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Updated: 3 hours 57 min ago

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 http://www.flickr.com/photos/walnutwhippet/179692542/; 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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Review: The Theory of Everything

25 January, 2015 - 18:23

Picture of a young man and woman playing croquet on a lawn outside a grand stone buildingThe Theory of Everything is a bio-pic of Professor Stephen Hawking, the British professor of theoretical physics and former Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge university, who is best-known for his book A Brief History of Time and for being one of the world’s most famous severely disabled people. It tells the story of his life from his days as a graduate student in Cambridge, his romance and marriage to Jane Wilde Hawking, a professor of Romance languages on whose book Travelling to Inifinity the film is based, up to just after the publication of Brief History and his divorce from Jane. It stars Eddie Redmayne as Prof Hawking and Felicity Jones, previously best known for roles in The Worst Witch, Like Crazy and the BBC radio soap The Archers, as Jane.

I’d give this film 3 out of 5. That’s because it’s a very well-made costume drama — exactly the sort of thing the British drama industry does so well. There has been some criticism of the dominance of public-school products in the British arts recently and Eddie Redmayne, who went to Eton and then Trinity College in Cambridge, is one (although Jones went to a state girls’ school in Birmingham, though then to Oxford), but he is well cast in this role. He at least looks like Prof Hawking. I don’t think Felicity Jones looks much like Jane Hawking, though — there’s a page here which shows the real faces next to the “reel faces” — and none of the other characters looks much like their real counterpart. They’ve got the race and the sex right, but that’s about it. (I saw clips from a film called The Brooke Ellison Story, about a quadriplegic woman who went to Harvard and became a major advocate for stem-cell research in the USA, and for all the resemblance the actress bore to the real Brooke Ellison, they might as well have cast Whoopi Goldberg.)

The film’s a typical modern British costume drama. It’s set from the 60s to the 80s, mostly in Cambridge, mostly among nice middle-class Brits. Full of slightly scruffy but well-spoken men and very ladylike ladies. You hardly see a woman in a pair of trousers in this whole film. (Jane wears one to a holiday in the country, but it was a very dressy blue pair of trousers, which I suspect she’d not have wanted to get ruined by wearing it up muddy tracks.) If this film were fiction, it would be a very good bit of fiction — it’s a nice little tear-jerker and a film which doesn’t have stereotypical heroes or villains. But it isn’t fiction, or at least isn’t meant to be; it’s based on the life of a real person, yet a number of details throughout the film have been altered and while some of these are minor, there are quite a few big changes, and the story of how Stephen and Jane’s marriage ended is somewhat sanitised in Stephen’s and his new wife Elaine’s favour. The film over-emphasises Elaine’s role, depicting her as being the nurse that was finally able to get Stephen to communicate and to breathe a spark of life back into him, which Jane could not; in fact, she was one of several nurses hired after he lost his ability to speak, and Jane was quite good at communicating with the alphabet frame. I must say, it didn’t make me all that sympathetic to Stephen Hawking; I saw her as exploitative, and wondered how Stephen could ditch Jane, who was still beautiful (as you’d expect as she was played by an actress some fifteen years younger than Jane Hawking was at the time) and had borne his three children (you wouldn’t notice the signs of that on Jones either).

The film compresses too much into too little time. It glosses over too much. It doesn’t have much depth about the onset of Hawking’s impairment, nor about his science. It boils the science down to two or three of his papers, the ones that made the headlines, yet his role as a professor of mathematics and of teaching doctoral students over the years aren’t mentioned. I found the depiction of how he got his diagnosis improbable; it seemed from the film that the investigations that led to his diagnosis of motor neurone disease occurred after he fell and banged his head in a Cambridge courtyard, something which surely would not prompt that kind of investigation (in any case, it is one of the film’s many liberties with the facts). Jane Wilde’s book mentions that Hawking obstinately refused to get a full-time carer in as his condition took hold, even requiring his 9-year-old son to help him in the toilet; this was barely touched on in the film. I did think Jones’s performance reflects Jane’s frustration with her life with Stephen, in particular the demands his condition and his refusal to get help placed on her.

