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The Sun on migrants: vagrants, cockroaches, a disease

18 April, 2015 - 12:46

Picture of a sign at Heathrow airport, saying "welcome to Britain"Yesterday the Sun published an article by Katie Hopkins, former Apprentice contestant and professional loudmouth and bigot, suggesting that we “use gunships” to tackle the problem of migrants coming across the Mediterranean in unsafe boats, many of them drowning, rather than laying on a search and rescue mission at the taxpayers’ expense. She claims that the migrants trying to get across the Med are the same ones trying to get across the English Channel by stowing away on British trucks. She suggests that we “get Australian” by turning the boats back to “their shores” and destroying them. She also uses genocidal slurs on a number of occasions: “spreading like norovirus on a cruise ship”, “festering sores, plagued by swarms of migrants”, “like cockroaches”. And her assessment of the situation at Calais is just plain inaccurate.

She alleges:

Watching them try to clamber on to British lorries and steal their way into the UK, do I feel pity? Only for the British drivers, who get hit with a fine every time one of this plague of feral humans ends up in their truck.

The fines for having stowaways on the truck are part of British government policy. It was introduced by David Blunkett under the last Labour government, and when the drivers protested, he referred to them “squealing”, like little pigs at the slaughter. The fines hit the haulage company as well as the driver, but they were in the thousands per migrant! However, since that was introduced, truckers heading for the UK and their employers have had to change their behaviour radically so as not to make it possible for migrants to get aboard: not stopping within 100 miles of the port, beefing up security at depots near the port, and sending drivers out through Dover or the Tunnel but back through other (longer but more obscure) routes such as Dieppe-Newhaven or Dunkirk-Ramsgate. The result is that it is now difficult and dangerous to get onto a truck heading for the Channel ports, a bit like jumping a freight train, and only fit young men do it, and not that many. They ride in various nooks and crannies on the chassis, not inside containers or trailers. Other migrants in Calais are looking for someone to smuggle them into the UK, not to jump aboard a truck.

In addition, in shedding tears for all the British drivers, Hopkirk has clearly not been along the motorways leading to the Channel ports any time recently and seen all the left-hand-drive trucks. Only a few British hauliers still send drivers abroad, partly because of the migrant problem at Calais but also because foreign hauliers can do it more cheaply and take British freight back to Europe as return loads. I’ve asked all the agencies I work for about work going abroad, and I’ve been told there’s hardly any.

Understand this: these two populations are the same. The migrants harassing Brit truckers at the port are the same as the vagrants making the perilous trip across the Med.

They are not ‘vagrants’ - a vagrant is someone “who has no established home and drifts from place to place without visible or lawful means of support”, according to the Brittanica entry for this term in British law. They are what are commonly called tramps or bums. Migrants are not vagrants intending to live rough for any length of time or “live idly”; they intend to make a home for themselves somewhere else. And she is wrong about the two groups of migrants being the same; many of them come from Asia and the Middle East, not north and west Africa.

She then diverges into a lazy ethnic stereotype about the Italians, before suggesting we “get Australian”:

There is a simple solution to this. It’s time for the Italians to stop singing opera, drinking espresso and looking chic in chuffing everything.

It’s time to get Australian.

Australians are like British people but with balls of steel, can-do brains, tiny hearts and whacking great gunships.

Their approach to migrant boats is the sort of approach we need in the Med.

They threaten them with violence until they bugger off, throwing cans of Castlemaine in an Aussie version of Sharia stoning.

And their approach is working. Migrant boats have halved in number since Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott got tough.

The clampdown on migrant boats goes back a lot further than Tony Abbott; it began under the previous Liberal government of John Howard in the early 2000s and was triggered largely by sensationalist and inaccurate coverage, including a well-known cropped picture which showed babies being thrown off a boat (in fact, the whole picture showed people with arms out to catch them). That was the era of concentration camps for migrants out in the desert. These camps have now been relocated to the various poor countries in the Pacific nearby, which can be easily bought and which concerned Australians can’t raid to get the migrants and refugees out, as they did when they were in the desert (so much for small hearts, though it takes bigger balls to attack a state-run camp than it does a boat full of migrants). Britain does not have a single neighbour which could be classified as a third-world country, so this option isn’t open to us.

Australia does, in fact, take a large number of accredited refugees from various conflict zones, but those on the boats may be no less refugees than those whose passage is arranged by the UN, and the countries they pass by en route will not accept them either (they will not even accept the small number of Rohingyas from Burma, whose persecution is well-documented). It’s just easier to stereotype them as a horde of uncivilised migrants.

We don’t need another rescue project. The now defunct £7million-a-month Mare Nostrum — Italy’s navy search and rescue operation — was paid for (in part) by British taxpayers. And we don’t need a campaign from Save the Children to encourage more migrants to take the journey.

What we need are gunships sendign these boats back to their own country.

You want to make a better life for yourself? Then you had better get creative in northern Africa.

Northern Africa is not the home country of many, if not most, of the migrants coming over from Libya. They come from west Africa, and if they could make a good living in north Africa one suspects they would, given that most are Muslims and all the countries of the north African coast are Muslim countries. The fact is that Libya is a war zone itself and that west African workers were attacked after the fall of Gaddafi because some locals regarded them as connected to the old régime. Algeria is just recovering from its own civil war. All of them (like southern Europe and Australia, and unlike northern Europe) are suffering from desertification and water shortages, the cause of which is very largely traceable to European and American emissions and very little of it to sub-Saharan Africa. They cannot absorb all the migrants who want to flee poverty (itself caused partly by desertification) and war in west Africa, and we cannot force them to. These problems are not of their making.

Britain is not El Dorado. We are not Elysium. Some of our towns are festering sores, plagued by swarms of migrants and asylum seekers, shelling out benefits like Monopoly money.

This is complete nonsense. Some of our towns have become run-down, largely because the government has chosen to destroy the industries that employed much of their population, or because British or foreign multinationals were allowed to do the same in search of cheaper labour abroad. This, again, is something that could have been prevented. British towns and cities with large immigrant populations are often thriving places where you can get food that you cannot obtain elsewhere in Britain.

Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches. They might look a bit like “Bob Geldof’s Ethiopia circa 1984”, but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb. They are survivors.

Nonsense. Some of them in fact come from places where living is tough, where water and food are short, where they have to walk long distances to get either. But in fact, any human being could survive tough conditions, it’s just that most Brits who did not live through World War II or been in the Army have never had to. If they were so tough as to be indifferent to the conditions back home, why would they make the journey?

Once gunships have driven them back to their shores, boats need to be confiscated and burned on a huge bonfire. Drilling a few holes in the bottom of anything suspiciously resembling a boat would be a good idea, just for belt and braces.

That would mean sending navy boats close to the shores of countries on the north African coast, or to put it another way, invading them, to force back people who mostly aren’t their citizens and who have left. These countries may not have the military strength western countries do, but they will not take this kind of action lying down.

The Sun, unlike the Observer which printed Julie Burchill’s slur-laden rant against transsexuals in 2013, has never been considered a ‘respectable’ newspaper, but it is still a mainstream newspaper in a liberal democracy, not the organ of a totalitarian state or a genocidal insurgent movement. Calling people cockroaches, feral, a disease or similar on account of their ethnicity or status is the mark of violent racists or mass murderers — readers may have seen the film Hotel Rwanda, in which the gangs of thugs who carried out the genocide against the Tutsis habitually referred to them as cockroaches and their media used the same language while telling their listeners to find Tutsis so as to kill them. I am not suggesting that this is what Hopkins is advocating, but it is what we can expect from the likes of the Sun if things were to get tough or there was serious unrest here. Hopkins is an unbridled ignoramus; the owners and editors of the Sun and similar journals know exactly what they are doing. This is why the commercial press cannot be left unregulated.

It goes without saying that the people smugglers who carry large numbers of migrants in unsafe boats (or other means of transport) for profit are criminals and should be punished if caught. Their boats, trucks, containers etc should be confiscated and destroyed. But most migrants are not criminals; they are sometimes poor people seeking a place where they can make a decent life for themselves, and sometimes refugees fleeing war or persecution. Human beings have always migrated, the successful ones often not asking permission, and western politicians are quite apt to tell people to just up sticks and move somewhere else when it suits them (remember Tebbit’s “get on your bike” speech); the difference today is that millions poor people live in artificial countries whose borders take no account of ethnic or cultural boundaries or where there is fertile land or other resources people can live off. Living in the next country is not an option, as it would have been before Europeans came along and drew random lines on the map, so they have to move further and further away to where nobody has heard of your ethnic group or those of the next country.

I have every sympathy for the truckers faced with the migrant problem in northern France. But the problem is not of the migrants’ making; it is a product of politics, war, climate and history. Colonialists used to talk of the “white man’s burden” of bringing “civilisation” and Christianity to supposedly ignorant native peoples; the modern “burden” of absorbing a relatively small number of migrants and refugees from the countries we used to rule over is not that great and will not last forever. It is not something we can shoot our way out of.

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No, ‘patriarchy’ isn’t killing the planet: the modern lifestyle is

12 April, 2015 - 16:08

A picture of a large number of black African women in various colourful clothes and headwraps, in Abidjan, Côote D'Ivoire, for International Women's DayPatriarchy is killing our planet - women alone can save her - The Ecologist

Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, an investigative journalist best known for work on Muslim civil rights and terrorism, wrote the above article for the Ecologist website last month and posted it on the Radical Middle Way Facebook group although it really has nothing to do with Islam other than having a Muslim author. (The Ecologist still has its own website, but merged with Satish Kumar’s Resurgence magazine in 2012.) He starts off with a familiar exposition of the present environmental crisis, about how “our global system is, increasingly, in breach of the natural limits of our environment”, but drops ‘patriarchy’ in at the last sentence before giving a series of examples of how the crisis disproportionately affects women, but at no point spells out how precisely patriarchy is at the root of the global environmental crisis. The truth is that it predates it by millenia; the modern lifestyle is the cause of it.

I put ‘patriarchy’ in quotes because it is a term that is often misused and the same is true here. It does not mean mere male dominance, but a structure in which husbands and fathers have authority based on their responsibility to care for, guide and maintain their wives and children. If we look at men who are called patriarchs, they are usually grandfathers or church leaders (and when that is their title, they are usually celibate priests or monks); I have never heard of a gang leader, whose position is achieved with the use of violence and sometimes cunning, being called a patriarch. It is not the same as the ‘law of the jungle’ in which the ‘fittest’, usually strongest but sometimes the wiliest, survive or dominate. These tend to be young, strong men, in no sense patriarchs. It was noted that during the Estonia ferry disaster, the majority of survivors were young, healthy and male; only seven survived that were over 55, and no children under 12. Compare this to the Titanic, which sank in a much more patriarchal age than the present one, in which men allowed women and children to take their place in the lifeboats. Nafeez Ahmed’s article states that natural disasters consistently claim more women’s lives than men’s, but the breakdown of the kind of chivalry seen on the Titanic may have as much to do with this as patriarchy itself.

The environmental crisis is new, relatively speaking. Patriarchy is not. Patriarchy of one sort or another is clearly mandated in all the world’s major religions. The modern lifestyle coincides with the weakening of most of these; if not a lapse in belief, as with Christianity in Europe, then a weakening of the authority of tradition, as in much of the Muslim world. The environmental crisis has two major causes: climate change caused by the large-scale burning of fossil fuels, and the large accumulation of toxic or non-biodegradable waste which is the product of industry, of consumerism, of technology which continually improves, leaving much obsolete material which cannot easily be reused or absorbed. While human beings have always burned wood and other fuels for cooking, light and heating, the use of fuel on a huge scale for motorised transport and large-scale manufacturing dates back no further than the 19th century. Nations have always traded with each other, but some nations relying on the resources of others for their very way of life, such as oil as well as less obvious things such as the minerals used in mobile phones, is very new.

The modern lifestyle has its origins in the industrial revolution which took place in England in the 18th and 19th centuries. Colonialism meant that this lifestyle took root in Europe, America and japan while other nations were exploited and kept poor, except for a client or ‘comprador’ class in many countries, but in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the breakdown of communism and the opening-up of closed and repressive régimes in the global South meant that billions more people demanded, and got, access to motorised transport and technology. While some of the increased carbon output of places like China is offset by the decline in heavy industry in western countries, the rise in emissions caused by the increase in private car use and air travel in newly industrialised Asian countries is not. The main contributors are those who have access to this lifestyle: historically mostly Europeans, north Americans and Japanese, with a growing class of South and East Asian contributors in the past 20 years. This includes men and women.

Women in industrialised countries have hugely benefited from advances in technology, from the freedom and improved safety afforded by motor and air travel to the ease of communication and organising that comes from telephones, the printing press, computers, the Internet, mobile phones. Yet the cheap mass production and use of these things all requires the extraction of minerals (often from conflict zones), their transportation to factories, the exploitation of workers by cheap labour, the use of electricity (produced by burning oil or coal), its transportation to the place where it will be used (by plane or ship, also requiring the burning of fuel), powering or charging, and finally disposal when a two-year-old device can no longer compete with a new model. The same is all true whether a computer or mobile device is used to plan a war or a feminist consciousness-raising seminar, or keep a group of bed-bound chronically ill people in touch with each other. Women in industrialised countries enjoy the convenience of disposable nappies and sanitary products, yet these all produce waste which has to be incinerated or buried somewhere; reusable equivalents have fallen out of favour in my lifetime, and even though they are nowadays mostly made and sold by women, remain a niche product (of course, when cloth nappies were the norm, they were supplied by mostly male-owned companies). And while the burgeoning human population is commonly cited as a cause of the crisis, a major contributor to that is improvements in medicine, in particular vaccines, which mean children do not die of common diseases like measles — and that means that a woman need not bear twelve children to see any survive into adulthood, as was previously the norm, and remains so in less industrialised countries.

