H/T: Solid Snake
In Spring of 2012, Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy sparked widespread controversy with her scathing critique of Arab society entitled Why Do They Hate us? Her premise was that Arab society has waged war on women, and seemed to suggest that Arab men are uniquely misogynist.
By singling out Arab society and making sweeping generalizations, Eltahawy was not just highlighting women’s issues. She was reinforcing widely-held stereotypes about Arab and Muslim men, two overlapping groups strongly linked to rampant sexism in the public imagination, especially in Western countries.
Danios published Why Do They Hate Us? They Don’t in response, discussing some of the troubling aspects of the article at the time. The controversy resurfaced again when Al-Jazeera’s program Head to Head recently hosted a debate between Mona Eltahawy and Mehdi Hassan, framed by a similarly provocative title: Do Arab men hate women?
After watching Eltahawy making sweeping generalizations and insisting Arab men really are uniquely misogynist in a world where there is no shortage of discrimination against women, I found myself asking a corresponding question: Does Mona Eltahawy hate Arab men?
In honor of Black History Month, a group of Tarbiyah School students created a video about the life of Malcolm X. Watch this captivating video to learn about Malcolm X's amazing journey into Islam.
The secular republican world of France, the Muslim world of North Africa: how the bitter history of France's relationship with its ex-colonies is played out in the French capital is the subject of a fascinating new book, extracted below
In the late afternoon of 27 March 2007, I was travelling on the Paris metro, heading home after a day's work in the east end of the city. I got off at the Gare du Nord to change trains. In a trance – lost in the music on my headphones – I automatically made for the shopping mall which connects the upper and lower levels of the station. This was where I would normally buy a newspaper and a coffee and then catch a train south to my flat.
But this was no ordinary evening. As I walked up the exit stairs I could smell smoke and hear shouting. The corridors were a tighter squeeze than usual and everyone a little more nervous and bad-tempered than the average rush-hour crowd. As I got nearer the main piazza of the mall, smoke stung my eyes and nostrils, and the shouting grew louder. I could see armed police and dogs. Still, there didn't seem to be too much to worry about. My only real fear was how to get through the tide of commuters, which by now had come to a dead halt, and on to my train home.
I pushed my way through the crowd, burst into the empty piazza, and found myself in dead space, caught in a stand-off between two battle lines – on one side police in blue-black riot gear, drumming batons on their clear, hard shields, and on the other a rough assembly of kids and young adults, mainly black or Arab, boys and girls, dressed in hip-hop fashion, singing, laughing, and throwing stuff. You could tell from their accents and manners that these were not Parisians; they were kids from the banlieues – the poor suburbs to the north of Paris, connected to the city by the trains running into the Gare du Nord. One African-looking kid was swinging an iron bar and shouting. The bar crashed into a photo booth and a drinks machine. A few yards further on, a fire had been started in a ticket office.
The atmosphere was strangely festive. Behind the reinforced steel and glass of the Eurostar terminal, new arrivals from London were ushered into Paris by soldiers with machine guns – the glittering capital of Europe now apparently a war zone. They looked on the scene with horror. But it was exhilarating to watch kids hopping over metro barriers, smoking weed and shouting, walking wherever they wanted, disobeying every single one of the tight rules that normally control access to the station. It was also frightening, because these kids could now hurt you whenever they wanted. They had abolished all the rules, including the rule of law.
Over the next few days, I read the press. Most reporters and eyewitnesses agreed on the chronology. At half past four in the afternoon, a young Congolese man, already known to the police, had been arrested while trying to dodge the ticket barrier. The arrest was heavy-handed and as the cops started hammering the guy, passers-by waded in to support the underdog. Guns were pulled out, batons drawn, and soon enough a riot was in full swing.
But how did this happen? What made the Gare du Nord such a powder keg that the arrest of a ticket dodger could, within minutes, make it the most ungovernable part of French territory? This is where the interpretation of events became confused. In the pages of Le Parisien, the chronicle of daily life in the city, the events were described as "une émeute populaire" (a popular riot). The tone was one of mild approval. Le Parisien is not particularly left-wing, but it is always on the side of the "people" – that most cherished of Parisian myths. This language placed the events at the Gare du Nord in a long tradition of popular uprisings in the city – from the days of La Fronde through to the French Revolution and the Commune, these have been a defining feature of Parisian history. Several other newspapers, including the right-wing Le Figaro, reported the same facts with a shiver of horror, adding that the crowds had been chanting "A bas l'état, les flics et les patrons" ("Down with the state, the coppers and the bosses"), thereby domesticating the riot as part of the Parisian folklore of rebellion.
But the problem was that none of these accounts was true. The kids I saw didn't give a fuck about the state or the "bosses". Most of them didn't have jobs anyway. And although they did hate the police, they would never have used an old-fashioned slang word like flics, which belongs to the Parisian equivalent of the Krays' generation. For the rioters, the police were either keufs or schmitts. The chanting I heard was mostly in French: "Nik les schmitts" ("Fuck the cops"), and sometimes in English: "Fuck the police!" But there was another slogan, chanted in colloquial Arabic, which seemed to hit hardest of all: "Na'al abouk la France!" ("Fuck France!"). This slogan – it is in fact more of a curse – has nothing to do with any French tradition of revolt.
These days France is home to the largest Muslim population in Europe. That includes more than 5 million people from North Africa, the Middle East and the so-called "Black Atlantic", the long slice of West Africa which stretches from Mali to Senegal. A short walk around the Barbès district in northern Paris, where almost all of these nationalities are represented in the same tiny, overcrowded space, provides both a vivid snapshot of the diversity of this population and a neat lesson in French colonial history
The Gare du Nord, at the heart of this district, is frontier territory. It is the dividing line between the wretched conditions of the banlieues, the suburbs outside the city, and the relative affluence of central Paris. It is where young banlieusards come to hang out, meet the opposite sex, shop, smoke, show-off and flirt – all the stuff that young people like to do. Paris is both near and distant; it is a few short steps away, but in terms of jobs, housing, making a life, for these young people it is as inaccessible and far away as America. So they cherish this small part of the city that belongs to them.
This is why the Gare du Nord is a flashpoint. The area is generally tense but stable: everyone in the right place, from the police to the dealers. But when the police come in hard, it can feel like another display of colonial power. So the battle cry of "Na'al abouk la France!" is also a cry of hurt and rage. It expresses ancestral emotions of loss, shame and terror. This is what makes it such a powerful curse.
The rioters at the Gare du Nord or in the banlieues also often describe themselves as soldiers in a "long war' against France and Europe. The so-called "French intifada", the guerrilla war with police at the edges and in the heart of French cities, is only the latest and most dramatic form of engagement with the enemy.
In November 2005, 18 months before the riot in the Gare du Nord, the tensions in the banlieues had already spilled over into violence and, for one spectacular moment, threatened to bring down the French government. The catalyst was a series of confrontations between immigrant youth and the police in the Parisian banlieue of Clichy-sous-Bois. As the fighting between police and the banlieusards intensified, riots broke out in major cities across France. This was when the term "French intifada" was first widely used by the media and by the rioters themselves.
