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US ambassador to The Hague apologizes for making Muslim remarks after denial

The Guardian World news: Islam - 12 January, 2018 - 17:44

Pete Hoekstra says statements about Muslim migrants in the Netherlands were ‘simply wrong’ after last month telling a TV interviewer they were ‘fake news’

The new US ambassador to The Hague has apologised for saying Muslim migrants had created “no-go zones” and “burned” politicians in the Netherlands.

Related: 'This is the Netherlands, you have to answer questions': Dutch reporters confront new US envoy

Related: US ambassador to Panama quits and says he cannot serve under Trump

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Dutch Reporters Blast US Ambassador Pete Hoekstra For Lying About “No-Go Zones”

Loon Watch - 11 January, 2018 - 18:36

US Ambassador to The Netherlands, Peter Hoekstra (R) gestures as he speaks during a press conference at the US embassy, in The Hague, on January 10, 2018 after presenting his diplomatic credentials to The Netherlands’ King. / AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS (Photo credit should read JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)

The US Ambassador to the Netherlands, Peter Hoekstra, was under the impression that he could bullshit his way out of being held accountable for lies he propagated about “no-go zones” in the Netherlands (where Muslims supposedly don’t allow non-Muslims to enter), and Muslims are burning Dutch politicians to death.

The Dutch press, unlike the US media, seems to be more independent and less of a bunch of sycophants seeking to curry favor with whoever is in power.

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Review: House of Saud, episode 1

Indigo Jo Blogs - 10 January, 2018 - 18:43

A picture showing four men, three in traditional Arabic clothing and a fourth wearing a suit and tie, walking down a red carpet away from a large aeroplane in white "Kingdom" livery with three green stripes, the thickest of them around the main row of windows.So, last night the first episode of a three-part series on BBC2, House of Saud: A Family at War was broadcast. I commented on the trailer last night as the language had been troubling me since I first saw it. However, the first episode seemed not to give out the message I had been expecting of enthusiasm for crown prince Muhammad bin Salman’s reforms which have been widely praised in the western media which has been quieter about the repression accompanying them. Instead, it focussed on ‘history’ and the implication seemed to be that MbS could not be trusted because he was still a Saudi, still a Wahhabi and still the son of king Salman. While it did conclude with a segment on the ongoing war in Yemen which it rightly said was fought using British weapons, much of it consisted of Islamophobic and anti-Arab clichés, irrelevances and veiled attacks on Islam itself. (You can watch the episode here for the next month if you’re in the UK.)

The team’s mistrust of MbS stems from the fact that he is the son of king Salman who it says was the Saudi régime’s head of fundraising for its various charities for many years, charities it claimed were dedicated to spreading their own ‘conservative’ brand of Islam. Evidence for this apparently comes from Bosnia where a large Saudi-funded mosque exists (as they do in many cities in both the Muslim and western worlds) and where Muslims were turning their backs on “more tolerant” traditional versions of Islam. The Saudis also funded foreign mujahideen fighters who were active in the country during the Bosnian war in the early 1990s in which the Muslims were targeted for mass rape and genocide by their Serbian former neighbours. A local imam said that the Saudis targeted places where there was unemployment, a fair point given where “salafism” has prospered in the UK and USA.

However, two rather stupid statements gave away the ignorance of the team. One was that the foundation of the House of Saud was a “jihadi project”. It was not; it was a rebellion against the authority of the Ottoman empire which it regarded as heretical and this view was mutual. Jihad at that time was the prerogative of the Ottoman army which, even though the empire was not a pure Islamic state by that time, was defending the boundaries of Islam; their rebellion distracted from that objective. Second, Wahhabism was said to be all about taking Islam “back to the 7th century”, a classic Islamophobic trope in which “the 7th century” is used as a byword for backwardness and barbarism. All Islamic practice stems from the practice of the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) and his Companions and this has not changed a great deal; a few traditions have been added but the main forms of worship such as the five daily prayers, weekly communal prayer for men, fasting in the month of Ramadan and so on, have not changed at all. Saudi Arabia no more resembles 7th century Arabia than any other Muslim country does; it has modern forms of transport and technology, schools and universities (you had no Islamic studies departments back then), hospitals and so on which were not available in that time, and you get Muslim regions much more primitive than modern (urban) Saudi Arabia (parts of Yemen, most of west Africa) in which traditional practices still hold sway. It is these traditions that Wahhabis regard as baseless innovations (bid’ah) and in some cases idolatry (shirk) and advocate the abolition of. So, it is not a “primitivist” sect or ideology at all.

A big plank of evidence against Salman was that he presented an award to the Indian Muslim preacher Zakir Naik, who is accused of inspiring or fomenting terrorism, again without any serious evidence. Apparently a few people who had been involved in terrorism had been influenced by his lectures; however, they were extremely popular and could be found in mainstream Islamic bookshops alongside those of Hamza Yusuf, Ahmed Deedat and others and probably still can (though many of them have closed). They had his tapes because a lot of Muslims did, as was also the case with Anwar al-Awlaki. Naik was shown saying he was “with the terrorists” because they were terrorising the world’s biggest terrorists (the Americans), a clear reference to George W Bush’s threat that “you are either with us or with the terrorists” rather than a direct advocacy of terrorist violence.

After ominously telling us that Naik’s influence had even reached this mainly Hindu village, they interviewed a Hindu woman whose son had converted to Islam after hearing some of Naik’s tapes and has since asked her to become Muslim on several occasions, though there is no apparent suggestion that he had become involved in terrorism at all, just the he’d become Muslim. It was acknowledged that Naik had no direct influence on anyone’s decision to be a terrorist and no personal awareness of their plans or actions but that he helped people in that direction, a similar claim that was made about Wahhabism itself; it’s portrayed as a “gateway” to more extreme ideologies without a whole lot of proof. Although the claim is tirelessly repeated that most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, terrorists (including leaders of al-Qa’ida and ISIS) have come from all over, including places Wahhabism is not dominant. The history of political repression, torture and in some cases civil war in some of the countries they come from was not discussed in this programme.

