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Otto Frank and the editing of Anne Frank’s diary

17 December, 2017 - 11:32

A picture of a young Anne Frank sitting at an old-fashioned desk with an inkwellAn online women’s publication called “The Establishment” last year published an article attacking the editing of Anne Frank’s diary by her father, Otto Frank, for publication in the 1940s after the death of the author and several members of their family in the Nazi concentration camps. The article by one Stephanie Watson (of whom they give no biographical details) was written more than a year ago (November 2016) but the magazine has been re-publicising it on Twitter and has attracted a lot of quite justifiable criticism that it is offensive and in effect anti-Semitic. The final published work combined material from two versions Anne Frank wrote, one of them a personal diary and one of them a novelised version of the same that was intended for publication; the bits that were edited out consisted of unflattering remarks about her parents and comments on sexuality, menstruation and her own vulva. Watson considers the removal of this material ‘sexist’ and an invasion of Anne Frank’s privacy and says she turned off the audiobook version of the diary, read by Helena Bonham-Carter, before she had even heard the whole of the preface!

Watson gives a few examples of what was edited out, before complaining:

I already worried that heavy editing of Anne’s diary was disrespectful to her memory. But seeing the content of the changes, it seemed that the edits were also an act of misogyny. The redacted sections dealt with love, sex, and body changes, all topics that women were discouraged from talking about in the 1940s and are still discouraged from talking about today. If Anne had been a boy, would the publication house have deleted sections on discovering his body? On his thoughts about a girl? Would his thoughts about his parents be written off as just a “boy being a boy”?

There are many good reasons why this material was edited out of a book that was published in the 1940s with a view to children reading it. In the 1940s, published literature was heavily censored; I am not sure what the situation was in the Netherlands but in the UK writing on sexuality was particularly restricted and, for example, swearing was not allowed, nor even the impression thereof. The Netherlands was a quite conservative country then, heavily divided along religous (Catholic/Protestant) lines. It was not the aggressively liberal country we know today. As to the question of whether similar material by a boy on discovering one’s body would have been edited out, the answer would surely be ‘yes’ — boys certainly were not encouraged to openly talk about their private parts or about erections or nocturnal emissions in public in the 1980s, let alone the 1940s; it’s a ludicrous complaint.

Advertisement from ActionAid featuring a young African girl with the words 'She's lost her home, she's lost her family; will you help her keep her dignity?'And yes, some of the girls reading the book will be going through the same process as Anne Frank was at the time of writing, but should any girl need Anne Frank to tell her about periods or about the fact that she doesn’t urinate through her clitoris (a common enough misconception), or for that matter should a boy need to learn about girls’ bodies or their feelings about them from a diary written in the 1940s? Should any teenager learn these things when learning about the Nazis or Holocaust? Surely not. There are better books (fiction and non-fiction) that teach these things, although with a slightly older audience it could be appropriate, particularly given increased awareness of such things as the needs of women refugees (see advert on left and this related articlefor example). And her complaints about her parents were quite appropriately edited out as they were published at a time when some of the people featured were still living, and some were dead. Of course Otto Frank would not have wanted disparaging material about his wife, who had died only a few years earlier in Auschwitz while his two daughters (Anne and Margot) died from typhus in Bergen-Belsen, in the public domain, and one suspects that had Anne survived but her mother Edith had not, she might well have made similar decisions. The circumstances of publication were different from those of the book’s writing.

The fact that Anne Frank was only in her early teens when she wrote the diary also justifies a certain amount of adult editing. Many of us wrote diaries at that age which we would not like to see revealed to our families, much less anyone else, as adults. A lot of us wrote diaries after being inspired by Frank, or the Adrian Mole books (whose content on sex and sexuality was much less explicit than what was edited out of Anne Frank’s diary), The Color Purple or (in my case) Helen Cresswell’s book Dear Shrink (a book about a boy in care in the 1980s) but we didn’t keep them up for long and didn’t share them (or tried to avoid doing so). A lot of people write blogs, both as teens and as adults, and later delete them. Even diaries written by adults cannot always be published immediately as they contain sensitive material about people who are still alive; the novelist Margaret Forster wrote a diary which she kept secret, but her husband Hunter Davies, the journalist, has secreted them in the British Library with a 10-year embargo as mentioned in yesterday’s Guardian:

/> The precise contents are rather too interesting: her thoughts on her children, her husband, her relations, her health, her work and her experience as a Booker-prize judge contain “disobliging remarks about famous people”.

Forster’s schoolgirl diaries have been published, however.

The cover of a book, reading 'The Diary of Anne Frank [picture of author] The Critical Edition, prepared by the Netherlands State Institution for War DocumentationWatson says she consulted with various Jewish writers about the censorship of the original Frank diaries and one of them said that the diary is too important as a record of Jewish lives during the Nazi occupation and Holocaust to just not read. She suggests, however, that what should be taught is the Critical Edition, which consists of a “comparison” of the three editions of the diary as well as some other written material by Frank. However, this version is out of print; the original “Critical Edition” starts at £50 each on Amazon and the more recent “revised Critical Edition” starts at £190. I agree that it’s quite right that the full version was published after Otto Frank’s death, but this still does not make it appropriate to teach this version to children as the material edited out is not relevant to the reason children should read it.

As Louise Pennington (from whose Twitter feed I was alerted to this article) commented, “combatting antisemitism is more important than having tantrums about a grieving father editing his daughter’s diary” (her thread starts here and ends here and I recommend reading all of it). Books like this are important for educating young people about the dangers of racial and religious prejudice and the consequences it can have; children do not need to know intimate details about Anne Frank’s developing body to appreciate this. There was nothing misogynist about editing these things out of the original publication; the decision guarded several women’s privacy when they had not long died in the concentration camps and some of their friends and relations were still alive. It was quite appropriate in a much more conservative time than today.

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How Labour’s researchers passed up a chance to expose Tory racism

16 December, 2017 - 17:38

A Liberal Democrat election poster that reads 'We propose putting patients first; we oppose putting targets first' above a Tory poster that reads 'Imagine 5 more years of it' above a newspaper clipping with the headline 'Council tax bills skyrocket'Yesterday Theo Bertram, a former advisor to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, posted a tweet thread (starts here, ends here) on his work as part of Labour’s research team during the 2005 general election (the one that featured Tory slogans such as “how hard is it to keep a hospital clean?” and “it’s not racist to support limits on immigration” with the strap line “are you thinking what we’re thinking?”. Labour won a Parliamentary majority albeit with a share of the vote of just 35.2% — far less than some parties have lost elections with (for example, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party gained 40% of the vote in this past election but still lost). The Tories under Michael Howard appealed to their Daily Mail-reading base, as they had in 2001 but with even more nastiness, and still lost, their anti-immigration stance being exposed when it was revealed that Michael Howard’s dad was an illegal immigrant from Romania, saved from deportation (and likely later death in the Nazi concentration camps) by the intervention of a Labour MP.

Theo Bertram’s team used to send its members into functions run by Tories and Tory-associated pressure and fringe groups to record politicians saying something potentially incriminating; they recorded Liam Fox boasting to a Tory think-tank about Tory plans to cut public services and another shadow cabinet member saying something “so explosive it caused Michael Howard to fire [them] in the middle of the election campaign”. But one tape they decided to sit on: a Tory making racist remarks which, they say, would have exposed their pretence that their anti-immigration stance was “not racist” as a sham. They called the idea of releasing that tape “the nuclear option”, and they never did because the remarks were unpresentative of “most Tories and their leadership” and would have made the whole campaign about “one thing: race”. The tape, he said, would almost certainly be gone now, and he does not name the individual, so we do no know whether they are still alive or dead, or male or female, or what.

To start with, pardon me for not being especially convinced that the racist remarks were not typical of the Tory party. If someone like this was in a senior enough position that if his remarks would have changed the course of the election if exposed, it’s likely that at least some of his colleagues knew of and didn’t especially disapprove, especially if they were made to a meeting of a think-tank. The Tories have generally been against open racism and displays of it (e.g. that of Enoch Powell) end careers, but pandering to those who resent seeing “too many” brown faces in their home town and can couch their racism in less vulgar terms than the N-word has never been beneath them. That every kind of bigotry that doesn’t involve “nasty words” is a stock in trade of most Tory mid- and low-market newspapers is no secret, and the internal racism at others (the policy of not carrying positive human interest stories about non-white people, or as they say, those “of the dusky hue”, for example) is also nowadays known about. Why must we automatically assume that when the mask slips, it must not be representative?

Labour’s fortunes were, at the time, on the wane. They were bitterly unpopular among many left-leaning and ethnic minority voters because of the Iraq war and policies hostile to civil liberties. Some people allowed themselves to imagine that “decent Tories” would be preferable to Labour on these grounds and even the Liberal Democrats proved themselves to be no friend of poor or disabled people, or public services, when in coalition with the Tories. If the team did not want to just release the tape on its own, it could have been passed to people who could have investigated the matter further and come up with a more complete picture. To just sit on it was to run the risk of a wafer-thin majority turning into a loss; to release it could have turned it into a respectable majority and perhaps also influenced the 2010 result in Labour’s favour as well. It would, at the very least, have made sure the person involved never held high office ever again.

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ISIS terrorists, wannabes and “peace in Muslim societies”

11 December, 2017 - 21:37

A picture of a South Asian man with obvious injuries lying on a stretcher, being pushed into the back of an ambulance surrounded by paramedics and policemen.So, today a man detonated a bomb in New York, at the Port Authority bus terminal. The man, a 27-year-old from Bangladesh who lives in Brooklyn and was a cab driver before his licence expired, was injured when the “low-tech” device exploded in an underpass and has been arrested. The city mayor said he acted alone but fomer NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton alleged that he ‘supposedly’ operated in the name of ISIS; the New York Post are reporting that he told investigators that he acted out of ‘revenge’ for US actions in his home country: “they’ve been bombing in my country and I wanted to do damage here”. The same report says that it is unclear whether he detonated the device at that particular time and place intentionally or whether it went off accidentally.

It is wise to be sceptical about ISIS (Daesh) involvement in this attack. Frequently there have been terrorist attacks recently whose perpetrators have claimed to be acting on behalf of ISIS or which have been claimed by ISIS yet the group cannot have had anything to do with them. Often they do not involve guns or bombs but knives and vehicles used as weapons. They do not have the hallmarks of having been planned by a disciplined terrorist organisation; they are home-grown cells, maybe consisting of people who might have tried to travel to ISIS’s territory when it still had whole cities under its control (or if they had money and passports) but were frustrated, or maybe people with mental health or substance abuse problems. The same was true of the two men who murdered the soldier Lee Rigby near his barracks in Woolwich in May 2013; they claimed to have been associated with the former al-Muhajiroun and the group praised them but even Cressida Dick of the Metropolitan Police said she did not believe they were aware of the two men’s plans.

In the United States, of course, terrorists have a much easier time getting the wherewithal to carry out attacks than they do here. People not linked to the criminal underworld cannot easily get hold of powerful weapons or explosives and it is illegal to research or possess instructions on how to make explosives. In the USA, a book containing instructions on how to make bombs is readily available online; in the UK, ordering or possessing it is a criminal offence. And of course there is a constitutional right to keep and bear arms, and the possession of automatic weapons is currently legal in many states and once in a terrorist’s hands in one state, he only has to put it in the boot of his car and drive it to another. The upshot is that massacres are a regular occurrence, usually carried out by people with no political motive but merely a personal axe to grind, losers who want the world to ‘know them’, but when a minor terrorist incident like today’s occurs, with only minor injuries caused, it is international news.

 Global Peace and the Fear of Islam -- Roadblocks on the road to Radicalism". Next to that is an ornate wooden table with a jar with a large display of flowers in it.Earlier today I saw some Facebook posts promoting the ongoing “Global Peace” conference in Abu Dhabi, an annual event held by the Forum for Promoting Peace in Middle Eastern Societies (FPPMS), established in 2014 by the Emirates’ government “ostensibly as an Islamic scholarly body that would help promote peace in a region destabilised by violence” whose president is Shaikh Abdullah bin Bayyah, originally from Mauritania though he lives in Saudi Arabia, best known in the West for his long-standing association with Shaikh Hamza Yusuf. The post I saw was from an imam named Umar al-Qadri who studied at the Minhaj University in Lahore (run by Dr Muhammad Tahir al-Qadri) and now serves as an imam at a mosque outside Dublin. He claims:

More than 100 Islamic concepts like #Jihad & #Abode have been distorted. The Forum is launching an encyclopaedia with the correct concepts. Scholars have the responsibility to present the correct concepts to the Ummah. #ShaykhBinBayyah @BinBayyahNet #PeaceForum17 #GlobalPeace17

Some ask me why aren’t there more Muslim scholars speaking out against extremism and reaching out to non-Muslims with the message of Peace like myself. Visit #globalpeace17 to see more than 300 prominent Muslim leaders that each lead organisations with these aims. #peaceforum17

Dr Tahir al-Qadri is already well-known for issuing fatwas which are heralded as ‘historic’ by non-Muslims, such as his fatwa from 2010 outlawing suicide bombings, despite the fact that they are not at all original; many scholars had been saying that for years, including Saudi Wahhabis such as Rabi’ al-Madkhali and ‘Sufis’ from other parts of the world. It would be foolish of them to try to redefine ‘jihad’ in a way that makes it only look like personal spiritual struggle as the whole of early Muslim history and numerous Islamic legal textbooks demonstrate otherwise and both Muslims and those who are opposed to Islam know this.

