Exhibition explores how the Victorians are being reimagined in contemporary art

As you enter Reimag(in)ing the Victorians, a quote from Oscar Wilde faces you from across the room: “The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it.” Wilde’s statement draws the attention of visitors to two things. First, the fact that history is an ever-changing form of representation. And second, that it is form of representation produced by us.

One of the most significant – and perhaps unexpected – impacts of the Black Lives Matter movement has been an increased public understanding of history as a subjective representation of the past. The “contested history” debates that have raged over the past few years are evidence of this. And the vicious antagonism that they have provoked gives credence to the work of late 20th century writers like Keith Jenkins, who argues that there is no such thing as an entirely “objective” version of the past.

Reimag(in)ing the Victorians, which is showing at Lakeside Arts in Nottingham, explores how recent artists have engaged with 19th-century historical accounts, media and crafts. From hand-tinted colonial photography to contemporary taxidermy, the exhibition celebrates and interrogates the cultural afterlives of Victorian Britain. But by examining how we “remember” the Victorians, the exhibition also probes into how and why the past is visualised and represented in the present.

The first room of the exhibition explores how the colonial past is remembered, and what impact it continues to have on identities around the world today. Sculptures by British Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, swaddled in brightly-coloured Ankara fabric (synonymous with west African fashion), stand alongside Andrew Gilbert’s 2020 installation, Major General Andrew Gilbert Calls a Drone Strike on His Leek Phone, Magersfontein, 11th December 1899, Southern Africa.

Artworks in the exhibition, including Major General Andrew Gilbert Calls a Drone Strike on His Leek Phone, Magersfontein, 11th December 1899, Southern Africa (left).
Lakeside Arts

A carnivalesque parody of how imperial events are “remembered” in fictional accounts such as the film Zulu (1964), Gilbert’s work draws attention to how colonial actions have been lionised in popular British culture. It also explores how deeply embedded this imagery has become in our collective historical imagination.

An era of change

Of course, the Victorians were not one thing or another. They may have overseen the largest empire in the world has ever seen, but activists including Henry Sylvester Williams and Alice Kinloch also founded the Africa Association and fought for the civil rights of colonised people from the streets of London – the heart of the empire. In this way the Victorian era is composed of multiple generations and viewpoints. And it was an era that oversaw huge social and political change.

One of the furthest reaching of these changes was the industrial revolution, which not only led to the urbanisation of British society but also mass production and consumerism. But rather than stimulating creative interest in mechanised forms of production, this technological turn encouraged a rise in artisanal practices and a passion for the handmade.

From the arts and crafts movement to amateur decoupage and experiments with the photographic plate, late-Victorian creativity demonstrates a collective yearning for unique objects produced from tactile processes of making.

In the early-2000s, a similar return to handmade processes could be seen in the work of artists such as Polly Morgan, Tessa Farmer and Kate MccGwire. Emerging alongside the rise of social media and an increasingly sophisticated digital landscape, their sculptures are meticulously constructed from animal body parts and found natural objects such as feathers and insect bodies.

A moment in time

Farmer’s 2007 installation Little Savages depicts the destruction of an English fox by a swarm of skeleton fairies. These beings are microscopically composed from fern roots, insect wings and soil, and colonise their victim’s soft tissue to harvest their species’ eggs. In this way, her work subverts taxidermy’s most important function: to preserve the animal body from defilement and mutilation from parasitic organisms.

As a key 19th-century form of preservation, taxidermy has sometimes been compared to photography. Both media operate by freeze framing their subject – by stopping time. Invented in 1839, photography runs through every room of this exhibition and includes the hand-tinted Valentine Days prints by Ingrid Pollard (2017) and Mark Dion and J. Morgan Puett’s series The Ladies’ Field Club of York (1998-9).

Swarming Fever by Tessa Farmer.
Lakeside Arts

Both works draw attention to overlooked accounts of history and their anonymous subjects. Pollard’s tender hand colouring of Black Jamaicans “captured” by the photographic lens in 1891, restores a sense of individuality and dignity to subjects originally photographed to sell a servile and idyllic Jamaica to British and American investors. And her approach to the medium echoes the work of Victorian works included in the exhibition, such as photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron.

While it is crucial for us to agree that the past did exist – battles did occur, genocides were committed – how we represent it in “the present” is nevertheless a question of authorship. For the visual artists in this exhibition, the imagination and ideology involved in representing a past that no longer exists is embraced rather than denied: allowing them to explore the afterlives of the Victorians in original, powerful and poignant ways.

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PFAS forever chemicals found in English drinking water – why are they everywhere and what are the risks?

PFAS chemicals (per-and poly fluoroalkyl substances), also known as forever chemicals, are rarely out of the news at the moment. The latest concern about this chemical group is their presence in drinking water in England.

The Royal Society of Chemistry found that the UK’s drinking water standard is not stringent enough to protect us against the dangerous health effects of PFAS. The health risks include links to cancer and fertility problems.

But PFAS are a problem that is not going away anytime soon. Even if we stopped using them in products today, there are already huge amounts of them in the environment and some types of PFAS simply do not degrade. Our research has even found growing evidence of these chemicals in some of the most remote places on Earth, including the Antarctic.

To make matters worse, the PFAS chemicals that do degrade often break down into the more recalcitrant PFAS types, which then cycle around the environment endlessly.

What are PFAS?

Media coverage of the problem can be hard to follow because the PFAS group includes more than 5,000 different chemical substances.

It used to be common to read stories about poly- /perfluoro compounds (PFCs) and poly- /perfluoro alkyl acids (PFAs) rather than PFAS. Even now it is not uncommon to see products like outdoor clothing labelled as PFC free.

But a lot of PFCs are non-toxic and include a lot of widely used medical drugs. PFCs mean drugs with a carbon-fluorine bond, which is not a problem in itself. PFAS are a sub group of PFCs and they are toxic and extremely difficult to break down.

PFAs are a sub-group of PFAS chemicals. Over the last few years research has increasingly highlighted problems with the wider PFAS group than just PFAs. PFAS can be broadly split into two groups: fluoropolymers and non-polymers.


The most well-known fluoropolymer is polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) with its trademark name Teflon, first produced by Dupont in the 1940s. PTFE is the non-stick coating to cookware. Its stability to high temperatures, non-reactivity and low friction properties makes it ideal for this application. We can ingest flakes of the polymer, but it is not absorbed by the body so just passes through us.

