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Don’t mention the genocide

19 May, 2024 - 23:10
A demonstration in a street in central London, with banners featuring the Palestinian flag with slogans such as "Free Palestine" and "End Israeli State Terror"Nakba Day procession, London, May 2024. (Source: PSC)

The last couple of weeks I saw a few articles on the Gaza genocide by Zionists, as well as a series of social media posts by a Canadian Instagram influencer who (although it’s not the main focus of her content) is also a Zionist, which reflects two particular trends in how they write about the ongoing conflict and the genocide stage of it in particular. The first was by Hadley Freeman, a former Guardian fashion writer who switched to the Times and to the right-wing opinion website Unherd after falling out with “The Left” over Jeremy Corbyn and the trans issue, and it was an overlong treatise on how “the Left had failed since 7/10” and it rehashed a number of familiar arguments. The second appeared in last Thursday’s Guardian and was by Dave Rich, which made the claim that there has been a “record rise in the UK in antisemitic hate incidents that began the moment Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October” and headlined (though this may have come from the editor or sub-editor rather than the author) “the 7 October Hamas attack opened a space – and antisemitism filled it”. You will notice that in both cases, the 7th October attack is mentioned as the turning point, rather than the genocide for which it served as a pretext.

Zionists seem to have a code of silence, an omertà, about the oppressive nature of Israel’s regime in the West Bank in particular. At most, they wring hands about Netanyahu and the settlers, but insist that Israel is more than just these ‘extremists’ despite the obvious fact that Netanyahu keeps getting returned to power. Palestinians resist Israeli domination because Israel is a Jewish state, because they have an irrational hatred of Jews, not because they do not accept being dispossessed of most of their lands and being oppressed and harassed in the diminishing archipelago of lands they are permitted to still occupy. Their overseas supporters, similarly, can only be motivated by hatred of Jews; of course they aren’t upset at seeing the litany of oppressions Palestinians are subjected to because they never complain about oppression anywhere else (even if they do). The other major tendency is to deny or play down the influence they have and the voice they have in the popular media. This is where our Canadian influencer comes in: in a highlight series about antisemitism mostly posted in the middle of last October, she complained that the only Jewish voices people heard were anti-Zionist ones like Naomi Klein’s (she suggested we listen to Hen Mazzig instead). This is, of course, rot: the popular press carries articles from Jewish Zionists often. The Guardian in London, for example, has Jonathan Freedland writing the most prominent opinion column on Saturday. Last Sunday’s Observer had a piece about “fearful Jewish students” written by a regular columnist called Sonia Sodha, who is not Jewish but her sympathies are obvious. The voices of Jewish critics of Israel are given more prominence than non-Jewish, let alone Arab or Palestinian ones; the two critical letters in response to Dave Rich’s article that appeared in today’s edition, for example, are both from Jews. She also complained that Jews were forever accused of playing the victim, while doing just that herself.

Freeman complains that the Left did not care about Corbyn’s supposed antisemitism, that they backed him despite opinion polls that claimed that 86% of them regarded him as antisemitic; one unnamed ‘prominent’ person told her that it wasn’t as if the Labour party intended to bring back pogroms. “The Left doesn’t care about antisemitism if they deem it inconvenient to their cause,” she complains. No: the Left would object to antisemitism if it was real, if it bore the slightest resemblance to what would be called racism if any other group was alleging it: violence or the threat of it, suggestions that they do not belong in this country or that they stole someone’s house or job, the use of racial slurs, to name three common examples (antisemitism does have some particular forms, including a set of conspiracy theories, but Zionists commonly stretch the definitions through the needle’s eye to slap down critics of Israel or its overseas lobby). A great many of the accusations were about things that were not about British Jews, or Jews generally, at all, but about Israel; what started it off was a social media post by Naz Shah, the Muslim Labour MP for Bradford, consisting of a meme in which Israel was superimposed on the central United States with the suggestion that the latter country accommodates Israel’s Jews rather than supporting them to occupy Palestine. As is usual with such descriptions of Corbyn’s Labour party, Freeman completely obscures the context, which is that their opponent was a Conservative party which had rounded up elderly Black British people and imprisoned and expelled them from the country. The ‘antisemitism’ campaign was in aid of that party, not an anti-racist party.

She then devotes several paragraphs to a critique of “identity politics”, which she claims “divides the world into two racial categories: ‘white’ (defined as colonising oppressors) and ‘people of colour’ (the oppressed)” and Jews are perceived as “ultra-white and therefore oppressive”, hence the ‘thriving’ antisemitism on university campuses. Again, she totally ignores the context: over the past 500 years or so, whites have indeed been the principal colonisers in the world, and a major source of oppression both in their colonies, from the slave trade to the Jim Crow system and ongoing race-based oppression, and in terms of regimes they supported as hegemonic powers after the end of explicit colonialism, designed to keep their populations poor and powerless. Not all oppressors are white, but white powers have used oppression to enrich their own ruling classes and empower their countries while impoverishing the majorities in South America, Africa and Asia. Freeman mentions Mizrahi Jews in Israel (populations which migrated or were expelled from other Middle Eastern countries in the decades following the establishment of the state of Israel) so as to argue that “Jews aren’t white”, but the majority of Jews in the UK aren’t brown-skinned Mizrahim but white-skinned Ashkenazim.

‘Traditional’ post-war racial doctrines defined ‘white’ as excluding Jews. This definition should have been revisited long before now, as it’s stuck in the mid-20th century. It is true that the Far Right does not consider Jews to be ‘white’ as they consider themselves, but the Far Right we knew in the 20th century as represented by the likes of the National Front, the BNP and their splinter groups is a tiny and dwindling extremist minority. The mainstream Left and Right both in the UK, the US and the rest of the English-speaking world treat white Jews as no less white than other white people. Why were complaints about “antisemitism in the Labour party” never out of the headlines the entire period of Corbyn’s leadership? No other racialised group would get such indulgent treatment when complaining about racism whether in a political party or by the police or any other institution; no other group would see people expelled from a party for simply questioning whether the volume of claims reflected the reality, as an accusation came to be treated as proof in itself and to defend oneself was deemed to be a further offence. No other religious minority has its established, ‘mainstream’ bodies accepted as arbiters of who belongs and who does not, and what thought should be associated with that community and what should not; other minorities face prosecution for using language such as ‘coconut’ to refer to disloyal members, or are at least condemned for using such language as “house Muslims”, while dissenting Jews are treated the same as non-Jews, by non-Jews, for questioning the word of the established groups and, for example, expelled from the Labour party for disputing their word on Zionism or the Labour “antisemitism crisis”. I do not dispute that prejudice exists, but Jews do not constitute a racially oppressed group in modern western society precisely because modern western society thinks of race as colour. A folk memory of oppression, fostered by families and communal schools, does not constitute oppression itself.

Freeman tells us of her ‘struggles’ with the progressive Left about the transgender issue and compares women’s oppression with that of Jews. She writes:

When we explain why we might not want trans women in our single-sex spaces, referring to past experiences of male violence, we are accused of “weaponising our trauma”. When we talk about our fear of Hamas, because Jews have some experience when it comes to genocidal fascist groups, we’re accused of “weaponising the Holocaust”.

It’s a fact that Hamas have not struck beyond the borders of Palestine; they are a product of decades of Israeli brutality against Palestinians in their own country. British and American Jews (mostly descended from Jews who migrated from Russia when the Tsars were still in power, not from Holocaust survivors) have nothing to fear from Hamas unless they choose to join the occupier. In both cases they are often weaponising other people’s trauma, not their own, as there are plenty of female trans allies and they include survivors of rape and other kinds of male violence.

Women in general — like Jews — tend not to be believed when they describe violence committed against them; according to a recent annual report from the victims’ commissioner for England and Wales, only 5% of reported rapes result in charges being brought, never mind convictions. So, when stories started to emerge fairly soon after October 7 that Hamas had committed horrific sexual violence during the pogrom, I knew the reaction would be bad.

That few reported rapes result in prosecution is not in dispute (the party that benefited from the “antisemitism crisis” has slashed funding to both police and the court system while they have been in power, resulting in reduced resources and increased delays, as well as prisoners released who are a danger to the public). As already discussed, the mainstream media and major party politicians readily believe Jewish claims of antisemitism, especially if it is against anyone on the Left (less so if the antisemite is a Tory). The reason many people were reluctant to believe the claims about atrocities committed by Hamas and Palestinian irregulars in October 2023 is because they were being made by an oppressive, racist state that was already openly preparing for genocide; there is no comparison between a woman coming forward to report rape and any claim made in wartime atrocity propaganda.

