TIME

In Praise of Jennifer Aniston and Other ‘Selfish’ Childfree Women

'Tis the season for tipsy truths and one of these is that women do better when they focus on their careers

As Christmas approaches, I find myself thinking about a monumental turkey: Jennifer Aniston’s 2010 rom-com The Switch. The movie also featured a turkey baster, deployed by Aniston’s character—a single, 40-something, sadly childless woman—to achieve something akin to an immaculate conception. This plot device may have seemed a little edgy in Hollywood terms but the messaging was as traditional as figgy pudding: to make sense of her life, Aniston becomes a mom and completes her family unit by hooking up with her child’s biological dad.

Heart-warming? Not so much for the many women and men who by choice or happenstance are living their lives without children and as a result find themselves by turns pitied and demonized. Aniston is one such herself, childless despite her celluloid mommy role and the speculation that for years has reliably attended the slightest curvature of her abdomen. A persistent tabloid narrative holds her up as a totem not of female success but of failure; she couldn’t keep Brad and may be leaving it too late to have kids. Now she has bitten back. “I don’t like [the pressure] that people put on me, on women—that you’ve failed yourself as a female because you haven’t procreated,” she tells the fashion magazine Allure. “This continually is said about me: that I was so career-driven and focused on myself; that I don’t want to be a mother, and how selfish that is.”

Aniston’s interview is juxtaposed with photographs of her in diaphanous gowns. The roles available to her, on-screen and off, tend to be limited. To gain and keep attention, women in entertainment must either appear as sex kittens or their comically voracious counterparts, cougars; as kind friends; bitches; or, of course, madonnas. Aniston recently seized on another, rarer, option—playing ugly—and is generating Academy Award buzz with her raddled turn as a painkiller addict in Cake. If she hoists the gold statuette in February, you can bet a familiar serpent will nestle among the accolades. What price Oscar glory? How barren Aniston’s victory? No matter that the instance of women who remain childfree at the age of 45 has risen sharply across industrialized nations, encompassing about a fifth of the female populations of the U.S. and my home, the U.K., our cultural assumptions remain entrenched against the possibility of happy, balanced childlessness.

At no other time of year do these prejudices get quite such free play as during the so-called festive season. Childless by choice, I have often found myself gently resisting the impulse of fertile colleagues to enlist me to be on duty over the Christmas break, either because they assume themselves more entitled to family time or, at least on one occasion, because a kindly coworker imagined work would help to fill my bleak December days. Another annual tradition sees friends and relatives downing enough Glühwein to mutate into tipsy detectives and slurring shrinks. Their interrogations used to focus on my reproductive intentions but these days more frequently look for signs of secret woe.

To deny such woe by word or deed, as Aniston knows, is tantamount to admitting to a character defect or, more accurately, to an absence of character. Motherhood is synonymous with many very real virtues and to abjure its joys is to call into question your capacity for unconditional love, selfless care for others, dedication to the wellbeing of future generations and service to your country. (The French President for decades awarded gold medals to women who produced eight or more babies, raising them “appropriately” within a marriage. A more politically correct age has not scrapped the award but simply extended its eligibility to men.) To choose not to have children, as I have done, or merely to appear contented with the childfree life is, as Aniston complains, to hang a sign around your neck: “selfish”.

The childfree tend to trot out well-honed ripostes. We point out that we have nurturing relationships with many people including children. We talk about the ecological burden of overpopulating the planet. What we rarely do is to accept and embrace our selfishness. Perhaps we should start.

Because here’s the thing: being without children does mean we have fewer pressures on our schedules and our wallets. We are less likely to be elbowing our way through crowds in FAO Schwarz or Hamley’s or gritting our teeth at the prospect of sitting through this year’s top turkey Saving Christmas, even if we are more likely than the reproductively active to have the disposable income to do so. We enjoy the freedom to make more varied—and interesting—use of our time, now and throughout the year.

For women, who continue to lag behind men in earning power and professional attainment, this is a freedom to relish. Maternity all too often marks the start of that divergence, because men and women still rarely share parenting duties equally. Many of my close friends are mothers and delightedly so, but few of them, though feminists and in relationships with men who call themselves feminists, have escaped a career hit.

Some of these friends used to join in the seasonal pastime of quizzing me about my childlessness. This year it is more likely to be their daughters who come up to me at Christmas parties clutching glasses of gin (known to Brits as “mother’s ruin”) and wanting to know whether I really have no regrets. This is what I will tell them. Give yourself a present this year: unwrap the prejudices that determine your decisions. There is no surer route to regret than trying to mold yourself to the popular ideals of womanhood. If you want babies, have babies. If not, not. Whatever you decide, pursuing your goals with a determination that in men would be lauded as ambition risks labeling you selfish. Go right ahead. Be as selfish as Angela Merkel, Helen Mirren, Park Gyeun-hye, Dolly Parton, Gini Rometty, Diane Sawyer, Betty White, Oprah Winfrey and Jennifer Aniston. Selfishly I’d like to see women rising in 2015 and beyond.

Happy holidays.

TIME U.K.

