Essays and discussions

Review of 2002

2002 has not exactly been what you might call a good year. The war in Afghanistan may be over, but one in Iraq looks increasingly likely. In the Middle East, peace looks further away than it has done for decades; the world economy looks like it's sliding into recession; the Northern Irish institutions have been suspended; in the West, our civil liberties are constantly being eroded in the name of 'prevention of terrorism'; I could go on.

For better or for worse, the war in Afghanistan is now over. The question remains, what now? The war might have excised the symptoms, but the underlying malaise still remains – poverty and religious fundamentalism. These two evils now fuel each other, along with a resentment of an 'imperialist' America providing the perfect environment to create people so warped as to be willing to kill themselves in the name of a 'cause'. And now a war against Iraq. Why do I have such a sense of déjà-vu?

Something that scared me much more this year than America's aggressive overtones has been the childishness of India and Pakistan. President Musharraf recently revealed that if the stand-off in the summer had escalated into war, it would not have been a conventional war. Pakistan would have been willing to start a nuclear war. That would have been absolute suicide! It scared me just how close that we may have been to World War Three. What's to say that these two idiot nations won't do the same thing again in 2003? And all for a bit of posturing to their respective voters.

Half a decade ago, with the Oslo accord, peace in the Middle East was a tangible prospect. Five short years later, we're in a situation where nearly three thousand people died in the area in 2002. Peace can only be based on some sense of trust between the two communities, and that is looking in very short supply at the moment. Although the situation in Northern Ireland isn't nearly a desperate as that in Israel, we're still in a worse position than we were in this time last year. Now our Assembly has been suspended and arms decommissioning has stopped.

What these situations have in common is the use of religion as an excuse for violence. Although one can't help thinking that the world may be a better place without it, I'm not so naïve as to believe that those who desire violence wouldn't find something else to use as an excuse.

Something that has worried me a lot this year is the eroding of civil liberties in Britain. The introduction of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act that came into force in 2002 allows government agencies to monitor all electronic traffic of any individual (telephone, email, web etc) without needing judicial permission first. While some of these powers may be required in the current climate, appropriate checks must be in place to counterbalance these. Without these, it's all too easy for the powers to be misused. It's only through the vigilance and quick action of campaign groups that these powers weren't granted to just about anybody who wanted them. Copyright powers are also shifting far too far in favour of large corporations, with the European Union Copyright Directive (the EUs equivalent of the American Digital Millennium Copyright Act) being introduced in Britain. In Britain, organisations like the Campaign for Digital Rights have sprung up to fight for fair laws online. Why should we worry about this when so much is happening in 'real life'? Well, if we allow them to restrict our online freedoms, how long will it be before they start doing the same in the rest of our lives? New Labour has already been accused (with great reason, in my opinion) of fostering a 'nanny state', and I really don't want to see this go further.

Terrorism has been the bogeyman of 2002, and I can see it continuing to be so in the coming year. We've seen attacks from Indonesia to Africa and yet I can't help thinking that our governments are trying to scare us more than necessary in order to create a climate in which they can pass whatever laws that they want in the name of 'national security'. I wish that I weren't so cynical, but my few years of watching world affairs have, unfortunately, led me to this conclusion.

My personal life over the course of 2002 has, thankfully, been much less tumultuous than the world events in which I was surrounded. I've completed my first year of full-time employment which may not have always been challenging, but it's been an experience. I still continue to live in my wonderful flat (which, due to a bizarre set of circumstances, has become known as the Walrus Flat) in the West End of Glasgow with two wonderful people. One of my flatmates has spent the year helping me improve my taste in music, and I'm now a fan of bands that I had never heard of this time last year, including several local bands such as Belle and Sebastian and Eva.

Usually, I try and end these reviews with a message of hope for the coming year. At the moment, however, I think that the best that we can hope for is that we get through it in one piece and that things improve over the next few years. A depressing message, but that's how I feel at the moment. Here's to survival in 2003.

– 1 January 2003

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