Review: Can Stories Counter Hate Speech?

London Reader, Summer Issue: The Hate Speech Monologues

Given the recent political climate in the United States, hate speech has been thrust into the media spotlight once again. This makes the current issue of the London Reader both incredibly timely and extremely poignant. While this issue was released before the August events that put hate speech back on the front pages, it provides a worthwhile background for understanding racism and hate in the contemporary climate.

While each issue of the London Reader typically features creative writing united around a central theme (past issues have been devoted, respectively, to the genre of cyberpunk, stories of migration, and stories of love in the 21st century), this issue delves into the political realm with true stories that portray the genuine human effects of hate crimes on individuals, proving once again the old adage that the personal is political.

This issue is based on the Hate Speech Monologues that are produced in Budapest each year, featuring true, personal monologues that originally appeared on stage. In print, these stories remain incredibly powerful: from personal experiences of the effects of mass murder, to a woman’s meditation on her grandmother’s experience of racism during WWII in Soviet Russia, to people’s stories of escaping genocide, these compelling works of creative non-fiction have a lasting effect.

While this issue had the potential to remain in the emotional realm of personal stories, the addition of thought-provoking interviews with acclaimed American historian Ibram X. Kendi and renowned legal theorist Theodore M. Shaw, as well as the special introduction from Michael Ignatieff, former leader of Canada’s Official Opposition, propel it well beyond, providing a political and historical background to hate speech that grounds the reader in the real world of policy while also providing possible solutions to a problem that is plaguing contemporary America and the world.

While the creative writing is emotionally moving, The Global Intelligence looks forward to more installments from the London Reader focusing on such thought-provoking political topics as the Hate Speech Monologues issue. The next number of the London Reader will feature creative writing and interviews on the subject of mental health, another topic whose troubled policy dimensions are an ongoing concern.

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Largest Arms Deal in U.S. History

The President of the United States, Donald Trump, has signed a decade-long arms deal with Saudi Arabia with an initial sale of $109.7 billion and a potential projection of up to $380 billion. This, the largest arms deal in U.S. history, stands in stark contrast to Trump’s prior comments about Saudi Arabia’s status as the homeland of the 9/11 instigators. He previously called for economic sanctions against the country. The administration says this move is in the best economic interest of both countries. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was known to be integral in negotiating the prices. Saudi Arabia is expected to use some of the weapons in their involvement in the Yemeni civil war. Rights activists have said this has the potential to make the USA complicit in possible war crimes committed by Saudi Arabia in that conflict.

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U.S. Mayors Sign Unofficial Paris Agreement

In the wake of Donald Trump’s refusal to endorse the Paris climate accord, more than 300 mayors of cities large and small across the United States have promised to uphold the goals outlined in the agreement. Their initiative represents a commitment of over 65 million Americans to invest in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and cleaner-running automobiles. This effort means that the mayors are choosing not to recognize or enforce the Trump administration’s new executive order that rolled back the Obama administration’s policies on gas emissions and energy production. The Paris accord also emphasizes overall environmental justice, a crackdown on greenhouse emissions, and an aim to keep the overall global temperature from rising no more than 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.

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Comey says Trump May Have Obstructed Justice

In front of the most anticipated U.S. congressional hearing in years, former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation James Comey claimed that the Trump administration lied and defamed him and the FBI’s investigation into alleged Russian influence into the 2016 presidential election. U.S. intelligence agencies believe Russia aided the Trump administration by hacking damaging emails and taking other steps to discredit democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Russia denies any interference.
Trump has acknowledged Comey’s dismissal was due to the investigation. Comey says it is up to the Senate Intelligence Committee and special counsel Robert Mueller to decide whether or not Trump’s actions constitute obstruction of justice in the investigation and the FBI probe of former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

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Women Can Contribute $12 Trillion, says U.N.

Women can add a further $12 trillion annually to the global economy, said the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the opening speech to the sixty-first Commission on the Status of Women in New York City. He emphasized the need to break down barriers to allow women to maximize their potential and urged those in attendance to focus on honing strategies to empower more women to enter and contribute to the workforce. Women who have access to education and better reproductive health show a positive correlation with a better quality of life, higher salaries, and better health practices during child-rearing. Guterres called for all men to join the International Gender Champions campaign, to create a cultural shift recognizing women as truly equal and end sexual exploitation and abuse.

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Merkel Says E.U. Must Take the Lead

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe can no longer rely on its English-speaking allies in an incisive speech after the G7 and NATO conferences this spring. She called on the E.U. to maintain rapport with their existing allies, such as Great Britain and the USA, and new ones, like Russia, but also to forge a new path ahead. This speech came in the wake of both U.S. President Donald Trump refusing to endorse the Paris climate accord and denouncing valued NATO allies and the continued fallout out from the Brexit vote in the U.K. Merkel asserted that the E.U. needed to take its fate into its own hands and ensure its own future. The German Chancellor also singled out France in wishing President Emmanuel Macron success in his presidency, offering Germany’s help and emphasizing that Germany’s success is very much tied to that of the E.U. as a whole.

