Demonstrations in France
The ongoing demonstrations in France over a new proposed labor law have brought into focus a perceived need for change in France, as well as in Europe. The events in France only highlight a feeling of unrest and uncertainty in continental Europe as a whole. The following articles also show a European mindset which is totally different from American standards. Again, we see how little Americans know about, or understand, Europeans.
The EUObserver reported on March 29:
“More than 1 million people are estimated to have taken to the streets on Tuesday (28 March) to try and get the French government to back down on a controversial new youth employment law. Many schools, universities, government offices and shops were closed as trade unions joined forces with students. Student leaders claimed it was the largest turnout since protests against the law started earlier this month, with the strike causing travel chaos throughout the country… prime minister Dominique de Villepin made it clear in parliament that he will not withdraw the law… which makes it easier for employers to end job contracts for those under 26 years of age at any time during a two year trial period. The employer can terminate a contract without having to offer an explanation or give prior warning. The government insists that this will encourage employers to hire more young people while students say it will erode job stability. The demonstrations are being seen as a major test of Mr de Villepin’s prime ministerial credentials.”
Der Spiegel Online added the following on March 29:
“France is moving headlong toward a crisis… The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung… [is] not optimistic about what it sees. ‘At the beginning it was just a conflict over an employment law, now it’s become a government crisis, and if it continues for a little while longer, then France will experience a crisis of state.’ The paper sees the country hopelessly split between the right and the left, with both sides more concerned about scoring political points than about the well-being of the country as a whole. ‘The socialists have only joined the demonstrators this time out of opportunism, without having any ideas of their own to reduce unemployment.’ The shocking part, the paper says, is that President Jacques Chirac, elected with an unprecedented 80 percent majority four years ago, has become completely helpless in the face of the series of crises France has faced in the past 12 months. ‘Never has a president, never has a government, done so little with such a large majority.’…
“The right-leaning Die Welt… sees the strikes as little more than whining for a WORLD THAT NO LONGER EXISTS… A ‘virus of DENYING REALITY’ is spreading throughout Europe, the paper argues. It’s not the systems that are too rigid, rather ‘now we can see that it’s the people who are inflexible.’ The financial daily Handelsblatt, finally, looks at what the strikes mean for President Chirac. No matter what happens, the paper points out, Chirac will be the loser. Should he capitulate to the protesters and withdraw the law, Villepin would likely resign, endangering any chance Chirac has of ‘improving on his rather meager list of accomplishments as head of state.’ If, on the other hand, Villepin manages to weather the storm, it will be virtually impossible to introduce any further reforms to the labor market that the two had been planning, ‘because the social climate in the country will remain poisoned for the foreseeable future.'”
The Associated Press added the following comments, on March 29:
“In much of Europe, the idea that a company can dismiss workers just because profits are sagging is UNACCEPTABLE, AN AFFRONT TO MODERN VALUES [This is quite a different viewpoint than the commonly accepted model in the USA]. Yet economists say that even if the AMERICAN MODEL–under which layoffs are common–WOULD NEVER FLY HERE, reforms to Europe’s labor laws are crucial to the continent’s economic health. The battle in France over a new labor law is just the loudest and latest sign that the EUROPEAN SYSTEM IS AILING. The question of how to cure it is prompting soul-searching and underscoring divisions across the continent. AT STAKE IS EUROPE’S VISION OF ITSELF. Is it the world’s epicenter of enlightened ideas, or an economic heavyweight? Can it be both?… The European Union has had little luck stepping into the fray. One of the most divisive EU debates of late was over a law that would have allowed companies to operate under the labor regulations of their home country while doing business in another EU country. It was struck down last month. “In the United States and Britain, young people frequently jump from job to job. To dismiss an employee, companies can often just say, ‘You’re fired.’ [AGAIN, WE SEE QUITE A DIFFERENT MENTALITY BETWEEN THE USA AND THE UK ON THE ONE HAND, AND CONTINENTAL EUROPE ON THE OTHER. BOTH POWER BLOCS SIMPLY DO NOT THINK ALIKE.] But in France [as well as in Germany, for example], workers who land a coveted permanent contract can plan to stay at their jobs until retirement. To fire most employees, companies not only have to give at least three months notice, pay fines to the state and up to three years of severance–they also have to convince a judge that the dismissal is justified, something they don’t always manage to do. The French government says these rules are crippling and at fault for persistent unemployment, and devised a law in January that eases them. The most prickly part of the law, the so-called first job contract, allows employers to fire workers under age 26 without reason during the first two years on the job.”
