Are ‘Led By Donkeys’ making asses of themselves?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 18 May, 2019 - 19:28
 Floorings for your home". In front of the poster, a woman wearing a light grey jumper and blue jeans pushes a baby in a buggy across a road.A poster for the Brexit Party with a statement by Nigel Farage: “The European Parliament, in their foolishness, have voted for increased maternity pay”.

Last week, after having a few weeks’ break, the crowd-funded anti-Brexit poster campaign “Led By Donkeys” (a reference to the alleged saying by a German general in the First World War about the British army, “lions led by donkeys”) have been putting up posters containing sayings by leading figures in the Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage which has refused to issue a manifesto before the upcoming European elections (23rd May) and whose candidate lists include former communists as well as the more traditional former Ukippers and Tories. Their aim is to present the Brexit Party as a reactionary party which intends to profit from economic decline while tearing apart public services such as the NHS. However, I think some of their quotes may be a bit obscure for a lot of people.

There is no dispute that Nigel Farage did give a speech during his “Common Sense tour” in which he advocates a move to an American-style insurance-based healthcare ‘system’, saying:

Frankly, I would feel more comfortable that my money would return value if I was able to do that through the marketplace of an insurance company (sic) than just us trustingly giving £100m a year to central government and expecting them to organise the healthcare service from cradle to grave for us.

A lot of us are well aware that in the USA, healthcare premiums for those whose workplace does not provide insurance are sky-high, they are more so for people who have pre-existing conditions, they are as selective as the NHS about which medications they will provide, that people go bankrupt as a result of medical bills and will sometimes refuse emergency treatment to avoid a five-figure hospital bill. Most of this is unheard-of to us here in the UK because we have a healthcare system that is funded out of public taxation. The thing is that a lot of people do not know a lot about American healthcare or indeed any healthcare except ours; some may be aware of people flown to the USA for treatment unavailable here and they do know that we have a thing called National Insurance which was supposed to pay for social security but in fact is spent on pensions, so the idea of insurance is not entirely foreign to people who mostly pay for car and home content insurance and the quote would not have given them the ‘chills’ LBD might have thought they did.

LBD have already withdrawn another poster, the one featuring Ann Widdecombe (the former Tory cabinet minister from the John Major era) saying “homosexual acts are wrongful”, because “just because we’re outraged at her views it doesn’t mean everyone will be, and more importantly there will be some who’ll take her words at face value”. However, their general campaign is based on the idea that everyone will agree with them that the attitudes of Farage, Widdecombe and others are outdated and ridiculous, when in fact not everyone will. In their previous ‘tweet’ campaign they were accused similarly of addressing the public as if they were addressing a group of like-minded friends rather than a general public with a diverse body of opinions. That campaign exposed the double standards of some of the major Brexiteer politicians, some of whom were on record as opposing leaving the EU as recently as 2012, but in the choice of attitudes they choose to ‘expose’ here, they are counting on a public that agrees with them when it might not always. Exposure sometimes works (as in the 1970s when the National Front were exposed as being actual Nazis rather than simply opponents of mass immigration), but only when the thing exposed is unacceptable to everyone, rather than just to many or some.

Image source: Led By Donkeys.

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It’s the communications, dummy

Indigo Jo Blogs - 16 May, 2019 - 23:16
A picture of a crescent (new) moon in a red sky over two small trees, with the lights of a city behind them.Crescent moon over Manama, Bahrain, marking the start of Ramadan

I follow a few Kashmir activists on Twitter and a theme that has been coming up a lot lately is Indian Hindus and secularist Muslims lecturing Indian Muslims (and Muslims in the Indo-Pak diaspora) that they should stop calling Ramadan ‘Ramadan’ and use the Indo-Persian rendering, ‘Ramazan’ or ‘Ramzan’ which has been what the sacred month has traditionally been called in India. This is usually accompanied by a moan about Arabisation of Indian Muslim culture and the effect of Gulf finance and supposed Wahhabi sectarianism. Others accuse Zia-ul-Haq, the Pakistani dictator from the early 1980s, of imposing “Arab culture” in Pakistan, as if this could have had significant impact on India which is a much bigger country which no longer has significant traffic with Pakistan due to political hostility. Here’s an example from an Indian Washington Post columnist:

One wonders why people care about how followers of a religion they do not believe in pronounce names from their religion, but the answers lie in control and purity. If Indian Muslims are practising Islam in a way more influenced by Arab than Indian custom (even though they already regard Islam itself as an alien imposition), it gives the impression that they are not really committed to Indianness, to Indian culture, to loyalty to India rather than to Muslims around the world. To ‘liberal’ Hindus it represents the rise of youthful radicalism; to reactionary ones it proves what they believed all along: that Muslims really do not identify with India and have no place in India.