PTFE film is also used in some types of waterproof, breathable outdoor clothing. The micropores allow the passage of water vapour (from sweat for example) but prevent water droplets seeping through, keeping the wearer dry.

Other fluoropolymers include polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) used in sensors and batteries because of its ability to hold an electrical charge. While fluoropolymers are not considered toxic, their production relies on large quantities of other toxic chemicals, like non-polymers. They are better for us because the end product doesn’t bring us into direct contact with non-polymers, but bad news for the environment as that is where the non-polymers will probably end up.


The non-polymer group has by far the biggest number of substances and their use is myriad – including in food packaging, cosmetics, medical applications, fabric coatings and electronics.

This group also includes refrigerant and cleaning solvents (replacement chemicals to the infamous CFCs banned to protect the ozone). They have high water and oil repellency and chemical stability. For industrial uses chemicals must be stable so that they do their job without reacting or breaking down. If you bought a cosmetic and it lost its colour or wouldn’t spread after a few days, for example, that wouldn’t be good.

Non-polymers also have good thermal stability. This makes it very useful for making food packaging such as pizza boxes and popcorn wrapping.

There’s a good chance non-polymers were used to make this pizza box.
Regina Foster/Shutterstock

They are used in a lot of cosmetic products and toiletries because they make the product smoother, water resistant and easier to apply.

They have an eight-carbon chain (C8) with acidic heads. The longer chain length provides better stability and less friction which means they are useful as processing aids in polymer manufacture.

Since 2000, industry has moved away from C8 chemistry and shifted towards shorter chain length chemicals because of concerns over toxicity of the longer-chain compounds and their harm to the environment.

The shorter chain length does help them break down faster and makes them less toxic. However they don’t perform as well as the longer chain chemicals. So manufacturers use more of them in products and more of them get into the environment.

The long, fluorinated (F) eight-carbon ‘backbone’ provides thermal and chemical stability and is hydrophobic while the acid head is hydrophilic.
Crispin Halsall, CC BY

Toxic effects

The widespread of these chemical groups comes at a cost. PFAS enter the environment through the everyday use and disposal of products that contain them. Emissions from fluoropolymer manufacturing sites is another source.

Domestic and commercial wastewater contains PFAS, which is released into rivers and ocean currents and into remote parts of the planet as evidenced by my team’s recent work investigating high levels of PFAS in Arctic sea ice.

Humans are typically exposed to these chemicals through drinking water, food and household dust. They are a problem for our health because these chemicals have an acid head which tends to interact with and bind to protein molecules in blood. This has knock-on effects on health.

There is strong evidence to demonstrate that exposure to specific PFAS is linked with liver disease, cancer and damages people’s reproductive systems and children’s development. Another area of concern is repression of the immune system and lowered response to vaccines.

Many other countries such as the US and Denmark have revised their drinking water standards. It’s time UK drinking water standards caught up. Läs mer…

Gaza war: what do we know about the hostage-prisoner exchanges and are they likely to resume?

During the seven-day truce agreed between Israel and Hamas, seven exchanges were made of hostages held by Hamas for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. But on November 30, the two sides failed to reach an agreement on the eighth exchange and there has since been a resumption of the fighting in the Gaza Strip.

While this “humanitarian pause” continued, 107 hostages – including 83 Israelis and 24 foreign nationals – who were taken by force by Hamas on October 7, were returned to Israel. The majority of them were young children and their mothers. A few elderly women were also released.

This leaves 120 Israelis still being held in Gaza. Only three of these hostages were members of the Israel Defense Forces on active duty at the time of their capture.

The Geneva conventions explicitly prohibit the taking of hostages and the prohibition is “now firmly entrenched in customary international law and is considered a war crime”. This applies to civilians, veterans, and combatants.

While combatants may fall under enemy control and be considered prisoners of war, it is unlawful to capture combatants in order to compel a third party to carry out or abstain from something.

The taking of Israeli hostages is not a new strategy for Palestinian militant organisations, who have used hostages as bargaining chips for prisoner swaps. But the scale and demographics of those captured on October 7 are unprecedented.

Former hostage negotiator Gershon Baskin told the Christian Science Monitor that the senior Hamas leader considered to be the architect of the October 7 attacks, Yahya Sinwar, is personally dedicated to ensuring the release of all Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, having promised to do so following his release as part of a 2011 prisoner swap.

Hamas leader, Yahya Sinwar – believed to be the architect of the October 7 attack – has vowed to secure the release of all Palestinians in Israeli detention.
EPA-EFE/Haitham Imad

Evidence from a Hamas planning document revealed by the New York Times showed there were specific instructions to Hamas fighters to capture hostages precisely for this goal.

Thus far, Sinwar’s strategy has worked. Due to pressure domestically – not least from hostages’ families – and from Washington, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, agreed to a three-to-one ratio release of Palestinians for Israelis, alongside a temporary ceasefire.

During the exchange, 240 Palestinian women and children have been released, the majority of whom are children 18 or under. Some were charged with terrorist activity, others included stone-throwing, throwing firebombs and possession of weapons.

The more prominent Palestinians freed include activist Ahed Tamimi, 22, who was first arrested for slapping and kicking an Israeli soldier in 2017 after her 15-year-old cousin was shot in the head with a rubber bullet. She had been active in the popular resistance in her village of Nabi Saleh in the West Bank. She was rearrested in November for allegedly inciting terrorism online.

Two others, Misoun Mussa and Marah Bakeer, were sentenced in 2015 to 15 years and eight and a half years, respectively, for stabbing attacks. None of those released have murdered Israelis.

It has been reported that nearly 80% of the 300 Palestinian women and children detainees who were initially identified for release have never been formally charged. This has shone a harsh light on Israel’s military judicial system, particularly this policy of administrative detention.

Administrative detention

Administrative detention is where a person is held without trial and without having committed a crime on the presumption that they intend to break the law in the future.

International human rights law allows for some limited use of administrative detention for imperative reasons of security. It is also permitted under article 285 of Israeli military order 1651 regarding security provisions in the West Bank.

Reunited: Palestinian activist and writer Ahed Tamimi greets relatives after being released from Israeli custody.
EPA-EFE/Alaa Badarneh

But my research highlights that, despite Israeli laws containing provisions to protect detainees and limit the use of administrative detention to only extreme circumstances, it has been used extensively. According to the human rights organisation Addameer, there were 2,409 administrative detention orders issued in 2022.