There is a scene towards the end where Prof Hawking is delivering a lecture in the USA, after he has left Jane and embarked on his relationship with Elaine Mason, where he sees a woman drop a pen in the audience, and it shows to him rising to his feet and giving it back to her, and then returning to his wheelchair. Of course, this is a fantasy, and it is not clear whether this is something Hawking said he fantasised about doing or wished he could have done at the time, or whether it is just the invention of the scriptwriters. Disabled film critic Scott Jordan Harris notes that this film “flickers weakly with truisms that can be mistaken for insight only by people who are not disabled, because it was made by—and for—people who are not disabled”, and this particular scene gives Eddie Redmayne the opportunity to jump out of his convincing portrayal of disability just for a moment. Myself, I think the scene should be judged on whether it comes from Hawking’s account or not; if it does, it no doubt reflects something that many physically impaired people (particularly those as severely impaired as he is) have experienced at one time or another. If not, it’s dishonest, unnecessary, highly unoriginal and quite unrepresentative of Hawking’s attitude throughout the rest of the film. I should add that while the film does show Hawking and his friends overcoming obstacles in their way, none of them are presented in such a way that it resembles an injustice. It’s not a campaigning film at all.

Despite being two hours long, the film really does not do the story justice. It could have been better done as a three-part TV series, but then, it would not have had the global reach and been nominated for Oscars. It’s a very well-made costume drama, but reading about all the liberties the team took with the story rather ruined it for me after it ended. It would be a fairly good film if it were fiction — but it’s not.

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“Due process”: the baneful legacy of Magna Carta

22 January, 2015 - 11:33

This year marks the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta, the treaty which protected the rights of the Norman barons during the reign of King John, and has since become a byword for long-established rights (even those not in it) both here and in other English-speaking countries. David Cameron has been harping on its virtues while campaigning to get rid of the Human Rights Act, which provides rights associated with a modern constitution and modern notions of human rights; Melvyn Bragg recently presented a four-part series on Radio 4 about the charter and the events leading up to its sealing. In the Daily Telegraph, Peter Oborne has criticised both the series and the political celebrations, the former for ignoring a charter issued around the same time which did protect common people’s rights and for glossing over how people’s rights have been trampled by this and the last government, and the latter for being full of hypocrites who themselves trample people’s rights. There is a crucial inadequacy in Magna Carta which has survived into both law and legal discourse throughout the English-speaking world to this day, which also should be considered when promoting its virtues above that of the Human Rights Act: the satisfaction with Due Process and the notion that it is synonymous with justice.

Right now, a man called Krishna Maharaj (below left) is sitting in a jail cell in Florida, having been convicted of the murders in 1986 of Derek and Duane Moo Young, both money launderers who worked for Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel based in Medellín, Colombia. According to the charity Reprieve, there were six people able to testify that he was 30 miles away at the times of the murders, but his lawyer did not call them (which means that they could not be called at subsequent appeals). He was initially sentenced to death, but because of the obvious corruption of the two judges in his original trial, his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 2002. Subsequent appeals to overturn the sentence have been rejected because the system refuses claims of factual innocence, only accepting appeals based on irregularities in the legal proceedings (e.g. evidence actually withheld at trial that could have altered the verdict). In one hearing in 2004, a magistrate rejected an appeal for a retrial for Maharaj on the basis that “newly discovered evidence which goes only to guilt or innocence is insufficient to warrant relief”, in what his lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith, called “ten pages of nonsense”.

Picture of Krishna Maharaj, an elderly dark-skinned South Asian man wearing orange prison clothesI’ve followed other cases of miscarriages of justice in the USA, particularly the South, and a common feature is evidence of innocence being rejected on procedural grounds such as that it has been submitted too late. Another feature is the cosy nature of the legal profession in which judges are often unwilling to overrule other judges’ decisions, or verdicts based on their friends’ cases. In one case, a man convicted of murder had his conviction overturned at appeal, only for it to be reinstated by the same judge when the judge or prosecutor involved in the original case asked him to reconsider. In the UK, appeal courts will consider new evidence of innocence, but not an appeal based on the simple premise that a jury’s decision was wrong unless the defence can show jury misconduct. According to Dr Dennis Eady of the Cardiff Innocence Project, “the greatest problem is the court of appeal’s irrational belief in the infallibility of the jury and its demand for a few neat, precise, new and compelling appeal points rather than an appreciation of the holistic picture”.