Prince William and Kate Will Cross the Atlantic but They Can’t Bridge the U.S.-U.K. Divide

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge leave the The Royal Variety Performance at London Palladium on Nov.13, 2014 in London.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge leave the The Royal Variety Performance at London Palladium on Nov.13, 2014 in London. Danny Martindale—WireImage/Getty Images

The couple's U.S. visit shines a light on the differences between British and American culture and national attitudes to royalty

To-mah-to, to-may-to, Princess Diana, Lady Di: Britain and the U.S. have long been nations divided by a common language and no more so than in America’s joyous mangling of royal names and titles. “Kate Middleton” ceased to exist on April 29, 2011, yet still she bestrides the U.S. press when not erroneously promoted to Princess.

These divisions are set to be highlighted in the coming days as “Princess Kate” a.k.a. the Duchess of Cambridge and her husband, the Duke (also correctly known as Prince William), arrive Stateside on Dec. 7 for a three-day trip to New York City. William will nip to Washington, D.C., too, to attend an anticorruption conference at the World Bank, as part of his campaign to protect endangered species. This will be the couple’s first U.S. trip since they dazzled California as newlyweds in 2011 and for both offers a first-ever taste of New York City.

Media nostrils both sides of the Atlantic are already quivering. It’s not just that the visit offers a potential break from a bleak news cycle, though it will certainly do that. In a world of declining circulations, Kate has the power to sell print. She can break the Internet fully clothed and even — perhaps especially — while pregnant. Her second child — the soon-to-be fourth in line to the throne — is due in April, apparently sharpening public interest rather than diminishing it. Her neat silhouette routinely makes headlines. Kate is frequently said to be “flaunting” or “showcasing” her “bump”, as if she has the power to detach it when she leaves home.

In their fascination with Kate and the odd institution she represents, the U.K. and U.S. media are closely aligned. Nevertheless coverage of the trip will differ markedly either side of the pond because the nature of the relationship with royalty differs markedly in each country, as does media culture. The two nations are divided not only by a common language, but by their shared history.

In Britain, William and Kate, together with Harry, are the most popular royals after the Queen; support for the monarchy has risen while trust in most public institutions has fallen. Still you’d be hard-pressed in London and other sophisticated cities such as Manchester and Glasgow to find many people who openly enthuse about royalty the way some Americans and other foreigners do. Overseas journalists who flocked to London in the summer of 2013 to cover the birth of baby George came with instructions from their editors to cover the spontaneous celebrations they imagined would break out across the capital to welcome the Windsor offspring. Some canny publicans did spot a marketing opportunity to sell cut-price beer, but most Londoners went about their business as usual.

The British media reflects and reinforces this duality, covering most everything the royals do but often with an edge — of humor, skepticism, sometimes anger. That’s partly because U.K. mainstream media outlets, for all they are ringed by more legal restrictions than their U.S. equivalents, are notably less inclined to reverence. That, in turn, is not unrelated to the strange reality of British life that still sees “subjects,” not citizens, bending the knee to a monarch. Britain and the U.S. have in common the lowest social mobility in the Western world, but the American Dream, though mostly exactly that, a dream, has created a nation of optimists.

By contrast, the notion that some people are born superior to others is hardwired into the British system, sparking the resentment that often animates the British media and the wider population. British people are uncomfortable at being seen to celebrate the royal family, the premier symbols of inequality, despite the polls that show a majority of Britons harbor a soft spot for them. Add to that another facet of Britishness that the Windsors perfectly embody — an impulse to reticence that stands in sharp contrast to the American facility for delighted gush — and you begin to understand the scale of the chasm that separates the two cultures.

A pivotal moment of divergence took place in New York in 1783. The Cambridges are set to arrive in the city 231 years after British troops finally abandoned their foothold there. It had taken a long and bloody war before the Westminster Parliament — and Britain’s then monarch, “mad” King George III — acknowledged the loss of their former colony. The intervening centuries of American independence from the Crown have redrawn American attitudes to many things, including to the Crown itself.

In an age of rapid-cycling, disposable celebrity, royals — and especially glamorous royals like Kate and, before her, Diana — slot neatly into the dwindling ranks of true A-listers, the globally and enduringly famous. The Cambridges’ planned Dec. 8 excursion to take in a basketball match between the Brooklyn Nets and the Cleveland Cavaliers is expected to place the couple in ringside seats alongside showbiz royalty including Beyoncé and Jay-Z. To U.S. observers, such a juxtaposition is pure entertainment. To Britons, it represents a more complex brew.

William and Kate will be acting as standard-bearers for the U.K., emissaries for the government’s “Britain is GREAT” campaign, helping to promote tourism, British goods and services and inward investment. There’s little about the shiny young couple with one small child and another on the way to dislike. As the Cambridges bask in unfettered American admiration, their compatriots back home will feel a corresponding warmth. For some this will be pride, for others something closer to a blush.

TIME Germany

The Killing of This Student Teacher Has Galvanized Germany

Vigil outside the hospital that treated Tugce Albayrak in Offenbach am Mein, Germany, Nov. 28, 2014.
Vigil outside the hospital that treated Tugce Albayrak in Offenbach am Mein, Germany, Nov. 28, 2014. Boris Roessler—EPA

More than 141,000 people have signed a petition demanding a posthumous medal for Tugce Albayrak, a 22-year-old student teacher

Tugce Albayrak wanted to teach. The 22-year-old German-born daughter of Turkish immigrants had enrolled in a teacher-training course at Justus Liebig University in Giessen, majoring in German and Ethics. In the early hours of Nov. 15 she gave a masterclass in the second of these disciplines, intervening to protect two teenaged girls from harassment by a group of men at a McDonald’s restaurant in Offenbach, a town that has been swallowed by the larger of conurbation of Frankfurt. It will be down to the German judicial system to determine the exact sequence of the events that took place inside the restaurant and then in its car park but CCTV footage released on Dec. 1 shows Albayrak punched to the ground by an assailant as his companion tries to restrain him. Albayrak never regained consciousness and on Nov. 28 — her 23rd birthday — doctors switched off the machinery sustaining her life. In dying, she gave a final proof of her civic commitment; a registered organ donor, her tissues may save at least three people in urgent need of transplants.