Higher value prisoners

The hostage deal so far has involved women and children, most of whom were held under administrative detention. So it is relatively easy for the Netanyahu government to justify their release in these circumstances.

But from here, negotiations for further exchanges are likely to become more difficult. The Israeli security establishment will be reluctant to release Palestinians who have been convicted of murder and who are considered to pose a significant security threat. Hamas, meanwhile, will place a higher value on the men that they continue to hold.

In 2011, Israel released 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, including 300 who had killed Israelis, in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who had been held captive for five years. Gershon Baskin, who led the back-channel negotiations, details the complexity of reaching this deal in his 2013 book, The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Shalit from Hamas.

Given the remaining Israeli hostages in Gaza are mostly fighting-age males, the price for their return is likely to be much higher than has been agreed upon thus far. Sinwar is said to believe that he has enough Israeli hostages to enable the release of all Palestinians held in Israeli jails, which now number 7,200.

Now that the fighting has resumed, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is likely to worsen as Israel pushes further and further south. It’s hard to see how or when it will be possible for the antagonists to reach further deals. Läs mer…

Argentina’s Brexit: why new president Milei is threatening to pull out of South America’s common market

Javier Milei, who was elected as Argentina’s new president on November 19, has promised to withdraw from the South American “common market”, Mercosur.

This decision could have significant economic and social repercussions for Argentina, potentially similar to when the UK pulled out of the EU. Mercosur has some similarities to the EU . For instance, nationals of nine South American countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay and Uruguay) enjoy the right to enter, reside and work in all of the above countries.

Those rights are enshrined in the Mercosur Residence Agreements, which were adopted in 2002 and came into force in 2009. Between 2009 and 2021, over 3.6 million South Americans obtained residence permits allowing them to live in other countries through the Mercosur agreements, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Argentina played a crucial role in the adoption of these agreements. They resulted from an Argentinian proposal to establish a permanent mechanism for citizens of Mercosur countries to gain access to legal residence in other nations. For the past 20 years, Argentina has also played a leading role in regional migration policy.

Its 2004 migration law, which has been praised by the UN as a model, has had significant influence on migration law in other countries in the region.

Mercosur was established in 1991. Every country in the region is either a full or an associate member state. It seeks to deepen economic and trade integration among its members, to grow cooperation on social policies and serve as a common platform for global geopolitics to create a common approach to some international issues, such as migration and trade.

Mercosur and the EU have also been negotiating a trade agreement for years, but it is not yet clear if it will be ratified.

Read more:
New Argentinian president Javier Milei promises to ’take a chainsaw’ to country’s crippled economy

Why pull out?

Against this backdrop, it is worth considering the motivations for Milei’s proposal to leave Mercosur, its possible repercussions and the procedure that would need to be followed.

Milei, a self-proclaimed anarcho-capitalist libertarian, who advocates for minimal state intervention and the adoption of the US dollar as Argentina’s currency, has proposed Argentina leave international and intergovernmental organisations. These include the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) community, which it was invited to join by 2024, and the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), which it rejoined in 2023.

According to Milei, neither the state, nor supranational and regional organisations, should interfere with free trade. For this reason, Milei described Mercosur as a hindrance.

Argentina would face three significant challenges, if it were to leave. First, Mercosur has provided stability in the region and a platform for Argentina to voice its ideas, interests and demands internationally. Leaving the organisation would, therefore, weaken Argentina’s ability to address shared regional and global challenges, isolating the country from the rest of the region and the world.

Second, this could affect the functioning of the residence agreements mentioned earlier, making it harder for Argentinians to work in other South American countries and vice versa. It is worth noting that around 80% of migrants to Argentina originate from other parts of South America. In addition to that, more than 300,000 Argentinians live in other South American countries and their rights could be affected by such a decision.

Third, this would also have a cost for the Argentine economy. Mercosur accounts for almost 25% of all Argentine exports and intra-regional trade has been growing in the last years .

Argentina’s trade partners, by country

Finally, Article 21 of Mercosur’s 1991 founding treaty requires any state wanting to leave the agreement to formally communicate it to the other member states 60 days before leaving. As well as this, Argentina’s constitution requires an absolute majority vote in both the Congress and Senate to make such a move.

It is worth mentioning that the president-elect’s party and allies do not even hold a simple majority, in either of the chambers, the deputies and Senate. However, the president does have, on many issues, the legal power to bypass Congress by issuing executive decrees.

In the days after the election, Milei and his newly appointed ministers softened some of the more radical proposals in their agenda. For instance, the minister of foreign affairs designate Diana Mondino recently declared that Argentina “will not obstruct the Mercosur-EU Agreement” and will maintain good relations with Brazil, Argentina’s main trade partner and the most significant economy in South America. But Mondino has confirmed that Argentina will not join Brics.

This suggests that Milei may have to tone down his more radical ideas in line with political and legal realities. Clearly they were intended to attract an electorate that is deeply unhappy with the previous government’s economic mismanagement and the current economic crisis.

The rest of South America will be closely monitoring the political developments of a country that still leads regional agendas on current issues of global relevance, such as climate change and migration, to see which way it will turn. Läs mer…

Why some people from the north of England end up leaving everything to King Charles when they die

What connects an ex-miner and lifelong republican, who once manned the protest lines at Orgreave, with King Charles III? The surprising answer, as the Guardian reported, is that the ex-miner’s estate now forms part of a fund which generates private income for the monarch.

The reason is the legal principle of bona vacantia. This is loosely translated as “ownerless goods” and refers to a process through which the estates of people who die without heirs in England and Wales are claimed by the crown.

The principle of bona vacantia operates when a person dies in England and Wales without leaving a valid will disposing of all of their assets and there is no heir to their estate under the intestacy rules. These rules, set out in the Administration of Estates Act 1925, set out the classes of people who can inherit the property of an intestate (or partially intestate) person.

These classes are ranked and then gone through in order to see if an heir can be found. In broad terms, no surviving relative further away from the deceased than a first cousin can inherit. Remoter family members are generally excluded. When no one closer than a cousin can be found, the unclaimed part of the estate (the bona vacantia) passes to, and is collected by, the crown.

Most of these estates are claimed by the Treasury solicitor, the government legal department which handles the administration of the estate and then passes the surplus to the government for its general expenditure.

