The Clash of Barbarisms

Rather than the “clash of civilizations” forecasted by Samuel Huntington in the 1990s, the world has been descending into what could most accurately be described as a clash of barbarisms, the clash of barbaric trends fostered within each civilizational sphere by the unravelling of the post-war social pact and the dismantling of social protections brought along by the neoliberal age. The fate of the Arab Spring provides a tragic illustration of this most worrying evolution. The famous alternative between “socialism or barbarism” that Rosa Luxemburg formulated during the First World War is now again highly relevant and a matter of historical urgency.

Gilbert Achcar grew up in Lebanon, researched and taught in Beirut, Paris and Berlin, and is currently, since 2007, Professor of Development Studies and International Relations at SOAS, University of London. His many books include The Clash of Barbarisms: September 11 and the Making of the New World Disorder (2002, 2006), published in 15 languages; Perilous Power: The Middle East and US Foreign Policy (2007, 2008), with Noam Chomsky; the critically acclaimed The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab–Israeli War of Narratives (2010); The People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising (2013); and most recently Morbid Symptoms: Relapse in the Arab Uprising (2016).

Cafe Date – 18.45 Monday 20th November

Australia and the Refugee Crisis

There was a time when Australia led the way on refugee protection. Following World War II, Australia came second only to the United States on resettling European refugees. Its signature brought the Refugee Convention into force a few years later. And, in the 1970s, it resettled the third highest number of Indochinese refugees following the wars there.

Sadly those days are a distant memory. After earning global notoriety for the cruelty it continues to inflict on refugees and people seeking asylum on Nauru and Manus Island, the Australian government showed it is capable of worse. It not only refused to shut down its centres on the two Pacific islands, but planned to introduce a law to permanently ban the people trapped there from getting a visa to Australia. Not only is this a clear violation of international law, but it is a cruel and mean-spirited move to further discriminate against how people travel to Australia in search of safety. As a state party to the Refugee Convention, the Australian government has an obligation to treat asylum-seekers and refugees humanely and safely resettle them. Instead, it chose to pile one injustice on top of another.

Dr. Anna Neistat is Senior Research  Director for Amnesty International and has prepared reports for Amnesty around the world. In 2016 she led the Amnesty investigation into the treatment of refugees on the island of Nauru. She will look at the background to the treatment of refugees in Australia and will also talk about the wider international context of the increasingly punitive treatment of refugees and asylum seekers worldwide.

18.45 on Monday 30th October


International Models of Health Care

Professor Colin Leys is emeritus professor of political science at Queens University Canada and honorary professor at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of ‘Market Driven Politics: Neoliberal Democracy and the Public Interest’ (Verso2001), and with Stewart Player ‘The plot against the NHS’ (Merlin Press 2011). He is co-chair of the management team of the Centre for Health and the Public Interest (CHPI).

The CHPI began operation in June 2013 as a dynamic health and social care policy think-tank committed to the founding principles of the NHS. It subjects current health and social care policy to critical scrutiny and explores alternative solutions to the challenges of providing universal high quality universal health and social care.

Professor Leys will give an overview of the current situation in the NHS and the threats it faces, as well as presenting some information about models of healthcare in other high income countries – in particular looking at comparisons of spending and performance by different national healthcare systems.

18.45 on Monday 16th October


What ISIS in Libya tells us about the changing terrorist threat

Conditions in Libya constitute a humanitarian crisis. The civilian population struggles to gain access to basic services such as healthcare, fuel, and electricity, and almost half a million people are internally displaced as government forces and dozens of militias continue to clash within the country. One of the side effects of the 2011 intervention by France, Britain, the US and NATO, has been to allow the entrenchment within Libya of a series of radical Islamist actors. Suppressed under Qaddafi, these groups emerged as the fiercest rebels in the ensuing conflict – meanwhile, the weakness of the central authorities, and the lack of support from the western governments that backed the military strikes, has led directly to the breakdown of the rule of law and the empowerment of violent and unaccountable militia. Though not as formidable as al-Qaeda, Isis remains a force inside Libya and, as the crisis continues to escalate, social and economic collapse in Libya will be increasingly bound up with the terrorism threat picture in Europe. Dr Alia Brahimi is an academic, analyst and commentator specialising in the politics of the Middle East, with particular expertise on ISIS and also Libya. She is co-founder of Legatus Global, a strategic intelligence and advisory firm, and a former research fellow at Oxford University and the London School of Economics.  Alia is a regular contributor to Al Jazeera and appears frequently in the international media, most recently on BBC Radio 4’s The Today Programme, BBC Ten O’Clock News, Al Jazeera’s Inside Story, National Public Radio (USA) and BBC Newsnight.