So, the modern lifestyle benefits the women who have access to it while being the direct cause of wars and political oppression, and the indirect cause of droughts and floods, in many countries that often do not benefit from it. He gives a few examples of how climate change affects women — such as being “primary collectors of fuel and water for their families” when water is getting increasingly scarcer — but surely, whatever the men are doing (presumably, working in the fields or in some industry or other) is being affected as well, and whoever collects the water, if there is less of it, that affects everyone. He mentions the heightened risk for women in conflict situations, but much as with the heightened risk of abuse for disabled women, just because it is more dangerous to be a woman in these situations, it doesn’t make it is not dangerous to be a male civilian; in some African conflicts, such as in the Congo, the gangs that rape women also rape men.

So, Nafeez Ahmed’s title claim is wrong on both counts: it is the modern lifestyle, not patriarchy, which is causing the environmental crisis, and as for “only women can save her”: which women, and how? The evidence is that women are no less likely to avail themselves of the advantages and conveniences of the modern lifestyle if it is available to them than men, and not greatly more avid to make sacrifices to lessen their environmental impact. People are easily satisfied by very small and superficial concessions to social justice and the environment as long as it keeps the flow of luxury goods and cheap technology going. Every western political movement depends on technology and the energy which powers it, including feminism and environmentalism; nobody has an immediate interest in it being less readily available. It is yet another distraction to blame “patriarchy” for the state of the planet, but history shows that patriarchy did not cause a global environmental crisis for thousands of years, that modern industry, technology and transport did in under 200, and that the countries where women have the most opportunities are among the worst contributors to climate change and have the greatest demands for the luxury goods that require cheap labour and contribute to conflict. All of us who enjoy this lifestyle are responsible.

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Will the wheels fall of Maajid Nawaz’s bandwagon now?

11 April, 2015 - 20:05

Picture of Maajid Nawaz, a middle-aged South Asian man, standing outside a branch of Barclays Bank with a yellow circular badge on his black jacket and leaflets in his handIn today’s Daily Mail there is a report that Maajid Nawaz, the founder of the so-called counter-extremist Muslim organisation Quilliam and Liberal Democrat candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn in the forthcoming election, was filmed in a strip club in Whitechapel last year during Ramadan, where he ‘received’ two five-minute lap dances, got heavily drunk (staff threatened to remove him several times) and tried repeatedly to touch the woman who danced for him, which is against club policy. (The report includes photos and a video of the incident.) Nawaz’s spokesman said that the incident was his stag night which he held with the full knowledge of his now wife; Nawaz himself tweeted:

The Mail report makes much of Nawaaz’s claim to be a feminist and his support for such issues as ending FGM, as if there were no feminists who didn’t regard abolishing the sex industry as a priority. In fact, there is a whole body of feminism which regards sex work — even prostitution, let alone lap dancing — as a job which women (and somen men) make a free choice to go into, and demands such things as the legalisation of brothels — although they do not encourage or condone men sexually harassing women in the industry and trying to touch them when they are not supposed to. I am not sure if Nawaz knows anything of that debate; he seems to be a feminist of the vague “women are people too” variety. Some feminists say that men cannot even be feminists.

That said, if a man wants to be an ally to feminists, he should think carefully before he attends places like this. It is not only that some (but not all) of the women do the work because they are desperate, and some may even have been trafficked, blackmailed or otherwise forced into it (if you have sex with someone in those circumstances, it could well be rape). It’s not only that they attract the sort of men who harass women in the neighbourhood before and after attending the clubs. It’s also that companies use trips to these clubs as ‘rewards’ or as social networking events, and anyone not that way inclined would exclude themselves, and thus be absent when important decisions are made that affect their future. Most women would not want to attend, and neither would most Muslims. The clubs foster discrimination; they are an even more egregious version of the Garrick Club-type all-male “backrooms”. This alone should be enough reason for anyone who ostensibly champions any minority to avoid them.

So, Nawaz dumps on Muslims, much like Quilliam always has done. We already knew that from his, and the organisation’s, antics and public statements. We knew it from Usama Hasan making a show of his belief in evolution (and the resulting ‘death threats’) to the non-Muslim media, and his family trying to treat the Leyton mosque as a family business when the community rejected him and his belief. Drinking alcohol and ‘receiving’ lap dances at strip clubs are both haraam, which every Muslim knows. Of course, we all know there are Muslims who drink, but most don’t make a big show of being a ‘moderate’ Muslim and a role model for anyone looking for a path out of extremism. Not only has he handed a big propaganda coup to the remaining extremists; he gives weight to the idea that refusing to embrace the ‘pleasures’ of the dominant culture is a symptom of extremism, even though many people in the general population regard some of these things as sleazy, immoral or socially harmful themselves.

I suspect his behaviour may have been part of some sort of personal crisis on Nawaz’s part, a rebound from the years spent in HT and in prison, perhaps, or the break-up of his first marriage. If this is the case, he should step down from Quilliam because, if they really are meant to be an organisation representing moderate religious Muslims, they should consider him to be an embarrassment. It is unlikely whether the Lib Dems, which as Julie Bindel noted in Standpoint magazine in 2013 is “overrun by lads and libertines” with a lower ratio of female to male MPs than either Labour or the Conservatives, a libertarian attitude to the sex industry and a history of sexual scandals, will consider this to be worthy of resignation, especially as it may be too late to replace him. But he ought to recognise that he is no longer an asset to the campaign against extremism, or a credible role model. Maajid, step down from your public roles, go and have your fun if you want, but leave us Muslims alone.

Image source: Wikipedia; picture taken by Ross Frenett, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.

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A new speed limit at midnight

6 April, 2015 - 00:01

A red DAF XF articulated truck with red tractor and curtain trailer with the name "Dünya" and a globe with the land in light blue on it.Tonight at midnight, the speed limits for trucks on roads in England and Wales go up by 10mph: the maximum speed on single-carriageway roads to 50mph, and on dual carriageways to 60mph (in practice, vehicles will not be able to exceed 56mph as they are all fitted with speed restrictors). This is something the industry has been campaigning for for some time, but safety charities have criticised it as giving into law-breaking and some drivers complain that it will mean they are paid less as they can complete jobs more quickly. Personally, I welcome it, although I think it should be accompanied by speed limit adjustments for other vehicles as it still leaves trucks doing 10mph less than cars.

The speed limits at present were set in the 1950s when trucks were slower than they are today, but had less effective brakes (previously, the truck speed limit was 20mph!). The speed limits were already among the highest in Europe, where motorway speed limits for Europe are 80km/h (50mph) in most countries and lower on normal roads (for example, it’s 60km/h or 37mph on main roads in Germany) and now are probably, on average, easily the highest. In the 1950s there were no motorways (the first motorway as such was opened in 1956) and far fewer dual carriageways. These days there are sections of dual carriageways which are distinguished from motorways only by having green signs (in particular, the A2 in Kent and part of the A3 in Surrey), longer stretches where the road conditions do not merit having the lower speed limits, and wide or straight single-carriageway roads where trucks doing 40mph are an annoyance to other drivers.

These days large parts of the country do not have motorways, only long stretches of dual carriageway: most of these are away from the big cities, such as in eastern England (the Humber region being an exception) and the south-west. In other areas, dual carriageways have been built to avoid the cost or environmental impact of a previously planned motorway (e.g. the A50 from Leicester to Stoke on Trent, which was built in place of a planned motorway, the M64). These roads are not always greatly inferior to actual motorways; the M1 in particular has narrower lanes than some newer motorways, like the M40, while dual carriageways often have wider lanes. Their junctions are often (but not always) tighter, which does present a hazard, but specific speed limits can be applied in these areas rather than across the whole road.

The road safety charity Brake issued a formal response (.docx) to the changes, claiming that the limit increases “average speeds”. The problem with this is that average speeds do not cause accidents; specific vehicles’ speeds at particular moments cause or contribute to accidents, along with poor observation, lane discipline or other forms of bad driving, along with other factors such as road and weather conditions. They also claim it “sets a dangerous precedent that if traffic laws are persistently flouted; the government would rather change them than enforce them”. In fact, even the police have at times understood that the limits are an unnecessary nuisance and have encouraged truck drivers to do 50mph on long, straight stretches of single carriageway. Right now, they don’t expend much effort in enforcing the speed limits on some (long) stretches — last time I drove the A1 from Worksop to London (which I did quite frequently on one job I did last summer), there was only one speed camera north of Huntingdon.

I don’t buy the argument that higher speed limits will mean drivers will get paid less as they will finish jobs quicker. This might happen on some runs, but on others, the time saved will allow an extra drop or two which will add hours and, with it, pay, and in any case, if the journey is mostly by motorway, this time saving already exists and nobody is campaigning to bring the motorway truck speed limit down. What is more likely is that transport supervisors will expect drivers to do 50mph when previously they had been doing 40mph, when the road conditions make it safe to do 45mph or so but not 50, at least not all the way. Sometimes I’m more concerned about finishing the job quickly and getting home than I am about squeezing a bit of extra money out of it, and it’s only likely to make a big difference if you are on a long journey and can do 56 most of the way (like 20 minutes on a 200-mile journey). If you’re stopping and starting a lot, being able to do a few stretches a bit faster won’t make much difference.

I would support harmonising speed limits for different types of vehicle. On two-lane carriageways on dual carriageways, for example, I would advocate a speed limit of 60mph for everyone. Why? Because when people join these roads, especially at the tight junctions that they often have (e.g. the A1), people in the inside lane have to move across to let them on, and when someone is coming from behind at 70mph (or more), this becomes impossible, making it necessary to slow down rapidly. If the speed limit on single carriageways was 50mph for everyone, the remaining annoyance of being stuck behind a ‘slow’ truck when you ‘should’ be doing 60mph would be reduced, and a fairly large number of single-carriageway roads are not suitable for doing 60mph anyway. It would also make it easier for drivers to slow down when entering villages as they have less speed to lose.

The majority of truck drivers are responsible adults and not joy-riders or maniacs. A few already drive their trucks too fast or otherwise dangerously — tipper drivers being the worst offenders — and for these people there needs to be better enforcement on safe driving other than speed. The new limits apply on roads where a limit above 40mph, or the national speed limit, already applies; it will not mean that truck drivers can drive any faster on urban roads where the speed limit is 30mph — that isn’t changing. We also don’t want to get into accidents (particularly with other trucks, where we are more vulnerable because we sit at the front of our vehicles on top of the engine, not behind it) or put our insurance costs up. For me, the new limit will make driving a bit less stressful: I will no longer be constantly checking my speedometer, watching for police or speed cameras, or worrying about holding up other traffic or about unsafe overtakes. But don’t expect all the slow movers to suddenly speed up: if we’re fully laden, we won’t be able to go much faster, especially up hills, and some roads are just not safe to do 50mph on in a large truck.

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Leaders’ debate: my impressions

3 April, 2015 - 19:06

 Bongo-bongo Land, sluts half price".Last night there was a big debate featuring the leaders of the seven major political parties in next month’s elections (Labour, Tories, Lib Dems, Greens, UKIP, Plaid Cymru and the SNP). I was driving, so listened to the debate on BBC Radio 5 Live rather than watching it on the TV. The debates all started with questions from the floor, and covered major areas such as welfare, the economy, immigration, the NHS and education. Perhaps I missed out on a lot by not seeing it on TV, but I didn’t believe any of the leaders were particularly impressive and this includes the women, contrary to some of the opinions I heard in the debates afterwards and the opinion polls on the front of some of the papers, especially the Tory papers. (I thought the Times’s poll was aimed at scaring the Tories into action on immigration rather than reflecting reality or promoting UKIP.) You can listen to 5 Live’s broadcast here and watch the ITV version on their website here in the UK.

I was most disappointed that the Tories’ claims about the last government’s economic record went unchallenged. The fact is that nobody accused them of wild taxing, borrowing and spending until the present government came to power after Labour had borrowed extensively to bail out banks following the collapse of some of them in 2008. We did not have a substantial deficit until that point, but neither did we have a particularly generous welfare state. We did not have many council homes built to replace those sold off in the 1980s; we did not have state-funded major infrastructure projects, with rail links and much-needed road improvements taking ages to approve, and most of the new hospitals were built using Private Finance Initiatives, with the private sector having to be paid back out of the health budget and those repayments taking priority over actual healthcare spending. Labour could have taken two other courses of action in 2008; either nationalise the banks without compensation or let them collapse, resulting in hundreds of thousands of people losing their money.

Labour spent the 90s trying to crush left-wing resistance to Blair’s reforms, telling their critics they were dinosaurs, that they were helping the Tories and helping to make sure Labour remained in opposition, and so on. They used tricks to make sure right-wingers favoured by the leadership were selected as parliamentary candidates, even exploiting union block votes where they still existed, and expelled members not only for standing against their candidates, but even for publicly suggesting that people vote for other than their candidate. Yet now that a Tory-led government has hacked away at even what they left in place last time, Labour are unwilling to defend their record and to challenge the terms of debate laid down by the Tories and their corporate media.