However, the estates of people who died resident in the historic County Palatine of Lancaster (including greater Manchester, Merseyside, Lancashire and the Furness area of Cumbria) pass under the bona vacantia rules to the Duke of Lancaster. That is, the current reigning monarch, King Charles.

The estates collected by the Duchy of Lancaster are incorporated into its private estate of land, property and assets, with the function of providing private income for the monarch.

This is an extremely ancient power, dating back to a 1377 grant made by Edward III to John of Gaunt when he was Duke of Lancaster. Today, it is part of the Administration of Estates Act 1925.

A similar rule applies to the estates of those dying within the county of Cornwall. These estates pass to the Duke of Cornwall, who is also the Prince of Wales, Charles’s son, William.

Although many of these unclaimed estates are not large, the aggregate sums received by the duchies are considerable. The Guardian reports that over the past ten years, the Duchy of Lancaster alone has collected around £61.8 million.

The Treasury solicitor and the two duchies will advertise for any entitled relatives to come forward, and will make transfers to those entitled under the heirship rules. All three also have a discretion to make payments from the estate to those who may have a legitimate claim on it otherwise than through heirship, particularly under the provisions of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

These include carers for the deceased person, or cohabitants. Some of the remainder is used for investment and to maintain duchy assets, and the surplus given to charity.

A controversial change apparently benefits King Charles

Many people are broadly aware, and broadly satisfied, that if they die without heirs, their property will go to the state in the form of the crown. However, when the Law Commission last consulted on the principles of intestacy and bona vacantia in 2011, some public unease about the point was detected.

A significant minority thought that the rule was anachronistic and that unclaimed assets should be given directly to charity. The Law Commission did not take this up, in part because the latest available reports and accounts at that time showed that the net proceeds of bona vacantia in both duchies passed entirely to charity.

Property in an area of the Duchy of Lancaster.
Shutterstock/Fencewood Studio

The Guardian’s reporting has now revealed that there was an apparent significant shift in the administration of the Duchy of Lancaster’s funds in 2020. One particularly controversial change has been the alleged use of money to improve historic property within the Duchy’s portfolio, which is then rented out for profit.

The paper has also raised questions about how much of the duchy’s income is currently being paid to charitable causes, as this appears to have dropped.

There is the further question of whether it is fair, or relevant, that the estates of those who happen to die resident in Lancashire or Cornwall should become private assets of the monarch or his heir, while those who die resident elsewhere have their estates passed to the British state more generally.

Whatever the resolution of these issues may be, there is a clear message for those who strongly wish their estates to go to charity and not to the crown: make a will.

All wills can be drafted so that if there are no living heirs left, the estate can be given to a charity of the deceased’s choice as a fallback. Many charities offer will writing services which can help. When it comes to legacies, it’s essential to plan ahead. Läs mer…

Native American mothers whose children have been separated from them experience a raw and ongoing grief that has no end

Native American mothers whose children were separated from them – either through child removal for assimilation into residential boarding schools or through coerced adoption – experience the kind of grief no parent should ever feel. Yet theirs is a loss that is ongoing, with no sense of meaning or closure.

While some families have eventually been reunited, far too many languish in the child welfare system, where Native American children are overrepresented as a result of discrimination and racial bias, structural racism and increased exposure to poverty.

A panel I attended years ago in California was composed of three birth mothers representing three generations of Native American women who had lost a child to foster care or adoption. While each story was unique, they had one thing in common: a never-ending grief that had stayed with them long after they were separated from their children.

I still vividly recall that, with a lump in her throat, one of these mothers said, “I can still hear my baby crying.” Those mothers and their stories left a lasting impression on me and my colleagues, which was the catalyst for a new line of research for us. After listening to the panel, my collaborator Sandy White Hawk, a Sicangu Lakota elder of the Rosebud Tribe in South Dakota, responded, “We have to do something for our birth mothers. We cannot let them pass to the other side carrying this grief.”

I am an assistant professor of human sciences and I conduct research in partnership with the First Nations Repatriation Institute. This work focuses on the health and well-being of Native American families that have experienced family separation by way of the foster care system and adoption.

For the past 10 years, we have explored the outcomes of fostered and adopted children and what happens when families are reunified.

Foster care and adoption

The adoption era refers to a period of time beginning in the 1950s with the Indian Adoption Project, a collaborative effort between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Child Welfare League of America. It aimed to promote the adoption of Native American children into non-Native homes and has been criticized as another attempt at forced assimilation into non-Native American culture and the destruction of Native American families.

The adoption era continued until the enactment of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, which aimed to protect the best interests of Native American children by establishing federal standards for their removal and placement. An estimated 25% to 35% of Native American children were removed from their families prior to the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978.

The Indian Child Welfare Act protects Indian children by prioritizing placement with extended families, within the tribe or with an Indian family.

The child welfare system tracks when children leave the system through reunification with family of origin. Reunification can occur after aging out of foster care at age 18 or being adopted.

To date, there is no way to consistently track how many fostered and adopted Native American children have reunited with their family of origin. However, our team’s studies suggest that more than 80% of Native American people who were fostered or adopted eventually reunify.

The Indian Child Welfare Act, passed in 1978, was intended to combat the forced, unwarranted removal of Native American children from their families. Prior to the law, more than three-quarters of Indian families living on reservations lost a child to the foster care system.

Separated families

The loss of a child to foster care, adoption or both is not uncommon in the United States. In 2021, approximately 606,031 children were involved in the foster care system. According to the latest data provided by the Children’s Bureau, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in September 2021 more than 391,000 children were residing in foster care and over 113,000 were waiting to be adopted. In addition, more than 54,240 children were adopted through public child welfare agencies in 2021.

Legislation known as the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 requires only that states report adoptions that occur in public child welfare agencies. Therefore, the statistics above do not account for the thousands of children who are adopted, often as infants, through private agencies outside of the child welfare system. Unfortunately, there is no way to determine the total number of children adopted each year in the U.S.

This is especially true for Native American children. Alarming numbers of Native American children remain involved in the child welfare system. Allegations of abuse and neglect of Native children at the hands of their parents and other caregivers are twice as likely to be investigated, and Native American children are four times more likely to be placed out of the home than white children.

In my view, the rights of Native American caregivers to raise their children have been violated by systematic practices of child removal that targeted Native American families. Until recently, Native American mothers have been omitted from research on the grief and loss of birth parents.

