In a previous post I expressed the opinion that the erasure of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba (right) from the medical register was a miscarriage of justice and that a medical practitioners’ tribunal should not be expected to bow to a jury’s verdict when juries are prone to mistakes and prejudice and are not formed of experts. I joined a Facebook group of Dr Bawa-Garba’s supporters and have also witnessed some of the attitudes on Twitter of some of them. I must say at first that most of it is perfectly civil and I don’t blame them for concentrating on their colleague’s situation rather than the family’s grief or the fact that a boy died, any more than you can blame people who are opposed to the death penalty or in favour of prison reform or who seek to get an offender released after a certain time rather than throwing the key away for not always thinking about the victim or their family. However, I have come across some of them attacking the Adcock family themselves as well as other parent campaigners. This has to stop.
One of the issues is the attitudes of Jack’s father, specifically, evidence of racist attitudes from the material he has shared on his Facebook page. I looked on his Facebook and the posts were not there, though I was told they must have been deleted and I saw a screenshot of one of them. Still, his prejudices are of no relevance because Jack Adcock was six years old and had a learning disability; he was not a teenager or adult capable of sharing his father’s prejudices. The racism that can be suspected may have been on the part of some of the jury (again, because they cannot be asked about their deliberations, we will never know) and the GMC itself; overseas medics and nurses are disproportionately represented among those struck off or referred for sanction.
Some of them have also been attacking other parent campaigners who opposed them with personal insults or slights to their intelligence; one example is Dr Sara Ryan, mother of Connor Sparrowhawk of “Justice for LB” fame, whom they have referred to as “Mildred” after the woman in the Three Billboards film (who put up the billboards to campaign for an investigation into a woman’s murder; why anyone would use that as an insult is beyond me) and one of them told her “you failed in science, now write fluff”. This is not really the way professionals running a serious campaign should speak to someone whose son died as a result of the incompetence of NHS management and more than one doctor and has spent years trying to bring those involved to account and has resisted attempts to blame nurses and support workers which the NHS trust involved has a record of doing in that and many other cases.
This past week, the psychiatrist who had been the responsible clinician while Connor was in the STATT unit in Oxford where he died in July 2013 was suspended from the medical register in the UK for a year (as she has moved to Ireland since Connor’s death). For anyone not familiar with the case, Connor died in the bath from drowning as a result an epileptic seizure, after more than three months in the unit in which his epilepsy was not taken into account despite his mother warning them of it (leaving someone with epilepsy in the bath on their own is something anyone who works with people with epilepsy should know not to do, and people with epilepsy who do not have learning disabilities are warned not to bathe alone, if at all). The standard of care and treatment in the unit was judged so bad the following November that it was closed to new admissions and told to improve six specific areas; in the event, it closed altogether. The judgement gave as a “mitigating factor” the fact that Murphy was working in “the difficult world of adult learning difficulties”, a statement some commentators have taken as a suggestion that the lives of people with learning disabilities are worth less, or that such failures are only to be expected. In other cases where a person with a learning disability died and a terrible amount of suffering had been inflicted on them in the months or years leading up to that (Stephanie Bincliffe and Nico Reed come to mind), the managers and consultants responsible have not faced any sanction.
The fact that those responsible for incompetent care and sometimes downright cruelty over a much longer period — seven years in the case of Stephanie Bincliffe — leading to the needless death of a patient still have their jobs and no criminal conviction reinforces my belief that Hadiza Bawa-Garba, who was responsible for Jack Adcock (and many others, over several wards, in the absence of three other doctors) for only a few hours, was made an example of because of her race, relatively junior position and overseas status. Even without the racial undertones, the case looks like a classic case of stereotyping inviduals for the failures of a whole organisation and much as this course of action may satisfy some people (Sharon Shoesmith springs to mind, and one may recall the savaging she got from the papers following her dismissal on TV), the injustice reeks too strongly for the decisions to stand for very long.
