Tuesday, 23 September 2014 00:00

Good Reads – From the far reaches of the EU to the Vatican

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With individual selections from our editors, Good Reads provides a regular run-down of best and most thought-provoking European journalism available online. This week, Diána Vonnák shares some intriguing thoughts on illegal immigration to the EU, fashion and the public role of intellectuals.

Diána, Managing editor


Fortress Europe

Lampedusa did not change EU policies regarding asylum seekers and refugees and neither have similar subsequent, almost daily tragedies. Foreign policy has been a consistently hot topic for months, yet Syria, IS and the troubles in West Africa have clouded our public awareness of the unquestionable need of thousands to get out of miseries beyond imagination.

We had a Lampedusa-related pick from Veronica in the last edition of Good Reads, but I could not resist starting my list with another take on Fortress Europe. There are two aspects of this recent Spiegel Online article that make it stand out from the majority of similar advocacy pieces: its insights into the work of Frontex (the organisation that patrols EU borders) and the geographical scope, including the Hungarian-Serbian frontier and the border between Greece and Turkey.

These two crossing places are far less well-known than the marine routes leading to Italy, Malta or Spain. Indeed, most people are unaware of the fact that newly-built metal fences are part of the reason why more and more refugees attempt the journey by boat. The author Maximillian Popp provides us with both the broader picture and some more personal details: an insightful sketch of Frontex leader Klaus Rösler and his semi-military war against enemy infiltration, a description of Hungarian refugee detention centres employing the highly addictive anti-anxiety drug Rivotril to keep inmates calm and an account of an incident in which obedient and Greek border agents opening fire on Syrian refugees. Though the article is far from being a great chill-out read, it is pretty well impossible not to have a opinion on these issues in Europe at the moment.

Vogue vaguely political?

Wars are fought on the ground, in the financial sector, online. We’ve heard of media wars, climate wars – our picture might already feel vast and all-inclusive about all the things that can become involved in a political or military struggle. But, until recently, I did not realise the role the fashion industry might also be playing in conflicts like the one in Gaza. Apparently, such role does exist, though obviously it is fought with rather subtle weapons.

Back in 1988 Vogue had a newly-appointed editor-in-chief who reformed the meaning of high street fashion with photos of the Israeli model Michaela Bercu. Recently, a young Palestinian-American model Gigi Hadid was asked to pay homage to Bercu’s shots. The resemblance between the two sets of images is startling.

Should we interpret this as an extremely smart PR strategy, or be less cynical and read it as a message of peace, urging us to overcome our differences? Or is this a veiled  expression of changing political alliances? In any case, Mary Jane Baxter’s article on the Al Jazeera website might just show you ways of thinking differently about fashion. She explores not only the political character of anything worn but, more importantly, the conscious use of political motifs in highly exposed venues that shape our views and decision making.

Muslims and Pope Benedict XVI

Finally, still on the subject of politics but shifting the focus to Islam, I found this recent blog post on the Economist website recalling the scandal after the previous Pope’s return to his Teutonic academic roots an interesting read. It addresses his speech and mainly his comments on Islam and its relationship to Christianity, which portrayed the latter as inherently more rational and reasonable than the former. Although it was in fact the mere anniversary of the speech which caused such a furore within Muslim communities, I think the matter highlights the responsibility of scholars and intellectuals in general, especially during times when extremism is so ubiquitous that one can hardly shake off the negative connotations of certain themes.

In such cases it becomes crucial to realise the importance of fair and sensitive depictions of groups struggling with extremism. Even in an academic context, musing on questions such as whether Islam lacks rationality might cancel out the voices of the millions trying to speak up from the moderate wings of the same group.


Last modified on Thursday, 30 October 2014 07:56

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