A few minutes early on in the programme was dedicated to a lawsuit being brought by families of 9/11 victims against the Saudi government against whom they say they have pages and pages of evidence that they bore responsibility for it because the money to pay for the attack came from Saudi. However, I can lay a fairly safe bet that the lawsuit will fail because the Saudis will claim sovereign or diplomatic immunity, as they have done when sued in foreign courts over matters such as torture and discrimination. It could also fail because they may not reasonably have been able to stop private citizens donating to whichever causes they liked, especially if the money that was later spent on weapons was raised under the pretence of humanitarian aid or similar — reasonably in the sense that it does not block a lot of legitimate money transfer and cause poverty, such as happened when Barakaat, used by Somalis to send money home, was closed by the US government on the grounds that it channeled money to terrorists. The 9/11 hijackings did not require an enormous amount of finance, in any case; they used tools everyone has access to as weapons, not guns or explosives. (Michael Moore, a fairly frequent Saudi-blamer, suggested that you wouldn’t learn how to fly an airliner into a building at a small flying school in Florida but in the air force, most likely Saudi Arabia’s in their case, but they do not make that claim here.)

The programme correctly said that Saudi Arabia has its own agenda, chiefly pursuing its rivalry with Iran and destabilising régimes loyal to Iran such as that of Assad of Syria, and will support groups hostile to Assad and Iran even if they are reactionary or even associated with al-Qa’ida; there was a section on arms seized in the conflict in Syria which had been traced back to Bulgaria which had sold them ostensibly to Saudi Arabia which uses British and American weapons, not the Soviet-designed arms Bulgaria produces. It speculated that the weapons had been transported to Jordan and then smuggled over the border into Syria or Iraq, but did not answer what role the Saudis had in sourcing those weapons. It also did not really ask what Bulgaria was doing selling arms to a country which it surely knows would not use them.

This programme has a distinct ring of propaganda about it. It offers untrue tropes about Wahhabism and Islam itself and tries to rouse suspicion about the Saudis and anyone associated with them on spurious grounds but, essentially, because they are Muslims — influencing someone to become Muslim is used as proof of extremism. They play into the hands of the Hindu fascist government in India and the movement it is based in, which is a violent and sectarian movement associated with lynchings, rapes and riots and which portrays conversion to Islam as part of a “jihad” in which young people are ‘influenced’ by malign forces rather than making free choices. In its coverage of terrorism in India, it ignores the history of Indian repression in Kashmir (and BJP/RSS thuggery in India itself which was well-established by 2008) which is the source of much of the Muslim antagonism against India. Finally, it fails to even consider the role of political repression in fomenting terrorism and sympathy for al-Qa’ida, and this repression as often comes from pro-western régimes in places like Saudi Arabia itself as well as Egypt, Tunisia before 2011 and Morocco as from historically pro-Eastern Bloc governments such as in Algeria and Syria.

In addition, the caption for this episode on the BBC website says “This episode examines the leader’s commitment to end extremism and to return to moderate Islam”, but it does no such thing; it only examines his father’s deeds. I have no problem with criticism of Saudi Arabia or any Saudi royal, but do your research and criticise them for what they do, not for who they are, and remember that lingering suspicion is not proof and that repetition does not make anything true.

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'Historic step': Greek PM hails change to limit power of sharia law

The Guardian World news: Islam - 10 January, 2018 - 02:54

New law allows minority to opt for Greece’s secular legal system instead of Islamic law to resolve divorce, child custody and inheritance matters

Greece’s Muslim minority will be able to resolve family disputes before Greek courts rather than under Islamic sharia law after the parliament on Tuesday changed a century-old legacy.

The prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, immediately called the vote an “historic step” as it “extended equality before the law to all Greeks”.

Related: Confrontational Erdoğan stuns Greek hosts on Athens visit

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Method acting

Indigo Jo Blogs - 9 January, 2018 - 20:37

A picture of James FrancoA Twitter defence of James Franco (right), who has been accused of sexual assault explicitly by one actress and implicitly by others:

If you read closely, it said it happened during filming of Palo Alto. The movie stars Franco as a man who seduces a younger woman. James Franco is a method actor. Bad judgement yes, but you know how method actors immerse themselves in roles.

I hope nobody casts this guy in any film about the Holocaust or any other atrocity.

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What is a revolution anyway?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 9 January, 2018 - 18:51

A still showing a group of soldiers marching in front of a larger-than-life portrait of crown prince Muhammad bin Salman, a middle-aged dark-white man with a thick black moustache and beard, wearing a red-and-white keffiyeh or Arab-style headscarf.I’ve been seeing trailers on BBC TV for a documentary on the changes being forced upon Saudi Arabia by the new crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman (his father, the actual king Salman is believed to have dementia). The show, House of Saud: A Family at War starts this evening at 9pm on BBC2. The trailer referred to MbS’s having “launched a revolution” and featured an ‘expert’ saying “this leadership has taken steps which the previous leadership, for fifty years, was afraid of taking” which seemed consistent with the western media’s adulation for him and his agenda, with a few progressive changes such as allowing women to drive overshadowing the repression. The truth is that this is not a revolution by any stretch of the imagination.