Three clauses of Magna Carta remain in British law: articles 1, 9 and 29, and it is the last which states that:

NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.

As the reader will notice, this article only mentions “lawful judgment” and the “law of the land”; it does not stipulate that nobody be subject to criminal sanction unless he is actually guilty, and this oversight has been maintained, explicitly, in opinions by conservative judges in the United States in the present day. It is assumed that due process is sufficient to deliver justice, and fails to account for the system, or the people who work in it, being inadequate or corrupt. The article does provide that nobody be imprisoned or deprived of their property capriciously by the king or one of his officials, so it is still a progressive document by the standards of the time, but it still allows for injustice to be committed and then maintained on the basis that all the legal boxes have been ticked. Any modern constitution or bill of rights should stipulate that nobody be subject to criminal sanction unless factually guilty, and that the judiciary should allow innocence to be demonstrated without hindrance; it should not be assumed that this is the law just because it looks like common sense.

As I have said on this blog before, Magna Carta itself did not improve the lot of the common people of England at the time, only protect the rights of the nobility against the king. It is really no substitute for a modern constitution with a bill of rights, and for the present government to stress its virtues while campaigning for the abolition of the nearest thing we have in the UK to a proper bill of rights demonstrates that it is reactionary and that its aim is to disempower the common people and maintain the power of the rich. Their legal aid reforms have already deprived poor people of legal representation in many non-criminal cases, including housing and challenging custody decisions over their children, so we can see that they do not even believe in equal access to the law. Due Process can easily be a smokescreen, an excuse to turn faces away from obvious injustice leading to enormous suffering. Let’s leave the feudal past where it belongs: the Magna Carta may look like progress compared to 12th-century absolutism, but we do not congratulate an adult on the baby steps he took when he was months old. A modern state demands modern rights and modern protections for its citizens.

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Message to the animal rights lobby: women aren’t vermin

20 January, 2015 - 11:03

These days a regular annoyance is getting an email from a petition-hosting organisation (having absent-mindedly signed up for their emails when you signed a petition once) asking you to free someone who’s been “caged” for so many years and opening the email and finding that this someone is an animal, not a human being. The other day it was a bear which had been held captive in an ice-cream parlour (?!) for some years. As someone who has been following (and sometimes participating in) the efforts to get the illegal prison at Guantánamo Bay shut down and the illegally abducted detainees sent home, or to a safe place, it’s offensive to see an animal compared to them, or to a person held when they are innocent. The animal rights lobby routinely indulge in this tactic: during the protests against live animal exports in the UK a number of years ago, one woman was seen on TV comparing them to trains taking people to the gas chambers.

Usually, the comparison is with abuse of women, and although the organisations are run by men, there is apparently no shortage of female fanatics willing to let themselves be assaulted or humiliated by way of comparison with the fur, meat or circus industries. The other day I saw a video of some animal rescuers putting a man head-first down a manhole, and at the mention of animals I immediately assumed it was a grown-up version of the schoolboy bullies’ game of putting a boy’s head down a toilet and flushing it, and I thought “hey, makes a change from humiliating women, but could you try campaigning without abusing anyone?”. But no, the man being put down the hole was actually rescuing a duck, but it shows how the likes of PETA have coloured people’s views of animal rights or rescue organisations.