The article continued:
“Part of Europe’s challenge is getting its growing numbers of immigrants into the work force. The French jobs law is aimed partly at immigrant youth, who face unemployment rates as high as 50 percent… Already, without a permanent job in France, it’s nearly impossible to rent an apartment, buy a house or earn a bank loan. [OF COURSE, IN THIS REGARD, THE SITUATION IN THE UNITED STATES IS NOT ANY BETTER, PERHAPS A LOT WORSE.] As a result, many French youth live with their parents throughout their 20s, drifting among unpaid internships, temporary jobs and the unemployment line… public workers in southwestern Germany have been striking for eight weeks over an attempt to extend working hours. Job protections have been a major campaign issue ahead of Italian elections next month. More than half of Italian college students consider a job-for-life either fundamental or very important…”
Europeans are unhappy about these current conditions. They will not wait MUCH LONGER to FORCE their leaders to not only talk about the problems, but to DO something about them. They will most certainly not be satisfied with a labor law and conditions patterned after the “American” model. And even though most European leaders might not be able or willing to follow suit, ONE charismatic leader WILL–in the not-too-distant future.
U.S. Immigrants–Criminals or Americans?
America has been caught by surprise about unprecedented demonstrations by mainly the Hispanic community pertaining to a highly controversial proposed new Immigration Law. The following articles address the real present and future problems that the USA is facing, and they point out the sometimes unrealized fact that America would probably stop functioning without its illegal immigrants!
Der Spiegel Online stated on March 29:
“The German press loves bashing US President George W. Bush and usually, they find it not terribly difficult given the consensus on this side of the Atlantic that US foreign policy since Sept. 11, 2001 has been a complete disaster. But the recent US-wide debate on American immigration law is not proving to be quite as clear cut — and it is producing a deep split in the Republican Party. On the one hand, there is a Republican fraction — to which Bush belongs — which would like to see the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States be granted work visas with an option of becoming full citizens later. A bill reflecting this viewpoint — supported by Democrats led by Senator Edward Kennedy — was passed by the Republican-controlled Senate on Monday. But a second group of Republicans would like to see illegal immigration cracked down on in the form of strong measures taken to prevent it. This group — which helped push a bill through the House of Representatives in December — would like to see illegal immigrants criminalized and sent home. The two laws will now have to be reconciled. Many conservative Republicans are criticizing the proposed reform as a slippery slope towards an amnesty for illegal immigrants and — given the fact that fully 11.7 percent of the US population was foreign born in 2003 — as a threat to the national identity of the USA.
“Left-leaning daily Berliner Zeitung [points out] that the massive contribution of illegal immigrants to the US economy is an UNDENIABLE REALITY [as was the case in Germany in the 60’s, when guest workers from Turkey and other nations were invited to come into the country to temporarily work there]. ‘Deport the illegal immigrants and the country would PROBABLY STOP FUNCTIONING,’ the editors write, going on to note that while they feel the reform proposal is laudable, polls show that the majority of US citizens does not support it… Editorials in two other German papers [Financial Times and Süddeutsche Zeitung] reflect not so much on the specific debate over efforts to reform US immigration law, but rather on the difficulties faced by the president and his party in general. Not only are Bush’s poll ratings abysmal, but for the first time in his over five years in office, Bush has gotten rid of one of his closest aides, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card… who resigned on Tuesday…”
AFP reported on March 29 that “More than 36,000 [Los Angeles] students walked out of class to protest on Monday and more than 11,000 boycotted on Tuesday, prompting education chiefs and police to warn that pupils who skip class would be punished as truants if they failed to show up for class… While Los Angeles has been the focus of the student protests against the proposed immigration law, similar walkouts have taken place across California as well as in the states of Texas and Nevada in recent days. Saturday, 500,000 demonstrators brought Los Angeles to a standstill by staging ONE OF THE BIGGEST DEMONSTRATIONS IN RECENT US HISTORY against the proposed crackdown, while 50,000 people protested Monday in the northeastern US auto-making capital of Detroit over the issue…
“The US House of Representatives in December passed a bill that would make illegal entry in the United States a CRIME and heavily penalise EMPLOYERS of undocumented workers [as well as requiring CHURCHES to check the LEGAL STATUS of people they want to HELP], opening the floodwaters of protest in the Hispanic community, the largest US minority group… The hardline plans have sparked anger among the more than 32 million people of Hispanic cultural origin in the United States, who make up more than 12 percent of the population and wield growing political and economic clout. Hispanic community leaders said they were planning a massive countrywide Hispanic boycott of US life on May 1 that will be dubbed ‘A day without Latinos or a day without immigrants.'”
