Foreigners, foreigners and more foreigners

Indigo Jo Blogs - 11 January, 2019 - 22:25
David Lammy on Brexit:
‘be angry at the chancers who sold you a lie’

One of my biggest complaints about Remainers is that, when discussing the issue of the end of free movement between Britain and the EU, instead of emphasising the benefits to Britain and British people both of free movement for ourselves and of the contribution European workers make, they try to deflect the discussion by contrasting European immigration with immigration from elsewhere. The most prominent example was Tony Blair who, in a speech in February 2007, contrasted beneficial immigration from the EU from immigration where “different cultures in which assimilation and potential security threats can be an issue”. He opined that this was the sort of immigration people really care about (because this is what certain members of the chattering classes agitated about in the early 2000s). So, imagine my disappointment when none other than David Lammy appealed to the same sentiment in the Commons in a video published by Channel 4 yesterday, informing anyone who voted for Brexit to stem immigration that it would do the opposite:

Most MPs must now recognise it in private but do not say it in public. Brexit is a con, a trick, a swindle, a fraud, a deception that will hurt most of those people it promised to help, a dangerous fantasy that will make every problem it claimed to solve worse. A campaign won on false promises and lies. Vote Leave and Leave.EU both broke the law. Russian interference is beyond reasonable doubt and by now, every single campaign promise made in 2016 has become unstuck. Brexit will not enrich our NHS; it will impoverish it. Our trade deal with Donald Trump will see the US corporations privatise and dismantle the NHS one bed at a time. And even those promises on immigration, which has so greatly enriched our country, are a lie. After Brexit, immigration will go up, not down. When we enter into negotiations with countries like India and China, they will ask for three things: visas, visas and more visas, and they will get them because we will be weak.

It’s depressing, to say the least, to see a progressive Labour MP appeal to people who think their jobs are all going to (white) eastern Europeans and/or don’t want them here by telling them that their country is going to be flooded with dark-skinned Indians and Chinese instead. It has become notoriously difficult to get a British visa in recent years with people applying to come here to speak at conferences, attend weddings, receive vital medical treatment or play at festivals being refused for utterly spurious reasons, as well as those fleeing persecution. This pre-dates the Cameron/May “hostile environment” but certainly got worse during that period. These things too impoverish our country and are causing conference organisers to consider venues in more welcoming societies. Demands for a more liberal visa regime might be one of the consequences of Brexit but they have strong justifications and should not be used for coded appeals to racism, especially at a time when some people really do see the effect, or even the intention, of allowing unrestricted European immigration as keeping people like them out.

Image source: Chris McAndrew - Gallery:, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 3.0) licence.

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Let’s not be intimidated by Brexiteer thugs

Indigo Jo Blogs - 8 January, 2019 - 16:15

A graphic with the slogan "There are only two genders", with 'female' attached to a white woman and 'male' to a Black woman who is very recognisably female.Yesterday we saw a group of thugs in yellow vests, clearly acting in imitation of the fuel protesters in France, intimidate the political writer Owen Jones, the journalist Dawn Foster (who wrote about the incident here) and the anti-Brexit Tory MP Anna Soubry in public. Clips on Twitter and YouTube show gangs of men chanting things like “two liars on Sky News” and “Soubry is a Nazi” as she tried to give an interview outside somewhere near Parliament Square, one of them tell a Black policeman that he is not British and another call a Black man who tried to follow Soubry ‘Lammy’, assuming he was the Labour MP David Lammy (who later tweeted “I wonder what it is that confused them”). Their leader is one James Goddard, who is an EDL sympathiser although he claims he has never been a member (although you may not need to be a member as such to join their demonstrations and shout their slogans), and has shared images that are obviously racist, such as the one in the graphic attached to this article, tweeted from his account on 3rd November last year (significant as the EDL has always denied being racist). We have had people suggest that this intimidation is only a taste of what is to come if there is another referendum or the Brexiteers’ demands are otherwise not met. This is not an assumption we should fall into.

Just to be clear, the “yellow vest” demonstrations in the UK have been tiny as every video of them demonstrates, including the one in Parliament Square yesterday. It has been claimed that they wear “high-vis” vests because they are normally a “low-vis” people ignored by the political classes. Nonsense. There would be no way of recreating the French protests, partly because the same discontent over fuel prices (particularly away from the cities in places where there is poor public transport) does not exist here, where fuel prices remain low compared to most of last year and partly because the majority of people do not have one here; in France each passenger in any car has to have a vest available in case of, say, a motorway breakdown. I have seen people referred to the group responsible for the harassment as a ‘mob’; there are not enough of them to justify that word. ‘Gang’ is more appropriate. So while it is highly likely that this group would attempt to step up its violence in the event of Brexit being stalled, it could be easily contained because there would be few recruits if most people still had jobs and did not have time to go running round the streets causing trouble. If, on the other hand, the economy sinks after a no-deal or bad-deal Brexit and lots of people are out of work, these thugs will have an easier job recruiting, particularly in the wake of something like a terrorist attack, because there will be more people with free time on their hands looking for someone to blame.

There are people exaggerating the situation and others rather disgracefully making excuses for the violence yesterday; some of them are on the Left and comparing the abuse to disparaging words said about Jeremy Corbyn or some of his front bench (e.g. Soubry calling John McDonnell a “nasty piece of work”, which really does not compare with physically intimidating people in the street and making threats of violence) and some claiming that their anti-Brexit stance makes violence against them inevitable or to be expected — notably Tim Montgomerie, founder of Conservative Home, and Brendan O’Neill. If we really were under the thumb of some sort of autocratic EU superstate and people were actually suffering rather than being mildly irritated by periodic stories about rules on the shape of cucumbers, perhaps these sentiments would have some justification, but these are a small group of racist thugs who threaten people who disagree with them and let us not forget that an MP was murdered while walking in a public place only two years ago by a far-right gunman. It only would have taken one of yesterday’s goons to have packed a knife and either Soubry or Foster could have been killed.

Equally ridiculously, yesterday Emily Thornberry accused the People’s Vote campaign of thinking “that their purpose is to slap the Labour Party around” and that “instead of spending their time trying to change people’s minds, they spend their time smacking the Labour Party around the head”. Nobody has been slapping anyone around in the Labour party and nobody is advocating violence of any sort; people are in a panic because the country gets closer to the deadline day by day and the Labour leadership is showing no real leadership on the matter, leaving many to suspect that their real aim is to allow a hard Brexit to happen so as to reap the result of the chaos that might ensue (as an acquaintance in the autism advocacy scene mentioned earlier today, “when a trade union goes on strike, members vote to strike but they also vote on whether or not to accept the final deal. You’d hope [the Labour party] would understand that principle”). There is simply sustained criticism and a few harsh words, that is all. It’s a bit distasteful to use this kind of language (or to amplify it on Twitter) while people are actually being threatened with violence by gangs of young men on the streets of London. Let’s not pretend that there is a “febrile atmosphere” as Matthew Goodwin did earlier today. There is a small group of thugs trying to cause trouble. That is all. We would be committing a huge folly by giving in to their intimidation.

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Do we need “a debate on mental health”?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 7 January, 2019 - 20:50

TA picture of Stephanie Bincliffe, a young, very overweight white woman wearing a green T-shirt and a pair of shorts, sitting against a wall decorated in many colours with some cuddly toys sitting on the floor next to her.his is a claim I have seen being made in the media on a fairly regular basis. Usually it’s about general mental health issues, and often includes a strong element of blame towards those who are unwell, along such lines as “men keep killing themselves because they won’t talk about their feelings!”. In my opinion we do not really need a debate about mental health generally. We need a debate about mental health care, mental health funding and mental health law. And we need change, because the system is failing and people are dying.

There are too many people ending up in the mental health inpatient system when they do not need to be, or would not have needed to be if they had received support earlier, when they or their family (in the case of children) first asked for help. There are people trapped in completely unsuitable units. There are whole units who are taking patients that are completely unsuitable, or not making sure they are suitable and understand their needs. There are private units which take public money to provide completely inadequate care and do not hire sufficient staff to keep people safe and make sure the experience is therapeutic and not traumatic. And worst, there are laws which allow people to be forcibly detained in places which make no attempt to address their needs and which do not force clinicians or their staff to learn how to address those needs.

Part of the problem, as already amply discussed here and elsewhere, is that the social care system has been starved of funds and this means that local authorities do not want to have a pay for day-to-day care for someone with autism and a learning disability; they would prefer that the NHS pays and this means they remain in hospital. When people do get released, all too often their care breaks down after a few months for reasons of money or poor training, meaning they are returned to hospital which is often miles away. There have even been cases of a local authority vetoing a care package for an autistic person who would have been returned home to their area because they needed “specialised” care, which resulted in the person remaining in hospital.

However, it is not only at local authority level that there are problems with funding. The NHS has come to rely on private hospital chains to provide mental health care; many local NHS hospitals have been closed because it is more “cost-effective” to sell the building than refurbish it. In every town you see boarded-up NHS buildings. Of course, the old out-of-town Victorian asylums were outdated needed to be closed, but the closures have continued apace long after they were mostly closed. In Hull, a good adolescent inpatient unit was closed because NHS England demanded that five-day inpatient units had to convert to seven-day care or close. The result was that there was no inpatient care for adolescents in Hull, resulting in their having to travel out of area to places like Manchester. In some rural areas there is no adolescent inpatient care and there never has been — with the same result, with patients from Cornwall being transported all the way to Kent and Essex, more than 200 miles away. The upshot has been that people are denied important family time and home leave: one patient spent Christmas with family for the first time since 2013 last year.

Cases of people being denied normal human dignity in the name of ‘protection’ abound; often this is exacerbated by failure to recruit enough staff. Only this past week a lady told me that her autistic daughter had had a meltdown in a private unit (70-something miles from home), to which she had been admitted informally last year (with the promise that it would only be for four weeks; five months later, she was sectioned and they are looking to transfer her elsewhere) and she was told that it “came out of nowhere”. In fact the reason was that she was unable to have a bath because she was not allowed to bathe alone because of self-harm risks but there was only a male staff member to supervise her. (On another recent occasion, over Christmas, she had to wait two hours for the bathroom to be unlocked in the morning so she could use the toilet; this is not an isolated case.) Women and girls are particularly at risk from such displays of disregard to their dignity; cases of girls not being allowed sanitary protection while in anti-rip clothing (again, to prevent self-harm) have been recorded in at least two units that I am aware of (see previous entry for the less obvious reasons why this is harmful).

