Hong Kong, Neo-Colonialism and the poison pill of identity

This essay first appeared in the final issue of Ragazine.cc,  published November 2019. It was then re-published by the Lausan Collective in December 2019.

Identity is a contradictory notion. We use it to signify the objective – the externally verifiable distinguishing character of an individual – as well as the subjective – the sense of belonging that links an individual to a group. Identity evokes individuality, but also sameness. It is a curiously malleable concept, and one that is particularly compelling in a lonely, individualistic world. Framing issues using the lens of identity can elicit nuance and shed light on diverse lived experiences. It can also reduce complex realities into false dichotomies and zero-sum tribalism.
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The Devil’s Bargain: Should justice be negotiable?

This essay first appeared in the September 2019 issue of Ragazine.cc.

Recently, plea-bargaining has made the headlines, a sufficiently remarkable occasion to warrant attention. Plea-bargaining, or the bringing about of a negotiated end to criminal proceedings, has had an unusual trajectory in the US and Canada. Having developed into the primary means to secure a conviction, plea bargains have remained off the books: unregulated, unrecorded, and unpublicized. They are creations of pragmatism rather than principle, a backroom practice now rubber-stamped by the courts but remaining beyond effective judicial control. They are true creatures of obscurity – which is what makes the current buzz around the practice peculiar.

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Notre-Dame de Paris and a reflection on Progress

This essay first appeared in the July 2019 issue of Ragazine.cc.

The bishop of Paris commissioned the construction of Notre-Dame de Paris in the 12th century. It was to replace the cathedral of Saint-Etienne, itself of enormous proportions and a successor to earlier churches, and before that, a pagan temple. The first stone of the new cathedral was laid in 1163, and it took nearly a century to complete construction. Since then, Notre-Dame has borne witness to great change: a succession of kings, bloody revolutions, the establishment of a short-lived commune, emperors, a Nazi occupation, and five Republics. It has not, however, stood untouched by time: the statues of the French kings that once adorned a gallery on high were destroyed during the Revolution, and in 1843, the cathedral underwent an ambitious restoration under the direction of Viollet-Le-Duc, the architect responsible for the renewal of the medieval fortifications of Carcassonne, among other monumental projects around France.

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The hunt for Emmanuel Macron: what happens when the press and public become locked in a feedback loop of extremism

This essay first appeared in Ragazine.cc.

In May 2017, Emmanuel Macron was elected as President of France. His victory, as a young man who had assembled his own party after a single and relatively brief foray into politics occurred at a time when populist governments were being elected across Europe, the British had just voted to leave the European Union and Donald Trump was just getting started as the President of the USA.

In France, Macron’s election was accompanied by the decimation of the two political parties that had held power in France for the last 35 years. One of his first actions in power was to table a law to reduce the number of parliamentarians by 30 percent and to forbid the employment of family members as staff – a notoriously common form of corruption amongst the political class (a related scandal resulted in the spectacular undoing of Francois Fillon, the leader of the Republican party and the erstwhile frontrunner for the presidency). It was no surprise, then, that Macron would attract the undivided attention of the remnants of these political entities, who have, since then, been predictably united in their desire to see him fail. More interesting and deserving of attention is the international and French press’ complicity.

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The Serious Man and the rise of the mob: A contemporary contemplation of the works of Simone de Beauvoir and Hannah Arendt

This essay was first published in the December 2018 issue of Ragazine.cc.

In the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris, between a cafe and a sober grey church, sits a square named for Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre. The two frequented this corner of the Latin Quarter – particularly its cafes, which they used as places of intellectual exchange and camaraderie. It was there that they and their contemporaries refined the existentialist philosophy they espoused, through writing and public engagement.

De Beauvoir was a prolific memoirist, essayist and author of fiction. During the Second World War she remained in occupied Paris. Her contemporary, Hannah Arendt, also called Paris home for a handful of years. Arendt had fled her native Germany when Hitler came to power. As a woman in exile she too formed part of the intellectual community of the Latin Quarter. Arendt likely crossed paths with De Beauvoir, though they seem to have never collaborated. Arendt remained in Paris until the capitulation of France led to her arrest and internment. She escaped a camp in the south of France, making New York her subsequent home.

