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Dear Muslims, stop cringing

Indigo Jo Blogs - 2 May, 2019 - 23:17
A graphic showing a table with jugs of water and plates of food under a crescent moon and four hanging lanterns; underneath the table is the slogan "No, not even water".

Ramadan starts next week, and for the first time in a long while, the fasting days will be getting longer as the month progresses; most of the days will be long, starting (depending on your point of view) just after 1pm or some time around 2:30am and finishing just before 9pm and, towards the end, well after 9:30pm. Most Muslims will be working or studying during this time and most of us in the UK will not be working only around other Muslims. Every so often someone decides to make it a little bit easier for us by asking people not to eat right in front of us, especially food which smells, and it seems that some Muslims are over-anxious to tell them that in fact, we’re not offended and others really do not need to consider their feelings before they stuff their faces in front of fasting workmates or schoolmates.

A few years ago I had a conversation about this on BBC Radio London when the Daily Express (or Daily Spew as I called it at the time) made a story out of the fact that staff at Tower Hamlets council in east London, an area where there is a very high concentration of Muslims, not to eat during meetings or otherwise in front of fasting Muslim workmates. Back then, Ramadan was in September and the days were getting noticeably longer and more difficult, although (unlike today) they got shorter as the month progressed. The paper, you may recall, published a number of stories about things being ‘banned’ because Muslims complained or because council staff were afraid of offending Muslims, and often it was utter baloney: Christmas being renamed (tabloids repeated the story about ‘Winterval’ numerous times over the years, when in fact this was a promotion for a refurbished shopping centre which ran for two years and Christmas was part of it), piggy banks being removed and other nonsense like that. After the Leveson report, they had to come clean on the falsity of some of these stories and stop repeating them. But it seems the fear of them has never gone away for many of us.

Some of us have legitimate reasons not to fast at least some of Ramadan: periods, travel, illness or the threat of it (as with type 1 diabetics and long spring/summer fasts) and a few others. If any of these apply to us, we don’t eat in front of people who are fasting if we can avoid it. It’s basic consideration. Of course, contact with food is unavoidable for some people, such as restaurant workers or those with small children, and we have to prepare food in the last hour or so before iftar, and yes, as a Twitter acquaintance pointed out, you get Muslim food companies (like the sweet producer Ambala) making Ramadan prayer timetables that advertise their food. But for the most part, we do not want to go through the day being reminded of food any time we have a free moment and we don’t do that to each other.

So really we should not rush to tell non-Muslims that they really can feel free to stuff their faces in front of us at work and we really don’t mind, really. Do we really think that people who do not want us around, or do not want to see our headscarves or abayas or, where applicable, our brown skin will hate us any less because we don’t object to their stinking the office out with their cooked food during a working day and eating it in front of us when we are trying to concentrate on our work, or read, or whatever when we are hungry? Of course they will not. I do not see Muslims making this request, only non-Muslims trying to be considerate so please, do not throw it back in their faces! The people objecting are not those who need to eat at regular intervals or people with learning disabilities with no understanding of religion; we understand that. They are people who do not want us around, however much we tone our religion or our practice down. This is our country, many of us were born here and indeed even many Asian people are third or fourth generation; we are not unwelcome guests but are here to stay, so let’s not cringe in front of bigots.

Image source: TeePublic.

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Persecution driving Christians out of Middle East – report

The Guardian World news: Islam - 2 May, 2019 - 22:00

Millions uprooted from homes, says UK-commissioned report, with many jailed and killed

Pervasive persecution of Christians, sometimes amounting to genocide, is ongoing in parts of the Middle East, and has prompted an exodus in the past two decades, according to a report commissioned by the British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt.

Millions of Christians in the region have been uprooted from their homes, and many have been killed, kidnapped, imprisoned and discriminated against, the report finds. It also highlights discrimination across south-east Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and in east Asia – often driven by state authoritarianism.