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Kenyan Election Contested

Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta was re-elected on August 8 with 54,27 percent of the vote, but opposition candidate Raila Odinga has contested the results and announced that he will challenge them before the Supreme Court, though independent observers have called the elections “free and fair”. Post-election violence has erupted in several of the opposition’s key strongholds, in which at least 24 people have been killed. Odinga’s calls for a general strike, however, have mostly been ignored, and despite pre-election fears, the country has so far avoided a return of the violence that followed the 2007 election, which resulted in 1,100 deaths and 600,000 displaced persons.

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Op-Ed: Grenfell is a Reminder

The Grenfell Tower disaster is both a symbol and a result of misplaced priorities.

By Alexander H. Maurice.

Late at night on June 14, a small fire in an apartment in a tower block in West London began to spread and quickly engulfed the entire 24-floor building. The fire burned all throughout the night and the next day. Some people escaped the flames by leaping to their deaths; others suffocated or burned alive in their homes. So far, 80 deaths have been confirmed, but members of the local community as well as Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott say the true number is likely in the hundreds, including unaccounted-for friends and relatives who were at Grenfell Tower that night. The actual toll may not be known until the end of the year, as police officers complete their searches of the destroyed tower and the heartrending, complex task of identifying the dead.

Many questions are now being asked about how this could have happened. On the purely physical level, it has been established that the cladding on the exterior of the building was not fire-proof and therefore spread the flames from apartment to apartment. Ensuring that it was fire-resistant would have cost the local council the grand total of an additional £5,000; instead, in the name of economy, it used a type of cladding that was already banned in the United Kingdom. Some people maintain that the main reason the cladding was installed in the first place was to disguise the building’s dereliction from its wealthy neighbors. Although it is the cladding that has filled media reports, there were many other fire safety issues with the tower. There were no sprinklers in the building, and the main gas pipe went up the central staircase. Nor was there a fire escape. Local residents had raised these issues with the council multiple times, but were ignored, and some were even threatened with legal suits if they continued their campaign for improved safety. The spread of the fire, from one apartment to the next, up the entire building, was entirely preventable. Many analysts are calling this tragedy the tangible result of contractors and inspectors ignoring the so-called “red-tape” of important government fire and safety regulations.

The building was owned by Kensington and Chelsea Council, and many of the tenants had been housed there by the council as part of social housing. The people living in the building were among the poorest in what is otherwise one of the wealthiest boroughs in London. Many families who escaped the inferno are now homeless. Some have been offered temporary accommodation by the borough, but others have been asked to leave their temporary accommodation. Some have been left sleeping in cars and parks. With their home a burned-out shell, these families don’t know where they will be able to live.

The leader of the official opposition party, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, has called for the now homeless survivors to be housed in vacant dwellings in the borough. According to the Independent, there are 1,399 vacant dwellings nearby. These are luxury flats bought mainly by foreign millionaires, not to be lived in, but as investments. As property prices continue to soar in a massive bubble in London, the investment properties gain value just by sitting empty. Most of these buildings are registered to firms based in the British Virgin Islands or Bermuda, allowing their owners to avoid paying taxes, according to Private Eye.

The council must now rehouse many families made homeless by the fire, and housing them in the available stock of empty homes in the borough is a sound option. In fact, according to U.K. Government YouGov poll, it is supported by 59 percent of the British public. The U.K. has a long history of making use of empty properties. During World War Two, large parts of London were destroyed by German bombing, so many U.K. soldiers returned homeless. Some housed themselves in empty homes or deserted military bases.

After the fire, tests have been carried out on tower blocks around the U.K. So far, all of the more than 60 high-rises inspected have been found to violate health and safety guidelines. On the orders of the Fire Department, Camden council in North London had to immediately evacuate 5,000 residents in the middle of the night over fears that what happened at Grenfell could happen there. For years, in the name of austerity, the U.K. government has cut funding to the councils, imposing drastic reductions in funding to services for the most vulnerable, and the social housing properties they own have been neglected as a result. Many are not up to fire code. As councils around the country scramble to test and strip flammable cladding off the tower blocks, the question of what will happen to their residents remains. One thing is clear: to house the poor in fire traps is a moral monstrosity. Buildings must adhere to fire and safety regulations, and if residents are currently at risk, they should be temporarily re-housed in the thousands of vacant investment properties owned by off-shore firms. The burned out skeleton of Grenfell Tower stands over the city as a stark reminder of what happens when greed is prioritized over human life.

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Alexander H. Maurice is the London Correspondent of The Global Intelligence.

Autumn 2017