As you may have guessed, I am talking principally about autistic people here. Two particular groups are particularly badly served: one being adolescents, particularly girls, with mental health problems stemming from the pressures of school and undiagnosed autism (the presentation formerly known as Asperger’s syndrome) and the other being people of both sexes with a learning disability who suffer a crisis, often prompted by the certainties of school coming to an end and having to adjust to the changes that come with that. Neither the mainstream nor the learning disability mental health system are equipped to deal with the challenges of autism, despite nearly nine years of high-profile campaigning since about 2009: the Steven Neary case, the Winterbourne View scandal, the deaths of Connor Sparrowhawk, Stephanie Bincliffe and others. Stories abound of staff simply displaying no understanding, of low-level staff such as healthcare assistants or other patients knowing more about it and understanding it better than consultants or senior nurses.

Some of the changes that are badly needed are:

We need separate units for autistic people, but all mental health nurses and psychiatrists need comprehensive education on autism, both in conjunction with learning disability and otherwise, as part of their training. They need to be able to recognise “challenging behaviour” as communication so that they can minimise the situations that lead to it and respond appropriately rather than punitively or with aggressive and violent restraint. The need for specialist autistic units arises, particularly for adolescents, because autistic girls in particular tend to copy behaviours of other girls and if they see others injuring themselves, they are liable to adopt the methods they see them using. It happens often.

There should be no blanket policies banning such things as mobile phones and internet access. This is often justified on grounds of patient and staff confidentiality. Adult acute wards have relaxed this policy over recent years but it still remains on many adolescent wards and in secure units which hold both sectioned and forensic patients. While there is sometimes good reason to separate someone from their online ‘life’ for the sake of their own mental health (e.g. to stop them communicating with people who would bully them or accessing “pro-ana” and other harmful websites), it should never be a blanket policy. As an anonymous parent said on Twitter today, “no child should be left with nothing but self-harm to pass the time”. Units should not be allowed to hold both section 3 and forensic patients so that the lives of sectioned patients is not unduly constrained.

All private providers of mental health care, if they are to start or continue being contracted by the NHS, need to account for how they spend money. They need to be able to guarantee that they can provide adequate permanent staff at all times including at weekends and during holiday seasons, where there are multiple public holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, and staff must be impressed upon that they will have to work at these times because just as their personal care needs do not stop that day, neither does any disabled person’s or hospital patient’s. This applies to both companies and individual units: if they cannot recruit sufficient staff to work in a particular location, the unit does not open. If staffing problems continue for an extended period, the unit closes. No unit can be dependent on agency staff who are not regular enough to be trained to deal with a patient’s specific needs; no patient should face days of lock-up or be expected to tolerate ‘visits’ through a hatch because only agency staff are available.

The sectioning rules need to be tightened up so that it is more difficult to detain a patient after they have admitted themselves voluntarily. There must be a period after a doctor has decided to section whereby the approved mental health professional (AHMP) can familiarise themselves with the particular patient’s needs. This would mean there is no jump to section 3; an automatic three-day hold should become the norm. No patient should be allowed to be transferred without their consent in a certain period after being sectioned; this is to safeguard against someone being sectioned on a pretext to allow transfer. There must be an automatic tribunal with the patient or their family allowed to contest the reason for them being sectioned to identify, for example, if the incidents that led to it were prompted by the conditions of the unit or the behaviour of the staff or other patients rather than an actual deterioration in their mental health. And while an appeal is ongoing, a section should not be renewable and no transfers should take place without consent.

So, I fear that any public ‘debate’ about mental health would distract from the very real problems affecting people who need mental health care, inpatient care in particular, in this country. We have become too dependent on a small number of foreign-owned, profit-making companies and a smaller number of charities who seem to charge a lot of money but provide appalling care resulting in people often getting worse, learning new ways to harm themselves and emerging with fresh traumas that were not there when they went in. We need not only corporate and professional culture to change but also laws, so that disabled people are protected from neglect and abuse.

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No injustice

Indigo Jo Blogs - 5 January, 2019 - 22:10

Picture of a village sign showing a church and a man pushing a loaded barrow across grass in front of it; the sign stands on a pole amid a flowerbed surrounded by benches and a roadsign facing the other way. There is a parade of shops across the road which stretches from a corner behind the sign, including a florist with flowers displayed outside at the shop on the corner.In 2011 Sally Challen was jailed for life for murdering her husband, Richard Challen, at his home (and formerly their marital home) in Claygate, Surrey (which is down the road from where I live). She killed him by attacking him with a hammer from behind; she then drove to a nearby multi-storey car park intending to jump from the roof but when she found it closed, drove to Beachy Head in Sussex, a notorious suicide spot, but was talked down and then arrested. She is now appealing her conviction with the help of the same group of lawyers and feminist campaigners that have tried, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, to get a number of other women out of jail having killed abusive or violent husbands from the early 1990s. Yet the description of the murder does not fit the pattern of the sort of killing which would merit a defence of diminished responsibility or provocation, even cumulative provocation. It sounds like a straightforward premeditated murder.

There is no doubt that Richard Challen was abusive to Sally and that the abuse was characterised by “coercive control”, i.e. unreasonably dictating what a partner (usually a wife or girlfriend) might wear, whom the might talk to, etc., and persistently checking on them or spying on them. Their sons say that he used prostitutes, imposed rules on her such that she have no friends of her own or talk to others in his presence, and criticised her constantly about her weight and appearance. After Sally Challen left her husband in November 2009, her sons tried to persuade her not to have anything more to do with their father but she returned, armed with a hammer, the following August, supposedly to try to patch things up. Richard planned to try to get her to agree to some conditions, such as reducing her rights to their home, that she not interrupt him or talk to other people when they were in restaurants. As the home was empty, he sent her to a nearby shop to get food; on return, suspecting an ulterior motive, she picked up his phone and dialled the last number on his phone, which was answered by a woman. She then cooked food for him, and as he sat with his back to her to eat it, she attacked him several times with the hammer, killing him.

Two important things to notice here: one is that she was living apart from her husband, and was not forced to go back to the house, and the other is that she took a hammer, which may have meant she anticipated violence from him or maybe that she intended to use it herself. Going equipped with an implement such as a hammer in public with no intention to use it other than as a weapon is a crime in itself. In previous cases involving abused wives, the woman killed the husband after a provocation that seemed trivial in itself (e.g. casually informing her that he had another woman, as with Emma Humphreys) but not so in the context of years of abuse, or was still in the relationship and still feared violence or was actively traumatised when she carried out the killing; in others, the killing took place during an argument in which the husband threatened the wife (e.g. that of Donna Tinker in 2000). None of these things were the case here. She had been away from him for several months, could have stayed away, was under no threat, and attacked him from behind without provocation. She was angry with him, but there is such a thing as a proportional reaction and learning of someone’s infidelity stopped being a defence for murder in 2008 after campaigns from the same feminists who want to see Sally Challen released. They called it the “nagging and shagging defence”.

It’s good that the law was changed to reflect the realities of living with a persistently violent partner and the psychological effects of it, but the victim having been abusive is not a defence on its own. Whether or not Richard Challen was a nice guy, his wife had no right to kill him and, in the absence of a strong evidence of mental illness, premeditation still makes a killing a murder (though of course, those rules can be bent too, as in the Tania Clarence triple murder case). Basically, “he was scum” never was, and is not, a defence for murder and it should not become one.

Image source: Motmit, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported licence.

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Where in Europe is the best place to be Muslim?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 3 January, 2019 - 14:50

Recently a graphic has been doing the rounds on Muslim Twitter: a map compiled by the Pew Research Foundation, showing the results of a poll conducted throughout Europe asking people various questions about their tolerance and acceptance of people of other cultures and religions. This particular map showed the results of the question of whether the respondents would be willing to accept Muslims as members of their families. The results vary widely, with very high (above 80%) figures in Scandinavia and the Netherlands, between 60% and 80% in much of western Europe, dipping to around 50% across most of central Europe, to less than 40% in most of eastern Europe. What has been remarked on is that the figure for the UK is only 53% which is the lowest in western Europe except for Italy (43%) and this has had some Muslims commenting that it is mistaken to regard the UK as more tolerant than elsewhere in Europe. A summary with a link to the full report (PDF) can be found here.

There are a number of answers to these claims. One is that, as with almost any opinion poll, the number of people asked is tiny and any techniques used to ensure an even or representative sample further result in tiny samples from populations which are themselves huge. The same was true, for example, of a poll of Muslims that led to an entire documentary a couple of years ago, What British Muslims Really Think, presented by Trevor MacDonald: only 1,081 people were asked, 405 of them in London and only 56 in the East Midlands which includes several large Muslim populations. If they had done, say, two large surveys in two cities (say, London and Leicester), it would have been greatly more representative. In this case, just under 56,000 adults were surveyed in 34 countries; that is the population of one medium-sized town, which if you divide it by 34 means an average of 1,647 people interviewed per country (of course, the survey sizes would have differed from country to country depending on size).

As for what the result means, I suspect that people’s view of what is or is not a Muslim may influence the outcome of this survey. In the UK, religious Muslims are very visible and Muslim immigration tended to be from countries where religious freedom for Muslims has not been suppressed in either the colonial or post-colonial eras. People in British India still wore the shalwar-kameez and the sari at the end of the colonial era and they still do, while traditional forms of dress in much of the Middle East outside the Gulf region have given way to western forms of dress. Traditional approaches to Islam and independently-run religious schools are still the norm in India and Pakistan while in much of North Africa, religious teaching has been co-opted by the governments and in some places the practice of Islam has been monitored and even suppressed for extended periods. Hence, in Britain, Islam is associated with beards, hijabs and praying five times a day while in Europe it could be seen more as an ethnic identity, which is why a British person might think having a Muslim family member might be more difficult than a French person would. If you specified a practising Muslim to a French respondent, the answer might be different.