Related: As the Sri Lanka attacks show, Christians worldwide face serious persecution | Giles Fraser

Related: The government’s olive branch to Christians is tinged with hypocrisy | Afua Hirsch

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Matteo Salvini: vote for nationalists to stop European caliphate

The Guardian World news: Islam - 2 May, 2019 - 18:24

Italy’s deputy PM says far right must make European election gains to prevent ‘sad ending’

Matteo Salvini, Italy’s most powerful politician, has said Europe will become an “Islamic caliphate” unless nationalist parties make gains in the European elections later this month.

Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister and leader of the League party, is trying to form a coalition of nationalist and far-right forces ahead of the elections and was speaking in Budapest during a visit to his ideological soulmate Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister.

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Sudan: what future for the country’s Islamists?

The Guardian World news: Islam - 2 May, 2019 - 09:22

Islamist parties that supported the Bashir regime are now facing challenges

As members of Sudan’s Islamist Popular Congress party arrived for a meeting in Khartoum one Saturday afternoon, they were greeted by abuse from groups of young protesters and chants of “no to Islamists”.

In the scuffles that followed, both sides threw stones. Dozens were injured and more than a hundred were arrested.

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Why are St Andrew’s passing the buck?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 1 May, 2019 - 23:57

Yesterday it was reported that Katie Fisher, the chief executive of St Andrew’s Healthcare, a charity which runs four hospitals including a large psychiatric institution in Northampton, had “spoken out” after an internal review found that they had 36 patients who should not be in hospital but were there only because of the lack of suitable community placements or funding to allow them to go to one. She is quoted as saying:

The system is in crisis. There are people who have life-long needs who require life-long support, but those who recover or are assessed as fit to leave but then cannot are not gaining any clinical benefit from being here. It is potentially damaging, especially if they don’t know when or where they will be discharged. This is their life and not being able to move to a more suitable place or home is just wrong, unnecessarily restrictive and hugely expensive.

It’s ironic that she calls it “hugely expensive” when, of course, it is private operators such as St Andrew’s and profit-making entities such as Cygnet and Priory are making a lot of money out of this situation. It is to the public that it is expensive. St Andrew’s in Northampton is an enormous complex with numerous wards in the old building which have been abandoned as they are old-fashioned and because they have features which make supervision difficult; active wards are mostly in newer buildings. All of these operators take in patients on a regular basis they know to be unsuited to the remit of or the conditions on the ward; they know, for example, that many people admitted are autistic, yet they do not refuse to take them.

None of these organisations is impoverished; St Andrew’s, besides its considerably property portfolio, has enough to pay its chief executives six-figure salaries and big bonuses. They should not be blaming local authorities or “the system” for their practice of taking in people as patients that they know do not need their care or who are unsuited, and then keeping them in conditions which deprive them of fresh air, human contact, everyday comforts (such as an appropriately decorated room) or even essential medical treatment such as the removal of bits of a plastic pen from their arm, or keeping them locked-up or drugged unnecessarily.

Let’s have no more excuses. If St Andrew’s cannot provide appropriate care for the people they take in under the Mental Health Act or otherwise, they should not be taking money to do so. Local authorities would not be able to avoid their duties to autistic people and others with major care needs if there were not charities and businesses looking to take them in but not necessarily to care for them properly.

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Halima Aden becomes first model to wear a burkini in Sports Illustrated

The Guardian World news: Islam - 30 April, 2019 - 05:09

Born in a Kenyan refugee camp, the Muslim Somali-American model returned to her birth country for historic photoshoot

Somali-American model Halima Aden has become the first Muslim model to appear in Sports Illustrated magazine wearing a hijab and burkini. She appeared in the swimsuit edition, out in May, wearing a number of different colourful burkinis.

The model told the BBC: “Young girls who wear a hijab should have women they look up to in any and every industry.

