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Hope on racial prejudice, despite the Liam Neeson claims | Letters

The Guardian World news: Islam - 6 February, 2019 - 18:11
Readers respond to the controversial comments made by the actor

I agree wholeheartedly with every word Gary Younge has used to so eloquently express his views on the Liam Neeson confession (Journal, 6 February). However, he should not despair. Things are slowly changing, and I’m sure fewer people today are harbouring abominable secret thoughts of the kind Mr Neeson owned up to.

I speak from experience. Two years ago a man followed my daughter off a late night bus and attempted to rape her, and then ferociously attacked her with a large knife. She very nearly died from her multiple stab wounds.

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Review: Skipping School (Dispatches, Channel 4)

Indigo Jo Blogs - 5 February, 2019 - 23:51
A young boy wearing a pink T-shirt holding a wooden stick vertically in his hand, playing on a set of wooden logs stood against a tree branch.Kobi, whose parents took him out of school in protest at its all-work, no-play culture.

Last night, at the rather late hour of 10:15pm, Channel 4 broadcast an hour-long Dispatches programme about concerns that home-schooling is being used as a cover for illegal unregistered schools, that families are being forced into home-schooling by schools which “off-roll” their children because they have special needs, and that children have died of neglect unknown to the authorities until after they have died because local authorities have no way of knowing who is being home-schooled, especially if they were never sent to school as opposed to withdrawn. I know a few parents who are home-schooling for different reasons, and many of them have said this was a dreadfully biased programme which did not really show home-schooling as a positive choice but rather as something forced on some parents (unwillingly) by necessity and chosen by others for nefarious reasons, and the very title, a euphemism for truancy, gave the impression of bias from the beginning.

They interviewed a number of home-schooling families, only one of which — a middle-class couple which had withdrawn their son from school because they disapproved of the all-work, no-play culture — appeared to be educating their child successfully. The others included a mother with a son with a variety of health needs who had been accused of making him ill, another with dyslexia who had withdrawn her son because of his own special needs which the school were not meeting, but was struggling to even read herself and was getting no support, and a family of a daughter of secondary school age who, again, they had withdrawn because the school environment was threatening her mental health although she wanted to be in school. They also interviewed a retired headteacher who said that families were being forced into home-schooling because of schools “off-rolling” children, particularly those with special needs, and giving them the choice of finding another school or home-schooling; however, families are very much on their own, with the state providing no support even if it was the schools’ failure that led to their being withdrawn.

The last half of the programme was given over to the matter of abuse: eight-year-old Dylan Seabridge who died of scurvy in a remote village in Wales after local officials failed to investigate his situation, believing they had no right to as his father refused them entry to his home, and the matter of unregistered schools which often pose as home-schooling support centres but where in fact children spend the whole week. The first story was a tragedy but this single case does not outweigh so many situations in which children’s and young people’s physical and, especially, mental health is impacted by mainstream schools. The young autistic people featured in this programme really were in danger at school; some children have killed themselves as a result of bullying and others have had mental health crises so bad that they have needed to be admitted to hospital or sectioned. Children who have been in school have died as a result of parental abuse and sometimes the signs were missed by social services or others. Children in special school or hospital have died as a result of abuse or neglect there. Even if Dylan Seabridge had been on a register of home-schooled children, which is the proposed solution to these sorts of situations, his parents might have found a way to shield him from any inspection.

As for the unregistered schools, clearly Ofsted already have the power to investigate and bring prosecutions for these places whether they masquerade as home-schooling tuition centres or not. As the programme said, there is no way of making sure that the teachers who work in these places are vetted for criminal convictions or that they have any educational qualification. They featured one Muslim school which had been running under this pretence in west London whose owners were prosecuted; they also showed examples of the things which appeared in the school’s textbooks, including the statement that a husband should not have anal sex with his wife which is indeed an Islamic teaching. What age the pupils were given this information is not clear; if they are primary school age then it is clearly unacceptable, but if they are in their teens then this is quite acceptable given that this is a religious school and there is currently pressure to teach young people about sex at a younger and younger age.

The programme was not as bad in some respects as I had feared; there was no speculation about young people in home education being vulnerable to ‘radicalisation’, for example. This is significant as I know of parents who were fearful about moving to home education (in one case after their child experienced racism at school) because it might attract the attention of the police through the Prevent initiative. As it is, children have been interrogated by the police as a result of this system because of opinions they have expressed in class or in their work and some are being advised not to talk about politics at school from anything that could be considered an Islamic viewpoint.

Still, it showed home education in a mostly negative light, implying that it could really only be successful if carried out by middle-class suburban parents. It showed it as a threat to children’s well-being, when in fact for many children school itself is a worse threat. It did mention the lack of support for parents, but did not suggest offering any; the only solution to any of the problems mentioned was a register and it strongly suggested that the lack of any guidance on what children should be learning was a problem. It mentioned that home-schooling was banned in Germany, as if this should make any difference for us (it is not banned in the USA, France, Canada or many other countries), but Germany offers a range of types of school, including Steiner schools, which the UK does not. While the state of mainstream schooling is getting worse — increasing class sizes, political interference such as forced academisation, and curriculums dominated by English and maths and geared towards key stage tests, it should be no surprise that some parents want better and some children need better, especially as some parents have had such an unpleasant experience of school themselves.

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'I am blessed': UAE’s expatriate workers marvel at mass with the pope

The Guardian World news: Islam - 5 February, 2019 - 10:07

Show of public Christian worship considered largest ever seen on the Arabian peninsula

Marivic Sorita’s eyes filled with tears as she spoke of her daughters back in the Philippines. She has seen them only three times in the 11 years she has worked as a housemaid in Abu Dhabi. Her eldest, now 21, recently completed her studies “thanks to the sacrifice” Sorita made by the separation, sending almost all her salary back home.

Maybe one day, when her 14-year-old daughter has also finished her studies, Sorita would be able to go back to Manila and be reunited with her family. But for now, she was enjoying a rare day off work for what she described as a “very, very special” occasion.