A Yemeni boy lying on a bed with a drip hanging over with, attached to his arm.But really, any conference in which Islamic scholars and other religious leaders meet to talk about peace and harmony which is sponsored by governments such as the UAE’s is something of a hypocrisy. The UAE, along with its Saudi ally, has been fomenting tension with Qatar in order to intimidate it into shutting down Al-Jazeera and expelling Muslim scholars associated with the Muslim Brotherhood such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi; that feud has resulted in families being split up and some innocent people being trapped at the border as neither side will accept them. The UAE has also been involved in Saudi Arabia’s destructive war against Yemen in which many innocent Yemenis have been killed or had their houses destroyed; the war has also led to an outbreak of cholera which as of this past August had infected more than half a million people and killed 1,975. If you are the cause of this, or you work for the men who are the cause of this, you can’t talk about “peace in Muslim societies”.

So, spare us all the platitudes about how “salaam (peace) is a name of God” and about eradicating misunderstandings between Muslims and others if you are taking your wages off the Saudi or Emirati governments. The worst terrorism going on now is not by lone wolves with knives and vans inspired by ISIS or by Wahhabi extremists enraged by the oppression in Palestine or the stationing of US troops in Saudi Arabia since the 1990s; it’s by the Saudi air force and the victims are poor Yemenis. The rest of the world knows this — Muslims and others — and isn’t deceived by all the peace and love talk.

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Anti-Semitism and the ‘woke’ Muslim

6 December, 2017 - 22:07

A group of young white men holding Tiki torches aloft, standing in front of an American state house.Last weekend I had a brief exchange with three women on Twitter, two Muslim and one Jewish, after one of the two Muslims retweeted a conversation about Jews versus Blacks and why the first group does not “act oppressed” the way Black people supposedly do. I responded that Jews had long since lost any right to be called an oppressed or marginalised group in many western countries and certainly the UK and to a large extent the USA as well. In response to this and my post from a couple of weeks back about Julie Burchill’s racist diatribe (in which she said Judaism attracted high-quality converts while Islam only attracts the ‘dregs’ of society), I’ve had people accuse me of anti-Semitism or “bad faith” for making such generalisations as that Jews are no longer a persecuted minority and that they are generally wealthy. It ties in with the repeated accusations of anti-Semitism against people connected to Jeremy Corbyn, the current leader of Britain’s Labour Party, often for things that appear to have had no racial component at all (some of the other accusations of racism in the Labour Party, for example against Jess Phillips for abusive but not racist language against Dianne Abbot, are in my opinion equally spurious).

To be clear, I don’t deny that there is some lingering prejudice against Jews in this country. I went to a boarding school where there were three Jewish boys at different times and racial name-calling was common, and I saw staff use such language as well. I don’t dispute that anti-Semitic violence also happens, and that in other parts of Europe the Far Right is as anti-Semitic as it ever was and has gained in power. But the UK is not Poland, Hungary or even the USA and when I talk about race relations, religious community relations or, for that matter, gender relations, I am principally talking about my own country of 60 million people. Anti-Semitism is not the prejudice of the moment and it hasn’t been for decades in this country; I would dispute that it is that anywhere, even in Eastern Europe. Furthermore, I believe that harping on anti-Semitism has the effect of muting concerns about other prejudices about groups in society that are vastly more marginalised than Jews have been any time since the War here. It is, in my opinion, a way for the majority White population to muzzle expressions of impatience from minorities and particularly Muslims.

People often say that men do not realise how widespread sexism is — sexual harassment, for example — because they rarely if ever see it happen, and the same is true of anti-Semitism; that if one is not Jewish and for that matter does not live anywhere there is a large Jewish population, one will not see it. As I said earlier, I have seen it, though rarely in person as an adult; I have heard Jewish callers to London talk shows say that they have encountered displays of prejudice (e.g. people throwing coins at them) while wearing identifiably Jewish clothing such as the kippah (skullcap). However, hostility to Muslims is not something that people who live in this country for any length of time can fail to notice. Consider the Daily Mail cutting with the headline “German Jews pouring into this country” that gets circulated on social media from time to time. It’s from 1938, the same year as Kristallnacht and the refugees it refers to had very good grounds to flee their home country even before the Holocaust had begun in earnest. If anyone could find an anti-Semitic Daily Mail headline from any time since, we would be seeing it on social media all the time — but we do not.

Sayeeda Warsi famously said that Islamophobia had passed the “dinner table test”, that is, it is a sentiment that could be expressed in polite company or in public without sanction. But it’s gone further than that. National newspapers proclaiming on the front page that Muslims were demanding this or that, TV documentaries claiming we were saying this or that about non-Muslims behind their backs, radio phone-ins about Muslims demanding or getting sex-segregated or modest swimming sessions (or blacked-out windows, which turned out to be untrue) have become routine since 2001 and especially since 2005. We have seen public campaigns succeed in getting privately booked “Muslim days” at ‘public’ venues (such as swimming pools) or private ones (like theme parks) cancelled. We have seen various Labour Party functionaries lose their jobs or be expelled for statements deemed anti-Semitic (e.g. suggesting that Israel was behind ISIS) or deemed to have invoked “anti-Semitic tropes” but the Spectator printed numerous articles containing outright and demonstrable lies about Muslims under Boris Johnson’s editorship, complete with inflammatory front pages, and Boris Johnson went on to be mayor of London and now, despite causing the government (and the country) endless embarrassment, is Foreign Secretary. The mildest of perceived anti-Semitism costs people jobs; hatred of Muslims often costs nothing, and when someone does get demoted for smears against Muslims (e.g. Sarah Champion), there will be a chorus of sympathy.

Pretty much every definition of oppression or marginalisation as applied to minorities in western countries considers systemic as well as personal factors — the access a group has to political power and the media, as well as experience of prejudice. It’s generally accepted that white people cannot be said to be victims of racism as such because white people in general have a greater degree of power in terms of who makes the laws, who runs major companies (and decides who else has a job), whose voices dominate public debate, who enforces the law and so on. Without getting into any conspiracy theories about Jewish ‘control’ of major media companies (not true as far as ownership of major UK media companies is concerned), Jewish voices are heard in the mainstream media all the time and some very extreme ones (e.g. Melanie Phillips) are retained for years after expressing extreme views about other minorities, particularly Muslims, and allowed to continue pontificating on that issue as well as anything else for years (Phillips, despite having lost her weekly column in the Daily Mail, remains a regular on the Radio 4 panel show The Moral Maze). There are Jewish MPs and peers in all the major political parties and these have included Cabinet ministers in both Labour and Tory governments.

Someone mentioned to me the other day that “60,000 Nazis” had marched in Poland and this had been approved of by the government. It’s true that the Far Right have maintained an anti-Semitic position for decades and have made obviously anti-Semitic statements, that thugs linked to the Far Right have vandalised Jewish graves and synagogues and attacked Jewish people. It’s also true that when the Far Right have won brief electoral success, it has been through exploiting fears about immigration or demonising other minorities, and that when Nick Griffin was leader of the BNP, despite being an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier, he moved the party away from focussing on anti-Semitism to attacking other minorities and immigrants and expelled John Tyndall, his mentor from the National Front days who clung to the “old” anti-Semitic platform. What has mobilised the Far Right in eastern Europe is the influx of refugees from Syria and the refusal of governments in the “Visegrad group” to accept them, promoting the idea of those countries as a bulwark of “white, Christian Europe” against multiculturalism and Islam. But even that’s there and this is here. Anti-Semitism isn’t a vote winner here, and even the Far Right know it. In the USA, if the Trump presidency brings an upsurge of racial violence, the targets are not likely to be Jews but African-Americans and Muslims, as the public has been softened up for that through decades of propaganda from both the pulpits and the newspapers and radio which does not demonise Jews.

Someone asked me not to make it a competition as to “who was the most oppressed”. I do not know of any measure by which Jews, in modern western society, could be called oppressed. Speaking as a white, middle-class Muslim who does not really distinguish myself from other middle-class white people in this bit of white middle-class suburbia, I don’t feel oppressed as I go about my business — I do not feel endangered although I am sure my African and especially South Asian fellow Muslims, and women even more so if they wear the hijab, have an entirely different experience on a day-to-day basis. That’s the way it is for a white person with a religion other than Christianity in Britain today. I still have white privilege even though my religion is a focus of hostility and suspicion, and the same is true for Jews (and most British Jews are white). If someone is not wearing noticeably Jewish clothing, it is impossible to tell if they are Jewish by looking at them, and if they do not have a stereotypically Jewish name, you will not know it unless they tell you. As you do not have to register your religious affiliation (even on the census, stating your religion is optional), and we do not have mandatory ID cards that state such details, finding out the Jewish origin of a non-observant Jew is not as simple a matter as finding out that a non-practising South Asian or African Muslim is, at the very least, not white.

It’s simply ludicrous to call Jews an oppressed minority, and it’s depressing to see Muslims of colour who think they’re ‘woke’ trot out the dogmas of the race relations industry. We play into the hands of the people who oppress our brothers and sisters in Palestine in so many ways by indulging the snowflakery and cry-bullying of their cousins and friends in the West, and I wonder if they are not partly influenced by anti-Arab sentiment inspired by the anti-Black racism that is known of in Muslim communities in the USA and the recent incidents of slaving in Libya. It’s racism 101 to know that being part of an economically and politically privileged group does not mean you are individually wealthy or powerful, and your hurt feelings when it’s pointed out do not change that. We know that some Jews (and many more people of partly Jewish origin) are opposed to Israel and some do things like help refugees, and we also know that we have some common ground like the need for religiously slaughtered meat, we cannot pull punches when talking about the oppression in Palestine and the role of western Jews in supporting that regime. We betray our own brothers and sisters by bending over backwards to accommodate the feelings of members of the same ethnic group and religion here, and nobody sincere about wanting to achieve justice for Palestinians can expect us to.

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Whose side is Tell MAMA on?

30 November, 2017 - 23:02

An unnamed white man with a black cap with a cross-based emblem holding up a large sheet with "No more mosques" with a roadsign-like symbol showing a silhouette of a mosque in black with a red circle round it and a red line through it.I’ve long been suspicious of the motives and loyalty of “Tell MAMA”, the project set up to monitor and report on hate crimes against Muslims. It’s not that it’s a bad thing for there to be an office to which Muslims can report incidents of hostility; of course it’s not. It’s just that, unlike the Community Security Trust, say, which performs a similar role for Jews and Jewish institutions such as synagogues and schools in the UK, Tell MAMA also tells on Muslims to the media, persistently and publicly berating us for displaying intolerance towards other groups (particularly groups that appear Muslim but are rejected, such as the Qadianis (or Ahmadis, as they call themselves). Tell MAMA does not consistently put the blame for hate and racism where it belongs — with the perpetrators and the media that feeds exaggerated stories about terrorism and anti-integrationism to the public — but blames the Muslim community both in its own social media feeds and in its media interviews. This has to change.

Yesterday, the organisation issued a tweet that was roundly condemned by many Muslims, at least one of whom said she was unfollowing and would not be recommending them to anyone in future. It read:

For those who promote a view that Islam or #Muslims are under threat, LOOK at how many non-Muslims stand with you against #POTUS [President of the United States]. Enough of the victimisation narrative, be someone and engage with your local communities. #No2H8November

They have since deleted the tweet, and apologised. But it has been characteristic of how they talk about Muslims and the roots of the Islamophobia they monitor. They trace the origin of hatred against Muslims to terrorism, using for instance a graph which they say shows a correlation between major terrorist attacks abroad and spikes in hate crimes (physical attacks, vandalism against mosques etc) in this country, ignoring the fact that all these incidents were reported through the media and accompanied by hostile opinion pieces and even front pages in tabloids. I noticed this in September 2015 when TM peddled this in an interview on a London talk radio station, and they have been quite consistent with it. when TM peddled this in an interview on a London talk radio station, and they have been quite consistent with it.

They have also been quite explicit in proclaiming that they are “not like other Muslims” who they claim promote hatred against “Ahmadis”, Shi’ites and gay people, and claim that some people are “not Muslim enough”. They persistently harp on what they claim are bigoted attitudes expressed by other Muslims, particularly those involved in rival Muslim organisations that oppose Islamophobia, exposing conversations in which the rival uses harsh language in talking about Qadianis. Only last week they had a go at a Muslim for just calling them the ‘pejorative’ name Qadianis, which is in fact the term most Muslims use to refer to them and just refers to the town where they were first based (originally it also distinguished them from an older branch of Ghulam Ahmad’s following, based in Lahore).