Systematic child removal and adoption has left generations of Native American families with unreconciled grief and loss.
Alison Wright/Corbis Documentary via Getty Images

Ambiguous loss

As a family therapist, I have sat with hundreds of families that were grieving the loss of a loved one, particularly a child lost to miscarriage, stillbirth and even death. Still, I was struck by the grief of Native American birth mothers. This grief was different. While it sounded like the grief that follows the death of a child, these children had not died. They were taken. They were alive but still lost.

While my colleagues and I have spoken with dozens of Native American birth mothers over the years, we interviewed eight of them who lost a child to adoption for what is called a phenomenological study. Phenomenology is used to explore the lived experiences of a group of people who experienced a similar event or phenomenon.

We wanted to understand the lived experiences of these mothers. We asked them how they became a birth mother, how their child came to be adopted and how this experience affected their health and well-being.

Our study found that these Native American birth mothers experienced ambiguous loss, which is a loss that remains unverified and without resolution.

In Native American culture, mothers are revered as “life givers.” The loss of a child to adoption stripped Native American birth mothers of this respected role and of their dignity.

Loss is often linked to death, but there are other types of losses. In ambiguous loss, there is no closure or resolution. Ambiguous loss is different from other kinds of loss. It is unfathomable, confusing and immobilizing.

There are two primary types of ambiguous loss. One is a psychological absence with physical presence, such as when a loved one has dementia. Another is physical absence with psychological presence, such as the loss of a child to the foster care or adoption system.

The downstream effects

Our research suggests that many Native American birth mothers felt forced to surrender their children to adoption because they were young and lacked resources. In many cases, they were unable to say goodbye or hold the baby. They felt ashamed and unworthy.

In addition to the unresolved grief, these mothers became vulnerable to mental health and substance abuse problems.

From my perspective, there are glaring and unanswered questions on the ethics and well-being of foster and adoption practices for children separated from Native American families. Native American adults who were fostered, adopted or both have also reported experiencing profound grief that parallels the ambiguous loss felt by Native American birth mothers.

The healing of Native American birth mothers will be an ongoing and collective effort. One by one, Native American birth mothers are telling their stories. These stories are gaining momentum. What happened to one woman happened to many others.

Credit to Sicangu Lakota elder Sandy White Hawk, founder and director of First Nations Repatriation Institute, whose vision guides this work. White Hawk is a senior author on studies that emerge from this work. Läs mer…

A First Amendment battle looms in Georgia, where the state is framing opposition to a police training complex as a criminal conspiracy

When does lawful protest become criminal activity? That question is at issue in Atlanta, where 57 people have been indicted and arraigned on racketeering charges for actions related to their protest against a planned police and firefighter training center that critics call “Cop City.”

Racketeering charges typically are reserved for people accused of conspiring toward a criminal goal, such as members of organized crime networks or financiers engaged in insider trading. Georgia Attorney General Christopher Carr is attempting to build an argument that seeking to stop construction of the police training facility – through actions that include organizing protests, occupying the construction site and vandalizing police cars and construction equipment – constitutes a “corrupt agreement” or shared criminal goal.

The indictment’s justification is rooted in long-standing anti-anarchist sentiments within the U.S. government. However, some civil rights organizations call this combination of charges unprecedented.

As scholars who study environmental change and social justice, we believe the charges seek to suppress typical acts of civil disobedience. They also target grassroots community organizing models and ideas rooted in the practice of mutual aid – people organizing collective networks in order to meet each other’s basic needs.

The RICO indictment against ‘Cop City’ protesters describes the accused protesters as ‘militant anarchists.’

The ‘Stop Cop City’ movement

“Cop City,” officially known as the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, was first proposed in 2017. The facility is expected to cost US$90 million and is located on 85 acres of public land in the Weelaunee Forest, once home to the Indigenous Muscogee Creek peoples. The site is owned by the city of Atlanta but sits on unincorporated land in DeKalb County, just outside the city.

The opposition campaign has garnered support from activists and environmentalists who are concerned about militarization of police forces and potential threats to the Black community, as well as to climate resilience in Atlanta.

Members of Defend the Atlanta Forest, a decentralized movement of grassroots groups and individuals, argue that the threatened forest provides essential ecological services – filtering rainwater, preventing flooding, providing habitat for wildlife and cooling the city in a time of climate change.

Activists have led protest marches, written letters to elected officials and organized a referendum for the public to decide the future of the property. Some have camped out in the Welaunee Forest – a method that radical environmental defense groups like Earth First! have used to delay or prevent logging. In one instance, activists reportedly set construction equipment on fire.

Authorities have responded with force.

In January 2023, police fatally shot activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán, who had been camping on the Cop City site for months. Authorities assert that Terán had shot and wounded a state trooper, while Terán’s family contends that they were protesting peacefully.

An independent autopsy concluded that Teran was shot 57 times while sitting with hands raised. A prosecutor opted not to file charges against state troopers involved in the shootout, calling their use of deadly force “objectively reasonable.”

Attorney General Carr indicted 61 activists on Sept. 5, 2023, under Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which is a broader version of the 1970 federal RICO law. Three defendants have been charged with money laundering for transferring money to protesters occupying the forest around the construction site, and five are charged with domestic terrorism and arson. Some of the accused face up to 20 years in prison.

Clashes between protesters and police have continued. Protesters organized a march for Nov. 13 and were met by heavily armed police officers in riot gear. When activists attempted to push past the officers, the police used tear gas and flash-bang grenades.

How does RICO apply?

Georgia’s 109-page indictment of “Cop City” protesters paints a broad – and, in our view, troubling – picture of the actions and beliefs that allegedly contributed to what it describes as a corrupt agreement.

The indictment cites the 2020 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police as the event that sparked the “conspiracy.” It refers to the Atlanta-based movement as the Defend the Atlanta Forest “Enterprise” and describes participants as engaging with “anarchist” ideas and practices such as “collectivism, mutualism/mutual aid, and social solidarity.”

Protesters use these practices, the indictment asserts, to advance their goal of stopping construction of the training center. As evidence, it cites examples, including posting calls to action on online blogs, reimbursement for printed documents and transferring money to activists for materials such as camping gear, food, communications equipment and, in two instances, ammunition.