The violence began on 27 October 2005, when two young men were electrocuted while trying to escape police by fleeing through an electricity substation. This incident was followed by almost a week of rioting every night, during which thousands of cars were burned. Then it began to spread to other French towns and cities. President Jacques Chirac declared a state of emergency, effective from midnight on 8 November. This gave the government and police special powers of arrest, the power to order a curfew and conduct house-to-house searches. But this only seemed to intensify the situation. On 11 November there was a blackout in part of Amiens when a power station was attacked – to the alarm of the police, this was to become a common and effective tactic. Churches were also firebombed.
The riots finally subsided after two weeks. But this was no easy victory for the police – quite the opposite in fact. The violence was partly fuelled by aggressive police tactics and by the belligerence of Nicolas Sarkozy, then Minister of the Interior, who declared "zero tolerance" and said that he would clean the streets of racaille (scum). Such inflammatory words only served to increase anger in the banlieues – it was clearly the language of war. By the end of November, with the French government in disarray, the riots across France had demonstrated that the youth of the banlieues could take on the authorities whenever they wanted to, and win. Since then the troubles in the banlieues have been sporadic but have never gone away.
The events of 2005 inevitably provoked an almost ceaseless flow of articles, books and debates in France. For all the noisy rhetoric, however, there were several important points of consensus on the right and the left. First of all it was generally agreed that the severity of the crisis had been exaggerated by the English-speaking media, who knew little of France and used the news of the French riots as a distraction from their own problems with immigration and immigrants in their own countries. This is, of course, the traditional role of the perfidious Anglo-American world in the French imagination.
Second, there was broad agreement that the riots had little or nothing to do with Islam or the historical French presence in parts of the Islamic world. Leftist intellectuals, in the pages of Le Monde or Libération, fell over themselves to distance the riots from any connection with the same anger that radicalised Islamists. According to these journalists, the riots were caused by a "fracture sociale" and lack of "justice sociale". Even the French intelligence services, the Renseignements Généraux, joined in, producing their own report, which described the riots as a "popular insurrection" and downplayed the role of Islamist groups and the immigrant origins of the rioters. In this way the riots of 2005 were domesticated and made part of a traditionally French form of protest. There was an almost complete denial that what was happening might be a new form of politics that was a direct challenge to the French state.
There is, however, a very real conflict in contemporary France between the opposing principles of laïcité and communautarisme, which is being played out in the riots. The term laïcité is difficult to translate; put simply, it means that under French law it is illegal to distinguish individuals on the grounds of their religion. Unlike the Anglo-American model of the secular state, which seeks to hinder state interference in religious affairs, the French notion of laïcité actively blocks religious interference in affairs of state. This dates back to the revolution of 1789 and is traditionally understood to be a way of controlling and disciplining the Catholic Church. As a specifically anti-religious concept, laïcité, it is argued, guarantees the moral unity of the French nation – the République indivisible.
In recent years this core value of the French republic has been opposed by communautarisme, which sets the needs of the "community" against the needs of "society". Again, the loose Anglo-American model, where "difference" – whether of sexuality, religion or disability – is tolerated or even prized, does not apply in France, where "difference" is seen as a form of sectarianism and a threat to the republic. The most acute problem for the recent generations of Muslim immigrants to France is that the proclaimed universalism of republican values, and in particular laïcité, can very quickly resemble the "civilising mission" of colonialism. In other words, if Muslims want to be "French", they must learn to be citizens of the republic first and Muslims second; for many this is an impossible task, hence the anxieties over whether Muslims in France are musulmans de France or musulmans en France.
But this conflict is not just about politics or religion. It is also about extreme emotions. More than death, most human beings fear annihilation.This is a process familiar to psychiatrists who treat patients for disorders such as schizophrenia and depression. Part of the process of mental disintegration that characterises those illnesses is the experience of partial or total alienation. When a person loses all sense of authentic identity, all sense of self, to the extent that they don't feel that they properly exist, they then become literally strangers to themselves.
Historically this is what happened in France's territories during the colonial era and what is happening now in the banlieues. This is why it is almost impossible for immigrants to France from its former colonies to feel authentically "at home" there. For all their modernity, these urban spaces are designed almost like vast prison camps.The banlieue is the most literal representation of "otherness" – the otherness of exclusion, of the repressed, of the fearful and despised – all kept physically and culturally away from the mainstream of French "civilisation".
This is an argument made by the political scientist Gilles Kepel in his 2012 book Quatre-vingt-treize, a title that alludes to Victor Hugo's great novel of the Terror of 1793, and to the notorious Seine Saint-Denis district of Paris, which is known as "93" after its postcode. In his book Kepel conducts a forensic examination of the recent history of this district, concluding that although several varieties of Islam are at war with one another, they are all united in their hostility towards the secular French state.
Kepel is also convinced that one of the crucial conflicts in the banlieues is the challenge to the French republic from the "outside", by which he means both the banlieues and France's former territories in the Muslim world. Most importantly, unlike many of his peers, he sees the recent changes in French society as intimately connected to events in the Arab world which are little understood in the west. "Many French political commentators are blind," he told me in his cramped office just off the boulevard Saint-Germain. "They do not want to see the world beyond France. And so they do not understand that what happens here is because of our relationship with the Arab world, and our history there."
Kepel insists that the present tensions in France cannot be separated from the so-called "Arab spring" – the wave of rebellions that spread across the Muslim world in 2011. More specifically, the Arab spring has led to a severe shake-up of all accepted truths about North Africa, which until now has normally been known to the world through French eyes.
On 14 January 2011 President Zine Ben Ali finally fled his palaces in Tunis, heading for exile in Saudi Arabia. On the streets of Paris the mood that day was as festive as it was in cities across Tunisia. This was because the unthinkable had happened: Ben Ali had been in power since 1987 and seemed poised to stay in command for as long he liked – which, given his good health and vanity, could have been for a very long time – but, within a few short weeks, he was gone.
The catalyst for the angry demonstrations that led to his departure was the self-immolation of a 26-year-old street vendor called Mohammed Bouazizi in the obscure Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid. At 8am on 17 December 2010 "Besboos", as he was known locally, set up his cart of fruit as usual in the centre of town. At around 10am he began to be harassed by police officers who claimed that he did not have a permit and had no right to be there. The reality was that Mohammed had simply not paid enough bribes and kickbacks to the local police, even though he had already put himself $200 in debt by borrowing money to pay off officials. But Mohammed was in a defiant mood that day and stood his ground when a middle-aged female officer insulted him, cursed his dead father, and tried to seize his cart. When the officer grabbed his weighing scales, his most expensive piece of equipment, without which he could not conduct any business, the young man broke down. Angry beyond belief, unable to control his weeping, he ran to the local governor's office to complain at this vicious injustice. The governor refused point blank to see him. In a torment of frustration, Mohammed stood outside the governor's and threw a can of petrol over himself. To the horror of the small crowd that was gathering around him, he then set the petrol alight. His body was ablaze as he staggered in circles in mute agony. This was at 11.30am, just an hour or so after the original row over his cart.
