Trump has dented the American Dream

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”115976″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Happy New Year – or is it Groundhog Day?

In England, we’ve entered our third Covid-19 lockdown. This week dozens of people have been arrested in Hong Kong for contravening the National Security Law and the news has been dominated by American politics. It could still be 2020…

Given the misery of the ongoing pandemic and the horrendous accounts of arrests and imprisonments around the world by repressive regimes, I’d really like to be writing something positive. About the hope that the election of the Reverend Raphael Warnock has inspired – the first black Senator for Georgia in history to be elected: the son of a cotton picker, a pastor who preaches from the same pulpit as Martin Luther King Jr, the man who officiated at John Lewis’ funeral last year.  About the bravery of individuals in Hong Kong as the police systematically seek to arrest people. About the strength of Loujain al-Hathloul’s family as they continue to speak out while she is sentenced.

But instead, the words and actions of one man and his followers have overshadowed that hope, strengthand bravery, even in the face of a global public health emergency which has now killed over 1.88 million people.

Since Joe Biden was declared the winner of last November’s US presidential election we’ve seen for the first time in living memory a losing politician in a western democracy fail to accept the result and undermine faith in the very institutions that they seek to govern.

As an observer, some of Trump’s protestations have been so ludicrous that we’ve been able to laugh. But while Trump and his allies have been a source of amusement, he clearly had a plan and his actions and those of his loyalists were designed to test the strength of the US constitution and the USA’s commitment to democratic values.

On Wednesday, we saw the impact of the rhetoric, of the lies, of the hate and fear. Not only did President Trump succeed in inciting violence in the US Capitol to try and intimidate legislators to unilaterally change the outcome of the election. His words led to bloodshed within a building that for many has been a global symbol of stable democracy.  His speeches inspired extremists to lay siege to the ‘People’s House’. His tweets directed the mob to target his political opponents, leaving five dead and countless others hurt and traumatised by this experience. It is no wonder that many social media platforms felt the need to suspend his accounts.

I strongly believe in the First Amendment, but no one has the right to incite violence and no one has the right to undermine the core democratic values that we all want to live by. Not even the President of the United States of America.

Our right to free speech is incredibly important, but there is a difference between free speech and incitement. Between free expression and outright lies. And those lines, while usually blurred, on this occasion are stark and people died because the President crossed them.

We have seen extraordinary journalism in the US over the last few days – highlighting the true value of a free press. And now, in the last days of the Trump presidency, much is being written about the impact on US democracy and the future of the Republican Party after its leader tried to lead what can only be considered an insurrection against the legislature.

But the real damage done this week wasn’t solely in America. Everybody looks for leadership, for inspiration, for security. Since the end of World War 2 the United States has been more than a superpower, more than a nation state, it has embodied a set of ideals for people who live under totalitarian regimes. It has been seen, rightly or not, as the epicentre of the Free World, the defender of democratic values and most importantly a beacon of hope for those that have none.

This has been undermined by Donald Trump’s leadership nearly every day since he took office four years ago. And this week the world witnessed him incite violence against his own politicians. He attacked the free media. He lied about free and fair elections in the US. He inspired an extremist militia to storm Congress and the Senate. And five people died. While the world watched.

Repressive regimes around the world have already and will continue to use these events to undermine the concept of America and American values in their own countries. The impact of 6 January will be deep and far reaching and people will suffer because of it.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have a huge amount of work to do to rebuild faith in the American dream – and not only in the USA. The world is watching.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”You may also want to read” category_id=”41669″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

2020: One for the history books

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”115942″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]2020 will undoubtedly be a year studied for generations, a year dominated by Covid-19.

A year in which 1.77 million people have died (as of this week) from a virus none of us had heard 12 months ago.

We have all lived in various stages of lockdown, some of our core human rights restricted, even in the most liberal of societies, in order to save lives.

A global recession, levels of government debt which have never been seen in peacetime in any nation.

Our lives lived more online than in the real world. If we’ve been lucky a year dominated by Netflix and boredom; if we weren’t so lucky a year dominated by the death of loved ones and the impact of long Covid.

Rather than being a year of hope this has been a year of fear. Fear of the unknown and of an illness, not an enemy.

Understandably little else has broken through the news agenda as we have followed every scientific briefing on the illness, its spread, the impact on our health services, the treatments, the vaccines, the new virus variants and the competence of our governments as they try to keep us safe.

But behind the headlines, there have been the stories of people’s actual lives. How Covid-19 changed them in every conceivable way. How some governments have used the pandemic as an opportunity to bring in new repressive measures to undermine the basic freedoms of their citizens. Of the closure of local newspapers – due to public health concerns as well as mass redundancies of journalists due to a sharp fall in revenue.

2020 wasn’t just about the pandemic though.

We saw worldwide protests as people responded under the universal banner of Black Lives Matter to the egregious murder of George Floyd.

In Hong Kong, the CCP enacted the National Security Law as a death knell to democracy and we saw protestors arrested and books removed from the public libraries – all under the guise of “security”.

The world witnessed more evidence of genocidal acts in Xinjiang province as the CCP Government continues to target the Muslim Uighur community.

In France, the world looked on in horror as Samuel Party was brutally murdered for teaching free speech to his students.

Genuine election fraud in Belarus led to mass protests, on many occasions led by women – as they sought free and fair elections rather than the sham they experienced this year.