The biggest problem with the statistic, though, is that it is not just attitudes that make one country a better place for Muslims to live than another; it is laws and politics. Much of Europe has the Far Right receiving a double-figure percentage of the vote at general elections on a regular basis; Britain does not. Much of Europe has laws which make parts of the normal practice of Islam in daily life illegal and Britain does not. Some have banned foreign support for mosques and even threatened to regulate translations of the Qur’an. France has laws banning girls from wearing the mandatory headscarf in schools; several German states ban it for teachers; there have been numerous cases of women in headscarves being prevented from entering public buildings or commercial ones such as banks. Several countries ban halal slaughter (without stunning); some countries have started banning circumcision while others use handshakes as a way of filtering out people who are “too Muslim” to be “one of theirs”. This is not to say that there is no discrimination; many a Muslim job applicant has found that a prospect melted away when they told an interviewer that they could not shake hands with their female prospective manager; hostile newspaper headlines have been a regular occurrence and violent Islamophobia has been a mounting problem for years, both individual attacks (particularly on women) and organised violence. But the law, currently, is on our side even if racism, immigration restrictions and intrusion by the Prevent scheme is making Muslims’ lives increasingly difficult.

So, it does not matter much whether people would or would not accept a member of your religion in their family; the feeling may well be mutual. I know for a fact that many Muslims here would not accept a Muslim from another ethnic background into their family. School is not family; work is not family; a country is not family. What Muslims want is to be able to work, get an education, to be able to live their lives free of restrictions and harassment and for their own families to be left intact.

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What is, and what isn’t, a pyramid scheme?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 2 January, 2019 - 17:45

Black and white picture of Charles Ponzi, a white man dressed in a suit and tie with a wide-rimmed hat, holding a walking stick in his hands.So, the other day I responded to a tweet by the author of Existential Comics which read:

A pyramid scheme is a scam where the people at the top get the money from the work done by the people at the bottom. Whereas a regular business is where…uh, well you see the shareholders, they create jobs. They spurn grown, so they should get the money from…the work done by…

This implies that there is no real difference between a pyramid scheme and a regular business, but it clearly misrepresents what a pyramid scheme actually is. When I replied saying what it actually is — a scam in which early entrants are paid off with money from new entrants, giving the impression of a “return on their investment” when in fact it had not been invested — a load of people responded asking the difference between that and a bank, or a failing business.

A pyramid scheme is called that because the number of participants expands dramatically in each ‘generation’, meaning a diagram of it resembles a pyramid. It’s true that many actual businesses have structures in which a few people get lots of money and the people at the bottom get much less, which can resemble a pyramid, but that is not what makes a pyramid scheme or Ponzi scheme (named after Charles Ponzi, an Italian con-artist of the 1920s), what it is. A pyramid scheme does not provide any service or produce anything; while maintaining the impression of an ‘investment’ scheme, it simply pays off early ‘investors’ with any new money it receives from new ‘investors’ (victims). It plays on either their ignorance of the facts — their believing the money is being invested and that the returns are profits or interest, as in the notorious Madoff pyramid scheme, or their ignorance of economics or of how business works, as with the mail-based schemes such as were being advertised on the Usenet forums in the mid-90s. Eventually they will stop attracting people to the scheme, payments will dry up and the last group of entrants will lose their money. (A Ponzi scheme is a pyramid scheme with someone administering the direction of the money ‘upwards’ and who takes a cut.)

Someone asked what the difference is with a bank. Well, a bank sells financial services for money: finance such as loans and mortgages for interest, financial services for a fee. Whatever the moral arguments, they are not a pyramid scheme because the borrower is expected to pay interest on a loan he received; the flow of money is not only upward and there is no deception involved. Someone else asked what about companies which are unable to sell all of the shares they had put on the market; the answer is that this is either a failing business or the shares are over-valued. The fact that things stop selling is not what makes it a pyramid scheme — there could be reasons for that such as that the product is redundant or there is competition from a better product or service.

I’m no economist, but it’s important to know the difference between a real business and a fraudulent fake investment scam and to counter anyone who says there is no real difference because scams flourish in ignorance. Bernie Madoff’s victims knew what a pyramid scheme was and had no reason to believe they were dealing with one, but the Albanian pyramid scheme crisis of the late 90s, which resulted in serious civil unrest, happened because people had been cut off from the rest of the world by a communist dictatorship since the 1940s and were attracted by the promise of easy money. A similar type of scheme called multi-level marketing (MLM) is popular among impoverished Asian youth in parts of England; while this scheme does involve some selling of a product, the biggest rewards of the scheme are for recruiting new members, which carries the promise of a high-flown title. A community with a tradition of entrepreneurship will not allow its young people to fall into this sort of trap.

This sort of thing should be taught in schools everywhere. Whether it is slotted into maths or into personal and relationship education or citizenship or whatever, it is important for preparing young people for the adult world in which they will face these sorts of choices. To be ignorant of these things could make them more than just an irritant on Twitter; it could leave them substantially out of pocket or on the wrong side of the law.

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London is not above the UK’s problems

Indigo Jo Blogs - 1 January, 2019 - 16:15

The London Eye, a ferris wheel, lit up in blue with yellow lights round the outside (as on the European flag). Traces of other fireworks can be seen around it. The lights are reflected in the River Thames at the bottom.So, last night London had it’s traditional New Year’s Eve fireworks at the South Bank and it featured the London Eye lit up in a way that vaguely resembled the European Flag (which actually pre-dates the EU by about 40 years), blue with lights on all the pods, and the mayor, Sadiq Khan, tweeted:

Tonight’s spectacular #LondonNYE fireworks showed that whatever the outcome of Brexit - #LondonIsOpen - to business, to talent, to ideas, to creativity - and why London really is the greatest city in the world.

To everyone in London and across the globe: #HappyNewYear.

This rather suggests that he thinks that, despite the Brexit vote and its consequences hanging over us in the year to come, London is above it all and will survive the coming chaos intact. It will not, and it is not immune from or free of responsibility for the situation the country finds itself in.

London has a notoriously over-inflated housing market. The Daily Mirror, in that hit job on Kate Osamor last week, claimed that her very average looking terraced council house in Tottenham was worth £750,000. My grandparents’ very similar house in East Dulwich (not far from Peckham) sold for something like £650,000 a few years ago. When I was growing up in the late 1980s, very big houses — mini-mansions — with four or five bedrooms on a very desirable private estate outside Purley, near Croydon, changed hands for half that. We thought the houses being advertised in the local paper, out in leafy East Grinstead and Lingfield, for £80,000 were expensive. As prices go up, so do rents, the result being that people in London cannot get a house unless they are very rich, meaning councils are using rental properties outside London (e.g. Slough), because landlords there are attracted by increased rents from London councils, meaning that people in those places cannot get housed anywhere near home, job and family either (or are remaining homeless). People from London are buying houses in Birmingham to commute daily to London, resulting in people in Birmingham having to move further out as well.

There is a host of reasons for this: London properties being used as ‘investments’ rather than homes, people coming from overseas for jobs in London’s finance and IT sectors, the usual wealthy double-income families (the “double income, no kids yet” set as well as the “two healthy incomes, can afford a nanny” types). In addition, London gets much greater investment in public transport than anywhere else, allowing it to be a showcase for public transport and accessibility while provincial areas (cities and small towns) are stuck with hand-me down buses and “Pacer” trains and may well be for a good few years yet. Look at the money being spent on driving an east-west rail line through London to get people from the Berkshire commuterlands and Heathrow Airport to and from the City while the electrification of the line from Manchester east to Yorkshire has been downgraded again. In northern cities, it is said that you can tell which trains are coming from or going to London without looking at the destination boards — they’re always the shiny new long ones. It is no surprise that people in the north resent London and may not be impressed by its claims to be a “world city”.

Of course, the Brexiteers complaining (like Julia Hartley-Brewer, the right-wing LBC presenter) will complain about any apparent show of opposition to Brexit, even in a city where most of the vote was to remain. The most vehement Brexiteers in politics and the media are concerned with power, and do not mind if other people are impoverished so that they can attain it. But let’s not pretend that London is independent of Brexit or the problems that led to it. Yes, we’re a multicultural city; we’re not the only one. Yes, we have world-class universities; so do other British cities. Yes, we voted to stay in the EU and we have strong links to Europe at most levels of our society; the same can be said of other major cities. But our showpiece status is paid for by everyone in British society, and not everyone gets the benefit. Besides the minority of small-minded provincials, there are a lot of people in England whose minds could — and must — be changed about Brexit and wrapping ourselves in a blue flag and congratulating ourselves about things that aren’t entirely our achievement is not the way to do it.

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Best TV Programme This Xmas? The Royal Institution Xmas Lectures

Inayat's Corner - 30 December, 2018 - 21:07

What was the best TV programme shown over the Xmas period? Not the BBC’s adaptation of The ABC Murders with Poirot played by John Malkovich. Nor Bandersnatch – the gimmicky Black Mirror ‘interactive’ episode that was really a humourless rip-off of – the much more entertaining – The Truman Show. No, the best programme on TV this Xmas was the three part Royal Institution Christmas Lectures shown on BBC4.

Presented by the anatomist Professor Alice Roberts – who some years back also presented the wonderful series Origins of Us – this year’s lectures were on the theme “Who Am I?” The series discussed our kinship with all other living things including plants and animals in a very entertaining and informative way designed to appeal to a younger audience. If like me you are not a science graduate – (I did Computer Science, but it was not really science. Computer Engineering would have been much more accurate, but our head of department told us that many more students enrol if they called it Computer Science.) – then the annual Royal Institution Christmas Lectures serve very well as a kind of Dummies Guide to Science.

If you have ever wondered why babies wrap their hands tightly around your finger, or why some people can wiggle their ears or why some people are left-handed or why human embryos have tails in the earliest stages of their development, Alice Roberts offered some ingenious explanations based on our latest knowledge.

You can still watch the series on BBC iPlayer for the next 25 days – after that I assume they will be available on the website of the Royal Institution where you can watch the lectures from previous years.

Kate Osamor and her council house

Indigo Jo Blogs - 29 December, 2018 - 20:55

Portrait of Kate Osamor, a Black woman wearing a necklace consisting of 3 solid metal bands, with a top consisting of yellow shapes on a black background.Recently the Labour MP for Edmonton, Kate Osamor, has come under criticism for still occupying a council property despite having a job that pays her a £77,000 annual salary. This is the same MP who sent a Times reporter packing when he turned up at her door to demand answers as to why she continued employing her son, who had been caught with drugs with “intent to supply” (meaning, in this case, share them with his friends) at a pop festival, as a parliamentary aide and then called the police to report him for stalking; she subsequently resigned from the shadow cabinet. Osamor has been in the role since 2015; she won re-election in 2017 with 71.5% of the vote locally, having gained 61.4% in 2015, so this is a fairly safe seat (it had been Tory from 1983 to 1997, but that was before boundary changes). She is clearly quite a popular figure as the previous incumbent, Andy Love, had seen his majority reduced at successive elections since gaining the seat in 1997 and gained only slightly following the 2010 boundary changes.