The Unherd article is an extract from an essay, Blindness, which appears in the most recent Jewish Quarterly in Australia, whose blurb brings us back to our opening theme: the silence on the Gaza genocide, on Israel’s oppression, on settler violence: 

This issue of The Jewish Quarterly explores the response of the left to the Hamas attacks in Israel of October 7 and the willingness of progressives to abandon values that they purport to represent. In this crucial essay, author and columnist Hadley Freeman examines the equivocations, contortions and hypocrisy displayed by elements of the left, including many who were unable to name, acknowledge or condemn the atrocities of Hamas. Freeman looks at the beliefs and mindsets that have swept across sectors such as universities, politics, media and the arts, and resulted in a fervour that blinds its adherents to the realities and complexities of history and justice.

Freeman and the editor of this publication write as if they have no idea of why people might not be that concerned about an atrocity that is alleged to have taken place seven months ago which is dwarfed both in numbers and in sheer brutality (documented both by the perpetrators and victims) by the genocide which followed. We would all be horrified if someone was raped and/or murdered in our neighbourhood, but if relatives of the victim then went on a killing spree against people of the same ethnic background as the attacker or who just live in his neighbourhood, we might well forget about the original crime quite quickly. Palestinians are an oppressed people who have been living under a jackboot since the 1970s, experiencing military and settler harassment, an unequal legal system consisting of military kangaroo courts and a regime of arbitrary imprisonment, unaccountable murders, capricious curfews and home invasions, water theft, crop vandalism and numerous other persecutions aimed at forcing them out of their country (and any Gaza Palestinian will remember all this from the period before 2005 when Gaza also had Jewish settlements). No middle-class white woman in the London or New York suburbs, Jewish or otherwise, least of all one with a cushy media job, who thinks they are ‘oppressed’ really knows the meaning of the word.

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The Auriol Grey case and pavement cycling

12 May, 2024 - 22:34
Picture of Auriol Grey, a white woman in her late 40s. She is wearing glasses, a maroon top with a dark blue jacket or coat over it.Auriol Grey

Last week a woman who had been imprisoned for (allegedly) causing the death of a cyclist she encountered on a pavement in Huntingdon, a small town in eastern England, and waved her arms and shouted at her not to cycle on the footpath (which is usually illegal, though there was ambiguity about that in this case), causing her to fall off her bike into the path of a passing motorist, was released from prison as her conviction was quashed. It appears that her conviction was for “illegal act manslaughter”, in which an illegal act (such as assault in this case) leads to someone’s death without intent, and there was no proof that she actually attacked the cyclist rather than merely wave her arms and shout, neither of which is a crime. Auriol Grey is 50 (46 at the time), visually impaired and has cerebral palsy (she was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder while in prison; more on that aspect here); the cyclist was Celia Ward, a 77-year-old retired midwife, who rode on the pavement because she was partially deaf.

Some footpaths in the UK are shared paths, meaning that they can be used by pedestrians and cyclists. Most are not; it is illegal to cycle on them other than for children too young to ride on the road. I had someone tell me on Twitter that the footpath here was a shared path and that this was accepted by the judge and jury at the original trial, meaning that Celia Ward was well within her rights to cycle there; a brief look at the road on Google Street View showed that there were no nearby signs indicating it to be shared (this would be a blue circular sign with a pedestrian and a bicycle on it). There was one such sign a few hundred metres up, past three side turnings from the site of the incident, but none nearby and none in the direction Auriol Grey had come from. It also has none of the usual characteristics of a shared path; shared paths are usually separated from the road by a grass verge and have clearly marked exits for cyclists onto other paths or the road. This has none; it is just a raised footpath interrupted regularly by side roads. The path is narrow and has obstructive signpost and traffic light poles. No responsible cyclist would use it. It was also absent from maps produced by the council for cyclists and the council had no record of it being designated as one (as that’s what makes a footpath a shared path: a council decision). So, if this person on Twitter was telling the truth, the ‘evidence’ for it being a shared path was that cycling on this stretch of footpath was common and being tolerated, despite being plainly dangerous.

Of course, cycling on the pavement isn’t a crime worthy of death. Nobody says it is. But it is understandable that a person with both a physical and a visual impairment, startled by (yet another) cyclist coming towards her on a narrow pavement, got angry and remonstrated with her. Maybe she knew the cyclist was an elderly lady; maybe she registered neither her age nor her sex, just that here was a bike speeding towards her. The BBC News report noted the fact that Grey did not stop after the incident, but carried on her way before the emergency services arrived and bought groceries; it does appear that such oddities about Grey’s character formed much of the narrative about the incident, in contrast to the nice old midwife who died. I suspect that if the cyclist was a 35-year-old man, the judge and jury might have seen the matter rather differently, but in that case it’s likely to have been the pedestrian who came off worse.

In recent times I have noticed that the attitudes of both cyclists and motorists have become more hardline and much angrier than had been the case in previous years. As more cycle lanes have been built, drivers get angry when cyclists fail to use them, regardless of whether there is a good reason. Cycle lanes are installed in places where they aren’t needed, often at the expense of not only traffic lanes but also bus lanes. Only yesterday, I was nearly knocked off my bike in New Malden by a van driver at a stretch of road which had been narrowed for a cycle lane which was on the wrong side of the road for my turning. I see dashcam videos in which “entitled cyclists” are filmed jumping lights or riding on pavements and the fact that the cyclist looked out for traffic is used against them, while cyclists go round looking for confrontations with motorists. Sometimes it’s safer for cyclists to be away from moving traffic and to have a head start, hence the red light jumping, and sometimes a cyclist using the pavement for a short distance allows traffic to pass and endangers nobody. However, no cyclist should be using footways habitually for routine journeys when there are perfectly good roads to cycle on; they are not made for that. Like the scene of this tragic accident, they are often narrow, obstructed and interrupted constantly with side turnings. Young or old, we should be using the road or paths designed for cycling on for our journeys and leaving footpaths for people on foot.

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Brighton Hill: £20million well spent (at least partly)

10 April, 2024 - 22:56
An aerial view of a large traffic roundabout with six roads meeting. Around it are fields, houses, a large big-box store and a big car park. Inside the roundabout is a cycle track running just inside the main roadway, and another runs across it.The Brighton Hill Roundabout. (Source: Auto Shenanigans)

Today I saw a video by a couple of guys who make YouTube videos about roads, accusing Hampshire county council in south-eastern England of spending £20 million on making a bad roundabout even worse. (Not the first time they’ve accused councils of doing this.) The roundabout is the Brighton Hill Roundabout on the A30 in Basingstoke, where it meets the old by-pass (now a local road) and three other local roads, and previously had a network of subways under both it and some of the feeder roads, linked by walkways inside the roundabout. Now, the roundabout has been enlarged, extra lanes added to the roadways, and the subways replaced by at-level pedestrian crossings. The two men opined that the pedestrian crossings make the extra lanes pointless, and point out other defects, some real (such as traffic lights obscuring traffic signs) and some spurious (such as traffic lights being on a roundabout at all). A friend told me that people she knew used the roundabout and did find the new layout confusing, but that this was nothing to do with the removal of the subways which she agreed with.

First, why have traffic lights on a roundabout? The answer is that a priority-only roundabout only works at a junction which isn’t too busy. Where you have multiple busy roads meeting at a roundabout, you end up with one stream of traffic dominating it and traffic from other directions queuing, sometimes for hundreds of yards, because they can’t get in edgeways. The Waggoners’ Roundabout in west London is a classic example: at busy times it can take a long while to get onto the roundabout from the westbound A4 (from Heathrow) because of fast-moving traffic coming round from the A4 from London and the A312 from Feltham. This may have been the situation at the Brighton Hill Roundabout and adding the signals would have ensured everyone could get onto the roundabout; however, it also facilitates the pedestrian crossings.

Second, why slow traffic down? Isn’t the whole point of roads and cars that you can drive fast? The answer is that the council might not want through traffic using local roads; they want them to take the M3 from the nearest place, which for much of Basingstoke is the eastern junction, or junction 6 (this is convenient for the town centre and the large industrial area on the north-eastern side of the town), rather than take the scenic route through the suburbs of Basingstoke. Slower traffic is also safer to cross for both pedestrians and cyclists. There’s a perfectly good motorway a few hundred yards away (which is maintained by central government, not the county council).

However, the biggest issue is why they got rid of those subways. Subways mean pedestrians can walk safely away from the traffic and the drivers can put their foot down because of nobody slowing them down, right? The problem is that subways and segregated walkways are a facet of twentieth-century urban planning that rapidly turned sour as they became favourite hangouts for undesirables of one kind or another; we have seen them removed from council estates where they used to link housing blocks, and from many other busy junctions. People, especially women, just don’t feel safe walking through them and a network of subways and walkways through a roundabout will, at less busy times and especially at night, be secluded; they will feel much safer using an at-level crossing where they can be easily seen and so can everyone else using it. Without them, they will be forced to take detours or just risk crossing the road, and many women would rather risk being run over than being raped. As a female acquaintance told me when I mentioned this on Twitter, “subways are a big no-no especially for lone women”. Yes, we all know that most rapes are acquaintance rapes, but every so often there’s an exception (here in the south-east we all remember Antoni Imiela, surely) and if you’re a man, you wouldn’t want your wife or sister to be the first to find out.