It’s not appropriate for an organisation geared towards monitoring hate crime to also make continual public statements about sectarianism within the Muslim community (I do not mean hatred from non-Muslims against Qadianis or even, say, Sikhs whom they identify as Muslims). Non-Muslims as well as Muslims read TM’s media feeds and website and will rapidly learn that “Muslims are just as bad” when the truth is that the majority of Muslims are not in any way involved in sectarian violence against Shi’ites, Qadianis or anyone else, much as the general population are not involved in violence against Muslims but rather a small minority who draw encouragement from the hate peddled by the mass media, which has no equivalent in the Muslim community — no publication and no masjid imam or religious leader of any sort has anything like the reach of the Daily Mail. Even the “anti-Ahmadiyya” Muslim organisations here do not encourage Muslim violence against the sect here but rather work on countering Qadiani proselytism — a quite legitimate aim — and in my observation, mainstream Muslim attitudes towards ordinary members of the sect have softened in recent years — people are less willing to entertain conspiracy theories centred on it, for example, and more willing to distinguish them from the sect’s leadership. Despite the lack of actual incidence of Muslim violence against Qadianis in this country, Tell MAMA have still tweeted reports claiming they feel under threat and have tight security, as if this was of any significance — what is of significance is actual incidence of violence, not how much money the sect chooses to spend on security.

A tweet by KT Hopkins quoting the original Tell MAMA tweet, adding 'When the social media dude @TellMamaUK gets as sick of the Muslim mafia playing victim as the rest of us. Legend.'Tell MAMA need to side firmly with the Muslim community and if that means breaking the link with Faith Matters, which is concerned with encouraging harmony between religious communities in general, then so be it. The Community Security Trust does not blame anti-Semitism on Zionism or Israel; we do not see feminists blaming rape on other women’s short skirts or disability activists blaming disability hate crime on benefit scroungers — in both cases, they blame popular stereotypes and media reporting. Muslims in this country are not responsible for what Muslims abroad do, nor for what the government of Pakistan or religious movements there do unless they are personally involved with them — there is no validity in saying “but Saudi Arabia persecutes Christians” or “Pakistan persecutes ‘Ahmadis’” because not all Muslims are Pakistanis and people of Pakistani descent have been in this country since the 50s and 60s when Pakistan was still a secular country.

When Muslim advocates are talking about hate crime or discrimination and someone tries to change the subject onto Muslim sectarianism or discrimination abroad, they must say, “well yes, that is wrong, but …” and change the subject back. If Tell MAMA aren’t up to this, they should leave the job to whoever is, because the Muslims need an advocate that does not injure our interests by needlessly airing dirty linen in the main street.

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Why ‘Islamophobia’ is relevant

28 November, 2017 - 22:35

 Give us full Sharia Law".I’ve had an ‘Islamophobia’ category on this blog for as long as I can remember (my first post in it was about Oriana Fallaci in September 2006). Much of my work in writing it has been to attack Islamophobia, to counter Islamophobic narratives and policies. But the term has had its critics over the years, some of them Muslims and some not. One of the most common criticisms is that it’s terminologically inaccurate as it doesn’t really refer to a fear as such but to hostility. Another is that opposition to Islam is usually a cover for hostility to non-whites or “others”, and it is sufficient to call it racism. I’m not convinced by either argument.

To take the first argument (about terminology): for whatever reason English tends to use Latin and Greek, or a clumsy hotch-potch of the two, for neologisms yet we have stopped teaching either in schools, other than high-end private schools and some Catholic schools were Latin is still taught because Mass used to be said in it and a lot of church literature is written in it. The upshot is that we don’t have the language to coin a neologism for hostility to a group of people as opposed to fear. It’s often explained with the claim that such hostility often is based on fear, at least partly — fear of the unknown, fear stemming from hysterical and biased press reporting, for examples — but the hatred and malice is often very obviously stronger than the fear. But in any case, the misuse of ‘phobia’ has spread way beyond this — we see phone screens described as having ‘oleophobic’ coatings which are simply oil-resistant and cannot fear as they are inanimate objects.

The second argument was put by a Facebook friend (an African-American) a couple of weeks ago. She said that people who hate Islam are simply racist, that they view Islam as a “non-White” religion even if the Muslim in question is White and that Islam is seen as a threat to the maintenance of White supremacy and hegemony. While I believe this is true of some American racists who hate Muslims, it is certainly not true of others; there are, for example, atheists who have particular loathing for Islam because it still has adherents who believe in it as it is, rather than changing it to suit modern sensibilities and fashions. There are Zionists who have hitched their wagon to that of the White hegemonists because they support Israel with weapons and money. In the years I’ve been running this blog, some of the most racist material I’ve read about Muslims has come from those people.

Europe has a history of persecuting religious minorities and they have included both White and non-White minorities. Europe’s main minority for generations was the Jews, who were presumed to have loyalty more to each other than to the kingdom they lived in, they regarded their law as superior to the law of the land and they regarded their homeland as the Middle East, not Poland, Spain or anywhere else in Europe. In the 19th century, Judaism was ridiculed as a reactionary ‘fossil’ which oppressed women, kosher slaughter was condemned as ‘cruel’ and countries started outlawing it. Later, with the discovery of genetics, racists appeared who characterised the Jews as a race, with non-practising Jews and atheists and even Christians of Jewish descent being targeted for suspicion and, during the Nazi era, murder. The fact that eastern European Jews were white, that they looked the same as anyone else, was of no consequence. Race as characterised by colour, where common religious belief was of no consequence, was found more in the USA and in the colonial world than it was in Europe. In France today, there are Muslims of every colour, and there are light-skinned as well as Black Muslims living in the suburban ghettoes and suffering discrimination and poverty while white feminists berate them for clinging to ‘patriarchy’ and cheer on headscarf bans everywhere, insisting the women must be doing it because they are either coerced or brainwashed.

I don’t know if it originated in the UK, but I remember first hearing it in the late 1990s at a time when Muslims were fighting to be recognised as a group separate from Asians which is how they were usually bracketed; discrimination was always presumed to be on grounds of race and no structures existed to protect anyone from discrimination on religious grounds; it had to be filtered through race. I recall a letter in the Observer’s advice column from a Muslim parent whose children were not being allowed religious dress at school and the reply contained the phrase “if you are in a minority” at least once. If you weren’t an ethnic minority, you were not protected from religious discrimination. Similarly, people were protected from incitement to hatred based on race, but not based on religion. Meanwhile, well before 9/11, the media frequently featured material focussed on Islam that manifested ignorance, fear and stereotypes about misogyny and terrorism — a work as dubious as Jean Sasson’s Princess could get an extract in Amnesty International’s magazine, for example. This had to change.

 Even Muslims don't want it".Racism still exists, of course, but at least in Europe it is a separate issue from hatred of Muslims based on religion which has a lot in common with old-fashioned anti-Semitism. In the post-9/11 period (and particularly the period since the 2005 bombings in the UK), Islamophobia has manifested as the ‘securitisation’ of any behaviour regarded as distinctly Muslim that may have nothing to do with national security; the demands to “integrate or else”, the obsession on the part of the authorities with FGM, which they are convinced is being carried out clandestinely on a large scale despite the paucity of evidence, and the tabloid campaigns against the niqaab, prompted not by anything a Muslim woman did but by a politician’s speech. Some of this has a connection with racism but not all of it, and some people have difficulty admitting that the nature of racism and prejudice has changed. “Muslims”, used by bigots, does not always mean “Pakis” anymore.

So, as clumsy and perhaps inaccurate as the term is, it still has relevance and is still a thing distinct from racism. It would not be helpful to say to someone expressing Islamophobic views and pushing for bans on the hijab, for example, because they might not actually be hostile to anyone based on their skin colour alone and may regard like-minded Black or Asian people as allies or even have them for allies. In other parts of the world, Black Christians and Asian Hindus and Buddhists have massacred Muslims of the same complexion, much as White Serbs massacred White Bosnian Muslims in the 1990s. There are many reasons people are prejudiced against Muslims and “not as white as us” is only one of them, and not always the most important.

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Hijab and primary school girls: not compulsory, but …

25 November, 2017 - 23:37

A picture of three young girls in long black dresses and headscarves, one in black, one in light pink and another in light blue. One of them is standing on a prayer mat.In the past week the ‘issue’ of primary school age Muslim girls wearing hijab to school has been on the front pages of some newspapers as the chief inspector of schools announced that her inspectors would be asking young girls they saw in headscarves why they were wearing it, supposedly in case girls were being ‘sexualised’ by wearing a garment believed to be intended to hide potentially sexually arousing things from men. The claim that this is the intention or the effect of hijab has been floating around on Twitter for some time but has gone mainstream in the last few months, perhaps because the country’s white busybodies need some other excuse to interfere in the way minorities raise their children since the wheels fell off the FGM bandwagon ([1], [2]) a couple of months back. A common claim is that hijab is “not even mandatory until puberty” in Islam, but there is more to why women and girls wear the hijab than this. (More: Abdul-Azim Ahmed.)

First: the age of puberty for girls is menarche, or their first period, or (according to most scholars) the age of 15, whichever comes first. It’s entirely possible that a girl would have reached puberty before leaving primary school, especially if (though this is not common in the UK although it is in other countries) she has been held back a year. As the age of criminal responsibility in this country is 10, surely we can all be familiar with the concept of a child of 10 having personal obligations. If something is compulsory for an older child and an adult, it makes all sense for them to be accustomed to doing it before it becomes mandatory. As parents Muslims are told to make sure our children pray before they reach puberty, for the same reason, but we also do not want our daughters suddenly going into school in hijab one random day when they’re 14 and in a mixed school where everyone who knows a little bit about Islam will know why. A blogger I once knew who lived in Saudi Arabia said that this was quite common with niqaab there — a girl would wear a headscarf from much younger but when you see her in niqaab you know she is now “a young lady” — but Saudi Arabia is a different society to ours.

Second, children copy their elders and the elders of young Muslim girls are older Muslim girls and women. Kids like to be grown up and, the older they get, the more they want to do what bigger people do and the more they resent reminders that they are children. The idea that there is a reason related to sex for why they have to cover their hair does not occur to them. If they indeed have to, it’s because “mama said so”. This is the usual reason why children have to do anything, after all; why they have to go to this school or that school, or wear this or that item of clothing, or eat whatever their parents choose to make for dinner even if they do not like it. Some parents of my acquaintance also find that the headscarf protects their daughter from headlice, which is more important when children are primary school age, not less. Hijabs as worn by young girls are not normally long black cloaks as found in places like Iran or Saudi Arabia, but bright scarves with embroidery that just cover the hair and shoulders. They wear their normal clothes otherwise, and at school they wear uniform. No girl wears a niqaab before puberty and it’s rare for them to wear it at high school age in western countries.

Third, the argument about ‘sexualisation’ is spurious and a perversion of a real issue. Clothing that ‘sexualises’ children is what displays too much flesh, or does so too tightly, or ‘matures’ a prepubescent girl (e.g. with a push-up bra) or produces a look associated with the likes of strippers, ‘exotic’ dancers or prostitutes. Such clothing is usually marketed to girls approaching their teens and this is what causes concern; that it encourages girls who are not yet even at puberty to prepare to sexualise their normal clothing, to put their bodies on display for men. Hijab does the opposite of this and accustoms them to dressing respectably, which brings us onto the rationale for hijab.

It is a myth that Islam portrays women as temptresses and men as slaves to their own sexual desires which the hijab is intended to protect them from. The reason is in fact spelled out in the Qur’an: “so that they be known and not harassed”, i.e. seen as Godfearing and respectable women. For the most part, we do not probe too deeply into the wisdom behind the laws of Islam; it is enough for us to know that Allah and His Messenger have told us to do something or not to do something, and we obey for the pleasure of Allah, but in this case the reason has been made plain to us. Shari’ah law in this instance works by “blocking the means” to what is forbidden, and this is not just unlawful sex but unlawful dalliances. Physical contact is forbidden between men and women other than spouses and close relatives, as is chit-chat beyond what is necessary. It safeguards marriages and reputations and promotes social harmony. Hijab is not meant to restrict women, and does not. It is men and, increasingly, hostile women who do that.

The letter to the Times (also here) by a well-known group of unrepresentative secularists contains a serious inaccuracy: the claim that India and Tunisia “are fighting back against male-dominated orthodoxies and protecting women’s rights against cultural and ultra-conservative religious practices”; one of these is ruled by a party which oversaw a pogrom in which thousands of women were raped (among other atrocities) while the present prime minister was a provincial governor, and only this year a Muslim woman who had converted from Hinduism was prevented from living with her husband because the judge accepted arguments that she had been the ‘victim’ of a so-called “love jihad”; the other was ruled by a dictatorship for decades until only six years ago which suppressed the practice of Islam and used a secret police to terrorise the population. How on earth can such countries be regarded as models of progress for Muslim women, or indeed anyone?