What even is a revolution? Generally speaking it means where power is seized from outside or below with the intention of making major political and social change. In reality, genuine popular revolutions are rare because the masses rarely have the military might to overthrow an entrenched, repressive state; what are often perceived as revolutions are usually the outcomes of civil wars (Russia), palace coups (Romania) or military coups (Portugal). But an existing ruler within an autocratic system making changes is not a revolution, particularly when they do not even resemble the sort of changes a from-below revolution might make.

I’ve not been to Saudi Arabia and don’t read the Arab media (even in English) much. But what I do know about his changes is that they include allowing women to drive and allowing cinemas to open in the country — both welcome changes for many people, the first especially, but hardly revolutionary. The rest of the Muslim world has allowed women to drive for most of its history, even in very conservative countries such as Yemen; only Afghanistan under the Taliban and the regions controlled by ISIS are exceptions. Similarly, most countries have cinemas. Saudis have TVs and computers and can get films down the line from abroad on both. I’m sure they can get films that the censors will certainly not allow to be shown in cinemas when they open.

It’s widely known that the Saudis loathe al-Jazeera, the nearest thing there is in the Arab world to a free (as in freedom) news source, as do their fellow Gulf autocrats in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. To that end they have imposed a blockade on Qatar expecting it to just cave in and close al-Jazeera down and expel a few people the Saudis do not like. They were expecting Trump to back them, but this support has not been forthcoming and Qatar has held out with the support of Turkey and Iran — forming a union of three major tendencies in Islam (Wahhabism in Qatar, Shi’ism in Iran and Sunni-Sufism in Turkey) against the increasingly secularist authoritarianism of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The Saudis have also locked up well-respected religious leaders such as Salman al-Awdah, in his case for refusing to tweet a denunciation of Qatar on demand from the government, and Saudi TV has been seen cutting off scholars who say that what MbS is doing is against Islam (as with Saalih al-Fawzaan who disapproved of opening cinemas).

So, it rather looks like MbS is starting on another chapter of the history of Saudi Arabia as an absolute monarchy and in some senses this marks a return to the repression of King Fahd’s period as king (during which Shaikh Salman al-Awdah was also imprisoned) with less piety, but certainly not an autocratic modernist like Kemal Atatürk, Reza Shah Pahlavi or Habib Bourguiba (Allah forbid). He is building bridges with foreign powers such as Israel (regarded as hostile even by the British foreign office!) while sowing divisions among Muslims with his vendetta against Qatar. He is no revolutionary, just a different sort of dictator to his predecessors.

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Cold callers getting more sophisticated

Indigo Jo Blogs - 8 January, 2018 - 22:49

Cartoon of a lawyer chasing after an ambulanceEarlier today while drinking my coffee I got a call from a woman who told me that there was some sort of payout waiting for me as a result of a vehicle incident that wasn’t my fault. I told her as soon as she mentioned that she’d been told of such an incident that in fact she hadn’t because no such incident had taken place. I asked her for details of the alleged incident, such as the date and location, and the registration number. She gave me a number (the number of my car) and a date (February 2015, suspiciously close to when I bought the car) but couldn’t furnish me with the location.

Normally, I tell these sorts of callers that no, there was no incident and can you please stop calling me as I’m not interested but this woman managed to keep me on the line which is a first for these sorts of people. I explained that if there had been a report of an incident, the location would have been included because it’s a fundamental detail in any insurance claim. I’ve filled out a few of these forms in my driving career and you always have to state the location. But no, she just said the only details she’d been given (as was standard in her industry) was a name, date, phone number and registration number. The date did ring a bell, partly because that month I did actually have a minor incident in a truck — not my car — and partly because someone did hit my car when it was parked in a locked workplace car park around the time she mentioned and caused minor damage to one of the doors. But I’m not sure exactly when. If I could get some money out of the people responsible I’d be glad, but I don’t know if it went as far as an insurance claim. I asked my agency to ask the client to investigate and have whoever had the CCTV footage of the day in question to have a look at them. But it didn’t go any further, to my knowledge, and the incident I was involved in with the truck was settled then.

So, I told the lady that she should go and ask her colleagues to get the details of the ‘incident’ so we can see if it matches what I know, because if she was acting off a real insurance claim, those details would be available. She agreed to go and ask her colleagues and get back to me at some point in the future. I said, “no, call me back this afternoon or tomorrow” as it must be easy enough to find these things out.

That was 12 hours ago and I’ve not heard anything back from her.

So, it looks like insurance claim cold-callers won’t take no for an answer anymore — if you just say no, they will use some trick to keep you on the phone. If you don’t know that you’ve had an accident, you haven’t. Really, you’d remember it. The easiest way to deal with them is to hang up.

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Book Review: Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff

Inayat's Corner - 8 January, 2018 - 21:33

It still shocks. Bringing to mind Donald Trump’s victory over all the other Republican candidates and his triumph over Hillary Clinton in the Nov 2016 United States presidential election still causes otherwise normal happy beings to sink their heads into their hands and begin to weep.

This egotistical, know-nothing, debauched, loud-mouthed braggart had become the Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful army in the world. We all quite understandably wondered about what a Trump presidency would mean for the rest of the world.

We had so many questions. What sort of team would Trump create around him? What would be his policy priorities? Was he really going to try to ban overseas Muslims from visiting the United States as he had declared during his campaign rallies?

As if to answer these and many other questions, the journalist Michael Wolff sought to become a fly-on-the-wall and by his own account “took up a semi-permanent seat on a couch” in the West Wing of the White House. He conducted more than two hundred interviews and the result has been a juicy page-turner of a book that has shot straight to No 1 in the Amazon bestseller charts and has infuriated Trump who tried desperately to prevent the book’s publication. Trump, of course, failed.