At the time she gained the house, she was a single mother, but since then has both been a student and held positions at The Big Issue and two NHS services. An MP’s salary is, in today’s climate, not the most secure job (and such people as mortgage brokers might not define it as such) but it is not poverty, and much of the criticism stems from the fact that social housing is scarce and that people who need it are being forced out of the borough, or out of London altogether. Her defenders say that social housing was meant to be mixed, not just for poor people, and that the same people on the Left criticising Kate Osamor did not criticise Bob Crow, the late RMT union leader, for doing the same for much longer and that many of them are influenced by racism.

Two good articles have been written by this. One is by Dawn Foster and the other is by Ava Vidal who has been the most vocal in pushing the racism angle. I have not much to add other than to say that if more MPs lived in council accommodation, much as with state schools (which the very rich, including some MPs, avoid assiduously), they would be better maintained and the run-downs and sell-offs that have been a constant theme of public housing policy (as seen in the Heygate estate in south-east London, which has been sold off to a major developer and most of the new dwellings are private and expensive) would not happen nearly as frequently.

I’m not convinced that all the people who criticised Kate Osamor who did not criticise Bob Crow are racist. To begin with, you cannot come to this sort of conclusion based on two incidents more than a year apart. Bob Crow is dead and Kate Osamor is not. Maybe the Bob Crow controversy did not come up on their feed so they were not motivated to respond at all. Do all the people being accused of racism now have a history of racism, or of disproportionately targeting Black politicians or other well-known people for criticism? That is a better indication that someone is racist than their criticising a single individual who happens to be Black. That said, the Daily Mirror piece which broke this ‘news’ was appalling; much of the content was about her son (Osamor was not involved in the drug offence), complete with a sullen-faced police mugshot, the irrelevant detail of the estimated value of the house, which is a fairly small terraced house in an inflated market which in any case, for her renting it and not buying it, is still a council house and will still be if and when she is finished with it. It also contains a picture of the house, which although the address is not given, the general area is and anyone could find out the address by asking a few questions of a local, at a time not long after an MP was shot dead by a racist and when women generally fear stalkers and predatory men and do not want them knowing where they live.

My hunch is that the story is part of a press vendetta against Osamor for her reaction to the Times journalist doorstepping her. Despite the Mirror being part of a rival company to the Times, which is part of the Murdoch empire, journalists shuffle between papers and sometimes write for both at the same time (see Jan Moir, who worked for both the Daily Mail and the Guardian) and the same people will edit both right-wing and left-wing newspapers at different times in their career, as did Piers Morgan. To some of us, the Times will never be forgiven for running the bogus “Muslim foster care” story last year and will always be a bastion of bigotry and purveyor of inflammatory stories about minorities they dislike, some of it downright fake, as long as the present team is in charge, but to other journalists they are fellow writers “just doing their job” and that doorstepping an MP is part of that, and something they should expect.

I can understand why some people think someone on an MP’s salary should not be occupying a council house. There are people who need them more. There are teachers, nurses and other key workers who cannot get a house near their area of work because rents and house prices are staggeringly high — the best part of a million pounds for a terraced house in inner London, all because of “good schools” or transport links to the centre of town. I know someone in that part of London who has been searching in vain for a suitable flat to rent for a year and a half (this house would not be suitable as this is a wheelchair user). However, life is not fair, and rather than resenting someone who was fortunate, we should be campaigning for more good social housing so that others can have the same thing.

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Muslims and Midnight Mass (and Donald Trump and Santa)

Indigo Jo Blogs - 27 December, 2018 - 21:05

A Christmas tree in the Emirates Palace hotel, Abu DhabiI’ve done two previous blog entries (at least) here about Muslims and Christmas — specifically, about Muslims participating in Christmas, being encouraged to do so (often by other Muslims) in the name of ‘integration’ or being accused of trying to prevent others celebrating (you can find them here and here). This year I came across something that has apparently been going on for ten years or more but of which I was previously unaware, which is a mosque (a Shi’a mosque in London) “teaming up” with a local Christian church and some of the congregation attending Midnight Mass, which is a long-standing Christian tradition. Needless to say, hearing this made a lot of Muslims angry and there was an ill-tempered ‘debate’ between one of the participants (who is well-known as a writer on British Muslim issues and who works for the Muslim Council of Britain) and a well-known ‘salafi’ blogger and social-media personality.

My stance is that no Muslim should be participating in Christmas more than they absolutely cannot get out of (e.g. unmarried converts with family who will make it difficult to avoid, people who are required to attend social functions at work, teachers whose schools are holding a Christmas event of some sort for the children, nurses whose patients are missing their Christmas and want to mark it somehow). When it comes to being expected to take part in rituals of any sort, we say no. This is because Christians, with the exception of one or two small denominations, believe that Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) is not simply the Messiah and a prophet but the “begotten not made” son of God and every Christian church service acknowledges this, as anyone who was brought up in it will know. We recited the credo every Sunday morning so we know what their stance is (you can read different versions of it here). Generally as Muslims we are not supposed to “hang around” places where people sin; we are not supposed to sit with people who are drinking alcohol (which is also part of the Christian Mass for adults, by the way) and we are not allowed to witness usurious contracts. Why would we sit with people when they recite a statement of aqida that contains open shirk (polytheism) when this is the worst sin in the whole of Islamic law?

This does not mean that Muslims cannot maintain good relations with their Christian or Jewish neighbours, help the homeless together or campaign on shared moral issues or for religious rights such as non-stun slaughtering. However, we just do not see other religious groups attending the worship of other religions — it seems to be only Muslims who are being prevailed on to do that. One person who defended the practice on Twitter said:

Muslims need allies. They need allies to practice their faith freely. They also need allies to protect all faiths in a world which is increasingly becoming antagonistic to faith, especially Islam. Celebrating the joy of Christians is not a religious act, it’s a sociopolitical act

But there are acceptable ways of building alliances and there are ways that are unacceptable in the Shari’ah. We are not allowed to commit acts of shirk even to save our lives. There are circumstances in which the haraam becomes halal and they are always circumstances of extreme necessity or mortal danger, such as it becoming permissible to eat animals that are normally banned, such as pigs, dogs and cats, when we are starving. That does not mean when there is no other meat; it means no other food. (In practice, there is a long list of permitted animals that we do not normally eat that come before the three mentioned — Reliance of the Traveller mentions foxes and badgers, for example — though perhaps they are less easy to come by.) We can take refuge in a church if there is a storm or if there is a gun battle going on in the street. Merely maintaining good relations is not a good reason when there are many other ways of achieving this. We do not have to explain why in a way that offends anyone; we must just say “our religion does not allow us to do this”. If they are sincere, they will understand. If they are not, we will not impress them anyway. Most times when people of different religions are at conflict, there are other reasons such as race, a past invasion or some other grievance. The Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland were not at war with each other for 30 years because of transubstantiation; it was because one group, who dominated the state, denied the other their rights for several decades and the oppressed finally struck back.

Finally, Christmas right now would not be Christmas — indeed, no occasion would be complete — without an expression of cluelessness, heartlessness or both by Donald Trump, and this time it came in the form of his telling a child that his age (seven) was a ‘marginal’ one for still believing in Santa Claus. I still did believe in him at that age, and I had to be told the truth the year after when I did not sleep much of the night because I was nervous about not being asleep when ‘Santa’ came and, therefore, would not receive any of the presents (and neither would my sister, who was 6). I do not really understand why parents tell their children that most of the presents they buy them, and often the biggest and most exciting ones, come from someone other than themselves. Maybe because the child could not direct any disappointment at an unwanted present at them, or because they do not want to burden the child with any debt of gratitude. It’s amazing that parents can go that many years without a child at school, possibly one whose parents are too poor to sustain the myth, telling their children that there is no Santa.

Of course, it’s not Donald Trump’s place to put a 7-year-old right on Santa not being real. But it’s something parents should consider when encouraging their children to believe this nonsense. At most, have ‘Santa’ bring a few small presents and tell them the truth about the rest. Because there comes a point where a harmless fairytale just becomes a pointless lie, and it’s certainly no longer fun if it causes tears.

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Yes, Brexit does have to come first

Indigo Jo Blogs - 25 December, 2018 - 18:26

A black-and-white picture of a checkpoint on the main Belfast-Dublin road some time during the Troubles. Cars and trucks are queueing, there is a raised barrier and soldiers or police are standing at a driver's window apparently inspecting a document. There are concrete blocks at regular intervals on both sides of the road. A distance sign gives the road number A1 and distances to Dundalk and Dublin.The past few weeks, I have noticed that there are two bitterly opposed camps when it comes to the importance of Brexit or other issues, particularly as regards the Labour party. One side seeks a second referendum and attacks the Labour leadership viciously for not pushing for it (and the interview with Jeremy Corbyn in the Guardian over the weekend very much helps to entrench their position); another says that a second referendum or reversing Brexit will not reverse Tory austerity and what we really need is a general election and a Labour government. The latter often tend to be not only Labour members but Corbyn devotees who will often hear no wrong about their leader. Declarations of having left the Labour party or being unable to vote Labour have been legion; in England the leavers often refuse to say who they intend to vote for but often imply that they would be worse than the Tories (such issues as anti-Semitism and transgender rights also influence such decisions), while in Scotland they are often in favour of the Scottish National Party and another independence referendum (or “indyref2” as they often call it, and annoyingly not just in Twitter hashtags).

In a recent interview with the Guardian, Corbyn refused to throw his weight behind the campaign to secure a second referendum or to reject Brexit; he claimed that if his party won a snap general election in the new year (which is unlikely to happen before the cut-off date of 29th March), he would continue his policy of pursuing a “better deal” by negotiation with the EU’s leaders, which they have already made clear is not on the table when Theresa May tried the same this month:

But asked if he could imagine a referendum emerging as a solution if it becomes clear that parliament is deadlocked – as the work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, mooted this week – he said: “I think we should vote down this deal; we should then go back to the EU with a discussion about a customs union.”