Selina Begum, a young South Asian woman with braces on her teeth wearing a black headscarf and abaya-type dress.This group of women have media connections but these are not matched by support within the Muslim community itself. It speaks volumes that they addressed their letter to a newspaper with a history of dishonest, sensationalist and intrusive stories about Muslims and, to be fair, other groups in society. Several of the group of women are already notorious for agitating against the Shari’ah and none of them wear hijaab; the question of why any Muslim would approach such a newspaper to orchestrate a campaign that would make life for Muslim women and girls who observe their deen more difficult and unpleasant or make said observances unnatural really needs answering. They bleat on about “equal rights for females” but there is no contradiction between that and being allowed to wear a headscarf to school; everyone with any experience of education in the Global South knows that educating women and girls is vital and this can be achieved whatever clothes a girl wears. Look at the young lady who won the individual debating prize at Eton College this year — Selina Begum, a 16-year old Muslim girl from a state school in Newham, east London, who wears hijab, competing against the rich, confident, entitled boys from David Cameron’s and Prince William’s old school.

It is incumbent on Muslims, especially Muslim parents, to contact Ofsted to explain to them why some of us dress our young girls in the headscarf. It’s not because it’s mandatory for them (it’s not); it’s not because we regard them or their hair as sexual temptations for grown men (we don’t). It’s because it’s the dress of a Muslim woman and we get them used to dressing like one because that is what they become.

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Home-schooling: the Muslim and autistic perspectives

19 November, 2017 - 18:49

A young girl of Somali appearance wearing a pink jacket and black and white flower patterned headscarf, running.The Sunday Times reported today (gleefully as you might expect) that Alexandra Spelman, the head of Ofsted, the British schools inspectorate, had announced a plan for her inspectors to ask primary school-age girls who wear hijab to school about who or what had prompted them to wear it in the light of “concern that girls as young as four are being forced to wear the Muslim headscarf” (paywalled, but the story is also on the Guardian website). Earlier today on Radio 4, I heard a discussion about this in which a woman (who had a posh accent and who I would guess was white) was pontificating about how the hijab supposedly sexualises young girls, and there was no Muslim voice in the discussion to point out that this was not actually why a young girl would wear hijab (see earlier entry); it was strictly “about us, without us” as is usual with these arrogant crusading do-gooders. It reminded me of a study I had been alerted to by other friends on Twitter last week, published from Durham university (in England) in late 2000, which revealed that children of all social classes who are educated at home do better than those of similar socio-economic backgrounds who have attended state schools.

The researcher, Paula Rothermel, a lecturer in learning in early childhood at the university, conducted the study through face-to-face interviews with 100 randomly chosen home-educating families across the country and “found that 65 per cent of home-educated children scored more than 75 per cent in a general mathematics and literacy test, compared to a national figure of only 5.1 per cent”. The average score in the test was 81%, compared to 45% for school-educated children. She also found that home-educated working-class children did better than home-educated middle-class children (i.e. those with parents in professional careers), a finding she put down to the latter being more relaxed and “less likely to push their children”.

I know a number of parents of children with special needs, particularly autistic children, on Twitter and Facebook and this study has aroused intense interest. Many of them have said that school was an intensely stressful experience for their children and sometimes caused serious crises, in one case (documented on the blog “It Must Be Mum”) resulting in the child having to be hospitalised, and being out of school for some time allowed the child to get over the crisis and learn at their own pace for a while before being reintroduced to the school environment — a different one to the one that had caused the crisis, obviously. Of the cases I followed a few years ago of teenagers spending years in mental-health units (or in and out of them), the problems that led to this started at school, not at home. Yet the idea that there is something seriously wrong with our school model never seems to occur to anyone.

It’s disturbing that home education is always presented as a problem in the media. Another recent story about home-ed is that the numbers in Wales have doubled in four years, with the Welsh section of the National Autistic Society suggesting that many were autistic and had been struggling to cope in school; the children’s commissioner for Wales, Sally Holland, has said that schools were encouraging parents to home-educate because the presence of their children causes results to drop for their school or the whole local authority. Parents were quoted as saying they would not do this if they did not have to; home education is not being presented as a positive choice but as a last resort. Worse was the recent scare story about Muslim parents home educating, which a senior London policeman called a “breeding-ground for extremists and future terrorists”, despite the total paucity of evidence of it having contributed to any terrorist incident whatever. I answered that claim in a previous entry and gave reasons why parents home-school by choice as well as by necessity. A lot of the same factors influence liberal and conservative parents; the state (and the ruling party’s house media) fears it because it thwarts the other purposes they have for schooling, namely surveillance and propaganda, particularly through their “Prevent” programme or demands even for childminders to teach “British values” to children as young as nursery age.

A number of years ago the American Muslim scholar Hamza Yusuf teamed up with John Taylor Gatto, a home-schooling advocate, to give some lectures with a critique of the modern (American) school system, and among the most important points were that it failed to teach important life skills and discourages individuality. It not only crushes individuality but fosters harmful social attitudes. A few years ago I read an article by a female author who wrote books for teens with strong, female central characters. I can’t remember her name. She said that boys and girls came to her book signings and readings, but that nearly all the boys who came were home-educated. The reason was that boys who attended schools were discouraged by their peer group from being interested in anything written by a woman or with identifying with a girl character. I attended a mixed Catholic junior school and can easily see how this disconnect comes about: boys and girls played in separate playgrounds and ate at different dinner tables and had no contact with each other except in lessons.

At secondary level, of course, boys and girls see even less of each other as many go to sex-segregated schools, most of the more prestigious schools (state and private) falling into this category — all while mixed religious schools run by minorities are hounded for separating boys and girls. One of the issues that has come out of the exposure of widespread sexual harassment and abuse since the Weinstein scandal broke last month is how little men understand about the realities of being a woman, of how much effort some women — even their wives or sisters — have to put into avoiding or appeasing abusive men, yet the cut-off starts in childhood, when boys are steered away from doing or reading anything ‘girly’. Some commentators have remarked on this, but the model of school itself is, again, never questioned.

I have no answers as to how most children will be educated if not at school; not all parents have the ability, the resources or the inclination to home educate, especially not throughout their children’s school life. It would have been more possible in the time I was growing up, when more families had a single wage earner (usually the husband) who earned enough to pay for the rent or mortgage and other living expenses while the other parent (usually the mother) would work one day a week if that. The cost of living in some parts of the UK, particularly London, makes that impossible for most families today; the cost of an average house today is the same as the cost of a detached five-bedroom house in an exclusive estate set in an acre or more of land in the late 1980s. What I do believe is that the state should be helping home-schooling families, especially those who home-school by necessity because the mainstream schools available are unsuitable given the child’s special needs and the only option is a boarding school. (History shows, however, there are also parents who are just unwilling, not unable, to do this for their children, whatever special needs they have and however damaging school is to them.)

Is the problem school per se or is it the way Britain does school? It would be interesting to see how home-schooled British children fare compared to those on the continent, particularly in those countries where home-schooling is illegal but also where multiple models of school are available and have state funding — for example, Germany, where (some) Steiner schools are available, or Scandinavia where much of the learning in the early years is through play. Our school system is too fragmented (it was even before academies were introduced) and too routinely subject to political interference, and we have a class system which means the political and media élite do not send their children to the same schools as the majority of people. British state schooling has been described as a colonial system of education for other people’s children. One exchange that highlights who exactly dominates our media was between Mic Wright, who formerly wrote for the Daily Telegraph, and Nick Cohen of the Observer, a liberal Sunday newspaper:

Grammar schools in the UK are selective state schools, currently favoured in areas where ‘hard times’ mean that some middle-class parents can no longer afford private school fees. They are, and always were, notorious for favouring the children of middle-class families. According to Peter Wilby of the New Statesman:

To understand how iniquitous grammar schools were, you need to have attended one, as I did. Primary-school friendships were ruptured, usually along lines of social class. The grammars were rigidly stratified. I was in the A stream and do not recall any classmates from semi-skilled or unskilled working-class homes. They were in the C stream and left school as early as possible with a few O-levels. No minister who wants a “one-nation Britain” should contemplate bringing back grammar schools.

There is also a lack of choice — more than one institution in most areas, but all of basically the same type: large, uniformed and impersonal, and schools without uniforms have decreased in number.They function as if they were communities in their own right rather than something which serves the whole community. There is an imperious attitude from on high, with heads allowed to play power games (e.g. splitting up friends for no good reason) and parents lectured to support the school (e.g. by acquiescing to demands about such matters as homework) and forbidden to take their children out during term-time on the supposed basis that it would impact their education permanently; it is as if they were there to support the school, rather than the other way around. There is no access, in many communities, to a smallish, friendly school which does not have a uniform, prefects or pointless rules. Private schools generally offer more of the same, with added snobbery. Alternative forms of education are commonly dismissed as failed experiments or misguided idealism. These attitudes have become more prevalent since the Rothermel study was published in the early years of the Blair government, not less.

So, there are different groups of families who have something particular to gain from moving to home-schooling. The state school system benefits from families of autistic children pulling them out of schools as it saves them providing extra learning and behaviour support to those children (which, if done properly, requires an extra trained member of staff — not just someone’s mum) or the cost of a boarding school which, as anyone who has been in one will know, may do more harm than good; the state should provide support for them, perhaps including flexible part-time schooling or school-based or community-based support. For us Muslims, however, home-schooling is our way of avoiding our children being targeted for surveillance or propaganda without our consent, such that we may talk freely around them without worrying that they may repeat something they hear to a teacher or be interrogated about it by a school inspector, or worse, that something they say may be misinterpreted. We should, as a community, be helping each other do this for their children so that parents do not have to do it on their own (for example, groups of parents banding together to educate all their children, not just their own, although there is a limit on how many children can be taught this way at a time).

I personally would be very reluctant to send a child into a mainstream school after my experience of it, and wouldn’t raise children in a country where home-schooling was not an option. Anyone who is able to should seriously consider it, but especially if you fear school is impacting your child’s mental health, teaching them bad habits or attitudes, or turning them into somebody you don’t recognise. It is my belief that herding hundreds of teenagers into the same space for six hours every day to be taught and (minimally) supervised by strangers is a bad idea; it’s not natural and, as presently imposed on everyone, is a very recent innovation yet one that society does not question when its ill-effects are reported on. Right now, we have the right to withdraw our children from it, and it’s a right we should make use of while we still have it.

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The dregs

18 November, 2017 - 23:07

A picture of Lauren Booth, a middle-aged white woman wearing a cream headscarf with blue and brown patterns on it, standing against a lectern with the Turkish words "Hasan Kalyoncu Üniversitesi" on it.A few years ago you may have noticed lots of people adding “Pleb” to their name on their social media accounts. This followed the Tory chief whip being accused of calling a police officer a “f**king pleb” when the officer refused to allow him to take his bicycle through the gates of Downing Street (the scandal became known as Plebgate, and unusually for such scandals, it actually involved a gate). Today, in response to viciously bigoted article by Julie Burchill in the Spectator, I saw Muslims suggest among other things that we form an “ultimate dreg street fighting team to take down an army of racists”. Burchill’s article claimed that while Judaism attracts the supposed cream of western society as converts (she names Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and herself), Islam only attracts the ‘dregs’, among them “dozy broads who gravitate to it for kinky reasons after watching one too many Turkish Delight ads” like Vanessa Redgrave and Lauren Booth (right), “half-witted types who learn to build a bomb online”, “imam-huggers of the left” with “suppressed feelings of resentment towards the march of feminism”, and Prince Charles. This is, as you can see, an extraordinarily broad selection of people.

To begin with, the number of people over the centuries who have converted to Judaism has been fairly small, principally because the community does not put any effort into proselytising. This has not changed since the Jews ceased being a persecuted minority and became a prosperous and generally respected one. All sorts of people convert to Islam, however, and the religion now has adherents on every continent, but particularly Asia and Africa, who speak most of the world’s languages and come from every social class. I’ve been a Muslim for nearly 20 years and I’ve known people who have converted to Islam from every religion and none, and they include people of every class, some very ordinary (and some with serious problems) and some quite wealthy.

Of the three people she names as attracted to Islam, only Lauren Booth is a Muslim. Vanessa Redgrave is a Marxist and was part of a cult-like Marxist party in the 1980s whose leader was exposed as a sexual predator long before anyone thought Harvey Weinstein capable of it (at least those who didn’t know him). She just has a few Muslim friends. Prince Charles also isn’t, despite numerous rumours to the contrary over the years. But I also dispute her description of him as among the ‘dregs’ based on his mediocre grades when he was at school and college. Charles always knew that he was not destined for a career in academia; he was first in line to the throne and the usual career for a young royal was, and remains, the armed forces. Besides his extensive involvement in charity work, he is a major landowner and in many districts his estate is one of the few landlords who will accept tenants on housing benefit; my friend was in that position in Dorset a few years ago, and the flat she was able to rent was a good one at that. It is fine to disagree with his views on architecture, homoeopathy and conservation in Africa or to believe that a very wealthy family should not automatically produce the head of state, but he is very far from being the ‘dregs’.

