Tag Archives: belgium

Britain: Is it time to consider living, studying or working abroad?

It’s time for Brits to stop looking at their feet and to embrace the economic opportunities that sit just beyond our borders.

There is no way of silver-lining it, things are pretty bad in the UK at the moment. The average UK family is £1,350 worse off than when Cameron came to office as prices continue to rise faster than wages. That is for those who are in work. There are still 2.47 million people out of work and many more in insecure “flexible” contracts.

For those who consider dropping out of paid work to head back to education there are of course the £9,000 tuition fees to consider.

But, we don’t just live and work in the UK. We are also citizens of the EU and yes…also the world. All around us are opportunities if only we were capable of looking beyond our island’s borders.

To start, we are members of the EU. This gives us the right to go and work and study in any other member state (a basic right within the EU) – an opportunity that people have literally died trying to get.

Why shell out £9,000 a year tuition fees when you can study in Belgium for 835 euros a year or even in Sweden for free? At the very least why do so few UK students take advantage of the EU funded Erasmus student exchange scheme?

The British Council estimates that “just under 13,000 students in the UK took part in 2010/11, with between two and three times as many Spanish, French and German participants taking part every year”.

Equally with employment opportunities, why are more Brits not looking for jobs in Austria or Germany (with unemployment rates as low as 4.8% and 5.2 % respectively)?

I understand that this is not possible for some who have families and reasons to be geographically tied but I would be willing to bet that there also thousands who have just not even considered this as a possibility.

Take working in Brussels for example (where most of the work is undertaken in English). It is a 2 hour train journey from London (similar to Birmingham or Manchester) but few Brits consider looking for employment there for no other reason than it being “abroad”.

With massive youth unemployment, why are more graduates not looking to become a ‘stagiaire’ (paid traineeships) in Belgium?

And this is just for the EU. There is a whole world out there. I am currently enjoying the experience of living and working in Kampala, Uganda. My salary here is one of the worst I have ever earned but my quality of life is infinitely better than when I was living and working in London.

I am currently writing this in perfect sunshine and tonight I will be enjoying a beer for less than a quid. Why would more people not want to try this?

As a Brit you have huge visa benefits all around the world. We have opportunities others can only dream about but we don’t spot them because we are too busy staring at our feet.

I repeat that I understand that this geographical mobility is not possible for everyone but it is for many and we have to encourage and inspire these people to consider these opportunities.

We have become a country institutionalised to stare at our feet. We need to raise our heads up and look at the world of possibilities that sit just beyond our borders. We desperately need to be encouraging young people to raise their horizons and their expectations. If we fail to do this we are not only letting down ourselves but also the next generation.

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Filed under Economics, EU politics

We are still haunted by the legacy of colonialism

We have to reclaim our history, however vile!

The modern western world has colonialism and imperialism entrenched into its history.  The racial and ethnic tensions that are apparent in contemporary society can be traced through history back to the time of colonialism and imperialism.  To pretend it is not there is to play into the hands of the modern far right.

Colonialism refers to the political authority of the European powers over some of the areas of Asia, Africa, Australasia and the Americas.  Broadly it is the time when there was a political economy based around the slave trade By the end of the 19th century nearly all Africa had been colonised by one or other of the Great Powers.

Modern racist discourse can be traced back to the slave trade.  Although, it is important to remember that racism and slavery did not always go hand-in-hand (think of the ancient Greeks!).  Why then, in our murky colonial history did race become such a big deal? From the earliest recordings of British involvement in Africa (large scale in 17th century) the exaggerated term “black” was used to describe the very obviously different skin colour between British and the (at first) West Africans.  However the colour ‘black’ came with some deeply ingrained values; it was associated pre 16th century with dirt and death.  It had connotations of evil and wickedness.  This is illustrated in the distinction between black and white magic and as well, the Black Death.  This all came at a time when the ideal of beauty in Britain was very much of a pale white face.

Throughout the Colonial period the appearance of the African was stretched and exaggerated through European discourse.  Their nakedness was often highlighted to illustrate their difference from the ‘civilised’ European.   To start with people were content to comment on skin colour to describe their difference; during the 17th and 18th centuries however a number of other characteristics were attributed to them.  Soon African men were considered to have potent sexuality.  The men were considered to have a larger penis and to be extremely lusty.  Some Europeans at the time speculated on the sexual intercourse that might have occurred between apes and Africans.  Indeed increasingly Europeans would compare the Africans that they ‘discovered’ to the apes that they “discovered” at a similar time. Indeed, other characteristics were recorded at this time such as laziness and superstition.  After meeting Africans as neutrals (pre slave trade), the colonial legacy slowly degenerated into a deeply racist discourse.

Towards the end of the 19th century a movement developed to legitimise Imperialism.  Social-Darwinism was used to justify the colonial power’s actions in Africa.  There was a belief that there was a natural hierarchy of races.  These were predominantly European ideas and as such Europeans were normally ranked as the ‘highest being’.  This is an almost laughable idea today, but at the time was considered gospel by many.  It is important to note that such broad biological assumptions are still made and believed in modern racist belief.  For example Charles Murray’s book ‘The Bell Curve’ (1994) is still used by extremists to argue that White people have a higher I.Q than black people. Stereotypes still persist in main stream society in many western countries as the mass of the population still see Black Afro-Caribbean’s consistently performing low skilled manual jobs (a changing but lingering phenomena).