There is some parallel with the way women who wore the modern headscarf were treated in some Arab secular regimes and by writers hostile to Islam or ‘Islamism’. The new headscarf was seen as a symbol of Islamist ideology; it was not the association with patriarchy that was objected to but the sign of dissent to the ideology of the state. In Tunisia, where from the 1980s onwards the government repressed the wearing of hijab because they deemed it a symbol of ‘backwardness’ and of opposition to the regime, the traditional veil known as the safsari was permitted, yet this was a more restrictive garment that had to be held in place by hand. Patriarchy and restrictions on women’s liberty were fine by them as long as they were by themselves.

In truth, the spread of Arab pronunciations of words like ‘Ramadan’ has more to do with improved communications than with any ideology or religious movement. Indian Muslims until the 19th century rarely met an Arab Muslim until they went to Hajj which the majority were never able to do; Arabs came as traders and sometimes visiting scholars but rarely otherwise. Today, many Muslims (as well as others) go to work in the Gulf as well as in Europe and America where Persianisms such as ‘Namaz’ and ‘Ramazan’ are not normal. They gained their knowledge from local scholars who were not native Arabic speakers. Today, Muslims all over the world (at least the middle class and up) have access to satellite TV, the Internet, books and magazines published in their own language as well as English and Arabic and are aware of ways of practising Islam that are not the same way they do, and sometimes they learn that the way they do things is not the right way or at least not the only way. For example, it is surely no coincidence that the decline of practices such as FGM in parts of Africa where most people are Muslims has followed the opening-up of those countries to communication with Muslims outside who do not do these things and never have done. Before that, as in India, nobody except scholars and itinerant traders had contact with the outside world.

The irony is that ‘Ramazan’ is not the only ‘native’ way of pronouncing ‘Ramadan’ in India. In many places (such as in Bengal) it is pronounced ‘Ramajan’ (and the salaat or ritual prayer, known as namaz elsewhere in India, is ‘namaj’). ‘Ramazan’ is the north-east Indian Persian ‘court’ term. To anyone literate in Arabic, the idea that four Arabic letters with different pronunciations might all be rendered as ‘Z’ does not make sense, especially in a country where other Arabic sounds that are also not native there, such as qaf and ghayn, are prounounced more or less correctly; if you are praying with Arabs who are not of the Hanafi school of thought, they will regard your prayer as invalid if you mangle words like “dhaalleen” in the Fatiha. So, while it’s only to be expected that Hindu nationalists will carp at Muslims for embracing correct Arabic pronunciations (or something close to it), I do not see an honest reason for Muslims to do so. Why would you not want Muslims to embrace the language of the Qur’an and our Prophet, sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam?

Image source: Ahmad Rabea, via Flickr. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (BY-SA) 2.0 licence.

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Austria approves headscarf ban in primary schools

The Guardian World news: Islam - 16 May, 2019 - 01:24

Law refers to ‘ideologically or religiously influenced clothing’ but Sikh and Jewish headwear not affected

Austrian MPs on Wednesday approved a law aimed at banning the headscarf in primary schools, a measure proposed by the ruling right-wing government.

The text refers to any “ideologically or religiously influenced clothing which is associated with the covering of the head”.

Related: Austrian full-face veil ban condemned as a failure by police

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Yes, Islamophobia is a type of racism. Here’s why | Wes Streeting

The Guardian World news: Islam - 15 May, 2019 - 16:22
Contrary to myth, the definition I helped devise isn’t a threat to free speech. Theresa May’s government must adopt it

On 15 March, a gunman walked into the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand and opened fire. During the course of his killing spree there, and at the Linwood Islamic Centre, 51 people were slaughtered in their place of worship for no other reason than their killer had decided that their faith meant that they deserved to die.

Hatred against Muslims does not begin with the sound of gunfire breaking through the peaceful calm of a place of prayer. It begins with simple prejudice in our schools, our workplaces and our communities. More than 20 years since the Runnymede Trust published its seminal report, Islamophobia: a challenge for us all, it is on the rise.

Related: Government criticised for rejecting definition of Islamophobia

Related: Racism in political parties reflects pervasive prejudice in Brexit Britain | Rachel Shabi

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Film based on Christchurch mosque shooting in the works

The Guardian World news: Islam - 15 May, 2019 - 13:09

Hello, Brother – named after a victim’s last words – was announced at Cannes film festival by Egyptian director Moez Masoud

A film about the Christchurch mosque shootings, in which 51 people died, is to be directed by Egyptian film-maker and academic Moez Masoud.