Israel’s recent elections have shown that Israelis are more interested in the solutions of their own problems than in pursuing an unrealistic “peace” process. The following article also shows the grave mistrust of Israeli citizens in their political leaders–a phenomenon which is mirrored in most countries in the Western World.
On March 29, Der Spiegel Online reported the following about the election results in Israel: “The Israelis have turned their BACK ON THE PEACE PROCESS. The days when the left dreamed of the ‘New Middle East’ are over. Instead of negotiating about future co-existence with the Palestinians, the Israelis want a divorce, once and for all. They’re not aiming for peace… The so-called security fence is aimed at separating the two peoples from one another. How the Palestinians are supposed to survive when they are cut off from the outside world is of no interest in Israel. Instead of looking out for their Palestinian neighbors, Israelis want their government to fight poverty in their own country. Israel’s focus is turning inwards.
“But what’s most astonishing is that despite the dramatic changes now faced by the country and the whole region, almost 40 percent of eligible voters stayed at home. The lack of interest isn’t just explained by the absence of strong, charismatic personalities following the departure of Ariel Sharon. In the eyes of many Israelis POLITICS IS SUCH A DIRTY BUSINESS THAT THEY WANT NO PART IN IT, not even from a distance. The names of many politicians have been cited in connection with corruption cases. Some parliamentarians will even have to go to jail soon, among them the son of Ariel Sharon.”
Hamas Takes Power
After some delay, Hamas took power. The future for peace in the Middle East looks grimmer than ever.
The Associated Press reported on March 29:
“Hamas formally took power Wednesday, and the newly installed prime minister [Islmail Haniyeh] pledged to cooperate with President Mahmoud Abbas, head of the defeated Fatah party… Haniyeh said he and Abbas would confront ‘Israeli aggression against the people’ as well as internal chaos. He called Hamas’ assumption of power ‘a great moment.’ The swearing-in ceremony, which came just a day after Israel’s national election, ended a two-month transition period of ambiguity since Hamas’ election victory in January. The 24-member Cabinet includes 14 ministers who served time in Israeli prisons.
“With a Hamas government installed, the LINES OF CONFRONTATION WITH ISRAEL ARE CLEARLY DRAWN. Hamas insists it will not soften its VIOLENT IDEOLOGY toward the Jewish state. Israel’s presumed prime minister-designate, Ehud Olmert, has countered that if Hamas will not bend, he will set the borders of a Palestinian state by himself and keep large areas of the West Bank. With Hamas at the helm, the Palestinian Authority also faces a crippling international economic boycott. Canada announced it was suspending assistance to the Palestinian Authority, with Hamas calling the decision hasty and unfair…”
Israel May Be Next al-Qaida Battleground
As if Hamas’ radical stance was not enough, suspicion is mounting that al-Qaida is concentrating on Israel as their new battle field. The Associated Press reported on March 22: “Signs are mounting that al-Qaida terrorists are setting their sights on Israel and the Palestinian territories as their next jihad battleground. Israel has indicted two West Bank militants for al-Qaida membership, Egypt arrested operatives trying to cross into Israel and a Palestinian security official has acknowledged al-Qaida is ‘organizing cells and gathering supporters.’… Palestinians in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Lebanon have established contacts with al-Qaida followers… a major concern is al-Qaida’s activities in Israel’s neighbors, especially Jordan… Some Israeli officials have expressed concern that al-Qaida operatives from Egypt may have entered Gaza after Israel withdrew from the coastal strip last summer.”