Georgia Attorney General Christopher Carr has filed a sweeping RICO indictment against dozens of activists protesting the planned police training site.
AP Photo/John Amis, File

Threatening First Amendment rights

As we see it, these activists are being criminalized for their political beliefs and for engaging in activities protected by the First Amendment, such as exercising free speech. Throughout the indictment, the Georgia attorney general uses the term “anarchist,” we believe, as a synonym for “criminal.”

Such language echoes the Immigration Act of 1903, also known as the Anarchist Exclusion Act. This law targeted anarchists for exclusion from the U.S. solely based on their political beliefs. Section 2 of the law states that “anarchists, or persons who believe in or advocate the overthrow by force or violence of the government of the United States or of all governments or all forms of law, shall be excluded from admission into the United States.”

This wording reflects a widespread view of anarchy as a state of violent disorder. In fact, however, many anarchist thinkers actually proposed to organize society on the basis of voluntary cooperation, without political institutions or hierarchical government.

Another, broader view of anarchy is that it is an ideology and practice of organizing communities and society in ways that confront any and all forms of oppression, including oppression by government.

Why would such a philosophy be deemed threatening? Consider recent U.S. history.

The Black Panthers

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the federal government sought to repress and criminalize the Black Panther Party for Self Defense as part of a covert and illegal counterintelligence program, known as COINTELPRO.

The Black Panther Party created extensive community survival and mutual aid programs for Black communities at a time of ongoing government neglect. Offerings included free access to medical and dental clinics, ambulance service and buses to visit friends and relatives in prison.

The Black Panther Party organized dozens of social programs to directly meet local needs in underserved areas like New York’s South Bronx.

The Black Panthers’ free breakfast for children program fed thousands of children across the country. In Chicago, local police destroyed food the night before the program was set to begin operations. A memo by an FBI special agent called the program an attempt to “create an image of civility” and “assume community control,” thus threatening the centralized authority of the U.S. government.

Federal agencies relied mainly on covert tactics to surveil, infiltrate and discredit the Black Panther Party. Like the Cop City protesters, the Black Panthers also engaged in direct confrontations with police.

However, we see the current use of RICO charges to address political activism and protest activities as a new tactic.

Future implications

In our research, we have explored how mutual aid groups establish networks of care and survival in the face of climate change. We expect mutual aid to become even more important for Black and Indigenous people of color as environmental disasters become more frequent.

From our perspective, efforts to stop Cop City demonstrate the interconnection between two critical issues: overpolicing of communities of color and climate change. We see Georgia’s RICO indictment as an attempt to repress social movement activity, using the state’s tools of legal interpretation and enforcement.

Criminalizing collectivism, mutual aid and social solidarity is particularly concerning for historically marginalized populations, who often rely on these tactics for survival.

Seeking to use the state’s political processes, organizers recently collected over 116,000 signatures supporting a ballot referendum that, if approved, would cancel the lease of the city-owned site for the training center.

However, Atlanta officials have refused to verify those signatures as they await a federal court ruling on whether the organizers missed a key deadline. Meanwhile, Atlanta is already clearing land for construction at the training site. Läs mer…

’Wonka’ movie holds remnants of novel’s racist past

Several years ago, I made a visit to a local book sale and came across a rare 1964 edition of Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Popular in its own right, the novel has also served as the inspiration for a number of movies, including “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory” – the classic 1971 movie starring the late Gene Wilder – a 2005 reboot starring Johnny Depp, and “Wonka”, the 2023 version.

As a child of the 1980s, I had voraciously consumed Dahl’s novels, so I knew the book well. But the illustrations in this particular edition looked unfamiliar.

Once I brought the worn and tattered book home and began to read it aloud to my kids, I realized that some passages looked unfamiliar as well. My voice faltered as the Oompa-Loompas – the pint-sized workers in Wonka’s chocolate factory – appeared and Charlie asked, “Are they really made out of chocolate, Mr. Wonka?”

To which Wonka replied: “Nonsense!”

“They belong to a tribe of tiny miniature pygmies known as Oompa-Loompas,” Wonka explains in this version of the book. “I discovered them myself. I brought them over from Africa myself – the whole tribe of them, three thousand in all. I found them in the very deepest and darkest part of the African jungle where no white man had ever been before.”

The accompanying black-and-white illustration of several dark-skinned Oompa-Loompas left me stunned.

An illustration of dark-skinned Oompa-Loompas from the 1964 version of Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.’

An illustration of white Oompa-Loompas from a 2011 edition of Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.’

Dahl’s book is part of a long history of children’s books that feature racist stereotypes – a list that includes six Dr. Seuss books that were removed from publication in 2021. Other children’s classics, such as “Peter Pan” and “Mary Poppins,” have also been criticized for perpetuating racism.

As an English lecturer who specializes in decoding some of the hidden meanings and dark realities in popular children’s stories, I looked deeper into the blatant racism in the 1964 edition of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” comparing it to a more recent copy from 2011.

Notably, the description of the Oompa-Loompa’s skin had been changed from “almost black” to “rosy-white.” And rather than coming from Africa, they came from “Loompaland.” I learned that these changes were made by Dahl for the 1974 edition after criticism by the NAACP and others. Dahl’s response was to remove the Black characters altogether.

Yet as philosophy lecturer Ron Novy points out, even the latest editions of the book still perpetuate racist and imperialist ideologies.

Parallels with slavery

When Wonka describes how he “smuggled” the Oompa-Loompas into the country in “large packing cases with holes in them,” the image clearly recalls slave ships navigating the Middle Passage. Wonka’s promise to pay the Oompa-Loompas’ wages in cacao beans, and the admission that no one ever sees them come in or out of the factory, reinforces the Oompa-Loompas’ subjugation to Willy Wonka, who plays the role of their “Great White Father,” as fourth grade reading teacher Katherine Baxter noted in 1974.

Historian Donald Yacovone has pointed out that, even in its revised form, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” has long contributed to the perpetuation of white supremacist ideology. Not only do the Oompa-Loompas immediately appear – ready to obey – whenever Wonka clicks his fingers, but Wonka is also repeatedly dismissive of them. He calls them “charming” but tells his visitors not to believe a word the Oompa-Loompas say. “It’s all nonsense, every bit of it!”