According to Variety the film’s title will be Hello, Brother, the words spoken by 71-year-old victim Hati Mohammed Daoud Nabi, who opened the door to the gunman of Al Noor mosque, where 42 people died. The central characters are “a family facing death and destruction in Afghanistan who escape with their lives”.

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Fasts and late-night protein shakes: how Muslim athletes compete during Ramadan

The Guardian World news: Islam - 15 May, 2019 - 09:18

The holy month began at the start of May this year. While some athletes find blending exercise and fasting tough, others say it helps them focus

For the better part of eight seasons, Hamza Abdullah played defensive back in the NFL. In each one of those seasons, thanks to the vagaries of the lunar calendar (which is roughly 10 or 11 days shorter than the solar year), the Muslim holy month of Ramadan fell either during the season or during training camp. Abdullah is a devout Muslim, which means he gives up both food and water during the sunlight hours of Ramadan. This was not an easy thing for a professional athlete to deal with, particularly during the sweaty grind of August pre-season training or the concentrated intensity of a three-hour game.

But in a way, this personal deprivation also became an opportunity for both Hamza and his brother Husain, who played defensive back for the Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings. Ramadan provided an opening for the Abdullahs to share their knowledge of a religion that is often misunderstood in America. And it’s also how Hamza Abdullah inadvertently convinced one of his teammates to stop eating bacon.

Related: Football while fasting: life in the Ramadan Midnight League | Nick Miller

Related: Ramadan: ‘It will be a test but the peace you get is beautiful’

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Some of my recent photography

Indigo Jo Blogs - 12 May, 2019 - 23:25

Besides blogging, amateur landscape photography is an interest of mine and I recently joined the National Trust, a charity which manages a large body of stately homes, gardens and places of natural beauty across the UK. In the couple of weeks before Ramadan started, I visited four of their properties that are fairly close to me: Petworth House and Nymans in Sussex, Polesden Lacey in Surrey and Ham House in south-west London. My photos (going back to 2006) are all on my Flickr account, but here are a selection of the photos I took at the four houses I recently visited. At Nyman’s, the major attraction is the garden; at the others, it is the houses.

IMG_6841 Nyman’s, near Crawley, West Sussex IMG_6637 Ham House, south-west London IMG_6533 Polesden Lacey, Surrey IMG_6401 Petworth House, West Sussex

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Does London need an official Holocaust memorial?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 12 May, 2019 - 01:16
A picture of the Buxton Memorial in the Victoria Tower Gardens; the Houses of Parliament and the Tower itself are in the background. The memorial is a single-storey, octagonal structure with arches on each sides with marble columns. It has a tall, conical roof with coloured stained glass and a gold-coloured cross at the top.The Buxton Memorial fountain in the Victoria Tower Gardens

Last week the prime minister, Theresa May, joined her four living predecessors to make a video promoting a project to build a permanent Holocaust memorial and education centre in Victoria Tower Gardens, a small park next to the River Thames immediately south of the Houses of Parliament. The plan has led to serious opposition, with the Royal Parks charity, which manages the park, having publicly opposed it back in February and a campaign launched, Save Victoria Tower Gardens, which is “concerned that this plan will change forever the use of a much loved and well-used local park into a sombre, security patrolled civic space” and suggests the grounds of the Imperial War Museum, across the river in Lambeth, as a better place for the memorial than the gardens which remain the only riverside park in central London. In Thursday’s Guardian there was a letter from a former chief executive of Royal Parks, William Weston, who linked it to the extinction crisis headlined in the Guardian earlier in the week:

Do politicians not get it? This threat is not only about the loss of rainforest. It’s also about the loss of green space where we live. Londoners are suffering from illegal levels of pollution, yet still another memorial bites into our precious green space.

I am not opposed to the idea of a Holocaust memorial or education centre in London, but VTG does seem very much the wrong place to do it; I suspect that it was chosen because it was less expensive than buying up an existing building in Westminster for the purpose and perhaps because some MPs really do want the last bit of open space that is open to the public around Parliament to become, as the campaign put it, a security-patrolled civic space (this installation will cut the park in half). As Rowan Moore noted back in February, there are already a number of memorials to oppression in the park, such as the Buxton memorial to the abolition of slavery, but this will dwarf all of them; it will take up the entire width of the park right next to the Buxton memorial fountain which will be fenced off from this site while it is currently easily visible across the whole park. There is already a Holocaust memorial in Hyde Park, opened in 1983 and funded by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and remembrance services are held there every year; it consists of a set of granite boulders set in a copse of beech trees, with an extract from the Biblical book of Lamentations on one of the stones in Hebrew and English. There is also a National Holocaust Centre and Museum, but its location in Nottinghamshire presumably makes it too insignificant for British politicians’ liking (admittedly its accessibility is poor with no public transport to the venue).

