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Tuesday 11 Dec 2018 | 17:24 | SYDNEY
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Weekend catch-up: #knightmare, social media, 'La Haine', Greek elections and more



31 January 2015 08:00

Bringing together the best Interpreter articles you were too busy to read this week.

The Interpreter published several pieces this week on the international dimensions surrounding the controversy over Prime Minister Tony Abbott's decision to bestow a knighthood on Prince Philip, in what is being called the #knightmare. The decision prompted multiple reactions, some favorable, others not. But really the heart of  the issue is part of a much larger debate The Interpreter has tackled before: What kind of nation does Australia want to be?

First, historian James Curran on a similar controversy during the Menzies era:

To be sure, the Menzies Government's 'royal' decree was the outcome of months of deliberation and community consultation.  Treasurer Harold Holt had personally headed the special Cabinet Committee assigned the task of naming the new currency, a position that enabled him to quickly put aside tongue in cheek suggestions such as the 'coo-ee', the 'sheepsback', the 'bonzer' and even – wait for it – the 'bobmenz'. One more serious candidate, 'austral', was disqualified due to the unfortunate but inevitable slurring that would be produced by multiples ending in the letter 'n' – thus 'fourteen Australs' spoken quickly risked becoming 'forty nostrils'.

But the choice of the 'royal' (over the other shortlisted candidate, the 'regal') was at Prime Minister Menzies' personal behest.

Journalist Nick Bryant argued that the incident would hurt Australia's global reputation:

The re-introduction of a heraldic honours system that many Australians viewed as a museum piece was met last year with incredulity. His choice of the Duke of Edinburgh, ahead of thousands of deserving Australian women and men, has unleashed even more mockery. It was a 'captain’s call', said Mr Abbott, and arguably the worst since Greg Chappell asked his brother Trevor to bowl underarm to New Zealand's Brian McKechnie. That damaged Australia's international sporting standing. The surprise knighthood could have the same effect on the country's international reputation, especially in the region.

Sam Roggeveen did not agree:

So no, Tony Abbott's 'knightmare' is not a story about Australia's reputation abroad. But, as both Nick and James Curran have argued on The Interpreter, our constitutional arrangements and our attitude to the monarchy do say something about how the nation faces the world. Australia's gradual and halting move toward establishing a republic will, when it happens, reinforce the sense that Australia has evolved into a nation not just in Asia but of Asia.

Prime Minister Abbott, while defending his decision, also made some comments on the use of social media. Danielle Cave wrote a rebuke:

The Prime Minister's antiquated remarks about #electronicgraffiti could worryingly be read to reflect a lack of understanding of both the role of social media and how widely used it is around the world, including by his own government. Social media is no longer just the purview of angsty teenagers and online gamers. It is used globally to foster development and to help shape social and political change.

The Sydney siege and the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices have also stirred the old debate on the balance between security and liberty in Western societies. Anthony Bubalo would like to see a more rounded debate:

I would like to see a debate in which the proponents of liberty acknowledge the threat, understand that it provokes genuine fear in much of our society (even if more people die falling off ladders or in car accidents) and then ask themselves which of our liberties we should compromise for the sake of security. As the Charlie Hebdo case underlined, we don't even seem to be clear about the liberties we are defending.

I would like to see a debate where the proponents of security recognise that the threat to our societies comes not just from terrorism but from the way in which we fight terrorism, and that we should be prepared to accept certain levels of risks for the sake of preserving our rights and principles.

Nicole George wrote an insightful piece on the French film La Haine and it's relevance to present-day France and the Charlie Hebdo attacks:

My contention here is that this attack has its origins in the experience of marginalisation and inequality that is the lot of French immigrants and their descendants.

We too easily efface those motivations if we understand it only as an expression of Islamic radicalisation. Likewise, well-meaning slogans about the benefits of unity in the aftermath of this violence will do little to heal the wounds borne by the generations of citizens who became French as result of their forefathers' migration but live in circumstances characterised by profound exclusion.

This week also the saw the victory of the radical-left political party Syriza in Greece's national elections, with promises to renegotiate the country's debt and cut back on austerity measures. Leon Berkelmans on what this could mean for Europe's economy:

The problem with Greece, as it has always been, is contagion. If, due to problems in Greece, investors start to question the sustainability of the debt burdens of Europe's giants, we could be in trouble. This self-fulfilling questioning happened in 2011 and 2012. At that time, interest rates on Spanish and Italian debt rose. A debt burden that was sustainable at 4% interest was no longer sustainable at 7%.  Everything changed when Mario Draghi said the ECB would do 'whatever it takes' to save the eurozone. For this, and other reasons, the situation now appears different to 2012. Financial markets outside of Greece have not reacted too adversely to the election result...yet.

Malcolm Cook wrote on the death of 44 police in the Philippines last week, and the consequences for the peace process in the Mindanao region:

Both the MILF and the Aquino Administration have called for the peace process to continue unimpeded despite this apparent massacre, which stands out even by the violent standards of Mindanao. Many opponents to the peace deal in Manila and in Mindanao will disagree.

The decades-long search for peace in Muslim Mindanao has seen many false dawns and the recurrence of low-intensity war. While the 25 January clash may not, by itself, spoil the latest and most comprehensive peace deal, it will not be easily overcome. The delays to the peace process will put the search for peace at risk yet again. 

President Obama has concluded his much-anticipated trip to India. Ian Hall on why it should be seen as a disappointment:

In fact, what was really significant about the joint statement was what it left out. There was no mention of climate change or the upcoming Paris summit, despite Obama urging India to acknowledge what the US sees as India's obligation to accept binding limits on its carbon emissions. This particular failure to cut a deal, or even agree to a sentence on the issue in the joint statement, is telling, as the more perceptive media outlets recognised. It speaks to a continued inability on Washington's part to get India to be the kind of stakeholder in the liberal democratic international order the US has long hoped it would become.

Milton Osborne wrote on the damming of the Mekong river and warned of the unrecoverable damage that is being done:

It is hard to overstate the likely damage being done to the Mekong. The overwhelming weight of scientific opinion argues that the long-term effects of the Chinese dams will be negative for the countries downstream of China, though it may be decades before their full effects are obvious. With the dams Laos is planning and those which China is already constructing, the damage could be more immediate. More than 60 million people live in the Lower Mekong Basin below China and they are heavily dependent on the river for food and agriculture. One striking figure makes the point: almost 80% of the Cambodian population's annual protein intake comes from fish caught in the Mekong and its tributaries. Just as importantly Vietnam's Mekong delta region relies heavily on the Mekong for its agricultural production.

Lastly, Lauren Williams wrote an interesting and informative piece on the governance style of the often overlooked Nusra Front:

The prospect of Nusra replacing ISIS as the only viable alternative with administrative capacity over large swaths of Syrian territory presents a policy nightmare for the US. While the group may appear more moderate, al Qaeda is al Qaeda. Nusra may have taken the strategic decision to limit its policy of expansion now, but the time will come when the establishment of the caliphate is prioritised, and it will not adhere to the democratic and pluralistic Syria the US hopes for.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Tony Abbott.

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