Wonka even uses the Oompa-Loompas as experimental subjects. He feeds them gum that turns them into blueberries and fizzy drinks that send one unfortunate man aloft until he “disappeared out of sight” and was never seen again. These experiments seem a grotesque parody of the myriad cases of enslaved and free Black Americans who have been subjected to experimental surgeries, treatments and medical neglect.

In both the book’s current version and in the original, he smuggles them into his factory and pays them in cacao beans because they were “practically starving to death” and cacao was “the one food that they longed for more than any other … but they couldn’t get it” = on their own.

It’s an absurd assertion that this community of people, originally located in the heart of Africa, cannot access a crop that, while native to the Amazon, is primarily grown in West African countries. That they need Wonka to give them access to the resources of their own land is a damaging colonialist fantasy – one which, as Yacovone notes, has historically buoyed, rather than diminished, the popularity of the novel and the 1971 and 2005 films.

Maintaining the status quo

Unfortunately, the latest Wonka movie also engages in the type of implicit racism that remains in the revised 1974 version of the novel. The most prominent Black character, a girl named Noodle, played by the talented Calah Lane, takes a back seat to Wonka in the major events of the film.

The new Wonka almost broke from the tradition of having Wonka played by white men. Early in the new film’s conception, Newsweek reported that actor, comedian and musician Donald Glover was under consideration for the lead role, a choice that could have at least begun to force a rewrite of the original novel’s racist narrative.

Instead, the film casts Noodle in the position of an unfortunate Black girl who can only hope for a ride on Wonka’s velvet coattails.

“I know things haven’t been easy for you,” Wonka says in the movie. “They’re going to get better.”

“You promise?” Noodle replies, hopefully, and he does promise, highlighting his role as her white savior. Another character in voice-over agrees: “You could change her life, Mr. Wonka. Change all their lives.”

I was initially hopeful about the prospect of a movie that moves away from the novel’s racist origins, yet still imparts the power of imagination on a new generation. Unfortunately, moviegoers may find themselves having to hold their breath and make a wish, as Gene Wilder stated in a song from the 1971 movie, for a version that holds no remnants of its racist past. Läs mer…

How the keffiyeh – a practical garment used for protection against the desert sun – became a symbol of Palestinian identity

After Israel declared war on Hamas following the militant group’s surprise attack on Oct. 7, 2023, and hostilities resumed in the region, some Palestinians have been urging non-Palestinians to wear the keffiyeh, a distinctive checkered scarf, during protests.

Indeed, several Palestinian diaspora communities and their allies across the globe have taken to wearing the keffiyeh as a mark of solidarity. Last week, three Palestinian students who were shot in Vermont were wearing black-and-white keffiyeh scarves.

As a scholar of immigrant communities and religious minorities in Europe, I am aware of the history that shaped the keffiyeh’s origins and its transformation as a symbol of Palestinian cultural and national identity.

Use across diverse cultures

The keffiyeh has deep roots that stretch back centuries in the arid landscapes of the Middle East. Traditionally crafted from cotton, it was first donned by the nomadic Bedouin tribes as a protection against the desert sun and sand.

The keffiyeh’s usefulness in the desert landscape played a key role in its widespread popularity across diverse cultures in the region. At the turn of the 20th century, both Jewish and Arab communities wore the keffiyeh.

Many Jews who moved to Ottoman- and British-controlled Palestine chose to wear the keffiyeh because they saw it as part of the authentic local lifestyle.

Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion wearing a keffiyeh on a tour of the Negev region in 1949.
National Photo Collection of Israel, Photography dept. Government Press Office

A symbol of Palestinian identity

Apart from its practicality, the keffiyeh also emerged as a symbol of class struggle. While rural farmers wore the keffiyeh, the Palestinian middle and upper class embraced the fez. Also known as “tarboush,” the fez is a traditional brimless hat popularized by the Ottomans, typically made of felt and adorned with a tassel.

The fez was made popular in the 1800s by the region’s former ruler, Ottoman Emperor Mahmud II. The Palestinian elite adapted these Ottoman-style hats as a standard form of dress.

In the 1930s, the keffiyeh underwent a second transformation. During the revolt against the British, who took over Palestine from the Ottoman Empire after the First World War, the keffiyeh became a distinctive national symbol that united all Palestinians and replaced the fez.

Some rebels strategically donned the keffiyeh to hide their faces, as a way to avoid potential repercussions from British authorities.

It underwent another transformation following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. After the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the keffiyeh became an expression of Palestinian resilience against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Worn by both those who were displaced and those who remained, the headdress captured the emotional connection to the land.

The keffiyeh’s prominence soared notably in the 1970s when Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, a Palestinian nationalist movement, adopted and popularized the garment. Arafat’s distinctive style, featuring the keffiyeh draped over his head and shoulders, became synonymous with the Palestinian cause. In 1974, he addressed the United Nations while wearing the keffiyeh.

PLO leader Yasser Arafat wearing the keffiyeh.

The keffiyeh has even been addressed in news headlines as “the unofficial flag of Palestine,” and Palestinian communities globally mark a World Keffiyeh Day on May 11. It has become popular among Palestinian militant groups as well as Palestinian rights activists.

In recent years, influential cultural figures such as Palestinian singer and 2013 “Arab Idol” winner Mohammed Assaf have contributed to the further popularization of the keffiyeh.

Symbol of solidarity

The keffiyeh’s resonance has not been confined to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As images of Palestinian protests and resistance spread globally, so did the symbol of the keffiyeh. Activists and supporters around the world adopted the keffiyeh as a gesture of solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

The fashion industry has played an important role in spreading the keffiyeh globally. Its typical design with the fishing net and olive leaf engravings symbolizing the Palestinian economy has found its way onto various clothing items, ranging from scarves to shirts. However, these items often lack the political context that defines the keffiyeh’s importance for Palestinians.

Its promotion as a fashion accessory and the appropriation of its checkered design by some leading fashion brands have sparked debates about the importance of respecting the political and historical context of the keffiyeh. At the same time, keffiyeh manufacturers in the Palestinian territories are also facing increasing competition from factories in China.

Despite these challenges, the keffiyeh continues to be worn by Palestinians and supporters worldwide. Läs mer…

Why all civilian lives matter equally, according to a military ethicist

Some commentators have criticized Israel for causing what is claimed to be disproportionate harm to civilians in its military response to Hamas’ Oct. 7, 2023, attack.

Others have defended Israel’s actions, claiming that such force – and the risk to civilians involved – is necessary to eliminate Hamas, which some Israelis believe poses an existential threat to Israel.