So, just because a junction upgrade or alteration means that drivers can’t speed through it as fast as they used to be able to, it doesn’t mean it’s bad or that it’s a waste of money. No doubt the council decided that it was more important that people be able to walk or cycle from one bit of their own town to the next safely than that motorists be able to speed across a suburban area without more than dabbing the brake pedal when they could well use the perfectly good motorway, or just slow down a little bit. In many towns in the UK, as in Europe, urban spaces are being redesigned so that pedestrian safety comes before driver speed and that roads aren’t the impenetrable barriers between neighbourhoods that they often have been since the 1960s. As frustrating as it may be for some motorists, an upgrade that makes pedestrians’ and cyclists’ journeys safer is money well spent.

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So much for “war on the NIMBYs”

8 April, 2024 - 00:50
A picture of the back of a four-storey block of flats with large windows and balconies with two small gardens immediately behind and a small tree in each, and a lawn in the foreground with cycle racks on the white wall to the left.The proposed new block of flats in Riddlesdown Road, Purley (source: Polaris Passivhaus)

Last week Chris Philp, the Tory MP for Croydon South, a wealthy district on the southern edge of London where suburban streets rise up into the North Downs, posted a blog entry and an accompanying Tweet about the new Tory council’s refusal to allow a small block of flats to be built on the space of what he calls a “family home” on Riddlesdown Road, one of the aforementioned downside suburban streets. He calls the proposed building ‘ugly’ and says of the decision that it is “a welcome further example of the new approach to planning being taken by the Conservative-run planning committee – by contrast to the previous Labour-run committee which used to wave every application through”. In a similar blog post from this past January, he welcomed the refusal to allow a number of garages in another street in his constituency to be converted into semi-detached houses. In every such post, his rhetoric is the same: of course new houses (or flats) are needed, but let’s build them where they “fit in” and not in nice green suburbs like ours. Flats, he says, should be built in “Croydon town centre, central London and brownfield sites – not green suburbs like ours”. Not in his back yard, in other words.

In 2011, when the Tories were first returned to power in coalition, the rhetoric was of “war on the NIMBYs” and getting new houses built over objections from incumbents who were upset that their views might be changed or that they might just not like their new neighbours, though they often discovered an interest in whatever rare species might be impacted. It seems Croydon’s planning policy is to favour incumbents over the need for new homes. It’s likely that the developers will appeal to the planning ombudsman and win, because this development is not ugly or huge — it’s a four-storey building, not a stereotypical tower block, and as it is on a hill, only one storey will be visible from the road — and the building intended to be demolished is nothing but a run-down white box with a flat roof, very rare in the UK including that area, and an upper storey with no street-facing windows — in fact, the new building would be much more in keeping with local architecture than the current building. The new building is intended to meet Passivhaus standards according to its architects, meaning it would be highly energy-efficient. Looking at other houses in the surrounding streets, they do seem to be mostly detached houses with a few semis, mostly Mock Tudor with a few more modern examples, possibly built in place of houses damaged by bombing during World War II; there is no distinct architectural ‘character’ to the area. The only thing he can mean is that the new flats will change the human make-up of the area; that different types of people will live in them than live in the detached houses that make up most of the area, possibly people who are less likely to vote for him.

An aerial photo of a small white house with a flat roof. There are small windows on the ground floor and none on the storey above. The front garden has a black saloon car in it but its front and rear gardens are in a poor condition.The current building at 79 Riddlesdown Road. (Source: Polaris Passivhaus)

I also dispute his claim that the place for flats isn’t in a nice neighbourhood like his. All kinds of people are needed in a neighbourhood; the people who care for the elderly residents of some of these houses, the people who work in the shops, the teachers in local schools all have to live somewhere and none of them earn the kind of money that would buy you a four-bedroom house in Riddlesdown nowadays. Should they be expected to live in Croydon’s increasingly run-down town centre, or more than ten miles away in central London, to save wealthy homeowners what they might consider an eyesore? He talks about preserving “family homes for families” as if no family lives in a flat, and suggests that the flats be built on “brownfield sites”, as if that meant old factories which used to provide jobs, rather than any used plot of land, like this one. And as for the views, about the views people might enjoy from their flat windows: do “the sort of people who live in flats” have a right to no better view than roads, railways and concrete buildings? Maybe that floats some people’s boats but some might want to enjoy beautiful downland scenery, the same as or better than from the windows of some of the detached houses, and maybe they would like the cleaner air that comes with living closer to the countryside rather than breathing in the car fumes of Wellesley Road.

79 Riddlesdown Road is only one building; it is not intended to be social housing and will not solve the housing crisis or the climate crisis. However, it’s an interesting and innovative design and does actually fit in fairly well with the local architecture. Of course, most local responses are against; doubtless most people don’t want a big building project on their street and trucks coming up and down the road every day for the next couple of years. Philp’s ridiculous objection to this scheme is no more than pandering to NIMBYism, maybe in the hope of shoring up his wealthy voter base in the run-up to the general election. It’s a case of opposing change for the sake of it.

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Desperate Tories, shameless lies

25 March, 2024 - 23:49
A black-and-white picture of Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, a middle-aged clean-shaven Asian man. In this picture he has a noticeably dour expression.Sadiq Khan

Today the Tories published on their Twitter/X account a video claiming that Sadiq Khan’s London was the model for how the country would be governed if Labour were to win the forthcoming general election, and it is the most bizarre apocalyptic video I’ve ever seen from a mainstream political party. The video is in black and white and features a voice with a faint American accent telling us that London’s “ancient streets bear witness to a different tale, not of kings and queens but of crime and desperation” as a result of being governed by the Labour party. This itself is a dubious claim; the Tories have been in power for 14 years and the police have seen cuts during that time as has the rest of the public sector. But the video contains two outright lies, one of them libellous.

This is the first:

In the depths of these narrow passageways tread squads of ULEZ enforcers, dressed in black, faces covered with masks, terrorising communities at the beck and call of their Labour mayor.

ULEZ stands for Ultra Low Emission Zone and means that people who drive older cars that emit higher levels of pollution have to pay a charge to drive them in London. People living in London who own them have had to sell or alternatively accept a scrappage fee from the mayor’s office. This may seem harsh, but it’s about protecting people’s health; pollution from cars damages people’s lungs, and sometimes kills. ULEZ enforcement is mostly done through roadside cameras and sometimes with detector vans with the same cameras used in mobile speed cameras, the same as with the congestion charge and previous versions of the Low Emission Zone. The only people running round with masks are the people sabotaging ULEZ cameras and anything else perceived to be ULEZ infrastructure, including in some cases traffic lights. ULEZ was bipartisan until the Tories realised it was unpopular in outer London when it contributed to them winning the Uxbridge by-election unexpectedly; in fact, the government insisted that Khan expand the scheme to cover all of London as a way of paying back debts Transport for London ran up during the pandemic.

The video then claims that the streets of London are empty as a result of “a tax on driving implemented by their Labour mayor master”, which “forces people to stay inside or go underground”. Perhaps they mean to take the Underground, which is a rail system which serves much of central and north London. Nobody is forced to stay inside anymore; they weren’t even during the height of the coronavirus lockdowns when we were still allowed out to exercise and shop.

It continues:

Gripped by the tendrils of rising crime, London’s citizens stay inside. The streets are quiet; quieter at night now than they used to be. A 54% increase in knife crime since the Labour mayor seized power has the metropolis teetering on the edge of chaos.

The original version of this video included scenes shot in a New York subway station; that scene has been replaced in the version currently available. This doesn’t change the main issue with the claim, however.

The claim that the mayor seized power is simply a flat out lie, and indeed is libellous. The mayor won a free and fair election carried out under a Conservative government. Their candidate Zac Goldsmith might have stood a chance, but the party hired Lynton Crosby to run a divisive, racist campaign, accusing him of being friends with terrorists and of being a threat to Hindus’ jewellery collections and an enemy of India’s fascist PM Narendra Modi. Anyone who lives in London can confirm that people aren’t staying at home; they are going about their business and getting out and having fun, as much as they can given the cost of living crisis made much worse by Brexit. Maybe it’s true that the streets are quieter than they were before the pandemic, but pandemics do that; they change people’s habits, at least for a time.

The video then claims that Sadiq Khan favours decriminalising drug use, which may or may not be true, but Sadiq Khan also is not Labour leader or even an MP anymore. He alleges that when Labour is in power “crime goes up, justice goes down” and that in London “the scales of justice remain tipped in favour of the darkness, leaving them to navigate the shadows alone”. This has nothing to do with Khan but with the Tories’ cuts which have run down the court system, underpaid the legal profession until they went on strike, and caused delays of years to criminal trials; in some cases defendants jailed on remand have had to be released, because the lengthy imprisonment was deemed inappropriate for someone who had not been convicted.

