Sunday, 2 November 2008

Amnesty International

For a while now I've been considering joining Amnesty International (AI). They are renowned throughout the world, either for being a beacon of hope for those suffering injustice, a candle in the dark, or for being a "defender of lawbreakers". Which of these you consider them to be depends on your point of view...

In the eyes of many governments of the world, including the USA, China and Iran, Amnesty International disregards national security as a factor in the status of prisoners. The argument here is that certain prisoners pose a threat to national security, and so cannot be allowed freedom whilst the government accumulates evidence in case, during that time, they do cause an incident of some description.

With the rise of terrorism the fear of national security being threatened is, understandably, greater than ever. Governments can fall on their stance on terrorism (for example, in Spain in 2004, following the Madrid bombings, José María Aznar's Partido Popular claimed that ETA were responsible for the Madrid bombings. Later evidence pointed to the involvement of al-Qaeda and a complete lack of involvement by ETA. The Partido Popular lost the ensuing election, having been in the lead in the polls prior to the bombing.) and so cannot possibly risk terrorist attacks.

Do not get me wrong, terrorism should be treated with the utmost caution, and governments should do all in their power to avoid and prevent terrorist attacks from occuring. Unfortunately, as is the way with politics, the majority of governments are more concerned with how they do in the polls than how the public's quality of life is. I'd like to believe that governments are so harsh on terrorism because they don't want people to get hurt (and I'm sure that many members of governments all over the world don't want people to get hurt), but I suspect that the driving factor behind harsh policies on terrorism is, as with all things, votes.

As such any organisation, such as AI, that attempts to stand up in the face of such policies will inevitably experience criticism. I personally feel that terrorism and other threats to national security should be treated carefully and all the appropriate measures should be taken to combat these threats, but this does not mean that fundamental human rights can be abused. Human rights are exactly that - rights that every human is entitled to. Alleged criminals are still human. No government by itself can determine whether or not a human is permitted access to these internationally agreed rights and, as these are fundamental, basic rights, any government that flaunts their responsibility to allow their prisoners these rights should suffer international consequences.

This is exactly why organisations such as Amnesty International are so important. The silenced, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the voiceless all need representation, all need someone with wealth, morals and, most importantly, freedom to argue their case, to fight for human rights, to ensure that all members of the human race have the same fundamental rights, the same access to justice and the same chance of freedom.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

A few thoughts...

I could write about the war and ensuing events between Georgia and Russia, or about the Olympics, or about a whole host of other topics. But I'm am on holiday as of Friday and will write a number of blogs ready to post when I come back. Right now, as an 18 year old A Level student, I have one thing on my mind: results.

The day of reckoning is tomorrow and, try as I might, I cannot avoid it. Today has felt like the 24th of December - not long to go but time, just for today, has decided to slow right down. I have friends who's futures are riding on tomorrow. I'm lucky enough to be virtually guaranteed my place in university thanks to a combination of a low offer and excellent results in modules I've already taken. This is a rare position to be in and I'm still scared. Less about my future, more about feeling that I could have worked harder, but most teenagers up and down the country are scared about their futures.

The majority will do ok, achieving what they expected or, if they're lucky, better than expected. There will, however, be those who do not succeed, those who achieve less or significantly less than expected. This is an inevitable consequence of examinations and, some would argue, life in general. In fact, life, by and large, does not tolerate failure. Evolution is based on this. This does not mean that the process of failure has to be as harsh for us, supposedly civilised 'human beings', above mere animals, as it is for the rest of nature.

Those who underacheive tomorrow will not die because of their failures, but their results will mean that they may consider themselves to be lesser than their peers, the successful ones. The lonliness of undeachieving whilst all your friends are celebrating must have a profound effect on a number of teenagers every year. Hopefully I won't be in this position tomorrow, but somebody will be.

This suffering does not occur in a vaccuum, however. It occurs to the background of nostalgia-ridden, middle-aged members of the population who, through a combination of jealousy of youth and rose-tinted spectacles, believe that A Levels are getting easier. They may be. They may not. The fact is if a job needs doing someone can be trained to do it - the content of A Levels is rarely used in later life, if we are to believe other experienced points of view. The annual attack on the standard of A Levels does not change the difficulty of the exams, nor does it make anybody feel any better. The only thing it does achieve is creating additional grief for those who have underachieved.

By all means we should improve the standards of education. We should aim to improve year by year. The widespread derision of the current difficulty of A Levels is not constructive and only worsens the situation for those unlucky enough to underachieve in the education system. Come A Level Results Day this derision could do additional unnecessary damage to self-esteem, self-belief and future success. Those labelled as 'failures' often fail. Those labelled as 'failures' in a 'failing' system stand no chance.

Disappointment is inevitable. Devaluing the system from which disappointment arises is unnecessary.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Genesis

Yes, I know, a cheesy title, but I'm new to blogging and so don't have any real experience of creating witty, pithy titles. I also have little to no experience of picking themes for blogs, so let's just settle on this blog being an introduction to what I intend to do with my future blogs. A preview perhaps, or maybe a preface. A 'pre-' something either way.

As the somewhat grandiose title I have chosen for my blog suggests, I plan to take on the world in my blog. Yes, it's a bit of a ridiculous idea and I have yet to decide whether or not to let people know about this blog or not, but I have been restless for too long - I need to express some of my ideas as they are driving me mad. In my head they remain half-formed and, often, ill-informed, so this blog is partially aimed at providing me with the means and motivation to work out my political views and, perhaps, to help me create a solid foundation from which to persue a career in politics.

That career is, however, just an idea - I'm not doing PPE at Cambridge, I'm doing Anthropology at Kent. Not because I couldn't do PPE: I'm sure I could cope with the course; but because I am not certain what I want to do and Anthropology struck me as a fascinating subject. All of this is by the wayside as my political views and general musings are the centre of this blog.

I will almost certainly start off my blog a little ignorant - for an 18 year old I'm fairly world-aware, but by no means would I consider myself aware enough to write well about anything. As the blog evolves, however, I hope to develop and learn more about the world and the way it works, until I can write more than just competently about vague political ideas that I hold; that is, until I have sufficient grounding in political and economic history to start to debate issues with a degree of objectivity.

To conclude this introductory blog I shall list a few of my political ideas. Broadly speaking I would consider myself an open-minded, left-leaning liberal, but that is a very broad category and my opinions differ on many different issues. I say left-leaning as I'm not an idealistic follower of communism, and am probably not even a socialist, but I am a big believer in the Welfare State and feel that society should exist for the benefit of everybody.

One of my key beliefs is that of choice - everybody should be free to choose every aspect of their lives. I appreciate that, in reality, this is downright difficult, if not impossible, to acheive, but that does not mean that more people could be more able to choose. Another important aspect to this belief is that people's choices should not negatively impact on other people's quality of life.

On re-reading that paragraph I'm aware of the idealistic and possibly naive tone of that paragraph and I would like to stress that those are simply examples of vague ideals that underline my political philosophy. I say 'vague ideals', perhaps 'core values' is a more appropriate and befitting label. We all have core values that underline, maybe even define, our opinions and points of view - these core values are without a doubt symptom of the idealism of youth. What is important to note is the pragmatism that I hope to apply to these values. You could say that I'm aiming for Yin and Yang in my politics - balance between two opposing forces.

There, I feel I've said enough for my first blog. Hopefully you've gained an insight, however small, into my mind.