Wolff does not waste any time and his book hurtles along at a blistering pace. Right away Wolff sneaks us in to an exclusive dinner in a Manhattan restaurant just two weeks before Trump’s inauguration in Jan 2017. At the table is Roger Ailes, the influential former head of the right-wing news channel, Fox News, and Steve Bannon – Trump’s campaign chief and soon to be appointed as Chief Strategist in the Trump administration. Ailes wants to know about Trump – “Does he get it?”  Bannon assures him that Trump indeed understands what is required of him.

“Day one we’re moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s all in. Sheldon”—Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire, far-right Israel defender, and Trump supporter—“is all in. We know where we’re heading on this…Let Jordan take the West Bank, let Egypt take Gaza. Let them deal with it. Or sink trying. The Saudis are on the brink, Egyptians are on the brink, all scared to death of Persia…”

Once in office though, Trump’s ineptitude comes to the fore right away, and he curses his staff for failing to get him more positive news coverage. Trump wants to be liked and can’t understand why the liberal sections of the media are so critical of him. His staff are terrified of Trump’s tantrums and spend large parts of their time furthering their ambitions by trying to undermine other staff members. Wolff helpfully shares with us a private email he got hold of about the Trump administration sent in April 2017 purportedly by Gary Cohn – who had been drafted in from Goldman Sachs to become Trump’s Chief Economic Adviser – to some of his colleagues:

It’s worse than you can imagine. An idiot surrounded by clowns. Trump won’t read anything—not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored. And his staff is no better. Kushner is an entitled baby who knows nothing. Bannon is an arrogant prick who thinks he’s smarter than he is. Trump is less a person than a collection of terrible traits. No one will survive the first year but his family. I hate the work, but feel I need to stay because I’m the only person there with a clue what he’s doing. The reason so few jobs have been filled is that they only accept people who pass ridiculous purity tests, even for midlevel policy-making jobs where the people will never see the light of day. I am in a constant state of shock and horror.

Bannon finds it difficult to hide his contempt for the rival “Jarvanka” Trump faction led by Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband Jared Kushner, and warns about the FBI investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller which he is convinced will ensnare Jared Kushner and his family’s alleged dealings with Russia and has a good chance of bringing down the Trump presidency.

“You realize where this is going,” Bannon continued. “This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose Weissmann first and he is a money laundering guy. Their path to fucking Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr., and Jared Kushner … It’s as plain as a hair on your face… . It goes through all the Kushner shit. They’re going to roll those two guys up and say play me or trade me. But … ‘executive privilege!’ ” Bannon mimicked. “ ‘We’ve got executive privilege!’ There’s no executive privilege! We proved that in Watergate.”

You will have seen numerous extracts from Wolff’s book on TV headlines over the past few days. But to my (admittedly naughty) mind, the funniest anecdote has not been shared on television and with probably good reason. Back in July 2017 on the advice of the Jarvanka faction (and against the advice of Bannon and Trump’s Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus and Trump’s Press Secretary, Sean Spicer) Trump announced that he was appointing Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci as his Communications Director. Spicer immediately resigned. Priebus also followed him out the door within the week. Just days after his appointment, the Mooch – having drunk a bit more alcohol than usual – gave an interview to a reporter from the New Yorker magazine and proceeded to slag off some senior Trump staff including Steve Bannon. “I’m not Steve Bannon. I’m not trying to suck my own cock,” said the Mooch. Wolff informs us that:

…Bannon learned about the piece when fact-checkers from the magazine called him for comment about Scaramucci’s accusation that he sucked his own cock.

Just priceless.

The book ends with the firing of Steve Bannon who returns to Breitbart News and – convinced that Trump will not be able to stand for a second term – begins plotting his comeback – this time as a presidential candidate in the 2020 US elections.

As we now know, things to date have not gone as planned for Steve Bannon. And for Trump? Well, Mueller’s investigation continues to move forward inexorably to the evident discomfort and mounting panic in the Jarvanka camp.

Let’s all hope that justice prevails.


French town bans pork-free school meals in move branded 'anti-Muslim'

The Guardian World news: Islam - 8 January, 2018 - 21:28

Decision by far-right local authority in southern France, affecting about 150 mainly Muslim pupils, has been called ‘an attack on the rights of children’

A far-right local authority in southern France on Monday scrapped pork-free school meals, a move branded “anti-Muslim” or “anti-Jewish” by an equality minister.

Julien Sanchez, the National Front mayor of Beaucaire, a town south of Avignon, abolished the scheme, brought in by his predecessor, on the first day of the new school term.

Related: Pork or nothing: how school dinners are dividing France

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Abortion and Down’s syndrome: I’m with Kasich

Indigo Jo Blogs - 7 January, 2018 - 19:35

A wide-angle photograph of the inside of the Rotunda at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. The picture is taken looking up into a dome which is topped with blue, yellow and orange stained glass and the dome is light orange with blue alcoves. At the bottom is a mosaic floor and there is a painting of what looks like a battle scene, with a US flag flying, on the back wall. Through an archway at the back you can see a staircase leading upwards on both sides, and past that, a door to the outside.In an article for the website Global Comment, the British feminist writer Phillipa Willitts this week opposed the new law in the US state of Ohio that bans abortion where a foetus has been diagnosed with Down’s syndrome. The law, recently signed by Republican governor John Kasich, imposes penalties (potentially a fine, a prison sentence and the loss of their medical licence) only on the doctor who administers the abortion, and nothing on the woman “other than not being allowed control over their own body”. North Dakota and Indiana have passed similar legislation, the latter having been struck down as unconstitutional by a federal judge and the former redundant because the only clinic in the state that performs abortions does not do so after 16 weeks. Willitts claims that the law was campaigned for chiefly by pro-life groups rather than by disability rights groups, and that the people behind it do not care for disabled people other than by forcing their mothers to carry them to term. This is, I believe, inaccurate.