The major revelation from the debate was from Nigel Farage. He revealed himself to be a one-trick pony, as all his answers tried to divert the discussion onto immigration or the EU. The worst incident was where, during the section on the NHS, he brought up the cost of “health tourism” and of giving free anti-retroviral drugs to anyone with HIV in this country, regardless of immigration status. This actually has some benefit to the British public as it means the recipient, if they take the medication, is at less risk of spreading the virus, either to their sexual partners or their children, which none of the other leaders challenged him on. He claimed we could re-orient British foreign policy to forge greater links with the Commonwealth, as if those countries were motherless children, and Canada and Australia had not forged their own links with neighbouring countries in the Americas and Asia since the end of the British Empire, and as if any of those countries were a mere 26 miles from our shores. He sounded like one of those bores who has a pet interest and always tries to divert discussion onto it, even butting into other people’s conversations. He also reminded me a bit of the BNP in the mid-2000s, who stood for local and mayoral elections and offered policies on immigration which they could not deliver as local councillors or mayors. As it’s a given that UKIP will not be the biggest party in the next Parliament, his attitude would have struck some as defeatist.

Farage probably impressed some viewers and listeners because his voice cut through everyone else’s. All the others reinforced every stereotype you can think of: shouty women and old-boyish, samey, dull men (I can never tell Clegg and Cameron apart when I hear them on the radio), and all often shouting over each other and none of them saying anything particularly earth-shattering, but Farage at least sounded calm and cogent. However, what he used that voice for was to blame foreigners again and again like a dinner party bore. The debates make no real difference to my vote, as I live in a Lib Dem constituency where they are the only challenge to the Tories, and the media will always say somebody “won” because it suits their agenda and allows them to manufacture a story. If you were impressed by Farage, then please remember that he had nothing to say about any other issue besides immigration and the EU. Do you know what he would do once we were out of the EU, and what he would do if he failed to deliver, perhaps because of a failure (from his perspective) of an In/Out referendum?

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Stable-door logic

29 March, 2015 - 18:22

 Why on earth was he allowed to fly?"Last week a GermanWings airliner was crashed into a moutainside in south-western France, killing everyone on board. The evidence seems to suggest that the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, crashed it deliberately, and investigations have turned up evidence of fairly minor mental illness and deteriorating eyesight that could have been the motive for his apparent decision. The day after the flight data and voice recorders were investigated and prosecutors announced what they believed happened, newspapers demanded to know why he was allowed to fly, as if this sort of thing could have been predicted from the evidence that was available.

Lubitz was able to shut the pilot out of the cockpit after he left to use the toilet because security systems installed after 9/11 allowed him to override his pilot’s own code. It seems that security measures implemented to prevent one kind of previously unforeseen disaster have enabled another, clearly because nobody thought that a pilot would crash his or her plane deliberately, and the most likely person to want to get into the cockpit against the pilot’s wishes was a hijacker. A system which allows control over a plane to be seized from the ground has not been implemented because of fears over safety and security, and a rule that a cabin crew member must be in the cockpit when one of the two pilots is away, so that there are always two people in the cockpit, was already in use at some airlines but not Lufthansa/GermanWings, although they have decided to adopt it now.

Every time a tragedy occurs, we assume that we could have done something to prevent it; the idea that a deranged or evil person was just too clever for us is regarded as a defeatist attitude. Readers have no doubt heard the expression “shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted”, but this is the stock response to an unforeseen tragedy or atrocity. The drive is particularly strong after an air disaster because rich and powerful people travel by air, because it’s the only quick way of getting to many places and because, although genuine accidents are rare, an attack on an aircraft can kill everyone on board quickly; a passenger is much less likely to survive than in a car, bus or train crash. The same phenomenon is seen after other terrible occurrences, such as where children are murdered. After Ian Huntley murdered two young girls at the school where he was a caretaker, for example, it was revealed that a number of accusations had been made against him, but as none were proven, he could not have been prevented from working with children. A whole new safeguarding body was set up in response to this.

While I was not particularly interested in working with children myself, I feared at the time that if someone committed a murder and it turned out that he had no previous convictions but did have a problematic school history, this also could be used to bar people like me from not only working with them but also having access to them. I mentioned this to a work colleague and he replied, “yes, but what’s worse, you not being able to get a job or a child being killed?”. When a murder is reported on, all such details reporters can find about the criminal’s past are reported, including professional or amateur diagnoses of things like Asperger’s syndrome and their obsessive behaviour (like always demanding paprika and broccoli on his pizza in Lubitz’s case), regardless of what relevance, if any, these things had to the crime. These things are weird, weirdos kill children, therefore they are relevant.

Attitudes to mental health are coloured by a lot of prejudice and irrationality. Because mental illness is heavily associated with irrationality, people often suspend their own reason when making judgements. I once heard, for example, of a woman who was raped in a public place and reported the attack to the police. When it came to prosecuting, however, the Crown Prosecution Service found evidence of past mental illness, some of whose sufferers had been known to consent to rough sex in unusual places, and as this information would likely be used by the Defence, they decided not to prosecute, and the rapist went on to rape someone else. Now that it appears that one airline pilot with depression and burnout may have crashed a plane on purpose, people insist that any pilot with a history of “mental illness” should be barred from flying even though most are no danger to anyone or indeed themselves — last week’s disaster is the first of its kind that, if the official story is correct, had no political motive.

Of course, it’s necessary that airline pilots be mentally and physically robust as their judgement could mean the difference between life and death for hundreds of passengers (and between the black and the red for their airline, although this isn’t often spoken of this soon after a disaster). Michael Moore wrote an essay some years ago about the low salaries paid to pilots on American commuter airlines, and remarked that he wanted “the people taking me with them to defy nature’s most powerful force — gravity — to be happy, content, confident, and well paid” so that they’re not thinking of where their next meal is coming from when they have dozens of lives in their hands; however, in the Observer today, pilot and aviation writer Simon Moores notes that the life of a junior pilot, particularly in the low-cost sector, is often a poorly-paid, insecure and stressful one. It could be that if we barred everyone with a “black mark” on their mental health history from being pilots, we would end up without enough pilots. His mental health may turn out to have had nothing to do with this crash at all; air crashes have taken place because the pilots were convinced they were somewhere other than where they were (such theories abound about some of the so-called Bermuda Triangle crashes, for example) so we should not rush to add more stigma to mental illness than already exists when pilot stress and resulting poor judgement may be a greater threat to airline safety.

(As an afterthought, many Muslims have been complaining that the idea that this was a terrorist attack was not even considered when it became obvious that the pilot was white. Some humorous articles have shown up on some websites, like the one in which investigators found a copy of the Qur’an in a bookshop near Lubitz’s home. The complaint basically runs that if the pilot’s name had been Mohammed, the first thing considered would have been that he intended this as an act of jihad, regardless of whether he also had a history of mental illness and had no known connection to jihadi activity whatsoever. The problem is that Muslim political movements do exist which have been known to hijack planes and crash them, causing large-scale loss of life, while right now in Germany there aren’t, and the last terroristic movements to appear in Germany did not use that particular method. It’s a more justified complaint when white Christian fanatics carrying explosives attack security checkpoints with machetes at New Orleans airport, or when neo-Nazis stockpile weapons in northern England and the incident is not prominently reported and mental illness is readily given as an excuse. Germans are even less notorious, in recent years at least, for lethal terrorist violence than right-wing white Americans, so it’s reasonable to assume that Lubitz’s action was either a mistake or had personal motives, and to at least consider the possibility of a political motive if his name had been Mohammed.)

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Muslim women silenced on Muslim women’s dress

28 March, 2015 - 20:21

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, pictured in 2009Last Saturday, the Guardian published a long-winded screed by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (or Alibi-Brain as we call her) claiming that “the veil” as worn by Muslim women constitutes a “rejection of progressive values”. It’s basically the “single transferable Yasmin Alibhai-Brown article about Muslims”, variants of which have appeared in at least two other British newspapers, and consists of some familiar false historical claims (e.g. “the veil” originates in Persia or Byzantium and its revival is backed by Saudi petro-dollars) and spurious interpretations of scripture sourced from people without any grounding in Islamic scholarship, as well as outright baseless claims, such as this one:

Like a half-naked woman, a veiled female to me represents an affront to female dignity, autonomy and potential. Both are marionettes, and have internalised messages about femaleness. A woman in a full black cloak, her face and eyes masked walked near to where I was sitting in a park recently, but we could not speak. Behind fabric, she was more unapproachable than a fort.

Actually, you might have been able to speak to her. You just didn’t try, preferring to entertain yourself with a flight of self-righteous fancy.

The article’s headline is, to us Muslims, a lie: “as a Muslim woman”. Alibhai-Brown belongs to a sect which diverged from Islam centuries ago, the Isma’ilis. This is important, as non-Muslims often define ‘Muslims’ in terms of appearance, in terms of a professed identity, of first names, of cultural characteristics. Muslims define Muslims in terms of those who believe as we believe and worship as we worship: those who believe the Two Testimonies and in what flows from them (always the tricky bit), and who affirm them and practise what they entail. As Isma’ilism is a different religion, albeit with (some) shared beliefs and history, its followers do not have the authority to tell us what Islam is and what it isn’t. And non-Muslims are deceiving themselves, or each other, if they insist on treating someone like Alibhai-Brown as one. She is not.

On Monday the paper printed three letters in response. Not one of them was from a Muslim woman living in the UK now — the first and by far the longest is by a female professor from the Aligarh university in India (an institution where women remain barred from the main library, a rule justified by its vice-chancellor on the grounds that if ‘girls’ were allowed in, there would be four times as many ‘boys’), the other two from (probably white) non-Muslim women in England, one of them (Norma Clarke) a professor of English literature and creative writing at Kingston University. (Yasmin Alibi-Brain’s spurious “Muslim” status does not compensate for the lack of a Muslim female response to her attack on them.) The section is headed “Voices behind abd beyond the veil”, but none of the authors sound as though they come from ‘behind’ it. I briefly attended that university ten years ago, and there are plenty of Muslim women there — Prof Clarke could have talked to some of them to ask why they wear the hijab (very few wear the niqab nowadays, although quite a few did back then, before the Straw affair).

Clarke’s letter attacks the supposed phenomenon of “little girls … being turned into sexual beings”, a favourite canard of feminists regarding the wearing of hijab by little girls (as opposed to those past puberty) but in fact, Islam does not require girls younger than that to wear it, or their parents to make them wear it (and young girls in most Muslim communities never wear niqaab, only the headscarf). There are three reasons why they sometimes do: one is that they are used to it by the time it becomes compulsory (and to avoid the situation of them appearing at school suddenly and it being assumed, correctly or otherwise, that they are menstruating); the second is that it is a uniform item in some Muslim schools, or considered the appropriate dress for religious activities such as reciting the Qur’an; the third is that it’s “grown-up dress” and girls wear it because it is how their mothers and other older females dress. It’s usually a compliment in our society to tell a child they look, or act, grown-up, and we call them “young man”, “young lady”, and some mothers I know (perhaps some fathers as well) call their young daughters “my little lady”. It doesn’t mean they look sexualised; a lady usually means a female of pleasant and becoming appearance and behaviour. Muslim girls can be “little ladies” just as much as other little girls.

The last letter is from one Mabel Taylor of Knutsford, someone a brief Google search reveals is a serial letter-writer whose missives have appeared in both local and national newspapers and even the New Scientist. She opines:

As an unbeliever I find it incredible that followers of religious faiths adopt rules and regulations regarding what they wear, eat and where and how they pray etc. Why on earth do they think that an all-powerful, omniscient creator would be even vaguely interested in such mundane human-inspired ideas?

Part of the answer to this is that a really omnipotent and omniscient deity would know, and concern Himself with, small matters as well as large — Abdul-Hakim Murad mentioned that this is a debate that took place in the Muslim lands in the classical era in which some suggested that Allah’s knowledge might not include “pernickety things”, and orthodoxy held that Allah is “al-‘Aleem”, all-knowing about things large and small. We also don’t believe that the rules of our religion are merely “adopted” by us, but revealed by Him through His Prophets on whom be blessings and peace. But on top of that, why is there room for a brief side-swipe at religion in general from an “unbeliever”, but not for a thorough-going critique of the original article from one of the people targeted by it?

The paper hasn’t printed any further responses since Monday. I called the Guardian’s reader’s editor on Wednesday and asked why no response to the letter from a British Muslim woman had been printed, and was told that the letters page reflected the letters that were sent, and were not solicited. I find it difficult to believe that they did not have any response from the religious British Muslims, women in particular, that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown criticised last Saturday, particularly as they sometimes include online comments among printed responses to their reviews, obituaries, Notes and Queries entries and so on. It seems the intent is to silence an uppity minority community. There is a saying that has its origins in central European political traditions, particularly in countries with a history of foreign occupation, and is nowadays used as a slogan of the disability rights movement: “nothing about us, without us”. When Muslims are talked about in the media as a problem to be solved and shut out of the discussion, this should be our stance.

Image: Simon Veit-Wilson, via Wikipedia. Released under the Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 licence.

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Race: Things we can’t say (except when we can)

22 March, 2015 - 19:38

 Ex-race tsar says silencing of debate has done devastating harm to Britain".Last Thursday Channel 4 broadcast a 65-minute-long discourse by Trevor Phillips, former head of the Commission for Racial Equality and then (after its amalgamation with all the other equality bodies) the Equality and Human Rights Commission, on the premise that people are afraid to say certain things about race, particularly in terms of making generalisations, even though these things are true. (He could, however, say them in the Daily Mail, which ran a lengthy article by him last Monday). His other contentions were that whites are often afraid to criticise anyone that is not white, even when they are clearly doing wrong, that segregation is the cause of such events as the 2005 London bombings and the attack on Charlie Hebdo, and that the rise of movements like UKIP among whites are an understandable reaction to the “liberal metropolitan elite” ignoring their concerns about these things. (Watchable here in the UK until a month after broadcast.)

