The Reason Review — February 2018

Weapons of Reason
Mar 1, 2018 · 8 min read

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from writing the Reason Review each month, it’s that bad news always outweighs the good. This is often cause for consternation, but has also taught us to find positivity in even the darkest news. Which means that although February bore witness to another US high school shooting, the increase of plastic pollution in our oceans, and a very real threat to Britain’s provision of international aid, we’re taking comfort in the fact that regulation may finally be on the agenda for US gun law, there appears to be a legal framework under which ocean polluting nations can be prosecuted, and Stormzy slammed inaction on Grenfell at The Brits. Chin up!

Plastic Infractions

“Amid all the hand-wringing over ocean plastic, the fact that it’s actually illegal has scarcely been mentioned.”

Veteran environmental journalist Oliver Tickell has published a 40-page paper into the international legal framework within which the ocean plastics crisis is taking place. The report concludes that filling the oceans with waste plastic is already illegal under existing legislation, and urges governments already tackling plastic pollution to take action against those that are not. Enforcing legal action against large polluters like China, India and Indonesia can only be taken on by a nation state, and so Tickell compels larger, more powerful governments to take on the mantle for smaller island nations who are most affected by plastic pollution, but too small to hold much sway on the international stage.

Link: long read

Aid Under Fire

“However difficult it is to meet the demands of transparency, and however hard it is to confront mistakes of the past, we believe that ultimately this will help us take meaningful action and become more effective in our mission to tackle poverty and help people hit by disaster.” — Oxfam

Britain’s charitable and international aid sector came under heavy scrutiny in February as a story about a small group of Oxfam employees dragged a number of other organisations into its wake. The initial furore concerned the alleged use of prostitutes by aid workers involved in the relief efforts after Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake in 2010. The allegations came to light in a report commissioned and published by Oxfam investigating the behaviour of relief workers in Haiti. The accused were said to have thrown sex parties — possibly exploiting underage girls — and later threatened one of the report’s 40 witnesses after details of the investigation were leaked.

In response, the Haitian government considered revoking Oxfam’s licence to operate within its borders and the British government debated whether to cut the charity’s public funding. 7,000 regular Oxfam donors suspended their payments after the scandal broke.

After publication, further allegations of harassment and abuse came to light concerning the British Red Cross, Christian Aid, The Grail Trust, and Save The Children, leading an anti-aid lobby supported by The Sun and The Telegraph to call for the slashing of Britain’s international aid budget. For the time being the government says it will continue their financial support of the charity. “It is absolutely crucial that we continue our support through aid for those who are most vulnerable,” said Theresa May. “But they also deserve to be treated by the same high standards that we would expect to be treated ourselves.”

In an opinion piece for The Independent, Patrick Cockburn suggests that the hysteria surrounding the story points to a “deeper and more damaging malaise”.

Link: 5 minute read

Zuma Abdicates National Congress

“While it was the ANC that sacked Mr Zuma, it was South Africa’s mighty institutions of democracy that forced the ruling party’s hand… South Africa begins a new era under a Ramaphosa presidency more aware of the power of the people, and less willing to tolerate impropriety.”

Though countless accusations of corruption, racketeering and sexual assault plagued his tenure, Jacob Zuma managed to hold on to his position as President of South Africa for almost nine years. After sustained pressure from the public and the ANC however, the controversial leader finally resigned in a late-night television address on Valentines Day. Usually obstinate in the face of such pressures, many speculate that Zuma’s buckling has something to do with the fact that he faces the possible reinstatement of corruption and money-laundering charges related to an arms deal finalised in 1999. Whether or not he stands trial again remains to be seen.

This succinct article from The Economist attempts to explain both the “why” and the “how” behind Zuma’s resignation.

Link: 3 minute read

Another Valentine’s Day Massacre

“The current battle to reshape gun laws can feel like a stalemate, but there have been victories too. This is what the landscape looks like right now.”

Though mass shootings in America have become almost routine, the pain and suffering felt by those caught up in the chaos remains anything but rote. Since the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting of 2012, there have been 1,600 mass shootings in America with 1,800 fatalities and more than 6,000 injuries. When 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz turned up to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentines day, 17 more students became part of the fatality statistic; 14 more were injured, and the lives of dozens of families were turned upside-down.

The response from Donald Trump has been characteristically bizarre. The President has suggested that a possible solution to the pandemic of school shootings is to arm teachers and school security with their own weapons — an idea widely criticised in much of the press. The POTUS also held a “listening session” with victims of the shooting in which he clutched a cheat sheet with a cue reminding him to say “I hear you” to survivors of the shooting.

There is, however, a feeling that things might finally be reaching tipping point in this crisis, with young survivors of the attack vociferously calling for tighter gun laws in the US. In light of that, this Guardian article by Lois Beckett — which includes a moving video of the speech given by survivor Emma Gonzalez — charts the landscape surrounding US gun ownership and legislation as it currently stands.

Link: 5 minute read

Blinded by Your (Dis)grace

“Theresa May where’s the money for Grenfell? What, you thought we just forgot about Grenfell? You criminals, and you’ve got the cheek to call us savages. You should do some jail time, you should pay some damages. You should burn your house down and see if you can manage this.”

Stormzy emerged as the clear, triumphant champion of this year’s Brit Awards. The 24-year-old rapper collected two of the nights biggest gongs — British Male Solo Artist and Album of the Year, no less — before closing the ceremony with a searing freestyle performance that called out Theresa May for her perceived lack of action over the Grenfell Tower fire. Several days later, Stormzy used his Twitter account to promote a petition concerning the forthcoming Grenfell Tower Inquiry, one requesting an expansion of the overseeing panel and demanding that legal representatives for Grenfell victims should be allowed to question witnesses. While May has ruled out the first request, the fact that the survey reached over 100,000 signatories (153,000, at the time of writing) means that Parliament must now consider an official debate on the issue.

Stormzy wasn’t the only person attempting to spotlight Grenfell in February: earlier in the month, activists secured widespread media attention by taking inspiration from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. A trio of mobile billboards were spotted touring London, collectively bearing the message: “71 dead / And still no arrests? / How come?”. Nine months on from the blaze, the calls for justice continue.

Link: 3 minute read

Read Something

“Sulome is moving back home after a year she considers the worst in her journalistic career. Reporting from abroad, she says, is no longer sustainable.”

Celebrated journalist Sulome Anderson made her name reporting from the front line of conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt, but, she says, in the age of Trump and a media preoccupied with the President’s tweets, reporting from the Middle East is no longer a viable career.


See Something

“More than one billion people now lack access to clean drinking water, and the UN predicts a 40 percent water deficit worldwide by 2030.”

Cape Town could be the world’s first major city to run out of water. As the South African capital braces for crisis, Al Jazeera’s Peter Dobbie presents a short film exploring the possibility of a global water shortage.


Do Something

“Around the world, individuals and communities are insisting on the simple proposition that women and girls must have equal rights and asking the question: why is gender equality taking so long?”

Thursday March 8 is International Women’s Day. Numerous events will be taking place across the country, but among the most interesting we’ve spotted is the three-day WOW — Women of the World festival at London’s Southbank Centre. WOW celebrates progress and explores potential solutions to societal challenges, offering talks, debates, theatre and dance performance. Laura Bates, Munroe Bergdorf and Angela Davis will be among those leading events.


The Reason Review aims to go beyond the headlines and find the stories and angles the newspapers have missed. We give you the extra context behind the bigger stories, explain to you why some seemingly smaller events matter and offer you something more interesting and informative than the simple facts.

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World-shaping stories curated each month by the team behind the @WeaponsofReason publishing project. Sign-up @

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