As to what stance Labour would take if a referendum were held, Corbyn said, “it would be a matter for the party to decide what the policy would be; but my proposal at this moment is that we go forward, trying to get a customs union with the EU, in which we would be able to be proper trading partners.”

My issue with this is that Labour needs to secure the support of Remainers to stand any chance of winning any general election because polls show that the areas where Leave support has hardened are in Tory-voting areas, not Labour heartlands. Labour has never won elections simply by clinging to old industrial heartlands, anyway; it needs to secure large parts of the suburban and student vote and will not do this if they are offering the most reactionary Tory policies leavened with a bit of Marxist rhetoric. By adopting a “respect the referendum” position at a time when Britain is heading for a cliff-edge Brexit with only a deal that nobody accepts on the table, Corbyn will lose the election because of apathy and vote-splitting: the progressive vote being split with the Lib Dems and Greens in areas Labour could win if the vote were united. The same was true in many Lib Dem seats in 2015 — long-term Lib Dem voters voted Green or Labour — and most of those have not been recovered. The upshot would be another four to five years of hard-right Tory government and international isolation; the NHS would, as has been widely reported, not be able to import commonly-used drugs without considerably expense, though as with previous economic depressions, the very well-off would not be badly affected. The rest of us would be.

Left-wing Labour activists have been reporting that they are having difficulties persuading regular campaigners to commit to them in the event of a general election in which the leadership supports Brexit. Clive Lewis, a Corbyn supporter and MP for a Norwich constituency, has said that a “solid comrade” had said this and “she’s not the first … and it’s becoming a genuine concern”. To this, former Labour and Respect MP George Galloway tweeted that Lewis was a “slippery two-faced intruiging [sic] scheming plotting coup-enabling deeply deeply untrustworthy shit”, a vulgar but typical example of the Labour left and hard left shooting the messenger rather than accepting bad news. A Labour MP for east Brighton (the bit not represented by the sole Green MP, Caroline Lewis, but also with a strong student vote) has said that his constituency would be lost if they supported Brexit.

Of course, I accept the need to get rid of the Tories but the Corbyn diehards need to understand that their position is not that of the Labour membership and will not help. Most young people who voted for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership because they saw him as a progressive figure who will fight for real social change will not be impressed by him if he is weak on Brexit. Most people who voted for Brexit will take fright if told that they will not be able to go on holiday in Europe without queueing for a visa. Most people who voted for Brexit for “sovereignty” will not be so keen if it means their job, or that of many of their friends, being lost because companies choose not to do business here, or close factories to move to Poland. Most people know, or have known, at least one type 1 diabetic who will not be able to get insulin if supplies from Europe are cut; the NHS will, at the very least, cease to be anything like the world-class institution it is, when it comes to treating common physical illnesses, now.

Of course we want to see an end to and a reversal of Tory austerity cuts but sleepwalking off the Brexit cliff will not allow us to do any of that. The most ‘socialist’ result of this would be a World War II-style austerity in which everyone is temporarily equalised in poverty, but the most likely result is that it would be entrenched for generations. There are three months to stop the most disastrous decision in British politics for decades and a Labour party not committed to stopping that will not be in a position to do so, as it will not be in power even if there is an election. Labour activists must not listen to people who are so devoted to Corbyn that they will follow him in what is right and what is wrong. They must save their party, and their country. Right now, this must come first.

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Book Review: Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker

Inayat's Corner - 24 December, 2018 - 17:21

Steven Pinker’s new book, Enlightenment Now, comes with an impressive recommendation from no less a figure than the principal founder of Microsoft and noted philanthropist, Bill Gates, who describes it as “my new favourite book of all time.” For my part, my spirits were lifted when I saw a familiar quotation right at the beginning of the book from the physicist David Deutsch: “Everything that is not forbidden by laws of nature is achievable, given the right knowledge.” Deutsch happens to be the author of one of my all-time favourite books, The Beginning of Infinity.

The quotation from Deutsch is certainly very apt as it underlines a major theme of this book whose full title is “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress”.  At a time when populists and demagogues appear to be on the rise, Pinker’s re-affirmation of the values of the Enlightenment and his insistence on spelling out in detail via no less than seventy-five graphs how the human condition has improved in recent centuries is very welcome and for believers – and I include myself in this category – contain a number of passages that will prove very challenging.

Pinker gets into his stride right away and draws our attention to the facts about how major progress has been made due to science in the areas of life expectancy, child mortality, maternal mortality and reducing deaths due to disease. Pinker estimates that 177 million lives were saved due to the discovery of the benefits resulting from the chlorination of water alone. He notes how smallpox killed 300 million people in the 20th century and then asks us to now look at a dictionary definition of the disease:

Smallpox was an infectious disease caused by either of two virus variants, Variola major and Variola Minor. (p64)

Look at that again. “Smallpox was.” The last case was diagnosed in Somalia in 1977 after the World Health Organisation set itself the task in 1959 of eradicating the disease. It was a tremendous achievement and it was due to an increase in our knowledge about vaccinations. There has also been major progress made in the fight against measles, diphtheria and whooping cough with vaccines having been discovered for each of them.

Deutsch’s quote suggests that there should be many more victories in the future against disease if we continue on the path of reason and science. Pinker agrees and stresses that “It is knowledge that is key.” (p67)

For Muslims, this may serve as a reminder of the Qur’anic prayer “My Lord – increase me in knowledge” (Qur’an 20:114).

Yet, for Pinker, religion is not the answer. He makes the, by now, familiar humanist case that religion has served more to hinder than facilitate progress and asks why we now need religion at all? Did the God of the Bible not command “the Israelites to commit mass rape and genocide, and prescribed the death penalty for blasphemy, idolatry, homosexuality, adultery, talking back to parents, and working on the Sabbath, while finding nothing particularly wrong with slavery, rape, torture, mutilation and genocide.” (p429)

By contrast, Pinker refers to the progress made when we think about maximising human happiness and freedom. He contrasts the religious penalty for idolatry with the words of Thomas Jefferson.

“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” (p417)

The choice is a clear one. Which form of government, religious or secular, will grant more freedom to human beings and prevent more discrimination? When we look at some of the most self-professedly religious states in the world today, whether it is Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Sudan or the Vatican city, Pinker’s argument does seem to have considerable force.

So, if we go along with the argument that reason and science and increasing our store of knowledge are all key to making progress then one has to ask, as Pinker does, “How to build a society that cultivates rational thoughts?” (p27). Pinker argues that a secular and rationalistic approach to education is the key to growth (p234)

“…education exposes people in young adulthood to other races and cultures in a way that makes it harder to demonize them. Most interesting of all is the likelihood that education, when it does what it is supposed to, instils a respect for vetted fact and reasoned argument, and so inoculates people against conspiracy theories, reasoning by anecdote, and emotional demagoguery.” (p339)

Pinker insists that allowing vigorous open argumentation and reasoned critiques (which interestingly the Muslim societies mentioned a couple of paragraphs above notably do not seem particularly keen on) will lead to good ideas prevailing and bad ones being rejected.

“…as people are forced to justify the way they treat other people, rather than dominating them out of instinctive, religious, or historical inertia, any justification for prejudicial treatment will crumble under scrutiny. Racial segregation, male-only suffrage, and the criminalisation of homosexuality are literally indefensible: people tried to defend them in their times, and they lost the argument.” (p221)

Will we see this progress in the Muslim world? Pinker is optimistic.

“…in every part of the world, people have become more liberal. A lot more liberal: young Muslims in the Middle East, the world’s most conservative culture, have values today that are comparable to those of young people in Western Europe, the world’s most liberal culture, in the early 1960s.” (p228)

Since Pinker’s book was published at the beginning of 2018, this year has seen Muslim organisations protesting in Tunisia – a country with a relatively free press and more liberal attitudes compared with much of the rest of the Arab world – against laws that would grant women equal inheritance rights with men. Maybe it is just birth pangs – because the growth of enlightenment values in much of the Muslim world is very much needed.

On physical abuse at a top Muslim school

Indigo Jo Blogs - 23 December, 2018 - 23:59

A black and white drawing of a man holding a cane aloft about to hit a boy's hand with it.Last week someone posted several accounts on Facebook of physical abuse he suffered at a well-known Islamic school in northern England. This was one of a group of schools that trains boys to be imams and scholars and a large number of imams in British Indian-run mosques come from this school. The abuse was not of a sexual nature; it consisted of beatings for mistakes and such reasons as speaking English instead of Urdu. One particular qari or Qur’an memorisation and recitation teacher was named, although he has since died. The principal, a well-known scholar, is said to have personally opposed this behaviour but left the running of the institution to others who allowed it to continue. He also said that he required hospital treatment as a result of some of the abuse, yet he did not see his parents in the hospital, only school staff who told him to keep quiet or be “cursed by Allah” if it resulted in the school being closed.

The person who posted this was at the school in the early 1990s although another person who was at the school in the late 90s has said he experienced similar things then. During this period, private schools were exempt from the law which banned the use of physical punishment on children in state schools which was passed in the late 80s; the discrepancy was not remedied until after the Labour government came to power in 1997. I was in a private school in the early 90s myself — not an Islamic school of any sort as I was not Muslim then — and public, random violence by staff was a common occurrence. Private schools are of course a mixed bag; they included special schools that often took children with local authority funding, Steiner schools, Muslim and other faith schools as well as fee-paying schools for well-to-do parents which included everything from small independent schools through some better-established local private schools, of which there is at least one in every large town, up to the elite schools such as Eton. Different schools retained corporal punishment to different degrees and I am sure some did not use it at all, while others used it on a day-to-day basis.

I am not naming the school because schools a lot like this were the subject of a campaign to demonise Islamic education in the right-wing press a few years ago and this could lead to a resumption of that campaign. In the comment thread underneath, people have said that the school concerned (and others like it) have changed considerably since and they no longer use these methods, but that they had experienced or witnessed them at other Islamic schools, including evening and weekend schools at mosques. I am sure religious schools of other groups within Islam are guilty of this as well (I recall when a London Islamic primary school was about to become a state school under the grant maintained school system in the 1990s, the loss of the right to use physical punishment was cited as a reason not to join). Recently someone on Twitter opined that she thought Islam as practised in West Africa was how it ought to be done, but this sort of behaviour has been common there too and may still be.