The first problem with all this is that people do say these things all the time, and they have been saying them in public, mostly in papers like the Daily Mail. For decades the right-wing press have been running inflammatory stories about race, including stories about stupid things Labour (and Liberal/Lib Dem) councils were supposedly doing to promote racial diversity in schools in the 1980s (some of them fabricated), through to the articles targeted at Muslim women who wear niqab more recently. Phillips is merely playing up to a right-wing agenda of telling them what he wants to hear and being commended by them for being “brave”, when in fact these are dominant views and not indeed all that controversial among people of his own background anymore. He also got an overlength documentary broadcast in the evening on a major TV channel; hardly the treatment of a voice crying in the wilderness.

The second claim — that “whites are presumed guilty” is true in some places (I’ve seen situations where white individuals were accused of being racist for not bowing to the demands of a voluble black blogger or activist, or not doing so quickly enough), but given that there have long been two white-dominated tabloid newspapers disseminating a daily diet of bigotry, and of lies about multiculturalism and about other cultures than their own, and two major white-dominated broadsheets backing this up with “science” and long words, one can hardly blame non-whites, immigrants, their activists, social workers who work with them, and so on, for being defensive. The situation is or at least was polarised, and only the weaker side is being blamed. As for it being to blame for Haringey social workers’ failure to protect Victoria Climbié, Phillips conveniently forgets that the same department also failed a white boy, Peter Connolly, who was also murdered by members of his family a few years later. This was a dysfunctional department and blaming cultural factors was just one excuse people used to pass the buck. And who got the blame for Victoria’s death? A black, female, junior social worker, Lisa Arthurworrey.

He also mentions a film that was commissioned to warn young girls of the dangers of grooming, which heavily featured young Asian men in flash cars chatting up girls on the streets. He claims it was suppressed because portraying Asian men as the groomers was seen as racist, so another film was commissioned which showed a white abuser and a black victim. However, the film, if shown, would have given out the message “beware of Asian men in flash cars”, when sexual abusers come in every colour and economic status, and given that the film would likely have been shown well beyond Bradford or Rotherham, the message may well have been lost on many girls. Not all the ‘Asians’ that were involved looked like Pakistanis (some of the guilty men were Kurds, who are much lighter-skinned) and even in places beyond the north where the groomers were Asians, the Yorkshire accents might have lessened the impact. The majority of sexual abusers are men, and the majority of people in the UK are white. Beyond that specific set of circumstances, a white male abuser is the more likely scenario.

The third main claim is that segregation is the cause of violence, including the London bombings and the Charlie Hebdo attacks. He claims that, for example, he warned the French authorities to “get rid of the ghettoes” after the 2005 riots in French cities, and they were ignored, and the upshot was the Charlie murders this year. This is an extremely simplistic explanation. He repeatedly uses over-emotive language such as “ghetto” and “segregation” for any situation where people of kind live together, whether by choice or not. In the case of France, where the ghettoes are on the outskirts of many cities, this was not the case; in the case of many such situations in England, it was partly their choice, although dictated by such factors as needing to be around the mosque or temple, the ethnic food shop, others who spoke the same language, and for protection against racist violence. Not all such areas even have a majority population of that ethnicity, and some are in fact majority white (e.g. Brixton, although not certain estates), but outsiders will notice that there are a lot of a certain minority there and think “they’ve taken over this area”. The shops and restaurants on the high street do not always account for the houses on the back streets, but it does not stop people scaremongering about take-overs and mini Islamic republics just because there are certain areas where women are not afraid to wear the veil.

Let’s not forget, “segregation” was a legally-enforced régime where blacks were forced to use separate facilities, from houses to bus seats to water fountains, where only (usually rich) whites were allowed to vote, and where blacks and whites were not allowed to marry each other. “Ghettoes” were overcrowded Jewish enclaves in European cities, and Jews had to live there, and the more recent ones in Nazi-occupied Poland were urban concentration camps set up to allow easy deportation to the death and work-to-death camps. While they had some benefits for the minority (or some members of it), the purpose was to keep them separate and to maintain their inferiority. They were enforced and planned; they did not just establish themselves and were not for the convenience or protection of the minorities.

In blaming an exaggerated “segregation” for riots and bombings, he ignores all the other causes. The 2005 London bombings were probably years in planning, and perhaps they chose the day after the city was chosen to host the Olympics but that has never been proven. The bombers belonged to a violent extremist movement; they may have been partly motivated by British involvement in the Afghan and Iraq wars and support for Israel, but although white and Asian areas in the north are more separate than they are in London, the same extremist movement thrived in London as well, including in highly mixed areas of west and north London — it was openly tolerated and very visible throughout the 1990s until well after the 9/11 attacks. Much the same is true of the Charlie Hebdo murders, but the French state’s open hostility to Islam, displayed in such behaviour as banning girls’ headscarves in schools (and the harassment of and discrimination against women who wear it in other public places), the obstruction of Muslim schools, police harassment of young men of Arab (and African) appearance and so on, no doubt motivates some young Muslim men to turn their backs on French society (and on certain compromised ‘moderate’ imams) and join the extremists. Other riots were clearly triggered by police brutality, both here and in the USA. The separation of communities, and lack of understanding between them, can be a factor in some of this, but extremism can thrive without it, and so can state and police oppression.

Towards the end of his documentary, he shows an interview with the UKIP leader Nigel Farage, in which he asserts that his party is “colour-blind” and that he favours scrapping nearly all legislation that bans discrimination against people on the grounds of colour. This has already been widely reported and will no doubt prove damaging to his party’s electoral ambitions. He also attends their conference, and approaches one white man and asks if they might talk about the issues later. The man says “no we won’t”, and demands that Phillips go away, and then accuses him of harassing him. It’s not clear if the man is put off by Phillips’s colour, or because he knows who he is, or because of the camera crew behind him, or indeed who the man is, but Phillips uses it as an example of how the so-called “liberal metropolitan elite” is held in suspicion by the sort of “ordinary white people” that vote for and support UKIP.

However, Phillips does not really question how liberal or indeed metropolitan this elite is. The present government is dominated by rich Tories whose policies are designed to benefit the well-off and to target people dependent on benefits, even if this is dictated by disability. They are largely public-school educated, based in the south-east but not London, and are liberal only on gay rights. Their support base is suburban and provincial, not metropolitan. The myth of the “liberal metropolitan elite” is a standard American conservative political tactic, normally deployed by members of the wealthy business elite to persuade middle-class provincial whites that they are the real men of the people, and to vote against their own economic interests. Phillips also does not investigate the role of the media in hyping up the issues at the heart of UKIP’s campaign: immigration, the loss of sovereignty to the EU, nuisance legislation, political correctness.

The show ends with him visiting a school which had paid particular attention to the needs of every community which had sent children to it, to the extent that no ethnic minority was doing particularly badly, and had now decided to focus on the needs of the white working-class children who were falling behind. The screen went blank and a slogan (one of many throughout the programme) appeared: “White (& poor) is the new black”. This is another ridiculous oversimplification, confusing economic or academic underachievement with long-standing racial prejudice and disempowerment. There is nothing like the level of antagonism going back decades between young white boys and the police as there is with young black boys and men and nothing like the history of cultural antagonism with other parts of society, or malign stereotyping. The problem of poor white underachievement has been in existence for a long time, and Phillips does not question why. It suits the powers that be for this underclass to exist; it gives them an excuse to attack teachers and social workers and their unions (that so-called liberal elite again) and an unquestioning consumer base for the mass media.

The whole documentary is a case of Phillips playing the role of the “model minority”, which is why he was appointed to head the ECHR in the first place, rather than the leaders of any of the other equalities bodies. He’s a middle-class black male with a long history as a political insider, and his status gives him precious little difficulty ingratiating himself with middle-class white males, particularly when a Labour government is in power, but as this shows, the Tory press can warm to him as well. He’s someone who speaks their language and whom they can do business with; certainly a long way from the tabloids’ stereotype of the black, one-legged, blind (Muslim) lesbian that you supposedly had to be to get money out of a Labour council, and not shouty or ‘uppity’. I have a hunch that by “segregation” he really means Muslims refusing to assimilate and that he is suggesting that people shouldn’t be afraid to say that Muslims are the problem. But his evidence is weak and he fails, or refuses, to consider, or even mention, other explanations.

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Yet another thing to carry around: Apple, slimlining versus portability

15 March, 2015 - 10:04

Picture of a white man wearing a blue shirt, and behind him a picture of the side of a new MacBook with a gold finish, showing one port, with the letters 'USB-C' on the screen below it‘Power users’ need to shut up (from OSNews)

This article links to one at iMore, in which someone who calls himself a ‘power user’ but says he hates the term, tells ‘spec monkeys’ to shut up about the lack of external ports on the new MacBook (which only has a single USB-C port, which has to be used for charging and connecting every external device):

The thing that spec monkeys need to remember is that most people don’t care about what they care about. Most people buying new computers aren’t interest in how many cores a CPU has or how many GB of RAM or storage it has. Very few of the people I sell computers to have more than a passing interest. They want to know what the computer can do. What problems it solves for them.

From that perspective, the MacBook is already a success: It provides an up to date, modern OS X Yosemite user experience. It emphasizes wireless connectivity through Wi-Fi and Bluetooth — something many consumers already have ample experience with on their iPhones and iPads. It’s loaded with the software most users need to get started: Everything from a web browser to email, data management apps for contacts, calendars and so on. And it’s well-integrated into an ecosystem millions of iPhone and iPad users already depend on to store their data and make it available in the cloud. iCloud, more specifically.

The OSNews article goes on to compare this sentiment to those who criticise the latest Samsung Galaxy phones (the S6 and S6 Edge) for lacking a SD card slot, using the name logic that “less than 0.1% of people care”. Just because the majority don’t care, it doesn’t mean someone who cares is not right to do so.

Admittedly, all my smartphones since about 2012 have had no SD card slots and only the first Nexus I bought (the Galaxy Nexus) had a removable back and battery. All of the others rely on the “hold the Power button in for 10 seconds” way of forcing a reboot, and they’ve all worked, but there might come a time when a phone’s firmware is so buggy that it doesn’t work, where a battery pop-out might have done. As for the SD card slot, it’s not a feature I’ve missed since moving to Nexus (and more recently iPhone) as all of those devices had plenty of internal storage, while early Androids which had only megabytes, rather than gigabytes, of storage would fill up pretty quickly. It’s useful to be able to take the SD card out and replace it, or to transfer files physically to another device, especially if you don’t have a USB lead handy. The lack of an SD card slot has always been cited as a major disadvantage of both Nexus and iPhone, even if I’ve never missed it. Perhaps it’s going out of favour, as the cards are, let’s face it, easy to lose.

Slimming down a device does not always increase its portability. All of Apple’s Mac laptops, except the one I have (the 13-inch non-Retina MacBook Pro) nowadays rely mostly on USB, wifi and proprietary Apple connectors. They do not have, for example, an Ethernet port or a built-in optical drive. This means that if you want to watch a DVD on your laptop, you’ve got to buy, and carry, that extra drive, but of course Apple assume that you get all your music from the iTrunes store and your videos from some other online store, because of course we all have limitless broadband, don’t we. That also means that if your Mac is affected by the long-standing wi-fi bug in the latest Mac OS (Yosemite), which causes the wifi to constantly cut out or go slow after a few minutes of being connected, you don’t have connectivity, or you could be in for a very long download, unless you want to plug in that extra Thunderbolt dock, which is yet another thing to carry round when the whole point of slimming down and eliminating ports is to increase portability.

The new MacBook doesn’t even have Thunderbolt; it just has one USB-C port which connects to one of Apple’s external USB duplicators (yet another thing to carry around) which themselves only have at most one standard USB port on them (they also have a charging point and a VGA or HDMI display port), and you’ll need one of those to connect your iPhone, so besides the cost of the device (at least £1,049), these port duplicators are going to be a money-spinner for Apple (at least in the short term; as it’s an open standard, cheaper duplicators will be available before very long). One advantage of USB-C over the existing Mac power connectors is that, like with a smartphone, you could be able to plug in an external battery pack, but guess what? Yet another thing to carry around.

As I’ve always said, I’m not going to be any tech company’s fanboy. Not Apple’s, not Google’s and not Canonical’s or any other Linux development company’s either. I mainly use Apple devices now, but I’m not going to breathe in the awesome and “just shut up” when a product obviously lacks important features, just because the average new user doesn’t need them — if they never used them, how would they know how what advantages they offer? It’s significant that Apple haven’t deleted the non-Retina MacBook Pro, because they clearly recognise that some people need a traditional laptop in one box which can run other operating systems and connect a wide range of peripherals easily, rather than having to rely on external drives and port duplicators. And since when did knowing what an ethernet port is, from years of experience in using, maintaining, and developing for a range of types of computer, make you a monkey?

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The lawyer who doesn’t know a man from a dog

5 March, 2015 - 18:11

Picture of Jyoti Singh-Pandey, a young South Asian woman with long black hair, wearing a blue dress with columns of white dots down the front, and a necklace.I don’t know what sort of dignity these people have, because a lot of them are just thugs who got where they are by killing people and kicking people’s heads in. It’s more apt to call a dog a dignitary than some of these people, and even a dog is just acting out its dogginess. You can’t blame a dog for being a dog, but you can blame a human being for acting like something less than an animal.

