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Why Brexit happened — and what to do next

Leave vote regions Brexit: Regions I barely visited in my life

The regions most tolerant of immigrants have the highest numbers of immigrants.

We are embarrassingly unaware of how divided our societies are, and Brexit grew out of a deep, unexamined divide between those that fear globalization and those that embrace it, says social scientist Alexander Betts. How do we now address that fear as well as growing disillusionment with the political establishment, while refusing to give in to xenophobia and nationalism?

Join Betts as he discusses four post-Brexit steps toward a more inclusive world.

Alexander Betts. Social scientist. Alexander Betts explores ways societies might empower refugees rather than pushing them to the margins. Full bio

Filmed June 2016

I am British. Never before has the phrase “I am British” elicited so much pity.

0:23 (Laughter)

I come from an island where many of us like to believe there’s been a lot of continuity over the last thousand years. We tend to have historically imposed change on others but done much less of it ourselves.

 it came as an immense shock to me when I woke up on the morning of June 24 to discover that my country had voted to leave the European Union, my Prime Minister had resigned, and Scotland was considering a referendum that could bring to an end the very existence of the United Kingdom.

that was an immense shock for me, and it was an immense shock for many people, but it was also something that, over the following several days, created a complete political meltdown in my country.

There were calls for a second referendum, almost as if, following a sports match, we could ask the opposition for a replay. Everybody was blaming everybody else.

People blamed the Prime Minister for calling the referendum in the first place. They blamed the leader of the opposition for not fighting it hard enough. The young accused the old. The educated blamed the less well-educated.

That complete meltdown was made even worse by the most tragic element of it: levels of xenophobia and racist abuse in the streets of Britain at a level that I have never seen before in my lifetime. People are now talking about whether my country is becoming a Little England, or, as one of my colleagues put it, whether we’re about to become a 1950s nostalgia theme park floating in the Atlantic Ocean.

2:01 (Laughter)

2:04 But my question is really, should we have the degree of shock that we’ve experienced since? Was it something that took place overnight? Or are there deeper structural factors that have led us to where we are today?

I want to take a step back and ask two very basic questions.

First, what does Brexit represent, not just for my country, but for all of us around the world? And

second, what can we do about it? How should we all respond?

what does Brexit represent? Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Brexit teaches us many things about our society and about societies around the world. It highlights in ways that we seem embarrassingly unaware of how divided our societies are.

The vote split along lines of age, education, class and geography.

Young people didn’t turn out to vote in great numbers, but those that did wanted to remain.

Older people really wanted to leave the European Union.

Geographically, it was London and Scotland that most strongly committed to being part of the European Union, while in other parts of the country there was very strong ambivalence.

Those divisions are things we really need to recognize and take seriously. But more profoundly, the vote teaches us something about the nature of politics today.

Contemporary politics is no longer just about right and left. It’s no longer just about tax and spend. It’s about globalization. The fault line of contemporary politics is between those that embrace globalization and those that fear globalization.

Patsy Z and TEDxSKE shared a link.
ted.com|By Alexander Betts

If we look at why those who wanted to leave — we call them “Leavers,” as opposed to “Remainers” — we see two factors in the opinion polls that really mattered.

The first was immigration, and the second sovereignty, and these represent a desire for people to take back control of their own lives and the feeling that they are unrepresented by politicians.

But those ideas are ones that signify fear and alienation. They represent a retreat back towards nationalism and borders in ways that many of us would reject.

What I want to suggest is the picture is more complicated than that, that liberal internationalists, like myself, and I firmly include myself in that picture, need to write ourselves back into the picture in order to understand how we’ve got to where we are today.

When we look at the voting patterns across the United Kingdom, we can visibly see the divisions. The blue areas show Remain and the red areas Leave. When I looked at this, what personally struck me was the very little time in my life I’ve actually spent in many of the red areas.