The indelible mark left on the two intellectuals during these dark years in Paris is best understood through an examination of their contemporaneous works. De Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity was published in 1946.[1] Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism was published in 1951.[2] Her report on the trial of Adolph Eichmann in Jerusalem, The Banality of Evil, was published in 1963.[3] The works are vastly different in magnitude and approach. What they share is that they are the fruits of two minds of exceptional power and sensitivity, produced in the attempt to understand and to expose, with intellectual rigour and honesty, the nature of evil.

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Identity and Due Process in the #MeToo era

This essay was first published in the October 2018 issue of Ragazine.cc.

The election that saw Donald Trump become the President of the United States brought on an intensive period of soul searching, understandably and necessarily, for those who had opposed him. One theory that caught traction early on to explain the failure of the liberal Left to mobilize effectively set responsibility on the shoulders of “identity politics” – social movements grouping people in relation to whatever trait they may share. The general argument was that the Left had lost much of its mainstream appeal and political clout by splintering into factions defined by identity: feminist groups, LGBT groups, disability-rights groups, etc. This devolution of a consolidated Left led to policies of exclusion, resulting in cloistered thinking that people not belonging to the group could simply not relate to.

The process of defining an identity, however, can be seen as a precursor to meaningful resistance. One can resist only in terms of the identity that is under attack, as Hannah Arendt has pointed out. A sense of identity can give gravity to an experience – belonging to a group by way of shared experience can anchor us, help us make sense of the chaos, like a routine can generate a sense of purpose out of the passage of a day. In the context of social justice, it can bring about solidarity from shared, lived experiences, and can infuse much-needed nuance and authenticity into the conversation.

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France: A look back at a history of migration

This essay was first published in Ragazine.cc, as the second of a two-part series on immigration to France.

In the late autumn of last year, my husband and I cycled along the Canal du Midi, a 17th Century feat of engineering that traverses 240 km of southwest France. We were captured by the tranquil beauty of the Hérault – a landscape of gently rolling hills and vineyards, saturated with tones of evergreen, ochre, and deep red. Long stretches of the Canal are lined with platane trees that have stood for hundreds of years, and powerful white mares with yellowed manes yet roam the fields. The countryside, dotted with hamlets and farms, and many of the villages seem untouched by the passage of time.

The foundational story of France spans millennia, from the Gauls, the Roman invasion and the Merovingian kings, to bloody revolution, empire and the Republic, now in its fifth iteration. Each civilization, changing of hands and spillage of blood has left an indelible mark on a profoundly complex culture, one that is so often presented as a monolith but is far from it. As General De Gaulle questioned, comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux cent quarante-six variétés de fromage? Equally as varied is the conversation around the changing face of France.

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Walking the line: Macron’s new asylum law attempts to appease the Right without inflaming the Left

This is the first in a two-part series first published in Ragazine.cc about migration to France. It addresses the Macron government’s new set of legal reforms aimed at improving France’s asylum law. The second part of this series deals with the modern history of immigration to France, to consider potential lessons for the future.

Over the last three years, Europe has borne witness to a massive influx of populations fleeing conflict, instability and economic hardship. According to the UN High Commission for Refugees, 326,000 refugees and migrants risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean in 2016, and another 105,000 arrived in the first half of 2017. In France alone, between 2013 and 2017, the average annual number of requests for asylum has risen from 63,000 to 100,000,[1] five times what Canada is facing, and over three times what is being dealt with by the Netherlands.[2] After peaking in 2015, the numbers of asylum claimants in France are declining steadily. Still, the public discourse surrounding migrants and specifically refugees remains impassioned and polarized.

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Lessons I learned fighting Sexual Harassment

This article was first published in Ragazine.cc. It was later re-published by ATLAS Women, an active global community of female-identifying lawyers, activists, and jurists with expertise in various facets of public international law.

I can still hear my boss, a senior lawyer, proclaiming his feelings for me as I sat across from him. Frozen silent in dismay, I frantically strategized about how exactly to reject him, the man who wielded complete power over my career at the time. I’m a litigator with eight years of experience, gained in Toronto at a large law firm and in The Hague prosecuting international crime. I’m also a woman of colour operating in an industry dominated by older, white men, and I have dealt with sexual harassment throughout my professional life. These experiences have involved unwanted touching, lewd remarks, and persistent unwanted sexual advances, and have ranged from a single incident, to conduct spanning the course of several months. They’ve involved colleagues, police officers, opposing counsel, senior lawyers, and in the most difficult of cases, a senior lawyer who was also my supervisor.

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