In many parts of the developed world, disabled foetuses are an exception to the usual time limits on abortion and the UK is no exception: the usual limit is 24 weeks but the limit is waived in the case of undefined “serious handicap”. The lack of any definition to this term means that abortion has been allowed where the ‘handicap’ consists of a cleft palate, something that could be rectified surgically early on in the child’s life. There has been litigation on this subject but there is no legislative move to change it, perhaps because parliament is dominated by people who are not disabled and who perfectly understand the desire of other parents not to be the parents of disabled children — the same sort of people who could make excuses for a mother who smothered her three young disabled children to death in London in 2014. (In Ohio, the time limit is 20 weeks.)

The difference between abortion on the grounds of the baby having Down’s syndrome and any other early abortion is that the baby with Down’s syndrome was wanted up until the point where the impairment was discovered. The argument that no woman should be expected to go through pregnancy and birth for a child she does not want does not, therefore, apply, and nor does the aside “other than not being allowed control over their own body”; at the point where the doctor is punished, the woman has already been allowed this control and the pregnancy and birth are not a punishment but something the woman would have had some clue about when she conceived the child. While it’s true that some women in this situation will be poor or be disabled themselves, a large number will be in stable relationships and ready to start a family — just as long as the child is normal, and this is why there is a greater moral objection to it than to allowing early abortions of simply unwanted foetuses. If you simply do not want to carry a child or cannot for health reasons, it does not matter whether the child has Down’s syndrome or not, but there never has been any guarantee of a ‘normal’ or perfect child.

As for the claim that “conservatives do not care for disabled children once they’re born”, a standard trope of pro-abortionists: I have come across a few incidences where it was the Right rather than the (liberal) Left which defended the life or liberty of a disabled person other than an unborn child; the cases of Terri Schiavo (the brain-damaged woman whose husband was trying to turn off her life support and ultimately succeeded) and Justina Pelletier (a young girl with a mitochondrial disease who was held in a psychiatric unit in Boston for a year and a half because the doctors there disputed her diagnosis and decided her impairment was psychosomatic). It is often people with right-wing, anti-state and anti-liberal opinions who defend children with ME and other chronic illnesses from doctors who deem their conditions to be psychological and social workers influenced by them who take them from their families. This is often as much a matter of distrust of the state, professionals or intellectuals as support for their rights of disabled people, and in the US especially, these people generally support tax and budget cuts that detract from disabled people’s services. But when their very life or liberty is at stake, pro-lifers are often more than ready to support them.

A section of Willitts’s article is given to answering concerns about Down’s syndrome being “eradicated” through abortion; in some countries in Europe, the rate of abortion is such that almost no babies are born with the condition. Recently there was a video circulated on social media in which a man with Down’s syndrome was told on Dutch national TV that he cost the taxpayer an extra €48,000 per year. Unlike the United States, much of Europe has strong public health and welfare systems and despite all the talk of Christian heritage and values, much of the population has no religious impediment to aborting disabled children: they are seen as a burden, and abortion becomes a quite rational way of reducing that burden. It is not to relieve wombs but wallets: the mother can always go and conceive another child who, it is presumed, will be of greater benefit to her and to society — a worthwhile investment. Willitts hints at this herself when she says “that they will have to bring them up for another 18 years; not an easy thing to do with an unwanted child”; bringing up any child is expensive and these were initially wanted pregnancies.

Any time the issue of tightening up the law on abortion in cases of disability arises, feminists will always object on the grounds that a “woman’s choice” outweighs the issue that these abortions are motivated by disablism — the same is true when gender-selective abortion comes up, despite the fact that this can have dire consequences if large numbers of girls are being aborted, as is known to happen in India, although the same is not thought to take place here, even among communities of Indian origin. Some of them seem to see any extra restriction as a “slippery slope” towards banning abortion altogether, which perhaps has some validity in the US context where conservatives are seeking to get an anti-abortion law to the Supreme Court again to overturn Roe v Wade, but none anywhere else, and there is every chance that a law which outlaws later-than-normal abortions in cases of minor foetal abnormality (i.e. makes them subject to the same rules as other abortions) might pass the Supreme Court but a total abortion ban might not.

Willitts rightly says that the world we live in is ‘disablist’ and that “the thought of introducing a child into it that will face that disablism throughout its life can feel cruel”. But there are many groups of oppressed people in our society and only disabled children can be snuffed out before they are born even though they are all no more or less difficult to gestate and give birth to as one with Down’s syndrome. The difference is that raising a disabled child takes more commitment and expense and is more likely to require the parent(s) to fight for their child’s rights and well-being. I agree that there are better places to start in making the world — and the USA in particular, at the present time — a less disablist place but this is still progress. It does not outlaw abortions for unwanted pregnancies, only where a wanted pregnancy becomes unwanted because a foetus is not perfect (if anything, other impairments which are still liveable-with should be included), and does not penalise women.

I’m in the UK and the law in Ohio is unlikely to be copied here. The test for Down’s syndrome also tests for two other, much more severe, trisomies (Edwards and Patau’s syndromes, or Trisomy 18 and 13 respectively) and is done between the 10th and 14th week of pregnancy, so the term limit both here and in Ohio would not affect this; it’s an early abortion by most definitions. I am more interested in seeing the term limits more strictly applied where disability could not really be called serious, such that no child is ever aborted again at seven months’ gestation for something as trivial as a cleft palate. But I also believe that Down’s syndrome should not be a reason for a wanted pregnancy to be aborted.