Afghan Christian Given Asylum in Italy
Abdul Rahman fled Afghanistan after his release from prison (due to some concocted rationale of “insufficient evidence” and “suspected mental illness”) and found asylum in Italy. The Western World can sigh a temporary sigh of relief. But the sign is deceitful. Afghanistan’s problems have not been solved by any stretch of the imagination. Afghanistan’s future does not give room for much optimism.
The Associated Press reported on March 29:
“The Afghan man who faced the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity received asylum in Italy Wednesday, despite requests by lawmakers in Afghanistan that he be barred from fleeing the conservative Muslim country. Abdul Rahman arrived in Rome days after he was freed from a high-security prison… after a court dropped charges of apostasy against him for lack of evidence and suspected mental illness. The case has attracted wide attention in the West and led to calls by the U.S. and other governments for the Afghan government to protect the 41-year-old convert. It also inspired an appeal by Pope Benedict XVI to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and efforts by the United Nations to find a country to take him in after Muslim clerics in Afghanistan threatened his life, saying his conversion was a ‘betrayal to Islam.’ Rahman was in the care of Italy’s Interior Ministry, Premier Silvio Berlusconi said Wednesday evening. ‘He is already in Italy,’ he said… The premier declined to release more details. The Interior Ministry said Rahman was ‘UNDER PROTECTION.'”
“Afghanistan’s new parliament debated Rahman’s case Wednesday and DEMANDED HE BE BARRED FROM LEAVING THE COUNTRY. But no formal vote was taken on the issue. Some 500 Afghans, including Muslim leaders and students, also gathered at a mosque in the southern town of Qalat… to demand the convert be forced to return to Islam or be killed… Germany, where Rahman once lived, praised the Italian move. ‘This is a humanitarian signal and we welcome it,’ German government spokesman Thomas Steg said.”
Even though Rahman lives in MORE OR LESS relative safety, the terrible status quo in Afghanistan has not changed. In fact, nothing has changed. Women are still being persecuted on a daily basis, and any Afghan who is charged with converting from Islam to Christianity will face the same ordeal which Rahman did. Afghanistan is, by no stretch of the imagination, a “free” country.
As Deutsche Welle wrote on March 23:
“Starting in 2004, Afghanistan — with Western help — ushered in a new reformed constitution, after which it elected a new parliament and created a Supreme Court and an independent legal system — steps considered essential in what the US administration calls ‘nation-building.’ But, experts warn about the dangers of flaunting Afghanistan as a poster-child for spreading democracy to former totalitarian countries. More than four years after the fall of the Taliban, the country remains riddled with corruption and cronyism linked to the country’s administrative system and $2.8 billion… drug industry. ‘One shouldn’t forget that [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai had to make several concessions to ultra-conservatives in drawing up the constitution,’ said Citha Maass, Afghanistan expert at the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs. Maass pointed out that the Rahman case highlighted the contradictions in Afghanistan’s constitution, which enshrines religious freedom on the one hand and upholds the supremacy of Islamic Sharia law on the other… The Afghanistan expert also pointed out that recent protests over controversial cartoons published in European newspapers HAD BEEN THE MOST VIOLENT IN AFGHANISTAN.”
Afghanistan Fighting Deadliest in Months
The ongoing problems in Afghanistan were highlighted on Wednesday, March 29, when The Associated Press reported:
“Taliban rebels launched a large-scale attack on a coalition military base Wednesday in southern Afghanistan [in Helmand], killing an American and a Canadian soldier but losing 32 of their own in a fierce American-led retaliation. The fighting was THE DEADLIEST in months and reflected a GROWING INTENSITY OF MILITANT ATTACKS after the Taliban warned of a renewed offensive this year, more than four years after the hard-line militia was ousted by U.S.-led airstrikes… It was not clear if Wednesday’s violence was linked to the DRUG TRADE. Helmand is Afghanistan’s main opium poppy-growing region and fears of widespread violence have risen since an aggressive poppy eradication campaign started in recent weeks. Helmand’s rugged mountains also are popular hiding places for Taliban rebels, many of whom are believed to slip back and forth across the province’s largely UNGUARDED BORDER WITH PAKISTAN. The attack on the base came a day after a roadside bomb killed six Afghan soldiers on a road in the province, and four private security workers–a Namibian and three Afghans–were killed elsewhere in the south in attacks blamed on Taliban rebels.”