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- Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba, racism and the appeal to authority
- One lesson from Richard Handley’s inquest
- Charities “refusing” Presidents’ Club donations
- Things that don’t mean optional
Cut through the bigotry of a vocal minority, and there are some pretty uplifting football chants to be heard in England nowadays. Particularly popular at Liverpool is one dedicated to an Arab striker.
It contains the lines: “If he’s good enough for you/He’s good enough for me/If he scores another few/Then I’ll be Muslim too,” and ends with the words: “He’s sitting in the mosque/That’s where I want to be.”Continue reading...
Civilisations – note the plural – reworks the classic 1969 TV series into a truly global history of art
The meeting had already eaten up the morning when Michael Jackson, executive producer of the BBC’s new art epic, Civilisations, challenged me to explain why Michelangelo needed to be in a world history of art for a 21st-century audience.
I gave, I thought, a passionate explanation: that Michelangelo invented the very idea of the artist as an imaginative genius, that without him, not to mention the European Renaissance that he epitomised, we wouldn’t see artists as heroes or even be interested in art itself as a special, magical thing but would just see it as a bunch of luxury craft objects or religious decor.Continue reading...
Yesterday a Somali man living with his family in Bristol was cleared on the judge’s direction of a child cruelty charge, brought as a result of his supposedly telling a passenger in his taxi that he had allowed his daughter to undergo a form of female genital mutilation (FGM). The passenger, Sami Ullah (right), was an activist with Integrate UK, formerly known as Integrate Bristol, and as a result of his information, two separate examinations were carried out on the girl in question (aged 6) and one on her two younger sisters, the first suggesting that some injury might have been inflicted on her but the second finding nothing. The man swore his accuser was lying and that he would not discuss his private life with strangers, and also that he did not want his daughter to suffer the health problems associated with FGM. This is only the third prosecution of anyone for FGM-related offences in this country and the third acquittal. A detailed report of the case can be found here.
I must say, I find it astonishing that anyone would think that a Somali man would disclose a thing like that to a total stranger who had been in his car less than ten minutes and who is not even of his race: the man’s name was Sami Ullah, a name commonly found among South Asians, not Somalis. The man (who cannot be named to protect his daughter’s identity) had been living in this country since 2004 and everyone knows FGM is not only illegal but the subject of enormous official and media interest, especially in Bristol for some reason where this clique of scaremongering busybodies hold rather too much sway (this was the city where a girl got an honorary doctorate for anti-FGM work at 19, two years younger than most people graduate with their first degree). If the authorities were not so desperate to demonstrate that they are “doing something” to bring perpetrators of FGM to book, they would not have given this case based on a mixture of hearsay and inconclusive medical examinations a second thought. The man’s computer and mobile phone had no evidence of research into FGM at the time of his arrest, although some might say he would not have needed to research this online.
A police spokeswoman said that the force accepted the court’s findings but insisted “FGM remains a deeply entrenched practice and we know these harmful procedures are happening in this country right now”. What on earth is her evidence for this? Every time statistics are published on FGM, they are always about “new cases” which are in fact old cases, i.e. adults being found to have undergone FGM, not fresh cases which would be evidenced by serious injuries, infections and even deaths, in the case of severe forms, in young girls. There is no excuse to submit a girl to an intrusive examination on the basis of a bit of hearsay and FGM really were happening in the UK, the evidence would come to light by itself rather than having to be manufactured.
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We face an ongoing struggle to be heard. This denies us the very agency that is claimed we don’t have in the first place
Rebecca Solnit, in “Men Explain Things to Me” writes: “Every woman who appears wrestles with the forces that would have her disappear. She struggles with the forces that would tell her story for her, or write her out of the story … (T)he ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt.” While Solnit makes this declaration in relation to the struggle of women at large, it is a statement that resonates in a different and very personal way for many Muslim women.
For some, we are a caricature to be shaped and moulded to fit an image already constructed. For others, we are the nameless victims in a saviour story where the saviour – a hero or heroine – is more important and consequential than the supposed victim. For yet others, we are academic subjects analysed within a theory designed to validate conclusions already reached.Continue reading...