The fact of children being beaten when learning the Qur’an was very well known, even outside the Muslim community. To give an example, the British educationalist A.S. Neill, who was heavily influenced by Freud and founded a school where the rules were set by whole-school meetings of pupils and staff, was asked why some boys only learn when made to feel physical pain and replied, “I expect I could learn to recite the Koran if I knew I would be flogged if I didn’t. One result, of course, would be that I should forever hate the Koran, and the flogger, and myself”. I cannot imagine many children who have been raised Muslim and with the Qur’an coming to hate it, but they may become disinclined to learn it (or pursue any other religious studies) as they associate this with the trauma of the abuse. But it is disturbing that our community is notorious for this abuse of children; that learning to recite the Qur’an is the first thing that came to Neill’s mind when asked about the cane as a “learning aid”.

Child abuse is child abuse, but when perpetrated by men thought to be living saints, men of God, men capable of teaching people to be men of God, it’s an enormous betrayal of people’s trust in them. People sent their children to this school because it was run by someone with immense authority, someone whose main teacher was a very well-known Indian religious scholar. There is no sanction in Islam for using violence on children for reasons as petty as those described; people are supposed to restrain their anger and not hit out in response to trivial provocations, much the same as with secular law. If anyone responsible for this abuse is still living, I hope they can be brought to justice and that the community will support the victims rather than assuming that “mawlana” must be right because of who he is and who his shaikh is.

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Stupid woman: sexist? Ableist?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 22 December, 2018 - 16:50

Jeremy Corbyn, an elderly white man with thin white and grey hair, sitting on the front bench of the House of Commons wearing a white shirt, red tie and dark grey suit jacket.Earlier this week Jeremy Corbyn was widely criticised in the media and on social media for supposedly mouthing “stupid woman” at Theresa May, the prime minister, during a parliamentary debate. Corbyn claims he actually said “stupid people” and there have been experienced lip-readers claiming that they saw him say one thing and others say they saw him say the other, which testifies either to the difficulty of accurate lip-reading or suggests that some people are lying. The criticisms have come both from Tories (predictably) and from online feminist activists who say that the phrase is inherently sexist as we would not say “stupid man”, only “stupid woman”, which implies that in people’s minds the words ‘go together’. I am not so sure and a frequent response is that May is indeed stupid, or at least her behaviour and policies are.

As for the Tories who object on these grounds, I find them hypocritical in the extreme. Male Tory MPs are notorious for open sexual harassment in the Commons (such as miming swinging boobs and mouthing “melons” when a female Labour MP is talking), and two of these men were recently restored to the party because the prime minister needed all the votes she could get in a no-confidence ballot while a third was cleared of any wrongdoing by an ‘independent’ disciplinary panel after making clearly derogatory comments about Muslim women in a column for the Telegraph, and the party as a whole is responsible for austerity policies that have resulted in women’s refuges and Rape Crisis centres being closed countrywide, for abolishing child benefits that are paid to the mother in favour of Universal Credit which is paid to the father, and for social care cuts that have resulted in disabled women being forced into dependency on partners who may be abusive for lack of accessible alternatives and disabled women who cannot get from wheelchair to toilet on their own being required to use nappies to save on care costs. Yet they turn into social justice warriors whenever one of their women is mildly insulted using language many of them have used many times themselves.

As for the phrase being sexist and the logic behind this, just because it is rarer to say “stupid man” does not mean that people regard women as inherently stupid. In fact the phrase reflects the politeness with which men generally speak to women, especially ‘respectable’ (i.e. middle-class or professional) women; with a man, they would call him a stupid jerk or something even ruder, referring to a body part for example. I suspect the reason we have more openly gendered insults in English is because English lacks both inbuilt gender and adjectival nouns; in another language such as Spanish or Arabic you may just call someone a ‘stupid’ which suffices as a noun and would usually identity the subject’s gender on its own, but in English you need a noun, hence ‘woman’ in Theresa May’s case. Much the same is true of compliments; if we admire a girl or woman’s personality, it is common to call her a nice young lady or young lady.

Another argument was that ‘woman’ should not be used in insults by men because “women are a marginalised class”. Well, Theresa May is in no way marginalised; she is the prime minister, and furthermore, is a wealthy woman who represents a prosperous constituency in the London “stockbroker belt” and belongs to a party which represents privileged interests. It shows the weakness of the concept of women as an “oppressed class”; the ‘class’, such as it is, includes a large number of very privileged people and some very powerful people even if they share some common experiences with those in poverty or who suffer abuse or oppression; the situation is much more complicated than obvious cases of oppression such as experienced by people under occupation, dictatorship, colonialism or segregation and is not a straightforward hierarchy as devotees of certain theories claim. When a woman acquires power that enables her to affect others’ circumstances for better or worse, and particularly when she uses it to remove others’ freedoms or impoverish them, we cannot treat her as if she is being oppressed when an opponent insults her under his breath.

Theresa May, a late middle-aged white woman with grey hair wearing a royal blue jacket, standing up from the government front bench of the House of Commons waving her finger at Jeremy Corbyn.The claim that ‘stupid’ is ableist has even less merit. Quite simply, ‘stupid’ does not refer to any impairment but to a state (stupor), usually associated not with cognitive impairment but with drunkenness. Still, the incident brought out all of the usual serial offence takers who demand that everyone stops using words like idiot, stupid, lame etc not because they have any real emotional impact but because they have taught themselves to find them offensive on the basis of a theory. A few of them get paid writing articles criticising a public figure for calling someone a moron (and then complaining again when they fail to show the contrition they expect) but a lot of them just have enough free time on their hands to sit behind a computer and police others’ language. We often hear of snowflakes (people who profess offence to something greatly out of proportion to what was said or done) but there is in fact a minority of “pro-flakes”, people who make a living or at least a hobby out of this kind of behaviour. This is not to deny that there are situations where using this language is inappropriate, but using them in common speech is not hurtful, just mildly irritating to some people.

When Theresa May first came to power, Dan Hodges (a Daily Mail writer who forever moans about why he left the Labour party) predicted that “if May’s elected the misogyny of the hard-Left is going to be a truly appalling sight”. I quoted him and added “in other words, I’ll make a fuss any time someone calls May a bitch, while she slashes welfare & expels immigrants”, but this is proving true of parts of the wider Left as well. If we are trying to prevent the country being dragged off the Brexit cliff or stop devastating cuts to social care or support for disabled people, we should not be wasting too much time policing the language others use to refer to our enemies unless it is seriously offensive or threatening and especially we should not be doing this in public. This has generated a huge distraction and it is not even clear if he actually mouthed those words to Theresa May or just muttered them under his breath. We should not be like Monty Python’s People’s Front of Judaea, who when their common enemy was mentioned, said in unison “The Judaean People’s Front!” instead of naming the occupying Romans. The Right is not and has never been afraid to play dirty, and we have only so much time to spend on making sure we are, or appear, squeaky clean.

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What’s Alice Walker doing reading David Icke?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 19 December, 2018 - 21:50

A Ms Magazine cover featuring Alice Walker and Gloria Steinem, from 2009Yesterday there was much indignation on Twitter and elsewhere that the New York Times had published an interview with the novelist and poet Alice Walker which contained a recommendation of a book by David Icke, the British public speaker best known for weird conspiracy theories with an anti-Semitic edge. That Walker has these attitudes is not new, but some people were very upset that one of their literary heroes whose books celebrate women’s liberation and civil rights could be a bigot herself; in fact, she has been expressing these views since about 2013 (at least) and last year published a ‘poem’ (if that’s the word for a series of lines without any discernible rhythm) about Jews, Judaism and Zionism that uses well-rehearsed tropes about the Talmud, the classical Jewish commentary on the Torah. Yair Rosenberg’s article, “The New York Times Just Published an Unqualified Recommendation for an Insanely Anti-Semitic Book” on The Tablet, has been widely tweeted on the subject but it contains one dubious claim: that David Icke is “one of Britain’s most notorious anti-Semites” and “one of the most influential conspiracy theorists in Europe, and certainly in Britain”. He really is not.

David Icke is not taken seriously enough to be a notorious anti-Semite. The fact that he has “over 770,000 followers on Facebook” means nothing as following someone does not mean approving of everything, or indeed anything, they say. In the 1980s he was a sports correspondent and appeared on the Saturday sports show Grandstand and was also a spokesman for the Green Party (they had four principal spokespeople in place of a leader), but is best known here for having claimed to be the “son of the Godhead” in the early 90s and predicting the end of the world by 1997. Although he subsequently admitted that this was “not the real David Icke talking”, his subsequent writings descended into the conspiracy theories he is now best known for. Essentially he is a national joke; his name is a byword for crankery and certainly many more people know about his claiming divinity than anything about his previous career. I was in my early teens when the whole controversy broke and my reaction was “who?”. I assumed his surname was spelled Eyke, the name of a village near the boarding school I was in at the time (then again, I had no time for football). For clarity, his name is pronounced Ike, as in Ike Turner.

He is not a renowned writer or thinker who also has abhorrent views. He is not in the same league as GK Chesterton, Ezra Pound or Roald Dahl and certainly not of Alice Walker. I am sure many British people were bemused at hearing that someone like her would even read a David Icke book, let alone recommend one, because he has no stature whatever here. Yes, he does give public lectures and sells out a few concert halls here and there but they are not big stadia. Perhaps this is a sign of how popular his ideas are or perhaps they are people who remember him from his Grandstand days and just want to hear him, even if he is talking nonsense. A few years ago, during one of Tom Jones’s comebacks during which he sang embarrassing songs like Sex Bomb which bore no resemblance to his old hits, I asked my mother why anyone listened to this stuff. She said, “they just like Tom Jones; it doesn’t matter what he’s singing”. I don’t really understand seeing a performer whose material has changed beyond recognition from what you liked (then again, Tom Jones still sang It’s Not Unusual alongside Sex Bomb), but given that his ideas about 12ft lizards (and his other theories) have not exactly gone mainstream, I cannot think of any other reason.

