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Slavoj Žižek: We need to talk about Turkey

The so-called “war on terror” has become a clash within each civilisation, in which every side pretends to fight Isis in order to hit its true enemy.

There is something weird about the solemn declarations that we are at war against the Islamic State – all the world’s superpowers against a religious gang controlling a small patch of mostly desert land... This doesn’t mean that we should not focus on destroying Isis, unconditionally, with no “but...”. The only “but” is that we should REALLY focus on destroying it, and for this much more is needed than the pathetic declarations and appeals to solidarity of all “civilised” forces against the demonised fundamentalist enemy.

What one should not engage in is the usual left-liberal litany of “one cannot fight terror with terror, violence only breeds more violence”. The time is now to start to raise unpleasant questions: how is it possible for the Islamic State to survive? As we all know, in spite of formal condemnation and rejection from all sides, there are forces and states which silently not only tolerate it, but also help it. Recently as the fierce clashes between Russian army and Isis terrorists raging across the war-torn Syria, countless number of Isis injured fighters enter the Turkish territory and are being admitted in the military hospitals.

As David Graeber pointed out recently, had Turkey placed the same kind of absolute blockade on Isis territories as they did on Kurdish-held parts of Syria, let alone shown the same sort of “benign neglect” towards the PKK and YPG that they have been offering to Islamic State, Islamic State would long since have collapsed, and the Paris attacks would probably not have happened. Instead, Turkey was not only discreetly helping IS by treating its wounded soldiers, and facilitating the oil exports from the territories held by IS, but also by brutally attacking the Kurdish forces, the ONLY local forces engaged in a serious battle with IS. Plus Turkey even shot down a Russian fighter attacking Isis positions in Syria. Similar things are going on in Saudi Arabia, the key US ally in the region (which welcomes the IS war on Shiites), and even Israel is suspiciously silent in its condemnation of Isis out of opportunistic calculation (Isis is fighting the pro-Iranian Shia forces which Israel considers its main enemy).

The deal between the EU and Turkey anounced at the end of November (under which Turkey will curb the flow of refugees into Europe in exchange for a generous financial help, initially 3bn) is a shamelessly disgusting act, a proper ethico-political catastrophe. Is this how the “war on terror” is to be conducted, by way of succumbing to the Turkish blackmail and rewarding one of the main culprits of the rise of Isis in Syria? The opportunistic-pragmatic justification of this deal is clear (is bribing Turkey not the most obvious way to limit the flow of refugees?), but the long-term consequences will be catastrophic.

This obscure background makes it clear that the “total war” against Isis should not be taken seriously – they don’t really mean it. We are definitely dealing not with the clash of civilisations (the Christian west versus radicalised Islam), but with a clash within each civilisation: in the Christian space it is the US and western Europe against Russia, in the Muslim space it is Sunnis against Shias. The monstrosity of the Islamic State serves as a fetish covering all these struggles in which every side pretends to fight Isis in order to hit its true enemy.

 

 

Editor's note, 9 December: This article originally included a statement that was falsely attributed to the head of Turkey's National Intelligence Organization Hakan Fidan, supposedly from an interview given to Anadolu Agency, the country’s state-run news agency. Anadolu Agency would like to make clear that no such interview was given by Mr Fidan to Anadolu in which Mr. Fidan “condemned Russian military intervention in Syria, accusing Moscow of trying to “smother” Syria's Islamist revolution... Isis is a reality and we have to accept that we cannot eradicate a well-organised and popular establishment such as the Islamic State; therefore I urge my western colleagues to revise their mindset about Islamic political currents, put aside their cynical mentalité and thwart Vladimir Putin's plans to crush Syrian Islamist revolutionaries,” as stated in the original article. We have removed the statement. We apologise to the Anadolu Agency for this error. A further statement from AA appears on its website.

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After Article 50 is triggered, what happens next?

Theresa May says Article 50 will be triggered on 29 March. The UK must prepare for years, if not decades, of negotiating. 

Back in June, when Europe woke to the news of Brexit, the response was muted. “When I first emerged from my haze to go to the European Parliament there was a big sign saying ‘We will miss you’, which was sweet,” Labour MEP Seb Dance remembered at a European Parliament event in London. “The German car industry said we don’t want any disruption of trade.”

But according to Dance – best known for holding up a “He’s Lying” sign behind Nigel Farage’s head – the mood has hardened with the passing months.

The UK is seen as demanding. The Prime Minister’s repeated refusal to guarantee EU citizens’ rights is viewed as toxic. The German car manufacturers now say the EU is more important than British trade. “I am afraid that bonhomie has evaporated,” Dance said. 

On Wednesday 29 March the UK will trigger Article 50. Doing so will end our period of national soul-searching and begin the formal process of divorce. So what next?

The European Parliament will have its say

In the EU, just as in the UK, the European Parliament will not be the lead negotiator. But it is nevertheless very powerful, because MEPs can vote on the final Brexit deal, and wield, in effect, a veto.

The Parliament’s chief negotiator is Guy Verhofstadt, a committed European who has previously given Remoaners hope with a plan to offer them EU passports. Expect them to tune in en masse to watch when this idea is revived in April (it’s unlikely to succeed, but MEPs want to discuss the principle). 

After Article 50 is triggered, Dance expects MEPs to draw up a resolution setting out its red lines in the Brexit negotiations, and present this to the European Commission.

The European Commission will spearhead negotiations

Although the Parliament may provide the most drama, it is the European Commission, which manages the day-to-day business of the EU, which will lead negotiations. The EU’s chief negotiator is Michel Barnier. 

Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He has said of the negotiations: “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

This will be a “deal” of two halves

The Brexit divorce is expected to take 16 to 18 months from March (although this is simply guesswork), which could mean Britain officially Brexits at the start of 2019.

But here’s the thing. The divorce is likely to focus on settling up bills and – hopefully – agreeing a transitional arrangement. This is because the real deal that will shape Britain’s future outside the EU is the trade deal. And there’s no deadline on that. 

As Dance put it: “The duration of that trade agreement will exceed the life of the current Parliament, and might exceed the life of the next as well.”

The trade agreement may look a bit like Ceta

The European Parliament has just approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) with Canada, a mammoth trade deal which has taken eight years to negotiate. 

One of the main stumbling points in trade deals is agreeing on similar regulatory standards. The UK currently shares regulations with the rest of the UK, so this should speed up the process.

But another obstacle is that national or regional parliaments can vote against a trade deal. In October, the rebellious Belgian region of Wallonia nearly destroyed Ceta. An EU-UK deal would be far more politically sensitive. 

The only way is forward

Lawyers working for the campaign group The People’s Challenge have argued that it will legally be possible for the UK Parliament to revoke Article 50 if the choice is between a terrible deal and no deal at all. 

But other constitutional experts think this is highly unlikely to work – unless a penitent Britain can persuade the rest of the EU to agree to turn back the clock. 

Davor Jancic, who lectures on EU law at Queen Mary University of London, believes Article 50 is irrevocable. 

Jeff King, a professor of law at University College London, is also doubtful, but has this kernel of hope for all the Remainers out there:

“No EU law scholar has suggested that with the agreement of the other 27 member states you cannot allow a member state to withdraw its notice.”

Good luck chanting that at a march. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.