Saturday, 23 November 2013

The Law is not a Quiet Subject

This piece was written for the essay competition on 'First Impressions' of the recently opened Sutherland School of Law at UCD. It has also been published here.

‘Sutherland’, in firm, clear letters; placed on the front wall of the building. That wall surveys the whole campus; a grand view. It is a bright and spacious building, being gently filled by the soft murmur of friends gathering, colleagues and mentors all working in the field of law. It is a solid building, of mild colour and calm lines of steel and glass. A vista flows from its upper levels.

The new school of law goes far beyond a grand view though. It acts as a symbol of what Ireland now stands for as a country. It is a new and strong emerging representation of the Irish persona. The Sutherland building reflects the social structures of more than just modern Ireland; it is a succinct landmark of the world today. In a global sphere, the Sutherland building marks out the new challenges facing the Irish Law student: change in the Irish legal professions, multipolar power structures all in a globalized market and this new school of law stands as testimony to UCD’s endeavours to compete at an international level. Yet it is only a building. Its passive nature subverts its subject.

The building stands quiet, modest. The law is not a quiet subject. The law is the most fundamental merit and signifier of who we are as a community. It represents deeply-held beliefs and values, the most fought over aspects of life. The law is the hard won dignity and respect of the oppressed, the minorities. We shall never forget the justices and injustices perpetrated in the name of the law. It may be a modest building but it is not a modest subject. It is the manifestation of the core ideology of a society.

Written on south facing windows of the Arthur Cox courtroom on the first floor are the names of “activists”, “advocates”, “agitators”; they are the names of those who refused. They rose up against injustice in their societies. They fought and angered, struggled and resisted. They roared into an encroaching darkness and dreamed and dared to live for a better world. We mark their names to remind ourselves. Our actions make us what we are and we too must work to honour their lives, to live free and ever present and consciously working towards a more fulfilling humanity. We write their names in glass to let us see clearly.

The law is not a quiet subject.

The Sutherland building represents today’s world; a bold, proud structure of the Irish persona. It stands to attention and draws us into its space. In this building is the New Ireland: people who dare to think beyond these borders, beyond a nation or identity or flag or business. We look at what it means to be human today and strive in our work, to dare to live in a better world, tomorrow.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Photo Consciousness 12

Front cover photograph from the 5th edition of the 2013/2014 University Observer

Rachel Moran. This photo was originally published in the University Observer on the 15/10/2013

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The Rise of the Right

This article originally appeared in the University Observer. Published 29/10/2013

The extremes in society have been the source of malcontent and unease in social commentary throughout history. The Blueshirts in Ireland, Il Duce in Italy and the Fascists in Spain and still today, nations around the world have right wing elements convinced of the need for strong nationalist policies. In various forms, the agendas and ideals of the conservative and protectionist groups in society have filtered into the mainstream political discourse. In today’s democracy, is there value to be had in engaging with these groups?

The basic psychology of group behaviour demands strong social bonds within groups and a fear of others. Economically and socially, the acceptance of others has never been easier. The physical barriers to cultural integration are more accessible and have allowed for the movement of ideas and people faster than ever before. The fear of the unknown isn’t irrational or unhealthy until there’s a failure to engage in challenging your own prejudices.

Here in Ireland, the political right has yet to emerge in as strong a force as elsewhere. The United Kingdom’s colonial past has influenced its political development. Parties such as the UK Independence Party and the British National Party have gained significant media attention for their long-held views on immigration and viewing England as ‘a Christian nation’ for white Christians. Their support base is built on the white, low-income earners of England and have taken advantage of social dissatisfaction with unemployment rates and crime, often promoting an oversimplification that if England had less social and economic migrants, England could return to its “glory days” of the mid 40’s, where patriotism was not just accepted but a necessary tool for bringing a nation together in an era of crisis.

Globalisation of labour and Thatcherite policies created a vacuum of jobs for those in the unskilled labour market and led to the establishment of a “two-tier” workforce – those in professional services and those in part-time, poorly paying service jobs. In the absence of long-term opportunity, discontent and pessimism grows. The political ideals held by nationalist groups such as UKIP seem attractive: a great, proud nation. The appeal is understandable when prospects are bleak. The basic tenet of being able to “be proud of something underscores a part of human dignity and contentedness. A lack of recognition, fostered by disparities in wealth have allowed for the disaffected and unengaged to be challenged and encouraged to voice their discontent. Their anger is being misdirected by right wing political groups at immigrants; a group who are largely underrepresented politically and from diverse backgrounds so as to lack a shared voice and vision. Lacking a comprehensive defence provides an opportunity for xenophobia in the public discourse to go unchallenged.

The political goals of anti-immigration policy and of homeland values being “under threat” are the mainstay of those on the right. The visible nature of high-profile crimes such as the London tube bombings gave groups such as the English Defence League and the British National Party a clear enemy – Islam. Media sources sympathetic to the days gone-by of “Great” Britain offer up a regular diatribe of suspicion and distrust of anyone who fails to fill the criteria of white, having a traditional English name or who immigrated to Britain. The media’s acceptance of the interchangeable nature of the word ‘Islamist’ and ‘terrorist’ serves the goals of right-wing political parties. It is easier to label and identify some sort of spectre than it is to dive into the realities of the sources of terrorism – the political disengagement, social marginalisation and economic failures that are too complicated and unappealing to short-form media. By grasping one aspect of an actor’s characteristics and using that to define them harms both the actor and the viewer. It allows uneducated and misguided information to proliferate and is damaging to social cohesion. It is in this paradigm that right-wing parties grow.

In the absence of a method of engagement with groups who have feel underrepresented or ignored, political radicalism occurs. In a process that has occurred throughout Europe and the US, the political right emerges. Golden Dawn, the various Tea Party groups and Front National in France have succeeded in solidifying anti-immigrant sentiment and prospered on their protectionist policies. The free trade agreements found in the World Trade Organisation and the EU help economic development in many regards; what they fail to do is recognise that the financially least well-off are left behind by big business. In a surprising clash of ideologies, the Marxist left and the Republican right both have a mistrust of strong powers going unchecked.

In what could devolve into a discussion of political outlooks, the most telling, visible aspects of political extremism are the crimes carried out in the name of politics. The political manifestos claiming immigrants are the causes of a nation’s problems are translated into the racism encountered by ordinary immigrants and foreigners. Groups such as the English Defence League and Golden Dawn claim their civil liberties are at threat when they’re prevented from marching and chanting abuse in areas that have high concentrations of immigrants living there. The freedoms of democracy may only be healthy some of the time.

The opportunities presented by a liberal society lend themselves to those who can take advantage of it; that is, the wealthy and intelligent. Systemic failures by government to challenge levels of inequality in society are only worsened in a globalised world. As political power is increasingly challenged by international influence, the power of the common man is diluted. A feeling of hopelessness and marginalisation are the breeding grounds for violent polarisation. Extremism in all its forms comes from a disparity in wealth, authority and control; it has been seen in the past and will be seen in the future. Until the social dynamics of inequality are challenged, the rise of the right will continue.