Politicians telling lies is nothing new; usually the lies consist of stretching the truth somewhat, or making a possibility out to be a fact, or using words in an ideological way as if that were fact rather than opinion. This is a straightforward personal accusation and Sadiq Khan is quite entitled now to sue the party for libel. One wonders if the Tories have just lost the plot, or were motivated by desperation or arrogance to put out a video so riddled with brazen untruths.

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Women need the mosque

24 March, 2024 - 23:46
A picture of a large white mosque with three domes, one much bigger than the other two, and four minarets in the Turkish style. There is red scaffolding on part of the building. In the background are mountains, with a gap in the middle.The Namazgah mosque in Tirana, Albania

The issue of women’s access to the mosque and the inadequate space for women in many mosques in the UK has been a thorny issue in the community for decades, way back before blogs (though this blog has covered it in the past); the issue was covered in at least one issue of Q-News back in the day. Many mosques in the UK simply have no spaces for women to pray at all; many have a fraction of the space afforded to men, and often the space is inaccessible or inadequate: dingy, dirty, lacking ablution facilities, lacking access to the imam. The root of the problem seems to lie in the custom “back home” in India and Pakistan where it’s not usual for women to pray in the mosque and where the dominant scholarly understanding is that they should not. Earlier today I saw a brother who did not use an actual name, just a Twitter handle, post a long series of proofs for not allowing women into the mosque, or restricting their access to them, dismissing the women who objected as ‘emotional’ and being addressed by someone else as ‘Maulana’. Yet he failed to grasp the differences between the time when those narrations happened, and today, and it’s not just “that was such a better time than today”.

We aren’t living in a mostly Muslim country. We are (allegedly) three to four million out of seventy million in the UK. In Madinah, Kufah or Baghdad in the early centuries of Islam, there were Muslim institutions that were capable of attending to Muslims’ needs in one way or another. In the UK now, the major Muslim spaces in most towns and cities are mosques, or at least a mosque is their centrepiece — sometimes there is a canteen, a shop, various offices, a lecture hall, a clinic and a few other amenities but it will be called a mosque even if it’s officially titled the “Islamic Centre”. There are Muslim businesses such as restaurants, but those aren’t places many Muslim women consider it safe or appropriate to be. But the primary purpose of a mosque is a space to pray, and the prayer is a duty, and the prerequisites of a duty, the things that make it possible, are also duties. Yes, it’s permissible to put a prayer mat down anywhere, in the street or the office, but the mosque is a place designed for Muslims to offer the Islamic ritual prayer and the street is not. A mosque has a marked qibla (prayer direction) and a washing room designed for the ritual ablution; the street and office do not. Crucially, a mosque offers a place where prayer can be offered without distraction or interruption; the street does not. The street is not even a safe place to pray in many places, especially for women.

There is another reason that perhaps did not apply in the time of the early Muslims: in England in particular, we have a short day in the winter time and there are three prayer times within about four hours in the afternoon. If a family is making a shopping trip, for example, to kit out a new home, they will likely need to pray at least once. Some shopping centres have prayer rooms, but most do not. How can it be justified to allow the men to perform their duty but not the women? Of course, women work, and some of these jobs really need doing by a woman, so the demand that they should “just stay home” does not hold any water. Some women are converts who actually need to go to the mosque as their families will not tolerate their salaat; others have homes that are not peaceful and they cannot count on being able to pray undisturbed. Others are homeless.

Women do not have to attend the mosque to the same degree men have to. The Friday congregational prayer, in particular, is not compulsory for them. However, a congregational prayer is the principal opportunity people have to hear the Qur’an being recited properly by a human voice rather than a tape of it and to receive in-person Islamic education or counsel, and to pray in the company of other Muslims undisturbed. We all know that the company of practising Muslims is important for maintaining iman; the mosque is where many of us meet other Muslims and make friends. It’s also important for receiving good advise and correcting mistakes that might not come to anyone’s attention if women just did what these men think they should and prayed at home. In a situation where Muslims are a minority, the justifications these men provide for denying women access to the mosque do not hold any water. It’s a practice which is damaging to the community.

Back in the early 2000s, there was a book published called “Port in a Storm” by Shaikh Nuh Keller, demonstrating that the correct direction of prayer in North America was north-east rather than south-east, as this was the straight line to Makkah in light of the curvature of the earth. I thought this was a strange position to take given that Makkah is both south and east of anywhere in the USA, and mentioned to a brother at a gathering that this ruling would mean that the qibla in some places, such as Seattle, would be more north than east. “Would the salaf (early Muslims) have done such a thing?” I asked a brother. “The salaf weren’t living in Seattle,” he responded. The salaf also weren’t living in England where three prayer times occur between 12 noon and 4pm in the winter, and were the powerful group in their society at all times except when in Makkah in the first few years of the mission. They were not vulnerable. The mosque was not the only Muslim space and there was not the need for it that there is here. Any organisation running a mosque that clings to Subcontinental custom and refuses Muslim women the benefits of access to the mosque is failing to serve its community’s needs and obstructing people from fulfilling their duties in Islam. And Allah knows best.

Image source: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, via Wikimedia. Released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (BY-SA) 4.0 licence.

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Earl Spencer and early boarding

17 March, 2024 - 04:58
 how I was sexually abused at just 11 by school matron" with the sub-heading "Earl Spencer reveals, in devastating memoir, how trauma left lifelong toll"

Last Sunday the Mail printed extracts from a new book by Earl (Charles) Spencer, the brother of the late Princess Diana, on his time at a private boarding school in England called Maidwell School (the school claims it has changed, but still offers two-weekly boarding for children as young as seven) which he attended between ages eight and 13; he experienced sexual abuse from a female staff member he described as a “voracious paedophile” while the then headmaster dished out “brutal beatings” and appeared to gain sexual pleasure from doing so. Early boarding — sending children to boarding school from primary age — has been a norm among the British aristocracy for generations and for many years this was inflicted on disabled children also, with schools for the blind, deaf etc taking in children from as young as four or five for their entire school lives; this practice has ended in this country, but it still goes on (albeit to a lesser degree than in the past) among the aristocracy. The practice of early boarding has received a greater degree of criticism than senior boarding, because it involves taking children from usually stable and functioning families and putting them in loveless institutions when they very much still need the love and attention of their parents. In the years since the Tories returned to power, the effect these places have on the men these boys become has been widely held up to scrutiny also.

I was in a boarding school from ages 12 to 16 and although I neither experienced nor witnessed serious sexual abuse, and none by any member of staff (although such things had happened earlier in the school’s history, resulting in some of the perpetrators doing prison time and one killing himself when police showed up), physical abuse was common as I have detailed here many times. What was more common than that was open and unchecked bullying; fifth-form prefects behaving like utter louts, punching and kicking boys in front of members of staff who did nothing, and in one incident I recall jumping on a first-year boy in the corridor and bellowing “keep your f***ing language down!”. The school boasted that it relied on “tried-and-tested old-fashioned methods” and that it was “structured and disciplined”, which I realised was a lie when I was made to live there; it was extremely chaotic and indisciplined, the only real ‘discipline’ was violence or the threat of it and mostly meted out to small boys. Certain members of staff were able to hold a civilised conversation with the more adult-like teenage boys (which there were more of, because few boys started at the start of secondary school but would mostly start in the middle of years 7, 8, or even 9, and because many were kept down a year, finishing year 11 at age 17 rather than 16) but were rude and dismissive when younger boys tried to engage them, especially if they made demands because of, say, bullying.

While I agree that early boarding must be condemned, we should consider “early boarding” to mean pre-pubescent boarding, not only primary-age (up to 11) boarding. When children enter secondary school at age 11, they do so very much as children. Boys, especially, are usually not even approaching puberty and are frequently smaller than most grown women. When they leave, they are adults in fact if not in name. By lumping these two groups together and expecting them to inhabit the same space, we endanger the actual children: they come to be seen as ‘youths’ whose misbehaviour is treated as more threatening than it actually is, and who require ‘discipline’ that would not be meted out to a child a year or so younger, but who are much easier to push around than someone in their mid teens who are, in the case of boys, sometimes as much as six feet tall; they thus become easy targets for the aggression of staff frustrated with dealing with older teenagers. Putting these two groups together is to give a group of adults free access to children but with none of the professional standards required of paid staff. This age range might have seemed like a good idea in the 1940s when compulsory secondary education was first introduced in the UK and the leaving age was 14, but it rose twice by the mid 1970s and the more of these unaccountable young adults you introduce, the more top-heavy the school’s population becomes and the more the staff’s time and skill set has to be oriented towards them.