See recent Guardian article “Why Libya is still a global terror threat”.

Cafe Date – 18.45 Monday 25th September

Planetary Gentrification: impacts & solutions

The phenomenon that we have come to call ‘gentrification’ is transforming our cities in a rapidly urbanising world. The refurbishment or demolition of low income dwellings, and soaring prices driven by corporatist capitalism and privatisation are displacing the less affluent from urban centres at an accelerating rate. In many places this process amounts to a virtual social cleansing, dispossessing low and middle wage earners, and increasing cultural and economic barriers between rich and poor. Are there sustainable alternatives to this destructive development? Loretta Lees, Professor of Human Geography at the University of Leicester, is internationally renowned for her research on gentrification, and will discuss the situation with us. Her areas of expertise include global urbanism and regeneration, urban policy, public space and architecture, and urban communities and social theory. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (FAcSS) and a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts (FRSA), She lives in London and co-organises The Urban Salon:A London forum for architecture, cities and international urbanism.   Loretta has written and spoken widely on gentrification, and has authored numerous books on the subject, the most recent being Planetary Gentrification(2016, Polity, Cambridge) and Global Gentrifications: Uneven Development and Displacement (2015, Policy Press, Bristol) with Hyun Bang Shin and Ernesto Lopez-Morales.

See also Tom Cordell’s 2010 film – ‘Utopia London’

 Cafe date – 12th June 18.45

Convergence and Divergence in the long-run development of China and the West

The brief era of global dominance by a small group of countries in the West is coming to an end. The global financial crisis signals a turning point in world history, as significant as the end of the patent on Boulton and Watt’s steam engine in 1800. China’s long tradition of positive-sum thinking strives for balanced and symbiotic interaction of the forces of ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ in order to achieve ‘great harmony for all under heaven’. In the complex era ahead, this philosophy can contribute to a cooperative relationship with the West in the face of the challenges that confront the human species. The end of the short era of Western economic, political and military dominance will be complicated and prolonged. It is challenging for ordinary people and political leaders in the West to accept that this era is coming to an end and adjust their relationship with the non-Western world peaceably.

If the relationship between China and the West is positive-sum, it will not only contribute to harmonious global governance in the decades to come, but also in the centuries and millennia that lie ahead. It would make possible the generalisation to a global level the harmonious development that China achieved for its own people for over 2000 years prior to the Industrial Revolution in Britain. This is a choice-of-no-choice, because the alternative is disastrous for the human race.

Peter Nolan, has been described by the FT as ‘knowing more about Chinese companies and their international competition than anyone else on earth, including in China’. He holds the Chong Hua Chair in Chinese Development at the University of Cambridge, and is the Director of the Chinese Executive Leadership Programme (CELP). He has testified at the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission of the US Congress and lectured to the Board of the US-China Business Council, and is also member of the UK Government’s Asia Task Force and the China Council of the World Economic Forum.  He has written over a dozen books about the country, including Is China Buying the World? published in 2012.

Professor Peter Nolan’s talk covered many complex issues that could not be explored fully in the time available. The attached papers will help to expand and develop many of these points. CDF 2017 CG&C April 2017

Cafe date – 22 May 2017 18.45

The Robotics Revolution: How Artificial Intelligence & Robots will change our lives

Developments in Artificial Intelligence and the use of Autonomous Systems ( robots) have reached a stage where they will have an impact on every aspect of our lives, with the potential to change not only the nature of work, but also the way services are provided whether medical diagnosis and treatment, driverless transport or education.  The impact on employment could be huge and the ethical and moral issues that this revolution will expose are of great significance.