I suddenly realized that, looking at the top 50 areas in the UK that have the strongest Leave vote, I’ve spent a combined total of four days of my life in those areas. In some of those places, I didn’t even know the names of the voting districts. It was a real shock to me, and it suggested that people like me who think of ourselves as inclusive, open and tolerant, perhaps don’t know our own countries and societies nearly as well as we like to believe.

5:37 (Applause)

And the challenge that comes from that is we need to find a new way to narrate globalization to those people, to recognize that for those people who have not necessarily been to university, who haven’t necessarily grown up with the Internet, that don’t get opportunities to travel, they may be unpersuaded by the narrative that we find persuasive in our often liberal bubbles.  

t means that we need to reach out more broadly and understand. In the Leave vote, a minority have peddled the politics of fear and hatred, creating lies and mistrust around, for instance, the idea that the vote on Europe could reduce the number of refugees and asylum-seekers coming to Europe, when the vote on leaving had nothing to do with immigration from outside the European Union.

But for a significant majority of the Leave voters the concern was disillusionment with the political establishment. This was a protest vote for many, a sense that nobody represented them, that they couldn’t find a political party that spoke for them, and so they rejected that political establishment.

This replicates around Europe and much of the liberal democratic world.

We see it with the rise in popularity of Donald Trump in the United States, with the growing nationalism of Viktor Orbán in Hungary, with the increase in popularity of Marine Le Pen in France. The specter of Brexit is in all of our societies.

the question I think we need to ask is my second question, which is how should we collectively respond?

For all of us who care about creating liberal, open, tolerant societies, we urgently need a new vision, a vision of a more tolerant, inclusive globalization, one that brings people with us rather than leaving them behind.

That vision of globalization is one that has to start by a recognition of the positive benefits of globalization. The consensus amongst economists is that free trade, the movement of capital, the movement of people across borders benefit everyone on aggregate.

The consensus amongst international relations scholars is that globalization brings interdependence, which brings cooperation and peace.

But globalization also has redistributive effects. It creates winners and losers.

To take the example of migration, we know that immigration is a net positive for the economy as a whole under almost all circumstances. But we also have to be very aware that there are redistributive consequences, that importantly, low-skilled immigration can lead to a reduction in wages for the most impoverished in our societies and also put pressure on house prices.

That doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s positive, but it means more people have to share in those benefits and recognize them.

In 2002, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, gave a speech at Yale University, and that speech was on the topic of inclusive globalization. That was the speech in which he coined that term. And he said, and I paraphrase, The glass house of globalization has to be open to all if it is to remain secure. Bigotry and ignorance are the ugly face of exclusionary and antagonistic globalization.”

That idea of inclusive globalization was briefly revived in 2008 in a conference on progressive governance involving many of the leaders of European countries.

But amid austerity and the financial crisis of 2008, the concept disappeared almost without a trace. Globalization has been taken to support a neoliberal agenda. It’s perceived to be part of an elite agenda rather than something that benefits all. And it needs to be reclaimed on a far more inclusive basis than it is today.

So the question is, how can we achieve that goal? How can we balance on the one hand addressing fear and alienation while on the other hand refusing vehemently to give in to xenophobia and nationalism?

That is the question for all of us. And I think, as a social scientist, that social science offers some places to start. Our transformation has to be about both ideas and about material change, and I want to give you four ideas as a starting point.

The first relates to the idea of civic education. What stands out from Brexit is the gap between public perception and empirical reality. It’s been suggested that we’ve moved to a post-factual society, where evidence and truth no longer matter, and lies have equal status to the clarity of evidence.

How can we rebuild respect for truth and evidence into our liberal democracies? It has to begin with education, but it has to start with the recognition that there are huge gaps.

 In 2014, the pollster Ipsos MORI published a survey on attitudes to immigration, and it showed that as numbers of immigrants increase, so public concern with immigration also increases, although it obviously didn’t unpack causality, because this could equally be to do not so much with numbers but the political and media narrative around it.

But the same survey also revealed huge public misinformation and misunderstanding about the nature of immigration. For example, in these attitudes in the United Kingdom, the public believed that levels of asylum were a greater proportion of immigration than they were, but they also believed the levels of educational migration were far lower as a proportion of overall migration than they actually are.

