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Sam Hawke

By Sam Hawke

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Today, Richard Wagner turns 200 (although, notably, he’s been dead for over 130 years). On any reasonable view, Wagner was one of the greatest geniuses who ever lived. His operas are some of the most moving, absorbing, and rewarding of any artistic works. Whilst, as the philosopher Bernard Williams wrote, he was not “necessary” for the development of Western music in the manner, say, of Mozart, it’s very difficult to conceive of what much 19th and 20th century music – even art in general – would have been without him.

But, as Magee notes, “people quite often describe themselves as feeling guilty about enjoying Wagner.” His appropriation by the Nazi regime (both historical and perceived) and his revolting, truly shocking anti-semitism – in particular with his notorious and influential essay, ‘Jewishness in Music’ – have made many feel that their enjoyment of Wagner is subject to caveat. He has retained the status of a ‘controversial’ composer, whose position in the Western canon, not to mention German history, appears subject to continual ‘reassessment’.

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By Sam Hawke

Today, Kenya has gone to the polls for the 19th time in its 50-year history. Of course, it will be electing only its 4th President. That’s not to say that Kenya’s history – and its complex relationship to democratic politics – can be glibly summarised by reference to that unfortunate fact. However, violent conflict and authoritarianism remain some of the dominant forces within its political life, as the 2007/08 elections so strongly evidenced. The question with which Kenyans are faced, of course, is whether this year will further prove this terrible rule, or be its exception.

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By Sam Hawke

The crisis between Iran, the US, and Israel has been long boiling. With the impending Presidential elections of the world’s lone superpower – one whose involvement in the Middle East has been longstanding and massive – we may wonder where we’re currently headed. The final round of Presidential debates demonstrated, once more, the US’s naked bellicosity: as a vote-winning strategy, it’s a stance to which each candidate seeks to outdo the other. Predictably a major topic in Monday’s debate, Iran was presented by both candidates as a ‘major threat’ to US interests in the region. Neither questioned their own country’s right to reshape the region to further those interests, and to do whatever is necessary to stop a nuclear Iran.

Hopefully, we approach the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis with a deeper and renewed sense of the need for two things: the end of nuclear proliferation, and a cautious, considered, diplomatic strategy to achieve that goal. In reality, we have neither. Instead, we have a variety of nuclear-armed states keen to maintain their dominance by military and economic aggression. This is an appalling, hypocritical approach to ensuring the world’s safety from nuclear threat, and one that will anyway fail to achieve its goals.

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By Sam Hawke

Thousands are killed each year as they attempt to reach the shores of the European Union, amidst a forced migration crisis suffered by the global poor and tragically exacerbated by last years’ uprisings across the Arab world. This comes as the EU increasingly militarises its borders and spreads the reach of its enforcement system wider and deeper. But has the EU any right to defend its frontiers against those who demand a share of its privilege?

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By Sam Hawke

It’s been now a week since the most shocking police killings of the post-apartheid era were inflicted on South Africa. But it’s not only time that provides greater perspective on the issues. The massacre must be seen in its proper context. By no means limited to a tale of inter-union war and police brutality, we must open our eyes to corporate human rights and environmental abuse, alongside growing worldwide opposition to the atrocities of the mining industry.

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By Sam Hawke

On Monday 16th July, the next stage of the case Mutua and others v The Foreign and Commonwealth Office began at the Royal Courts of Justice. As very many will know, it is being brought by former victims of torture by the colonial government in Kenya during the period of the ‘Emergency’ of the 1950s. Concentration camps, extrajudicial detention and murder, and systematic torture and rape were employed against the local population in suppressing the liberationist group known as the Mau Mau. The four claimants suffered horrific torture and abuse by the white-ruled, white-supremacist Colonial authorities, ranging from sexual torture to prolonged arbitrary detention and slave labour. Paulo Nzili suffered castration, Wambugu Nyigi was left for dead amongst the bodies in the Hola massacre (where 11 Kenyans were bludgeoned to death after refusing to continue their forced labour), and Jane Muthoni suffered almost unspeakable sexual torture. The case has been brought in part as a result of a wave of historical re-examination of the period, made possible by the end of legal prohibitions on discussion of the Mau Mau in Kenya and the survivors bravely stepping forward to make their case.

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By Sam Hawke

In October 2011, the animal rights organisation People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals (PETA) filed a constitutional lawsuit alleging that the marine entertainment chain Seaworld was violating the Thirteenth Amendment of the US Bill of Rights, the right against slavery and involuntary servitude. The enslaved individuals were five orcas, Tilikum, Katina, Corky, Kasatka and Ulises, bound, like so many others, to a life of performance and spectacle in a marine prison. The case was decided on the 9th February this year, with the District Judge holding that the Thirteenth Amendment applied solely to humans and that the claimants lacked legal standing anyhow.

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Sam Bright – for

The policy of using unmanned drones to target terrorists and insurgents was pioneered by President George W Bush’s administration in the years following 9/11, and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. President Obama has since adopted and significantly extended this policy, in what to many is the most controversial and damnable decision of his presidency.

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by Sam Hawke

With the language of civil war now commonplace, the humanitarian crisis in Syria continues to tear its people apart. Tens of thousands have been killed, many thousands more face the threat of continued suffering and death. Much of the world has reacted as any sane, morally aware person would: with the utmost horror and anger. People have a right to life, which at the bare minimum lays down prohibitions on serious harms and threats to life, and grounds (to some extent) a derivative right to self-defence against such threats.

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