She quotes a few passages from a letter he wrote to his friend, the South African writer Laurens van der Post, in 1986 which suggests that he is sympathetic to their side in the Arab-Israeli conflict and advocating that the US government “take on the Jewish lobby”, and then claims that his own mediocrity and his jealousy of the clever Jews with all their Nobel prizes is what inspires his “Islamophilia” rather than, say, admiration for the classical Muslim world’s architecture or its poetry, since he is likely to have heard of Rumi, Omar Khayyam and others. She calls his “Jewish lobby” reference a “classic anti-Semitic trope” when in fact — in terms of the idea of it being what guarantees American support for Israel — it’s much younger than the state of Israel. It’s more true to say there is an “Israel lobby” than a Jewish lobby as such, as much of the support for Israel comes from evangelical Christians, but the facts of the influence of the pro-Israel lobby over American politicians are well-known.

Her stereotype of the “clever Jew” is as useful to anti-Semites as it is to mawkish philo-Semites like herself; Christopher Hitchens noted a few years ago that anti-Semites were different from normal racists (who characterised those they despised as scum, or at least as inferior to them) in that they often appeared admiring, characterising the Jews as clever, well-organised and supportive of each other — they couldn’t form a coherent lobby, much less the global conspiracies some people accuse them of, if they were not. (A simiar phenomenon can be found with conservative Islamophobes like Mark Steyn, who praise the Muslims’ strong family values and warn that we are out-breeding everyone else because we love kids.) Burchill’s embrace of the Jews and Judaism and the excuses she makes for it makes some Jews rather uncomfortable because they do sound too much like anti-Semitism for comfort, especially coming from someone who displays such bigotry towards numerous other groups of people.

And really, what on earth is this drivel doing in a mainstream media publication — a magazine with a fairly small circulation admittedly but still considered the opinion magazine that members of a major political party read? It is poorly argued, offers unrepresentative examples, peddles stereotypes without realising their significance and throws around slurs and wild generalisations that are mostly untrue. As with the Observer which printed (and then withrdrew) an earlier rant of Burchill’s (about transgender people), there was plenty of content for the editors to choose from and they chose this hate-filled piece of dreck. When Burchill says “Islam only attracts the dregs”, readers will not be thinking of Prince Charles or Lauren Booth but the ordinary Muslim in the streets, and this is the sort of writing that leads to hatred and ultimately violence. There must be stronger laws about this type of thing, and editorial codes with more teeth and fewer loopholes.

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On ‘fixing’ disability

14 November, 2017 - 21:34

Molly Burke, a blind YouTube vlogger, posted a video of her speech last month at the London (Ontario) Music Hall as part of an evening on “Belonging” organised by the Walrus, a Canadian magazine and educational foundation. Molly told us about her condition (retinitis pigmentosa), the experience she had of people trying to ‘fix’ her condition which, in fact, was incurable and degenerative; she lost most of her sight at age 14. She argues that society should work on fixing itself so that a disabled person can live an independent life, rather than on fixing ‘disability’ itself. Here’s the video:

In the comments under this video, there is a debate about whether people should in fact strive to fix disability and one accused Molly Burke of “throwing the medical professionals working to cure the multitude of disabilities people face today under the bus” because “being blind, deaf or paralysed is in no way good or beneficial and we should strive to eliminate these things from the lives of future generations”. Others argued that disability costs money, including such things as adding accessibility features to mobile phones, as Apple does with all of its devices, something Burke mentions as allowing her to simply buy one and get to work with no help from anyone else.

First, the argument that calling for adaptation over cure is “throwing professionals under the bus” is ludicrous. There just is no bus heading their way; they get paid handsomely (especially doctors) while the children often lose out from being subjected to intervention after intervention — multiple surgeries, or continual therapy that takes them out of school and away from their friends — which does not always produce results. Losing out on valuable school time because of hospital appointments and therapies is extremely common for disabled children. Burke mentioned in her speech that she missed out on a class trip, and was expected to go on a picnic with other disabled children and their extra teachers (or learning assistants) instead of an African safari, and missed out on French classes to learn Braille (admittedly an important skill for a blind person, but so is French in a country where a large tract is French-speaking). Children lose out on time actually living, are put at risk and may suffer pain, and gain nothing from it.

I’ve followed Molly Burke for some time; she has said in the recent past that she now would not accept a cure for her blindness if offered, although in our time, any such ‘offer’ would be an empty one. I must admit that I can’t understand not wanting to be able to see after having been able to (though not see well) until only five or six years ago (after decades, maybe), but I can understand not wanting to give up days or weeks in hospital in pursuit of a cure that will hurt and might not work, or only temporarily. People who are disabled or have chronic conditions are also often pressured to accept dubious or spurious therapies, expensive and time-consuming special diets or downright harmful quackery by people who tell them it will ‘cure’ or at least ameliorate their condition (autistic people are frequently targeted for such interventions), when they may just want to get on with their lives. They may not like their condition, but living with it is easier than fighting it, and they have accepted it but others refuse (or they may not have accepted it, and people take advantage).

I’m not suggesting there is no place for cures, especially for illnesses that leave people disabled, but adaptation is just as important, because disability is not going away; there will be no cure or fix for many impairments in our lifetime or our children’s and people have to live their lives the way they are. People are complaining that supporting disabled people costs money, but some of these costs can be offset by adaptations being built into technology or buildings, which is the whole point Molly is making in her video. Obviously, if it is possible to prevent someone going blind, that should be, and similarly if a painful degenerative condition that might leave someone unable to move can be arrested or cured, that’s great — but in the meanwhile, people have lives to lead and adaptation and acceptance are the only things that will allow them to live them.

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How is this murder?

11 November, 2017 - 22:38

Mark van Dongen, a young white man with a short moustache and stubble, with matted light brown hair, wearing a purple T-shirt, crouching down on some grass.Last week a woman in the UK went on trial for murder after pouring sulphuric acid on a partner (Mark van Dongen, right) who had broken up with her. The unusual thing about this murder trial is that the woman wasn’t directly involved in the victim’s death; the man killed himself at a euthanasia clinic in Belgium after doctors agreed with him that the pain he experienced as a result of the acid injuries was ‘unbearable’. Earlier this year also, a man was convicted of manslaughter after a woman he had been harassing after she rejected his advances killed herself. These are the first incidents I am aware of in which someone is tried for killing someone who killed themselves as a result of suffering they inflicted, and I am wondering if this reflects a change in the law, or prosecutors testing out a new theory on juries. The Bristol Post has a detailed report on the proceedings on Wednesday.

It used to be the case in the UK that if someone inflicts an injury on someone else and they died more than a year and a day after the incident, they could not be charged with murder; the law was changed after a couple of high-profile cases in the 1990s in which people left for dead lingered in a coma or a persistent vegetative state for over a year and then died. More recently, people who have already served time for inflicting grievous bodily harm by an action such as shaking a baby have been charged with manslaughter when the child died, in one recent case ten years later. Although suicide itself is no longer a criminal offence (i.e. you cannot be charged if you survive and your property would not be forfeit, leaving your family penniless, if you succeed which was the case until the 1960s), encouraging or assisting a suicide is a crime, whether you are a doctor, a relative or someone else. But this is the first I have heard of someone being charged with murder or manslaughter over a suicide which entirely the victim’s choice and took place after the original attack had ended — not, for example, jumping from a height to escape someone clearly intending to harm them (e.g. by rape).

Mark van Dongen, the victim in this case, had very severe injuries inflicted on him and the attack, assuming she knew the substance was acid (she claimed in court she thought it was water) would rightly attract a long prison sentence. He lost the sight in one eye, was left with severely impaired sight in the other, and lost a leg and suffered dreadful scarring which, it is reported, caused persistent itching. It was also reported that he was paralysed from the neck down, though they do not report how this happened; it is not a typical injury from having acid poured on the outside of the body and was clearly not paralysed from the neck down when he ran out into the street immediately after the attack. Someone suggested that it could have been a complication of an infection.

Of course, when someone kills themselves because of something someone else did, it’s natural for a family to blame the person who wronged them and say “he’s dead because of you” or even “you killed him”, but this has not translated into murder or manslaughter charges until now. I suspect it will lose and if it succeeds, will be thrown out on appeal although serious charges of causing grievous bodily harm remain. It is a worrying development that someone can be charged with murder for someone else’s suicide when that suicide was not encouraged by him in any way, however much he or she may have wronged them; it opens the way for people to be charged for anything someone does when they feel harassed or wronged by someone else (when that person may be rightly aggrieved — they may be seeking justice or answers about the death of their relative, for example), and for a jury to be presented with an emotive case and invited to share in the emotions. This has to stop. Suicide is suicide and murder is murder; if your action does not cause someone’s death, it is not murder.

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It’s not “humane” to release mice

6 November, 2017 - 22:17

A greyscale image of a rat with its front paws on the top of a "tombstone" shaped rat trap with the kill bar raised, ready to spring down when the rat disturbs the trap.Just now I saw a video of a YouTube personality who now works for the BBC, Lucy Edwards, talk about how her new flat in London that she shares with her boyfriend and guide dog is also shared with a family of mice which have left droppings under their cabinets. She tells us she has developed a fear of insects and animals (other than her guide dog, of course) since losing her sight four years ago, but as a vegan she does not like the idea of killing them, so she has hired someone to lay “humane” traps and then release them somewhere other than her house. I have heard this kind of talk from people on social media on more than a few occasions, and it’s wrong-headed, and not as humane as they think. These are not pets, but pests. Vermin.

In any city it’s said that you are never more than a few feet from a rat. The lady in the video linked above apparently only learned on her move down south that in London a lot of houses have mice, and I can’t believe the same isn’t true in Birmingham because the climate is almost identical and it’s just as built-up although not as big. Some children (and some adults) keep pet mice and rats and teach them to do various kinds of tricks. My old Usborne pet book said that pet rats are very clean animals. That’s as maybe; wild mice and rats that invade people’s houses aren’t. They’re filthy, they spread disease and they pee and poo everywhere — especially pee, in the case of mice — and they’re rodents, so they’re always looking for wood to chew on, which means your furniture or your skirting or floor boards.

If you trap these things and release them down the road, they will soon find their way to another house — or at least their offspring will, as they are very efficient breeders. The people in that house may be people with compromised immune systems, or elderly or disabled people who can really do without having to deal with the vermin you released because you were too squeamish to kill them, and clean up the mouse/rat excrement and the stink it emits, and repair the damage. They might be blind as well, and just as afraid of small animals scurrying round their house as you are. It’s not humane to inflict this on some other household; it’s inconsiderate, and it’s cruel.

A greyscale image of a rat with its nose near the bait of a tombstone-shaped rat trap.It’s common for genocidaires to compare human beings to vermin: Jews to sewer rats, Rwandan Tutsis to cockroaches as seen in the film Hotel Rwanda. Nowadays, some misguided people have taken to comparing vermin to human beings. We saw this in the video by an anti-hunting group (see earlier post), in which a pack of hounds was seen chasing after and then ripping apart a woman, as part of a campaign against re-legalising fox hunting. I’ve seen YouTube videos by a guy in the USA who reviews mouse and rat traps and he has had adverts on his videos withdrawn (with a resulting loss of income for him) because of organised complaints. A number of years ago during the live export protests in the UK (which led to ferry companies banning trucks containing live animals destined for slaughter, until a court banned this as a “surrender to mob rule”), I saw a woman on TV comparing taking animals in trucks to slaughter with trains taking people to the gas chambers. I’ve known people who say they would not take, or fund research into, a medication that might cure their illness, which had also killed friends of theirs, because it would be, or had been, tested on animals.

Who are these people to dictate to the rest of us that we should not use animals for food and clothing and kill those that are a hazard to us, as every generation of human beings has done before us? They are just people with a dogma that they believe in, and the rest of us don’t, and they have no right to impose it on us. These idiots even go as far as to say that the ‘rights’ of rats come before those of humans, and we should just let sick or disabled people die to avoid causing suffering to an animal. A cockroach is not a Tutsi; a rat is not a Jew. It’s a disease-carrying pest, and the more humane thing to do for your fellow human beings is to bring their gnawing, peeing, pooing, disease-spreading and exponential breeding to an end, by killing them.

Image source: Shaun Woods.