Besides the location, I question the concept behind the design of the memorial, designed by a team consisting of Adjaye Associates, Ron Arad Architects and Gustafson Porter + Bowman, which consists of 22 brass fins each representing a country whose Jewish community was destroyed in the Holocaust. The problem is that the specific countries they came from are of less significance than the numbers murdered; many of them had only been in existence for some 20 years at the time of the Nazi invasion (since the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire), and why should one ‘fin’ represent the 3 million Jews that lived in pre-war Poland while another represents the much smaller number from another country? Why fins, anyway? The European part of World War II was fought mostly over land, not sea; many of the countries affected were and are landlocked. Yes, there are fish in rivers, obviously, but fins are generally not part of the landscape of central Europe.

An image of how the new memorial will look, with the metal 'fins' arranged side by side behind a paved courtyard across which people are walking. The Buxton memorial is to the right, behind a new metal fence, and the Victoria Tower can be seen in the background (the memorial obscures most of the rest of Parliament).Architects’ image of the new memorial next to the Buxton Memorial.

And finally, I take issue with a lot of the political rhetoric being used to advance this project. Theresa May describes the memorial on the Holocaust memorial section of the British government website as a “sacred, national mission”: “in the face of despicable Holocaust denial, this Memorial will stand to preserve the truth forever”. Really? Britain played a major role in defeating the country whose forces perpetrated the Holocaust, and I have not heard a huge amount of public debate about this, so who decided it was a “sacred national mission”? Clearly a lot of those who do not want to sacrifice precious public park space do not agree. People convinced of untruth will not change their minds just because the government builds a memorial and museum in a public space; they will just call it propaganda, much as they call all the evidence to the Holocaust that already exists. There is a lot of talk of the memorial serving as a reminder to guard against hatred and prejudice, but politicians, including those in May’s party, are quite happy to exploit prejudice against so-called “enemies within” and “economic migrants” to score political points and the mass media are content to do the same to make money, much as we have war memorials in every town listing the names of every local who died in the First World War (and the Second, if there is space), yet our politicians will still drag us into wars on dubious grounds when it suits them, including one of the former prime ministers who appeared in a video to support this scheme. The Holocaust ended more than 70 years ago; a memorial to a crime that is well in the past and in another country that we were at war with gives the message that these sorts of things happen elsewhere and in the past — much like, for example, the books set in the USA during the time of segregation from which so many young British students learn about racism in school and college. The proposal refers to the exhibition space as an “education centre”, but you cannot build much of an education centre in that space.

It’s a huge act of hypocrisy for the four former prime ministers to take part in this video (it is not really an appeal, as it seems to be a case of the government telling us what it intends to do and Blair and Brown gave it a ‘bipartisan’ appearance). John Major, when prime minister, sat on his hands for three years while a genocidal war raged in Bosnia, and did not allow Bosnian refugees to travel to the UK. There is no reference to this here; the only specific prejudice discussed is anti-Semitism. Blair made specific reference to the ‘poison’ of “anti-Semitism and hate” being “back from the political fringe to parts of the political mainstream”, an unmistakeable reference to Jeremy Corbyn and the fact that his faction are no longer in charge of the Labour Party. During his administration, the tabloid press abused and vilified minorities on a regular basis, in some cases resulting in physical abuse against their members in the street and their having to make changes to how they dress just to feel safe, or safer; rather than tackle them, he bowed to them, in one case locking up people who had lived here for years and had got into trouble years ago and served their sentences to sate tabloid demands to deport “foreign criminals”. I am not sure what lessons from the Holocaust any of them learned, to be honest. For decades anti-fascists have been calling for there to be no platform for fascists and for their propaganda to be rebutted rather than for them to be appeased, yet today politicians do deals with fascists or their allies: Trump, Modi, Bolsonaro.