So we have to address this misinformation, the gap between perception and reality on key aspects of globalization. And that can’t just be something that’s left to our schools, although that’s important to begin at an early age. It has to be about lifelong civic participation and public engagement that we all encourage as societies.

The second thing that I think is an opportunity is the idea to encourage more interaction across diverse communities.  

One of the things that stands out for me very strikingly, looking at immigration attitudes in the United Kingdom, is that ironically, the regions of my country that are the most tolerant of immigrants have the highest numbers of immigrants.

So for instance, London and the Southeast have the highest numbers of immigrants, and they are also by far the most tolerant areas. It’s those areas of the country that have the lowest levels of immigration that actually are the most exclusionary and intolerant towards migrants.

So we need to encourage exchange programs. We need to ensure that older generations who maybe can’t travel get access to the Internet. We need to encourage, even on a local and national level, more movement, more participation, more interaction with people who we don’t know and whose views we might not necessarily agree with.

The third thing that I think is crucial, though, and this is really fundamental, is we have to ensure that everybody shares in the benefits of globalization.

This illustration from the Financial Times post-Brexit is really striking. It shows tragically that those people who voted to leave the European Union were those who actually benefited the most materially from trade with the European Union.

But the problem is that those people in those areas didn’t perceive themselves to be beneficiaries. They didn’t believe that they were actually getting access to material benefits of increased trade and increased mobility around the world.

I work on questions predominantly to do with refugees, and one of the ideas I spent a lot of my time preaching, mainly to developing countries around the world, is that in order to encourage the integration of refugees, we can’t just benefit the refugee populations, we also have to address the concerns of the host communities in local areas.

But in looking at that, one of the policy prescriptions is that we have to provide disproportionately better education facilities, health facilities, access to social services in those regions of high immigration to address the concerns of those local populations. But while we encourage that around the developing world, we don’t take those lessons home and incorporate them in our own societies.

if we’re going to really take seriously the need to ensure people share in the economic benefits, our businesses and corporations need a model of globalization that recognizes that they, too, have to take people with them.

The fourth and final idea I want to put forward is an idea that we need more responsible politics. There’s very little social science evidence that compares attitudes on globalization. But from the surveys that do exist, what we can see is there’s huge variation across different countries and time periods in those countries for attitudes and tolerance of questions like migration and mobility on the one hand and free trade on the other.

But one hypothesis that I think emerges from a cursory look at that data is the idea that polarized societies are far less tolerant of globalization.

It’s the societies like Sweden in the past, like Canada today, where there is a centrist politics, where right and left work together, that we encourage supportive attitudes towards globalization.

And what we see around the world today is a tragic polarization, a failure to have dialogue between the extremes in politics, and a gap in terms of that liberal center ground that can encourage communication and a shared understanding. We might not achieve that today, but at the very least we have to call upon our politicians and our media to drop a language of fear and be far more tolerant of one another.

 These ideas are very tentative, and that’s in part because this needs to be an inclusive and shared project.

16:37 I am still British. I am still European. I am still a global citizen.

For those of us who believe that our identities are not mutually exclusive, we have to all work together to ensure that globalization takes everyone with us and doesn’t leave people behind. Only then will we truly reconcile democracy and globalization.

“The Apocalypse” by Oriana Fallaci (November 8, 2007)

“Entretien avec moi-meme” and “L’Apocalypse” 

Oriana Fallaci was born in 1929 in Florence and died of cancer, maybe of the esophagus in 2006, as her mother, father, and another sister died.  She was a journalist and covered many wars in Vietnam and the Middle East and managed to interview Khomeini for 6 hours and turned to a writer.

Of her publications we can list: “La force de la raison”, “La rage et l’orgueil”, “Un homme”, “Inchallah”, “Lettre a un enfant jamais ne”, “Entretiens avec l’Histoire”, and “La vie, la guerre et puis rien”.