Don’t change yourself .. Change the GAME!! Ladies anything is possible!!! Being in Sports Illustrated is so much bigger than me. It’s sending a message to my community and the world that women of all different backgrounds, looks, upbringings... can stand together and be celebrated. Thank you so much @si_swimsuit & the entire team for giving me this incredible opportunity.

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On responding to anti-vaxxers

Indigo Jo Blogs - 28 April, 2019 - 19:54
Photo of a white child of about a year old with their body covered in a red rash from measles.Child with a classic “day 4” rash with measles.

Today I saw two new articles on the issue of the measles epidemic in the USA which has been caused by the failure of parents, under the influence of anti-vaccine pseudo-science and ideology which feeds off a widely-discredited scare about the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and vaccines more generally. One is by Stephanie Nimmo whose daughter had a lifelong chronic illness that made it dangerous for her to receive live vaccines and is about the importance of the rest of us being vaccinated and making sure our children are. The other is in today’s Observer and is about how the contempt often shown to anti-vaxxers, including for these purposes parents who refuse vaccines for their own children, feeds populist right-wing politics (as it has in Italy) and causes the parents involved to dig in rather than to submit.

I grew up in the years before the MMR vaccine; when I was young, the major scare was about the whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine. Neither my sister nor I had it; both of us had the disease, and it got passed on to a friend’s child who also got it. We all survived. I also had the single measles vaccine that was available then (late 70s) and got measles, mildly, and passed it to my Dad, who had it severely (though without lasting effects). Steph Nimmo in her article speaks of her memories of having the disease, “of being terribly ill at home, in a darkened bedroom, unable to bear bright lights”, which is one of her strongest memories of early childhood. It left her deaf in one ear. My mother was not stupid; it was widely reported that the vaccine was linked to brain damage (as she told me) and she wanted to avoid causing her child lasting illness or disability. The same was true of many of the parents who refused the MMR vaccine in the early years of the scare. Neither she nor most of they were opposed to vaccines in general. Today, hard-set belief is more likely to be behind refusals.

Many of us now do not remember the days when measles was a severe illness that left people blind, deaf, brain-damaged or dead. We think of it as an illness that children got, and got over, that made them ill for a few weeks and gave them a rash. Many of us remember being a bit sick and having some time off school, maybe in bed, and having one of our parents or another adult to ourselves for a few days. So it is no surprise that when parents believe that a vaccine is linked to lasting damage, they would rather expose their child to the illness instead. The cure, they think, is probably worse than the disease. In the early years of the Wakefield MMR scare, readers may recall, the then prime minister Tony Blair refused to tell the public whether he had had his young son Leo given the MMR. This immediately gave the impression that the powerful, though they lectured the rest of us to trust the scientists and have our children vaccinated “their way”, did not do this themselves. I believed then, and do now, that the government should have made the single measles and rubella vaccines available free of charge to the public (the latter to pre-teen girls, to prevent congenital rubella syndrome in their children) as they had been pre-MMR.

A common term in the literature of vaccines is “herd immunity”, which is when the incidence of a disease is negligible because the vast majority of the population has been vaccinated. This is what people like Stephanie Nimmo’s daughter, Daisy, relied on to make sure they also will not get the diseases. When I mentioned this to an anti-vaxxer on Facebook a few years ago, however, she told me “and I’m not a heffer (sic) to be herded”. People do not like to be compared to livestock and when the likes of Tony Blair apparently refuse a controversial vaccine for their children, its message is that what’s good for “the herd” is not good for their leaders. A few years ago Mitch Benn, the comedian who appears on BBC panel shows, did a song called “Vaccinate Your Kids” which called the Americans who resisted vaccination “bloody idiots” and also stressed the importance of “herd immunity”. It is unlikely to have changed many minds, however many laughs it got in the BBC studio; people know that politicians and the rich do not regard themselves as part of the ‘herd’.