As a result, her death may not be entirely in vain, but it was senseless. There have been candlelit vigils outside the hospital that treated her and on Nov. 30 crowds gathered in Berlin’s Turkish district, Kreuzberg, to pay their respects. On the same day soccer player Haris Seferovic scored a goal for his team Eintracht Frankfurt and then lifted his jersey to reveal a tribute to Albayrak written on his undershirt.

By Dec. 1 more than 141,000 people across Germany and further afield had signed a petition calling on the German President Joachim Gauck to award Albayrak a Federal Order of Merit. There is a precedent — five years ago the medal was given posthumously to Dominik Brunner, a German killed trying to stop a brawl — and Gauck has already indicated that he is giving serious consideration to Albayrak’s case. “Whilst others looked away,” Gauck wrote in a letter to Albayrak’s parents — and the CCTV footage suggests the phrase is literally true, “Tugce showed bravery and civil courage in an exemplary fashion.” She was, he said, a role model.

Vigil for Tugce A. in Offenbach
Photograph of Tugce Albayrak seen during a vigil outside the hospital that treated her in Offenbach am Mein, Nov. 28, 2014. Boris Roessler—EPA

She also became the unwitting avatar of the dangers posed to women simply by being women, with up to 70% of women expected to experience violence during their lifetimes, according to figures put out by the United Nations to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Nov. 25. The girls Albayrak sought to help were also victims or potential victims, but public opinion hardened against them when they proved slow to contact the police to give witness statements. The accounts of other witnesses suggested that they had been surrounded by men in or near the toilets at the McDonald’s and that Albayrak, hearing the commotion, intervened. Later, out in the car park, a man who may have been involved in the first incident paced up and down, and despite attempts to restrain him, eventually lunged at Albayrak. An 18-year-old, identified as Sanel M, is in custody. On Dec. 1, the department of public prosecution confirmed that the girls had also been located and interviewed.

Albayrak may now receive justice. It is what she stood for in the final hours of her conscious life.

TIME europe

Pope Urges ‘Aged and Weary’ Europe to Accept Migrants and Reject Hunger

Pope Francis delivers his speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on Nov. 25, 2014.
Pope Francis delivers his speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on Nov. 25, 2014 Remy De La Mauviniere—AFP/Getty Images

The Pontiff uses address to the European Parliament to argue that migrants need "acceptance and assistance"

At many times in Europe’s turbulent history religious leaders have turned a blind eye to violence and discrimination. At other times faith itself has set the battleground. This awareness heightened both the strangeness and the poignancy of the Nov. 25 speech by Pope Francis to members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

The Pontiff wasn’t the most obvious person to deliver hard truths to elected politicians about the rising threats to the democracies they serve, or, as head of the Catholic Church, to convey a blast against global corporations that undermine the democratic process by co-opting institutions, as he resonantly expressed it, to “the service of unseen empires.” Yet standing at the lectern at the center of the plenary chamber, peering through wire-rimmed reading glasses at his script, he did these things and more. The leader of a religion that has created its share of fractures made an eloquent plea for the European Union to rediscover its founding principles of “bridging divisions and fostering peace and fellowship.”

Many factors gave urgency to his words. Europe is grappling with soaring unemployment in the midst of global economic instability and the relentless problems of the euro zone. There is a war within its own borders while brutal conflicts on other continents affect the security of European nations and citizens. The interlocking challenges are compounded by voters’ dwindling trust in the political classes. In speaking to members of these classes, the Pope aimed, he said, “as a pastor to deliver a message of hope” to “a Europe that gives the impression of feeling aged and weary.” A glance around the chamber — built as a hemicycle to encourage members of the Parliament from different political groupings to see each other not as opponents but colleagues — reinforced just how timely that papal message was and the extent to which politicians have become, like the Catholic Church in its darker periods, part of the problem as well as its solution.

Pope Francis emphasized the centrality of human dignity and the equal value of every life. He did so to an assembly of 751 MEPs and other European officials that severely underrepresents the diversity of European populations — only 36.75% of lawmakers are women and only about 5% are from ethnic minorities — while substantially representing views that the Pope singled out for criticism. “One of the most common diseases in Europe, if you ask me, today is the loneliness of those who have no connection to others,” he said. This phenomenon could be observed among the isolated old and the alienated young, the poor and “in the lost gaze of the migrants who have come here in search of a better future.”

“Unity doesn’t mean uniformity,” the guest speaker told an audience overwhelmingly composed of middle-aged white men in suits. “In point of fact all real unity draws from the diversities that make it up.” To that audience he set out a list of priorities. It was, he ventured, “intolerable that people are dying each day of hunger while tons of food are thrown away each day from our tables.” He won a round of applause with a call “to promote policies that create employment but above all it is time to restore dignity to work by restoring proper working conditions.” He also highlighted Europe’s failure to achieve “a united response to the question of migration. We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast graveyard. The boats landing daily on Europe’s shores are filled with men and women who need acceptance and assistance.”