Although the dark days of our colonial past, are just that, our past.  It is worth taking a moment to reflect the impact that they are still having on our society.  There are some very clear ethnic tensions that can be directly linked to European colonial past.  The continued conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo demonstrates some extreme racial tensions that have a clear link to the Belgium legacy there for example.  The racism that we see most regularly today however is a lot more subtle.

Modern conflicts, especially in the West appear to be increasingly more complex than simply a reflection of race.  Ethnicity is a wider term that can describe a group of people beyond their inherent characteristics.  For example the Muslim community in the U.K could easily describe themselves as an ethnic group.  No longer does it simply describe your skin colour. This leads to a more complex system of discrimination where culture, religion and race all become intertwined.  In the UK there is no simple way of defining what it exactly is that people discriminate against. However appearance still plays a large part in social discrimination in contemporary society.  This is reflected in police stop and search figures; increasingly Arabs have been subjected to a greater number of searches.

Despite conflicts growing increasingly more complex, there are still racial elements to most conflicts in the western world.  In November 2005 large-scale riots broke out throughout France.  The BBC described these as ‘race riots’ as it was predominantly members of the black community rioting.  However a more accurate way to try and have one term to describe these riots would perhaps have been to describe them as socio-economic deprivation boiling over.  It is no coincidence that these riots took place in some of the poorest neighbourhoods across France.  However these riots were portrayed across the world more as race riots.

Today we can see the BNP riding a roller coaster of popularity (for whenever they have risen high they have very soon plunged in public opinion).  The peaks of the BNP’s popularity however should worry us.  The BNP often attack a way of life opposed to a specific “race” (although the racist undertones are clear).  For example their leader Nick Griffin was cleared of the charge ‘inciting racial hatred’ for describing Islam as a ‘wicked faith’.  In his trial he argued he did not hate Muslims or any ethnicity but purely the faith they followed.  However what the B.N.P does illustrate is that there is still interest and small support for such extreme right-wing politics.  They often play on fundamental fears that are still apparent in society; for example they argue that these ‘migrants’ are stealing British jobs.  It is apparent that there is interest in these ‘racial’ issues in the main stream even if there is not much support for it.  A lot of the discourse they use is similar to that of colonial times.  For example the B.N.P campaigned for many months about the Asian ‘sexual predators’ that were coming after ‘our girls’.  This is a clear link back to colonial stereotypes that play into the discriminative discourse that the B.N.P wishes to capitalise from.

To forget our colonial past, in all it’s ugliness, is to give the modern racist a free use of a deeply ingrained sub-conscious tool.  Regardless of whether we would like to admit it or not, racism still exists in this country.  We have to acknowledge that it has a long history.  If we do not acknowledge this history, then those outdated images of the black man as a sexual predator, or the monkey chants across football grounds will continue to be used.  We have to reclaim our history, however vile it is! At least we have the decency to acknowledge it to be vile!

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Filed under Far-right politics, History, Politics

We do not need to ban the burqa

Lord Pearson of UKIP, what a berk!

Cecilia Malmstroem, the EU Home Affairs Commissioner said yesterday that “I do not see the need for a European law on the burqa” when asked if there could be a ban across all of the EU one day.  This comes in reflection to a number of Member States moving draft and first reading of bills through their parliaments.

Belgium is perhaps the closet to a full ban of the burqa. In April this year, they voted through the lower house a full ban.  It now just needs to be passed by their senate.  In France, who has the biggest Muslim population in the EU, the cabinet has approved a draft law to fully ban the burqa.  It has already banned it from public spaces such as schools as it is a “religious symbol”.  Just last week the Spanish (who currently hold the EU presidency) upper house approved a motion calling on their president to ban the burqa.

It is reassuring then, that at the very least, the EU Commission considers this to be a Member State issue, and not something to be tackled in Brussels.

It is curious to ponder for a short period why such emphasis is placed on the burqa.  The first commonly quoted argument against the burqa is “suspicion”.  “How do we know who is under this veils?”…”it breads suspicion if you cannot see someone’s face”.  These arguments can be equally applied to face paints, balaclavas, full face helmets, cosmetic surgery or pretty much anything else that alters or hides away someone’s face.  Another common argument you often is hear is that it is oppressive to women, that they should be “forced” into wearing veils.  Lord Pearson (UKIP) once famously stated that the burqa were “is incompatible with Britain’s values of freedom and democracy” and it is “oppressive to women”.

The problem with this argument is that it removes all sense of agency from the individuals.  It assumes that these girls and women, do not, and cannot choose to wear a burqa.  Although there are clear cases where this is the case, it has to be noted that a significant number of women choose to wear a burqa.  If, a universal ban is implemented within a country (or even worse a continent), then we slip down a very worrying slope about the state setting standards about what is, and isn’t acceptable, for it’s citizens to wear.  For me, the argument is not about whether a women should be able to wear a burqa or not; it is about why some women feel forced into wearing it.  This question will not be addressed by banning it. To empower women by criminalizing their action is absurd.

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Filed under EU politics, Human rights, Politics