How conservatives use identity politics to shut down debate


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One of the worst examples of identity politics came from Malcolm Turnbull on Monday’s Q&A program.
ABC News

Dennis Altman, La Trobe University

Conservatives are currently obsessed with identity politics.

Almost every issue of The Australian comes with a fusillade against the ways identity politics threaten civic discourse. And a Financial Review editorial in September warned:

… thoughts, expression and questioning are now more likely to be silenced in the excess of identity politics, where race, gender, sexuality and group-think declarations have replaced class as the key political dividers.

Yet one of the worst examples of identity politics came from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in his Q&A appearance on December 11. In opposing the idea of an elected Indigenous Advisory Council, he claimed that politicians such as Ken Wyatt and Linda Burney represent Indigenous Australians. In fact, they represent the electors of Hasluck and Barton – few of whom are Indigenous.

It is great that there are Indigenous politicians in parliament (Turnbull somehow forgot the two Labor senators, Pat Dodson and Malarndirri McCarthy). But they are not there to “represent” Indigenous Australians any more than Mathias Cormann is there to represent Belgian-Australians.

Political party identities

The primary identity of politicians in our system is their political party. Sometimes other identities will seem more important, as in the case of the four openly gay Liberal MPs who pushed their party toward a free vote on marriage equality, or Michael Danby’s support for Israel – which goes far beyond the views of his party.

What these cases suggest is the complex and overlapping nature of identities, and the trap of defining anyone by only one identity. Nor does belonging to a particular group, whether through race, ethnicity or gender, mean one automatically speaks “for” that group. Margaret Thatcher or Bronwyn Bishop never sought to speak “for women”.

Identity politics, as we understand them, are often assumed to have emerged from the women’s, black and gay movements in the early 1970s. There is an earlier history, linked to the development of nationalist movements in 19th-century Europe, and the growth of anti-colonial movements across European empires.

Identity politics are born when people feel excluded because of something important to their sense of self – whether it be race, gender, sexuality or language. But they are also thrust upon people, as in the tragic case of those Jews who believed themselves to be 100% German until the Nazis came to power.

A sense of a shared history is crucial to empowering people who have been oppressed, and sometimes made invisible. When I was a schoolboy in Hobart we were taught that there were no Tasmanian Aborigines, who had effectively been wiped out by settlement. Today more than 4% of the state’s population identify as Indigenous.

Not necessarily born this way

Conservatives are particularly disturbed by the idea that gender identities might be fluid, which seemed their central concern in the marriage equality debate.

Ironically many of those who defend ideas of gender fluidity also believe their sexual identity is, in Lady Gaga’s words, “born this way”. In both cases the rhetoric ignores the evidence of both history and anthropology.

Identity politics are neither inherently left nor right. Some Marxists denounced the new social movements as threatening class unity, in terms rather like those who now see identity politics as fracturing a common polity.

One of the common criticisms of Hillary Clinton’s US presidential campaign was that she spoke too often to specific groups, rather than in the language of inclusion. This is an odd argument given Donald Trump’s blatant attacks on Hispanics and Muslims, which were clearly an appeal to white Americans who felt their identities were under threat.

Most critics of identity politics speak as if they were above identity, when in practice their identities are those of the dominant group. Pauline Hanson excludes Aborigines, Asians and Muslims from her view of Australian identity, cloaked in the language of patriotism.

Like Hanson, those who attack identity politics are often most zealous in defending their own versions of identity. Current proposed changes to citizenship requirements are supported by an emphasis on “Australian values”, as if these are both self-evident and distinguishable from more universal values of political and civil rights.

On the same Q0&A program Turnbull defined Australian values as based upon “multiculturalism”, which acknowledges that contemporary society is a mosaic of different and overlapping identities and communities. It is possible to argue that respect for cultural diversity is a national value, while ignoring the question whether Australian law treats all cultural values equally.