In America, we lived and breathed the Presidential Election and witnessed the decisive victory of a new President – as Donald Trump continued to undermine the First Amendment, the free press and free and fair democracy.

In Thailand, we saw mass protests and the launch of the Milk Tea Alliance against the governments of Hong Kong, Thailand and Taiwan, seeking democracy in Southeast Asia.

In Egypt, the world witnessed the arrest of the staff of the EIPR for daring to brief international diplomats on the number of political prisoners currently held in Egyptian jails.

Ruhollah Zam was executed by his government for being a journalist and a human rights activist in Iran.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. From Kashmir to Tanzania to the Philippines we’ve heard report after report of horrendous attacks on our collective basic human rights. 72 years after United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights we still face daily breaches in every corner of the planet.

While Index cannot support every victim or target, we can highlight those who embody the current scale of the attacks on our basic right to free expression.

Nearly everybody has experienced some form of loneliness or isolation this year. But even so we cannot imagine what it must be like to be incarcerated by your government for daring to be different, for being brave enough to use your voice, for investigating the actions of ruling party or even for studying history.

So, as we come to the end of this fateful year I urge you to send a message to one of our free speech heroes:

  • Aasif Sultan, who was arrested in Kashmir after writing about the death of Buhran Waniand has been under illegal detention without charge for more than 800 days;
  • Golrokh Emrahimi Iraee, jailed for writing about the practice of stoning in Iran;
  • Hatice Duman, the former editor of the banned socialist newspaper Atılım, who has been in jail in Turkey since 2002;
  • Khaled Drareni, the founder of the Casbah Tribune, jailed in Algeria for two years in September for ‘incitement to unarmed gathering’ simply for covering the weekly Hirak protests calling for political reform in the country;
  • Loujain al-Hathloul, a women’s rights activist known for her attempts to raise awareness of the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia;
  • Yuri Dmitriev, a historian being silenced by Putin in Russia for creating a memorial to the victims of Stalinist terror and facing fabricated sexual assault charges.

Visit to leave them a message.

Happy Christmas to you and yours and here’s to a more positive 2021.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”You may also want to read” category_id=”41669″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Index launches weekly What the Fuck!? podcast with Alison Jackson

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”115539″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship’s What the Fuck!? podcast invites politicians, activists and celebrities to talk about the worst things going on in the world, why you should care and why you should swear.

In each episode, a guest – a free speech activist, a journalist, a celebrity or someone in the news – will tell listeners what is making them angry in the world and the words they say when they do. 

Guests on the What the Fuck!? podcast will come from across the full range of opinion on the key issues shaping the modern world.

Each guest will be invited to talk about the work they are currently doing or admire relating to artistic, academic or media freedom.

The podcast ends with our guests telling us their favourite sweary expression and why it makes them feel the way it does.

In this launch episode, Index’s associate editor Mark Frary talks to photographer and artist Alison Jackson, who is renowned for her explorations into how photography and the cult of the celebrity have transformed our relationship to what is ‘real’.

She talks about her latest work, a sculpture of President Donald Trump in a compromising position with Miss Universe, the US elections and why the President needs the oxygen of publicity.  She discusses the very real challenges of artistic censorship and how she challenged this by driving her Trump sculpture around the streets of New York, bringing the streets of Manhattan to a standstill.



“Elections give the US moral authority to challenge authoritarian regimes”

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”115489″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]As I type we are still awaiting the final vote tallies for the US elections and while it looks like we will have a new president inaugurated in January, we’re still awaiting confirmation.

I am a politics addict. I love elections. I love campaigning. But most of all I love the fact that elections are a demonstration of public will. In a democracy, every person’s voice is heard and carries the same weight – at least that’s the plan. It is, and should be, one of the purest forms of an individual’s freedom of expression. This is an opportunity for our voices to be heard, to endorse or to challenge the status quo. It is our time to send a message about what type of society we want to live in and who embodies that desire. This is the fabric of our democracy and is at the heart of who we are.

Elections also send a message to the world about the resilience of a nation state’s democratic processes. Which is why events in the USA this week have been such a concern. In the middle of a global pandemic it should be no surprise to anyone that the results were going to take a while. Given the fractious nature of US politics over the last four years we also shouldn’t be surprised at the political rhetoric, centred on the concept of election stealing, emerging from the White House. But the cynical undermining of the core premise of free and fair elections is so dangerous and not just because of the impact that it will have on US society.

US elections set a bar for emergent democracies around the world. They give the USA the moral authority to challenge authoritarian and repressive regimes. They also, vitally, inspire hope in people around the world who seek to have their own voices heard.

Which is why it is so concerning to not only be watching events unfold but to have read the OSCE’s independent assessment of the election. While praising the organisational competence of the election officials they stated that: “Nobody – no politician, no elected official – should limit the people’s right to vote. Coming after such a highly dynamic campaign, making sure that every vote is counted is a fundamental obligation for all branches of government. Baseless allegations of systematic deficiencies, notably by the incumbent president, including on election night, harm public trust in democratic institutions.”

These comments alone give succour to dictators around the world. What criticism can the US state department level at national leaders who seek to undermine their own democratic processes if the US president has questioned the validity of his own democracy?

The imminent result is therefore not just incredibly important for Americans, but vital for the rest of the world. Which is why I keep refreshing the vote count in Philadelphia County…[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”You might also like to read” category_id=”41669″][/vc_column][/vc_row]