Mohammed died a few days later in hospital. His suicide has now gone down as the spark that lit the flame of the Tunisian revolution. As he lay dying, the ordinary people of Sidi Bouzid rose up against the petty bureaucrats who had held them in check until then. When the insurrection gained momentum, the military stopped trying to control the events and hundreds of thousands of Tunisians glimpsed that this was their first chance to oppose the authorities. Riots spread across the country and within a breathless few weeks, in the face of the hatred of his people, President Ben Ali was gone.
It was the fairytale nature of the revolution that was celebrated on the streets of Paris on the day of Ben Ali's departure. France has a Tunisian population of more than 700,000 people, mostly concentrated in the Parisian region. Everywhere you went in Paris during the revolt in Tunisia, portable televisions blared at top volume in shops, takeaways and cafes, broadcasting a polyglot, polyphonic babble from Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and the French-speaking channels from the Maghreb. Everybody was excited and wanted to talk, especially the Tunisians themselves.
What was most stunning about these events – at least for those who did not know Tunisia – was that they had been set in motion in a country the west saw as a moderate, stable and apparently inconspicuous player in the politics of the region. Until this happened, the entire outside world thought of Tunisia as a downmarket tourist destination, with a servile attitude towards the west. All Tunisians knew that this view of their country was at best no more than wishful thinking and at worst a deliberate lie.
The bullying experienced by Bouazizi was the kind of thing that happened in Tunisia every day. It was directly connected to the people in power, who not only permitted but actively encouraged this low-level intimidation. When Bouazizi set himself on fire, his action spoke directly to a nation ready to stake all for freedom. The president's flight into exile was justice long overdue. "When Ben Ali left it was a beautiful moment," I was told by a young woman who had been out on the streets to protest against him in Tunis. "I did not know such happiness was possible."
In contrast to the jubilation of the Tunisian population in Paris that day, the mood of official France was sombre. The fall of Ben Ali was not at all what the French government wanted to happen. From the moment that he came into power in 1987, successive French governments had supported his regime, spurred on by his invoking Algeria and the threat of Islamist terrorism as a possibility in Tunisia. The French had taken Ben Ali at his word and turned a blind eye to all manner of abuses in the name of preserving "stability" in Tunisia. They had also believed his hold on the country was unassailable.
"We were taken by surprise," said Henri Guaino, special adviser to Nicolas Sarkozy with a particular brief for Mediterranean affairs. "Nobody saw what was happening. It all happened very fast, a chain of events that degenerated very quickly."
He also admitted, "I had not been vigilant enough about the development of the regime and Tunisian public opinion." That was putting it very mildly. Since the late 1980s, successive French governments had become mired in compromising and contradictory relationships with Tunisia. French diplomats had reported on the brutal nature of Ben Ali's regime as far back as 1990, but the authorities in Paris had looked the other way.
Most disgracefully, on 11 January 2011, Michèle Alliot-Marie, the French minister of state for justice, defence and home affairs, stood before the National Assembly in Paris and declared that the revolt in Tunisia was "a complex situation" and that it was not for the French government to "give any lessons to the regime". It was hard to imagine a more arrogant and self-serving statement, as the people of Tunisia were fighting for their freedom. But there was worse to come: Alliot-Marie went on to offer the French military's "world-renowned savoir-faire" to Ben Ali's regime, and to deliver this savoir-faire to Tunis. The response, across all parties, was open-mouthed incredulity. Was the French minister really suggesting that French soldiers or police would fire on crowds in Tunis?
Sarkozy immediately distanced himself publicly from her – his adviser reported that Alliot-Marie had been giving her "own personal analysis of the situation". The left was slower to react, partly because many on the Left, including the mayor of Paris, had their own issues with Tunisia. In the regions and in the banlieues of France, however, the speech provoked anger. In Algeria the daily newspaper, Liberté, made the point that, in her arrogance, Michèle Alliot-Marie "has apparently no fear of awakening the memories of peoples who have already known historically the military savoir-faire of France". Tunisian bloggers – blogging was now the main form of communication in the country – were furious and sarcastic. "Merci La France!" was the response from a campaign on Facebook.
The controversy deepened even further over the next few days when it emerged that Alliot-Marie, who had close and friendly links with Ben Ali himself, had spent the Christmas of 2010 in a luxury resort in Tabarka, and had travelled there in a private jet belonging to an intimate friend of Ben Ali, who also happened to be a criminal. She had also recently bought an apartment in the holiday complex of Gammarth, just outside Tunis. Meanwhile Tunisia went up in flames.
Few Tunisians were surprised at this French duplicity. In the past few years they had seen Ben Ali and his family and friends become extremely rich by plundering the nation. Tunisia was not a wealthy Arab country – for one thing, it has no oil money. But this did not prevent Ben Ali and his associates looting the country's resources and spending the money in France.
When I arrived in Tunis in the autumn of 2012, I was practically the only westerner landing that afternoon. I could see straight away that everything had changed since my last visit in 2011. I had been a fairly frequent visitor to Tunis from 2005 onwards, but had not been back since the revolution. Now it was the same city but a very different place.
On the short drive into town from the airport, the suburbs looked dirtier and more broken than they had before. The most obvious change to the cityscape was the absence of the huge portraits of Ben Ali, which, until the revolution, had lined every main road in and around the city. As we headed into the city centre, there was graffiti everywhere, often in several languages, not just Arabic; the graffiti in English, French and Spanish called for more revolution, declaring war on the west and all those who hated Islam.
A few days earlier the US Embassy in Tunis had been attacked and the American School had been burned down by a Salafist mob, apparently demonstrating against the provocative anti-Muslim film The Innocence of Muslims. Only days before this, the American ambassador to Libya had been murdered by a jihadist militia. In Tunisia, the Americans had pulled out all their staff and citizens to let the Tunisians know that they were not to be messed with. The atmosphere was made even more brittle by the publication in France of images of the prophet in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. As a consequence, the substantial French population of Tunisia had been frightened off the streets by death threats from the Salafists and stayed at home.
On my previous visits to Tunis, I had always thought that it was an easy place to work; it was safe and well organised. But despite its beauty and apparent order, there was always a secret and sinister side to Tunisian life. You were not exposed to the kind of violence and extremism that had so marked life in Algeria, nor was it as wretchedly poor as Morocco. Instead, Tunisia reminded me of my time in Romania in the early 1990s, where, even after the fall of Ceausescu, ordinary people were afraid to say what they really thought. Romanians described this as "auto-censure" – self-censorship – and said that it was far more effective than the Securitate, the secret police. Nearly everybody I met in Tunisia before the revolution had adopted these habits of mind. It was a place where you could not really connect with anyone. The secret police were ever-present, listening and watching. But they were not really needed in a country where no one dared to criticise the government anyway.
When the journalist Christopher Hitchens came here in 2007 to write a piece for Vanity Fair, he wrote that his friend Edward Said had described Tunisia to him as the "gentlest country in Africa". He was not disappointed by the stylishness of the Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the main artery in Tunis, the olive groves and the sheer gorgeousness of the island of Djerba (where 19 tourists were killed in an al-Qaida attack in 2002).