Swype, for a long time my favourite keypad to use on Android phones which I first encountered on my Samsung Galaxy S back in 2011, has been killed off after years of slow development by Nuance, who bought it out in 2012. The announcement was made at the start of this month but has only just been picked up by the tech media which some might say demonstrates why its owner felt the need to discontinue it. Swype was the original keypad that let you trace words by moving your finger from letter to letter without removing it from the screen; other keypads just predicted words as you tapped on letters (you might recall that iOS lacked even this until version 8). Nuance is best-known for its Dragon dictation and voice-control software (widely used by quadriplegics who cannot use their hands to control their computers) and a version of this was included with Swype which for a while was branded “Swype + Dragon”. However, Nuance was a relative minnow once SwiftKey, its major competition among ‘independent’ Android keypads, was acquired by Microsoft, Google improved its own keypad and both were offered for free on the app stores.
I’ve used SwiftKey on and off since I had my first Android phone, an HTC Hero (branded T-Mobile G2), in late 2009. SwiftKey was a vast improvement on the bundled keypad and its predictions were really fast and accurate, which the HTC keypad’s weren’t. Swype was also a revelation when I first saw it on the Galaxy S; it came bundled with the phone as part of Samsung’s OS and was not available independently then, so when you upgraded to the now-defunct CyanogenMod because Samsung would not update their own Android offering for that phone, you lost it. But SwiftKey was still a good choice, it still had fast predictive text and it also copied Swype’s tracing method of typing, and improved it, predicting as you swiped. But SwiftKey never copied some of Swype’s best features: the ease of copying and pasting using gestures that copied standard key combinations (e.g. swiping from the Swype logo to C, X, V or A as shown in the picture) and its handling of common English apostrophe-letter endings (’s, ‘d etc) — you’d just trace from the apostrophe to the letter or letters. SwiftKey forced you to enter them manually and still does. It also has not been very good with hyphenated phrases; again, it would treat them as single words while Swype knew they were joined words.
I always thought Swype was the visually most elegant keypad app on Android; the themes were often understated with good contrasts. However, the performance of the app slowed with use and development appeared to slow with it; no major new features were added for a long time and very few bug fixes. The iOS version was never comparable with the Android version, only ever offering three word predictions for example and having fewer ‘learning’ options. At the same time, GBoard improved somewhat (although I always found it awkward to use compared to SwiftKey or Swype), SwiftKey introduced Flow and Google Keyboard introduced a Swype-like trace-typing method; neither were as good as Swype at first but got better. GBoard (as it is now known) was introduced for download on phones that came with third-party keypads; SwiftKey became free of charge and then so did all the themes. Swype just couldn’t compete with bigger companies giving away the thing it invented for free.
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This documentary on Channel 4 last night (19th Feb) exposed abusive practices, short staff, over-reliance on temporary staff (including the undercover reporter for this programme) and poor safety at a hospital unit, The Dene near Burgess Hill, Sussex, run by a company called Partnerships in Care which was taken over by the Priory Group in 2014. As it happens, many of us know of abusive practices in both pre-merger Priory and PIC units going back years, and had been waiting for a programme like this to be shown; it was a bitter disappointment, as it only focussed on one unit rather than a selection, and was too short at 25 minutes — when it finished, my thought was “is that it?” because Dispatches was always an hour-long investigative programme and there was so much more to expose than what was shown, which was bad enough but not the most egregious abuse I have heard of from both former patients and their families over the past few years. (Available on the Channel 4 website in the UK for the next 29 days.)