What people often forget is that fears about vaccines are not just about the MMR and not just about autism. I know of a number of cases where people developed ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis), or a disease a lot like it, after being given routine vaccinations; the best-known case is that of Lynn Gilderdale, who developed it at 14 following the BCG vaccination (for tuberculosis) which was given routintely to teenagers at that time (the early 1990s) and became bedridden the following year, and remained so for the rest of her life. Some similar cases have been linked to the vaccinations for the human papillomavirus (HPV), a major cause of cervical cancer, which is also administered to girls at about the same age. These cases may be very rare but they are also extremely severe and consign a young person to a lifetime of extreme sickness and pain. I have heard theories about why people suffer extreme reactions to vaccines but I have not heard of any research being done into this and to what may be done to minimise the risk.

Neither public health authorities nor the medical profession should rely on their authority, and on the public’s acceptance of it, as a guarantee that people will take their advice and vaccinate during a scare. People know that doctors make mistakes and anyone with experience of chronic illness or disability will most likely have encountered an arrogant or callous doctor who thought they knew what was best when really they did not. People do not have to be prone to conspiracy theories to be suspicious of arrogant-sounding people telling them not to worry their little heads and just take the medicine. Similarly, there are common stereotypes about people in Pakistan and other places like it refusing vaccinations, leading to the return of diseases thought to have been eradicated, because they suspect that the vaccines have an ulterior motive, but a vaccination programme has been used for ‘intelligence’ purposes in the preparation for Osama bin Laden’s assassination. If the health authorities here and in the USA had been a bit more mindful of this in the early 2000s, the resulting epidemics could have been ameliorated significantly. When the aim is to protect health and prevent disease, arrogance in response to dissent can be counter-productive and doubly so if you are in the right.

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Debenhams: another big British chain in trouble

Indigo Jo Blogs - 26 April, 2019 - 22:31
 No Vehicles" followed by loading exemptions. The tram lines cross in the foreground and their overhead wires are above.North End, Croydon, in February 2005. The now-closed Allders can be seen on the right; the now-closed Littlewoods is at front left, with the threatened Debenham’s behind it on the left.

Today it was announced that the British department store chain Debenhams was to close 50 of the stores it operates in the UK, leaving it with 116 (in other words, nearly a third of its capacity). 22 of these were named today and they include, for example, a store set up in a refurbished shopping centre in Wolverhampton which was opened with much fanfare in 2017 when it replaced a branch of the collapsed BHS (originally British Home Stores) chain. A large part of the reason is that customers have been switching to online purchasing and the department stores can no longer afford the high rents on ‘prime’ retail locations such as in major shopping centres; Debenhams is seeking to renegotiate rents on all but 39 of the remaining stores, seeking reductions of between 25% and 50%. At the same time, Marks and Spencer plan to close 100 stores this or next year while House of Fraser has been shutting shops after being bought out of administration last year. The rise of online retail is being blamed for the collapse of some of the large retail companies; it is noticeable that the companies with a strong online offering, such as M&S and John Lewis, are in no great financial trouble even though some of the stores themselves are proving unprofitable.

It’s no secret that buying online is a lot easier than buying in a store and often a lot cheaper, as large companies such as Amazon benefit from greater economies of scale, operating a small number of vast warehouses and contracting out the logistics to haulage companies and, at the local level, self-employed couriers. Many a shop owner will tell you that people will come into their shop, look at an item, find it on Amazon using their smartphone and order it there and then, leaving the shop empty-handed. Amazon started as a bookseller, and while they can offer large discounts on often expensive books, they also operate the e-book system Kindle; the upshot is that even large physical booksellers such as Foyle’s in London now sell fewer technical books. The computing section used to fill several rooms; now it barely fills one wall of shelves, much as used to be the case in suburban branches of Waterstone’s. But convenience and low cost is only half the story.