In a boarding school, this age range is a recipe for disaster. Children have a right to their family, and parents have a duty to parent; no child should be separated from their family unless the family itself is the cause of harm. If a child is in a happy home and not being abused by anyone, why risk changing this by sending them to a boarding school which might change that as soon as your back is turned? Add to this the fact that pre-teen boys are a favourite target for a certain type of paedophile, and the paedophile may not be the stereotypical guy in a dirty mac but the illustrious, cultured teacher who can write beautifully and play a dozen musical instruments whom any school that did not know better would consider a most valued member of staff and on past experience might turn a blind eye even if they suspected something was wrong. There is really no educational benefit and certainly no social cachet that can justify subjecting a child to any of this. Their place is at home, with their families, and it was about time this was recognised in law.

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It’s Islamophobia, thank you

10 March, 2024 - 23:11
A group of demonstrators in Vauxhall, London, in November 2023. Banners include "we stand with Palestine" and "genocide ain't kosher".Demonstrators in London, Nov 2023

Over the past week, some of the same politicians and think-tankers who couldn’t hide their resentment at George Galloway winning a by-election and were accusing anti-genocide demonstrators in London of being controlled by extremists behind the scenes and making London a “no-go zone for Jews” (a claim reported uncritically by the BBC, who could have asked the police if their statistics back this claim up) were also telling us to stop using the term ‘Islamophobia’ and stop paying heed to those who do. According to them, Islamophobia is a term made up by Islamists to impose a blasphemy law on non-Muslims by the back door and to punish people who opposed Islamist politics rather than those who were hostile to Muslims as such. Politicians started telling us it was different from “anti-Muslim hatred” which of course they condemned. And lo and behold, today there was an open letter to politicians from a group of victims of Islamist terrorist attacks (Lee Rigby’s widow as well as relatives of the victims of the Bataclan massacre and the 7th October attacks, among others) appealing to politicians not to associate Muslims with terrorists and to stop fuelling “anti-Muslim hate”. Why is this a problem?

Islamophobia has been the term favoured by the Muslim community for hostility to Muslims and Islam since at least the 1980s; it was already well-established in the mid-90s when I was actively looking into Islam (I took the shahadah in 1998) because Muslims were campaigning for such hostility to be recognised in law, and for Muslims not to have to base any complaint on constructs of race. The term ‘phobia’, meaning fear in Greek, was already being used in words for hostility such as xenophobia. Perhaps not accurate in its use of Greek, but it’s certainly typical of English words derived from classical Greek and Latin. We tend to prefer this sort of single long word to a whole series of words when we have to refer to something a lot. As with other terms for racism or bigotry, it has no doubt been abused by some people to make people out to be racists who aren’t, but it’s a bit snappier and just as well understood as “anti-Muslim hatred”, much as ‘antisemitism’ does the job better than “anti-Jewish hatred”. But much as antisemitism includes more than shouting racial slurs and beating up Jews for being Jews, or calling for them to be expelled (less often heard than in the case of more recently arrived minorities), Islamophobia includes more than just obvious and straightforward hatred. These include:

  • Stereotypical views about Muslims, such as assuming we all eat the same foods, or that all Muslim women are oppressed, or are at risk from FGM or honour killing
  • The “politics of suspicion”, such as assuming that Muslims generally support terrorist actions committed in our name or in Islam’s, and in particular, demanding condemnations from Muslims who had nothing to do with them
  • Making assumptions about what, say, Islamic dress means or ‘symbolises’ and then talking over Muslims about these issues (the hijab is a common focus of such assumptions)
  • Ascribing political meanings to in themselves apolitical aspects of Muslim practice: portraying “Allahu akbar” (God is great) as the chant of terrorists, or minarets as military fortifications rather than places from which to project a call to prayer, and paying no attention to Muslims about the facts of these things
  • Making life difficult for Muslims when we try to practise Islam: excluding girls for wearing the hijab, or imposing a uniform that is incompatible with it, or preventing students from praying when they are an age when it is required of them.

As for the accusation of a “blasphemy law”, the protests about insults to Islam or Muslims are not usually about someone merely criticising Islam or disagreeing with something in it (or they think is in it) but about insults that have a threatening edge to them. Muslims accept that we cannot stop people saying what they like about Islam in the West; there is, however, no real reason to publicly insult another’s religion other than to whip up hostility to it and, by extension, its followers. Insults are perceived, often correctly, as threats to people’s safety. A commonly cited example is the teacher who left his job because of parent protests after showing cartoons published by the French comic Charlie Hebdo to his pupils. Now, this teacher could have displayed these cartoons on his personal blog or Twitter account, but as a teacher you have responsibilities to uphold the children’s welfare, and the cartoons are not actual critiques of Islam but a collage of racist stereotypes about Arabs. The teacher told his pupils that it was his right of freedom of expression to show them the cartoon, which is not an attitude any teacher should take.

Generally, minorities know what forms prejudice against them take. They know what certain words mean that are used as coded racial slurs and they know the subtexts (if they aren’t obvious) to racist slogans. That doesn’t mean false or abusive accusations of racism don’t happen, and sometimes people take it too far, interpreting something that sounds like a thing racists used to say as actual racism when the phrase has other meanings, but in general, members of a minority are able to spot expressions of bigotry and prejudice against them. There is a doctrine that something is deemed to be racist if it is perceived as such, regardless of what the speaker intended, and the same people telling us Islamophobia is not a thing, that it’s just made up for censorship purposes also insist that Jews know best about what is and isn’t antisemitism and we should just take them at their word. The politicians concerned have their agenda, but if you are concerned about bigotry against Muslims and want others to be, please don’t use language endorsed by the politicians who are doing just that. We call it Islamophobia, because it’s more than just hate.

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Seething with anger

5 March, 2024 - 23:22
A picture of a demonstration for Palestine in London; banners include "Jews against genocide", "Jews for Justice for Palestinians", "not in our name" and a Palestinian flag.A demonstration in London against the Gaza genocide in November 2023. (Taken by me.)

Since Brexit, there has been a particular theory about why people voted the way they did: that it wasn’t about immigration or racism, it was about something called ‘identity’. It was to do with people wanting to go back to an older Britain in a simpler time when we were supposedly self-sufficient. It doesn’t matter, according to this theory, if our economy suffers from leaving the EU because it was about something so much deeper than GDP. A few years ago I wrote a piece on homesickness and nostalgia (which is actually Greek for homesickness, rather than a longing for the past as in modern English) when the Anglican vicar Giles Fraser wrote a piece on it for Unherd; the modern nostalgist longs for a version of the past which often was not real, or only remembers the positive aspects of it and does not take into account why we cannot go back to it. Currently it is common to see comments under footage of the past, often street footage but also live music footage, about how much simpler or uncomplicated things were in the past, usually the 60s or 70s but sometimes the 80s; allegedly crime was low (it actually wasn’t) and we weren’t so worried about health and safety but quite often it appears that the faces were a lot whiter.

It’s no secret that Brexiteers are often very rich or funded by the very rich and these people do not want to accept that there are material reasons why people voted the way they did because they do not want to address the fact that their economic orthodoxies which have prevailed since Thatcher’s time failed the people. The turning point was Blair’s decision to jump the gun on worker migration from weaker economies, such as the countries which joined the EU in 2004, such as Poland, and admit them without restriction when other countries in the EU did not; a lot of Remainers are fond of dismissing any objection to this as racism or simplifying it down to “they’re taking our jobs”, but as I have discussed on here previously (as someone who works in one of the sectors affected by this decision), it is a lot more complicated. Brexiteers, on the other hand, refuse to entertain any economic explanation. It’s not that they’re pro-immigration — far from it — it’s that they don’t want to entertain any challenge to laissez-faire Thatcherite economics.

Yesterday I saw a long thread by the right-wing think-tank propagandist Matthew Goodwin, appealing to the “ruling class” to “save Britain” by doing ten things. Eight of these are in the thread; two of them are on his website, not paywalled as I write. It’s astonishing that he thinks that what the average British person cares about is “radical Islamism” which has hardly shown its face at all since last October or the spectacle of people “glorifying terrorism” in mostly peaceful demonstrations against the genocide in Gaza by affixing pictures of gliders to their bags, or the fact that a Tory MP resigned because he feels threatened, or that voters in Rochdale voted for George Galloway instead of a mainstream party candidate, after the most popular party there withdrew support for their own candidate. Many of us agree that the country is falling apart, but Goodwin says nothing about the most obvious facets of this. He tells us he knows young people who “now talk openly about joining the so-called ‘great retreat’, by leaving Britain altogether” and assumes that this is because of radical Islamists, rather than houses nobody but the rich can afford and lack of job prospects. He says nothing about our health or social care, about the cost of living, about house prices and rents, about schools which are physically falling down, about the often disastrous handling of Covid and the contempt our wealthy politicians showed for the rules they imposed on us all, about how we cannot export food because of customs barriers we have inflicted on ourselves through Brexit and the businesses going bankrupt as a result; nothing about councils going bankrupt up and down the country because the government has been starving them of funds, and because the things they did to raise revenue failed during the pandemic, nor about the libraries and other valuable public amenities being lost as a result; nothing about our environment, the state of our waterways, the beaches we cannot swim at because of the raw sewage being discharged by privatised water companies.