Some of the commentary has focussed on Walker’s past pro-Palestinian activism, including taking part in the 2011 flotilla to Gaza. The implication is that if you’re against Israel in any way, it’s a slippery slope to full-blown anti-Semitism. The simple answer to that is that some people are pro-Palestinian for its own sake, some because they are Muslim (or Christian) and some because they hate Jews and it’s not always easy to tell the latter because they do not always reveal themselves until they have been around you for a while (Gilad Atzmon springs to mind, and being Israeli helped). However, being accused of anti-Semitism is an occupational hazard for anyone who defends Palestinians’ rights because to their enemies, anyone who does not share their hatred is automatically a racist, much as any media outlet that does not treat the Palestinians’ rights with the contempt they have for them must be guilty of bias.

But much as it’s possible to be a Zionist for essentially anti-Semitic reasons, the same is true of supporting Palestinians, and right now a lot of people are heartbroken that a writer they admired so much turned out to not only be a bigot, but an extremely ignorant one at that.

Image source: Ms. magazine, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (BY-SA) 4.0 licence,

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Some notes on recent ATU publicity

Indigo Jo Blogs - 17 December, 2018 - 23:20

Picture of two white women, an older woman kissing her middle-aged daughter who is wearing a blue and white patterned top.Last week two separate stories about people with learning disabilities were in the news. One was that a woman had died following the extraction of all her teeth at a hospital in Worcester which has a history of performing tooth removals beyond what patients’ families had consented to (e.g. removing all instead of just a few). Also, the parents of two of the autistic people who have suffered long-term captivity in Britain’s mental health units gave testimony in Parliament to the Joint Committee on Human Rights about the nature of their children’s treatment and what led to it (Jeremy, father of Bethany from the File on 4 programme, and Julie Newcombe whose son Jamie was held for 19 months following a change of medication and inappropriate treatment from carers. Two new articles by Ian Birrell about this issue were published in the Daily Mail over the weekend: one about Bethany whose father is supposedly “suing the NHS” and one about a woman with Asperger’s syndrome who has been held in various hospitals since she was 14; she is now 26.

About the teeth removals: I know a family whose daughter has autism and learning disabilities and has had to have all her teeth removed in two stages about four years apart after they decayed and broke because she was unable to tolerate going to the dentist. On both occasions a general anaesthetic was required. It does appear that her quality of life improved on both occasions as teeth that had been causing her pain were removed. Obviously, without any teeth, you are restricted in what you can eat and it does not appear that they are considering dentures for her, but for some people that is preferable to constant pain. However, nobody should be dying from this and if there is a persistent pattern of going above and beyond what a family had consented to, let alone tricking consent out of a patient’s guardian by saying “here, just sign this” when what they are signing agrees to more than what has previously been discussed, clearly this reflects an attitude of arrogance and disdain for the person whose welfare and rights are supposed to be paramount. Rachel Johnson’s death is still under investigation.

As well as appearing at the Human Rights committee last week, Jeremy announced that he would be taking legal action to establish that his daughter Bethany’s treatment (in which she is kept in a single room, fed through a hatch and not allowed to have her family in the same room, among other things) violates her human rights, and is being supported in this by Mencap. This led to a lot of criticism on social media and speculation about why Mencap took on this case and not others; they have a history of staying away from legal battles but showing up in the media afterwards and claiming they always supported the families involved, and also run institutions which rely on government contracts and abuses have been exposed in some of them. Mencap’s conflicts of interest are well-known, but let’s not forget that Bethany’s treatment has been among some of the most egregious of anyone still living and Jeremy has said on Twitter that he has not had a queue of other organisations offering free support or pro bono legal representation. I get the impression that some people just resent someone getting support from a big charity when others, or theirs, did not.

Picture of a young white girl holding her chin in her right hand, with two bundles of cream-coloured flowers next to her.The Daily Mail’s article last Sunday proclaimed that Jeremy was “suing the NHS for ‘torturing’ his daughter”. This is misleading. You cannot “sue the NHS”; you have to sue an NHS trust or body such as (in this case) NHS England. The legal action is also against Walsall Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Walsall borough council and St Andrew’s Healthcare which is the charity that actually runs the hospital where Beth is being held. It’s ironic that the Daily Mail is cheering on a lawsuit that is based on human rights principles given that they largely treat the HRA with absolute contempt, but the reference to “suing the NHS” is part of how the Mail softens up the public for the dismantlement or privatisation of it by constantly reminding us that the NHS is crap. Actually, it’s not crap; it’s why we have free healthcare and without it we would all have to pay for insurance which could deny us cover because we might require treatment (e.g. because of an existing condition), as is common in the US. The NHS lacks enough mental health care and relies on St Andrews as well as private units run by a set of profit-making corporations, mostly based abroad (Cygnet, Priory and Elysium being the major ones) because successive governments have allowed it to be run down and wards to be closed, one after the other, as if this is a good thing in itself. These are political decisions.

Ian Birrell’s other article last weekend was about Jade Hutchings, a 27-year-old woman with Asperger’s syndrome who was hospitalised at age 14 after a suicide attempt at school triggered by bullying. She has also been transferred from hospital to hospital all over the country (St Andrew’s, Bath, Cambridgeshire, Wales, now Nottinghamshire) and unlike Bethany, she received “decent treatment” during her three-year stay at St Andrew’s and at her subsequent placement, at an autism unit in Bath, she was allowed trips abroad. However, she was then transferred to “another secure unit outside Cambridgeshire (sic) where, her parents said, she was locked for weeks in a secluded attic room with just a television and rubber-sheeted bed – and clad in a rubberised gown”. However, the article does not say why this took place. The only other mention of Jade Hutchings anywhere on the Internet is a comment from her mother, Linda Hutchings, on Sara Ryan’s blog which mentions a detail which isn’t in Birrell’s article: that one of her diagnoses is treatment-resistant psychosis.

Jade’s current situation is a unit called Farndon in Nottinghamshire, which according to a whistleblower who spoke to a local paper, had been a chaotic and violent unit but under new management, both patients and staff had reported that the unit had improved and was less chaotic and the frequency of the use of restraint had gone down. Jade was sent to this unit two years ago and so would have been there during the chaotic period mentioned in this report — surely a unit should not be allowed to take on new patients if there are serious ongoing problems with violence until they have been sorted out. The most recent CQC report rates the unit as “good” in all areas, but that was in November 2017 and the website says they are carrying out checks at the unit now.

Anyone who has been involved in this campaign for any length of time knows that some fo these units are dreadful, that people are held under section for no good reason and sent to places that are completely unsuitable even if they should not just be closed down and all the staff barred from ever working in the profession again. However, every so often a story has too many unanswered questions and gives you the impression that you are being manipulated or that the author is not letting the facts get in the way of a good story and this seems to be the case here.

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Time to ban the “smart motorway” death traps

Indigo Jo Blogs - 16 December, 2018 - 21:31

 a short lay-by with yellow paving. The road is busy with cars, vans, coaches and trucks.An all-party group of MPs has said that the roll-out of so-called smart motorways, in particular the “all lane running” (ALR) arrangement in which the hard shoulder is permanently converted into a driving lane and there are refuges every mile or so, should be stopped as it is dangerous to both motorists and to recovery workers. There are more than 100 miles of such motorways in England and there are plans to convert 225 more miles (there is a full list of the schemes here). They are mainly found on busy stretches around towns and cities; rural motorways such as the M40 and the M4 in Wiltshire still have hard shoulders and still will have for the foreseeable future. As a truck driver, I do believe this arrangement is unsafe; I have personally had two near misses on all lane running motorways where I got too close for comfort to vehicles stopped in the left lane.

Hard shoulders have been part of the specification for motorways in the UK since the beginning; they were for use in emergencies only, either for people who had broken down or for emergency vehicles that needed to get up a queue to an accident quickly. You are not allowed to stop in them for other reasons, such as for making a phone call or relieving oneself on the verge, as your vehicle would be a hazard to anyone who swerved into the hard shoulder to avoid a vehicle that stopped or slowed suddenly, or some other quickly-developing hazard (I have seen trucks drift into the hard shoulder on more than one occasion, usually because the driver was on his phone, programming his sat-nav, or may not have been fully awake). The point is that there is another strip of tarmac between the left lane and the edge of the road. In the rush to widen motorways to relieve congestion while saving money and avoiding buying up another strip of countryside (or town) and needing to widen bridges and so on, the government has commandeered the hard shoulder.

Initially, such motorways retained the hard shoulder which could be turned into a lane at busy times (as on the M1 in Bedfordshire and M42 and M6 around Birmingham), known as a “dynamic hard shoulder”, but more recent conversions have been to all lane running. It’s true that some motorists get confused, partly because in some places there is insufficient warning that the hard shoulder is closed, and that vehicles still break down in the hard shoulder when it is in use as a lane and the consequences of a strike are the same. But I believe that the reason for all lane running being preferred over dynamic hard shoulders comes down to money and simplicity (as well as the fact that some drivers simply refuse to use the additional lane because they believe it to be unsafe). With a dynamic hard shoulder, people need to be watching over the motorway to decide whether to switch it or not. It just needs less manpower to run.

Highways England, the government agency that runs motorways and trunk roads in England, insists smart motorways are safe. I’m sure they would, as they are the body that has been administering the conversions and monitoring the roads for years. No doubt that also they would blame distracted drivers for any collisions. The problem is that distraction is a fact of life when driving, and is not always the driver’s fault as such (as when they are looking at a mobile phone, for example); they could be looking in the mirror while trying to change lanes, or adjusting the climate controls (or looking for them, as those on certain DAF trucks are hidden and unlit), or attending as best he can to some other necessity. Ultimately it does not matter why a driver is distracted; the bottom line is that a distracted driver is less likely to hit a stationary vehicle if it has stopped on the hard shoulder than if it is stopped in lane 1.

While my impressions are as a driver, I have also spoken to a recovery worker who told me that he found all lane running, such as recently imposed on the M3 in Surrey, to be unsafe. Even if “red X” warnings are displayed on overhead gantries, some drivers ignore them and drive on until they actually see the accident scene and, because other drivers will be changing lanes and slowing down (often forming a queue), they may well be going faster than everyone else. As part of the recent BBC 5 Live investigation, recovery workers told of their fears about road safety when working on motorways without hard shoulders.

These roads are death traps. No more stretches of road should be converted; if the extra lane is needed, it should be on a dynamic basis and the speed limit should be reduced whenever the hard shoulder is being used as a lane. They should not be sacrificing people’s safety to save money.