Image source: Wikimedia, contributed by Bestbudbrian. Licenced under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike licence, v3.0 unported.

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Things that don’t mean optional

Indigo Jo Blogs - 6 January, 2018 - 20:11

The entrance to a British hospital which consists of Victorian red-brick buildings with a more modern addition towards the rear.Earlier last week (before the story about the multiple rapist John Worboys being released from prison) the news was dominated by two stories, one about health and one about transport. The first was that the government had instructed British NHS hospitals to cancel ‘elective’ surgeries and outpatient appointments for the whole month of January in response to increased emergency demand, and there was much discussion about what that says about the government’s health policy and how important the NHS is to the government. The second was that rail fares were to go up well above inflation for the umpteenth consecutive new year. These were the focus of conversation on the morning radio talk shows I listen to when driving in the morning, such as BBC London’s early morning show and Vanessa Feltz’s phone-in after it, and the Today programme on Radio 4. In the case of the transport story, someone referred to off-peak fares as ‘leisure’ fares, as opposed to the peak-hour fares paid by commuters who travel before 9.30am. This tied in to something that stuck out about the coverage of ‘elective’ surgeries: it wasn’t stressed enough that these surgeries aren’t optional, even if they’re not urgent.

Put simply, an elective is any procedure which is scheduled and which a patient needs to consent to, as opposed to an urgent procedure such as is necessitated by a car accident or a sudden illness. Procedures such as mastectomies and tumour removals undergone by people with cancer are classed as ‘electives’; they do not have to be done right this second but they have to be done soon or the cancer may become inoperable or the tumour may do more damage if it’s in a location such as the spinal cord or brain, and some cancers are fast-growing. A couple of years ago I heard on a BBC call-in (on You and Yours if I remember rightly) that the caller’s mother had been scheduled to undergo an operation to remove a tumour and it was cancelled twice because her bed had been needed by people with flu; by the time she could get a bed, her tumour was inoperable. In another case, a young girl with a tumour on her pituitary gland had her treatment delayed for more than a year because her symptoms were assumed to be things less serious or to be psychosomatic; when the operation finally happened, it left the girl blind. The latter was not because of lack of beds or cancellations, admittedly, but it shows how important promptness is in the case of some ‘elective’ procedures. These are not facelifts and boob jobs.

I couldn’t listen to a lot of the discussion; it all came back to the government who bizarrely made out that this was a ‘normal’ action to take during winter. That strikes me as ridiculous; cancelling all electives (assuming they were using the term correctly and did not actually mean “operations that can wait”) is a sign that the NHS is under-resourced and that comes down to government funding. The Tories cannot have failed to notice that some NHS hospitals (like the one here in Kingston, the northern part of which is represented by Tory MP Zac Goldsmith) have whole units dedicated to scheduled day surgeries and to specific areas of medicine — are these teams going to be told to drop everything because someone might be admitted with the flu?

An aerial view of London's Waterloo station, showing lines approaching the station from the bottom of the picture and then the curved platforms, which are under metal and glass canopies, sweeping round towards the top right. Various buildings appear around it including a circular IMAX cinema, the South Bank Centre with a green roof, and the Shell building, a square C-shaped 10-storey art deco building.In the discussion about the massive fare increase, a presenter mentioned ‘leisure’ fares, meaning off-peak “walk-on” fares which do not involve a reservation. The fact that you can get a large reduction off your fare if you buy an advance ticket (which ties you to a particular seat on a particular train, and if you miss your train, you have to buy the walk-on ticket) is commonly used as an excuse to justify the high cost of “walk-on” fares, with the implication that the “smart” or “well-organised” traveller doesn’t need them but only those with more money than sense buy them. Quite apart from the fact that organisational difficulties are a common symptom of some cognitive impairments such as dementia, there are other reasons to need a walk-on fare besides being too lazy or disorganised to book ahead; you could have a relative in hospital in another city and been told they are unlikely to make it until the end of the week; if you book an advance ticket they will be dead before it is valid. Advance tickets are as likely to be used for leisure purposes as walk-on fares, if not more so; walk-on fares are for short-notice travel and this may well be the result of a family emergency. On top of this, not all routes are eligible for advance tickets, and when you need to travel there may not be a bookable seat, so if you have to visit your relative in a hospital a long distance away (a common experience for families of people in the mental health system, especially adolescents and those with learning disabilities), you may be stuck with one of these ‘leisure’ tickets, all the more so if they have just been admitted and crying out for their mum and/or dad.

So, these things do not mean optional or trivial. Elective surgeries are still matters of life and death and can’t always wait long. People’s journeys do still matter even if they’re not a morning commute. A group of patients whose needs can be put on the back burner; a group of travellers the rail operators can feel justified in milking for money. I am not suggesting one is equivalent to the other, but reporters assumed both were trivial and were not challenged.

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CJ Werleman on Quilliam’s Faulty Report Tying Culture, Race To “Grooming Gangs”

Loon Watch - 5 January, 2018 - 19:47

Quilliam, a UK-based “counter-extremism” organization favored by racists and bigots on both sides of the pond, and one whose funding we’ve exposed and whose leaders’ ideological affiliations we’ve analyzed in the past released a report whose basis and conclusion run on the familiar, tried and true racist formula of attempting to tie culture, religion to criminality. CJ Werleman discusses why it isn’t only absurdly flawed but a reward for its racist backers.

via. Medium

Given all of the above, it’s not surprising then that the report found that 84 percent of 264 convictions of grooming gang members were men of Asian origin, and even less surprising, it concluded with an assertion these gangs of mostly British-Pakistani men “have been influenced by the cultural conditions of their home country and a wider failure of British society to integrate these men into their adoptive culture.”