Maybe Goodwin lives in a part of the country where the river water is pure, social care is cheap and libraries are well-staffed and well-stocked. For some reason he thinks that these issues gossiped about in the Westminster village and in papers owned by the super-rich and mostly written for by the upper middle class are of more concern to everyone than the actual fabric of our society falling to pieces. It’s the ruling class that are angry that the plebs of Rochdale chose to elect someone they dislike, and that people keep demonstrating in London against an appalling display of cruelty and depravity against a civilian population they identify with in Palestine. He writes as if the election was a terrorist attack in itself, when in fact it was a quite lawful democratic vote. Many ordinary people are appalled at the ongoing savagery even if they believed that reprisals were justified in October. Not everyone shares the identification with Israel of large parts of our ruling class and media elite. (The nearest thing to terrorism going on here right now is the gang of vandals going round with knives, cutting down cameras and even traffic lights as a way of physically fighting the London Ultra Low Emission Zone, and posting their exploits on YouTube, but Goodwin has nothing to say about this group of lawless suburban white men.)

Absurdly, he claims we have a “policy of mass immigration” as if this was still the 1960s and planeloads of newcomers were arriving from the Commonwealth every week. The fact is that British people, thanks to rules introduced by the present government, find it nearly impossible to bring in spouses or other family members from overseas unless they are high earners (another reason why some British people might find they cannot live here anymore). British businesses such as Asian restaurants are finding it impossible to bring in the staff they need who have the skills necessary because British-born Asians get degrees and prefer better paid jobs. There was a high proportion of Brexit votes among British Asians, who had noticed that earlier attacks on spousal immigration happened around the same time during the last Labour government as the migrant workers started arriving from eastern Europe. It’s equally absurd to link “mass immigration” with Islamist extremism; the majority of Muslims here are British citizens who have been here for three or four generations, and those who were radicalised usually were because of racism; the same is true of the claim of ‘ghettoisation’. But this argument is not worth exploring here anyway, as there has not been a single serious violent incident in the UK since the start of the Gaza genocide (hence the reminders of things that happened in the past). It has all been peaceful protest and an election upset. But to this country’s radical Right, that’s really no difference from terrorism; the difference between violent and “non-violent extremism” is artificial, as Melanie Philips once claimed.

Goodwin’s article comes straight out of an echo chamber. The liberals and Left are often accused of only listening to each other and of being surprised at general elections that go against them because all those they follow on Twitter think the same way they do, but here we see someone completely oblivious to the difficulties normal people are facing, and seething with anger about a by-election result and a persistent protest about a horrific orgy of violence that will not stop, and would if any other country was responsible provoke calls for military action rather than a mere ceasefire. The average person is seeing the cost of living continue to rise, services being shut down, taxes in some places going through the roof to pay council debts; Goodwin wants us to be angry about brown-skinned people getting uppity rather than brown stuff filling our streams, rivers and coastline. He knows the Tory party cannot win an election by appealing to its record, which is wretched; their alternative, rather than admitting defeat and failure, is to look around for scapegoats and distractions. His ten demands are not a programme for bringing people together but for picking fights that might be solved with repression. There may be deeper things than GDP, but people will not ignore the decline in their standard of living forever.

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Rochdale and Rishi Sunak’s hunt for ‘extremists’

3 March, 2024 - 00:16
George Galloway, an elderly white man with a short white beard, wearing a black rimmed hat, a black blazer and trousers with a blue and white striped shirt underneath, admires a car (a blue Audi) with a Palestinian flag printed on its bonnet.Galloway: “the best cars are to be found here in Rochdale”. (Source: George Galloway, X.)

Last week a by-election in Rochdale saw the former Labour MP and more recently former leader of the Respect coalition, George Galloway, elected as an MP for a third time in a third constituency on the back of Muslim votes, this time about the ongoing genocide in Gaza. Until the early 2000s he was a Labour MP for a Glasgow constituency; in 2005, having been expelled from Labour, he was elected for Respect to represent Bethnal Green and Bow in east London on the back of anger about the Iraq war, and not long later took time out of his job to appear in the reality TV show, Celebrity Big Brother. More recently he was elected in a by-election in Bradford, then angered a lot of his electors by claiming in a podcast that the woman allegedly raped by Julian Assange couldn’t really have been raped because they were “in the sex game” and also by using the disablist derogatory term “window licker” in a tweet. This time, Labour played into his hands by withdrawing support for its candidate, the long-standing councillor Azhar Ali, who suggested that Israel may have allowed the 7th October Hamas attacks so as to manufacture a pretext for its genocide. Galloway was elected on just under 40% of the vote; the next biggest share of votes went to an independent, David Tully. Galloway received more than the Tories, Lib Dems, Reform UK (the successor to the Brexit Party) and the disowned Labour candidate combined.

First, it is clear to me that this disaster was of the Labour party’s making; by disowning its candidate for saying what a lot of people actually suspect, especially Muslims in a 25% Muslim area, he has made it clear that he cared more about not offending powerful and vocal Zionist lobbies and their friends in the mainstream media than in actually winning this election. It was not necessary to withdraw support for Labour’s candidate; they could have disagreed with it and said so — called it ridiculous, whatever — which they would have done if an opinion of this nature had been expressed about any other issue. Labour previously disowned a candidate in the 2019 general election, in Falkirk, for similar reasons; it has since suspended a white former MP who was planning to recontest his seat in the forthcoming election. Labour has set a trap for itself, as it is quite likely that at least one candidate will express off-message views about Israel or Gaza (or wherever else they are bombing by then) which will lead to Starmer and his team coming under pressure to distance themselves from not only the views but also the candidate.

While his fans continue to applaud his ‘toughness’ in the face of ‘antisemitism’ presumed to be a legacy of Corbyn’s leadership (though neither Azhar Ali nor Graham Jones are Corbynites; it is rumoured that it was a Corbynite who actually blew the whistle on them), to many (and perhaps the media will start to notice it before long) it reflects spinelessness, a long-observed disease of the Labour centre-right. They are only capable of showing toughness or decisiveness against powerless or unpopular people; when confronted with displays of power, or anger from powerful people or interests, they buckle very easily. Blair’s decision to involve us in the disastrous Iraq invasion was the clearest example of the latter, but his government’s response to the media-invented “foreign criminals” scandal in his last term demonstrates this contrast very clearly: in response to a Daily Mail ‘exposé’ of foreign nationals not automatically deported after completing a sentence (something that for good reasons just hadn’t ever been policy), he simply rounded up a large number of people who had served time, often for minor offences and often a long time ago, some of whom had lived here a long time and had most of their family here. Something we have seen from them since Labour lost the 2010 election is a flat refusal to challenge popular (or media-popular) orthodoxies. In the 2010-15 term it was the importance of settling the deficit and the ‘necessity’ of dramatic public service cuts; right now it’s the issue of antisemitism, however Zionists define it.

I’m not fond of George Galloway; he is a publicity junkie but also an unsavoury character who has lined up with Assad of Syria, Nigel Farage and Saddam Hussain, called the White Helmets terrorists and denied the genocide of the Uyghurs by the Chinese communists. It says a lot about our failures as a Muslim community that we have not produced someone who can represent our communities in parliament or respond to and exploit situations like Gaza the way he has. However, politicians and the media have presented his election as some sort of attack on “British democracy”. In fact, it’s British democracy at work. In a preferential or proportional voting system, he might not have stood a chance as second preferences would have worked against him, but our politicians have opposed any reform of “first past the post” for decades. There are many MPs who won their seats on the basis of less than 40%, let alone 50, or on the basis of a small turnout such as in this case. This was a free and fair election and an unpleasant individual won it because of the miscalculations of others, Starmer in particular. It was not a coup. Nobody was assassinated. There were no riots or other violence. It was our electoral system working the way it always has.

Over the past couple of weeks, Tories have been ratcheting up Islamophobic rhetoric, accusing anti-genocide protesters of dominating the streets and intimidating MPs (based on no evidence that I can discern); Lee Anderson was suspended for claiming that the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was in the pocket of Islamists, resulting in an outcry from other Tory MPs and party members despite it being plainly untrue. Suella Braverman wrote in the Telegraph that “the truth is that the Islamists, the extremists and the anti-Semites are in charge now” having “bullied our country into submission”, among a number of right-wing canards: that the streets and universities weren’t safe for Jews, that people are afraid of being called racists or Islamophobes, that blasphemy laws have been introduced by the backdoor resulting in a teacher being hounded out of his job (in fact, the cartoons in question are racist, as anyone who has seen them will understand), as well as the Israeli atrocity propaganda about mass rape on 7th October and the claims that Israel’s genocide in Gaza is a “noble mission to recover those poor hostages”. The Telegraph’s politics account tweeted out a link to a write-up of the article without so much as a scare quote around Braverman’s accusations; not that long ago, a respectable newspaper would have dismissed anyone making such claims as a dangerous lunatic; much milder claims about Jews or Zionists have resulted in a swift expulsion from the Labour party (even when Corbyn was leader) and would do in the Tory party as well.