In practice, cultural diversity is clearly subordinate to a legal and political system heavily based on British precedents. A genuine multicultural identity might start by extending the term “ethnic” to include people of British ancestry, as much an “ethnicity” as any other.

Identity as a means of exclusion

Identity politics threaten democratic debate when they become a means of shutting down any comment that does not grow entirely out of experience.

Writers have been criticised for creating characters who do not share their author’s race or gender; speakers shunned for expressing views that are deemed “insensitive”.

Writer Germaine Greer may have views on transgender issues that should be opposed. But they should be met with rebuttal, not a refusal to listen. Critics of identity politics are right that zealousness in protecting identities can itself become repressive.

Identity politics become dangerous when they become an argument for exclusion.

The ConversationUnfortunately, the most dangerous examples of exclusion come from those who clam to speak for “the people”, a term which itself depends upon a certain version of identity. The populists who attack identity politics do so while creating their own, limited image of national identity.

Dennis Altman, Professorial Fellow in Human Security, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Conservatives suffer shock loss of majority at UK general election


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

At the UK general election held Thursday, the Conservatives lost their majority. With all 650 seats declared, the Conservatives won 318 seats (down 13 since the 2015 election), Labour 262 (up 30), the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) 35 (down 21), the Liberal Democrats 12 (up 4). Northern Ireland (NI) parties hold 18 seats and five went to the Welsh nationalists and Greens.

Vote shares were 42.4% for the Conservatives (up 5.5), 40.0% for Labour (up 9.5), 7.4% for the Lib Dems (down 0.5) and 3.0% for the SNP (down 1.7). This was Labour’s highest vote since 2001, and the Conservatives’ highest vote since 1983. The total major party vote share was the highest since 1970. Election turnout was 68.7% (up 2.3 from 2015, and the highest turnout since 1997).

In NI, the very socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) won 10 of the 18 seats on 0.9% of the UK-wide vote. As Sinn Fein, which won 7 seats in NI, will not take its seats owing to historical opposition to the UK government’s rule of NI, the DUP and Conservatives have enough seats for a majority. PM Theresa May has come to an arrangement with the DUP, and the Conservatives will continue to govern.

The tweet and pictures of the right wing Daily Mail below show how shocking this result was. When Theresa May called the election, the Conservatives had a 15-19 point poll lead over Labour.

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While the Conservatives lost many seats to Labour and the Liberal Democrats in England and Wales, they gained 12 seats in Scotland. The overall Scotland results were SNP 35 of 59 seats (down 21), Conservatives 13 (up 12), Labour 7 (up 6) and Lib Dems 4 (up 3).

If the Conservatives had not performed so well in Scotland, it is likely that a progressive alliance of Labour, SNP and Lib Dems would have taken power. The Conservatives’ 13 Scottish seats are their most in Scotland since 1983.

There were several reasons for the Conservatives’ shocking performance. First, Labour’s manifesto had many popular measures, while the Conservative manifesto had a highly controversial proposal.

Second, US President Donald Trump is very unpopular in much of the developed world. Even if Trump had kept out of the way, there would probably have still been a “Trump Factor” in Labour’s rise. But Trump exacerbated this hatred by withdrawing from the Paris agreement a week before the election, and then by attacking the Muslim mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, after the London terror attack. The lesson for mainstream conservative parties is: keep your distance from Trump.

Third, I believe the Conservatives focused too much on Brexit in their campaign. The Brexit question was decided last year, and it probably did not have a great impact on voting. In my opinion, the Conservative campaign should have focused on the economy.

Conservatives win elections when in government by claiming that the opposition will wreck the economy through its reckless spending and increased taxation. The Conservatives should have focused on this message, and not on Brexit.

After beginning the campaign as a massive underdog, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s reputation has been greatly enhanced. Virtually all commentators assumed that radical left wing politics could never work, but he has proved them wrong. If not for the Scottish Conservative gains, Corbyn would probably be PM.