Picture of a woman standing outside a stone cottage holding a baby. She is obviously frightened as she can hear the hunt pack approaching.The latest example is from the League Against Cruel Sports, who three weeks ago released a video, What if it was you?, showing a young woman hearing the hounds approaching, putting her baby in a cot and then fleeing through some woods before being overrun, climaxing with a scene of the woman lying on the ground terrified, while the hounds bark off camera, before cutting to the now motherless baby lying in her cot. This is a grotesque comparison. Foxes are hunted because they are vermin; chiefly because they menace livestock, particularly when they are too old and sick to hunt wild animals. There is cruelty around hunting, and I do not believe the claims that many foxes evade the hunt by going to ground (because they are known to dig them out) or that they only kill old and sick foxes, and it causes other problems for people living in the surrounding areas, but it’s still not comparable to the abuse of a human being and in a country where a woman is killed every two to three days by men, and where official figures showed last year that more than 1.1 million women reported domestic violence of some sort in 2013 (and that’s not counting unreported violence), comparing a form of cruelty that’s not currently happening much (and is currently illegal) against verminous animals to widespread violence against human beings is offensive.

The video is part of a long-standing trend to consider the welfare of animals as being of equal or greater importance to that of people, or even people’s lives — consider the campaign of intimidation against people who breed animals for medical research which is vital to save human lives, and when cornered about this fact, they often resort to eugenic arguments — essentially, let sick and disabled human beings die. The majority of civilised people the world over regard it as quite acceptable that animals be used for milk, meat, clothing and other uses by people as long as there isn’t unnecessary or gratuitous suffering caused, i.e. cruelty. Perhaps some people regard themselves as equal or inferior to foxes or rats, but if you don’t, and you don’t think that of friends of yours who have suffered violence or abuse (and you probably know a few), think carefully before you share a video that compares the murder of a woman by a group of men with dogs to fox-hunting. That difference — it’s a woman, not an animal — is not a minor detail.

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No, not “regrettable errors”. Lies. #FoxNewsFacts

18 January, 2015 - 17:15

Image of a St Patrick's Day parade in Birmingham, showing at its centre a white woman and two girls playing drums, with various other white people wearing Irish flags and similar regaliaFox Correction: “We Have Made Some Regrettable Errors On-Air Regarding The Muslim Population In Europe” | Video | Media Matters for America

Fox News, on which a number of ludicrous and obviously false claims about British and French cities, that there were zones and “whole cities” where non-Muslims cannot go, have been made since the Charlie Hebdo attacks, has put out an “apology” in which they “apologised” for things that actually weren’t said. You can see the video at the above link, but here’s a transcript:

A correction now: over the course of this last week, we have made some regrettable errors on air regarding the Muslim population in Europe, particularly with regard to England and France. Now this applies especially to discussions of so-called no-go zones, areas where non-Muslims allegedly aren’t allowed in, and police supposedly won’t go. To be clear, there is no formal designation of these zones in either country and no credible information to support the assertion that there are specific areas in these countries that exclude individuals solely on the basis of their religion. There are certainly areas of high crime in Europe, as there are in the United States and other countries, where police and visitors enter with caution. We deeply regret the errors, and apologise to any and all who may have taken offence, including the people of France and England.

The impression I got when I saw the clip of Steven Emerson claiming that whole cities in the UK, including Birmingham, had become no-go areas for non-Muslims was that he meant non-Muslims were simply scared to enter, rather than that they are officially designated Muslim areas closed to non-Muslims. Birmingham is Britain’s (not just England’s) second city and has a population of over a million, more than half of which is White British (very few of them converts to Islam; as of 2011, the Muslim proportion of Birmingham’s population was 21.8%). So for Fox News to ‘clarify’ by claiming that they know of no evidence that there are formal Muslim-only areas in Europe really does not dispel the impression that Emerson and others have given.

The idea of Muslim no-go areas has been a common theme of Islamophobic scaremongers for years, and very often they play on the ignorance of a foreign audience. Areas where there are large concentrations of Muslims, where (for example) Muslims feel comfortable to wear traditional dress rather than western dress, and women often wear the niqaab, are presented as “no-go areas” where non-Muslims cannot go without fear. In fact, the area in London most commonly cited (the central part of Tower Hamlets) is crossed by several major commuter rail lines and two main roads out of central London, and also borders the Docklands and contains Banglatown, an important centre of the Indian restaurant industry, which often caters to non-Muslims and serves alcohol. Similarly, when John Reid was heckled by al-Muhajiroun during a speech in east London (in which he told Muslim parents to watch for signs of radicalisation in their children), the media was full of talk of how there should be “no no-go areas”, but in fact what was meant was “how dare you threaten us in our own neighbourhood” (see earlier entry).