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Niqaab is not relevant to sexual harassment

5 November, 2017 - 22:50

A picture of two women in niqaab, one a dark purple scarf with matching face veil and one a navy blue scarf and veil, both wearing jackets over a long black abaya with visible leather shoes. Two women are facing them, one of them holding a large TV camera with two large grey microphones. The scene is a shopping street with an "Arke" shop behind them.What will women gain from squawking about sex pests? Niqab | Daily Mail Online

This piece appeared in today’s Daily Mail and has been widely derided by both Muslims and feminists on Twitter, and for the most part rightly so. It peddles the old cliché that ‘feminists’ who demand that men cease propositioning or touching up their female colleagues at work, or people who interview them or otherwise do business with them, are “Victorian prudes” whose demands will lead to women having to cover up every inch of flesh by wearing something like the Muslim woman’s niqaab (as a Twitter pal has noted, at least he didn’t call it a burka). This is a spurious argument.

Hitchens says that Fallon is one of the worst defence secretaries of recent years, his policies having left the army a “skeleton” and the Navy “dead in the water, largely motionless and stripped of its most basic capacities”, but lost his job not for this but “because he is alleged not to be safe in mixed company”. I’m not sure the criticism is valid as the policies he implemented were the government’s; it was the government that dictated that spending on the Armed Forces had to be cut to the bone and this meant they could not build or buy the aircraft carriers, etc., they demanded. He also tells us that we “have lost all touch with reality” and that we ignore major failings and lash out over trivial indiscretions:

The country is in the midst of its biggest constitutional crisis for a century, and wobbling on the precipice of bankruptcy.

The welfare system is about to melt down. And you think the most important thing in your lives is a hunt for long-ago cases of wandering hands, or tellers of coarse jokes? Yes, you do.

However, much of this was justified by the previous (Cameron; I include the pre- and post-2015 governments in this) government in order to reduce the deficit and then on ideological grounds (as when members of the Cabinet were questioned about the impacts of welfare cuts on disabled people in particular). The country’s threatened bankruptcy is the result of Brexit, which Hitchens supports (though he advocates the Norway option as a ‘quick and easy’ Brexit option). I do not see the ‘constitutional crisis’; Scottish independence is well and truly on the back burner, while Brexit does not really count as that; we will still be a Parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy and an outdated electoral system in or out of the EU. The people voted for all this, Brexit by a narrow margin and the government in as much as the rules allow.

Hitchens attributes some opinions to feminists in general that, for the most part, they don’t have, or at least most don’t. They don’t believe in a “feminised society”; many of them regard gender itself as a set of stereotypes that fosters male violence and oppresses women. They don’t advocate that women change their dress (or any other aspect of their behaviour) to avoid male harassment, although some disagree, especially as regards drink. The idea that objecting to powerful men making unwanted advances to women in less powerful positions (which is always the case; we never hear of this happening when the woman is the boss) makes them allies of “militant Islam” is laughable.

And the dress codes (which for most women do not include niqaab which, by the way, are not always black, despite the paucity of pictures online of any other version) and separation of the sexes in Islam is not even suggested as a preventive for sexual harassment, let alone rape; it’s to prevent temptation, desire for what one can’t have and dissatisfaction with one’s spouse, if one is married, and sin. There actually is a concept of chivalry and honour in Islam, and not touching a woman who isn’t lawful to you — your wife or close family member — is part of it, not least because it protects the woman from any suggestion of impropriety. In many Muslim countries, the sexual harassment problem is just as bad as it is here if not worse, particularly in the streets, for a whole host of reasons — youth unemployment (meaning a lot of young men hanging around with nothing to do), marriage customs that result in men being unmarried until their 30s and pornography among them, but the most important being the same reason we have here: people will always blame the woman for being too sexy, too showy or just there and not the man for not keeping his hands to himself. No amount of modesty and propriety can protect a woman from a man who is a lawless aggressor, be he a manager or a priest.

It may be true that some of the accusations are of things that happened a long time ago, and aren’t of the most serious nature, but as the comedian (and former mental health nurse) Jo Brand (very nicely) pointed out on Have I Got News for You last Friday, many women have to put up with a lot of these incidents; any of them may have been the umpteenth that day for that woman, or may have come after a more threatening encounter on the way to work, or whatever. It’s no bad thing that we are finally having a conversation about the way powerful men — and it is mostly men — use sex to intimidate those less powerful than themselves, whether they be in politics or in the world of entertainment, and it is no surprise that friends of some of the guilty men are squealing.

Image source: Roel Wijnants. Released under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License, version 2.0.

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Following in Grandpa Phil’s footsteps

4 November, 2017 - 20:18

Prince William, a young white man with a head bald in the middle, wearing a light blue open shirt and light green pair of chinos with a brown leather belt, with his wife Kate, a young white woman with brown hair parted in the middle wearing a knee-length two-tone pink smock with black patterning on, walking through grassland with a baby elephant in the foregroundIt’s long been a cliché that Prince William represents a “new generation” of British royalty who are unencumbered by the prejudices and stifling customs of their grandparents in particular — the ones who got Prince Charles to marry a woman he did not love because Camilla Parker-Bowles, whom he did love, was unacceptable, for example. Prince Phillip has always been notorious for bluntly expressing racist and otherwise offensive attitudes in public and this sort of behaviour has always been indulged as him being the delightfully oddball character that he is (or as him being really not up to all this royal business, despite having chosen to marry a royal) rather than being an unpleasant, bigoted old man. Recently I heard of similar behaviour by Princess Margaret, the queen’s sister, which was similarly indulged. Prince Phillip’s pet cause was wildlife; he is a co-founder and “president emeritus” of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and has in the past held forth about the dangers of human overpopulation; in a foreword to a 1987 book he wrote that, were he to be reincarnated, “I must confess that I am tempted to ask for reincarnation as a particularly deadly virus”.

So it’s sad, but perhaps shouldn’t be too surprising, that Prince William has inherited some of his grandad’s attitudes, as demonstrated in a speech yesterday and reported in the Telegraph and Daily Mail (just so nobody can accuse me of citing news sources that are biased against the monarchy). At the Tusk gala dinner in London (the Tusk Trust being a charity whose patron is Prince William and which helps protect African wildlife, including elephants) on Thursday evening, he said the following:

In my lifetime, we have seen global wildlife populations decline by over half.

We are going to have to work much harder and think much deeper, if we are to ensure that human beings and the other species of animal with which we share this planet can continue to co-exist.

Africa’s rapidly growing human population is predicted to more than double by 2050, a staggering increase of three and a half million people per month.

There is no question that this increase puts wildlife and habitat under enormous pressure. Urbanisation, infrastructure development, cultivation—all good things in themselves, but they will have a terrible impact unless we begin to plan and to take measures now.

A certain type of western ‘environmentalist’ has long regarded the wildlife of places like Africa as being more important than its people; they are fixated on cute or magnificent large animals such as antelopes, wildebeest, elephants and the mega-predators like lions and tigers. Some of these animals used to be found in Europe — leopards, for example — but they were exterminated in antiquity, for the very good reason that they are a threat to humans and livestock. We hunted wolves to extinction in much of Europe and any plans for reintroduction face stiff opposition; it still has not happened in the UK, for example. The royal family themselves participate in fox hunts, routinely justified as a means of keeping old foxes (more likely to prey on livestock rather than wildlife) under control, despite the fact that they occur only a few times a year and have been known to kill other animals which are not vermin, such as cats. By and large, the taming of the natural environment is seen as a mark of civilisation - the draining of the English fens to plant wheat, the reclamation of the former South Sea by the Dutch, the Zionist boast of making the desert bloom - yet when Africans do the same, we condemn them for destroying the habitat of animals we like watching.

There is a term for these large animals: “charismatic megafauna”. They are not regarded as quite so charismatic by those who have to live near them, and raise livestock or crops in areas they live in or pass through. We like to watch wildlife programmes on TV featuring the migration of wildebeest or gazelles and there are videos of these animals crossing huge rivers and some of them getting snapped up by crocodiles. We don’t ask “where are the people?”, the simple answer to which is that they have been cleared off to make way for the wildlife: in some African countries, governments have cleared native people off whole tracts of land they have occupied for millennia to make way for ‘game’ reserves for tourists. We have westerners go down to Africa to ‘educate’ the locals on how to live with the elephants or hyaenas when we ourselves would not even think of letting these animals loose in our backyard, or our farmland. We complain when they build roads across their own countries, when we have covered acres and acres of our best land in asphalt, wildlife be damned.

And Prince William has the effrontery to claim that a growing African human population is a threat to wildlife! For the most part, Africans have less impact on the environment than we Europeans, and others who enjoy the same lifestyle we do: they do not use electricity all day, every day for heating or air conditioning, and rarely if ever travel by car. It is not as simple as to say that “white people” or “westerners” are more damaging to the environment than others; it is mass heavy industry, much of it outsourced to China and increasingly India, and the modern lifestyle which ceaselessly consume energy and produce huge amounts of waste, and people all over the world enjoy that lifestyle, but African subsistence farmers are the last people who can be blamed for the destruction of the environment and the threat to biodiversity and cutting their birth rate will make not cut the human race’s carbon footprint by much (though as already seen in China, aggressive population size control does not prevent environmental damage if the nation industrialises).

Finally, we shouldn’t be casting human beings as the enemy of the environment. We need the environment and we need to preserve it for our sake, not that of lions and elephants. There are benefits to people, women especially, of having access to safe birth control methods. In the UK it has been suggested that our country faces being a “lifeboat region” relatively unscathed by the ravages of climate change, although the sea threatens to engulf a lot of our low-lying farmland and cities and storms and floods get more severe year after year, but it gives yet more scope for racism as we imagine ourselves besieged by the world’s “teeming millions” who are only people like us looking for shelter from environmental destruction largely of our making, as Britain and northern Europe have been churning out smoke and carbon dioxide for much longer than India or China. Blaming third-world overpopulation is a way of getting ourselves off the hook for refusing to change our lifestyle, despite having had decades’ warning of the consequences. We do not need this racist, colonial, animal-centred conservationism peddled by the aristocracy; we need an environmentalism that puts human survival and dignity first.

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Anti-Catholic prejudice? Really?

2 November, 2017 - 19:37

A picture of Tom Cullen, a white man with short hair and a thickish moustache and beard, with a bloodied face, in a mediaeval church400 years on from Guy Fawkes, Britain’s Catholics still face prejudice | Catherine Pepinster, the Guardian

Currently on the BBC there’s a serial about the Gunpowder Plot, in which a group of Catholics in 17th-century England tried to kill the Protestant king by blowing up Parliament. It failed and the plotters who were caught were shot or hanged, drawn and quartered, and the early November bonfire and firework nights (which can be quite a spectacle, the one in Lewes, East Sussex being particularly elaborate) are a lasting legacy of that. The plot came at a time when Catholics were being persecuted in England, where it was a crime (punishable by hefty fines) to not attend the Protestant church and where priests worked at risk of arrest and execution, and often had to hide in tiny “priest holes” in people’s houses. Catholics did not have the right to vote until the 19th century, and the law enabling this was very widely opposed, attracting the biggest petition effort in British history.

The above article is in today’s Guardian and claims that anti-Catholic prejudice is still prevalent, but rather than Protestants being the main source of it, it is coming mainly from secularists:

If there is any prejudice left against them in the UK, any suspicion of popery, it comes from those who are avowedly secular. It was apparent in the protests during Pope Benedict XVI’s state visit in 2010. Hideous caricatures of the pope appeared on the streets, of the German pope carrying a swastika, rather than a crucifix. Catholicism seems fair game.

(This was because Joseph Ratzinger actually was a Hitler Youth as a young man.)

Antipathy to Catholic schools is evident too, an echo of the “Rome on the rates” loathing when they first appeared in the 19th century. But this is not merely a small secular protest: governments of various stripes have sought to forcibly limit the number of places these schools offer to Catholics. Catholic schools do educate non-Catholics, but headteachers, supported by parents and priests, want to decide for themselves, rather than have the policy thrust upon them.

I was brought up Catholic, and went to Catholic schools for most of my time at primary school and my first year at secondary school. There was a strong Catholic community in Croydon where I was growing up, and there were large Catholic primary and secondary schools, some of which were clearly of “secondary modern” heritage, including the secondary schools I and my sister went to (although Croydon had gone comprehensive) and there were two (one for boys, one for girls) that had the air of grammar schools and were over-subscribed. As I’ve said before on here, the schools had a racially very mixed intake as the borough had families from all over the Catholic world, including Ireland, parts of southern Europe and places like Goa and some African countries. There were children from fairly well-to-do areas and children from council estates. We all wore recognisable school uniforms, people knew which schools were Catholic and which were not, and I never remember receiving abuse on the bus or in the street on the way to or from school. This was in the 1980s and so the Irish Troubles were still happening. I never once heard abusive language such as Taig, Papist or similar in public, nor did I hear of a single incident of violence in which religion was a factor. I was aware of the situation in Northern Ireland, of course, but that wasn’t discussed at school and it did not affect us.