Listening to him were members of mainstream parties who have contributed to that failure and representatives of fringe parties — now achieving such electoral success that they may not for much longer remain on the fringes — who are arguing for the dissolution of the European Union and the turning away of migrants. It seems unlikely that members of the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), or France’s hard-right National Front party will have been swayed by his words any more than Ian Paisley, at the time the apparently implacable voice of Northern Irish Protestant loyalism, could be persuaded to give a fair hearing to Pope John Paul II’s 1988 speech to the European Parliament, the last such address by a Pontiff to the body until Francis took the floor.

Eventually, however, Paisley did learn to stop bellowing and to prize peace above division, at least to some extent. European history is full of such encouraging examples alongside its gloomier lessons. Pope Francis reminded Europe of its capacity for good. In so doing, he continues to reassert the capacity of his office to do the same.

TIME United Kingdom

Why a British Politician Resigned Over This Tweeted Photograph

Then-Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry in 2013.
Then-Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry in 2013. Yui Mok—Zumapress

The image showed a house, a van and English flags. What's so controversial about that?

After all the verbiage expended and hot air vented ahead of the Nov. 20 by-election in a constituency in southeast England called Rochester and Strood, a picture turned out to be worth a thousand words — and then some. On the day of the special election, prompted by the defection of a sitting Member of Parliament from the ruling Conservatives to the insurgent United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), a prominent member of the opposition left-of-center Labour Party tweeted a series of photographs as she toured the area canvassing support for her party’s candidate. One apparently innocuous post encapsulated so many uncomfortable truths — about Britain, its old wounds and new fractures, and the global crisis of trust in the political mainstream — that within hours the tweeter, MP Emily Thornberry, had resigned as a member of Labour’s front bench team. The controversy eclipsed a result that in its own way told the same story of fragmentation and tumult: victory for the anti-immigration, anti-European Union UKIP.

Here is Thornberry’s tweet. Look closely. If you even begin to understand why this picture caused offense, you are either from the U.K. or have spent more than the occasional vacation in its temperate, if increasingly distempered, climes.

So why did this tweet do so much damage?

One answer lies in the medium not the message. The digital revolution is transforming not only methods of communication but the world itself. Politicians have barely started to comprehend what this means for the business of politics, much less for wider society.

Such profound changes have left the slow-moving political mainstream floundering. The Labour Party has its roots in the labor movement and purports to be the party of working people. In finding the sight of a modest terraced house festooned with England flags and with a white van parked on the forecourt noteworthy enough to tweet, Thornberry highlighted the gap between the Westminster elite and ordinary voters. As Britain’s largest red-top tabloid, the Sun, put it, she was “seeming to sneer at a White Van Man’s England flags.”

White Van Man is the Joe Six-Pack or Walmart Mom of U.K. politics, representative of a segment of the electorate mainstream parties are eager to court but find increasingly hard to reach. The White Van Man in this case turned out to be a car dealer named Dan Ware who revealed in a brief interview with the Daily Telegraph that he didn’t even know a by-election was taking place. He said: “I will continue to fly the flags — I don’t care who it pisses off. I know there is a lot of ethnic minorities that don’t like it. They [the flags] have been up since the [soccer] World Cup.”

After more than four years of austerity policies imposed by Britain’s Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition, Labour should be in pole position to win the votes of White Van owners across the nation when Britons elect a new government in May 2015. Instead it is struggling under the hapless leadership of Ed Miliband and a band of metropolitan parliamentarians as apt to flinch from the classes who once were their mainstay as to engage with them.

But this isn’t just a problem of the left. Margaret Thatcher made an easy connection with so-called Middle Britain. Britain’s current Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, posh and urban, has tried unsuccessfully to outsource that job to spin doctors, tabloids and the few members of his team not to come from privileged backgrounds. The Liberal Democrats, who used to attract protest votes that might otherwise have gone to Labour or the Conservatives, sacrificed those potential votes as well as the support of their own well-meaning grassroots by deciding in 2010 to enter coalition with the Conservatives. The outcome of the Rochester and Strood by-election illustrated the scale of their plight: their candidate Geoff Juby got only 349 votes and lost his deposit.

Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system favors big parties and majority governments. When the current coalition took office in 2010 it was the first such arrangement in 70 years. But the weakness of those big parties is making space for others to flourish, such as the Scottish National Party, which came close in September to breaking up the United Kingdom and may yet succeed in that aim; and, in England, UKIP, which is pushing for a break with the European Union. UKIP’s rhetoric on restricting immigration chimes with voters who have seen competition for jobs and housing intensify and the strain on public services increase as the U.K. has battled to reduce its debt and ride out a prolonged period of economic instability.

England’s Cross of St George, the flags that caught Thornberry’s attention with such dramatic consequences, have become symbolic not only of England but England’s struggles — with identity and between increasingly diverse populations. Far-right groups such as Britain First have sought to co-opt the flag, and that may be why Thornberry took the snap. It is often hard to distinguish England flags hung in support of the soccer team from England flags hoisted in anger.