Debenham’s does not have its own brand of clothing. Its clothing sections are grouped according to concession. It is effectively a large mall full of lots of little shops which sell all of the types of clothes they sell in one space. Allder’s, a similar chain which collapsed in 2005 (although one branch was bought out and continued trading until 2012), operated on the same basis, as does John Lewis (although they have a small range of own-brand clothes) and House of Fraser. M&S sells its own products, though it groups them into different brands which have their own areas of the shop. This is particularly the case with ladieswear; menswear, particularly in M&S, is more sensibly grouped together with, say, men’s chinos and jeans in the same area of the store. But if you want a particular type of skirt or dress, for example, you will have to hunt through the entire store because it could be anywhere on more than one floor. Meanwhile, it is fairly easy to search for such an item simply by using the store’s own website or mobile phone app, which can sometimes tell you if a store has it but not where. So, the companies have really done their stores a disservice by providing a much easier way of searching for their own products.

A woman wearing an ankle-length skirt with panels of yellow, beige and light green with flower patterns on the beige and green. There are three bands, two green with yellow in between, at the hem. She is wearing a light green jumper but her head and torso are cropped out.A 2007 Per Una skirt.

And it has to be said that quality has gone down in the past few years, particularly in women’s clothes. It was no surprise to hear, for example, that Monsoon and Accessorize were trying to renegotiate their debts and rents after their parent company had suffered tens of millions of pounds in losses year after year while sales remained flat. This company has also been closing stores all over the place and plans to close more as leases expire. Monsoon clothes used to be exquisite; today, they sell an ever-changing range of colourful but often poor-quality garments for around £100 each. Looking for a birthday present for someone this past week, I found a lot of paper-thin (and unlined) skirts and dresses retailing for around £70 when the quality really could not justify it. (One of them had a nice blue and white pattern with pockets, so could be quite practical, but again, paper-thin and when I came back to have another look after a few days, they were no longer selling it.) M&S’s ladieswear has seen a similar decline in quality in favour of thin clothes often made with polyester, a frequent complaint being that the actual garment was of poorer quality than it appeared in a photograph; its Per Una range was exquisite when first launched (here are some examples from 2007). Meanwhile, this denim skirt, made of good quality fabric by the look of it but plain and not exactly original, is going for £115 in John Lewis.

Is it any surprise that people are looking elsewhere for their clothing, rather than to companies which may think they have a ‘right’ to people’s business because they have been around a long time, or were what people “grew up with”? It really is not, and these dinosaurs who think their mere names can keep them in business when they sell clothing that is barely above rag-trade quality for several times the price need to up their game or they will have to up their sticks very soon.

Image source: Mtiedemann, from Wikimedia; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 licence.

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'Mawanella was the start': Sri Lankan town reels from bombing links

The Guardian World news: Islam - 26 April, 2019 - 12:22

Faith leaders say local youths were radicalised by extremist preacher Mohammed Zahran Hashim

It was crude stuff: young men armed with hammers, arriving on motorbikes in the middle of the night. At four sites in Mawanella, a central Sri Lankan town, they hacked at Buddhist statues, lopping off parts of their faces and hands.

In the aftermath of the desecration on 26 December 2018, police and local politicians were more concerned with defusing the anger of the Buddhist community and preventing religious riots of the kind that had rocked the nearby city of Digana eight months before.

Related: Sri Lanka attacks: president says civil war inquiries left country vulnerable

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'Love in the face of bigotry': woman takes smiling stand against Islamophobic protesters

The Guardian World news: Islam - 24 April, 2019 - 02:14

Shaymaa Ismaa’eel says she wanted demonstrators in Washington to see ‘how happy I was to be me’

While attending an Islamic conference in Washington DC on Sunday, Shaymaa Ismaa’eel, a 24-year-old Muslim woman, passed by a group of angry protesters holding signs against Islam and shouting that she and her friends were going to hell. In response, she crouched in front of them and flashed a peace sign.

The resulting photo, posted on Instagram, has prompted an outpouring of support for Ismaa’eel.

Related: Footage of Italian boy who stood up to fascists goes viral

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