Steven Emerson is not a junior reporter; he has been around a very long time and has spent much of that time stirring up hostility to Muslims. He is still most famous for trying to pin the Oklahoma City bombing on Muslims, when in fact it was the work of white right-wing extremists. His career should have been over with that ‘mistake’; that any network would still hire him reflects malice (journalists have been dropped from major networks and newspapers for much less). The claim itself can only have been a deliberate attempt to tell Americans that Europe is being taken over by Muslims and to shore up American support for Israel; if he had just heard that claim, he could have checked the truth of it by looking at the State Department travel advice, the Lonely Planet travel guide, or any other reputable source of information. David Cameron called him a “total idiot”, but really he relies on his audience being stupid, ignorant and too prejudiced to care about the truth of his claims.

Image source: Wikipedia; originally sourced from the Bongo Vongo account on Flickr. Published under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0 licence.

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Walking into Trouble: How ‘shared space’ shuts blind people out

16 January, 2015 - 16:16


Some friends drew my attention to the above video, which is about how the ludicrous “shared space” fad (in which ‘street furniture’ is ripped out, pavements and roads levelled, and surfaces smoothed out to give a more open, less ‘cluttered’ appearance) is shutting blind people out of town and city centres across the UK. A scheme like this was recently imposed on a busy road junction near where my sister used to live, which has already started causing accidents, as has been reported in the local media. It also tells how these schemes have been bulldozed through, and the well-grounded fears of blind people, that they are dangerous for them as they do not provide the tactile clues as to where the road begins and the pavement ends, were simply ignored. (More: Rob Imrie on Vimeo.)

The people who made the video are from Leek in Staffordshire, where a scheme was imposed and blind people who said it would make them less safe and make it impossible for them to go into their town centres without being accompanied, as they have been doing for years. They visit a number of schemes across the country, including the notorious Exhibition Road in London, and the blunders and their effects on blind people’s ability to use (and cross) the spaces are obvious. The Dutch originator of the scheme did not even envisage the scheme as being for busy roads like Exhibition Road or the Hackbridge junction, but for low-traffic environments; but even in an area like Cliffe (part of Lewes in East Sussex), it shows its pitfalls and limitations; loading bays there are set into the pavement, not the road, in a way that no blind person can tell where it begins, so they end up walking straight into the back of a truck.

Roads without high kerbs are, of course, easier to access for someone in a wheelchair, and also make it easier to get goods from a truck to their intended destination without spilling them (anyone who’s tried that with an unwrapped pallet will know what I mean). But they are a huge obstacle for blind and partially-sighted pedestrians, something that was known about in advance but simply ignored. Also, the main blind people’s group involved in this video was the National Federation of the Blind, a small grouping compared to the RNIB, which was not involved in this project although they have some material about their ‘concerns’ about shared spaces on their website. Perhaps public bodies expect representations on behalf of blind people to come from the RNIB, and thought “NFB, who are they?”.

Shared space reflects a current trend in design, whereby everything has to be flat — consider how electronic user interfaces used to have sculptured buttons, and now all they have is rectangles in primary colours, or even just text (the change was most dramatic on iOS when version 7 came out; ‘skeuomorphism’, or apps resembling real-world objects, became taboo, or what might have been called oldthink in Orwell’s 1984). There has been much talk about clearing the streets of ‘clutter’, which includes benches, barriers, high kerbs, pretty much anything that makes the street look less flat, but little thought was given to the functions some of these items had. Of course, improving access for wheelchair users is vital, but the major supposed advantage of these changes is visual, which is of no use to totally blind people and the result makes life more dangerous for all visually impaired people — and for other types of non-wheelchair-using disabled people. Surely, the needs of some disabled people can be met without sacrificing those of others, and nobody’s safety or access should be sacrificed on the altar of a design fad. It will pass, like all the others did.