Britain First’s candidate Jayda Franzen took a laughable 56 votes at the Rochester and Strood by-election. By contrast UKIP, which always insisted it is anti-Europe not xenophobic, has shed some of its harder-right elements and has professionalized and broadened its appeal. Mark Reckless, the MP whose recent defection to UKIP from the Conservative Party sparked the by-election, won the ballot comfortably with 16,867 votes (42.1%), compared to the Conservatives’ 13,947 votes (34.81%) and Labour’s 6,713 (16.76%).

Like Thornberry’s tweet, the meaning of the results is open to several interpretations but all of them point in the same direction: to the possibility that the U.K.’s May 2015 elections won’t grant an overall majority to a mainstream party and could leave smaller parties such as UKIP holding the balance of power. The Conservatives have promised to hold a referendum on Britain’s relationship with Europe if they win and to try to renegotiate that relationship. UKIP simply wants out, and across Europe parties with similar messages are growing in strength. It may prove, and in more than one sense, that the center cannot hold.

TIME European Union

Is It a Bird? Is It a Plane? No, It’s Captain Euro

But is he in time to save the European Union and the world?

You might think there were enough cartoon characters in politics already. Apparently not. Enter Captain Euro, flexing his pectorals and multilingual skills as he battles to save the European Union.

The self-styled leader of Europe, the Captain sees himself as the first point of contact for any U.S. President seeking to speak to Europe.

But the Captain isn’t a superhero. He’s just drawn that way (though he and his team of ardent Europhiles in matching blue and gold outfits might also be mistaken for the flight crew on a European no-frills airline.)

The son of Brand EU, an initiative that tries to do exactly what the name suggests, itself the brainchild of a think tank called Gold Mercury, the Captain first strode to the rescue of Europe in 1995 but fell into obscurity until desperate times and rising euroskepsis—boosted, of course, by the flailings of the Captain’s namesake currency—necessitated his recall. So since Nov. 18 he’s been back in action, deploying his sole special power: the power of persuasion.”Together we are one of the world’s strongest powers. Separately, we amount to far less in this newly globalized world, where size is everything,” says Nicolas de Santis, President of Gold Mercury and thus the Captain’s real daddy. “Armed with this knowledge, Captain Euro will continue on his heroic mission to promote the values of a united EU which we all share: peace, solidarity and sustainability.”

To the Captain and his creator, the baddies are evil-minded euroskeptics dressed in UKIP purple who threaten that vision. Their leader is called Dr D Vider (see what they did there?).

And this is where our hero gets a little confused and confusing. His backstory is puzzling. Called Adam Andros, he’s not a David standing up to goliath globalized corporations. We are told he inherited his own giant corporation, Sustania. An avatar of vested interests, he seeks to rally to his cause some of the real-life leaders than some Europeans might see as part of the problem rather than the cure.

In real-life Jean-Claude Juncker, who has just embarked on a five-year term as President of the European Commission, already faces a motion of censure in the European Parliament after allegations that during his previous incarnations as Prime Minister and Finance Minister of Luxembourg, he helped global corporations to minimize their European tax payments. In a Captain Euro strip, Juncker is a unifying figure working to persuade Prime Minister David Cameron to keep Britain in the E.U..

The coalition of anti-Europe, anti-immigration parties seeking to censure Juncker includes a fair sprinkling of cartoonish characters, but they are successfully positioning themselves as the good guys to a broadening swathe of European voters. If Captain Euro really wants to counteract the misinformation such parties spread, he’ll need to recognize the parts of their message that resonate. The time is ripe for a hero who is pro-Europe but not identified with the European elite. Before Captain Euro can redraw the continent’s fracturing politics, he may have to redraw himself.

All cartoons courtesy of Nicolas de Santis/ Gold Mercury International.

TIME U.K.

Terrorism Suspects to be Excluded From U.K Even If It’s Their Home

Counter-terrorism legislation aims to halt jihadis who want to come home from Syria and Iraq

As an idea it appears beautifully simple: stop potential terrorism by stopping potential terrorists at your borders—even if they’re your own citizens. Canada has already started revoking the passports of its nationals who are thought to have traveled to join Islamic extremist groups in Syria and Iraq. Australia is piloting new legislation to impose prison sentences of up to 10 years on anyone returning to the country from overseas conflict zones who cannot prove a legitimate reason for the trip. And on Nov. 14 during Prime Minister David Cameron’s sojourn in Australia for the G20 summit, he unveiled his own plans to limit the increasing flow of “gap-year jihadis” by preventing Britons from coming home to the U.K. after a spell in the ranks of ISIS or some other violent Islamist organization.

Australian lawmakers warmly applauded Cameron’s proposals, whilst calls for the U.S. to adopt similar measures are growing louder. Yet reactions back in Britain are mixed. Three overlapping concerns dominate the debate: are such measures just, do they square with international law and would they really work?

Nobody denies the scale of the problem. The U.K. authorities estimate that between 500 and 600 Britons have traveled to Syria and Iraq to wage jihad. More than half of these have already returned to the U.K. while a further 25-30 are thought to have died in battle. That leaves around 250 whose eventual homecoming presages a raft of possible dangers and pressures. The security services are already stretched thin trying to keep tabs on radicals whose foreign travels have furnished them with the contacts and the skills to launch attacks at home or narratives to help the ISIS recruitment drive. Deradicalization programs have proved effective but struggle under the weight of numbers.