Hitchens found Tunisia to be a "mild" place and, although he expressed disquiet at the 20 years that Ben Ali had been in power, the ubiquity of his image and the general reluctance of people to discuss politics, he was comforted by the availability of contraception, young people holding hands, and other clearly visible signs of "western values" and indifference to the puritan values of Islamism. Hitchens was obviously writing in good faith and reporting what he saw. This is what everyone saw when they first came to Tunisia. Below the surface there was, however, a bitter version of Tunisian reality at work within the nation's psyche.
As in Algeria and Morocco, one of the few places you could glimpse the inner rage of the Tunisians was at football matches. In September 2008 I watched a crowd of no more than a hundred fans of Espérance Sportive Tunis – the major team of the country – take on the riot police in the backstreets around Place de Carthage and Place de Barcelone. What impressed me most was how skilled and organised the "hooligans" were – they were a quick-moving, agile force, constantly changing while remaining a solid phalanx. They smashed windows and roared through back alleys. They were completely in control of the situation and evidently enjoyed this battle with the foot soldiers of the regime. Later, in the Bar Celestina, a smoke-filled drinking den near the metro station, I spoke to a group of them. They were quick to make the point that they were not fighting other teams but only the police, which was the armed wing of the government. No one mentioned Ben Ali, but he was the obvious enemy.
So were the French. During the Ben Ali years, Tunisia was unofficially France's most favoured nation in the Maghreb. The links between Ben Ali and a succession of French presidents, from Mitterrand to Chirac and Sarkozy, were always firm and longstanding. Ben Ali travelled often to Paris, his "real capital", where he lived lavishly and courted not only the French political elite but also the more dubious figures of the Trabelsi clan. Ben Ali's second wife, Leila, was a member of the Trabelsi family, a Mafia-like organisation based in the most expensive quartiers of Paris and Nice, which effectively ran Tunisia as their private fiefdom. All Tunisians knew that the fall of Ben Ali was not only because of the ideological sterility of his government, but also because his large-scale pillaging of the country in collusion with the Trabelsis was about to be exposed. That is why he fled Tunisia so quickly.
The mutiny lasted no more than four weeks. But it changed everything in Tunisia and indeed across the Arab world, as ordinary people from Morocco to Yemen felt inspired and fearless enough to take on their rulers. Most Tunisians, not just the Salafists, now feel twice betrayed by France, the country that has dominated and shaped Tunisia's political and cultural identity for more than a century. Whether they wanted to or not, they grew up believing that France was their mother county, and that at the very least the French had the Tunisians' best interests at heart. During the heady days of the revolution, France was in fact revealed as a cynical and corrupt enemy.
On the evening of 14 October 2008, there was a friendly football match at the Stade de France between France and Tunisia. The French government had been anticipating trouble for months. Ever since the riots in Clichy-sous-Bois in 2005, all matches with North African teams had become potential triggers for trouble in Paris. Still,Tunisia was held to be a less volatile and dangerous place than either Morocco or Algeria and Tunisians in Paris are not seen as gangsters or Islamic radicals. But to defuse any possible tensions, the authorities had decided that the teams should mix together as they lined up and that the Marseillaise should be sung by Lââm, a young R&B singer of Franco-Tunisian extraction.
As soon as Lââm picked up the mic, the hissing started, rising quickly to a high-pitched crescendo of whistling which carried through the stadium like bad feedback. The singer looked around for help but none came. She fought on through the blizzard of white noise, but it was hopeless. When she finally stopped, Tunisian fans were laughing and high-fiving as if they were 3–0 up on the home team. "Where did it come from, this wall of hate?" I asked a Tunisian bloke next to me in the bar where I was watching the match. He smiled goofily and slugged back the remains of his beer: "Made in France!"
© Andrew Hussey
The French Intifada by Andrew Hussey, is published by Granta on 6 March, £25
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You probably know by now that (like most blogs) this blog uses WordPress. What’s less obvious is the software I normally use to write entries, and that’s because I write it myself and rarely mention it on here, but with the last couple of releases managed to get one out that fix some long-standing, irritating bugs that anyone using it would quickly run into, so I thought I’d mention it on the blog I write that most people read. The software is called QTM, and runs on all the major desktop platforms — Windows, the Mac and Linux, and that’s because it’s based on Qt, which (in theory) lets you write an app once and then run it on several different operating systems (not just the three mentioned, although they are the most common). In practice it’s a bit more complicated if you want the program to look good on all those platforms, but it will work.
QTM mainly supports WordPress these days, but also supports Movable Type as that’s what it was originally written for (not Blogger or LiveJournal). It lets you compose and format entries, save them and post them to your blog. It also lets you compose based on an existing story or blog post (similar to “Press This” on WordPress and “Quickpost” on Movable Type) and use templates to pre-format these posts. It supports Markdown on Mac and Linux (on Windows you will need to install Perl, since that’s what Markdown is written in). It doesn’t let you manage existing blog posts, as yet.
QTM’s web page is here and you can find a Windows installer and a Mac disk image there; I have also set up download repositories for the Ubuntu, OpenSUSE and Fedora Linux distributions. If you need help setting it up, let me know (easier set-up is probably the next thing on the list of things to do).
By Hena Zuberi
Everyone in Karachi is running; running on a prayer.
“These Birds Walk” is a hopeful ode to the resilience of the people of Karachi and one of its home-grown heroes, Abdul Sattar Edhi. Directed by the diaspora kids Bassam Tariq and Omar Mullick, the documentary film focuses on a home for runaway boys in Karachi run by the Edhi Foundation. They had originally set out for Karachi, Pakistan to make a film about Edhi himself, but once there, they were not able to. Edhi Sahab, as he is affectionately known, is gregariously private and wasn't interested in a film about himself and said to them, ”I am an ordinary man; go look for me in ordinary people, you will find me.”
So they did; for three years.
In case you don't know, Abdul Sattar Edhi is a humanitarian legend without an agenda, not even an 'Islamic agenda', and on the streets of Pakistan he commands respect. Not through political power, but through the services he and his wife provide to the poorest of the population; services that neither government nor non-government entities have provided for the past 60 years. He can walk the street and do the work that he is doing without being pushed or pulled into controversy. People trust him on the streets, and he provides critical services from the cradle to the grave. His orphanages have drop-off boxes for babies, and his ambulances recover the bodies of the dead. Funded by his begging campaigns and donations, the Edhi Foundation is organic and fluid, and the film and its cinematography is a reflection of the uniquely Pakistani way that it adapts in order to serve.
Edhi's work is happening, quietly, everyday, with every ambulance that leaves the Foundation's 335 centers around the country, picking up the dead who can't afford funerals, or dropping off runaways to their homes, or feeding the hungry in Edhi Homes. This film is not a cry for pity, but a privileged glimpse into what's happening from a position of empathy; Pakistanis taking care of their own. “They are doing just fine, without us having made a film about them,” says Bassam Tariq.
The film is a refreshing departure from most documentaries and I watch a lot of documentaries: no experts or punditry, and no throwaway lines masquerading as stats. The cinematography is simple, and it flows with the energy of Edhi's work- unscripted, unassuming, running in wake of an ongoing story.