Fallaci had a refuge in Manhattan for 10 years and stopped publishing anything and was treating her cancer when the Twin Towers were taken down by Al Qaeda high jacked airplanes.

She remembered seeing Ben Laden in the 1980s in Beirut when the Israeli war planes imploded a high rise to the ground and conjectured that the way the towers went down was an exact revenge of Ben Laden two decades later.

The attacks on the Twin Towers forced Fallaci to feverishly go back to write about current dangerous phenomena and stored her 800-pages novel in the drawer waiting for an opportune time to work on her “baby” but never got around to finish and publish it.

She wrote in “Rage and Pride” that there come times in life where keeping silent is a fault and speaking out an obligation, a civil duty, a moral defiance, a categorical imperative we cannot escape from.

She felt it impossible to stay quiet and apathetic and thus, facing the enormity of the danger she was forced to resume writing.  She wrote a long article in 3 weeks and lived on coffee and cigarettes and her crying was dry because of a congenital nervous case that occurred to her in 1943 when she was about 14 years old; the allies were bombing Florence and she got scared and started to cry and her dad slapped her hard saying: “young girls do not cry” (go figure, her scared dad reacted nervously and uttered a stupid sentence).

Fallaci fell in love once in her life with the Greek activist Alekos Panagulis who was assassinated at the age of 38 and she wrote a book about Panagulis titled “A man“.

Alekos suffered 5 years of prison in seclusion and when he was freed he cried in front of the Parthenon and repeated “Bitch of democracy, but it is democracy after all”.

Fallaci doesn’t see any other alternative political system but democracy, though it has many flaws and is unable to bring stability quickly when major upheavals strike a nation.

She never returned to Greece because the authorities removed the expensive wedding ring that she inserted in the finger of the deceased when they exhumed the body. She kept raging against the “falaka” such as hitting the sole of the feet that she says the Greek police have inherited from 4 centuries of Ottoman hegemony in Greece.

Oriana dedicated her introduction to the memories of the many foreigners who were kidnapped and slaughtered by the Moslem fanatics in Iraq and Afghanistan and to the victims in the school of Beslan by the Chechen and to the Danish Theo Van Gogh the director of a short movie on the status of women in the Moslem World.

Her previous volume “The Force of Reason” was in memories of the Madrid train victims.

She unfurled a huge Italian flag over her window to remind the Italian to be proud of their country instead of the rainbow flag of the European Union, along with two tiny US flags to thank America for deposing Saddam Hussein and fighting “Islam terrorism” and for saving Europe during the two World Wars.

Oriana was furious when her physician suggested not to mention explicitly to others that she is suffering from cancer. Most people who died of cancer were referred to as dying from incurable disease.  She didn’t think that people would shun her, since cancer is not contagious and not the results of sinful activities, but people were scared to approach cancer afflicted victims.

The atrocities committed by the US forces at Abou Ghraib prison in Iraq was frustrating and she felt betrayed, offended and lied to because Western civilization cannot swallow acts of brutalities against helpless and chained prisoners; she took comfort that the perpetrators were legally judged, convicted and imprisoned.

Fallaci is bitter and angry that the European and Italian leaders, leftist and green parties are pacifying with the Moslems immigrants and being too tolerant to the Islamic laws of living that she labeled Europe “Eurabia” because it is falling under the Arabic Islamic hegemony and Nazi Islamism.

She calls the communists in Italy the caviar left and that the left and right parties the two faces of the same coin as two soccer teams running hard to grab the ball of Power and they are homogenous; the only dirty and backward right that still exists is Islam and those sons of Allah.

She fumes that the crucifix is taken off the school rooms and Christmas crib is no longer installed in, so that not to offend the Moslems. Oriana wonders: “Who is supposed to get integrated, us or them?”

She resent the new laws that allow immigrants to vote which will alter the way the European and Italian live.

Democracy is based on the two concepts of equality and liberty and Oriana believes that people likes equality and are ready to give up on some of their liberty. Equality is understood to be legal equality under the law of the land, but it does not transfer to moral and mental equality, and equality in value and merit. Individuality and competition are what make live worth living and fighting for.