It is significant that they chose only a former Partnerships in ‘Care’ unit. This was, by the way, the same unit where Claire Dyer was held in 2014 after being moved while on section 3 from an assessment and treatment unit (ATU) in Swansea. I wrote about that at length at the time. The unit is a medium-secure unit which does not specialise in autism or learning disabilities, both of which Claire has: they took on a patient who was out of their expertise. Claire was transferred because of challenging behaviour towards staff at the unit, but had spent much of her time while at the unit, before she was sectioned and after, with her family on unescorted visits both home and outside, yet on arrival at The Dene was not allowed outside the building for several weeks. In the event she was allowed on unescorted outside visits after a few weeks and released from section after three months, but this kind of “institution-centred” care, taking no account of an individual patient’s condition, is a common phenomenon in the British mental healthcare world.
The Priory Group trades on its name: the Priory Hospital in Roehampton, south-west London, is a ‘prestige’ mental health unit for the rich and famous, but when people who do not know any better are facing a spell in one of their other units, they think they are getting the best mental health care going and in fact they are getting the bog-standard package the same company provides on NHS contracts. The Priory Group operates the Cheadle Royal hospital which ‘benefited’ from the closure of the West End Unit in Hull, a former weeknight-only inpatient unit which was closed down in 2013 because NHS England declined to fund it on that basis (and the American CEO was heard saying he hoped the NHS would close more beds so that private providers could fill the gap); teenagers were sent there from Hull (and elsewhere in the country) because of a lack of local (or even regional) inpatient NHS beds, making it difficult for their families to visit on a regular enough basis. Here are some of the abuses and bad practices I know of there:
- Overuse of seclusion and restraint, often with an obvious punitive intention regardless of how staff dressed it up
- Punitive responses to self-harm
- Lack of respect for dignity (e.g. refusing sanitary protection to girls and women at risk of self-harm during their periods, something noted at PIC’s Ty Catrin in South Wales as well)
- Incompetent management of self-harm, particularly involving ligatures (a girl took her own life in 2014 using the metal spiral binding of a notebook, after a staff member allowed her to keep it — which he should not have done — but said to her “you won’t hurt yourself with that, will you?”, something she had not previously considered)
- Other incidents of neglect, such as noted in the case of Amy el-Keria, a 14-year-old girl with Tourette’s syndrome and various mental health problems who died at Priory unit Ticehurst House, East Sussex, in 2012
- A cruel and inflexible approach to risk management: for example, a girl who had spent an afternoon in bed to avoid confrontation with other patients was then refused off-ward access in the evening because staff could not “risk assess” her
- Lack of understanding of autism (other patients and low-status staff such as healthcare assistants knowing better about it than nurses and psychiatrists is often reported; this was noted at The Dene as well)
- On one occasion at Cheadle, a teenage patient had to re-site another patient’s catheter after it fell out during a physical altercation.
There are many, many people Channel 4 could have contacted across the country if they wanted to make a programme exposing widespread abuses and safeguarding failures at Priory units, but they chose to focus entirely on the footage gained by one undercover reporter. Weirdly, despite uncovering criminal behaviour on the part of one of the full-time staff at The Dene — assaulting a patient who had entered the medicine room — the programme disguised his voice and face and does not give his name, perhaps because the intent is to expose the failings of the institution rather than individual staff members. But if the attack on the patient was not bad enough to show the perpetrator’s face, why did they stop at showing only that instead of the stories of other Priory Group patients who have experienced far worse?
This programme was a major missed opportunity; there is so much abuse and suffering of adults and children to be exposed at the Priory Group’s units. It hinted at the Care Quality Commission failing to investigate properly (a factor in the Winterbourne View scandal in 2011) noting that they had given it a good inspection report not long before footage shown last night was filmed. Again, the 25-minute documentary format has a lot to answer for, although in this case it was not a soundbite-filled bit of infotainment (like a lot of the more recent Panoramas) but what looked like the start of a serious investigation. We need to see part 2. Same time next week?