Related: The pope makes first ever visit to an Arab state – in pictures

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Pope and grand imam sign historic pledge of fraternity in UAE

The Guardian World news: Islam - 4 February, 2019 - 17:55

In first papal visit to Arabian peninsula, Francis calls for end to wars in Middle East

The pope and the grand imam of al-Azhar have signed a historic declaration of fraternity, calling for peace between nations, religions and races, in front of a global audience of religious leaders from Christianity, Islam, Judaism and other faiths.

Pope Francis, the leader of the world’s Catholics, and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the head of Sunni Islam’s most prestigious seat of learning, arrived at the ceremony in Abu Dhabi hand-in-hand in a symbol of interfaith brotherhood.

Related: Many people in mostly Christian countries believe values clash with Islam – poll

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New claims, scant evidence as FGM activists play whack-a-mole

Indigo Jo Blogs - 4 February, 2019 - 14:44
A South Asian woman wearing a dark blue dress stands in front of a projector screen next to a poster from the FGM "Freedom Project" in a school auditorium. Teenage boys and girls in school uniforms with grey blazers sit in the ranks of red seats.An anti-FGM presentation by the Freedom Project at a school

Last week the number of successful prosecutions for female genital mutilation (FGM) in Britain went from zero in more than 30 years since a specific FGM law was passed, to one. A Ugandan woman who had subjected her three-year-old daughter to some form of it (and relied on curses to keep police and social services at bay) was remanded in custody and warned of a lengthy prison term when she returns for sentencing in March. Her partner (who is from Ghana) and the doctor alleged to have performed the procedure were acquitted. Jess Phillips, the Birmingham Labour MP, called on Twitter for the conviction to lead to “greater action, education and fear of this brutal crime”. Today, the Victoria Derbyshire programme, which was contacted by the mother who was convicted last week who claimed that social services were “putting lies on her family”, reported new claims by a so-called expert that FGM was increasingly being performed on babies who were too young to go to nursery or school and thus could evade detection. As usual, the story is heavy on emotion and anecdote and light on empirical evidence. (The programme can be seen in the UK here, interspersed with another story about the price of drugs for cystic fibrosis, for the next 29 days; the segment starts about five minutes in.)

Last week’s FGM conviction happened because doctors became aware of the girl’s condition when they were treating her for something or other (they do not say what). It could have been complications from the procedure or it could have come to light when, say, staff had to bathe, change or catheterise her when she was in hospital for an operation and her mother was not present. We would be seeing more situations like this if FGM really were widespread in the UK; quite apart from the fact that some of the procedures carried out on young girls in places like Somalia and Sierra Leone are potentially lethal and even if the cutting was mild, even with the best hygiene in the world, sooner or later someone will develop an infection. It is not something that can be concealed for anything like this long and none of the explanations offered by activists account for why so few cases have come to light in children, only in adults years after the event.

Dr Charlotte Proudman, a barrister and “FGM expert”, claimed that there was “a lot of anecdotal data which shows FGM is now being performed on babies” and, because they were in neither schools nor nurseries, “it’s very difficult for any public authority to become aware”. In one report, in Yorkshire, the child was just a month old and West Yorkshire Police had said, in response to a Freedom of Information request, that a quarter of its FGM reports involved children aged three or under. WYP appear to have refused most FOI requests concerning FGM but did indeed publish some figures (PDF) which indicate that they were aware of cases of FGM in children that age, but most of the cases in the report took place outside of the UK and in one case involving a young child, it was not known whether it took place in the UK. So, this in no way proves that FGM is happening to small children in the UK.

Given the paucity of evidence to support the claim, the rest of the BBC’s report is padded out with old content and follows the familiar pattern of a survivor’s (and well-known activist’s, in this case Hibo Wardere’s) story, a mention of how they do it in France (by subjecting all girls, or is it all girls from families presumed to be that way inclined, to genital examinations on a yearly basis) and an oft-repeated claim about why they have been unable to find any cases, in this case the old saw about “they’re worried about being accused of racism”. FGM has been in the news every couple of months for years, with the reports often lurid and spiced up with racist language such as ‘barbarism’, even in liberal newspapers; the communities affected are often Muslim and are regularly accused in public of all sorts of things from disloyalty to separatism to extremism to terrorism. This is a claim that might have had some truth to it in 1985 but today, it is laughable.

FGM campaigners are playing a game of whack-a-mole; one claim is discredited and they respond with new ones, and as it’s a good human interest story and a good bit of bait for racist politics, the media go along with it every time even when there are obvious holes in the evidence. To reiterate: the idea that several large communities, which are not closed and whose children socialise with others on a daily basis, could continue to uphold a practice like this for 30 years and go undetected for that whole period is preposterous. If it were happening, medical staff would have been dealing with its consequences on a regular basis and there would have been fatalities; we would not be relying on statistics of old cases and on speculation and assumptions. FGM is being used as an excuse to harass and intrude into the lives of minority populations; the obsession is rooted in racism, and it is time for every claim about it from an ‘expert’ not to be considered as news. We do not need greater fear; we need more robust examination of the evidence.

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Faith should be no barrier to schools teaching respect for LGBT rights | Masuma Rahim

The Guardian World news: Islam - 4 February, 2019 - 12:56
Some parents may not be happy about it, but programmes like No Outsiders are important and should be expanded

Recently we’ve seen several clashes between local communities and education leaders over the application of the Equality Act in Britain’s schools. Shraga Stern, the Orthodox Jewish activist, warned earlier this year that Haredi Jews would “leave the UK” if faiths schools were forced to teach children about same-sex relationships and gender reassignment. And last month, the headteacher of a school in Birmingham was petitioned by mainly Muslim parents to do away with a pilot programme called No Outsiders, which is centred around inclusion and diversity as part of sex and relationship education. Although the programme addresses issues as broad as gender, race, ageism, faith and disability, the spotlight has, inevitably, fallen on the teaching of LGBT identities.

Children will naturally have questions … but it is dangerous to assume they will all be able to ask their parents

Related: School defends LGBT lessons after religious parents complain

Related: Sex education rules could force Haredi Jews into home schooling

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Tory MPs back youth group with apparent links to US far right

The Guardian World news: Islam - 4 February, 2019 - 12:46

Rees-Mogg and Patel support UK branch of Turning Point, accused of anti-Islam views

A number of Conservative MPs have praised the work of a new UK rightwing youth pressure group that is said to have links to far-right conspiracy theorists, and has in the US been accused of anti-Islam views and connections to racism.