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Should this racist thug be behind bars?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 16 December, 2018 - 15:45

Dale Hart, a white man sitting on a white Vespa scooter, wearing a black cap and a white Adidas T-shirt and black shorts.A 29-year-old man who attacked a young boy because he thought he had bumped into his child’s buggy while running for a bus received a suspended sentence (twelve months, suspended for two years) at Bolton Crown Court last week. Dale Hart punched the boy and racially taunted him, telling him to “speak English” and calling him a “black c**t”. The boy’s mother, who intervened in the fracas, collapsed after boarding the bus with a potentially fatal bleed on the brain; she required emergency surgery and was in hospital for three weeks. His defence claimed that the attack was “racially aggravated, not racially motivated” and he has previous convictions for affray, a public order offence and being drunk and disorderly.

The judge gave him the suspended sentence clearly because he did not believe the attack was racist from the outset; if it had been, he would have received an immediate custodial sentence. I do not necessarily think this is a good reason, especially with someone with previous convictions for violent behaviour. It is only certain types of men who react with violence at such trivial slights, real or imagined: it is men who have been in a dominant position at school, at work, in the street and in the family and learned over the years that they can get away with it. Men who have not always been at the top of the pile and who had to learn to restrain their anger, or who were not brought up to behave in that fashion, don’t. At most they’ll shout “careful!” at someone who bumps into them or their baby buggy, shopping or whatever. As someone pointed out on Twitter, such people only have uncontrollable tempers when dealing with women and children; “the temper is manageable when the object of anger is an adult male”. I would add that these types will pick on men who are smaller than them and do not look tough.

In my experience society is too tolerant of men who abuse young boys. There is a perception that boys that age need ‘discipline’ and need to learn that they cannot “mouth off”. This was a common excuse for violence when I was at school and a few years ago I read a story in which it was used as an excuse by police not to arrest a man for assaulting a teenage boy: a man in his 50s crashed into a car carrying a 16-year-old boy and his mother in Kent, and this led to an argument which ended with the man punching the boy in the face. Police declined to do more than caution the man because “you can’t give ‘verbal’ and expect nothing in return” and, it seems, because they did not want the hassle of taking him to court.

I don’t know whether this man attacked the young boy specifically because he was Black or because he was the sort of man who would attack someone smaller than him over a trivial slight, and he used racial abuse because he was also racist. Or to put it another way, was he a racist who is also a thug, or a thug who is also a racist? Does it matter? I’ve known men who would treat anyone like this and would also use racial abuse if the situation gave him the opportunity, and if years of being taught that you can do this are what led to this, then he needs to be taught that he cannot. Would a suspended sentence — in which he is told that if he does this again in the next two years, he will go to prison for this crime and his next one — and community service achieve that? However, the court clearly did not have evidence that he had behaved this way routinely throughout his adult life, or his record would have shown it. A single punch to the face can kill a man or put him in a coma and this boy’s mother suffered a bleed to the brain and needed surgery, but to put someone in prison for that, a link to his actions needs to be proven and clearly that could not be done.

People on Twitter have been asking that people contact the Attorney General’s office to ask for this sentence to be reviewed, which anyone can do, whether or not they are connected to the case (see this page). A lot of people think this is extremely unfair, that a racist attacked a Black child and his mother and “got away with it”, but courts always have to take the finer details of the case into account and however unjust this seems to some people, they cannot hold this man responsible for the behaviour of every racist. Perhaps having to restrain his temper because of the threat of prison hanging over him for a couple of years will teach him more than spending six months to a year actually in prison where perhaps he might be at or near the top of the pile and in any case will not be required to attend behaviour-related courses (or have access to them) as a short-sentence prisoner. There may simply not be room and judges may be restricting custodial sentences to prevent overcrowding. But men like this are a threat to everyone and we need to change our culture so that nobody grows up thinking that other people owe them ‘respect’ they do not in fact deserve and can ‘punish’ anyone who gets in their way, and nobody is expected to tiptoe or tread on eggshells around this type of person.

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Are Jews really “wandering again”?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 14 December, 2018 - 21:20

Three children with school bags entering a tunnel, passing by a group of armed Israeli soldiers.Earlier this week an article appeared on Unherd by Douglas Murray, titled “Why are Jewish people ‘wandering’ again?”. It was an interview with a Jewish lawyer called Mark Lewis, who along with his partner Mandy Blumenthal, is planning to leave Britain and relocate to Israel. The reasons given are that anti-Semitism has become ‘acceptable’ again and that society has shown ‘equanimity’ towards anti-Jewish extremism, such as the “Al-Quds Day” march which takes place every year in London and is organised by the Islamic Human Rights Commission, a group with known Iranian links. The piece links to an article on the Times of Israel website, which quotes him as saying “We’ve accelerated our decision of moving to go to Israel because of anti-Semitism being so institutional and accepted in mainstream life”. The word ‘accelerated’ suggests that he had been planning to emigrate anyway; recent events only caused him to go sooner rather than later. Follow the links on the TOI website and you’ll get to this article which reveals that Mandy Blumenthal is Israeli and that Lewis, who has multiple sclerosis, has taken part in clinical trials (PDF) at Hadassah hospital which caused some improvement in his condition. So, he has strong links to Israel already and was already a committed Zionist.

The TOI article is more revealing about his motives: he describes Europe as ‘finished’, claiming that “every day” someone is attacked in some way in Europe: “You see people murdered in museums in Belgium, people murdered in schools in France, people attacked in England. There is only one place for Jewish people to go”. This is, of course, something of an exaggeration and racist attacks happen to members of other minorities, not just Jews, and entire political parties operate on a platform of hostility to immigrants and citizens descended from them — this usually excludes Jews. In the country he plans to emigrate to, soldiers humiliate the native Palestinians, imprison them on a whim, monopolise their water so that Israel can have the appearance of a ‘western’ country with all the modern conveniences, and take over their houses as and when they deem it necessary. There is also widespread, well-documented racism against African and other immigrants. But as long as Jews are safe, he is happy.

Murray’s article does not give any evidence that Jews are leaving Britain in large numbers for Israel. It is just one couple and there has always been a trickle of people moving here to there. (In 2015, the Jerusalem Post published statistics that said that migration from Israel to the UK outstripped “aliya”, or migration to Israel, three to two.) Lewis is 54; he is coming up to the age when many people in well-paid professions take early retirement and some people like the warmer climate and the close-by Mediterranean Sea. There are lots of reasons already why some Jews might choose to move; the fact that everyone is Jewish and finding kosher food is not hard, or maybe they have family connections there. There are also good reasons not to leave: some people may like to spend two weeks in the sun but could not live in that climate all the time; the fact that the areas where there is a heavy Jewish population are quite safe, leafy and suburban and kosher food and synagogues are readily available there if not elsewhere. They have access to good schools, including some Jewish faith schools; there are Jewish societies at all major universities. Anti-Semitism exists (there are cases of grave vandalism every once in a while, for example), but it is far milder than the prejudices other minorities face and does not have mainstream media sympathy. Much of what was complained about during the “Labour anti-Semitism” row consisted of harsh words about Israel or its supporters, not Jews per se.

As for the particular issue of the Al-Quds Day event, Murray alleges that “the public do not turn out to protest the Al-Quds day march as they would a march by the KKK or some neo-Nazi group”. Actually, those counter-demonstrations are not by “the public” but by a dedicated group of anti-fascists. They do not demonstrate against Al-Quds Day because it’s not a threatening demonstration by racist football hooligans or Nazis (not the KKK which is tiny or non-existent here) who target minorities, sometimes including Jews, in this country; it’s against Israel. I’ve never been to one of these; the popularity of Iranian front organisations has declined considerably since the 90s and even more so since the start of the Syrian civil war; the same can be said of Hizbullah who had previously been seen by some as a heroic Lebanese resistance force, but have since thrown in their lot with Assad and have joined in besieging opposition hold-outs. A lot of Muslims agree that talking about “human rights” while supporting a dictator that does not respect them is inconsistent and I rarely see its awards on Muslim social media nowadays. There are other efforts to monitor anti-Muslim agitation and abuses, such as The Trashies (which covers Islamophobia in the media), Cage and Prevent Watch, among other efforts.

Mark Lewis is not fleeing persecution by moving to Israel. He is moving from a country where Jews have good lives and where they commonly achieve positions of power and influence to live behind barricades in a country where Jews are the oppressor, and enjoy a western lifestyle to the detriment of those oppressed people. We often hear the term ‘oppression’ used as a technical term to refer sometimes to quite trivial things, often to mere disadvantage or annoyance, but what goes on in Palestine is the real thing — a people being actively oppressed by an occupying power while the world looks on, mostly with approval. Douglas Murray, who has previously proclaimed that “conditions for Muslims must be made harder across the board”, devotes two paragraphs to telling us how illustrious and public-spirited this man is, that he represented some worthy causes against the rich and powerful, such as Rupert Murdoch, but the ‘cause’ he now promotes is one supported by some of the world’s richest and most powerful men and women, including Rupert Murdoch and some of the new breed of fascistic or authoritarian political leaders such as Modi, Trump, Orban and Bolsonaro. So, let’s not pretend that our brightest and best are being driven out by racism. They’re moving to racism, not from it.

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On Elaine McDonald OBE

Indigo Jo Blogs - 11 December, 2018 - 22:23

Picture of Elaine McDonald, an elderly white woman with red hair wearing a pink jumper, sitting next to a younger white woman wearing a purple jacket over a black top, holding a book at which Elaine McDonald is pointing.Elaine McDonald was the lady at the centre of a notorious 2011 Supreme Court ruling (see earlier blog in which she challenged the decision of Kensington and Chelsea borough council to refuse her a night-time care visit to help her to the toilet, expecting her to use incontinence pads instead, claiming that others had objected but got used to them. Sadly the court ruled in the council’s favour, although in 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in her favour.

I wrote about the Supreme Court case in 2011. It is worth noting that this had been ongoing for many years, since before the Coalition took power, and had nothing to do with the public spending cuts and disability benefit reforms that were taking place then. I am currently in contact with a woman who is moving into a council bungalow in the new year and is being faced with a similar situation; she is talking about taking legal action against the relevant authorities and the McDonald case will certainly be relevant to that. I covered that towards the end of this entry about toilet facilities for disabled people generally.

Alison Cameron has written a tribute, which describes her career and performances as a ballerina in Scotland and her encounters with Elaine and her husband, Donald MacLeish, who later became her carer in her old age, after she suffered the stroke that precipitated the 2011 case.

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