are stoking the next generation’s militancy.

The question this time, however, is whether anyone in the international community has learned the lessons of 2006.