On Sunday, MPs including Jacob Rees-Mogg and Priti Patel tweeted supportive messages for Turning Point UK, the offshoot of a controversial organisation established in the US.

Chelsea night @GTSFarmer @PrisonPlanet @DanJukes17 pic.twitter.com/IyRxDzq4Rf

This article was amended on 14 February 2019.

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High-profile Muslims have a right not to expect an inquisition | Nesrine Malik

The Guardian World news: Islam - 4 February, 2019 - 05:59

Attacks on a young US congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, show Muslims are expected to prove their liberal credentials

There is an interrogation that begins whenever a Muslim assumes any role in the public eye, a sort of Muslim inquisition. One can be a writer or a politician or a chef, and be asked questions that have nothing whatsoever to do with the matter at hand. Do you think homosexuality is a sin? What do you think of underage marriage? Do you think Israel has the right to exist? These questions are also asked in spurious surveys commissioned in the hope of generating headlines that suggest the majority of Muslims are violently homophobic, or conform to whatever latest trope is doing the rounds.

In the US, this persistent questioning continues despite the fact that Muslims are growing more liberal (specifically, more accepting of homosexuality than their white evangelical Christian counterparts) while simultaneously suffering increased levels of discrimination. But in the inquisition it’s the questions, not the answers, that are truly revealing.

All Omar had done to deserve this outrageous association was to express opinions on Israel

Related: Muslims demand full legal protection from Islamophobia

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What is racism, and what isn’t?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 3 February, 2019 - 23:25

Recently I came across the podcast by In the Days of Noor, presented by sister Noor (right), an Islamic studies teacher from New Jersey (she also has a YouTube channel). In a recent episode she interviewed the imam Dawud Walid, who works for the CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) on the subject of racism and how far Muslims can engage with ‘woke’ culture when their ideologies often conflict with Islam. Both are African Americans. As long as I’ve been Muslim, there has been ample discussion on the role of race and racism within the community: the reluctance of some Muslims of immigrant Muslims to allow their daughter to marry people not from their background, the use of foreign languages that not everyone in the community speak, as well as downright racist attitudes such as that converts are not as good as them and, if young, are probably not virgins (and not for the want of trying if they are). It’s generally understood that while these issues affect converts to Islam generally, Black converts have a worse deal.

Most of the time I had been Muslim, racism was defined as prejudice alone and in particular the notion of regarding one as superior to another on that basis. This is actually the official definition here; racial discrimination is racial discrimination no matter who is doing it and against whom and the use of racially derogatory terms in public is illegal regardless of who is targeted; to give one example, a Black local councillor in Bristol was prosecuted and received a conditional discharge in 2011 for calling an Asian councillor a “coconut” (i.e. brown on the outside, white on the inside). More recently the idea that racism is “prejudice plus power” and that only white people can be racist because whites are dominant has gained popularity. According to this doctrine, the same is true of hostility to men by women; because men “have the power”, there can by definition be no such thing as misandry. The doctrine seems to have originated in the USA where, in regards to race at least, it has a certain validity: very often, complaints of reverse racial discrimination are founded on prejudice or downright malice; it is assumed that a Black person who was given a job when a White person was not could not possibly be qualified and must have got it through Affirmative Action or to fulfil a quota, while states use tricks to obstruct Black people from exercising their right to vote.

Imam Dawud Walid, Toronto, 2007

In this interview, Dawud Walid reasserts the “prejudice model” of racism, noting that in the Qur’an, the first individual to think himself superior to another was Iblees, the Devil, when ordered to prostrate before Adam (‘alaihi as-salaam). When trying to confront racism, imams in the USA have long had to confront the claims of the so-called Nation of Islam, which uses hateful rhetoric to bolster the standing of its leader, as well as the more conventionally racist attitudes of Arabs against Blacks or Whites against others. It is about building brotherhood and solidarity amongst Muslims and warning people that they may not consider themselves superior to anyone else because arrogance is a sin and because it sows discord. In the context of the Muslim community, the most pressing issue is not who is most oppressed but the need for people to feel comfortable and welcome in any mosque or indeed among Muslims generally. This cannot happen if some people are led to believe they have a licence to be prejudiced against others, regardless of what they have experienced in wider society.

In any case, whether Black people can or cannot be racist is not all that relevant, because in general I have not seen these sorts of attitudes displayed by Black people; aside from Whites, it tends to be other people of colour such as Arabs and Asians. However, we now have some Muslims over-emphasising the racial hierarchy of wider society as if the same hierarchy existed in the Muslim community when it does not. I have seen some Muslims say that the idea of brotherhood amongst Muslims across racial boundaries was just empty rhetoric, but there are still some of us who believe in it — it is not just a dream of an older generation but an obligation on all of us, especially those of us who live in multi-racial societies where getting on with each other is what we need to do to survive as a community.

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Many people in mostly Christian countries believe values clash with Islam – poll

The Guardian World news: Islam - 3 February, 2019 - 19:00

Almost one-third in UK see rift, finds survey ahead of pope’s visit to Arabian peninsula

Large numbers of people in Christian-majority countries in the west see a fundamental clash between Islam and the values of their nation, according to a survey.

However, significantly fewer people in the Middle East and North Africa view Christianity in the same way.

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The Guardian view on the pope in the Gulf: an important signal | Editorial

The Guardian World news: Islam - 3 February, 2019 - 18:43
As the first leader of the Catholic church to visit the Arabian peninsula, Francis knows his contact with Muslims will be as important as the mass he hosts for the Christian minority

Pope Francis’s visit to the United Arab Emirates this week will be greeted enthusiastically. Some 120,000 people are expected to turn out for his mass in a sports stadium in Abu Dhabi – as many as turned out in Dublin when he travelled to historically Catholic Ireland last year. The first visit by a pontiff to the Arabian peninsula, the birthplace of Islam, highlights the complications of the religious situation in the Middle East, and more widely the issues of Christian-Muslim relations.

There may be as many as 2 million Christians in the Middle East today. Despite nearly 16 years of war and sometimes brutal persecution in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, many remain in the lands that were the cradle of Christianity. In part this is because it is still made as hard as possible for them to leave the region. The Christians of Iraq have largely been driven from their homes by persecution, as have some of the Christians of Syria, where a number have taken the side of the Assad dictatorship. But they have ended up in refugee camps rather than reaching notionally Christian Europe.