Possibly Related Posts:
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- One lesson from Richard Handley’s inquest
- Charities “refusing” Presidents’ Club donations
- Review: Panorama, “White Fright”
- Things that don’t mean optional
So, in the wake of Mary Beard’s ill-considered (patrician, soft-racist) tweet last week about how she wouldn’t go out to a disaster zone and do what those brave Oxfam staff (accused of sexually exploiting local girls) did, the usual accusations have been made by various journalists, political and media groupies and various other well-placed individuals, that Prof Beard has been “bullied” off Twitter by mobs of one sort of another. Beard may well have taken her Twitter account offline for a while, but I witnessed a lot of the reaction to her original tweet and it was roundly critical of her and much of it linked her attitude to her race and class, but a lot of that aimed at a public figure hardly counts as bullying. Ava Vidal, the comedian who has also carried out disaster relief work in Dominica after last year’s hurricane, suggested that “if someone uses their huge platform to make unsubstantiated claims of bullying, and this leads to someone being attacked, that person should be prosecuted”.
I would go a stage further: all accusations of “death threats” or other threats of violence should be investigated by the police. If you go public with such claims, you should have a duty to provide evidence to the authorities; if they are genuine, it is in everyone’s interest for the perpetrators to be found, and if they are not, it is in everyone’s interest for the falsehood to be exposed. In my experience every time there is a campaign of any kind and there is a lot at stake for some people and feelings run high (because there are people with a lot at stake, such as their health or independence, rather than small change), someone makes an accusation of “death threats” and this is used to discredit the whole campaign. I saw it with ME five or six years ago and I’ve seen it with almost every political campaign since the Tories came to power in 2010. It’s always the establishment, and people taking a pro-establishment line, that make these accusations, particularly Tories and the right-wing of the Labour party, and very often a little examination will reveal the claims to be, at the very least, exaggerated. It deflects from the fact that they are the powerful ones and encourages the audience to regard them as people who are being brave in the face of hostility, persecution or threatened violence. It is about time perfectly valid and necessary campaigns stopped being derailed or discredited by claims about what it at most a tiny minority of clowns and often, I suspect, outright fabrications.
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Mosques are opening their doors to the public, but too many keep them closed to practising women. The Open My Mosque campaign aims to change this
On Sunday more than 200 mosques invited the public through their doors to boost community relations and diffuse tensions over a cuppa. It’s the fourth annual Visit My Mosque day, led by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), growing steadily in popularity and reach over the years. But less well known is the Open My Mosque campaign, a social media project led by British Muslim women who are challenging and encouraging mosques to open spaces to women.
Of the 1,975 mosques in Britain, 28% do not offer facilities for women, and up to 50% of all South Asian-run mosques do not accommodate them. When mosques do offer it, the access is restricted, and often does not even include a prayer space, but rather a teaching space, such as a girls’ madrasa.
If you’re a woman, it’s far less likely you’ll get a foot in the door, let alone munch a samosa with the imamContinue reading...
Labour leader highlights Islamophobia as ‘real problem in our society’ during open day
Muslim women are facing routine racist abuse on the streets of the UK, Jeremy Corbyn has said while visiting mosques participating in a nationwide open day to build bridges across communities.
“Islamophobia is a real problem in our society, as is other forms of racism like antisemitism and racism against people of Afro-Caribbean heritage,” the Labour leader said at the Finsbury Park mosque in north London.
Interim leader says Muslims should sign a document renouncing parts of the Qur’an
Ukip’s interim leader, Gerard Batten, has reiterated his belief that Islam is a “death cult” and called for Muslims to be asked to sign a document renouncing parts of the Qur’an, in remarks that risk pushing the beleaguered party even further from the mainstream.
Batten, an MEP for London, took over as party head on Saturday after Henry Bolton was removed at an emergency general meeting of party members, called when Bolton refused to step down following controversy about his personal affairs.Continue reading...
For the first time ever, I have engaged in the somewhat discreditable activity known as binge-watching. Truthfully, I just couldn’t help it. Resurrection: Ertugrul – a number one show in its native Turkey – may well be the crack cocaine of Muslims in the West, starved as we are of decent dramas that seek to reflect our values. Anyhow – and I am rather shocked myself to say this – I have watched, or rather, greedily devoured, the first 25 episodes over the past week on Netflix and can’t wait to watch more.