Basically, it reads as the sum total of every racist, white nationalist’s wet dream: a report that not so subtly evangelizes the purity and perfection of white society, one that is corrupted only by external villains and influences. The report reads like the platform of any ultranationalist, far right political party, blaming the demise of Western society on immigration, multiculturalism, and lack of ethnic assimilation. “We’’ll be saved, our jobs will return, and our streets will be safer when they leave or stop arriving” is the subtext to every racist narrative.

Read the entire article here

'There's a lot of repenting': why Australian prisoners are converting to Islam

The Guardian World news: Islam - 5 January, 2018 - 19:00

Experts say prison conversions can be a positive force, giving inmates hope, structure and a pathway to rehabilitation. It’s when harsh conditions and segregation are introduced that radicalisation becomes a danger

The image was designed to shock: dozens of Muslims prostrated towards Mecca behind the razor wire of Goulburn’s Supermax jail.

“Jailhouse jihad,” the headline blared above a story warning that Australia’s prisons were becoming a hotbed of extremism.

Related: Radicalisation in Australia: Muslim leaders work to dissipate 'fixation' with Isis among youths

The last concern I have with these brothers inside is them using religion in the wrong way

The harsher the conditions, the more hostile the conditions, the greater the chance of prison radicalisation

Related: Prisons at breaking point but Australia is still addicted to incarceration

Related: Turnbull ministers welcome new NSW prison for radical inmates

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Muslim women speaking up against violence are silenced. We must amplify their voices | Maliha Aqueel

The Guardian World news: Islam - 2 January, 2018 - 18:00

It’s telling that many Muslim men deal with Islamophobia by policing the voices of Muslim women instead of addressing the legacy of patriarchal violence

Muslim women inhabit a uniquely marginalised space in a world where the existence of rampant Islamophobia both disregards their voices in the wider world and is also used to justify silencing their voices within Muslim communities – by prioritising the issue of anti-Muslim racism over the struggle against patriarchal oppressions.

Related: 'Honour' killings, hypocrisy, and the moral policing reserved only for women | Maliha Aqueel

Related: If you want to know about Muslim women's rights, ask Muslim women | Susan Carland

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German far-right MP investigated over anti-Muslim social media posts

The Guardian World news: Islam - 2 January, 2018 - 03:14

Beatrix von Storch, deputy leader of AfD party, could be charged with incitement to hatred, and was temporarily banned from Twitter and Facebook

A far-right German MP is under police investigation over inflammatory anti-Muslim comments she made on social media on New Year’s Eve.

Related: Berlin New Year's Eve party sets up 'safe zone' for women

Related: Germany approves plans to fine social media firms up to €50m

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Opposition to the state of Israel is not racist

Indigo Jo Blogs - 1 January, 2018 - 22:55

Picture of Ahed Tamimi, a white teenage girl with wavy light brown hair wearing a red and black patterned top under a black and white patterned jacket with a black and white Palestinian keffiyeh tied at her waist, standing next to Cyril Ramaphosa, a large Black man in late middle age wearing a shirt without a tie under a black blazer.Why anti-Zionism is seen as antisemitism | Letters | World news | The Guardian

This is a letter in today’s Guardian from Joseph Pearlman (who appears to be an economist at City of London University, judging by a Google search for his name), claiming that a previous letter-writer “makes the charge that UK governments have been unclear about the difference between antisemitism and anti-Zionism” before claiming:

Most Jews in the UK would challenge the idea that there is much difference between the two. In recent years, anti-Zionism has manifested itself as opposition to the existence of a specifically Jewish state. In a 2015 survey, The Attitudes of British Jews to Israel, “90% of British Jews support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state”, the implication being that current anti-Zionism will be experienced as antisemitism.

Most of us who are opposed to the existence of Israel do not particularly mind whether the Jews have a state somewhere in the world. The idea of a Jewish state originated in Europe as a result of persecutions they were experiencing there, at the hands of other Europeans. Our concern is to end the occupation of Palestine and the oppression of the native people, known as the Palestinians although, as Zionists never miss an opportunity to remind us (“who was the leader of the Palestinians before Arafat?”), that name is of recent origin and derives from the name of the former League of Nations mandate. He then ‘splains us that “there has been a continuous history of Jewish settlement there for 3,000 years, so the demand for a Jewish state was not inconsistent with demands for their own state by ethnic groups in other countries”; the difference is that those other ethnic groups were not gifted a tract of someone else’s land by a colonial power. In fact, some of them still do not have their own state today and many are more oppressed than the Jews are in most western countries now — African Americans, for example, have no self-determination other than as a minority in a white-dominated democracy.

He continues:

This does not, however, continue over as unmitigated support for the Israeli government. In the same survey, 68% of British Jews “feel a sense of despair every time Israel approves further expansion of settlements on the West Bank”. This is consistent again with the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which states that “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”.

The problem is that Israel is not like other countries: it was founded on terrorism by settlers intent on expelling natives from their land and aided and abetted by foreign colonial powers. Criticism of other oppressive régimes does not call for the destruction of the country involved because usually dictatorships are of an élite over the mass of the population, usually supporting the interests of a particular class though sometimes of an ethnic group. It was of course possible to want to see the end of the Pinochet dictatorship without desiring the destruction of Chile. Zionists, however, regard the disenfranchisement of the Palestinian native population as vital to the Jewish ‘character’ of the state of Israel and treat calls for these people to be given citizenship and the vote in the polity which rules their lives to be tantamount to demanding the destruction of the state itself. Yet a country is not a democracy when not everyone has a say. Regardless of the differences in how the two scenarios came about, Israel is no more a democracy than South Africa under Apartheid was, and people campaigned for the end of that system not out of hatred for white South Africans but out of hatred for oppression.