Mullick captures Karachi's essence, my birth place, from the first shot, desperate and free. He shows us the city as it is seldom seen; stunningly framing the section of Clifton Beach where the camels go home after the moneyed and the tourists have ridden and instagrammed them, panning the crowded streets with a dead body inside an Edhi car, cutting into the fringes of a megalopolis where the streets have no names, or power, or gas.
“These Birds Walk” is made with the intimacy of an old friend, and through its closeness, humanizes the lives and energies of boys who run away from home and young men who bring them to a safe space. It is made with an aching love for the country where these people live.
The film captures the universality of boyhood, even in poverty and darkness; and the longing for home, despite dysfunctional families. Tariq and Mullick say that the children are not as photographically aware as children here, so they forgot about the camera as they filmed, giving the audience an honest look at their days in the simple, clean home.
Mullick says that it is a generational picture: there is a child, a young man and an aging humanitarian.
We meet Omar, a tough young Pathan, living in the shelter who consoles other boys by night and picks fights, cussing and all, with them in the morning. A whippersnapper to the older boys.
Shedding his day-time bravado, Omar oscillates between fear and hope as he tries to sleep on the floor of the shelter. Wondering whether he should kill himself, he prays for his family in candlelight in a haunting scene, ”Dear Allāh, tell me what to do.”
The children are not forced to go home from the shelter. They don't have to leave, even if their parents come to look for them. Omar placates his friend at the shelter, Shehr, by reminding him that Allāh loves him more than his mother. We later find out that Shehr ran away from hifdh school and his family is searching for him.
The boys pray ṣalāh in congregation at the shelter, with plenty of last row antics. They talk about God and family -a lot. Islam is kneaded in the souls of Pakistanis and the elitist media does Pakistan no favors by misrepresenting this, notes Mullick, when he spoke to me after the DC premiere and Edhi Foundation fundraiser.
Asad came to Edhi from the streets, abandoned by his parents. He is an ambulance driver for the foundation and a Pakistani version of the child protective service agent. With him, the filmmakers travel deep into the city, picking up overdosed dead bodies and returning children to their homes. Like an Urdu-speaking cowboy, he swaggers into Pashtun territory. “You don't tell a Pathan that if he doesn't want his kid, that we will take him,” says Tariq, “especially, if you are a Muhajir (migrant from India).” Asad is a hero.
Tariq is referring to the scene when Asad- a Muhajir (an term used to identify those families who migrated from India during the 1947 partition)- is returning Rafiullah, a runaway boy from a large, very poor Pathan family, and tells his uncle not to beat him again in front of the entire neighborhood. The two ethnic communities often clash and these little nuances were so subtle that someone who doesn't know the Pakistani political terrain would surely miss them.
Just as desperate as the young boys he rescues, Asad fills his pain by cleaning up the violent streets. He is also a refreshing change from the usual suspects shown in documentaries about Pakistan and Pakistani men.
The film also shows a respect for gender and women's spaces in Pakistan. There are girls' homes as well, but they are protected and inaccessible to men. “We would both die a slow personal death if we–for a minute–thought that we could see five minutes of the female experience and we could then make a statement about it,” says Mullick.
Despite the minor appearances of women in the film, they make some of the most powerful moments- when the hafiz is returned to his family and his grandmother welcomes him home with tears and prayers for the Edhi folks. The women who serve lunch to the boys and make sure the place is squeaky clean, and then the strong, abrasive appearance of Omar's mother in the finale. The ending unfolds in such a way that its hard to believe that this is a documentary; and easy to forget that Mullick and Tariq and their cameras are on the same emotional ride that we are.
I ask Tariq and Mullick if they felt this would have been a different movie had they gotten permission to film Edhi Sahab from day one. They know that they disappoint some who came in expecting a biographical film about Edhi. Tariq thinks the fluid cinematic quality wouldn't be there as Edhi is in his eighties and no longer as mobile. . He is still a very active part of the organization however, and at one point as Edhi was bathing some orphans he comes alive and asks, “Who will bathe them?”
The real question is who will bathe them after Edhi passes on.
Mullick and Tariq hope the film makes you want to 'go do something'; to stop running and take whatever you have and answer your own deepest questions.
agar kho gayaa ek nasheman to kyaa Gam
maqaamaat-e-aah-o-fugaan aur bhi hain
To arrange a fundraiser for the Bilqees Edhi Foundation, click here to request a screening in your city. Like them on Facebook to find out if it is showing in your city. The film is now also available on iTunes.
Muslim women’s attire under attack in Sri Lanka
Hate groups in Sri Lanka have made the attire of Muslim women a key target in their onslaught against Muslims. They have used security and the need for uniformity as reasons to attack Muslim female attire such as the hijab, the punjabi attire and the niqab.
The Punjabi dress/shalwar khameez
Although the Ministry of Education by a directive issued in 1980 permitted Muslim girls to go to school attired in a punjabi attire, since 2009, school authorities have prohibited this in many schools in the country. Various excuses have been made out such as the need for uniformity or the simple and oft used one ‘this is a Buddhist school/country’.
A father of Muslim child took the issue to the Supreme Court in SC (FR) 688/2012 and the matter was settled before the court with the school authorities giving a solemn undertaking to comply with the circular. However the situation has not changed drastically given that parents fear that their children will get victimized in school if they go against the school authorities.
Hijab and Abaya
At the height of the Bodu Bala Sena anti-halaal protest in 2013 there were several incidents of women being attacked for wearing the hijab or the abaya or even being asked to remove them. There was an incident of a female Muslim doctor at a hospital in the Colombo who was attacked by a man when she was performing her professional duties attired in a hijab.
Recently the University of Moratuwa stopped three Muslim girls from attending the university because of the niqab.Two students have filed cases in the Supreme Court in SC (FR) 424/2013 and SC (FR) 427/2013. Both these matters are fixed for support on April 29th, 2014. One student has made an application to the National Human Rights Commission. The Human Rights Commission took the matter for inquiry on February 19th, 2014. The matter is pending a determination by the Commission.sever
The Bodu Bala Sena at several of its meetings publicly referred to this as the ‘goonibilla’ dress.
The FBI does have a history of thwarting their own terror plots but I bet you won’t see the following story on the Islamophobia sites. Also if they were Muslim they would have been charged with ‘terrorism’ and other assorted offenses.FBI: Men planned guerilla war against federal agencies
By Carolyn Grindrod (RN-T)
Three Romans arrested on federal firearms charges over the weekend were allegedly trying to obtain pipe bombs and other explosives to carry out guerilla warfare-style attacks against government facilities, according to Federal Bureau of Investigations agents.
Terry Eugene Peace, 45; Brian Edward Cannon, 36; and Cory Robertson Williamson, 28 — all of 22 Tumlin Drive — have each been charged under federal law with conspiracy to receive and possess a firearm.
The three men were being held at Floyd County Jail for the U.S. Marshals Service on Wednesday, following their first appearance Tuesday in federal magistrate court.
The group was arrested in Cartersville during an FBI-led operation that included FBI SWAT and the police departments of Rome, Floyd County and Bartow County.
According to the affidavit and criminal complaint filed by FBI Agent Adam Roland:
The three men participated in online chat discussions between Jan. 23 and Feb. 15 that were monitored by the FBI.
