This Year, Violence Became Acceptable

Published: December 23, 2016 14:30 IST
A senseless truck attack has recently occurred on a crowded Christmas market in West Berlin, killing 12 people and injuring over 48. The attack has reignited criticism of Angela Merkel's liberal refugee policy, along with her commitment to maintaining open borders within Europe and will have significant ramifications for the upcoming Germany parliamentary elections. The right wing "Alternative for Germany" (AfD) party has already called out the dead as Merkel's victims. Meanwhile, the Russian Ambassador to Turkey was assassinated in Ankara by a 22-year-old Turkish off-duty police officer citing Aleppo and Syria at an art exhibition titled "Russia through Turks' Eyes". Turkey, which itself has had a bad year, facing terrorist bombings, an attempted coup and continual refugee movement (upwards of 3 million) from Syria, has now been plunged into a new crisis. The assassination was soon succeeded by a protest outside the Russian Consulate in Istanbul with protestors citing the killings in Aleppo. Amidst all this carnage, a gunman has shot three worshippers in a Zurich mosque.

This year has been one of disruption instead of continual progress, the recent killings embodying randomness. It was a year when the unlikely became possible, marginal views suddenly became mainstream and violence became acceptable.

This period has seen a rising symphony of terrorist attacks. Over 300 West African migrants were rounded up by ISIS and executed in Tripoli in January, while an additional 300 were killed in its Deir ez-Zor offensive in Syria. Two suicide bombings, 400 metres from the Sayyidah Zaynab Mosque in Syria, killed 134 people in February. A 19-tonne truck was deliberately driven into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice's Promenade des Anglais, killing 87 and injuring 434. The more recent Battle for Mosul saw the execution of over 1,000 civilians by ISIS "for collaborating with Iraqi security forces." Three ISIS coordinated bombings in Brussels killed 32 in March while injuring 250, while a suicide bombing on Easter in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, Lahore, killed 75 and injured over 340. In May, an EgyptAir flight crashed with 66 people on board in a suspected bombing. The Ataturk airport in Istanbul was attacked by ISIS with 45 dead and 230 injured. Mass murder has suddenly become political currency. Protecting civil liberties and retaining an open attitude towards labour movement and immigration has become a hard ask.

The rise of the demagogue as a riposte to the ideal technocratic governance across democracies has shaken up political order. On June 23, the United Kingdom voted in a referendum to leave the European Union, driven by concerns over immigration and sovereignty espoused by rabble rousers like Nigele Farage. More recently, Matteo Renzi failed in his quixotic quest to centralise Italy's government: in a referendum, his initiative was rebuked by a majority of Italy's disgruntled voters - Beppe Grillo has become more appealing. Donald Trump, unexpectedly elected over Hillary Clinton, embodies the rise of this populism. Francis Hollande ruled out a second run for the Elysee, given voter apathy and desire for change. Politics, it seems, has changed - becoming more parochial, protectionist and soaked in historic nostalgia for making a country "great again" and bringing back "old factory jobs". Globalisation is now tinged with disillusionment, while free trade (encapsulating trade deals with TTIP and TTP) is increasingly hard to sell to a voting public seething against income inequality. National borders and identity have become more important, given public insecurity about immigration. Strongmen have had a good year - whether Recep Tayyip Erdogan (now seeking to centralise Turkey), Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping (now termed a "core leader" in China's Maoist parlance). Trump's strongman antics (as seen in the South China Sea or with Mexico) are likely to draw visceral popularity. Building a "big beautiful wall" is marked by cheers, while being cosmopolitan is termed as being a "citizen of nowhere." The promise of "control", an elusive concept, has allowed the working classes to dream once again of rediscovering their identities around communities and ethnicity, whilst ignoring the passage of the West's glorious industrial years. Facts have suddenly become malleable, riven with outbreaks of "fake news" and cybersecurity breaches. Elite credibility has been run down - people, as Michael Gove said, "have had enough of experts". The centre-left and its progressive wing are perceived to be in terminal decline, in an era of rightwing populism. This can often be contained, drawing up to the constraints of governing - but demagogues, denying constitutional values, are a far deeper threat.

With such events, exogenous shocks have come aplenty. In India, the RBI's moves to force banks to recognise their NPAs and write them off, in combination with demonetisation, has caused significant short term disruption in the rural and informal economy. While such structural reform is likely to increase India's tax base and increase participation in its formal economy, the verdict on the trade-off between such painful medicine and its side-effects remains a question for posterity. The slump in oil prices, with Brent reaching a low of $27.10 a barrel, bankrupted scores of US shale producers while bringing relief to importing countries like India, prompting even Saudi Arabia to describe the oil price as "irrational." The Bank of Japan adopted a historic negative interest rate policy, leading to Japanese investors seeking higher-yielding debt and equity, driving down interest rates across the world. Brexit was a particularly painful macroeconomic event, inducing uncertainty in one of the world's most stable currencies.

And amidst all this, with little notice, global concerns are rapidly escalating into threats. The World Health Organisation announced an outbreak of the Zika virus. Polar ice, in Antarctica and within the Arctic, has shrunk dramatically this winter, as the year continues to be the warmest on record. Sea ice was recorded at ~3.84 million kilometres less than the average for the last two decades - a decline the size of India. Rising temperatures have made such events more likely; cyclonic disturbances in the Bay of Bengal are now intensifying into tropical cyclones at a faster rate (Ashutosh Mishra, Journal of Earth Science & Climate Change, 2014). While the United States and China, along with the majority of the world's nations, have agreed to the Paris global climate agreement, the election of Donald Trump, a noted climate change denier, and his cabinet (the majority of it is climate change denying) puts this at risk. This is probably the year when climate change became inevitable.

Even our social discourse has been transformed. Public protests have arisen with renewed vigor - a trendline from the Hok Kolorob movement in West Bengal to those seeking justice for Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad and the protests in JNU against the arrest of JNU Students' Union president Kanhaiya Kumar in a sedition case - this was a year when student campaigns sought to influence the body politic. Having tasted success, such public movements, whether of Jats, Patidars, JNU students or Bundelkhandi farmers, will continue to fight for their interests. And yet, our media and policy narratives continue to be palliative - seeking immediate solutions instead of analysing the causes of such protests. Few seem to care about the fate of Najeeb Ahmed or the families of Subedar Karnail Singh and Havildar Ravi Paul. Across geopolitics, economics and local politics, the 1970s, it seems are back. Where we go from here remains the domain of economists and fortune tellers.

(Feroze Varun Gandhi is a member of the BJP and a two-time member of parliament.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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