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The EU is not slavery

Indigo Jo Blogs - 2 February, 2019 - 23:37

So, poorer Brexiters voted to be worse off? There’s nothing wrong in that by Gary Younge (the Guardian, Friday)

Monochrome drawing from a magic lantern series based on Uncle Tom's Cabin,of a white man, Simon Legree, assaulting Uncle Tom, who has been knocked to the ground.Uncle Tom is assaulted by Simon Legree, the man he is sold to after Augustine St Clare dies.

This piece makes the case that working-class Leave voters were voted by ‘values’ rather than self-interest and that this should be seen as a valid political choice, comparable to well-off liberals voting for policies that would raise their taxes to pay for services or welfare for others. He starts out by citing a moment in the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin in which Tom tells his owner, Augustine St Clare, who had told him that he could never have earned the comforts he provided, that he would rather have a poor house and clothes than the best when the best belonged to someone else. This echoes previous comparisons I saw in which the EU took the place of a violent relationship and that someone might be justified in leaving even though it results in hardship for them and even their children as well. However neither of these comparisons stack up.

Frankly, if it was a white man making this analogy with slavery, he would be ridiculed and rightly so (the editor is a white woman). We are not slaves; we are not owned by Europe; we are not oppressed by Europe. We do not have EU police or soldiers walking our streets. Usually, when we see signs of the EU’s presence, it is because they have contributed money to a major project which could be anything from a major road to an arts centre. In other cases, it is a document that allows us to travel freely in Europe, or drive anywhere in Europe, or in another way access services (such as healthcare) anywhere in Europe. These benefits are not the EU’s financial largesse; they are not things Europe provides for us so as to buy our servitude. They are things agreed mutually between our government and other countries’, such that Spanish, German or Lithuanian citizens might have the same rights here as we have there. It’s a mutual arrangement between various elected governments, sometimes backed by referendums and sometimes not; it was not imposed on anyone by force. We are still a sovereign nation; we have a seat on the UN Security Council in our own right, as does France. We still control our borders, as anyone who has had to pass through them will know.

The other problem with the comparison is that it is not only a vote to make oneself poorer; it is to make others poorer as well, sometimes disastrously so. This is, frankly, why the “it’s the people’s will” argument does not stack up: where does that argument end? If the people vote to start a war of aggression or to annihilate a whole bunch of their neighbours because of their race or religion, does a referendum or a prior manifesto commitment justify that? I think it does not. Given the widespread reports that people voted Leave because they believed that making the country poorer was a price worth paying to get rid of immigrants, or even just out of spite for people who have jobs (not necessarily immigrants) when they do not, there really is a need for the adults in the room to act their age. People may know what they want, or think they do, but it is not only they who will feel the consequences of their vote; it is everyone, and the same people pontificating who said they voted for ‘sovereignty’ or because they want “Britain to be British again” will not be so confident when the cost of basic food goes through the roof or they cannot get treated for a preventable or at least survivable illness for lack of medicine or healthcare staff.

And — not for the first time of saying this — the real stumbling block in the way of stopping this calamity is not the public. Everything that is said about public opinion is speculation, often influenced by the bias of the person saying it; as Winston Churchill is often quoted as saying, “there is no such thing as public opinion, only published opinion”. There are still strong arguments for at least a further referendum, especially once any deal is agreed, because its terms were entirely unknown when the 2016 vote took place. The real stumbling block is Brexiteers in parliament who have been empowered and emboldened by the referendum result and have taken to misrepresenting the 51% vote, 2½ years ago, in favour of leaving the EU as a decisive vote in favour of a clean break and to trading with the world on WTO terms when we are not even a member of the WTO in our own right. They have had the prospect of untrammelled power dangled in front of them — repealing the Human Rights Act is the next step for them — and are loath to see it snatched away. The simple maths are that 51% is not equal or equivalent to 100%. This situation where the 51% take away the rights of the 49% is a classic argument against pure democracy.

And yes, as Younge acknowledges in his article, the political class have been active in forging the myths of a golden past; but it was not only the political class but also the media which had been fomenting hostility to the European project since the 1980s, which makes the revelations about Vote Leave overspending, Russian money or Cambridge Analytica less relevant than many people think they are. Regardless of whether impoverished ex-miners in Yorkshire thought they were voting for a revolution or sticking it to the Establishment by voting to leave the EU, the reality is that the same ruling class will still be in power afterwards, and be more powerful than ever before because of lack of regulations or even human rights, if they get their way over that as well. This is what makes the capitulation of so much of the Left to that prospect incomprehensible; as a minor member of the WTO, we will be much less free to pass laws to ensure the public good than we are now, where they impact on international trade. I have a feeling that people smell defeat in the air, and that they have been betrayed by the leaders they trusted, do not want to admit they were wrong and want to recast it as a victory.

But also, Younge engages in the typical sneering at the “liberal elite” which consists of people who “think that they know what’s better for working-class people than working-class people themselves do”. There have been many analyses of the failures of well-educated liberal politicians (often not as liberal as they made out) who failed to convince the population with facts, and indeed their more ignorant contender used their education against them and won (Al Gore, for example). Quite apart from the stereotype that leave voters were poor, that poor or working-class voters are ignorant and that not being ignorant is a sign of being part of the elite, which are all far from the truth, sometimes a minority does know better than the majority. The matters at stake here are too big to leave to public opinion: the whole economy, the health service, peace in Northern Ireland, even peace on the Mainland given the threat from the Far Right which would be heightened in a situation of high unemployment. Our politicians must have the courage to tell the public that Brexit is a dangerous and unnecessary course, that there is no Brexit deal that is better than the one we have now and that all the problems commonly attributed to the EU are matters of British policy and can be solved without leaving. And if there is no major party willing to say this at a general election, they will have betrayed the public instead of serving them.