Set in the year 1225 C.E. in an unspecified location that appears to be in Anatolia, Resurrection: Ertugrul is inspired by the life of Ertugrul, a scion of the Turkmen Kayi tribe and the son of its leader, Sulayman Shah. Ertugrul was the father of ‘Uthman, after whom the ‘Uthmaniyyah Khilafah (Ottoman Empire) was named. His descendants would go on to rule a huge part of the Muslim world for around 600 years.
The very beginning of the first episode sets the defiant tone of the series. It is almost as if the creators of the series took on a wager:
“In secular Turkey I bet you can’t begin your series by mentioning God’s name!”
“Oh yeah? We are Muslims. We will say “God is great. God is One” loudly not once, but 15 times, right at the outset. Watch us.”
And that’s just what they do! I won’t reveal how they integrated that into the storyline but it is artfully and very cleverly done.
The setting of the drama near the beginning of the 13th century allows the writers to introduce a number of plot elements including famine, the upheaval caused by the Mongol invasions, the petty rulers of the Muslim city states, Crusader intrigue (it is set less than 40 years after Salahuddin al-Ayyubi liberated Jerusalem), the Black Death and perhaps most joyfully, the regular appearance of the Sufi saint, Ibn Arabi who lived in the region at this time.
As we begin the series, the Kayi tribe are dealing with a famine and are about to face the onset of a harsh winter in which their flocks and almost certainly many of the weaker members of the tribe will face death. They have to look for a way out.
It is a running theme of the series that the Kayi tribe constantly faces problems. However, as the physicist David Deutsch says in his magnificent book The Beginning of Infinity: “Problems are inevitable. Problems are soluble.” Ertugrul, his father Sulayman Shah and the Kayi tribe face trouble after trouble but they prepare and plan to deal with each one of them with resolution and firm faith in God that justice must prevail.
Set against the Kayi tribe are not just the scheming Crusaders of the Knights Templar who want the Vatican to launch a new Crusade to recapture Jerusalem, but also their Muslim collaborators who treasonously deal with the Crusaders for personal profit at the expense of the interests of the wider Muslim world.
Ibn Arabi regularly pops up, (one reviewer likened him to a Muslim Gandalf) to offer insights from the Qur’an and the lives of the Prophets to bolster the faith of the characters.
Another enigmatic character is the mysterious Afsin Bey of whom one character says after he has once again gone missing for a few days:
“You know how Afsin Bey is! We cannot hear from him unless he wants us to. He puts on his shroud and infiltrates into the heartland of the infidels. We do not know whether he’d surface in Frank territory or in a Persian city.”
To compound the problems of the Kayi tribe, the ruler of the Muslim city state of Aleppo where they want to move their tribe to shelter from the famine is a drip of a man who prefers writing love poems to focusing on the well-being and safety of his people who are being continually undermined by Knights Templar infiltrators.
The series is very well made and the gripping nature of each episode leaves the viewer wanting to watch more. Some of the CGI effects which are occasionally a bit ropey can be forgiven.
The huge success of Resurrection: Ertugrul should perhaps be viewed in light of recent changes in Turkish society. Following the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire after the first world war, Turkey became so aggressively secular that it actively sought to undermine religious values and actively discriminated against practising Muslims with bans on bearded Muslim men and employing Muslim women wearing the headscarf in the civil service etc. Recent years have seen a gradual reversal of these policies with the electoral success of the Islam-oriented AK Party under the leadership of President Recep Tayyib Erdogan.
Interestingly, I noticed that towards the end of the credits, Kemal Tekden is listed as a producer (it is his Tekden Films that produced the series). Kemal Tekden also just happens to be an AK Party MP. Turkey has developed a very successful export market for its TV dramas with a recent story claiming the Resurrection: Ertugrul has now been exported to over 60 countries.
If you haven’t watched any of Resurrection: Ertugrul yet – get on to Netflix and give it a chance now. You may surprise yourself.