Alan Winfield is Professor of Robot Ethics at the University of West England and conducts research in cognitive robotics within the Bristol Robotics Lab. He undertakes public engagement work centred on robotics and within that work has a particular focus on robot ethics.  He has argued that transparency is a foundational requirement for building public trust in Autonomous Systems and that it should always be possible to find out why a robot made a particular decision.  He will look at the likely impact of robotics both at work and in wider society and will also discuss the moral and ethical issues that will confront us as this revolution unfolds.  He has written several books and publications including Robotics: a Very Short Introduction and Swarm Robotics

Cafe Date – 8th May 2017 18.45

Cuba at the crossroads: what does the future hold?

Cuba has survived more than 40 years of US sanctions and the collapse of the Soviet Union. With the succession of  Fidel Castro’s brother Raul in 2008, and Obama’s decision to ‘normalise’ diplomatic relations by loosening the longstanding US trade embargo and easing some restrictions on travel, business, security, and immigration, there has recently been a level of cooperation with the US, and economic policies have become more open. But things are changing fast. Donald Trump has threatened to end the détente unless Cuba conforms to US political demands, and although Cuba has made it clear that the US should not expect concessions affecting the country’s sovereignty, its position is likely to become increasingly difficult and uncertain. Among other factors, supportive left wing governments in Latin America are moving towards the right, and Raul Castro has said that he intends to stand down in 2018.

Stephen Wilkinson will discuss this situation with us. He is Chairman of the UK based International Institute for the Study of Cuba, and editor of the International Journal of Cuban Studies. Among his other commitments, he lectures at King’s College London, and is a regular contributor to Jane’s Sentinel Reports on Cuba. He has been travelling to Cuba for over 30 years, has written extensively on Cuban culture, its domestic affairs and its international relations, and frequently leads study groups to the island.


Misinformation – Can we limit the impact it has upon our lives?

In a world of information technology and social media, the dissemination of so-called ‘facts’ is faster, more insistent and more far-reaching than ever before. These facts are critically important in informing people’s value judgements and subsequent decisions, but unfortunately they cannot be relied upon. Rather, we increasingly appear to live in a post-truth world, where politicians, corporations and the media constantly reassert falsehoods in an effort to further their own objectives by influencing the judgement of those who elect them or finance their operations. This practice can frequently have disastrous results, as the Chilcot Enquiry, for example, and more recently the EU Referendum campaign, has illustrated all too clearly. Joseph O’Leary is the Senior Researcher at Full Fact, a non-partisan and independent organisation that fact-checks information within the UK and also works with government departments and research institutions to improve the quality and communication of information at source. He will discuss these issues with us at the end of a period where distorted facts and erroneous reporting has had particularly profound outcomes all over the world.

Climate Change: how low carbon policies can benefit health

Warming of the climate system, due largely to the burning of fossil fuels and land use change, is now considered by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to be ‘unequivocal’.

Over recent decades many of the observed changes have become unprecedented in magnitude, in some cases for millennia.  A major concern is the adverse effects on crop yield as a result of climate change, with evidence that severe childhood stunting in Africa and South Asia will increase markedly under these conditions. Many poor populations are exposed to an increased risk of extreme climate events, for example because they live in areas more prone to flooding than more affluent populations or because pre-existing illness such as HIV makes them more vulnerable to undernutrition.   Current levels of consumption in high income countries and increasingly in emerging economies, with relatively little political will to address these issues, are leading to a potential crisis which will affect the whole planet.

Sir Andy Haines is Professor of Public Health and Primary Care at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He has been a member of many national and international committees, including the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the WHO Advisory Committee on Health Research and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and is currently a member of the Scientific Advisory Panel of the UNEP-hosted Climate and Clean Air Coalition. His research interests currently focus on the health co-benefits of ‘low carbon’ policies including sustainable healthy cities and food systems.

He will talk about how policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can yield significant improvements in human health, both in this country and internationally, as well as the potential benefits of changes in dietary, land management and urban development policies.  

Read the British Medical Journal article “How the low carbon economy can improve health”– on how health professionals are uniquely placed to guide the climate change conversation towards better policies that are good for the planet and for people.