Editor at ReformerMag, Writing on Governance, Institution, and Liberalism.

Dispelling “annus horribilis”

2016 proved the fragility of western liberalism

When we moved to set up the Reformer platform earlier this year, it was in an effort to add diversity to the voices we find online. As writers, both co-founders were motivated by the frustration faced reading, what we judged as archaic and reactionary media coverage. Coverage that sought to oversimplify complex and multi-disciplinary issues, defined by a language taxonomy that has strayed far from its theoretical and political importance.

This coverage, we believe, reduces political decision making into groups of false dichotomy: left and right, progressive and conservative, pro-bashar and pro-rebels, immigrants welcome and racists; when, in fact, any political issue has several policy, political, and personal implications and variables that go unnoticed.

As the year reaches its conclusion, it seems that we are once again being inundated with yet another false dichotomy, the idea that 2016 takes the crown as “annus horribilis”. This notion is being propagated, including by some of our writers, by several factors. But the centre of which is the success of both the brexit campaign and the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States of America. This, proponents of the motion argue, can only be explained as a re-emergence of the far right and fascism.

And although we would agree that 2016 has provided an escalation in the divisiveness of politics on a global scale, we also move, with this being our last piece of the year, to unequivocally reject the notion of labelling 2016 as “annus horribilis” on the grounds that this is a propagation of the same liberal self-centeredness which has removed us from our political responsibilities.

The refugee crisis

At the heart of the notion that 2016 is “annus horribilis” is the recent suffering of western countries.

2016 opened its gates with the continuation of the “refugee crisis”, a term that was cemented not due to the lives lost or destroyed in an attempt to escape from war, but from Europe’s inability to mobilise its union and agree on an appropriate, humanitarian mode of action. Diplomacy on the continent was abandoned, and Germany, in an attempt to take the lead and set an example, opened its borders to alleviate the pressure of countries with borders most adjacent to conflict areas — frontier countries. This move was dismissed by frontier countries who continued to build fences and crack down on immigrants and refugees.

It wasn’t until March of this year that the EU came up with a diplomatic deal with the increasingly autocratic Turkey. The deal would allow Greece to “return” refugees to Turkey in return for accelerating visa liberation for Turkish nationals and increasing financial support.

The irony in having the champions of western diplomacy, cooperation, and liberalism—the EU—collapse to the reactionary level where it enters the lair of an increasing religious autocrat, legalizing methods of human trafficking to rid itself of the burden of liberal humanitarianism is not lost on anyone.

Worst of all however, as Robert Fisk pointed out in his 2015 piece on the issue, is that this crisis comes at a stark contrast with how western countries deal with the borders and sovereignty of Arab nations.

“Our own shock — indeed, our indignation — that our own precious borders were not respected by these largely Muslim armies of the poor was in sharp contrast to our own blithe non-observance of Arab frontiers.”

The cost of failure

With the influx of refugees came the continuous security concerns and the terrorist attacks of Brussels, Nice, and Berlin. Suicide bombings, truck attacks, as well as more isolated stabbing and ax-wielding incidents.

Right wing reactionaries took to the streets. Claims of a culture clash were made outside of the inherent nature of a gendered issue. Liberals were in shock, and the incompetence of our progressive governments to provide any leadership was compounded by the loss of life as a result of these attacks.

The political frustration of all these elements resulted in the unforeseen push for the rise of right wing politics in Eastern Europe, the results of Brexit, and the inevitable success of Trump. Even the most liberal countries began to falter with Burkini and Burka bans becoming the norm of political discourse.

But it’s only the last three events, as well as the loss of life in its wake, that seem to have gained this year the title of “annus horribilis”. In other words, it’s not the policy failures, the relentless bombing campaigns, the use of drones by the US, the continuous and blatant disregard of international law in the Middle East, nor the increase of domestic surveillance that earned it this title. Neither is it the suffering of everyone in conflict or underprivileged and economically deprived areas of the world. No, it is because only now have we become on the stick-receiving-end of our own policies, and only now have we started to recognise the horribleness of the world we live in.

Systemic denial

The rise of what we are calling “the right” in 2016 — although more accurately described as conservative isolationism — should not have come as a surprise to us. Our leaders have continued to ignore legitimate and growing fears on immigration, the deteriorating situation in the Middle East, economic inequality, and treat them as non-issues providing no progressive alternative to reactionary stances. In response, the cries of discontent became overwhelming and have not only lost progressive rule (if it ever existed), but also our platforms for discussing issues of social and economic justice.

Black Lives Matter and police brutality in the US are now presented as contentious issue despite clear evidence of the disproportionate use of force by the US police force on minorities, and deeper/wider racial issues in the US such as the justice and corrections systems, and in-turn, the idea of economic injustice.

Issues of women’s right were also put centre stage, highlighted by the first female candidate for president. As opposed to having these issues tackled they have now been side-lined as the final victory trophy of conservatives who, in the US, now control the senate, house, presidency, and have a choice of a conservative judge on the Supreme Court.

When it comes to all these social issues anyone would point to them as systemic issues, which are now going to be furthered by conservative powers. However, somehow we are unable to even entertain the idea that the rise of “the right” is also a result of the failures of our systems and policies, and that it too needs to be tackled at a systemic level and reformed.

Widening the discussion

If we continue to fail in connecting the dots in our foreign and domestic policy decisions, as well as what we choose to be offended by or march against or label as horrible, we will continue to suffer at the short sightedness of our own policies, and will continue grovelling in self-victimized rhetoric.

As 2016 comes to an end, we will refrain from adding to the divisive rhetoric that has dominated this year, while at the same time rejecting the liberal/western-centred notion that 2016 was “annus horribilis” as a red herring. Nothing more than a rejection of our responsibly to hold our policy making mechanisms and systems, and not just the results they produce, accountable. A false and reactionary cry of shock having just now lost the cover of civility maintained by no more than our convenient ignorance of the suffering caused by our policies elsewhere.

Moving into 2017, we will continue with our mission to provide varied opinions from writers around the world, presenting, and creating space for all sides of the political spectrum. We will double down and make sure that our pieces continue to be contextual, issue specific, and action oriented providing more than platitude and criticism, but actively seeking to present a better way, a path to political reformation for you to consider, but also to argue against.

To a prosperous and political 2017,

Jade and Gavin

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