Fallaci rages against the Italian Communist party that infiltrated every municipality and the court rooms and is over lording its monolithic dogma and cultural hegemony as filtered to them by former Communist Russia. The communists have appropriated the Italian resistance to Nazi Germany although they didn’t react until the American forces were chasing out the occupying forces; worst, they intimidated and killed many Italian national resistance fighters such as Justice and Action party of which Oriana was member when an adolescent.

She lambasted Sigrid Hunke who wrote “The sun of Allah shines over the West” and her activism at smuggling African immigrants s to Italy. The support that Hunke accords to the enemy of Fallaci’s culture and Christian civilization exacerbates her failing health.

Although Fallaci is atheist she would like to believe that Europe is a Christian culture and was upset when the European Constitution refused to state that the religion of Europe is Christianity. 

She certainly is furious at the Italian successive government acting more royal than France and Germany in matters of the European Union laws and legislations that are emptying the national character and specific culture of Italy.

She admits that she is a manichist, a cult that Mani spread in the 3rd century in Iran and reached Europe; in that the concepts of Bad and Good are totally separate entities and no shades should alter the process of distinguishing between them and taking firm stands.

Half of the interview with herself is antagonizing most of the Italian leaders and political parties for homogenizing their doctrines and not exhibiting any serious differences in politics and thus, rendering the democratic process void of any meaning.

Fallaci pinched Berlusconi ears in her two previous books but she claimed that she will not become another Maramaldo who killed an already dying man Francesco Ferruchi in Florence in 1530.

Berlusconi did not have much education and he could not believe that the Italians elected him Prime Minister, though he is a very intelligent man in business and one of the richest according to Forbes.  Even his numerous mass media television channels were not sucking up to him because he was too proud and over confident to attract the right counselors but opted to be surrounded by “yes men”. His worst enemies are of his own coalition and they have been blackmailing him all the time in order for him to remain in power.

Fallaci does not like Bush and she thinks that he lacks education and is antipathetic but much better than the insipid Al Gore. Bush is a leader because he can take stands and stick by his decision and, mostly, because he has moral and would not humiliate his wife with extra marital activities like Clinton.

Bush is not two faced and unreliable like Kerry who flaunts his 3 purple hearts that he got from fighting in Vietnam and yet condemn wars without relinquishing his war medals.

Oriana really dig Bush’s wife Laura because she resemble exactly to Fallaci’s mother in looks and in manners.  Oriana is starting to like Hilary Clinton after she learned that Hillary loved her book “Rage and Pride” and does not stop commending it to her acquaintances to read but she didn’t considers Hillary sympathetic before.

Fallaci considers that there are only 3 leaders in the second half of the 20th century who are Wojtyla (the previous Pope), Khomeini, and Ben Laden (the Napoleon of Islam and the prophet of darkness).

Ben laden does not need to harangue the masses but can make others execute his orders from a distance and she would gladly interview him, even though she had swore never to interview anyone anymore.  She would dwell on Ben Laden childhood and upbringing because she does not think that religion was the main factors to his megalomania.

Ben Laden was normal adolescent, frequenting bars, drinking whisky and dating girls in abundance and bought his wardrobe from Bond Street.  She strongly believes that Ben Laden anger at the Saudi Royal family was a result of them kicking him out of the palace once King Faysal was assassinated.  Ben Laden’s father was the closest counselor to Faysal and the (Saudi Wahabi caste) disliked this infringement to the rules.

Oriana appreciates the contribution of Wojtyla for the crumbling of the Soviet Union and for continuing to write at the age of 84 and for keeping up with his heavy travel schedule.  She blames the Pope for doing a lot of harm for Christianity and the West because he pacified with the Moslems.

Fallaci condemned the war on Iraq and worried that the end result would be establishment of an Islamic Republic of mullah and imams; but she supported Bush once it started.  Unfortunately, terrorism has increased and deaths are accumulating for an obscure result because democracy has to be won the people, and to be won it has to be wanted, and to be wanted people has to know what it is.  Thus, since the Iraqi people do not know what democracy is then they certainly do not want it.