During the online conversations they discussed using guerilla war tactics and planned to launch the attacks against the government this month. They specifically targeted several federal agencies, including the Transportation Security Administration, Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Peace talked with an FBI “confidential human source” on Feb. 8 about getting several explosive devices, including a thermite-mix charge strong enough “to go through the engine block of a MRPA.”
An MRPA — mine-resistant ambush protection vehicle — is an armored vehicle used in the military and law enforcement.
Peace also told the FBI source he wanted pipe bombs constructed for “maximum fragmentation.”
“If he can hook us up with, say, 12 pipe bombs, that will be sweet,” said Peace, according the report.
That same day, Cannon had a conversation with another source and stated the group was planning to “start the fight” with the government by strategically sabotaging power grids, transfer stations, and water treatment facilities — in hopes of a declaration of martial law.
“Cannon claimed this action would cause mass hysteria and if enough sabotage was successful, then martial law, therefore trigging other militias to join the fight,” Roland’s report stated.
On Feb. 13, Peace, Cannon and Williamson went to the Country Sportsman on Shorter Avenue in Rome. There, Peace bought a Mossberg .308 caliber rifle as well as scope, stand and gun case.
The group planned to meet in Tennessee on Feb. 15 with the first FBI source, which they believed was working with them to get the explosives. The meeting location was later changed to a location in Cartersville.
FBI agents had given the source 12 inert pipe bombs and two thermite devices. When Peace, Cannon and Williams took possession of the items, agents swooped down and arrested them.
Three rifles were found in the cab of the truck. Peace and Cannon, who were both wearing body armor, were armed with pistols.
The men were initially held in the Bartow County Jail but transferred to the Floyd County Jail after their Tuesday hearing in Rome.
“It's worse for a woman to commit adultery, because women are supposed to be pure.”
“A girl's reputation is more delicate so she has to make more careful choices.”
Watch Umm Reem's (Saba Syed) Radtalk.
Comments like these only highlight double standards among Muslims. To have a higher expectation of chastity from girls, especially practicing Muslim girls, compared to boys has become so normal that girls are brainwashed from a very early age with ideas like:
“Girls are supposed to have a higher control against their desires for the opposite gender.”
“Good girls shouldn't get sexual thoughts.”
“If a girl is pure, her thoughts and emotions would be pure too.”But what happens when a girl's hormones kick in and she develops carnal desires?
The mind and body contradict. The body responds to the natural desires and the mind rejects these desires, rather recalls the fallacious cultural beliefs that she was raised with. This causes a serious contradiction within a person, making her feel low about herself. Due to the lack of communication within the family and lack of female mentorship in our communities, she is left misguided. The internal contradiction between body and mind becomes so intense that it can, and has, caused long term emotional and personality damage in many girls. [This is one of the leading causes among many married Muslim women for lack of interest in intimacy—discussed in detail in an upcoming article in near future inshā'Allāh].
Last year, after my letter to the youth was published on MM, a girl got in touch with me complaining about the wrong advice I had offered her years ago about female sexuality, and how it had caused a lot of serious issues in her life.Importance of Mentorship
I'd mentored her when she was in college. During that time, we had discussions over gender interaction and female sexuality. At that time, inexperienced and still young myself, I hadn't fully overcome the erroneous concepts widespread within Muslim communities, and believed in the same ideas that “good girls are averse to sexual desires.”
I failed to offer her the right advice. She needed to hear that her desires were normal, align with her female sexuality and then she should have been given the remedies on how to control her desires, but instead I failed to recognize the normality of her sexual desires.
To be told that women normally don't have sexual feelings until after they get emotionally attached to a guy or until after they get married, to be told that men are sexual and that women are not, to be told that good girls don't think of sex before marriage, are all erroneous ideas that damage female sexuality.
I wasn't the only one who offered her the wrong advice, unfortunately, even the people of knowledge she talked to failed to recognize the “female struggles with their sexual desires”.
I can't undo the damage I've caused her or other girls in the past, but I can try my best to not repeat the same mistake and spread as much awareness on this issue as I can, bi idhniAllah.[Ed. Note] Please join us for a Google Hangout on Intimacy Matters- March 1st, 2014 11-12 a.m. EST
William Martini declares Muslims’ constitutional rights were not violated in ruling described by plaintiffs’ lawyers as ‘preposterous’Ed Pilkington
A cooperation agreement involving a firm that deprives Palestinians of water was signed recently in Rome.
The revolutionary leader strived to live up to Islamic ideals. But it was his humility that made him a hero to us
When Malcolm X split with the Nation of Islam, he traveled on a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, where he was exposed to mainstream Islam – the Islam that the majority of the Muslim world practices. Historically, of course, Mecca is where Prophet Abraham established a sacred site for the worship of one God. It was there that Malcolm X first witnessed unity among different people, irrespective of their race. He wrote of his trip:
But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white … But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions. This was not too difficult for me. Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts …
This was typical Malcolm X: to discard false understandings in light of reality, to remain dedicated to the truth.
Today, many will remember the assassination of the revolutionary civil rights activist and reformer. Many will also undoubtedly lay claim to his legacy: his unswerving dedication to equality, unity and the truth.
For many Muslims, this is what made Malcolm X's life both inspirational and exemplary. We saw him as one of our own. We still do. He died, 49 years ago today, in a manner that we would consider to be martyrdom, because he died on the path to God.
Malcom X's life is also one that echoes the history of Islam itself. A little over 1300 years ago, the grandson of Prophet Mohammed, Hussain Ibn Ali, refused to pledge his allegiance to an unjust ruler. The ruler therefore ordered the beheading of Hussain, without so much as considering the stature or honor of the man he was about to kill. Afterward, the tyrant trapped a small band of Hussain's family and friends in the desert, denied them water for three days, and then challenged them to battle against an army of tens of thousands. Needless to say, the small army of Hussain was crushed and quickly subdued. With the exception of his very fragile son, all of Hussain's men were killed and women captured, ready to be chained and paraded in foreign lands.
But to this day, millions of people commemorate the event. In fact, the world's largest peaceful gathering occurs on the same day every single year in Karbala, Iraq, where an estimated 25 million people come together to mourn and remember Hussain Ibn Ali and his sacrifice.
Like Hussain Ibn Ali, Malcolm X's life exemplifies a dedication to truth and justice, as well as a commitment to faith. These are prime tenets to which all Muslims adhere, regardless of where they come from or what school of Islam they follow. I'd also like to think they're principles that all people – irrespective of creed or religion – can share.
Many Muslims revere Malcolm X not only for what he shares with other revolutionary figures, but also for his own special legacy. Like others, Malcolm dedicated himself to the pursuit of justice. He was always on a path of self-enrichment and he did his best to live up to Islamic ideals. But he made mistakes too, and his many imperfections have made him all the more relatable to Muslims everywhere, especially the younger generation. Malcolm's humility – his willingness to admit to his shortcomings if it led him to the truth – is arguably one of the most important lessons we, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, can draw from his life.Aseel Machi
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More than 25 British Muslim organisations, in company with interfaith bodies, have signed a letter of complaint to the the Daily Mail's editor, Paul Dacre, about an article by columnist Richard Littlejohn.