The above words come from Shaikh Hamza Yusuf, talking about some of the rulers of the Muslim countries in a lecture called Hajj: Journey to the House of God which is actually the first lecture tape I bought from an Islamic bookshop back in the late 90s. They were brought to mind watching last night’s Storyville on BBC Four about the brutal gang-rape and murder of a young female medical student in Delhi in 2012; two of the men’s lawyers were interviewed and they came out with the most outrageous drivel, one of them comparing women to a rose and to a jewel who, if you leave them out in the street, a dog will have them. One of the lawyers announced that if his own daughter was involved in “pre-marital activity”, he would burn her to death in front of their family, and emphasised the fact that the victim, named Jyoti Singh-Pandey, was out with her “boyfriend” after dark. Thankfully, this blockhead failed to persuade a court that Jyoti was some kind of harlot who deserved to be gang-raped and then disembowelled while alive; his client is on Death Row. (You can see the programme on BBC’s iPlayer here until next Monday, if you’re in the UK. It may be available through other channels overseas.)

The other day someone on Twitter complained that she had seen people calling incidents like the Delhi rape “part of the culture”. I responded that anyone saying this sort thing was either an ignoramus or a racist. Rape as such is not part of any culture that I know of, although attitudes that certain behaviours constitute “asking for it” are fairly widespread, including in the West, while the outrage that this act caused in India is reflected in the demonstrations by both men and women shown in this programme. There are certainly aspects of the dominant culture that do contribute to rape and other violence against women, however: the ingrained preference for boys, particularly in north-west India (the worst-affected areas are immediately north and west of Delhi), results in a huge population imbalance with up to 150 boys born per 100 girls, and in many more areas, like Delhi itself, around 110 to 120 boys per 100 girls, resulting in there being a lot of young men running around who do not have partners or any real hope of finding one. The men responsible for Jyoti’s murder also had a history of petty criminality and violence, with one of them a steroid abuser. While they claimed to have acted as some sort of self-appointed morals police, part of me wonders if resentment of her education (even if they did not know she was a medical student, it might have been apparent from her way of speaking, for instance) played a part in motivating their behaviour.

While the men all came from deprived backgrounds and lived in what was described as a “semi-slum”, Jyoti’s family were also poor and had sold ancestral land to pay for her education. Jyoti herself worked in a call centre to help fund her studies, and wanted to set up a hospital in her ancestral village (this was done in her name after her death). Her family had distributed sweets after her birth, something that is normally only done for a boy, and neighbours criticised them saying “you’re celebrating as if you had a boy!”. The family were obviously very proud of their daughter, and told stories such as how she had intervened after a boy stole from her and a policeman beat him, saying “what will he learn from this?”. They did not regret spending their money on her. It showed that poor and uneducated people can have enlightened attitudes, while lawyers, who are highly-educated and often paid hansomely (although that may not be true there) can be shockingly ignorant. That alone makes this film worth seeing, if you can.

The film has been banned in India. The ostensible reason is that it concerns an ongoing legal case, although I suspect there is some element of embarrassment that Indian lawyers are seen spouting things that are so outrageous. I found the lawyers’ words more shocking than what the driver of the bus (convicted of the rape and murder, although he claims he only drove the bus) said; he, after all, is one appeal away from the rope and needs to justify or mitigate his behaviour. Even if one agrees that a ‘respectable’ woman should not be out after dark with a man who is not family, four men tricked her into boarding a bus and then gang-raped her and injured her so badly she later died. This was their choice; a dog will behave according to its dogginess (or its treatment and training by people) but a man can choose to be a human being or act worse than a dog. If a lawyer does not understand the difference between a man and a dog — and that man is responsible for his actions, which is why we even have a law — he shouldn’t be a lawyer.

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Another reason to remain in the EU

4 March, 2015 - 16:08

Picture of Firas al-Rawi (centre) and his wife and childrenA Twitter friend just flagged up this story from a Canadian newspaper. It’s about a Muslim family who are Canadian citizens being barred from boarding a flight to Florida so they could go to Disneyland and be together while the father, a doctor of Iraqi origin, attended a professional conference in Orlando. Firas al-Rawi and his wife and three children were stopped by US customs at Pearson airport in Toronto, and during a “security inspection”, officials demanded they hand over passwords to their computers and tablets, which they refused to do as it contained personal files such as pictures of the women without hijab. They were then refused entry, and a stamp was put in their passports saying they had “withdrawn”, and their computers have yet to be returned.

Canadians do not have an automatic right to enter the United States. British Citizens have an automatic right to enter the surrounding countries, because we are part of the European Union. I have always said that we should also be part of the Schengen agreement, which would enable us to travel without a passport to the neighbouring countries; we remain out of it largely because governments are afraid of a tabloid-led backlash. There are those who want us to withdraw from the EU, peddling stories of nuisance legislation and unchecked immigration (in the case of eastern Europe, this is something we did not have to agree to when those countries joined, and other member states refused); many of these people travel on the Continent on a regular basis and some have holiday homes in France and Spain. These people, being white and middle-class, are extremely unlikely to have their travel plans disrupted.

Withdrawing from the EU will make it more difficult for ordinary people to travel — it will mean foreign holidays are more involved and expensive, and take longer because of delays at the ports and customs inspections. (In the 50s and 60s, there were restrictions on what British citizens could take out of the country; you could only take a small amount of money in banknotes, for example.) It will mean jobs for young people on the Continent, which enables them to learn foreign languages, become harder to come by. But the biggest losers will be members of minorities with families on the Continent — Somalis with family in the Netherlands or Sweden, Africans (north and west) with family in France, as well as those in professional jobs or businessmen who need to travel to neighbouring countries for work. They will have to run the gauntlet of racist and ignorant immigration officials who will assume that a Muslim name means a terrorist, or at the very least a troublemaker. As whites in the same professional roles would not, it would amount to racial discrimination and a hindrance to the ambitions of anyone from these minorities.

Taking down barriers means we provide fewer opportunities for the harassment of travellers by the kind of bigoted morons who are attracted to the immigration service both here and abroad. As with human rights laws, those who want to scrap freedom to travel sell their policies on the basis that only dark-skinned people and troublemakers need such things, and that white privilege is as good as any charter. The English Channel is not the same width as the Atlantic and the United States is too powerful and aggressive and its dominant class too stupid and vicious for it to be anyone’s friend.

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ISIS and the “three silly girls”

26 February, 2015 - 17:54

 Even my kids didn't know I was returning".Recently three young girls, British Bangladeshis from east London, left the UK for Turkey apparently intending to join ISIS in Syria, and the media have been up in arms about the fact that someone was able to ‘groom’ these girls to think life would be better over there and that they were allowed to freely leave the country. One Grace Dent wrote a piece in the Independent arguing that they were entirely responsible for their behaviour, that they were “not silly kids wagging off school, but calm, considered, A-grade students who have researched their trip, found hundreds of pounds in funds, booked flights and headed towards earth’s closest vision of actual hell”, and had managed to deceive their families about their intentions, something she would never have been able to do as a 15-year-old. The piece was widely criticised, notably for overlooking the fact that the 15-year-olds were “vulnerable children” according to Nousheen Iqbal in the Guardian, and that the childhood of children of colour is commonly denied them, according to Judith Wanga (@judeinlondon on Twitter).

I’m sure I’m not the only person who found the story a bit puzzling; the three girls were shown on airport CCTV and wearing very western clothes; only one of them was even wearing something like hijab. Plenty of Bengali women in east London wear every kind of hijab from a simple headscarf to long black robes and a face-veil (niqaab), yet the three girls who would flee to ISIS country would be seen in public in brightly-coloured western clothes and no hijab. This seems pretty odd, even as a disguise, given the reported insistence by ISIS that women wear robes and a double-layer niqaab (which, by the way, is readily available in east London or from any number of online Islamic clothing retailers). Nosheen Iqbal refers to “rockstar barbarism”, comparing the three girls to some of their peers who are infatuated with the likes of Boyzone or Damon Albarn, but there is nothing much charismatic about ISIS. Al-Qa’ida had Osama bin Laden who, at least in the standard media image of him, was handsome (especially if you grew up in an area and a culture where there are a fair few men who dress the same way), but ISIS has no similar figure; even its leaders keep themselves in the shadows and are known only by nicknames. So it’s difficult to see who they might be infatuated with.

It’s patronising to dismiss the girls as ‘just children’. People that age are well above the age of criminal responsibility; when someone that age commits a murder, they get life, the same as an adult (the wording is different, the effect the same). It is, in my opinion, a way for older people to assert their power over them, by dismissing their ideas as mere passing flings or fads and praising them for their ‘maturity’ when they do what the older people want. (Asian parents are a favourite media hate figure, usually portrayed as conservative and their parenting style as restrictive and stultifying; it is ironic that parental authority is being invoked here to criticise the girls’ action, both by Muslims and the mainstream media.)

Besides the fact that many 15-year-olds have already gone through real struggles, whether in their families or school or their health, in Islam adulthood, with full responsibility for one’s actions, starts at puberty and it’s normal in many Muslim countries for girls to be married by that age. It’s assumed that the girls are foolishly running away from a life of opportunity and freedom, something that cannot be assumed of girls growing up in inner-city east London, even if they could have got A-levels or even degrees. Nobody questions whether they had ever seen green fields other than on TV or from the window of a train. Nobody questions whether they would have had careers, or whether they would in reality have ended up as east London Bengali housewives. There are worse things to be, of course, but if a girl knows she’s destined to be a housewife and mother to six children, you can hardly blame her for wanting a bit of adventure first, and perhaps wanting to be part of history, to help in the building of a great nation.

Many westerners cannot fathom why three girls would leave a life of liberty and luxury, as they see it, to join a group of barbarians who burn libraries and take women as sex slaves. As a Muslim, I can tell you that many Muslims simply do not believe what the media says about Muslims. This was the case with the Taliban, it was the case with al-Qa’ida and it’s the case with ISIS. In the community I was part of after I converted in 1998, I found plenty of people (all men, of course) who readily believed the Taliban leadership’s explanation of some of their actions and dismissed the rest as lies. The Taliban propaganda sheet Dharb-i-Mu’min was given out openly at the mosque I attended and one story was about a young woman who had sold personal possessions to raise money for the Taliban.

The refusal to believe that al-Qa’ida were even partly responsible for the 9/11 attacks persisted long after the events; a middle-aged male convert told me that it was “part of iman (faith) not to believe what the kuffar say about Muslims”. It is not only ‘silly girls’ who refuse to believe that everything the media report about ISIS atrocities is true. There are Muslims who believe ISIS is a Jewish plot, an outfit run by products of Israeli intelligence training, and those who believe that its leader really is the rightful caliph of all the Muslims and who is it saying bad things about them? Why, the Jewish-controlled media, of course.

The western media do not do their credibility with Muslims any favours. Their intended audience is either middle- or working-class whites and their editors and reporting staff tend to be one class above the audience, even in the left-wing media, and the same ethnicity. Appealing to Muslims would not sell many more copies, but it could make the true stories a bit more credible. Various mainstream media outlets have reported just about every rumour about atrocious or crazy ISIS behaviour, several of which have turned out to be false (e.g. the “ISIS enforces female circumcision” story from a year or so ago).

While it is true that extremists re-interpret the texts to justify their actions, something which has been the case since the Khariji massacres in the early days of Islam, some of the most widely-reported atrocities are things commonly known to be unlawful in Islam, such as the “sex slaves” story in regard to Yazidi women in northern Iraq (where slavery exists, sexual relations with a slave woman are only allowed if she is Muslim, Christian or Jewish; otherwise, it is fornication or adultery as well as rape, and there is no interpreting one’s way around this). Any Muslim hearing that story would know there was something not quite right about it, even if it is only the assumption that the women taken in this way will all be raped. Yet it was peddled as fact, without question, in mainstream media news reports.

Finally, it is possible that the girls left the country because they wanted to live in a country where being Muslim was the norm and they were not hearing Islam or Muslims vilified in the media every other day, or having to answer for what other Muslims did in the street or at school, or subject to any other pressure or hostility. For all the talk of how 15-year-olds are ‘just children’, the same may be true of the people insulting or threatening them in the street or at school, and in any case that fact does not occur to them. No white person living in the suburbs should assume that just because they are not seeing bodies pile up in the streets, that there is no such thing as Islamophobia or that ordinary Muslims are not experiencing it because of what the media reports and because of the comments of certain politicians.

As 15-year-olds, these girls would have been a year old at the time of 9/11 and only six or seven when the Jack Straw niqaab affair happened, leading to numerous front-page vilifications of Muslim women in British newspapers. Older Muslims like myself remember a time when there was not much hostility to Islam as a religion; younger ones only remember the time of the “war on terror”, of a society that regards them as a problem or a threat and where “multiculturalism” is a dirty word. As usual, the media pour scorn and pity by turn on these three young women, and do not even consider the fact they are a large part of what the three may be fleeing from.

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Thomas Rawnsley: funeral today

24 February, 2015 - 10:05

The funeral of Thomas Rawnsley, the young man with Down’s syndrome and autism who died at the Kingdom House unit in Sheffield earlier this month, where he had been held on a Court of Protection Deprivation of Liberty authorisation against his and his family’s wishes, is to be held in Wibsey, Bradford today. I’m not able to be there because of work, but if you’re in the area it’s at 1:30pm at St Paul’s church and the burial is at 2:30pm at North Bierley cemetery. The picture shows him standing with his sister, and his mother Paula published it on Facebook to ‘show how tiny he was’ — as you can see, he was only as tall as she was and she appears to be bending down, which casts doubt on any suggestion that he was big and unmanageable.

There are two other anniversaries today. One is the first anniversary of the publication of the Verita report into Connor Sparrowhawk’s death in an Assessment and Treatment unit in Oxford, a death that was found to be preventable. His inquest is not until the autumn of this year and the final staff disciplinary action is ‘half finished’.