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Yes, he is a thug

Indigo Jo Blogs - 1 February, 2019 - 22:08
A Facebook post with the caption "Same newspaper 2 pages apart ... the black boy kicked a policewoman and is a thug ... the white boy is on trial for murder and is a teen ... its all in the wording ... surely raheem was right about the media...?" There follow two clippings from the Metro, one featuring the headline "Thug who kicked woman cop under bus gets 3 years" with a red circle round the word 'thug' with an arrow pointing to the picture of the 'thug' who is Black. The second has the headline "Teen in court charged with stab murder of Jaden, 14" with the red circle and arrow linking to a picture of the young, white, male defendant.

There’s an image which has been circulated on Facebook which compares two articles about violent crimes in London. One refers to a ‘thug’ named Kersan Euell who kicked a female police officer into the path of a bus and, along with an accomplice (Martin Payne), was jailed for a total of six years on the 21st of January. Another refers to the ongoing trial of one of the men involved in the murder of Jaden Moodie, a 14-year-old boy who was knocked off a moped in east London and then stabbed to death; a young man named Ayoub Majdouline has been charged with the murder and remanded in custody. The newspaper headline calls the first defendant a ‘thug’ and the second just a ‘teen’. The lines drawn on the clip imply that the word ‘thug’ was used of Kersan Euell because he was black and the more neutral ‘teen’ used of Ayoub Majdouline because he was not. There are, in fact, other reasons why these terms would have been used.

In this country newspapers have to avoid prejudicing ongoing trials: the fact that Ayoub Majdouline has only been charged, not convicted, of the crime means that the matter is said to be sub judice and press have to be very careful of what they say or they could end up in court themselves. These laws no longer exist in the United States as they were struck down on First Amendment grounds, but they are very much still alive in the UK. This is why they cannot call him a thug; that word implies a propensity for violence. The two men who kicked the police officer have been convicted of a violent offence; that means that reporting restrictions are lifted, assuming there is no other trial that could be prejudiced and the people convicted are adults, not minors (if they are, the judge may or may not allow the press to name them, depending on the seriousness of the crime, their age and whether it he believes it is in the public interest).

In the USA the term ‘thug’ has come to be understood as a racial slur, associated with negative stereotypes of Black people being aggressive or violent; it’s also associated with gangsta rap and the culture surrounding it, and the rapper Tupac Shakur called his group Thug Life. Notoriously, a white man who killed a Black teenager in a car at a filling station in Florida in 2012 because he disliked the music they were playing had told his girlfriend, “I hate that thug music”. In this country, there are no such racial connotations. It means a habitually or professionally violent person and is used, in the media and elsewhere, of such people of any race, including white racists, football hooligans and sometimes police officers. When I was growing up, the phrase “teenage thugs” appeared in the media on a regular basis as it railed against the out-of-control youth.

This guy wasn’t called a thug because of his clothing or his taste for rap music. He kicked a woman in the street, putting her life in danger because it was a busy main road, because he was annoyed that he and his friend had been pulled over for driving a car without insurance which, as is well-known, is illegal. That is a fairly good example of thuggish behaviour. The originator, who is in the UK, clearly saw the word ‘thug’ linked to a Black man and assumed it was racially biased, but it really is not, and there are good reasons why the other man (who, incidentally, is charged with killing a Black teenage boy) was not called that.

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WordPress 5.0

Indigo Jo Blogs - 31 January, 2019 - 22:30
A screenshot of the "most used" blocks in the new WordPress editor

So, a few weeks ago the new version of WordPress, the content management system I use to run this site, came out. Its major (if only) new feature was the new block-based editor, developed under the name Gutenberg (oddly named after the editor of movable type, which as well as an early-modern printing technology is also the name of an early blog management system, now gone commercial and very expensive). This basically divides the content into ‘blocks’ which can include paragraphs, quotes, images, embedded videos and even things like tweets. You can then move these around or save them for use in future entries. This produced quite a bit of discontent and a forked version of WordPress, called ClassicPress, has been launched by a team which complain that WordPress itself “is no longer a community led project (instead, it’s an Automattic led project)”, i.e. run by Matt Mullenweg’s (the lead developer’s) company; one of their supporters told me that WordPress’s direction is to be more like WIX. ClassicPress, which calls itself “the business-focussed CMS”, has yet to release version 1.0, however.

Installing that did occur to me as I was reluctant to use anything that looked like a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor to edit blog pages; I wanted to edit plain text and insert formatting as I need, mainly using Markdown. My experience is that they tend to produce over-formatted text; if you’ve ever seen a blog page with fonts and text sizes that change halfway through or several times in the course of the article, that’s down to a visual editor. As some readers may know, I maintain my own desktop blog editing software which can run on both the Mac OS and Linux (and Windows, although I do not have a computer that runs Windows at the moment). However, I did not want to switch to a new system which offered no guarantees that it will be updated consistently or remain compatible with WordPress, especially as I use a large number of plugins on this site. I installed the Classic Editor plugin, which includes both the WYSIWYG editor and the plain-text editor I normally use. However, I was interested to see what block editing was like, but any time I tried to use it, it would not let me add blocks; it would just give me a single block and no formatting buttons. I asked around, including in comments on the WordPress Facebook page, and some people suggested that I should disable or delete the Classic Editor plugin. I did not want to delete it, so I carried on using that until I found a solution. Finally, I found a page that explained that the problem was the option to disable the visual editor, which I had checked. When I turned that option off (i.e. enabled the visual editor), the block editor was restored to full functionality.

A screenshot of the "embeds" menu in the WordPress 5.0 block selector.The embeds menu

And I find it exceedingly convenient. Formatting options are minimal, unlike in previous versions; just italic, bold, links, strike-through and alignment options. If you want to make a paragraph a quote, you insert a quote block. Inserting images has become a lot simpler, and you can resize them by just clicking and dragging on the image’s outer frame; gone are the days of having to resize before uploading or use a plugin to give you the right size thumbnails. There is a considerable array of types of blocks to choose from, including all the types you’d use in a web document, such as headings, lists, preformatted text and so on, and the biggest selection is in the “embed” section; every social media and streaming service you can think of is there. If you wrote a previous entry in the classic editor and use the block editor to edit it, it can easily be converted into blocks (although I have not tried it).