They say that Littlejohn's column on Tuesday, headlined Jolly jihadi boys' outing to Legoland, "deployed hateful Muslim stereotypes" and "used slurs commonly found in racist and far-right websites."
His article concerned the hiring of the Legoland theme park in Windsor by an extremist Muslim cleric, Haitham al-Haddad, for a "family fun day" next month.
Littlejohn, having pointed out that moderate Muslims regard the preacher as having "repugnant" and "abhorrent" views, went into satirical mode to imagine how the day would pan out.
For example, he wrote that one coach would be "packed with explosives" and, after stopping in Parliament Square, the "driver will blow himself up."
At Legoland, guests would be "reminded that music and dancing are punishable by death". Later, girls would be expected "to report to the Kingdom of the Pharaohs for full FGM inspection" while boys would "report to the Al-Aqsa recruiting tent outside the Land of the Vikings for onward transportation to Syria."
The letter of complaint to Dacre states:
"Our condemnation is not about the attacks on Mr Haitham al-Haddad: he is perfectly capable of responding to the accusations put to him if minded to do so. Many of us may well disagree with the views attributed to him.
Rather, we are speaking out at the insidious and hateful tropes Mr Littlejohn uses for his argument.
Mr Littlejohn may think he is humorous, satirical in fact. But there is nothing funny about inciting hatred. The language he deploys is exactly the same as those used by racists and the far-right.
One needs only to peruse the comments below his article online to see the hatred against Muslims Mr Littlejohn has generated."
The letter goes on to say that Littlejohn, in accusing one individual of using hate speech is guilty of "deploying hate speech himself." The article is itself "the worst form of bigotry."
It calls on Dacre "to retract" Littlejohn's article and to "issue an apology not just to British Muslims, but to your readers and the great British public at large."
An accompanying press release claims that, as a result of Littlejohn's article, far-right groups have threatened to turn up at Legoland, "thus causing distress to the children present."
The lead signatory of the letter is Farooq Murad, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain.
Source and full letter hereRoy Greenslade
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It’s just good old “muscular liberalism,” right?
Whatever it is, there is no doubt that the French government’s attitude towards Islam and its Muslim population has contributed to an environment where veiled women can and are attacked.
(h/t: Al-Kanz)Islamophobic Attack On A Veiled Mother in Moselle
Collectif Contre L’Islamophobie En France (Google Translate)
The incident occurred in the evening of Tuesday, February 18 around 18:15.
The victim, a young mother with her toddler, was violently attacked while returning slowly towards his home after shopping.
The attacker suddenly stopped his vehicle before verbally take the young woman, whom he accuses of wear the full veil ” The driver yelled at me: You have to go to Iraq eh [...]! In France, we do not dress like that! “ [...] “Go back to your country …”.
Very agitated, the individual is left to his vehicle, walked away, then eventually turn around to attack again to his victim and snatch her veil him shouting “It is forbidden by law [...] here, we respect women “ (assault a woman because of his religion and its origin is this definition of respect for women: ed.)
A man who attended the scene immediately intervened to assist the victim and stop aggression.
The victim is still very shocked and was very afraid for her child : “I picked races downed and taken my stroller, which under the impact of physical aggression, had rolled to the curb … I ‘ve found wobbly against the wheel of a parked car. He could have something happen to my son … the stroller could be completely reversed. “
Our legal team are currently in contact with victims to encourage them to complain and bring him any psychological assistance necessary.
The Zionist Clarion Project is funded by Aisha HaTorah, a pro-Occupation, pro-Settler colonization organization that seeks to foment anti-Muslim Islamophobic sentiment against Muslims in the West. They are known for such anti-Muslim screeds as Obsession, Third Jihad and Iranium. (h/t: JD)Meet Fox’s New Anti-Muslim “National Security Analyst”
Fox News has repeatedly hosted members of the fringe group Clarion Project, an anti-Muslim organization known for spreading Islamophobic fears, to discuss serious national security matters.
On February 20, Fox News hosted Ryan Mauro, a national security analyst from the Clarion Project, also known as the Clarion Fund, to discuss possible security threats on airlines. Mauro has recently appeared on Fox several times where he has argued that ‘Muslim patrols’ were a growing security concern for the United States, discussed the possibility of an anti-American alliance in the Middle East with Syrian Jihadists, and hyped fears that Somali refugees in the United States were becoming ‘homegrown’ terrorists.
But Mauro and other Clarion Project members are not credible sources to discuss issues such as these given their virulent history of Islamophobia. Clarion Project has been widely criticized for producing and spreading Islamophobic material including the movie, Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West, a film that depicted Muslims as terrorists seeking world conquest. Think Progress reported that this was only the first installment of “Clarion’s ongoing production of Islamophobic films.”
Mauro himself has penned numerous pieces for the anti-Islam blog Islamist Watch where he has tracked his progress in identifying “Muslim enclaves” in the United States that he says will become “‘no-go zones’ where governments admit to having little authority over Muslims living there” :
The construction of the building blocks for similar Muslim enclaves and “no-go zones” in the U.S. is one of the most disturbing programs of Islamist groups. If successful, these territories will be the first to establish Shari’a law in the country, thus offering a profound challenge to America’s constitutional order.
Other board members from the Clarion Project who have also made their way onto Fox include Frank Gaffney, one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes and Fox’s go-to anti-Muslim activist, Zuhdi Jasser. Gaffney has used funding for his Center for Security Policy to produce reports promoting the baseless myth that Muslims are conspiring to implement Sharia law in the United States.
According to a Center for American Progress report, the Clarion Project is funded by three of the seven top anti-Islam and anti-Muslim think tanks and organizations in the United States, including the Donors Capital Fund, Newton D. & Rochelle F. Becker foundations and charitable trust, and Anchorage Charitable Foundation and William Rosenwal Family Fund. The Center for American Progress describes these donors as the “lifeblood of the Islamophobia network in America,” and the report tracks how these donors use their money to support groups like the Clarion Project to “spread a deliberately misleading messages about Islam and Muslims that is fundamentally antithetical to our nation’s foundation and principals of religious freedom.”
Israel has been trying to transform indigenous farmers into an “urban proletariat” since at least the 1960s.
From The Big Benefits Row to Benefits Street, everyone in the media seems to want to talk about welfare these days. Or, more accurately, social security.
In an age of austerity, I won’t pretend to be surprised by the obsession with welfare and so-called “welfare dependency”, but there is a point worth making here: why do we obsess over handouts for the poor, rather than handouts for the rich? Why isn’t the scandal of corporate welfare the subject of fly-on-the-wall documentaries, too? When will my former colleagues at Channel 4 air a series called Bankers’ Street?
Ignore the media misinformation: spending on out-of-work benefits isn’t out of control, nor is the welfare state responsible for growing poverty. It cannot be repeated often enough: most of the social security budget (53 per cent) is spent on pensioners. That compares with a little over a quarter (26 per cent) on those much-maligned out-of-work benefits. Spending on the latter, as a proportion of national income, has been pretty flat for almost three decades.