The second is that it’s Stella Young’s birthday — she would have been 33, but died unexpectedly in early December last year of an aneurysm. She was an Australian comedian and disability rights activist who had osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle-bone disorder) but was thought to be healthy, although it does come with a reduced life expectancy. Stella didn’t have a learning disability, but I include this because people need to understand that disabled people often die young or at least younger. We do not know yet if Thomas Rawnsley’s death was a consequence of his condition or of abuse he had suffered while at Kingdom House or a previous ‘home’ or a mixture of the two, but the upshot is that he spent his entire adult life in institutions where he was unhappy rather than with or near his family. If you are making decisions about a disabled person’s life, care or housing, whether the impairment is physical or cognitive, you must understand that this could be the last decision made about them because they may not have long.

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Gender, ‘censorship’ and campus free speech

22 February, 2015 - 20:24

Black and white picture of Germaine Greer, an older white woman wearing a black top, holding a glass of some drink in her handLast Sunday there was a letter in the Observer, the Sunday sister paper to the Guardian, from a long list of people (the principal signatories being Beatrix Campbell and Deborah Cameron; the others appeared only on the website) protesting against the censorship of opinions at British universities, principally those “whose views are deemed ‘transphobic’ or ‘whorephobic’”:

Last month, there were calls for the Cambridge Union to withdraw a speaking invitation to Germaine Greer; then the Green party came under pressure to repudiate the philosophy lecturer Rupert Read after he questioned the arguments put forward by some trans-activists. The feminist activist and writer Julie Bindel has been “no-platformed” by the National Union of Students for several years.

“No platforming” used to be a tactic used against self-proclaimed fascists and Holocaust-deniers. But today it is being used to prevent the expression of feminist arguments critical of the sex industry and of some demands made by trans activists. The feminists who hold these views have never advocated or engaged in violence against any group of people. Yet it is argued that the mere presence of anyone said to hold those views is a threat to a protected minority group’s safety.

The overreach of “no platform” policies is something I have been periodically campaigning against on this blog for years, as such policies have been used to silence speakers hostile to Israel or who espouse other views which go against fashionable liberal opinion. “No platform” was previously reserved for racists and fascists; in this day and age, they are used against any group that allegedly makes another group feel threatened. Racists and fascists were violent, as are the EDL whose leader has also been the focus of “no platform” policies; the same cannot be said of most radical feminists. I opposed the “no platform” policy against Julie Bindel last October, and my position has not changed. (More: Louise Pennington, Stavvers, Victoria Brownworth. A letter in response was published in today’s edition.)

A concrete student union building with a glass frontage, next to a concrete brutalist bell tower and a temporary theatre stand, with people sitting around tables. The sky is deep blue with a few fluffy cloudsSomething that is not being widely acknowledged is that the groups implementing “no platform” policies on campus may be quite small. When I was involved in union politics at Aberystwyth (left) in the 90s, the quorum for a general meeting was 70 (the total student population was about 6,000), and a policy motion (one which did not change the constitution or seek to remove an elected union officer) required a simple majority, i.e. just 36 people. These motions could be extremely damaging; when I was there, the union was forced to hold a rent strike which hardly any students participated in. Many unions were already doing away with general meetings as meeting after meeting was inquorate; they moved to a Student Representative Council, which consisted of elected representatives of halls, academic departments, societies and so on. Thus it cannot be assumed that, just because a union has a policy refusing a platform to someone like Julie Bindel, there is a groundswell of student support for the policy. It’s more likely to be a small group of activists who have gained the upper hand.

The nature of the likes of the BNP (and the NF before them) and today’s trans-hostile radical feminists is entirely different: the former advocated wholesale repatriation of non-white immigrants and cultivated popular hostility to them which (with help from them) often resulted in violence. In addition, fascism when it took power had proven itself to be violently repressive, bellicose and genocidal, and a nation which had defeated that ideology were quite justified in seeking to suppress a violently racist group trying to resurrect it. Much as one may disagree with the stance of radical feminists on transsexual or transgender people — their unyielding policy that someone should be regarded as their original sex, regardless of whether any visible or audible sign of it remains — and their often stereotypical and spurious justifications for it, they do not use violence, at least on anything like the same scale. When I pointed this out to someone who had complained that feminists only objected to no-platform policies against a ‘horrendous woman’ but not to the likes of Tommy Robinson, she claimed:

Being violent and abusive DOES include advocating that trans women are not women, actively doing all you can to make sure trans people are denied access to healthcare, being complicit in the online abuse they receive that leads to worsening mental health. That IS violence!

In other words, violence means wronging someone. That is not what most people understand by violence: we mean attacking their bodies or destroying their property. It means a physical attack. This use of language is dishonest.

The TERFs’ (trans exclusionary radical feminists’) hostility to transgender women is something that can and should be debated out in the open, because much of it is based on falsehood and dishonesty which can easily be identified. The inner corps consists of a small group of 40- and 50-something lesbians who hate being female, and if you look far enough into their self-published writings, you will find many of them saying as much. They cannot fathom anyone wanting to be a woman; a woman who says she does must have been ‘conditioned’ to think so (a common imperialist-feminist response when a woman makes a choice they disapprove of), while a transsexual must be doing so in search of some weird sexual kick. Most of their claims can be debunked pretty easily: the claim that transgender people still benefit from male privilege or socialisation (true of some, but others never enjoyed it in any meaningful way); the claim that people transition to avoid being gay (not true), the persistent emphasis on females as a ‘class’ rather than simply a sex; the false concern about helping adolescents to transition to avoid puberty being “child abuse”.

In addition, some of them display open contempt for young people, especially young women, and in certain blog posts appeal to the authority of age or parenthood and convey resentment that young women do not listen to them or give them the ‘respect’ they think they deserve. The same woman who wanted to brand a 15-year-old boy a rapist for having sex wtih a 13-year-old girl last November, for example, called Caroline Criado-Perez (who is largely on the same side) “just a baby” in a Twitter conversation in which she also said she did not have young women for friends but is more likely to be friends with their mothers; she was “mum” to the younger women. A rad-fem blogger calling herself Ann Tagonist noted that other older women hold similar views to them on the status of trans women, observing of the comedienne Roseanne Barr:

In fact Roseanne Barr is often cited as a famous TERF but Roseanne herself would admit she is not a Radical Feminist. The reality is that Roseanne is a Grandmother who shares the Radical Feminist belief that men shouldn’t be waving their dicks around women’s private spaces when they’re not wanted. Incidentally my own Grandmother shares this belief and so does every other Grandmother I know. Grandmothers are TERFs.

It is not clear precisely which generation is most worthy of young women’s attention, given that older generations tend to have conservative beliefs on other matters, like abortion and homosexuality. Why should young women listen to one older generation of women with conservative opinions but not another? In any case, I know women who are mothers, and who have experienced the things rad-fems identify as the means of women’s oppression, such as rape and domestic/relationship violence, who are on the pro-trans side.

That said, it has become difficult to take a moderate position on these issues, because the ‘other side’ consists of a group that insists that not only gender, but biological sex itself, is a social construct (and this term is used to mean it is baseless). Here is one example, although there are many others. The fact that with intersex people it is sometimes difficult to establish which side of the line somebody falls (as is sometimes necessary when, for example, an intersex person participates in women’s sports) is taken to mean that male and female are false categories when in fact the vast majority of people are not intersex and fall easily into one of those two. The free-gender position argues that someone’s gender identity is everyone else’s duty to recognise, even when there is no physical reality to it, whether they are intersex or simply the other sex; the bar for being a ‘trans woman’ is set so low that the proverbial ‘man in a dress’ could indeed qualify, with all the dangers that poses for women and, especially, women with learning impairments. In the last couple of years it has become fashionable to refer to certain individuals who profess a female gender identity as “she” and by their chosen feminine names when they are, in fact, male in every respect, whatever the rights and wrongs of their situation (Bradley or Chelsea Manning being the best known). Their usual response to anyone stating the facts on these issues is mockery or “heard it all before”, when in fact their position consists of an awful lot of self-serving, baseless dogma. Cathy Brennan’s repeating “penis is male” like a stuck record on Twitter may not strike anyone as rational debate, but it’s true.

The other major point of contention is the radical feminists’ and their fellow travellers’ attitude to prostitution, advocating the “Nordic model” which makes it a crime to pay for sex, but not to offer it. The same feminists who support the free-gender position also favour legalising brothels so that prostitutes can work in the same house in greater safety than on their own. It’s a mystery why anyone would think this is a matter that merits banning a public speaker; there are other issues, such as drug legalisation, where there is harm in both prohibiting and permitting, yet there is no question that a debate on whether drugs should or should not be legalised or decriminalised, with a speaker against, would be allowed to proceed. Both sides talk as if the only issue at stake was the welfare or safety of the prostitutes, but there is also the safety of other women in the neighbourhood, as well as simply whether the ‘trade’ should be tolerated at all.

The group which wrote the original letter complain about their ‘free speech’ being suppressed, but as other commentators have pointed out, it is this group (not so much the inner corps, more the fellow travellers such as Glosswitch, Sarah Ditum and Helen Lewis, who edits the New Statesman which publishes the other two writers’ work online) who get a lot of column inches in the mainstream press (or “malestream” as they call it when it is critical of them) while very few feminist writers in the mainstream media are on the pro-trans side, despite being very well-represented on the ground and in public campaigns such as for disabled people’s rights and benefits. They are also apt to claim persecution, often presenting criticism (including from other feminists) as bullying or harassment. This is potentially damaging to their other work, as they expect the public to believe them when they say women do not lie about being raped, yet they lie about other forms of abuse and use words like harassment, stalking etc. to mean whatever they want them to mean.

If you’ve read this far, you’ll understand that I do not write this in support of either of the two factions, but nonetheless, neither of them consists of racists or fascists who threaten violence, and some of them have a long history of campaigning for women’s rights and against violence against women, and it does not really benefit anyone to have such campaigners’ voices silenced because their other views (which may not be aired on the occasions they are invited as they are not relevant) offend or upset some people. That said, I do not believe there should be set-piece public debates about these questions at universities, because it is possible to ‘win’ such a debate by surprising the audience with some statistic or some sensational claim which may be untrue or distorted but these facts cannot be ascertained until after the event. And while it may be true that the four incidents mentioned in the original letter were not all they were made out to be, I have personally seen attempts to pressure universities and other venues to deny Julie Bindel in particular a platform (by circulating public petitions etc), and her behaviour and views do not merit it.

Image source: user Walnut Whippet on flickr; cropped slightly by Daniel Case - Cropped slightly from; distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution (BY) 2.0 licence.

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Where were you?

18 February, 2015 - 21:42

Today the Guardian published a long article on the late Lucy Glennon, who wrote for the paper, most memorably about her condition (epidermolysis bullosa or EB), but also about food and about the effects of cuts to disability benefits on the people who relied on them. Some friends of mine who knew Lucy have noted that under the online copy of today’s feature there are a number of comments calling her ‘brave’, an ‘inspiration’ and similar things that are often said about disabled people, yet when Lucy was alive and was fighting to stay in London (as she needed to do), the comments were full of complaints that she was demanding special treatment at the taxpayer’s expense, and the people calling her an inspiration today did not stick up for her then.

A section of the front page of the G2 supplement in the Guardian. It has a picture of Lucy Glennon, a young white woman with pale skin and glasses, wearing a pink top. The text reads "Lucy Glennon lived in constant pain. She was a fearless disability campaigner, facing her incurable illness with humour. But life got tougher when her benefits were cut".I looked at the comments under Dave Hill’s article from January 2012, and the first two comments suggested she should just move back to Yorkshire or “she needs to move somewhere cheaper”, and they continue in a similar vein (as well as side-swipes at others on benefits, such as “serial breeders who are given large houses to accommodate their brood when they should have refrained from having more children then they can afford to feed and accommodate”). A few people suggested she should move out to the suburbs or to somewhere south of the river which might be closer to St Thomas’s hospital which is equipped to treat EB. Most of the people defending her were other Guardian writers.

Under today’s article there was a particularly clueless comment suggesting that “you could buy a lovely cottage for that amount” (i.e. the amount that was being spent on the rent for her first flat). Of course, you could buy several houses in some northern towns for the price of a flat anywhere in London, let alone central London, but Lucy did not need several houses, or a cottage in some village out in the sticks. She needed a small flat in London, convenient for the hospital she needed to attend regularly to cope with the complications of her condition, and which had room for her dressings and a place for a carer to sleep. (In the event, she got a one-bedroom flat and the carer had to sleep in the living room, although she liked the area and the development she moved into.)

If Lucy had had a different condition, one that did not regularly require specialist attention, perhaps she would have been content moving back to Rotherham, where her family live. I know of quite a few people with chronic conditions who find they cannot have them, or their complications, treated adequately in their local area (Ehlers-Danlos syndrome being the one I’m most familiar with). The specialists are usually in London, and occasionally in one or two other major cities. There are some operations that simply cannot be performed in every hospital, such as the fitting of gastrojejunostomies which allow food to be pumped into the intestines when the stomach does not work properly. On occasions complications have become life-threatening because they have been treated inappropriately, and on one occasion I am aware of, doctors dug their heels in and refused to refer the patient elsewhere. While it is true that people with EB have lived outside London, it makes no sense to require someone already living close to a hospital that is able to treat them to a place where there is nothing like the same facilities available and where the risk to their health, even their life, is elevated, all just to save “the taxpayer” a few bob.