I’ve found a few niggling problems; one of them is that sometimes, when you click on the link that lets you set the publishing time (to schedule the entry for the future or to back-date it), it switches to the block settings tab instead. This will go away if you move the mouse around and open a menu and close it again or something, but really needs fixing. Also, I find that the “publish/update” button at the top will not activate, and this is a particular problem when you try to publish an edit after publishing (if you open the published entry from the Dashboard, this doesn’t happen). However, this isn’t an issue with the block system, it’s a general user interface issue. As a lifelong (well, blogging career-long) sceptic of visual editors, this one is a winner and I’m going to keep using it. I may even retire my blogging app, as it only works on platforms where I can just use a web browser to blog.

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Salaam review – faith and the fallout of London terror attacks

The Guardian World news: Islam - 31 January, 2019 - 14:28

Vaults, London
A mother and daughter have profound discussions about identity but this drama is still searching for its centre

A Muslim mother and daughter are preparing for Ramadan when their window is smashed by a bloodied pig’s head that is flung into their home.

Despite this opening, Salaam is not a straight-up exploration of Islamophobia. It is set in 2017, the year of the attacks at London Bridge and Finsbury Park, and the fallout of terror and hate reverberates in the emotional lives of the British Asian mother, Mariam (Yasmin Wilde), and daughter, Rema (Raagni Sharma). But the focus of Sara Aniqah Malik’s script is on the women’s relationship with their faith.

Related: Cuzco review – romance left in ruins on the Inca trail

Salaam is at the Vaults, London, until 3 February. The Vault festival continues until 3 February.

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Is it really so difficult to track down this rapist?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 30 January, 2019 - 14:10
A view of Wembley Stadium (in the borough of Brent, London, where this incident took place), which has a large metal arch over it, as seen from Brent reservoir. A number of small boats are visible in the foreground.Wembley Stadium, in the borough of Brent, London.

Earlier this week there was a story in the Daily Mail, among other places, about an autistic woman who contracted HIV while living in a care home in north-west London some time between 2006 and 2016. The woman, who is Black, in her 50s and a veteran of the long-stay hospital system, was diagnosed after she collapsed in 2016 and had to be admitted to hospital although she had been sick for some time. As with the woman in Arizona who gave birth this month after having been in a ‘vegetative’ state for decades since a drowning accident, it seems that the cause of her health problems was not considered because of her impairment. Police have told the family that it would be impossible to find the culprit as the length of time during which the rape could have happened is so long. A lot of people in the disability community are not convinced and believe that more effort would have been made to find the rapist had the victim not been disabled.

A friend who knows a thing or two about HIV told me this: that penetrative sex on just one occasion is not a reliable method of passing on the virus, which leads to the suspicion that the woman was raped more than once and therefore that the attacker was not there on just one occasion but was a regular staff member. It is also possible to identify different strains of HIV which would show whether the virus was the strain common in sub-Saharan Africa or in Europe and America. It is also no longer as common as it once was because anti-retroviral drugs make people less infectious; this means that few of the former staff members would be infected. Although it was confirmed that the infection was sexually transmitted, it is not clear whether the lady, given the pseudonym Cassie in the borough’s Safeguarding Adults Board report (PDF), had been tested for which strain of HIV she has.

In previous occasions, such as when there has been a rape or murder, everyone who could possibly be the perpetrator (e.g. every man) has been DNA tested and either one of them is matched to DNA found on the victim or the inquiry is narrowed to those who refuse or someone who flees the area. According to the victim’s mother, quoted in the report, police will not issue a reward because nobody in that line of work will speak against a colleague because they do not want to be seen as a ‘grass’; it is not clear whether the police have asked former staff members for tests and been refused or whether it is just their impression or assumption. The body of staff are also described as “a service”, as if this was the fire or ambulance service where there is a bond formed by being in adverse situations together, but it really is not; the providers are companies, the staff are simply employees; they come and go, and some of them may be friends outside work but many are not. I detect defeatism here.

The Safeguarding Adults Board’s response (PDF) tells us that Cassie is now living in a new home and “has settled well into her new living environment and she appears well and happy”. The board is also apparently satisfied that all the other residents of the former home (which is no longer used by Brent social services) “have been protected, with their healthcare and their support needs fully met”. Many parents and friends of autistic children and adults will think this is too good to be true, especially as the perpetrator’s identity is unknown and could still be working in the care industry with disabled people who, like Cassie, cannot tell people if they have been hurt. I know of other parents whose adult children had inappropriate encounters with both staff and other patients while in hospital or a care home. In one case, a young woman was surprised at night by a male resident coming into her room with nothing on, and was so distressed that she had to leave. The dignity of women residents and patients in particular is not adequately safeguarded and in some cases, particularly in the mental health sector, the affronts come from policy: open or supervised toileting and bathing as blanket policy, denial of underwear or sanitary protection (supposedly to prevent self-harm), for example.

Of course, finding someone who has HIV, or even the right strain of it, might not prove that this was the perpetrator. The perpetrator might not have known about their status or might have died in an unrelated incident. However, a DNA sample from them might also link them to other crimes as rapists often rape multiple victims. Whether he was employed directly by the company that ran the home or by an agency, there will (or should) be records of who worked there and when. It is not acceptable to just say “it could have happened at any time”. Many women, many Black people and many disabled people feel that their lives and their rights are regarded as being of no importance by the powers that be and when a Black, disabled woman is raped, most likely repeatedly, leaving her with a lifelong medical condition that needs ongoing treatment, and the police decide that it is too complex to even investigate, it’s inevitable that people will draw this conclusion.

Image source: Andrew Self, via Wikimedia. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International licence.

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Who is the philistine here?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 29 January, 2019 - 17:35
A section of the former Pimlico comprehensive school, a concrete building with large and prominent glass sections, with the rubble of demolition and a large red waste container next to it and the new red brick school building in the background.The former Pimlico comprehensive school during demolition

There’s a letter in today’s Guardian in response to a debate about the virtues of Pimlico comprehensive school, a concrete-and-glass building designed by the architectural team at the then Greater London Council which was demolished in 2010. The letter calls the demolition “arguably the most philistine architectural destruction since the demolition of the Euston Arch” and argues that the very real environmental problems that plagued the school, in which temperatures regularly reached 35ºC in the summer and where the internal layout contributed to bad behaviour, should have been tolerated, as they were at Beth Shalom, a glass synagogue in Pennsylvania designed by Frank Lloyd Wright:

Designed barely a decade before Pimlico school, the glass pyramid pushed contemporary technology to the limits. The commissioning rabbi, Mortimer Cohen, and his successors have tolerated the inconveniences in the knowledge that they were guardians of an architectural treasure. How different the petty, visionless attitude of the “guardians” of Pimlico school, an architectural triumph that attracted international critical acclaim and huge numbers of admiring visitors from around the world.