The government tell us that the exhibition will “set the Holocaust within the British narrative”. It does rather seem like a national pat-on-the-back, a sign of how good we are as a nation. The truth is that most of those who visit will be tourists; it will not be big enough to provide enough material for schoolchildren, and if it is then only schoolchildren from around the London area will visit as London is in the far south-east of the country. That it will be “in the shadow of Parliament” will make it less accessible as the area is choked with traffic and prone to security alerts and the like; a repeat of the Westminster Bridge terrorist attack will deter schools from sending parties there, while the Imperial War Museum, let alone the existing museum in Nottinghamshire, has no such issue. That educating children about the Holocaust is vital is not in dispute — a recent poll found that one in twenty British adults did not believe it had happened — but it must reach the whole country and not require a visit to a park in Westminster, and it must be about hate in general and all recent genocides, not just anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. We must not let ourselves be deluded that anti-Semitism is a hate apart, that it is ‘primal’ while other prejudices are in some way grounded in fact or have some rational basis to them: they all feel ‘rational’ to the person who is prejudiced. The dangers of hateful propaganda, the politician who fosters false grievances against people or channels real grievances into hatred towards a minority rather than towards positive change, are universal, and in many countries, including many western countries, the danger has not for a long time been as real as it is now.

Image source: Patche99z. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (BY-SA) 3.0 Unported licence.

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Louis Farrakhan denies antisemitism – then refers to 'Satanic Jews'

The Guardian World news: Islam - 11 May, 2019 - 13:52
  • Nation of Islam leader speaks in Chicago after Facebook ban
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In a speech denying allegations of antisemitism, misogyny and homophobia after Facebook banned him from the social media platform, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan referred to “Satanic Jews”.

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Gun fired outside east London mosque during Ramadan prayers

The Guardian World news: Islam - 10 May, 2019 - 03:09

Police say shot came from blank-firing handgun and have ruled out terrorism after incident at Ilford mosque

The Metropolitan police have launched an investigation after a shot was fired outside a London mosque during prayers for Ramadan.

Police said there were no injuries, and they believe the shot came from a blank-firing handgun, and significantly, they were not treating it as a terrorist incident.

The single shot was fired outside a mosque in Ilford in east London at 10.45pm.

The man with the weapon entered the mosque on the High Road in Seven Kings, but was “ushered out” by those inside, according to police. A shot was then heard.

The incident comes after 51 people were killed in the Christchurch mosque massacre in New Zealand and nearly two years after a terrorist attacked worshippers close to the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, killing one person.

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Tommy Robinson's offer of MEP salary rejected by charities

The Guardian World news: Islam - 10 May, 2019 - 00:01

Women’s groups say pledge to donate hypothetical earnings to victims of grooming is insulting

Tommy Robinson’s pledge to donate his hypothetical European parliament salary to child victims of sexual grooming has been criticised as “an insult to survivors of abuse” by women’s groups who said he was “no ally for the children he claims to stand up for”.

More than 40 women and charities including the End Violence Against Women and Girls Coalition declared in a letter to voters and community leaders in the north-west that they would not accept money from the English Defence League founder, criticising Robinson for “factually incorrect messages about grooming”.

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Britain used to ask Muslims to move here. What happened to us? | Diana Darke

The Guardian World news: Islam - 9 May, 2019 - 06:00
Arabic-speaking ‘recruitment’ videos the British government made in the 1960s show a more tolerant nation than today’s hostile environment

In the current climate of Islamophobia, I wonder how many British people are aware of a series of films made in the early 1960s, which were expressly designed to encourage people from Arab countries to come to Britain to work or study. The four films, all in Arabic, were made on behalf of the Foreign Office, and all begin with a mosque skyline and melodic chants of “Allahu Akbar”, the start of the Muslim call to prayer. They are unapologetically religious, eager to show Arabic-speaking Muslims how welcoming Britain is, how Islamic institutions exist in Britain to cater to their cultural and religious traditions, as a friendly home from home.

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Asia Bibi begins new life in Canada – but her ordeal may not be over

The Guardian World news: Islam - 8 May, 2019 - 11:04

Islamic extremists vow to pursue Christian acquitted of blasphemy in Pakistan

Asia Bibi has arrived in Canada hoping to start a new life after her years on death row. But although there is huge relief among campaigners for religious freedom that she is out of Pakistan, her ordeal may not be over.

Islamic extremists have pledged to pursue the Christian woman and kill her for the act of blasphemy of which she was accused and later acquitted. Bibi may spend the rest of her days looking over her shoulder in fear of an international assassin.

Related: Asia Bibi arrives in Canada after leaving Pakistan

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Asia Bibi arrives in Canada after leaving Pakistan

The Guardian World news: Islam - 8 May, 2019 - 07:57

Christian woman freed last year after spending eight years on death row for blasphemy

Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who spent eight years on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy before she was freed last year, has flown to Canada where she has reunited with her family, her lawyer has said.

“It is a big day,” Saiful Malook told the Guardian. “Asia Bibi has left Pakistan and reached Canada. She has reunited with her family. Justice has been dispensed.”

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