This attitude that living in London is some sort of luxury and that if you “can’t afford it” you should just move, is common currency in the present political climate. It isn’t only disabled people being forcibly moved out because of housing benefit caps to faraway towns where there are no jobs to speak of, as if you could commute every day from Hull to do a job at minimum wage in London. The rail fare is more than you earn. There is a housing bubble which a major recession has failed to burst, and an artificial scarcity of housing in London. London house owners benefit from high property prices; either the poor people who do low-wage jobs that need doing need to be subsidised to live here, or the flow of money into the London housing market can be stopped by new legislation against foreign buyers, buy-to-let mortgages or something else that inflates prices. And London has leading hospitals that are the only places in the country that can treat certain conditions. If you have one of them, and do not live in or near London, your health is at a major disadvantage. And wealthy consultants want to live in London, or near it, because of the milder climate, easier transport connections (for their international conferences etc) and better pay. If you need their services on a regular basis, you need to live near them. If you’ve got a life-threatening infection, it can do more damage on a journey from Rotherham to St Thomas’s than from Euston.

That the attitude towards Lucy changed as soon as she died shows that disabled people are only acceptable when they are dead, or when they are “making people proud”. When she had needs, people carped about money and special treatment. When she no longer needed anything from anyone, all of a sudden she was an inspiration. People with severe EB don’t live very long, and their whole lives are spent in pain to one extent or another. It shouldn’t be much to ask that someone whose health is that fragile should not be subject to needless stress and worry when they do not have long, to save the cost to the public purse of a flat near to a hospital. If you think Lucy Glennon was an inspiration just for living a difficult life, and you cheered on cuts because you thought they targeted scroungers who spent your money, then know that you helped make her life, and the lives of other disabled and chronically ill people, a lot more difficult. Was the saving worth it?

(Also, while researching this article, I googled “where will lucy live”, the title of Dave Hill’s article. All I got were links to pages about Lucy Beale, the character in the British TV soap EastEnders, whose murderer is set to be revealed tomorrow night in a live episode. None of the articles in question have that title. It’s a shame that when searching for an article about a serious issue that affected a real person, all I get are pages about a trivial TV soap.)

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Review: 100 Days of UKIP

17 February, 2015 - 18:18

Picture of Deepa Kaur (Priyanga Burford), a young South Asian woman wearing a black suit and blue scarf round her neck, shaking hands with a white female constituentUKIP: The First 100 Days (Channel 4; viewable for next 29 days in UK only)

Last night, Channel 4 screened a programme which imagined what the first 100 days of a UKIP government would be like if it won the election outright this coming May. It follows a Sikh woman elected as a UKIP MP in Romford in Essex (on the eastern fringe of London); she is apparently the party’s first Asian MP and much is made of her background and the friction this causes with other members of her family. It uses a lot of archive footage showing real statements by various UKIP candidates and councillors, some of which in this programme had become MPs or even ministers, and ends with the MP losing out on political promotion after siding with her own community after they are disproportionately hit by a UKIP immigration clampdown. (More: TiiRoaC.)

Naturally, the first thing that was announced after they won the election was an exit from the EU, which caused the FTSE 100 index and the Pound to drop hugely. A week or so later, Airbus announced that it was pulling out of the UK as a result, and a company in Romford which supplied parts to Airbus also closed down. The new MP, Deepa Kaur, who had been giving walking tours of Romford’s markets and receiving very approving responses from local white market traders, suddenly had to deal with angry former aircraft parts workers and a brick was thrown through her constituency office’s windows. When workers told her that it was all down to the government’s policy, she tried to blame the ‘cynical’ company. Her own brother lost his job at the factory, and when he took her to task, she responded that she had tried to help ‘real’ workers who had wives and children, when he was still living with his parents.

Next, UKIP announce that they are going to launch a clampdown on illegal immigration, claiming that much of the crime in the UK was perpetrated by Romanians, and Deepa gave a speech in which she said that immigrants who wanted to contribute and abide by ‘our’ values were welcome, but those who wanted to go against them and “steal our welfare” had to be sent home. This led to a series of raids against various businesses and policemen and immigration officers were seen bursting into properties and dragging people out into the streets and bundling them into vans. This leads to demonstrations in the streets, both from left-wing groups supported by unions who chant “racist scum”, and also from the EDL and a small group who call their opponents “commies”, something I’ve not heard on demonstrations here in years. Eventually it gets violent as one of the groups breaks through the police barriers.

After a visit to a Women’s Institute in Romford, a white lady challenges Deepa about how raids are carried out without warrants and disproportionately target “brown-skinned” people. She asks Deepa if she has ever seen one of these raids and Deepa responds that she has not, but it is being arranged for her to go on a raid, which satisfies the woman. During the incident, an Asian man is injured but is himself charged with assaulting an immigration officer and held in custody. This leads to heightened demonstrations and more aggressive challenges from Deepa’s brother. UKIP have declared a new Bank Holiday, a “festival of Britain” day to take place 100 days after they take power, and street parties are held across the country to “celebrate” Britain (and distract from the economic crash caused by the withdrawal from the EU).

Deepa participates in one of these events and her brother, wearing a T-shirt supporting the young man injured in the immigration raid, is in the background; Deepa tells him to “go home” but he does not (I am surprised he did not respond “to where, India?” or “this is my country” or something like that). At this point she is being prepared for promotion to a ministerial position after three UKIP ministers resign or are sacked after their racist remarks are made public. However, at the meeting she tells people that the man injured in the raid was innocent and that she intends to make a statement to the police to that effect. She also agrees that the raids were disproportionate and that Britain was really better than that. As a result, she “rules herself out” for promotion, but secures the release of the young man, and a reporter says that tensions had calmed as a result.

The programme was shot from the point of view of some Channel 4 journalists who follow Deepa round for her first 100 days as an MP, and occasionally we see the police or UKIP telling the film crew to get back or turn the cameras off. The fundamental premises of the programme are, I suspect, sound — that a UKIP government will launch a crackdown on immigration and make a show of contempt towards ‘political correctness’ in their way of operating, and that pulling out of the EU would lead to businesses pulling out. However, I very much doubt that a UKIP government (or any government) could take an action that directly led to thousands, or even millions, of jobs being lost overnight and then be able to distract from it by holding street parties or even clamping down on immigrants, illegal or otherwise. Bear in mind that even a “landslide” election victory in terms of Parliamentary seats is usually only generated by a percentage of the votes in the upper 40s; the majority of people would still have voted against them, and the result would have been enormous unrest. No talk was heard of the Scottish independence cause being resurrected, which it would have been.

I question the point of making the programme at all, given that a pure UKIP government is simply not going to happen: there are too few people in the party with any credibility and too many who have made stupid gaffes showing their ignorance, bigotry and quite unfashionable views about matters like the status of women. A more likely prospect is a Tory/UKIP coalition, which would lead to at the very least a referendum on exiting the EU. Only one likely effect of ‘Brexit’ was mentioned — the pull-out of major manufacturers — although the others would likely have only become apparent after it happened, such as increased difficulty and delay in travelling and transporting goods into and out of the country, which would be well after 100 days. Still, it’s a break from the relentless over-exposure of UKIP in the media, the making a statesman of Farage; the most likely UKIP government is a government of inept clowns which quickly brings disaster.

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Of course the ‘FGM doctor’ was innocent

7 February, 2015 - 22:06

Last Wednesday a doctor who had been charged with inflicting FGM (female genital mutilation) on a woman in the UK was found not guilty after a trial lasting two and a half weeks and jury deliberations that lasted only 30 minutes. The doctor was one Dhanuson Dharmasena and was charged after repairing a new mother’s previously ‘closed’ genitalia after childbirth, by re-stitching an incision he had made in her FGM scar tissue to enable her to give birth. A second man, who according to earlier reports is the woman’s husband, was cleared of aiding and abetting him.

Picture of Katrina Erskine, a middle-aged white woman wearing thin-rimmed glasses and a dark suit jacketThe Guardian interviewed a female consultant obstetrician at Homerton hospital in east London, Dr Katrina Erskine, who called the equation of repairing FGM with FGM itself that led to this prosecution ludicrous and insulting to women who have undergone FGM:

It is also a diversion from what we should really be addressing, which is to try and find a way to reduce the incidence not just for girls born in the UK but worldwide.

It was very interesting that the prosecution got announced three days before the director of public prosecutions was called before the select committee.

I think they (the CPS) were responding to a lot of public pressure. I find myself wondering how far I should go to say that FGM is the slicing off on a conscious young girl with no anaesthetic of her clitoris and labia … This is a quibble about a couple of stitches and it is a complete distraction.

(Dr Erskine had spoken out against this prosecution as far back as March 2014, saying everyone was “up in arms” and that it would “put off midwives and doctors involved in caring for women with FGM”.)

The director of public prosecutions, Alison Saunders, defended the decision to prosecute on the grounds that the judge rejected three applications by the defence to dismiss the case. The FGM Act specifically excludes medically necessary actions taken after childbirth; Dr Dharmasena contended that his re-stitching was done to stem bleeding. But even if re-stitching was not technically medically necessary, surely many women who had been infibulated would consent to having their genitalia restored to how it was before childbirth — after all, that is what they had been accustomed to since they were in single figures, as strange as that may seem to a woman who has not undergone FGM, and to do otherwise would not undo the damage done by the original ‘operation’. And as she was pregnant, it is clear that the opening left after that operation would have been widened somewhat.

You might guess from Dr Dharmasena’s name that he is not from a background where FGM is normally practised, so he would not have done this out of some kind of cultural commitment to FGM — he would have done it to repair the injuries sustained in childbirth. It is interesting that the woman did not testify and refused to give the police a statement, and in court papers is recorded as saying she was “concerned about being labelled as the first woman in the UK involved in an FGM prosecution” and that the case was “causing [her and her family] great stress and anxiety” (and if the words reported are as she said them, she sounds like a quite articulate young woman). It appears that the state was only interested in making a test case out of this and satisfying demand from the media (it was not ‘public pressure’, just an orchestrated media campaign) to prosecute someone. It’s a second big embarrassment for Saunders (after prosecuting a mentally woman for a ‘false accusation’ of rape, leading to her suicide); someone should be considering whether her position is tenable.

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LB on Newsnight while BBC plugs Southern Health unit

5 February, 2015 - 13:07

So, last night Newsnight did a feature (34min in) on the ongoing ‘effort’ to get people with learning disabilities and challenging behaviour out of assessment and treatment units (ATUs), more than two years after their colleagues at Panorama exposed the abuse of patients at Winterbourne View in Bristol. They interviewed Connor Sparrowhawk’s (LB’s) mother Sara Ryan and stepdad Richard Huggins, who made the point that when they had Connor admitted to Slade House in Oxford in 2013, they took it for granted that he would be safe and did not imagine for a minute that an NHS unit would let him drown in the bath. The same day, of course, it was announced on social media (but not in the news media) that Thomas Rawnsley had died following a heart attack (and as yet unexplained injuries) in a similar type of unit in Sheffield on Sunday.

The BBC also did a feature on their website (I am not sure if it was broadcast on TV) in which their disability correspondent Nikki Fox took a ‘look inside’ what the BBC calls a “challenging behaviour unit”, the Willow Assessment Unit in Southampton. This unit is run by Southern Health, the same NHS trust that ran Slade House, a fact not mentioned in the report. A member of staff takes the correspondent into a number of different types of rooms, including an “admission” room in which a bed has blue mats on each side of it in case the patient, who has epilepsy, falls out (a fact which may make it safer, but surely they could manage a more homey touch than plain blue plastic), a room for a ‘lady who self-harms’ (not the woman in the mobility scooter; that’s the reporter) and finally the “discharge flat”. The admission room had an ensuite bathroom, and the staff member pointed out all the features that are meant to reduce the risk of self-harm, right down to the curved edges to the surfaces.

Screenshot of the bathroom at the Willows, showing a toilet with no separate seat or lidPause the video at 0:49 and you’ll notice another of Southern Health’s less homey touches: the toilet in that ensuite bathroom neither has a lid nor a seat, which means the patient has to sit on the cold china, something you don’t find anywhere else except in some very old public toilets or, perhaps, in prison (not sure if that’s even true in this country) and would definitely remind the patient that he or she is in an institution (in some other mental health institutions, they watch over you as you wash or relieve yourself, especially when you first arrive). Perhaps it’s possible to self-harm by getting a loo seat off the pan, but you’d need those implements first. The lack of a lid makes the whole place much less hygienic, as a lid ensures that when the toilet is flushed, no dirty water or excreted material is thrown up into the air, taking any germs with it. Some serious diseases are spread that way.

The six-bed Willow Unit is quite a new unit, having only opened in June 2012. The CQC has no record of ever having inspected it; given the severe problems at Southern Health’s other units, they should make this a priority. And of all the places the BBC could have chosen as a showpiece for ATUs, why this place?

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Thomas Rawnsley: abuse, separation, unexplained injuries … heart attack

3 February, 2015 - 09:39

‭It was confirmed today that Thomas Rawnsley has indeed passed away.

Picture of Thomas Rawnsley, a young white man with Down's syndrome, squatting by the side of a lakeYesterday I learned that a young man with both autism and Down’s syndrome whose family were fighting to get him out of a ‘specialist’ hospital back to his family in Bradford had a heart attack in the unit and was in intensive care in hospital, with massive swelling of the brain, lungs and liver. It was initially thought that he was ‘clinically gone’ as a friend put it, but another doctor gave a second opinion and took him to ITU. The young man’s name is Thomas Rawnsley, and was the subject of various news reports in 2013 and 2014 as his mother tried to stop the authorities moving him from his home area in Bradford to one in Peterborough. As it is, he was given a deprivation of liberty authorisation and transferred to Sheffield last year, after having initially being promised a bespoke living placement.