Over the past couple of decades, a number of notoriously ugly ‘Brutalist’ buildings from the post-war era have been torn down, among them a shopping centre in Portsmouth and a shopping centre and car park in Gateshead that was used as the scene for a murder in the gangster film Get Carter. Some, however, can’t be got rid of, among them a Catholic seminary in Scotland which fell out of use due to lack of recruits to the priesthood and has turned into a modern ruin which cannot be demolished due to its supposed architectural significance and category A listed status. A school, however, cannot be allowed to stand if its architecture makes it an oppressive environment in which to learn, let alone if it contributes to violence; they only have five to seven years to gain the qualifications that can make all the difference to what they might be able to do as adults. On top of this, a school day lasts seven hours, a lot longer than a religious service in almost any religion, so what might be tolerable in a synagogue will not be in a school. These are children and young people who were not around when a group of people who are now very old or dead decided to use their education as an experiment (and the school serves an area with a high proportion of social housing). They are not “guardians of an architectural treasure” but innocent victims of someone else’s failed scheme.

Who is the philistine: someone who wants young people to be able to learn in comfort, or those who want to preserve the thing that prevents them from doing so? If architects want to preserve a building that has proven unpractical for what it was designed for, perhaps it could be dismantled, brick by brick, and moved to a suitable site to use as a museum or for their architectural practice. At their expense, of course.

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A law unto themselves

Indigo Jo Blogs - 28 January, 2019 - 23:43
A young girl sits on a black, leather (or faux leather) sofa behind a partially open door. She has her knees raised to her face and her arm covering the rest of her face. She is wearing a white and pink jumper and light blue jeans or tracksuit bottoms.

The past few weeks I’ve been in contact with the mother of an autistic teenage girl who was admitted (initially informally) to an adolescent mental health unit last July. She had been bullied at school, was not diagnosed until her problems had been building up for some time, the school had not dealt with the situation properly and she was suicidal or had attempted suicide. The unit has proven no more competent, particularly in dealing with autism; they have not allowed her out more than a few occasions including on her 16th birthday last November, and when she had a meltdown after that incident, she was sectioned. Near the end of last year her mother was told that she was expected to be transferred to a unit that supposedly specialises in autism which is 70 miles from home (a similar distance to the other unit), but when it turned out earlier this month there would not be a place, the unit put measures into place to deal with her condition better and these included taking her for walks. However, last week she was assessed for a low-secure unit in south-east London run by the infamous Priory company and today she was transferred.

Being aware of other examples of terrible treatment received by patients in various Priory units around the country (Claire Dyer, Claire Greaves, Stephen Andrade, two of the Hull cases), including those formerly run by Partnerships in Care, I was apprehensive about her being transferred into one of these places; however, I said nothing because none of them involved this particular unit (I knew of a family whose daughter was in this one, a few years ago, but this girl’s mother did not contact them because she did not want to bias her opinion of the unit). The girl was looking forward to moving because the representative who met her was nice and the place has a gym. However, on arrival she discovered that the unit was stricter than was led to believe, that the “en-suite” toilets in the rooms have no doors and that she would not be allowed her bra as it was underwired. Her mother also discovered that she would not be allowed to meet her daughter at the unit as she believed she could.

To me it reveals a lot about their attitude that they did not warn her or her mother about the rules about bras before she moved; new ones could have been bought at the weekend. It’s also disturbing how quickly the transfer was accomplished and that the old unit went for the secure unit option as soon as they learned that no non-secure, specialist autism unit was available. It underlines how little power people have when they find themselves in the ‘care’ of the psychiatric industry; they are a law unto themselves, can section someone on a pretext and move them across the country and subject them to overly restrictive conditions for no good reason. When someone has a problem with self-harm which stems from bullying and other stress over long periods, the last thing they need is the sudden shock of being moved into a prison-like unit which allows them no privacy or dignity with no idea of when they will be allowed home, yet this is what our mental ‘health’ industry subjects vulnerable and distressed young people to on a regular basis. As the terrible example of Claire Greaves shows, it is not therapeutic but harmful. Currently people have no real rights when dealing with these over-mighty and often arrogant, uncaring professionals. This has to change.

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Holocaust Memorial Day and Muslims boycotting hostile events

Indigo Jo Blogs - 27 January, 2019 - 23:00

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, and according a poll published today which was commissioned by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, 8% of people surveyed (roughly 1 in 20) believe that the Holocaust was exaggerated. In addition almost half did not know how many Jews were murdered and a fifth believed that the numbers were killed were vastly fewer than actually were (e.g. less than two million, rather than around six million). The results echo those of a poll conducted across Europe last year which found that ignorance of the Holocaust was widespread; one in five young people in France and 12% in Austria, for example, had never heard of it. Many people seemed disturbed by this news and asked how on earth people could be so ignorant, but the answer is really quite simple: nobody learns about this in school.

It’s true that kids learn a lot about Hitler in history classes; the two major periods people learn about are the Tudors and Stuarts and then Nazi Germany, but not World War II or the Holocaust. I did a Jewish history cause while at university but of course not everybody does a history degree or indeed any. I do not remember being taught about the Holocaust in detail although I do remember learning bits here and there about fascism and Hitler (our school did not offer history GCSE as the teacher left and could not be replaced). There have been films and documentaries about it but nobody is obliged to watch any of these and a lot of people simply will not watch a documentary; they find them boring. As Dr Frances Ryan said on Twitter this morning, “a pro-ignorance anti-facts climate is only going to enable this to grow” which is why it is important that it be taught in schools and before teenagers take their options at 14. However, I would add that other genocides be included (Rwanda and Bosnia, for example) so that young people are aware of how these things build up; they are not always carried out by sophisticated state entities such as the SS, but sometimes by militias and mobs drawn readily from the population.