From that perspective, says Jonathan Russell, the political liaison officer of the counter-terrorism think tank Quilliam Foundation, there could be short term gains from restricting the influx of returnees. The British government plans to publish its proposed new bill before the end of November and get it onto the statute books by January, enabling officials to turn away suspect Britons for two years at a time if they refuse to submit to tough re-entry conditions such as facing prosecution or submitting to close supervision. The law is also expected to penalize airlines that fail to observe no-fly lists.

“It’s likely to stop dangerous people entering the U.K. and ease the pressure on the security services and their surveillance operations and make sure they can’t commit terrorist attacks in the U.K. in the two years they’re held up.” says Russell, but he is unconvinced by the move. “If we’re looking for longterm security I can’t see why it would have any impact.”

Russell is concerned that a large number of the Britons trying to return home would likely do so via Turkey, and find themselves stranded there, creating fresh problems and a diplomatic headache with Turkey which is likely to be at best an unpredictable partner in any resulting negotiations. Sara Ogilvie, policy officer for the U.K.-based human rights organization Liberty raises a different objection: excluding Britons from Britain is, she believes “clearly unlawful.” “If the result is to render someone stateless that will be a breach of our international obligations and will be subject to challenge,” she says.

Britain’s Supreme Court is already testing a related case, of a Vietnam-born naturalized Briton, known for legal reasons only as “B2,” who was stripped by the British government of his adopted citizenship in 2011 because of suspicions he was an al Qaeda supporter. Vietnam refuses to accept he is a Vietnamese national, so the British decision made B2 effectively stateless, in potential contravention of a key United Nations convention. When the Cameron first mooted new, tougher counter-terrorism laws in September, he floated the notion of permanently disowning British-born U.K. nationals involved with ISIS but has since accepted that there is no legal way to do so. The idea of two-year renewable exclusion orders to keep out British jihadis is intended to comply with international law. Ogilvie is skeptical: “If you’re a U.K. citizen but you can’t get into the U.K. what’s the point of you having U.K. citizenship? You don’t get the value of it. So we think that will definitely be challenged in the courts.”

The issue of the U.K’s relationship with the European Union is also complicated. Currently U.K passport holders have the right to travel throughout the E.U. but it is not clear how exclusion orders will affect their rights to remain in the E.U.

Ogilivie also argues that the proposed law infringes the values of democracy and the rule of law that it purports to safeguard. This is an issue Quilliam’s Russell also raises. The measure and the rhetoric around it “feeds into the narrative of the West being at war with Islam,” he says, adding an important clarification. “I wouldn’t say that counter-terrorism legislation makes people radical. It is a grievance that is exploited by radicalizers.” In his view, rather than seeking to exclude returning fighters, the U.K. authorities should do as much as possible “to engage with them ideologically, change their views and deradicalize them.”

On this point Margaret Gilmore, senior associate fellow of the Royal United Services Institute, RUSI, agrees, but she sees a potential benefit from the measure. “There’s been a lot of discussion in the Muslim community here, with some people saying if people want to come back it’s going to be more difficult now because they will be stopped and questioned,” she explains. “Yes they will be stopped and questioned but there will be some who welcome the fact that they will be stopped and questioned and can say ‘look I really have moved on, these are the reasons, I want to go back to my family, move back into the mainstream of thinking’.”

In this scenario, the kinds of returnees who are susceptible to rehabilitation will find it more easily. “It’s a very clear route to come back in and be helped back into the mainstream,” Gilmore says. The jury is out on that point, or may be soon enough.

TIME Germany

Angela Merkel’s Sweet Overtures to Angry Punk Rocker

Leaders of the Christian Democratic Union sing with Chancellor Angela Merkel as they celebrate the exit polls in the German general election at the party headquarters in Berlin, Sept. 22, 2013.
Leaders of the Christian Democratic Union sing with Chancellor Angela Merkel as they celebrate the exit polls in the German general election at the party headquarters in Berlin, Sept. 22, 2013. Kai Pfaffenbach— Reuters

German Chancellor's apology illustrates that politicians and popstars often don't mix

She has won three elections and seen her popularity soar by rarely putting a foot wrong and learning from her mistakes when she does. Yet German Chancellor Angela Merkel appears to be just as fallible as other politicians when it comes to annoying one of the smallest but loudest segments of the electorate: musicians.

Campino—real name Andreas Frege—has revealed that Merkel made a personal apology to him after television cameras caught her and her colleagues thoroughly mangling a tune by his band Die Toten Hosen (the literal translation is “the dead pants”; the phrase also means “deadly dull”). This karaoke-style crime against music (the song is “Tage wie diese”, days like these; lead vocals by Volker Kauder, chairman of Merkel’s CDU parliamentary party) wasn’t the issue. Campino minded seeing—and hearing—his punk-y, spiky, counter-cultural music co-opted by a political party.

Disharmonies often resonate between the political classes and the music industry. A campaign adopts an anthemic track or a politician confesses in an interview to loving a particular band only for the musicians to repudiate vigorously any connection to the party or politician. In 1984 Bruce Springsteen complained to Rolling Stone magazine about Ronald Reagan appearing on the stump to the strains of “Born in the USA”: “I think there’s a large group of people in this country whose dreams don’t mean that much to [Ronald Reagan], that just get indiscriminately swept aside.” In 2012 Tom Morello, guitarist of Rage Against the Machine, also turned to Rolling Stone to throw some rocks at a leading GOP figure, in this case then Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan. “Paul Ryan’s love of Rage Against the Machine is amusing, because he is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades.” Ryan finally hit back this year. Rage “never were my favorite band,” he said.