The Iraqis as Muslims deeply believe that destiny is not in their hands but coming from Allah. Even the educated people in Iraq proclaim that they want democracy “Islam style”.

The UN is an impotent organization ruled by many members of Islamic states and so far the Janjaweed, the pro-ultra-Moslems of the Sudan government have killed 50,000 Christian blacks and almost one million displaced to camps in Tchad, and in Kalma; the Sudan has a flourishing slave trade of girls raffled during the Janjaweed’s forays.

The Americans are providing the humanitarian food and the EU refuses to call what is happening as genocide and prefers to label it a complex civil war situation.  Kofi Annan is not sympathetic to her and is two faced and that is why Blair didn’t trust him and had his phone calls intercepted.  She is obfuscated that the UN declared the wall that Sharon built on Palestinian lands as illegal; though she would urge Sharon to erase the sections of walls in Palestinian lands proper and reimburse for the damage to the private Palestinian properties.

Her logic considers that anti-Americanism feelings is attached to anti-West behavior which is synonymous to pro-Islamism and thus anti-Semitism.

Fallaci loathes Arafat like the plague and describes as a despot and totally corrupted who amassed over $200 millions and used to send his wife in Paris $12,000 a day for her expenses.  Arafat was able to control the other Palestinian factions because he held the string to the purse.  Fidel Castro has $150 millions according to Forbes.

As for the state of affairs with the adolescents in Italy Fallaci likes to refers to Plato in a section of his 8th volume of “The Republic“:

When a people, thirsty for liberty, find “echansons” that deliver whatever he wishes, to the point of drunkenness, it happens to calling despots the governments that are eager to satisfying these exigencies of citizens ever more exigent. A disciplined individual is then decried as void of characters and servile. The scared father end up treating his offspring as equals and lose respect; the teacher refrains from reprimanding the students when they mock him; youth claims the same rights as the old and the latter submit to these claims in order not show severity.  Under such a climate of liberty and in its name there vanish respect and consideration for anybody.  Within the womb of this kind of license germs and develop a bad grass: Tyranny”

Fallaci tried to glorify her old age because it is at this age that liberty might be attained; a privilege that younger people are striving all their life to grasp it.  At old age fear from judgments stops conditioning our behavior and we are no longer scared of the future because it is here already.  At old age useless desires, superfluous ambitions, and senseless chimeras are out the window. At old age we are the wiser because we comprehend much better what were obscure through accumulated experience, information and reflection.  She said that she frequented death several times in her career that she has no fear at the idea of dying.

Oriana recalls asking the Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie: “Have you any fear of death?” and the Emperor started screaming “What death?” and he chased her out to the park where a huge lion was eating beef steaks.  Though, as Anna Magnani said: “It is not fair to have to die since we were born anyway“.

Being able to survive so many years is the real miracle and the best gift of reaching old age.  Anyway, if there was no death then the word life would have no meaning.

The vehement attitude of Falaci toward Islam stems from two premises;

First, all of the terrorist attacks in the Western World are perpetrated by Moslems, and

Second, the practices of Moslems’ behavior in the Western World are based on the teaching of the Koran which cannot b reconciled with the rational civil laws in the western countries they live in.

Falacy used St. John’s apocalyptic vision to offer her version of Islam as the Monster and enliven her ejaculations and substantiate her stand, as if a flawed concept can be clarified by a more obscure premise.  In St. John’s apocalyptic version a Monster with seven heads and ten corns would emerge from the sea and the Beast on land would execute all the Monster’s orders until an angel descends from heaven and lock up the Monster and punish the Beast.

Thus, the Monster is Islam and the Beast is represented by the European liberals and leaders who are trying to appease Moslems and exhorting them to moderation by dangling carrots instead of raising the heavy sticks.

I generated two articles from this manuscript: “Are there moderate Moslems?” and “An alternative version of Fallaci’s interpretation of St. John’s apocalyptic vision”


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