The best pollsters at this election were Survation, with a one-point Conservative lead, and SurveyMonkey, with a four-point lead (actual result 2.4 points). Other pollsters “herded” their final polls towards a 7-8 point lead. The worst results were from ComRes (a 10-point lead), ICM (12 points) and BMG (13 points). These three pollsters made large adjustments to their raw votes, and ended up overcompensating for the 2015 polling errors.

French lower house elections: 11 and 18 June

The French lower house has 577 members, elected by single-member electorates using a two-round system. The top two candidates in each seat, and any other candidate who wins over 12.5% of registered voters, qualify for the second round. Candidates sometimes withdraw before the second round to give their broad faction a better chance, and/or to stop an extremist party like Marine Le Pen’s National Front.

The key question is whether President Emmanuel Macron’s REM party will win a majority. Polling has the REM on about 30%, the conservative Les Républicains on 21%, the National Front on 18%, the hard left Unsubmissive France on 13% and the Socialists and Greens on a combined 11%.

The ConversationThere has been little movement in the polls since I last discussed the French lower house elections ten days ago. If the current polls are accurate, the REM will easily win a majority of the French lower house after the second round vote on 18 June. Polls for both the first and second round close at 4am Monday Melbourne time.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Egyptian Court Refuses to Return Passport to Christian


Convert from Islam tried to leave country to save his life.

ISTANBUL, March 15 (CDN) — An Egyptian court last week refused to return the passport of a convert from Islam who tried to leave Egypt to save his life, the Christian said on Friday (March 12).

On Tuesday (March 9) the Egyptian State Council Court in Giza, an administrative court, refused to return the passport of Maher Ahmad El-Mo’otahssem Bellah El-Gohary. El-Gohary said he was devastated by the decision, which essentially guarantees him several more months of living in fear.

“I am very, very disappointed and very unhappy about what happened,” he said, “because I am being threatened – my life is being threatened, my daughter’s life is being threatened very frequently, and I don’t feel safe at all in Egypt.”

Nabil Ghobreyal, El-Gohary’s attorney, told Compass the government declined to give the court any reason for its actions.

“There was no response as to why his passport was taken,” Ghobreyal said.

On Sept. 17, 2009, authorities at Cairo International Airport seized El-Gohary’s passport. El-Gohary, 57, also known as Peter Athanasius, was trying to leave the country to visit China. Eventually he intended to travel to the United States. At the time, El-Gohary was told only that his travel had been barred by “higher authority.”

El-Gohary, who converted to Christianity from Islam more than 30 years ago, gained notoriety in Egypt in February 2009, when he filed a court application to have the religion on his identification card changed from Muslim to Christian. El-Gohary’s action caused widespread uproar among conservative Muslims in Egypt. He was branded an “apostate” and multiple fatwas, or religious edicts were issued against him. In accordance with some interpretations of the Quran, some Muslims believe El-Gohary should be killed for leaving Islam.

Since filing his application, El-Gohary has lived in fear and has been in hiding with his 15-year-old daughter. Every month, he said, they move from apartment to apartment. He is unable to work, and his daughter, also a Christian, is unable to attend school.

Their days are filled with anxiety, fear and boredom.

“We are very fearful,” El-Gohary said. “We are hiding between four walls all day long.”

El-Gohary went through extraordinary efforts to get the documentation the court demanded for him to officially change his religion, including getting a certificate of conversion from a Coptic Christian religious group. The certificate, which was the first time a Christian church in Egypt recognized a convert from Islam, also caused an uproar.

But ultimately, in June the court denied his application. He was the second person in Egypt to apply to have his religion officially changed from Islam to Christianity. The other applicant was denied as well. El-Gohary has not exhausted his appeals and may file legal proceedings with an international legal body. He has another hearing with the administrative court on June 29.

“I don’t understand what I have done wrong,” El-Gohary said. “I went though the normal legal channels. I thought I was an Egyptian citizen and I would be treated as such by the Egyptian law. I went through the front doors of the legal system, not the back doors, and for that I am being threatened, chased, and I live in continuous fear.”