And so it goes in the U.S. and Europe. Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, schooled at the impeccably posh private school Eton College, once declared that the Jam’s “Eton Rifles”, a biting critique of the privilege represented by Eton, was his favorite track. “Which part of it didn’t he get?” asked the Jam’s former front man, Paul Weller.

That Merkel fell into the trap for a second time is more of a surprise. Her 2005 brush with the Rolling Stones might have been expected to alert to the dangers of relying on rock for an electoral boost. Back then, during her first campaign for the Chancellery, TIME wondered if Stones knew that their 1973 hit “Angie” had become Merkel’s de facto theme tune. They did not. “The Rolling Stones are startled to hear that the track from their album Goats Head Soup has been pressed into service,” we reported. “’We didn’t grant permission,’ a spokesman for the musicians told TIME. ‘We are surprised that permission was not requested. If it had been requested, we would have said no.’”

A CDU spokesman insisted the party had cleared usage of excerpts from the song with the German music-distribution rights regulator, GEMA, but that of course was not the point. TIME had highlighted that the Stones weren’t on her side, setting off a crescendo of dissonant headlines. Die Toten Hosen raised their own noisy protest when the CDU first started using their music in the run-up to Germany’s 2013 election. The band members issued a statement on their website to ask that the CDU stop playing “Tage wie diese” at campaign events: “The danger that people might get the idea that there is a connection between the band and the content promoted at these events makes us furious,” said the statement.

Merkel may finally have learned that bands and bandwagons are a dangerous combination. A new book about Die Toten Hosen, excerpted in the German news weekly Der Spiegel, reveals Merkel’s sheepish phone call to Campino a few days after the election night singalong. “Mr Campino, I’m ringing because last Sunday we trampled all over your song,” the Chancellor said. She offered praise and a reassurance as well as an apology. She found his song “very lovely” but promised “it would not become the next CDU hymn.”

Campino describes his response as “a mixture of surprise and alarm. Alarm that she didn’t have anything else to do except call me. But also touched that she explained all that in such a relaxed and humorous way.”

 

TIME U.K.

Soccer Star Convicted of Rape Returns to Training Amid Angry Debate

Ched Evans playing for Sheffield United in 2012.
Ched Evans playing for Sheffield United in 2012. Stu Forster—Getty Images

More than 163,000 people have signed a petition against his return

Correction appended Nov. 15.

The story told by Ched Evans in an Oct. 22 video statement posted on YouTube features two victims. First among these is his girlfriend Natasha, who nestles alongside him in the film and remains in the relationship despite the crime Evans committed in a Welsh hotel room in 2011 which he terms “my act of infidelity.” The second is Evans himself. The soccer player, released from prison last month, uses the video to deny the rape verdict that put him behind bars. “The acts I engaged in on that night were consensual in nature and not rape,” he says, pledging to “continue to fight to clear my name.”

There is, of course, another victim—the unnamed 19-year-old woman Evans assaulted. Since Evans left prison, heated debate around whether or not he should be allowed to return to work at his former club Sheffield United risks creating further victims still. “Jean Hatchet”—her name is a pseudonym—has been subjected to online abuse since starting a petition calling on Sheffield United to drop the player.

And on Nov. 14 police started an investigation after a Twitter troll posted a tweet about Jessica Ennis-Hill. The Sheffield-born athlete, who won gold in heptathlon for Britain in the London 2012 Olympics, has threatened to remove her name from a stand at the Sheffield United grounds if the club reinstates Evans. “Those in positions of influence should respect the role they play in young people’s lives and set a good example,” she said in a statement. “I hope [Evans] rapes her,” the troll responded.

Heat and hostility threaten to obscure the deeper questions at the heart of the discussion. Evans has served his time—or at any half of the five-year term originally meted out—and now seeks rehabilitation. Isn’t that the way the justice system is supposed to work? Evans seems to think so. “It is a rare and extraordinary privilege to be able to play professional football,” he says in his YouTube non-mea culpa. “Now that I’ve served the custodial part of my sentence of two-and-a-half years, it is my hope that I’ll be able to return to football. If that is possible, then I will do so with humility having learned a very painful lesson. I would like a second chance but I know not everyone would agree.”

That last point is undeniable. More than 163,000 people have signed Hatchet’s petition in support of her view that “to even consider reinstating [Evans] as a player at the same club is a deep insult to the woman who was raped and to all women like her who have suffered at the hands of a rapist.” Charlie Webster, a sports television presenter, lifelong fan of Sheffield United and patron of the club, resigned that after learning that the club had allowed Evans back to train. A victim of sexual abuse as a teenager, Webster has used her public profile to try to encourage other victims of sexual abuse to speak out. In her view Evans’s public profile means that he cannot simply be allowed to return to his old life. “We cheer him on as a role model and he’s influencing the next generation of young men who are currently making their decisions on how to treat women and what sexual mutual consent is,” she told the BBC.