The article complains that Catholic schools are losing privileges and this is her main piece of evidence that Catholics still “face prejudice”. It reminds me of the saying of anti-racist activists that when you are used to privilege, equality feels like oppression. It also rather reminds me of Melanie Phillips who has accused secularists of being the major source of anti-Semitism because it was the Jews who are the origin of Christianity’s moral codes, despite the fact that when Europe really was Christian, ghettoisation was the order of the day and pogroms were a frequent occurrence. Catholic schools are expected to admit and teach non-Catholics because they are subsidised by the taxpayer. It is only right that they be expected to serve the whole community in which they operate rather than run on a “we only serve our own” basis. She alleges that “headteachers, supported by parents and priests, want to decide for themselves, rather than have the policy thrust upon them”, although I wonder where her evidence for that comes from; I don’t believe my mother minded that either I or my sister might be rubbing shoulders with non-Catholics at school, as we all did at home. But other religious schools have to deal with “policies thrust upon them”; all schools have to deal with bureaucracy, testing, changing curriculums and so on, while Muslim schools have to deal with scrutiny over matters such as sex segregation. No other community whose institutions are funded by public money gets to “decide for themselves”; why should Catholics?

In fact, Catholic schools have been more sinning than sinned against when it comes to fostering prejudice and discrimination. The junior school I went to was put in special measures in 2015 for poor teaching quality and academic achievement (although OFSTED did note that attendance and care were good, that children “played together peaceably” and felt valued and that there was hardly any bullying); when I was there, bullying was common (though rarely physical), with most of the boys’ part of the playground dominated by football and anyone who didn’t like that trapped against the fence; teachers were mostly dour and the work boring. Although boys and girls sat in class together, in all other aspects were kept entirely separate — a practice which is now routinely condemned when found in Muslim secondary schools. Whether this changed after I left (in 1987) I don’t know, although the headteacher who followed from the one who ran the school when I was there left because she was unable to improve the teaching methods, which she said were condemning children to “slow death by worksheet”. The more desirable Catholic girls’ school was notorious for discriminating against girls from mixed marriages and on one occasion turned a girl away because she had cerebral palsy and walked on crutches, using as an excuse the claim that she would be unable to manage the crowded corridors between classes.

Friends told me that their families had encountered discrimination in the past, such as believing they were being kept down the council house waiting list or facing hostility at a checkpoint because of Irish surnames, but the first was in the 1940s and the second in the 1970s and the prejudice in question was anti-Irish, not anti-Catholic as such. The nearest thing to religious prejudice I ever encountered as a Catholic was a group of boys chanting “your dad’s a vicar” at me in the playground, and as you may have guessed, this was not anti-Catholic prejudice. The Church has been exposed as the facilitator of child abuse and profiteer of slave labour in many countries, including Ireland, Australia and (to a lesser extent, as its power was less) the UK, and its much vaunted “saint” Mother Theresa exposed for not actually treating the sick while hob-nobbing with dictators, yet this has not resulted in the lives of ordinary Catholics in this country being made difficult.

So, it’s ridiculous to claim that Catholics “still face prejudice”. The church that inspired the persecution of Catholics in England is now weaker than the Catholic Church itself, despite retaining established status in England. At a time when there are groups in society that are facing real prejudice and some of this is being incited by the mass media, it is distasteful to claim that a powerful church that has access to public money having some of its privileges questioned and cut back is evidence of prejudice.

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Felix Ngole and social work: free speech versus diversity

30 October, 2017 - 23:15

Picture of Felix Ngole, a young Black man with short black hair wearing a dark blue blazer over a dark blue waistcoat over a light purple shirt with a large cross hanging from a string around his neckLast week a man who had been studying for a social work degree at Sheffield University lost his appeal against the university’s decision to expel him for remarks he made on Facebook in a discussion about homosexuality. Felix Ngole, a Christian of Cameroonian origin, and his supporters claim that he stated the belief as found in the Bible that homosexuality is a sin; the entire wording of his comments is not given in the reports, but the Guardian quotes him as saying “the Bible and God identify homosexuality as a sin” and “same-sex marriage is a sin whether we like it or not. It is God’s words and man’s sentiments would not change His words”, which are certainly not abusive or threatening or even, as the university claimed, ‘derogatory’. Ngole is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre, which has said that the ruling “will have a chilling effect on Christian students up and down the country who will now understand that their personal social media posts may be investigated for political correctness”.

The CLC has a history of supporting Christians who bring unlikely cases where their beliefs make it impossible, so they claim, to do their jobs. In some cases these lawsuits are groundless and vexatious, as in the case where a care worker demanded to have Sunday off, while the children she cared for did not get Sunday off their disability. They are also an Islamophobic organisation; their list of “issues” on their website includes Islam (and no other religion) and have links with Alan Craig who led the campaign to defeat the plans for the so-called mega mosque (actually the Abbey Mills Mosque) in east London ten years ago. As I have previously stated, I have some sympathy for the people sacked for being unwilling to perform new duties such as solemnising gay marriages which were not in the job description when they signed up, and which could in some cases be worked around, but care workers have always worked on the Sabbath for good reason, and the Muslims they campaign against are their potential allies.

The university justified his expulsion on the grounds that it had to consider his “fitness to practise” given that the degree was of a vocational nature. I would hazard a guess that many of those currently practising have views similar to his and studied before social media became popular, but other problematic views that could affect their relations with vulnerable service users, such as that disabled people (particularly those with even mild learning difficulties) are not fit to be parents or should not be supported when they need to be do not result in social workers losing their jobs, much less aspiring social workers being kicked off their degree courses; they are more likely in fact to lead to parents losing their children. Similarly with class prejudice, hard-set ideas about how certain types of people treat or bring up their children, uncritical deference towards authority (such as that of doctors, for example). Social workers cannot remove children without a court order, and no single social worker should be able to dominate the system such that their prejudices are decisive in how a child or family is treated (and if one can, the department is dysfunctional and there will be other problems).

The possibility that a gay teenage foster child may have conflict with their foster parents, for example, is only one of many eventualities that should be taken into account when assessing the suitability of social workers or foster carers; a diverse community needs to know that the local authority, their teachers, social workers and others with power to intervene in their lives represents and understands them, and if they restrict entry to those with only the most “up-to-date” views on matters like homosexuality or abortion, for example, large sections of the community are going to be frozen out. It is quite noticeable that a lot of the Christians championed by the Christian Legal Centre for “expressing their religious views” are black. So, if Felix Ngole’s “expression of his views” goes beyond what has been reported and includes aggressive proselytism or harassment, it’s only right that he not be considered for a role like that of a social worker, but if not, his expulsion was a quite unjustified retaliation for peacefully expressed views and I hope his appeal succeeds.

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Catalonia: 2017 is not 1936

28 October, 2017 - 19:44

Yesterday someone I’d never heard of, but apparently gets TV show appearances in the US, posted a tweet containing a ridiculously irrelevant observation about the current situation in Catalonia, the province of Spain whose political leaders are trying to break away from Spain, which is resisting:

I posted in response that the last time Spain had a civil war, it involved fascists who were already in power in Italy and Germany, and the war was about how the whole of Spain was governed, not the secession of one province. She replied:

 the 'Military' practice of the rebels" and underneath "If you tolerate this, your children will be next". At the bottom, in dark blue text, it reads "Ministerio de Propaganda".I’m actually also a politics graduate (my degree was called politics and history), but you don’t need to be a politics or history graduate to know that the Spanish Civil War was a totally different situation from the current situation and that the world was a quite different place then. The Second World War was not in any way the result of the Spanish Civil War; it was the result of Hitler’s imperial and genocidal ambitions (and Hirohito’s imperial ambitions) which were not shared by Franco, who refused to deport the country’s Jewish population to the Nazi camps. Neither the present Spanish government nor the Catalan secessionists are fascists, nor are they the Communists who came to dominate the Spanish Republicans as amply documented by the likes of George Orwell. No other Spanish provinces are currently attempting to join Catalonia, nor are neighbouring countries trying to encourage or assist them (France has already said it will not recognise a breakaway state of Catalonia and the European Commission have also agreed that the referendum was illegal). Spain is currently nowhere near repressive enough to provoke an armed resistance in Catalonia or anywhere else (as was the case in the Basque Country under Franco), although this could change. There is simply no material for another Spanish civil war at present.

Christiana Mbakwe used two logical fallacies in her response. One was an ad hominem, namely the accusation of ‘mansplaining’, a neologism intended to mean something like “a man patronisingly explaining something to a woman with the presumption that he knows better because he is a man” but commonly used to mean “a man telling a woman something she doesn’t want to hear” (more on this use of the term here). The second was the “argument from authority”, namely the invocation of her political science degree to tell me I have no right to an opinion on the subject as she must by some definition know better than I do; in fact, you don’t need a degree to know this history, and it’s not as if your political science professors are immune from bias even if you do. It’s become fashionable for women with access to the media to use this “dual fallacy” when men disagree with them on social media, to suggest that their ‘qualifications’ consist of a penis and a Twitter account while they are a ‘real journalist’ or an expert when such people often talk outside of their expertise, or just lie (the American journalist Victoria Brownworth is one of the worst offenders; she also likes to remind anyone who disagrees with her of the awards she’s won). I’ve checked to see if Ms Mbakwe is a world-renowned expert on the Spanish Civil War; she has had articles published in various online and paper publications and none of them are about that subject, and maybe she’s published a world-renowned reference text on the subject but Foyle’s of London has no record of it.

It’s not the first time that a civil or other local war, actual or feared, has attracted apocalyptic predictions from media pundits. The Gulf War was supposed to go nuclear and drag the Iranians and others in, while Yugoslavia was predicted to lead to a massive regional conflagration and involve Turkey and Russia. Neither happened, although Bosnia in particular was the scene of the second genocide in living memory in Europe. Catalonia is not even in that league; Spain is a democracy while the former Yugoslavia was not, but a one-party state. I predict that it will not take military force to put down the unconstitutional secession attempt by the former Catalan government (who knew it was unconstitutional and that the Spanish government would not accept it beforehand); there is no secessionist army and it will take only the police to arrest the leaders of the former government. Unless Rajoy does something very stupid, there aren’t enough Catalans willing to go to war to break away from Spain.

So, Christiana Mbakwe’s tweet was a bit of overexcited scaremongering. Certain social justice types online like to lecture us white men that if we’re told we’re being racist and/or sexist, to accept it with good grace instead of disputing it (even though the accusations are often spurious or even malicious, and delivered abusively); if you are told that you are being ridiculous and irresponsible, I suggest doing the same rather than resorting to personal arguments. We are not in the 1930s; there aren’t fascists in power everywhere, and Spain is not facing a fascist takeover. It doesn’t take a politics grad to know that.

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If in doubt, blame Putin

27 October, 2017 - 21:44

The front page of the Sun newsaper, with the headline "Be-Leave in Britain", with a Union flag layered under the word "LEAVE". At the bottom of the page it says "Vote to quit EU on June 23".Last Sunday there was a Nick Cohen article in the Observer about Russian influence and how, for example, Russian “dark money” is suspected of funding the Leave campaign now that it appears Arron Banks isn’t as rich as we had been led to believe:

The FBI is investigating how Russia hacked the Clinton campaign and used Facebook and Twitter to spread fake news. Ukrainians are preparing for the next stage of resistance to Russian forces. European foreign ministries and intelligence services have finally understood that Russia’s imperial strategy is to weaken the EU and Nato in every country except, it seems, this sceptred isle.

Russia knows its best tactic is to use migrant crises to stoke nativist fears. “German government threw their country under feet of migrants like a rug, now try wipe their crimes under carpet,” tweeted the Russian embassy in London in 2016 as the Kremlin began a successful campaign to promote the interests of the chauvinists in Alternative for Germany. A bank close to Vladimir Putin loaned $10m to Marine le Pen’s anti-EU Front National. He encouraged the anti-immigrant Freedom party in Austria, the Lega Nord in Italy and Jobbik in Hungary.

Cohen also gets in a dig at Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell for having appeared on RT (Russia Today), the Kremlin-backed English-language TV channel, as well as their “satirically named ‘justice’ spokesman”, Richard Burgon, who “has never denounced the injustice Putin brings to Russia and the wider world during the nine occasions RT has had him on air”.

I’m no great fan of Vladimir Putin. He’s corrupt, dictatorial, has started a civil war in and then invaded Ukraine and presided over the destruction of Chechnya, the reign of terror of Ramazan Kadyrov and his thugs complete with the assassinations of journalists who tried to investigate his abuses, like Anna Politkovskaya (and plenty of ordinary Chechens). But blaming him for Brexit, like blaming him for Trump, is taking it a bit too far. This was a disaster cooked up in western newspaper offices and think-tanks, and even if Putin was able to channel money to campaigners via people like Arron Banks and fund billboard adverts and battle-buses, it’s unlikely his role was decisive when there has been a campaign against the EU by London newspapers, particularly the Daily Mail, going back at least to the Maastricht debates of the 1990s, and other major newspapers including the Sun also supported Leave and have ridiculed the EU, often conflating it with the European Convention on Human Rights, with which it has no connection, blaming it for anything a Tory government cannot do.