And then, last night the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, gave a speech at the 10 Downing Street lectern (normally reserved for major announcements, of which there were none — such as outlines for new laws, for example) repeating a lot of the same tropes as in Braverman’s article, alleging that there had been a “shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality” and that “what started as protests on our streets has descended into intimidation, threats and planned acts of violence”, as if we all knew which acts. He gave the usual blandishments about British tolerance and how you can be Hindu or Muslim or Jewish and still British, told us that “the faith of Islam” has nothing to do with the “extremist political ideology of Islamism”, likened ‘antisemitism’ (the term favoured by the Jewish community) with “anti-Muslim hatred” (rejecting the term favoured by the Muslim community) and called Britain “the world’s most successful multi-ethnic, multi-faith democracy” (note that he didn’t use the term ‘multicultural’). He alleged that “our streets have been hijacked by small groups that are hostile to our values and have no respect for our democratic traditions” and accused Islamists and the far right of feeding off each other and of spreading the ‘poison’ of extremism. He used phrases like ‘they’ and “these groups” a lot, accusing unnamed factions of teaching that Britain is on the wrong side of history, is a racist country or is responsible for all the evil in the world, or that the system is rigged against them; these sound like the talking points of the Left, not the far right and certainly not Islamists. Towards the end, he made a threatening overture to “those who choose to continue to protest”, informing us, “you have a chance in the coming weeks to show that you can protest decently, peacefully and with empathy for your fellow citizens”.

Having been on one of these marches, and been in touch with people who have been on others, and having followed the events on social and mainstream media, I know that the marches are multi-racial, not organised or controlled by Islamists, and have been overwhelmingly peaceful with very few violent incidents; the only criminality linked to them consists of slogans and posters that were brought to the police’s attention through snitches on social media, such as a poster depicting Braverman and Sunak as coconuts (i.e. brown on the outside, white on the inside) and a picture of a glider (the form of transport used by some of the 7th October attackers) on someone’s rucksack. (These cases were prosecuted astonishingly quickly, as with other speech offences that injure the sensitivities of the rich and powerful, while rape victims wait years to see their attackers tried as a result of Tory cuts to the court system and ongoing disputes with the legal profession.) The people complaining are principally Zionists; there have been Jewish people on all of the marches. Sunak is just conjuring an extremist threat out of nowhere, and by attacking the election result in Rochdale, he is showing his contempt not only for Galloway but for the thousands of local people who voted for him because the main parties had let them down.

There is a general election not too far off; most likely it will be this year, though May looks increasingly unlikely. The Tories are clearly desperate, much more so than any other party I can remember that knows it is likely to lose; they know that some of them face criminal investigation. It is interesting that some senior Tories have suddenly developed a conscience about the stripping of British citizenship from Shamima Begum, who has been left stateless in a prison camp in eastern Syria; perhaps this is because they know that the same fate awaits a number of their colleagues once the Tories are stripped of their power. This is why they are hunting round for scapegoats. Myself, I have hope (for once) that the public will not fall for their tricks: we know about their wretched handling of the Covid crisis and their contempt for the rules we all had to live by, we know Brexit has been a disaster, we know about the pollution of waterways and that some of our beaches have become health hazards as a result, while water companies threaten us with increased bills, and we all know about the dramatic rise in the cost of living while local services have been cut to the bone, while taxes rise to pay off councils’ debts. We can all see who has torn the country apart for the past fourteen years and certainly the last five, and it’s not people protesting against a genocide in Palestine but the people thrashing around like a dying animal in the search for anyone but themselves to blame.

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Brianna Ghey and stable-door logic

22 February, 2024 - 22:40
Picture of Brianna Ghey, a young, white, female presenting teenager with long, blonde hair and glasses, standing in a wooded area wearing a white cardigan and tartan school skirt with her finger pointed out towards the camera.Brianna Ghey. (Image source: TikTok.)

A few years ago I wrote an article on what I called “stable-door logic”: the tendency, after a disaster or atrocity, to look for ways to make sure that said disaster could not have happened if they had been in place, and to do those things. This came after a German passenger aeroplane was flown into the side of a mountain in the French Alps by its pilot while his co-pilot was out of the cockpit to use the toilet, and the co-pilot was unable to get back in because of security measures put in place after 9/11. We have been seeing the same in the wake of the murder of Brianna Ghey last year and the trial and imprisonment of her two teenage killers: Esther Ghey, Brianna’s mother, has been telling the newspapers that Brianna was vulnerable because of her addiction to social media and calling for special phones to be introduced that offer no access to social media and that if under-16s have access to any phones at all, it should have to be one of these.

Mobile phones that offer no internet access already exist, of course; they were what most of us used before the iPhone and Android became popular (there were smartphones before this, but they were rather more primitive than those of today). Mobile phones are not the only devices that offer social media access; computers and tablets do as well. In the early days of social media, alternatives to Facebook existed that catered to teenagers, such as Bebo and MySpace; the first of these closed down, likely because children wanted access to their parents’ and other relatives’ social media which was on Facebook, and the latter because it was horribly slow and sometimes illegible because of the graphics it allowed people to use, and these days mostly caters to musicians. Facebook has a lot to answer for; in other parts of the world the fake news it allows to be circulated is linked to serious inter-communal violence. But even though Brianna Ghey had been accessing sites discussing self-harm and eating disorders, these things didn’t kill Brianna Ghey; her two schoolmates did.

Esther Ghey seems to have reasoned that Brianna was killed partly because she was transgender, and maybe blames this on social media, and partly on her lack of social skills, which likewise remained undeveloped because she had enough friends online not to have to work on her relationships with her schoolmates. The simple fact is that some children fail to develop friendships at school and this was the case before social media existed. Some children do not get on at school, even if they are academically able and interested in their learning. Online communities provide an avenue for forming friendships for these young people that school does not, and without it, they would just have no friends. Removing supports from people does not always make them self-sufficient, and removing one avenue for friendship and social interaction does not mean they will find another. The killers, Eddie Ratcliffe and Scarlett Jenkinson, were also influenced by things they had read online, but they were also disturbed individuals who both inflamed each other’s criminal tendencies. This phenomenon, called folie à deux, has been documented for decades or centuries, long before computers existed, let alone the Internet. 

There were opportunities to save Brianna, of course. If Scarlett Jenkinson’s old school had passed on the details of her behaviour, the fact that she had given another girl sweets laced with cannabis, making her very ill, perhaps her new school — Brianna’s school — could have ensured other students were protected, or not allowed her into the school. But none of these things were in Esther Ghey’s power; what she could have done was restrict Brianna’s freedom and her access to information and to connections with people online. Once again, people cannot face up to the fact that an evil-doer was too smart for them, and there was nothing they could reasonably have done to prevent them harming someone. As with the German air disaster, the things Esther Ghey suggests we do to prevent another similar tragedy will have unpleasant consequences for lots of other young people: cut them off from perfectly healthy and beneficial friendships, make it more difficult or impossible to contact friends when separated by distance or when one is in hospital, among other things. Although there is a stereotype of autistic people relying on the Internet for their social interaction, chronically ill people do as well, including children, particularly those who are housebound and cannot go to school or to places where people socialise.

Esther Ghey has also demanded that these special phones for teenagers be linked to their parents’ phones, and that they inform the parents if the teenager searches for some forbidden topic or other. This is an extremely dangerous suggestion; the child could be searching for help with something they could not discuss with their parents, maybe because of the parents’ religion or culture but maybe because the parents are the problem: they are the abusers, or they are the ones bringing the abuser into their life. If such parents are informed that their child is looking for ways to escape from the situation or perhaps alert the authorities to the situation, the child’s life could be in danger. It’s a way to increase parental control, not enhance the child’s safety, and sometimes the first does not help with the second.

We must also remember that the safety of all young people was at stake when Scarlett Jenkinson was allowed to move schools after trying to poison someone, not just the one she killed. She and Ratcliffe had a hit-list and there were four other names on it, so if Esther Ghey had managed to keep Brianna wrapped in cotton wool and isolated from her online community and maybe even prevent her from becoming transgender, at least one of the four others would have been at risk. A better way to protect everyone would have been to ensure that pupils, like teachers, cannot enter a school after seriously harming someone or displaying behaviour that strongly suggests they might, at least not without intensive supervision if at all. I can’t see a serious downside to keeping a murderer away from children, which is more than can be said for removing all teenagers’ internet or social media access.