Some reports on the negative consequences of ‘shared space’ (thanks to the Sea of Change team on Twitter):


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How France can really ‘protect all religions’

15 January, 2015 - 16:49

François HollandeFrance ‘to protect all religions’ (BBC News)

The French president, François Hollande, has announced that France “will protect all religions” and that Muslims are the “main victims of fanaticism” in a speech at the Arab World Institute:

Speaking at the Arab World Institute, he said:

Islam was compatible with democracy and thanked Arabs for their solidarity over terrorism in Paris.

“French Muslims have the same rights as all other French,” he said. “We have the obligation to protect them.

“Anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic acts have to be condemned and punished.”

Mr Hollande said that radical Islam had fed off contradictions, poverty, inequality and conflict, and that “it is Muslims who are the first victims of fanaticism, fundamentalism and intolerance”.

Speaking as a Muslim (though not as a French citizen) who has benefited, to some degree, from living in a democracy, I have to say that a democracy is only as good as its voters and that sometimes laws are needed to make sure some voters can’t trample over others’ rights. In the UK, the moderately wealthy can trample over the poor; in the USA, the whites have always done the same to the blacks, to one degree or another, and in France, and much of mainland Europe, the majority population always rides roughshod over any visible minority, whether it’s Jews, Roma, Muslims or anyone else.

Muslims do not need the French state to protect Islam. Allah protects His religion. There are always millions of people at any given time who have memorised the whole Qur’an, for example. We don’t need them to build mosques for us. We can do that ourselves.

The French state needs to protect Muslims in France. If Hollande is serious, he should do all of the following:

  1. Repeal the ban on Muslim girls wearing the hijab to school, at whatever age.
  2. Repeal the ban on Muslim women wearing the face veil in the street
  3. Abolish all bans on the hijab in public spaces and on identity cards, passports etc.
  4. Ban all local authorities, state bodies and businesses from discriminating against Muslim women on the grounds of their fees
  5. Similarly, ban the same bodies from trying to make Muslim children and young people eat haraam food

If Hollande is serious about protecting all French citizens, regardless of religion, he should show that he will have no truck with racism, xenophobia or chauvisism of any kind. This includes white feminists who think they know what’s best for all women, what makes femininity, freedom or anything else. As long as Muslims in France are daily confronted with bigotry and cultural white supremacist ideology, and as long as their women and girls are molested while white women cheer it on, they will know that France, its Republic and its culture have nothing to do with them.

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Panorama: an parade of irrelevance

14 January, 2015 - 17:55

John Ware and the director of British Muslim TV, climing a flight of stairs.So, on Monday night BBC’s Panorama responded to last week’s massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices by dusting off a 25-minute feature on “British Islam”, in which John Ware, who had fronted a previous ‘investigation’ into Muslim leadership which used secret filming and promoted the wholly unrepresentative Taj Hargey as the answer to everything that is wrong with Muslims in Britain, used the “Happy Muslims” video and various other snippets of one or two Muslim scholars saying offensive things to promote the idea that the root of terrorism is a “them and us” attitude among Muslims, rather than genuine violent extremism or western foreign policy. No attempt was made to prove a link between the massacre in France and the state of the Muslim community here, probably because there isn’t one. (You can see it here until next year if you’re in the UK.)

Interestingly, the programme didn’t even investigate the claim that one of the attackers had been ‘mentored’ by someone who ‘had connections’ to the Finsbury Park mosque, which until 2005 was run by genuine, violent extremists originally led by Abu Hamza until he was arrested. They were not just violent in terms of supporting armed extremist groups around the world; they were violent to other Muslims in various mosques, starting fights and, in one case in the mid-90s that I am aware of, disrupting weddings on the grounds that alcohol was being consumed (in a mosque, of all places — it wasn’t). However, the Finsbury Park mosque community more closely resembles, in terms of the backgrounds of its members, the French Muslim community than the British one. The majority of Muslims in France are north and west African; most of ours are South Asian, with other minorities (notably Somalis) dotted around.

Second, there was no investigation of real conflicts between sectarians and other Muslims in the UK. There is, for example, currently a fight to prevent a major mosque in north-west London being taken over by Wahhabis who are registering new members in large numbers to oust the presently mainstream committee. This is all over social media and any thorough investigation into conflicts in the British Muslim community would have revealed it, and people willing to talk about it (though perhaps not to John Ware). Of course, that a mosque in Britain which has a history of promoting a moderate version of Islam was under threat does not really concern the programme-makers; they are really only interested in telling non-Muslims that Muslims hate them.