The obsession with finding an explanation for Trump’s victory or the Brexit vote which Russian influence is puzzling. There is no suggestion that the Russians have been tampering with voting machines or otherwise interfering in the ballots themselves; the claims have all been about funding, about propaganda, about fake news, in all of which they were at the very least matched by those they supported in Britain or America. No amount of Russian money could have bought the election for Trump without enough Americans being racist enough to overlook his open and violent racism when he made vague promises about jobs or “America first”, or misogynistic enough to ignore his misogyny, and so on — let alone those who actually shared his attitudes, of course. No amount of Russian money could have bought Brexit without the decades of propaganda from the Tory press here — not to mention other unaccountable sources of funding for think-tanks and pressure groups in both countries whose spokesmen are frequently presented as experts or voices from the grassroots in the media.

It’s sad to see the Left (even the Nick Cohen type ‘soft left’) looking to foreign influences to blame for damaging decisions made by people in their own countries. It’s very reminiscent of what dictators do when faced with dissent in their own countries (Assad of Syria being a well-known recent example). There were real reasons why people in the UK voted for Brexit as well as racism and Little-Englanderism; people need to examine Britain’s manner of engagement with Europe and how it damaged British industry and workers rather than dismiss British voters as dupes of Russian propaganda.

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Before we even think of expanding Heathrow …

26 October, 2017 - 13:54

A group of people in yellow flourescent jackets standing in a circle in an open space marked for parking spaces, with cargo sheds behind them with some large vehicles in front of themSo, Heathrow expansion is in the news again, with another round of consultations being by the government this week and a report, the Airports National Policy Statement, being released which, according to the Daily Telegraph, “takes into account updated noise analysis and a new air quality plan as well as policy changes since the independent Airports Commission backed the Heathrow project in 2016”. The report also claims that “updated international evidence on vehicle emission forecasts was published at the end of September last year and this had to be considered in terms of the expansion’s potential compliance with emissions legislation” and that a north-western runway scheme could be carried out without “impacting the UK’s compliance of air quality limits”. The north-western runway would require the demolition of three villages, namely Longford, Harmondsworth and Sipson, and cause massive noise impacts on other neighbourhoods under the flight path, particularly to the east, such as Harlington and Cranford.

I’m against Heathrow expansion on principle; on the issue of greenhouse gas emissions alone, even the current volume of aviation, and the pumping of CO2 straight into the upper atmosphere, is unsustainable. And make no mistake: any new runway will attract more planes until it is used to capacity, as are the current two runways. All the assurances about noise mitigation, night flights and so on will be chipped away once the runway is opened, because airlines will still threaten to desert the UK for Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt or wherever if their demands are not met, and our leaving the EU, making us less attractive as a hub for European destinations to begin with, makes that even more likely.

What nobody has mentioned so far is the airport’s creaking cargo infrastructure. As a truck driver in the west London area, I have to visit the cargo terminals quite often and the inefficiency is staggering. Not all of it is the fault of the airport or the cargo handlers, but a large part of it is. It is not uncommon for drivers picking up or dropping cargo at the terminals, particularly on Shoreham Road (known as the Horseshoe) to have to wait several hours to get onto a bay. There are only a limited number of bays that can accommodate an articulated lorry, and none within view of at least one of the buildings, and you need a view of it because it’s where the counter is that tells you when it’s your turn. There is in theory a 4-hour waiting time limit, but on Monday evening I had to wait well over that time to get a bay, and much of it was spent standing resting on a railing because my truck was too far up to see, and other vehicles were parked in the way; when I did get the cargo, only half of it had been brought landside and a second truck had to be sent the following day to get the remaining boxes.

Part of the problem is sheer lack of space, even though many operators have their own cargo terminals both inside and outside the airport perimeter (particularly Virgin and DNATA, the Dubai-owned handler which serves a number of airlines, which have big depots along the Stanwell Road). But there is also inefficiency. They mostly operate in the pre-mobile phone era; rather than take drivers’ numbers and ring them when it’s their turn, they expect us to sit in our trucks (or stand in the street, even if it’s raining) watching their counter (which does not count in order, and gives no indication as to how long you will be waiting, which is essential as truck drivers have maximum working times), and when you tell the guy behind the counter that you can’t see the counter from where you’re parked, they say it’s not their business. It’s possible to pay the airline or their agent for quicker service, but this only prolongs the wait for other drivers. It would be much more efficient to require everyone with a vehicle over, say, 3.5 tonnes to book in, but really, they need to move it all out of the Horseshoe. It’s just too small and the delays caused by trucks reversing or parked on the road for lack of a bay often stretch out onto the main Perimeter Road.

We cannot add more runway capacity, and thus more planes bringing more cargo, until these infrastructure problems have been fixed. There is plenty of land around the airport and we can spare one or two fields so that cargo can be handled efficiently and drivers are not working 15-hour days (as happened to me on Monday) just because of waiting around on the Horseshoe.

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On British Muslims and US racial politics

22 October, 2017 - 18:56

A picture of a white woman with slightly darkened skin, wearing a pink headscarf with a white cap underneath, with pink lipstick.Recently I’ve noticed a trend among Muslims in the online community of associating Muslims and Islam with ‘brown-ness’ and in opposition to ‘whiteness’ as well as the uncritical parroting of dogmas which are in vogue in the US anti-racist or social justice community. I’ve also seen an increase in projects designed to highlight a particular racially-based group within the Muslim community, many of which strike me as unnecessary or divisive and which appeal to a sense of victimhood out of proportion to the situation. One of the major appeals of Islam going right back to the days of Malcolm X in the 1960s was that it broke down racial barriers and that nobody was superior to anyone else purely on the grounds of race or tribe, yet now there are people busy putting such barriers up in the name of activism or for cultural or artistic projects. Worst, we have people saying things which plainly put them outside of Islam while Muslims eagerly share and applaud their stance.

Two particular recent exchanges I saw on Facebook illustrate my points. In one, an Asian brother in London posted that a white woman in a Costa café asked that she not sit next to him for reasons unstated, and in the comments below, a white person said that “racism cuts both ways” and the brother responded that racism cannot be by a “person of colour” against a white person but only the other way round as people of colour were “low in the pecking order” and “racism is structural”. This definition is the accepted one in the USA but in the UK ‘racism’ as legally defined includes any act of discrimination based on race, whatever the race of the perpetrator and victim (see this letter by Linda Bellos in the Guardian last May). There are good reasons relevant to the Muslim community here why we should accept this definition and not the US one, but I will say that I have had a similar experience to this man’s; a man told me on a train one time that he did not want to sit next to me and had already moved once to get away from me. He didn’t say why although I have a beard and was carrying a rucksack. Both of us are/were white.

The second such exchange is one I saw last week, also on Facebook: people were discussing a Channel 4 programme in which a white woman, who had expressed prejudice against Muslims, agreed to ‘brown up’ (to appear Asian) and wear a hijab for a week to experience the world the way Asian Muslims do (they fitted her with a “more Asian looking prosthetic nose as well). I’ve said before ([1], [2]) that I think experiments in which people disguise themselves as members of a minority for a short time are unhelpful and do not give the participant a true picture of what a real life hijab wearer or wheelchair user (as disability is the other experience that people ‘try on’ in these exercises) experiences. However, the responses included the complaint that they did not simply ask a brown Muslim woman, rather than simply a Muslim woman, as if a white Muslim woman never experienced abuse for wearing hijab (those I’ve known have said they do) or that the ‘brown’ ones were the real Muslims, especially as they are from long-established Muslim families rather than converts, or children of converts.

This dogma that prejudice or discrimination is “not racist” unless it is perpetrated by a white person against a “person of colour” has some validity in the US context where there is a strong legacy of slavery and decades of legal discrimination and mob violence against African Americans and where expressions of frustration by Black victims of persistent racism are treated as being of equal offensiveness to the original racist aggression (this being a good example). The UK’s history is wholly different (there being no equivalent of the Confederacy and its legacy, for example, and in more recent times they have elected a demagogue who stood on an openly racist platform as their leader and we have not) but we are talking about the Muslim community here, not the general population, and the Muslim community is dominated by the South Asian community which has clung to its native languages and its particular cultural practices. The fruits of that domination have been amply discussed here and elsewhere, in fact long before this blog (or any blog) existed, in the pages of Q-News for example, but they include the fact that newcomers, whatever their colour, are often made to feel unwelcome as they cannot understand the conversations of people at the mosque or at social gatherings and are unable to find spouses as parents refuse marriage to ‘new’ Muslims (even if they are not all that new) for fear of cultural incompatibility, or some other such excuse. In my experience, opposition to mixed marriages has largely died down among whites in urban areas in this country — it no longer passes the “dinner party test” as Sayeeda Warsi put it — but it is still common among Asians in this country and whatever the excuse, the rejected person is still left with the impression that the family thought they were not good enough to marry their son or daughter. Whites have had to face up to their racist attitudes and change them in this country; Asians have not, and prejudice about the morality and modesty of white women and girls has been implicated in the multiple cases of organised child rape which are known of. Racist attitudes by minorities against the majority community, or elements within it, can have a devastating impact.

Muslims of every colour are victims of stereotyping and suspicion in this country and some of it puts us in danger. Muslims of every race have been subjected to control orders, detained at airports for extended questionings for no reasons and missed their flights, and have been denied passports because of their charitable work; Muslims of every race were among the detainees at Guantanamo. Muslims, particularly women, of every colour have suffered abuse in the street by bigots, not all of them white (an Asian friend said he and his family had received more abuse targeted at their religion from Black people than White since 2005, and it is notable that at least one of the recent videoed incidents of harassment of Muslims on public transport involved a Black perpetrator). Muslims of all races have had to answer hostile questions from family members about terrorist acts they had nothing to do with, or been reminded “it’s a Christian country” or some such thing. Yet it has become fashionable to remind white Muslims that they could simply take off the hijab and abandon Islam and all their problems will go away, while a “person of colour” will always remain oppressed! And sometimes it’s Muslims saying this!

I saw a set of videos titled “Black and Muslim in Britain” featuring a group of about six or seven Black British Muslims talking about their experiences, and they included other Muslims presuming you must be either a convert or not a Muslim, difficulties and obstacles in finding a spouse if you are looking outside your ethnic group (which you might well be as a convert, as you are looking for someone who knows the religion better than you do) — things white converts have to deal with as well, although sometimes less severely. As an actual convert I find it quite insulting that a born Muslim is offended by being mistaken for one; this is exactly the sort of attitude that leads the “established” South Asian Muslim community to put up the barriers they complain about. And how inclusive is any visual project which claims to represent “Black British Muslims”? A large proportion of them in London and elsewhere are ‘salafis’ who do not allow photography, so no photographic exhibition is going to represent the whole of the “Black British Muslim community”, if there can even be said to be one.

A final point: apparently in the name of racial solidarity, some Muslims often no longer defend Muslim belief and even tawheed, i.e. the belief in One God. A few weeks ago a woman circulated on Facebook a picture of herself in a T-shirt with a “Black and Muslim” slogan on it in English and Arabic, adding in the caption below that what being “Black and Muslim” meant to her included “honouring the Orisha as parts of Allah” and “praying salah and pouring libations to the ancestors right after”, both statements of shirk or polytheism/idolatry. This is simply the number 1 sin in the entire body of Islamic law by absolute consensus, and they are clear examples, not something that is subject to interpretation. It’s astonishing that people were circulating this without criticism. I have also seen Muslims here who willingly associate with the notorious Amina Wadud, who has made open statements of kufr such as insulting a prophet by calling him a “deadbeat dad” (more on which here). Muslims should not be associating with people who speak like this.

There is, all in all, too much emphasis on race and colour in Muslim discourse in this country right now, while the threats from “on high” are aimed at all Muslims and not just Muslim “people of colour”. In places around the world where Muslims have been massacred or severely persecuted, the perpetrators are as likely to be people of colour as those who might be called white, either by their standards or ours: Indian Hindus, Black Central African Christians, Chinese in East Turkestan, native Buddhists in Burma (Myanmar). There is no link between being a “person of colour” and being a Muslim, so Muslims need to stop using this spurious term of identity and renew their solidarity with their fellow Believers, be they Black, Asian or white. It may seem trite, a bit “can’t we just get along?” but fostering unity and brotherhood amonst Muslims across racial boundaries is vital. I should add that this development of dogmatism over race and racial differences being emphasised by progressive elements in the Muslim community is a new thing; until and in the period after 9/11, race really did not make friendships between Muslims of different backgrounds all that difficult, at least not in my experience in south London. Nobody was calling others out over ‘privilege’ or some minor faux pas or other. We need to get back to that because in the present time, none of us is safe.

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