Neither Sheffield United nor the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), the players’ union, accepts this view. Sheffield United issued a statement on Nov. 11 confirming that Evans was back in training, but denying any final decision about his future. “The club rejects the notion that society should seek to impose extrajudicial or post-term penalties on anyone,” the statement said loftily. “In a nation of laws, served by an elected parliament and duly constituted courts of law, there can be no place for ‘mob justice’. The club believes that the only penalties following from a conviction on any charge should be those set forth in law and deemed appropriate by a court of competent jurisdiction.”

PFA chief Gordon Taylor made a similar point in more demotic language: “I didn’t know there was a law that said once you come out of prison you still can’t do anything.”

Such discussions are hardly unique to English soccer. Across the Atlantic two prominent National Football League players are currently serving suspensions after admitting acts of violence. In September, the Baltimore Ravens dropped Ray Rice, already suspended by the NFL for hitting his then-fiancée, now wife, after publication of a second and more graphic video of the attack. Adrian Peterson, running back for the Minnesota Vikings, is waiting a decision on his status as a player after pleading no contest to one count of misdemeanor reckless assault for whipping his four-year-old son with a switch.

Sporting history is garnished with individuals who serve as role models not only in their chosen disciplines but through their life choices: philanthropists, activists and all-round good eggs such as Ennis-Hill. But the same history is also full of flawed heroes and monstrous egos and yet darker tales. A question largely ignored in the current discussions is why that might be. Is sport simply a microcosm of the world, for good and ill, or might the people who run sports bear a greater share of the responsibility?

Football teams—soccer and American football—recruit kids young and work the raw material to create winners, but not necessarily rounded human beings. Joey Barton, a soccer player who returned to the professional game after serving a jail sentence for assault and affray and now aims to be a manager, gave a revealing interview when he retired as a player in September.

“I used a lot of the dark energy to make myself a footballer,” he told the Daily Telegraph. “If I’d been a balanced person I’d never have been an elite-level sportsman. There were a lot of players more technically gifted than me but what I had was an ability to harness my anger at the world. I used anger like a fuel, a propellant, to turn in to performances.”

He argued that his flaws—and criminal record—should not rule him out as a role model. “I realized, wow, I can’t be a role model for the squeaky clean because I’m not squeaky clean. There are a lot of kids out there who feel disconnected, a bit lost. They relate to me.”

That, of course, is only a good thing if the lesson they draw from Barton is to learn from mistakes, or hopefully to avoid them in the first place, because such mistakes often take a toll not just on the person who commits them but on other people.

These are lessons team managements and sports bodies must do better in imparting to their rising stars. Their messaging must be clear and unequivocal. That is why many people believe Sheffield United should not reinstate Ched Evans.

Correction: The original version of this story mischaracterized the career of Joey Barton. He is currently a player with Queens Park Rangers.

TIME Soccer

Soccer Governing Body Wins World Cup for Chutzpah

FIFA President Sepp Blatter holding up the name of Qatar during the official announcement of the 2022 World Cup host country at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Dec. 2, 2010.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter holding up the name of Qatar during the official announcement of the 2022 World Cup host country at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Dec. 2, 2010. Philippe Desmazes—AFP/Getty Images

FIFA's announcement clearing the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding processes scores a series of spectacular own goals to clinch the title

Fans know football as “the beautiful game,” not just a sport but a metaphor in which—given a level playing field, clear rules (well, and this one) and an impartial referee—the best team wins. Ugly scenes sometimes mar the romantic vision, but players who commit fouls are duly punished.

It can often be hard to square this ideal with the off-pitch maneuvers of the bodies responsible for the sport but a Nov.13 statement by the ethics committee of FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, the Zurich-based governing body of world soccer, took the World Cup for chutzpah. The statement purported to summarize the investigation commissioned by FIFA into numerous allegations of irregularities behind bid processes that decided Russia would host the 2018 World Cup and Qatar—where daytime temperatures during the summer months of the competition routinely exceed 40°C (104°F)—would stage the tournament in 2022. The announcement trumpeted findings that put Russia, Qatar—and FIFA—in the clear. England’s Football Association (FA), by coincidence one of the organizations to raise concerns about the bid processes, came in for criticism. The FA had tried to “curry favor” with a key official as part of its doomed efforts to win the 2018 competition for London, said the ethics committee statement.

FIFA welcomed “a degree of closure.” The FA rejected FIFA’s criticism. Social media erupted with a mixture of bemusement and contempt. “Is there any grouping of 3 words more certain to induce tears of laughter than FIFA Ethics Committee?” tweeted British journalist @BryanAppleyard. Gary Lineker, a former top soccer player-turned-NBC pundit, also took to Twitter to launch a series of well placed kicks against FIFA and its autocratic President Sepp Blatter.

Lineker may have captained the England team in an earlier life, but some of the angriest responses to Fifa came from people without a dog—or country—in this particular fight. The most startling emanated from Michael Garcia, the former New York district attorney mentioned in one of Lineker’s tweets, who conducted the two-year investigation on FIFA’s behalf. FIFA’s interpretation of his report “contains numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions,” Garcia complained in a statement of his own. He plans to appeal—as Lineker wrote—to FIFA.

Meanwhile Russia greeted news that its bid had been cleared with equanimity. It had failed to provided much documentation to the investigation because, said FIFA, “computers used at the time by the Russia Bid Committee had been leased and then returned to their owner after the bidding process,” without preserving the email correspondence on them. “We were always sure that they would not find anything unlawful,” Alexei Sorokin, head of Russia’s World Cup bid, told R-SPort news agency.

 

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