(Someone else told me that I should know about the Holocaust from “word of mouth, first hand accounts, missing gaps in photo albums, grandparents and great grandparents, those (increasingly fewer now) people in our community with tattooed numbers on their arms, lists and lists of missing names…” but these are things you would be aware of if you are Jewish, which most people in the UK are not.)

The corner of a beige 1930s building with "The Hippodrome" in gold capital letters over the doors. A sign for the new mosque is hanging to the right of the door; the fittings for old lettering from the El-Shaddai Christian Centre can be seen on the side of the building.Golders Green Hippodrome, now home to the Hussainiyat al-Rasool al-Adham centre. Photo: Harry Taylor

Last week there was an HMD event at a mosque in east London which celebrated the efforts of Albanian Muslims to save Jews during the Holocaust. This was put on partly by the Israeli Holocaust memorial organisation, Yad Vashem. Originally it was meant to have been hosted by a mosque in Golders Green which serves the Iraqi Shi’a community, but this was moved as a result of a protest by Muslims after the matter was raised on Twitter by Roshan Salih, a journalist for the Iranian-backed Press TV who also runs the website 5Pillars. This led to outrage in pro-Israel circles with people calling those who protested ‘extremists’ and accusing them of intimidation and claiming that death threats were sent. When the event finally did happen (at what appears to be a Barelvi mosque in Ilford), the attendees were a who’s who of the “Prevent” and “reform” communities: Sara Khan of Inspire, Elizabeth Arif-Fear of Nisa/Nashim, someone from Faith Matters which is behind “Tell MAMA”, the hate-crime monitor which has a habit of blaming Muslims for Islamophobia in the media.

Quite apart from the fact that the “intimidation” consisted simply of a protest and that accusations of “death threats” are made whenever there is any kind of protest and there is never any investigation into their veracity, whoever they are supposedly being sent to — it is easy for the recipients or their friends to fabricate them — and the fact that the mosque leadership cancelled when they found out about the Israeli connection, not because of ‘intimidation’, Muslims have a right to expect that community leaders have some respect for what the community feels and this includes not using the house of Allah for an exhibition linked to a state which harasses and abuses Muslims on a daily basis and many of whose allies in the West encourage harassment and suspicion of Muslims here. They are, after all, paid by the community and the buildings they run were often bought or built with money raised by the community. No organisation associated with any other religion would be expected to host such events.

This is not to say Muslims should never be involved with HMD. But anyone organising such an event has to remember that the Holocaust is not an important part of the history of the Muslim community; it happened in Europe at a time when most British Muslims’ ancestors lived in Asia or Africa. Muslims have nothing to answer for with regard to it and have every right to object if it is used to justify oppression of Muslims (or others) in Palestine, and not to work with those who justify that oppression. We do not object to this simply because we hate Jews and certainly not because we are paid by or are devoted to the Iranian regime’s leadership.

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Brexit is a matter of life or death

Indigo Jo Blogs - 25 January, 2019 - 22:28
A stone building with signs saying "Pharmacy", "Post Office" and "Roche Pharmacy" on the sides. In front of it is a low wall, in front of which is a bench, a litter bin and a bus stop. The road is in the foreground.Roche pharmacy, Cornwall

After my last-but-one post about the behaviour of Corbyn supporters on social media, a long-standing friend cut contact with me as I explained in my previous entry, and I had another exchange with the same friend I had the conversation with that prompted the first entry who told me she had “lost a few longterm followers” because she doesn’t “believe in the mass conversion to Lexit”, i.e. the idea of Brexit as a left-wing policy or one which can have positive outcomes from a socialist perspective. The fact that a large number of traditional Labour constituencies voted in favour of leaving in 2016 and that their demands have to be accommodated has become an article of faith for many Corbyn supporters; it is also rumoured that for him to support a second referendum will mean the resignations of a number of his front bench. This seems to obscure the fact that there are life-or-death consequences for this country leaving the EU at the end of March without a deal, especially given that the deal we have been offered is unacceptable to almost everyone who is not part of the government “payroll vote”.

The reason is that most of the drugs needed to keep this country’s health system running are imported from overseas, including vital drugs such as insulin for people with diabetes and chemotherapy to treat cancer. Our port system has evolved for the current realities of minimal border checks; there are no import or export tariffs for goods coming from or to the EU. Trucks containing drugs will get caught in queues on the other side of the channel, or be held for extended periods at airports while backlogs are cleared. Some of it, no doubt, is perishable and keeping it fresh will require fridges to keep running, which will cost money (which, of course, will be passed onto the taxpayer). People have been told by their doctors or pharmacists that they do not know how or if they will get supplies in after 29th March in the event of there being no deal. This is causing a lot of people intense worry. It is not a case of it ceasing to be available for nothing (it already is not, for most people); it is a case of it not being available at all, except maybe to the very wealthy or those who can pull strings.

It is not just a case of us losing the ability to travel freely and work and study in Europe, though that is bad enough. It is not just about the fact that the economy will shrink, international firms will move abroad, jobs will be lost and this will give the Far Right a much bigger supply of potential recruits, though this is worse. It is not even that the food we have become accustomed to having available (such as vegetables grown in Spain and Italy and trucked in) will become much more rare and expensive. It is that people will die from lack of the medications that we are currently easily able to import but do not produce ourselves (that, of course, is a scandal in itself in a country the size of the UK but cannot be fixed in two months). What I find staggering is that politicians are still arguing over such things as the backstop in Northern Ireland when the consequences of having a hard border around the UK at all are so dire.

I’ve got two family members who are receiving treatment for cancer. I don’t know what the particular situation is surrounding their treatment. But there are many families around the country who do not know if their relative, who has a cancer that is survivable, will be able to get the drugs that make that possible for more than two months. It is ridiculous. This alone should have politicians on all sides saying “it’s too late now; we have to put this on hold”. Perhaps it’s too much to expect from Tories who will lose a lot of face or cannot let go of the idea of a Britain without international standards or human rights (as that is the next step), but for Labour’s leadership to be chasing votes from bigots (who are not Lexiteers but rather people influenced by right-wing tabloids) rather than telling people it cannot be done? It’s unconscionable. This is why I have no quarter with the stupidity of people who support Corbyn whether he is right or wrong.

Pharmacy in Fore Street, Roche, Cornwall, from Geograph © Rod Allday; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (BY-SA) 2.0 licence.

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