The number of working households living below the poverty line now outnumbers the number of workless households – 6.7 million compared with 6.3 million. A life on social security isn’t the chief driver of poverty; a life on low pay is. Rather than decry the level of benefits that the jobless and the disabled are entitled to, perhaps politicians and pundits should focus on how four out of every five new jobs created under this government have been in low-pay sectors such as retail, hospitality and residential care. One in five of the UK workforce now earns less than the living wage and requires in-work benefits just to make ends meet – that’s five million people in total.
So let us turn instead to the real scandal, the issue that dare not speak its name: corporate welfare. Where is the ministerial or media anger over the activities of G4S and Serco, which are accused of ripping off the taxpayer but which make millions from lavish government contracts? Where are the howls of outrage over taxpayer-funded payouts to the fossil-fuel industry? The Met Office’s chief scientist may believe “there is a link” between the recent floods and climate change but the government continues to subsidise the coal, oil and gas industries to the tune of £2.6bn a year.
Why are the rail company bosses not household names in the same way as White Dee or Smoggy from Benefits Street? The UK has the most expensive rail fares in Europe and yet, according to research by the University of Manchester, the train-operating companies are completely dependent on public subsidies. The university’s June 2013 report for the TUC, aptly entitled The Great Train Robbery, revealed that the top five recipients alone got almost £3bn in taxpayer support between 2007 and 2011. Meanwhile, Network Rail, which is in charge of the UK’s rail infrastructure, receives an annual public subsidy of £4bn (roughly four times greater than the comparable cost under the publicly owned British Rail in the early 1990s).
Dare I mention PFI? Wait, don’t yawn at the back. The Private Finance Initiative, where construction and maintenance of schools, hospitals, roads and the rest are contracted out to private firms, was invented by the Tories in 1992, ramped up by New Labour over 13 years and continues under the coalition. As of 2013, it was forecast that 725 PFI contracts for public facilities across the UK, with a total capital value of £54bn, will cost the Exchequer more than £300bn by the time they are paid off. How’s that for a “something for nothing” culture?
Then there are the bank bailouts, perhaps the biggest act of corporate welfare in living memory. You want benefit spongers? Head for the Square Mile. As of 2013, the total level of financial support provided to the banks by the state, in the form of guarantees and cash outlays, amounted to £141bn, according to the National Audit Office. At the height of the financial crisis, the figure was an astonishing £1.1trn – enough to cover the £5bn Jobseeker’s Allowance budget for the next 200 years. And yet, in spite of being propped up by the taxpayer, RBS and Lloyds are expected to pay out roughly £900m in combined bonuses for 2013. Do I hear the word “scroungers”?
The truth is that the austerity junkies and deficit fetishists on the right aren’t bothered by welfare, or the cost of welfare, per se – only by the billions of pounds that go to the poor rather than the rich; to social programmes, job-guarantee schemes and housing for the homeless, rather than to the shareholders of multinational corporations and other financial institutions.
Remember: big business needs big government. The US economist Dean Baker rightly refers to “nanny-state conservatives”, whom he describes as “enthusiastic supporters of the big-government policies that send income flowing upward”. They are aided by their friends, allies and outriders in the right-wing media echo chamber, who have never had to endure the indignity of turning to payday lenders or food banks in order to survive. The callousness of commentators and columnists who kiss up and kick down, to borrow a line from the Labour MP Jon Cruddas, is unforgivable.
The job of the press, in the words of the Irish-American satirist Finley Peter Dunne, “is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”. The modern media, however, with their relentless frenzy over social security payments to those at the bottom rather than corporate welfare payouts at the top, have shamelessly turned Dunne’s dictum on its head.
Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the political director of the Huffington Post UK, where this column is crossposted
It was reported today that there has been a rise in the number of teenagers under 18 admitted to adult psychiatric wards, and that these were sometimes hundreds of miles from home and often proved to be highly unsuitable places for them. The BBC reported this here and there is a video clip of a young girl recounting her experience of being sent away (the other reports at present are just wire copy rewrites.) I have seen other reports of this sort of thing happening because of local inpatient facilities closing, notably this disturbing report of a young girl from Hull with Asperger’s syndrome who had been raped, who was sent to a secure unit in Cheshire after her local unit was closed to inpatients and there were no beds on other units in Yorkshire.
The case in Hull demonstrates that in fact unsuitable adolescent inpatient care can be as bad as putting a teenager in an adult ward, particularly if it is far from home. Putting a group of teenagers with different mental illnesses in one small section of a building and locking them in can make it an extremely hostile environment for some of them if the unit staff are unable or unwilling to protect the weaker children. The report notes that “the social care regulator had received an alert about a 12-year-old being admitted to an adult psychiatric unit”, but the majority of 12-year-olds are children, not adolescents, and putting them on a ward with 16-year-olds could have been every bit as traumatic as 16-year-olds, in our culture, have less responsibility for their actions than 22-year-olds.
The report also shines a light on the policy of banning visits by “children” (i.e. under-18s) to wards, even when the patient is under that age. (This is one of the ‘blanket policies’ that restricts the freedom of people in mental health wards, often beyond what is necessary; these include, for example, bans on accessing the Internet; see chapter 3 of this PDF from the Care Quality Commission.) I am not sure what the reason behind it is, but when I was a child I visited my uncle (who was in his 40s, and I must have been about eight) at a psychiatric hospital near Croydon (now closed), and although the environment was grim (dark and smoky) and it was a bit upsetting, neither my sister nor I came away traumatised by it. Looking on the website of Southern Health, which runs a number of mental health inpatient units in southern England, visitors under 18 are not allowed to visit one of them at all, and are only allowed into the visitor area at another. As one of these units admits people from age 18 up, this means that younger siblings of younger patients would not be allowed to visit, and nor would patients’ children (this is also true at their learning disability inpatient units, including the scandal-ridden STATT unit in Oxford). No reason for this policy is given anywhere.
Some might argue that it could traumatise children to be on a mental health ward, and when I mentioned this to a friend on Twitter, she told me that her son had never forgotten seeing his grandmother in a nursing home; but surely this is a decision parents have to make, and in any case, children are not banned from visiting nursing homes, and there needs to be a distinction made between children and adolescents, particularly those over 16. It sounds like a policy made to minimise ‘risk’, i.e. the liability of the unit, rather than for the welfare of the patients or the visitors. If under-18s can be admitted to these units, surely they should be allowed to visit. As one of the former patients interviewed said, it made it a lot harder that her friends were not allowed to visit, and she was on the adult ward (at age 17) for eight weeks before being moved to an adolescent unit.
There is no secret that mental health is considered a “Cinderella” service, i.e. one that is hidden from view and not glamorous, rather like the long-term care of people with learning disabilities. It seems that the only money available is for crisis care, which is all very well but people need something to move on to and just going back to the status quo ante is not always possible — it may have been what caused the crisis. It is good that in the UK we do not use hospitals for the long term care of these people — a situation like that of Astrid van Woerkom, the Dutch autistic blogger who has been in institutions since 2007 because the state will not provide the care she needs in the community, would be extremely unlikely to happen here — but the more we cut inpatient mental health beds and community services for both these groups of people, the more we end up with people in crisis being sent miles away from home to units that are completely unsuitable and which make bad situations a lot worse.