The National Constitution of Egypt guarantees freedom of religion unless it contradicts set practices in sharia, or Islamic law. While it is easy to change one’s religious identity from Christian to Muslim, it is impossible to do the opposite.

El-Gohary’s case was mentioned by name in a human rights report issued Thursday (March 11) by the U.S. Department of State. El-Gohary said he was pleased that his case was in the report. He said he believes it is his duty to open new doors for his fellow converts in Egypt.

“This is something I have to do,” he said. “It is a duty. I have become a symbol for Christians in Egypt.”

El-Gohary said he hopes U.S. President Barack Obama, other world leaders and international groups will pressure the Egyptian government to allow him to leave the country.

In spite of his ordeal, El-Gohary said faith is still strong and that he doesn’t regret becoming a Christian.

“I don’t regret it at all,” he continued, excitedly. “This is the narrow road that Christians have to go through and suffer to reach eternal life. I have no regrets whatsoever. We are very grateful to know Christ, and we know He’s the way.”

Report from Compass Direct News 

Lutheran denomination splitting after gay pastor vote


The nation’s largest Lutheran denomination is splitting following a controversial decision at its August conference to allow noncelibate homosexuals to serve as pastors, reports Baptist Press.

It will take months to determine how truly significant the change to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American (ELCA) is, but a conservative group of Lutherans calling themselves Lutheran CORE already is calling for the more orthodox churches to leave the denomination. Lutheran CORE leaders voted Nov. 18 to form a new Lutheran body, and churches nationwide are now taking sides in the dispute. It takes a two-thirds vote for a church to leave the ELCA and join Lutheran CORE, which has formed a committee that will draft a proposal for how the new church body will function. The committee’s recommendations will be released in February and voted on in August.

The ELCA claims 4.8 million members and 10,500 churches.

"Many ELCA members and congregations have said that they want to sever ties with the ELCA because of the ELCA’s continued movement away from traditional Christian teachings," Lutheran CORE chair Paull Spring said. "The vote on sexuality opened the eyes of many to how far the ELCA has moved from Biblical teaching."

Meeting in Minneapolis in August, delegates to the ELCA’s biennial conference voted 559-451 to allow openly practicing homosexuals to serve as pastors. It became the largest denomination in America with such a policy. The Episcopal Church, a smaller denomination, has a similar stance.

The Minneapolis conference was followed by a meeting of 1,200 Lutheran CORE supporters Sept. 25-26 in Fishers, Ind., where delegates to that meeting voted to authorize the Lutheran CORE Steering Committee to "initiate conversations among the congregations" toward a possible "reconfiguration" of Lutherans. That steering committee voted Nov. 18 to begin the process of forming a new denomination. The word "CORE" is an acronym for "Coalition for Renewal."

Neither side is predicting how many churches will leave or stay. In Erskine, Minn., 80 percent of Rodnes Lutheran Church members voted Oct. 18 to leave the ELCA, the INFORUM.com website reported. But in Waseca, Minn., Nov. 22, 77 percent of Grace Lutheran Church members voted to stay, the Waseca County News newspaper reported.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, believes the issue of homosexuality eventually will divide all mainline denominations.

"You either approve gay and lesbian sexually active pastors and clergy or you don’t," he told Baptist Press. "Opinion is divided enough in the mainline denominations that if you approve it, then you’re going to have conservatives leaving and if you don’t, then you’re going to have liberals leaving. I believe that this issue will end up reconfiguring the entire mainline Protestant landscape. It is in the process of dividing the Episcopalians. It’s dividing now the Lutherans. It’s in the process of dividing the Presbyterians, and it eventually will end up dividing the Methodists."

Land asked, rhetorically, referencing the ELCA’s namesake, "Does anyone have any doubt what Martin Luther believed about this? The question is whether you’re going to be under the authority of Scripture or not. And, clearly, there are large chunks of mainline Protestantism that have decided they are going to stand in judgment of Scripture."

Report from the Christian Telegraph