The programme claimed that what it called “non-violent extremism” served as some kind of conveyor belt to terrorism, in the words of one of the interviewees, taking them to the door. “Extremism” no longer means promoting hate or hostility; it means ideas that are contrary to what mainstream society believes, particularly as regards the status of women, homosexuality or popular culture in general. The programme offered the notorious “Happy Muslims” video from last year as an example of how “good Muslims” behave, dancing to one of the year’s biggest pop songs. Lots of Muslims objected to that video and the culture of conformity and bullying surrounding it; the branding of people who objected to the demand that we approve of and share a video which was un-Islamic in many elements, besides being an irritating and banal song written and performed by someone whose other material was objectionable; the programme went along with the dominant view that these people were just puritans and killjoys. (They featured a video criticising it by a group of Muslim women in niqaab, but that seems to have been taken down.) This may sound appealing to some white, middle-class viewers, but it sets up a situation where Muslims can be found at fault for being too different, particularly when it could possibly cause any social difficulty. There is already an attack on halal slaughter by the self-styled animal rights lobby; it could be extended to portray Muslims as self-isolating by refusing non-halal meat, as well as social functions where it is going to be served. The upshot is that Muslims are only allowed to be Muslims in the sense of private belief and worship; in other words, kind of like another form of Christianity but with slightly different terminology, as far as outsiders can see. And that’s not Islam.

John Ware and an Asian man holding a piece of paper, with an old-style red British phone box behindThey also attacked Muslim satellite TV, the Islam Channel in particular, for cultivating a sense of victimhood or “grievance narrative” among Muslims, and for using slogans like “Voice of the Voiceless, Voice of the Oppressed”. Well, when the British media routinely cast Muslims in a bad light, when a publicly funded broadcaster puts out a hit job on Muslims in Britain when something happens involving Muslims in another country, when talk shows are full of jabbering bully-boy hosts like Nick Ferrari, manipulators like Vanessa Feltz, and bigots whose bigotry is rarely effectively challenged, perhaps a channel is needed to give a voice to those excluded by the mainstream media. In the middle of this is a segment on the murder of Lee Rigby, as if Muslim anger about western foreign policy will necessarily lead to murders in the street, and as if Muslims shouldn’t talk about it in case it does. Even the police said that the two men’s intentions were not known even to al-Muhajiroun, let alone to better established groups.

Britain’s Muslims are in many ways in a stronger position than those in France. The religious mainstream is based in traditional Islam, albeit a divided version of it which is heavily laden with Indian and Pakistani culture, but it does heavily rely on scholarship, not on ill-informed opinion. It is not compromised by having to survive in a dictatorship and do deals with politicians, as the scholarship in many Arab countries is: I have never heard it said of an Indian or Pakistani scholar (however much he may be criticised for anything else) that you cannot trust him as he’s in President or General so-and-so’s pocket. This is important in keeping some young religious people away from genuine (violent) extremists, who often call mainstream scholars sell-outs or infidels. Of course, neither mainstream conservative religiosity nor the “grievance narrative” of the likes of the Islam Channel will satisfy some people, whose grievances are fed by stories in the mainstream press. They believe it, if it fits their prejudices.

In short, it’s an unnecessary programme designed to stir suspicion against Muslims for something that Muslims in Britain have nothing to do with. It neither established, nor attempted to establish, a link between the Charlie Hebdo attack and British Muslims. There has not been a single successful terrorist attack in the UK since 2005 and only two attacks on individuals (the MP Stephen Timms, who survived and Lee Rigby), both committed by individuals, not groups. They provided no evidence that the concerns they raised had anything to do with terrorism, only speculation. Its message was “a good Muslim is one who isn’t too Muslim”: one who waves Union Jacks on demand, dances to pop songs and doesn’t think too much about foreign policy. Well, this type of Muslim who will sell other Muslims out for the camera will always be a minority.

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