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“Never such depravity”

13 February, 2024 - 22:53
A picture of Hind Rajab, a six-year-old Palestinian girl wearing a school graduation outfit, standing in front of a table on which is a glass vase of tulips.Hind Rajab, the six-year-old girl murdered by the Israelis who also murdered the two paramedics sent to her rescue. (Source: Ehab Hamada, Instagram)

Last week I listened to the BBC’s File on 4 programme about the murder of Brianna Ghey last year in a village outside Warrington after the two teenagers responsible had been sentenced. Brianna was a 16-year-old who was transgender; her killers had pretended to be her friend, but in fact had her on a “kill list” because of her gender and because of trivial personal slights. One of them had been moved from another school to Brianna’s after giving another pupil ‘edibles’, or sweets laden with cannabis, resulting in her becoming very ill; after befriending Brianna she and her male accomplice added her to the “kill list” along with four other teenagers, first attempting to poison her with tablets and then, when that failed, luring her to a park and stabbing her 28 times. They played extracts from the girl’s writings to demonstrate how meticulously planned the murder was and interviewed police officers who investigated the murder, one of whom said she had never seen such depravity.

That was more than a year ago, and maybe she meant from teenagers or outside of a war situation, who knows. I’ve heard of murders in my time where the level of cruelty has equalled or surpassed this — that of Suzanne Capper in the early 90s springs to mind. Quite often ‘friends’ are capable of the worst kinds of cruelty, especially to people with learning disabilities. However, it shouldn’t be surprising that when armies of racist adults set their minds to exploiting or exterminating a whole population, they are capable of far worse than two teenagers. There have been three waves of genocide in living memory; the first, we learned about mostly after it had finished, through eyewitness accounts and physical evidence. The second, in the 1990s, we knew of from what we now call the “old media”, particularly radio broadcasts. This latest wave has been freely broadcast on social media, not only by its victims but by its perpetrators, who are clearly supremely confident of never facing any kind of accountability for what are plainly war crimes and senseless acts of destruction.

Over the past four months, we have seen some of the most appalling cruelty meted out to plainly innocent people, including children, who were just walking the streets of their own home towns or the places they had been displaced to by Israel’s bombing of where they lived before. A family was massacred in their car by an Israeli tank; a teenage girl called for help and was shot dead while still on the phone, leaving a six-year-old girl trapped in the car with her dead relatives. A Red Crescent ambulance was sent to rescue her, given permission by the Israeli army, which then proceeded to bomb it. The young girl died, of course. We’ve seen a woman shot dead in the street while holding a white flag in one hand and a young boy’s hand in the other, we’ve seen people shot at by snipers while attempting to rescue people already wounded by sniper fire, people dragging the victims’ bodies across the ground and transporting small quantities of water across a square, where there are bloodstains on the ground belonging to sniper victims, because going out to retrieve the bodies or taking the water across would result in further deaths from the snipers. We are hearing that people ran out of grain intended for human consumption and turned to making bread out of animal feed, which has now run out, meaning that the Palestinians left in northern Gaza are now starving; meanwhile, gangs of thugs camp outside border crossings attacking the trucks which were sent to deliver aid, and the Israeli army let them.

And yet, our Tory government (whose politicians compete for who can be the meanest and nastiest) is fairly openly colluding with the forces of genocide. They threaten further limits on protests against it, accuse the participants of extremism or antisemitism, painting British Jews as the victims of a “rising tide of antisemitism” while prominent Jews, including their community leaders and representative bodies, cheer on the genocide and repeat unsubstantiated or long-debunked propaganda claims about the 7th October attacks. This week a rabbi named Zechariah Deutsch (very Middle Eastern name that) came back to the UK having spent time in the Israeli forces as they exterminate the Palestinians of Gaza, and faced no investigation whatsoever (bear in mind that British Muslims have been stripped of their citizenship for much less) and was allowed to walk straight back into a chaplain’s job for Jewish students in Leeds. Another Jewish organisation in north London, which caters to disadvantaged young men, was about to play host to a man who returned to the UK having filmed himself rifling through a Palestinian woman’s underwear drawer, though this invitation was withdrawn after protests; a London synagogue this past week played host to Douglas Murray, a long-standing Islamophobic rabble-rouser, after protests led to a London theatre pulling out on them. Last Sunday the MP for Harlow, Robert Halfon, published a thread of 14 tweets on ‘X’ complaining of an “increase in antisemitic intimidation and threats that we’ve seen on campuses since October 7th” without acknowledging that Jews have been responsible for at least thirty times as many deaths of Palestinians since, and that’s not counting those unaccounted for as their bodies are trapped in rubble.

The Labour party are no better. It continues to tiptoe around the sensitivities of British Jews (and it’s amazing that a community that sanctions the above, and much more besides, can be quite so sensitive), making empty calls for restraint or respect for international or humanitarian law, while suppressing protests against it and punishing both MPs and members for speaking “out of turn” on the genocide as they had about the preceding decades of oppression and violence by Israeli soldiers and settlers. Kate Osamor was suspended from the party for merely mentioning the genocide in Gaza among other genocides including the Holocaust. Hilary Benn had to weigh in on the matter of the war criminal in Leeds, taking claims of death threats at face value and calling the protests antisemitic, claiming (as did Halfwit of Harlow) that Jewish students felt threatened and had the right not to. Well, other students, such as Muslims, especially Palestinians if there are any in Leeds (there certainly are in London), have the right to feel safe as well. The drumbeat campaign against ‘antisemitism’ in the Labour party during Corbyn’s leadership has resulted in a repressive atmosphere where everyone is expected to watch what they say about Israel or British Jewish complicity, that Jews (meaning the Jewish establishment and those allied with them, not dissenting Jews) dictate what does or doesn’t constitute antisemitism, regardless of what crimes the Jewish state they support are currently engaged in.

And this week, we have twice seen them cower in the face of corporate media and Zionist pressure and withdraw support from both their candidate in this week’s Rochdale by-election, Councillor Azhar Ali, after he was secretly recorded suggesting that Israel had prior knowledge of the Hamas attack and let it happen so as to engineer a pretext for its genocide, and then from Graham Jones, the former MP for Hyndburn in Lancashire who is standing again for the seat he lost in 2019, who called for British citizens who travel abroad to fight for the IDF to be “locked up” (a quite reasonable demand, given that British nationals who have participated in other military campaigns known for atrocities have been imprisoned). Azhar Ali’s claim itself is dubious, though it is no secret that elements within Israel favour the explusion of all Palestinians from the West Bank in particular, but yet again we see Labour policing what people can and can’t say about Israel — not Jews, let alone British Jews, but Israel — as Israel massacres Palestinian civilians in a “safe area” they had forced them into. Such opinions might have actually helped him in Rochdale if he had actually stuck to them rather than grovelled as soon as they were revealed, and by throwing Azhar Ali under the bus, Keir Starmer and his cronies may well have gifted the seat to the odious George Galloway. We should not have to watch what we say about Israel at a time like this, and being an MP or any other kind of public servant should not depend on loyalty to Israel or any other foreign country.

And finally, we have the feminists who are normally so vocal about women’s rights overseas when it’s Muslims violating them, yet entirely silent on the effects of the Israeli onslaught against the women of Gaza, everything from having to cut bits of cloth from their tents to use as sanitary protection to undergoing Caesarian sections (among other surgical procedures Gazans have had to undergo since Israel bombed their hospitals and cut the supply of medicines) with no anaesthesia. The worst offenders are those who have been railing against the acceptance of trans women for the past decade; many of them (not all, in fairness, but some of the more prominent of them) have been repeating Israeli propaganda stories about mass rape during the October Hamas attack which are unsubstantiated but repeated often to justify genocide, accompanied with slogans about “believing women”, as if believing a woman who comes forward to say she has been raped is the same thing as believing rumours and propaganda circulated by an army that is intent on genocide. “These sub-humans we’re slaughtering did this five months ago, and it’s taken us this long to get our stories sort of straight.” Yeah right.

Israeli lobby groups in the UK play a double game, on one hand demanding that we do not hold British Jews responsible for the acts of the state of Israel, and on the other, openly advocate for the state of Israel regardless of its oppressions and atrocities and demand that its opponents be silenced or punished while using the word ‘Jew’ or ‘Jewish’ in their names: the Jewish Labour Movement, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Union of Jewish Students. They complain that, for example, the synagogue in Leeds which employed Rabbi Deutsch had “free Palestine” sprayed on it, which absolutely would be antisemitic if it was just any synagogue rather than one whose rabbi joined the IDF during a genocide. We are told again and again that Jews feel unsafe because of “rising antisemitism since 7th October”, and even because of the persistent protests against Israel’s genocide in Gaza and its ongoing oppression of natives of the West Bank, while these organisations and prominent Jewish columnists peddle the propaganda of Israel on a day-to-day basis. I am not suggesting for a minute that anyone be blamed for Israel’s actions merely because of their origins, but those who support Israel regardless of its disregard for humanitarian law and the cruelty and depravity of its thuggish soldiers and settlers by repeating propaganda, blaming victims, casting false doubts and demanding censorship and repression on Israel’s behalf absolutely should be held responsible. They are accessories to war crimes and genocide.

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