As of Nov. 25, according to health officials in the Gaza Strip, more than 14,000 Palestinians have been killed, the majority of whom are women and children.

But one of the arguments given by defenders of Israel’s actions is that, tragic though these deaths are, the harm inflicted on civilians is proportionate because it is outweighed by the importance of destroying Hamas.

But what does “proportionate” mean in the context of civilian deaths? And how should we assess Israel’s claims of proportionality against critics who argue that Israel’s actions have caused disproportionate harm to civilians? As a scholar of war crimes and military ethics, I argue that to assess these claims requires careful thought about what it really means to value civilian lives. If all civilian lives are morally equal, as international law holds, then the lives of civilians on both sides of a conflict should be treated with the same degree of respect.

Why targeting civilians is wrong

International humanitarian law, or IHL, prohibits direct attacks on noncombatants – a category that includes civilians as well as wounded and surrendered soldiers. IHL also prohibits direct attacks on civilian objects such as schools, religious centers and hospitals and other civilian infrastructure.

However, because it is impossible to avoid all harm to civilians in a war zone, IHL permits attacks on military targets that are likely to cause harm to civilians if two conditions are met: First, the foreseeable harm to civilians must be proportionate to the military advantage sought by the attack. And second, the choice of tactics and weapons – what is referred to in IHL as the “means and methods” – must also aim to minimize risk to civilians, even if it means putting more soldiers in harm’s way.

The prohibitions on directly targeting civilians and exposing civilians to disproportionate risk of harm exist because, under IHL, civilians have protected status as long as they take “no active part in the hostilities.” This means that, as stated in the Geneva Conventions – the set of international treaties governing the conduct of armed conflict – all civilians must be “treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, color, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.”

Directly targeting civilians or exposing them to disproportionate harm is therefore wrong for the same reasons that it is wrong to kill or harm innocent people in peacetime. People who pose no threat to others deserve respect and protection from violence regardless of their nationality or group identity. To violate that respect in war is not only a war crime but a moral crime, which is why Hamas’ massacre of at least 1,200 Israeli citizens and the taking of 240 hostages is rightly condemned as an atrocity.

Israeli protesters in Tel Aviv call for the release of the hostages held in the Gaza Strip by Hamas on Nov. 28, 2023.
AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

How should the lives of innocent people be weighed against important military objectives?

Proportionality and moral assessment

The condemnation of Hamas’ crimes is based on the same moral principle as the laws that protect noncombatants in war: All innocent people deserve protection.

However, scholars and legal experts disagree about how the legal framework laid out in the Geneva Conventions should be applied in war zones.

For example, in 1987 the International Committee of the Red Cross argued that the definition of “military advantage” – the advantage against which potential civilian harm must be weighed – should only include “ground gained” and “annihilating or weakening the enemy armed forces.”

But the 2016 U.S. Department of Defense Law of War Manual claimed that “military advantage” should also include other goals such as “diverting enemy forces’ resources and attention.”

There is also disagreement about what counts as “civilian harm.” For example, scholar Emanuela-Chiara Gillard argues that “civilian harm” should include psychological and physical harms; legal expert Dr. Beth Van Schaack argues that long-term harms should also be considered.

In short, there are no easy answers to questions about how to weigh harms against civilians against the value of military objectives. But while answers are difficult, there is a different way to frame this question: What does it mean – not just legally, but morally – to treat all civilian lives as equal, as the law requires?

As scholar Matthew Talbert and I argue, the first step in answering this question is to ask what a military force would accept if it were “their” civilians who were at risk of harm from military action.

That is the standard we should apply when assessing potential military actions that threaten harm to enemy civilians. We call this standard the “principle of the moral equality of noncombatants.” For example, Israel argued that its attack on Shifa hospital was justified because, it claimed, Hamas was hiding a command base and weapons under the hospital.

The hospital, which was running low on fuel, food and water, housed patients, including premature babies, and civilians seeking refuge from the conflict. According to footage shown in news reports, the attack left the hospital seriously damaged, filled with debris and lacking essential supplies for the remaining patients, who include the elderly and infirm.

Israel has released footage supporting its claim that there was a Hamas command center under the hospital. Does that mean Israel’s attack on the hospital meets the requirements of proportionality? In other words, was the harm to civilians caused by the attack – including the ongoing harm resulting from the loss of a major hospital – proportionate to the military value of destroying a Hamas command base?

In applying the principle Talbert and I proposed in our paper, the question would be phrased as follows: If Hamas was hiding a control base under an Israeli hospital and it was Israeli civilians at risk, would Israel think that attacking the hospital would be justified? If the answer is “no,” then the attack against Shifa hospital is also not justified.

This is because if the risk to Israeli lives outweighs the benefits of capturing a Hamas command base, then the risk to Palestinian lives should be given the same weight and lead to the same conclusion. Under IHL, all civilians are legally entitled to the same protection, regardless of their nationality.

Taking civilian lives seriously

Unfortunately, the debate about proportionality in the conflict between Israel and Palestine is only the latest of many debates about proportionality and civilian deaths in war zones.

For example, since 2001, the United States’ drone program has killed at least 22,000 civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere. A New York Times report on these deaths found multiple instances of “flawed intelligence,” cover-ups and cases of mistaken identity. Despite this record, civilians deaths still occur.

Using the principle of the moral equality of noncombatants to assess this track record would reveal whether the U.S. military is taking sufficient care to avoid harm to civilians. If the U.S. military would not accept these deaths – and the policies and practices that contribute to them – if U.S. civilians were at risk, then these deaths are unjustified.

This would mean that the drone program must change in order to treat civilians in Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere with the respect to which they are legally and morally entitled. This example illustrates that to meet the standards of IHL and the moral principles that underlie those standards, military forces must apply the principle of the moral equality of noncombatants. There is no legal or moral justification, I argue, for treating some civilians lives as less important than others.

This is a demanding principle. Applying it would be difficult – military and political leaders would have to accept that there might be military objectives that are not important enough to justify risk to civilian lives. And it would require acknowledging that some military objectives might be so important that even harm to “their” civilians might be justified.

But one of the functions of IHL is to “limit the suffering and damage caused by armed conflict.” This principle reflects the moral and legal status of civilians in IHL and could lead to greater respect for and protection of all civilians during conflict. Läs mer…