Finally, Pearlman’s letter is somewhat presumptuous in telling us all whether British Jews considered anti-Zionism to be anti-Semitism or not, as if that was the only thing that mattered. Since when did the supporters of an oppressive system get to dictate to everyone else what was acceptable to say about that system? It’s highly likely that there is a large cohort of people who regard themselves as Jewish or who are of Jewish origin who were not included in the polls he was referring to; he is talking about synagogue-goers and Jewish Chronicle readers. Besides — I have found over the years that Zionists are among the most racist people, freely using derogatory language about Palestinians and other Arabs, as well as about eastern Europeans.

The facts are that (i) another nation has a claim to the land known as Israel and (ii) that Israel is a state of oppressors, a state of thugs, a state of criminals. If this criminal occupation can only be ended by the destruction of the state, that suits us and it does not trouble me to be called an anti-Semite by its supporters.

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I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan review – uplifting and empowering

The Guardian World news: Islam - 1 January, 2018 - 08:00
This debut novel about a coming-of-age British Muslim teenager is fresh and funny, while also tackling serious issues

Early in 2015, three Bethnal Green schoolgirls fled to Syria to join the self-proclaimed Islamic State. I Am Thunder is a response to that event, written by secondary school teacher Khan to explore the lives of young British Muslims.

His 15-year-old protagonist, Muzna, dreams of being a writer; her friend’s response, that “you don’t hear of many Muslim authors, do you?”, seems only too fair considering the dearth of non-white voices in UK publishing. Muzna feels invisible; her life is a jumble of teenage angst, stifled by loving but controlling parents and the sharp edge of racism everywhere.

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Look after your health, and fight for your healthcare

Indigo Jo Blogs - 30 December, 2017 - 23:42

Picture of Erica Garner, a Black woman wearing a red sweatshirt with thin black horizontal stripes running across it. She also has a red ribbon pinned to her chest.Earlier today Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner who was choked to death by New York police for illegally selling cigarettes in 2014 (one of a series of unarmed Black Americans, mostly men, who died violent deaths at the hands of police in various states in the four years leading up to Trump’s election) died after having been in a coma since Christmas Day following a heart attack. I’ve seen a number of people on Twitter and Facebook claim that her death was contributed to her by what happened to her father and by the stress of being an activist: “This work takes a terrible toll on those who do the work despite their wounds. Reliving the pain, every time the families come out to speak, protest, write.”

I was pretty sure that Erica Garner must have had some chronic health condition and according to the BBC report her heart attack followed an asthma attack. She had had another heart attack earlier in the year “after a difficult pregnancy that ended with the birth of her son Eric — named for her father”. From personal experience I know that asthma can kill you regardless of your colour, class or your history of personal or family trauma or lack thereof: someone I know died very suddenly of it ten and a half years ago and he had no such history; he was in his 30s, happily married, living in a nice house with a job he liked. His name was Lee. (I even remember a young girl with no history of asthma dying of it during the hot summer of 1995, when pollution levels were high.) Erica Garner also had an enlarged heart, which can have a number of causes but complications include heart murmurs and failure, blood clots and cardiac arrest leading to sudden death.

I well understand the temptation to blame Erica’s death on the stress of losing her father and then throwing herself into the Black Lives Matter movement, but the truth is that these things at most worsened an already poor state of health. People in their 30s don’t die from broken hearts; that tends to happen to very elderly people after their spouses die (sometimes called “grieving widow syndrome” as it’s usually the man that dies first). A while ago I came across a video in which a woman who had suffered a stroke in her 30s, leaving her blind, blamed her condition on having “cried too much” after a relationship breakdown shortly before, but this struck me as rather unlikely, to say the least. (It’s unusual to see a woman blame a physical health event on her own emotions; they normally have to persuade doctors that their physical complaints aren’t psychosomatic.)

I am going to tell people in the light of the Erica Garner tragedy to look after their health: don’t do things that aggravate health conditions you know about (for example, don’t work in dusty environments without a mask if you have asthma), eat as healthily as you can afford to, don’t be embarrassed to see a doctor if you have a worrying change in your health (I’m talking to the men here in particular), and most of all don’t smoke — it contributes to so many illnesses including cancer (and not just lung cancer) and unlike other recreational drugs I can think of, does nothing else except making your breath and your surroundings stink and dulling your sense of taste. Some (including your doctor) might tell you not to have a child if you’re a woman with one chronic condition or another, but that’s your decision and I know for many women it’s more important than anything else.

But it also reminds us of the importance of public healthcare: people who aren’t wealthy and cannot afford insurance (and especially those with chronic conditions) need public healthcare and they need medicines to be affordable, especially things like inhalers and adrenaline injectors which are the focus for much profiteering. We must protect our health system from those whose sole interest is to make money and for whom curing disease and protecting people’s health is just a means to an end.

Both Lee and Erica were parents of young children who now have to grow up without them. Even if Erica’s son has a strong extended family, two of his close family are already gone. Stopping police violence and holding to account those responsible are vital, but so is guarding people’s health and making that possible by keeping vital medicines and basic care affordable if not free. I do not want to see more deaths like these two.

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Anti-sharia laws proliferate as Trump strikes hostile tone toward Muslims

The Guardian World news: Islam - 30 December, 2017 - 16:35

Twenty-three bills have been introduced in 18 state legislatures this year to ban the practice of Islamic law – critics say the aim is to spread fear about Muslims

Anti-sharia legislation is spreading in state legislatures across the US, as Donald Trump’s hostile stance towards Muslims appears to be emboldening rightwing Islamaphobes.

Related: Dearborn, Michigan: a divided city grappling with what it means to be Muslim and American

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