Thomas Rawnsley had been living in a bungalow in a supported living facility, until October 2013 when he was transferred to an ATU under section because staff claimed that his “mistrust of staff” was a threat to them. He had been abused by staff at the bungalow, one of whom received a suspended sentence in February 2014 for the abuse. In the ATU he was given high doses of anti-psychotics, and when his mother Paula visited she said:

He can’t eat, he can’t talk – he just dribbles. He’s been turned into a junkie; he’s addicted to his anti-psychotic drugs because he’s kept on the maximum dose to make it easier for them to cope. It breaks my heart. He sits naked in a corridor just wrapped in a quilt. He has no modesty or dignity in there. He is my beautiful, beautiful little boy. When I ask the unit why he’s left naked like that they tell me it’s what he wants. I ask them lots of questions, I don’t get real answers. I think they see me as a trouble-maker but I’m not, I’m Thomas’s mum.

The plan to send him to Peterborough was blocked and an independent panel recommended that he be provided with his own flat with support staff, but this fell through last June because Bradford’s District Care Trust could not provide the care package Thomas needed, and as a result he was sent to a new hospital in Sheffield where for a while he was the only patient (it was even threatened that the hospital would have to close if Thomas was not sent there — as if that is any reason to send a vulnerable person anywhere). His mother was never happy with the care he received there, and last Christmas they initially agreed for him to go home for Christmas then withrdrew permission on the grounds that he would not want to return and his subsequent behaviour would be difficult; however, they did eventually agree to his going home, perhaps after realising that Thomas already knew about his trip home and that someone would have to tell Thomas that he would not be able to go home.

Last weekend when his family visited, they noticed ‘unexplained injuries’ including carpet burns, and he was “struggling with a chest infection that they knew was serious” as their friend and advocate Liz Wilson wrote on her blog yesterday; he was known to be prone to these infections. He collapsed on Sunday night and was given CPR; on Monday morning it was though that he would not make it, but was taken to ITU after another doctor gave a second opinion, although his chances are still slim. His mother spend last night in a hotel room as she was not allowed to stay with him in ITU.

Picture of Lucy Glennon, a young white woman sitting in a wheelchair wearing a light grey wooly hat, a blue shirt with a pink top underneath, and pink and blue patterned trousers with a white dressing on her right forearm and hand, next to Jon Snow, a middle-aged white man with white hair, wearing a dark coloured suit with an orange tie, and an 'I can' badge in his handI am not sure if his heart attack was caused by abuse at the unit, his medication or just his underlying condition, but even if the latter is true, if the last nine months turn out to be his last, he could and should have been allowed to spend them in a place where he was free of neglect and abuse, with his family or with easy access to them. In the current political climate, this is apparently a ‘luxury’ denied to many disabled people who are in frail health and have limited time left. Last week a disability activist I followed on Twitter, Lucy Glennon (left), died; she had written a number of articles about her condition (epidermolysis bullosa or EB) and her struggle to get support and accommodation (see this article) while her health was deteriorating, in the Guardian and on their website. As Kaliya Franklin put it in her tribute yesterday, “that fear and anxiety [caused by having to find a new home quickly and other disruption to her benefits] ruined a whole year for her, a year just as she was becoming ever more frail, a year she didn’t have spare to be spoiled”.

Three of Paula’s friends have set up a fund to be used for costs that are likely to come out of this, such as legal and travel costs, which can be found here. They have set a target of £5,000 (of which £545 has been raised so far), although if an inquest is required the costs are likely to be much higher.

 'Learning Disability, Autism, Down's Syndrome, Learning Disabled, Assessment & Treatment Units'.

Image sources: Paula Rawnsley via FB, Lucy Glennon via Twitter, Graphics on the GO via FB. For the Sohana Research Fund, which raises money for EB research, see here.

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No rape culture except Muslim rape culture?

1 February, 2015 - 11:23

A woman holding a banner which reads "You raped her because her clothes provoked you? I should break your face because your stupidity provokes me".Shelina Zahra Janmohamed, author of the book Love in a Headscarf, earlier posted a link to a ridiculous article by one Liam Deacon (whose other writings are at the Huffington Post) which was briefly published on the Spectator website and is due to go live on Monday, claiming that there is no such thing as “rape culture” in popular western culture, only among “minority non-western cultures” and, in particular, Muslims. He offers the examples of the supposed reasons why the hijab is worn, the (alleged) mass rape of Yazidi women in Iraq by ISIS, the “abuse of 1400 non-Muslim girls in Rotherham by predominantly Muslim men and the presence of concubines throughout the Islamic tradition”. He also accuses feminists of being too keen to point out examples of “rape culture” among westerners but too cowardly to accuse Muslim men.

He gives an unconvincing explanation as to what ‘rape culture’ is:

What is rape culture? The popular definition is a culture in which sexual violence is considered the norm — in which people aren’t taught not to rape, but are taught not to be raped.

This is really only one possible definition of it, and is perhaps a consequence of it rather than being rape culture. I suspect it is a phrase that means a different thing depending on who is using it, but generally means a culture in which rape is normalised, in which (many) men believe they are entitled to do it, or that some women deserve it, or know they have a reasonable chance of getting away with it, in which there is a ready supply of pornography which depicts women pretending to enjoy degrading and unhealthy sexual acts, and in which rape is difficult to prosecute because juries believe myths about rape and the defence will exploit this, in which rape is seen as trivial enough that it can be used as a joke (and rape jokes appear in mainstream comedy, some of them even directed at specific individuals), or that a defeat in a football match, for example, will be compared to it. At least some of these things are true in our culture, even if it is not saturated with rape and references to it.

Like so many, I simply didn’t recognise this cynical assertion about British society, which has become so widely accepted. British women may be the most liberated and safe in history; men are more socialised than ever; rates of recorded sexual violence are at near historic lows.

This should read “like so many men”. The vast majority of rapes happen to women and girls, and the vast majority of men and boys (the exceptions being mostly in institutions) have no reason to fear it. Liam Deacon, the author, lives in Sheffield, and I am sure he is well aware of a local football team which was on the brink of taking back a former player who is on parole following a conviction for rape, and of a campaign of harassment and intimidation against those (mainly women) who campaigned to keep him out, and that those fans refused to accept, despite ample evidence, that he was guilty.

Yet the hysteria over Britain’s supposed rape culture has brought with it ‘consent classes’ at many universities and the advent of new rape guidelines: men accused of rape will now need to prove a woman said ‘yes’. In general, British society has become ruthlessly opposed to rape culture. But if one does indeed exist, it is predominantly in relation to minority non-western cultures.

He will not actually have to ‘prove it’ in the sense of providing video evidence or a signed form, merely explain how he made sure there was consent, rather than claiming that the lack of obvious resistance is proof of consent.

Consider, for a moment, why the hijab is worn. According to some interpretations, it is needed to ‘preserve the modesty’ of women from men they are unrelated to. It is also meant to shield the men from ‘impure thoughts’ and temptation. Muslim women pressured to wear the veil are essentially being told they are responsible for the sexual conduct of men, and their uncovered selves are somewhat shameful. This is, quite inescapably, a type of ‘slut-shaming’ and ‘victim-blaming’ – two other central tenets of rape culture.

These ‘interpretations’ he refers to are merely attempts to explain why Muslims obey the commands in the Shari’ah. The truth is that we obey them because they are there; “because Allah and His Messenger say so”. In fact, in the Qur’an God explains why women are to cover their bodies: “so that they be recognised [as religious or respectable women] and not annoyed” (or molested, in some translations). The issue of anyone being responsible for controlling other people’s behaviour is a later accretion, and one over-emphasised in hostile western interpretations. Most of the material I have seen advocating that women wear the hijab focus on the textual proofs, not flimsy interpretations.

When a Muslim woman is sexual assaulted, too often it’s her own ‘honour’, over that of the assailant, which is regarded as compromised. In extreme cases, women are subjected to ‘honour’ violence for simply exercising their autonomy. Forced marriage (only recently made illegal) can directly facilitate rape. My intension here is not to be deliberatively provocative, but if there is a ‘rape culture’ alive in Britain today, it is most probably Islamic.

Forced marriage and honour-related violence occurs in specific ethnic communities in the UK. Some of them are Muslim, some not. It is not unknown for white men to kill their daughters for similar reasons either.

What is more shocking still, and even more fiercely avoided by western feminists, is the apparent permissibility of the rape of non-Muslim women according to some interpretations of the Koran. Such readings may be routinely denounced as ‘un-Islamic’. Yet the mass enslavement of Yazidi women by Isis, the abuse of 1400 non-Muslim girls in Rotherham by predominantly Muslim men and the presence of concubines throughout the Islamic tradition make the reality quite unavoidable.

What he has done is pulled three scrappy examples of things which aren’t typical of Muslim behaviour here in the UK, now in 2015, two of them not even happening in the UK at all, and presented them as if they are. Concubines existed across the ancient world, not just in the Muslim world, and in some places they were at the royal courts and in positions of political power, as with certain groups of slaves generally, notably in Egypt. It is assumed that the life of slaves was the same miserable one as found in the United States and that slave women whose masters had sex with them were always, or nearly always, raped. This is a misplaced assumption. Slaves had rights in the Muslim world that they did not have in the west, including the same quality clothing as their owners, and among other things the sale of slave women who had borne their masters’ children was banned. This was not the case in America.

The alleged use of Yazidi women as sex slaves by ISIS is completely against Islam. ISIS are not entitled to enslave anyone; the Yazidis and other non-Muslims in Iraq were allowed to live freely under (genuine) caliphal rule for centuries, and no new ruler can simply decide to enslave people at will. This is only done when new lands are conquered, and when the Muslims conquered that region, they did not enslave vast numbers of non-Muslim civilians, whether they were “People of the Book” (Jews and Christians) or otherwise. In addition, having sexual relations with a slave woman is only allowed if she is Christian or Jewish; Yazidis are neither. Any Muslim with a modicum of knowledge of the Shari’ah knows this; I suspect the story may be fabricated, or at least exaggerated.

As for the abuse in Rotherham and other places, the perpetrators were particular gangs, most of them involved in the cab and fast-food trades. It is now well-known that they were enabled to do this by police and social workers who often assumed that the girls were perfectly willing and underestimated the abuse they were being subjected to, and in any case were powerless to physically stop the girls leaving the care homes (the number of secure children’s homes is tiny, and dwindling). While the gang involved in the Rotherham abuse were Asian, a separate case in Derby involved white men. It’s not as if the only cab drivers who ever abused their women and child passengers were Asian (I dealt with plenty of abusive cabbies as a child, although the abuse was physical rather than sexual), and as we are now seeing a raft of cases of abuse going back decades, mostly by white men, some of them celebrities and politicians, it hardly proves that the only “rape culture” in the UK comes from Muslims.

Feminists are currently very keen to identify ‘rape culture’ in modern Britain, but are too cowardly to mention – let alone confront – the fact that facets of Islam are just what they’re looking for.

The most significant battles for this generation of feminists are within non-western cultures. But much feminism today is completely beholden to a crippling moral and cultural relativism. Feminists will often go as far as proclaiming the hijab a symbol of liberation, even of feminism itself, yet have a debilitating fear of confronting the more pressing plight of minority women. They are determined not to break their unshakeable commitment to both equality and diversity.

Accordingly, feminism has ended up pedalling a myth about wider British culture, while ignoring the women suffering the most. In doing so, they betray those who may genuinely be living within what they wish to brand ‘rape culture.’

Feminists are certainly not cowards; some of them face a barrage of abusive and threatening messages, including threats of rape, for sometimes very mild feminist stances such as demanding that there be a woman on at least one British banknote, or criticising the prevalence of objectification and violence against women in popular computer games. Most of this does not come from Muslim men but from white men. Only last week a man posted a video of himself screaming after he had crashed his mother’s Prius on the way to “sort out” Brianna Wu, a prominent feminist critic of violence in video games, and in the text below he accused his intended victim of sabotaging the car. In addition, feminists who criticise Islam on its position regarding women’s rights, or even advocate banning hijab or openly vituperate women who wear it, have never come to harm in the west for doing so, so they have nothing much to fear, perhaps because their attacks will hurt only Muslim women. In some countries the state will join their attacks.

It is not courage to attack perceived misogyny in a minority; it is attacking an easy target. If they do this, they will have the tabloids and politicians on their side, as we saw with the tabloid attack on the niqaab following Jack Straw’s comments in 2006 (accompanied by a whole lot of concern trolling about deaf people, none of it actually from deaf people, as far as I could remember). And it is not as if nobody has been concerned about forced marriage for the past 20 years before Liam Deacon noticed (it doesn’t take minutes to make a law, it takes years), or that there have not been groups of black, Asian and/or Muslim women forming groups of their own to protect abused women in their communities, or to change the attitudes that lead to these kinds of abuses. When outsiders (whites) try to interfere on the basis of what they think is best, they often do so from a position of ignorance and assumed superiority (it took years, for example, to grasp the difference between arranged marriages and forced ones). There is a tendency among white feminists, particularly in Europe, to think they know what is best for all women.

It’s a piece that fits neatly into a genre of defence of western culture from any criticism from within: “why not have a go at the Muslims, they’re worse than us! You only have a go at us because you know we won’t bomb you unlike them!”. Surely, women know better than a white male libertarian writer what threats they face, and where they come from. Mainstream feminists are better off criticising the faults in their own societies than launching clumsy attacks on minority communities for things they do not fully understand; Muslim women have demonstrated that they can speak for themselves and if they want the help of white feminists, they can ask for it. It is a lie that nobody will discuss Islam negatively or talk about problems in the Muslim community for fear of reprisal or being branded racist; the media has been saturated with it at least since 2001. The same newspapers that would be your ally if you attacked the Muslims are those that print topless pictures, that dissect and criticise women’s appearance but not men’s, that vilify feminists and others who challenge the status quo. “Rape culture” may not be typical of modern western culture, but it’s real and if you can avoid ever noticing it, you’re either very lucky, male, or both.

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