Iceland is poised to become the first European country to outlaw male circumcision amid signs that the ritual common to both Judaism and Islam may be a new battleground over religious freedom.
A bill currently before the Icelandic parliament proposes a penalty of up to six years in prison for anyone carrying out a circumcision other than for medical reasons. Critics say the move, which has sparked alarm among religious leaders across Europe, would make life for Jews and Muslims in Iceland unsustainable.Continue reading...
Wagner, didn’t give any detailed reasons for his conversion or resignation from the AfD. His only comment has been that he converted for “personal reasons,” and that he was not pressured to quit after his conversion by the AfD. It would stand to reason however that despite the AfD’s claim that it doesn’t discriminate against Muslims it would be difficult to be a member of a party whose avowed stance is anti-Islam.
The Atlantic published an article titled “the strange cases of anti-Islam politicians turned Muslims.” The article also gets into a bit of murky psycho-social analysis about conversion, and a not completely factual claim about their historically not being any or many cases of European critics converting to Islam before the rise of anti-Islam political parties. In fact there are many stories of European converts from the past who were critics of Islam or anti-Islam, many of them would settle in Muslim nations.
Earlier today Mary Beard, the Cambridge historian well-known for championing the role of women in academia as well as for her TV series, posted tweet defending aid workers accused of sexual abuse in disaster zones such as Haiti. She said,
Of course one can’t condone the (alleged) behaviour of Oxfam staff in Haiti and elsewhere. But I do wonder how hard it must be to sustain “civilised” values in a disaster zone. And overall I still respect those who go in to help out, where most of us [would] not tread.
In response to people who criticised that tweet, she elaborated that, for example, “disaster zones are regions that none who have not been there understand” and that “from what I have read it involves the breakdown of fundamental values”. The original tweet and her defence of it was roundly condemned as colonialist and racist, defending white men who “gave into temptation” while stuck in parts of the world most people, including Beard herself, would not venture into, some of which are often given stereotypically as examples of places that are not very civilised at the best of times (for this critique see Anaïs Duong-Pedica; Priyamvada Gopal has called it “the progressive end of the institutional culture I have to survive day in day out”). I find the argument objectionable for another reason: it is a very common defence of abuse in institutions and by soldiers, and is no more valid there than here.
Firstly, disaster zones are not marked by the “breakdown of fundamental values” but by the breakdown of bricks and mortar: the destruction of homes, schools, roads, bridges, water treatment plants, hospitals and the like. In that situation, some people will do things they would not do otherwise, such as beg or steal, because their home, property and workplace have been destroyed and they have no other way of feeding themselves. Criminals may also find their activities disrupted but they have the ‘advantage’ of not being bound by the normal rules that everyone else lives by; they will often have no problem exploiting other people’s distress and desperation even though they have suffered losses themselves. But desperation is an excuse for theft; it is not an excuse for rape, because that has nothing to do with feeding oneself but only harms another. Disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes happen in places with every culture and belief system and every degree of technological advancement. Historians such as Beard are fascinated with Italy — ancient and early modern, in particular — and that’s an earthquake zone.
Second, this is not even about the “breakdown of values” among a disaster-afflicted human community but people who go there willingly, usually as part of a job for which they are paid, and do not live in broken-down houses or packed refugee centres but in fairly basic but clean workers’ accommodation. Unless they are there for the first time, they will have had this experience before and known what to expect. There are also aid staff based permanently in major cities such as Nairobi whose standard of living is equal to what they enjoy back home, if not better because they are paid in “hard” currency rather than, say, Kenyan shillings. We do not know if all of the people accused of sexual abuse and exploitation were there for the short or long term. For many of them it’s a job that involves frequent ‘adventures’ and requires hard work and doing without creature comforts for a while but pays well and adds to their CV. Again, no excuse to sexually abuse anyone else.
The argument that “work stress”, being in a hostile or less-than-civilised environment full of people you wouldn’t want to rub shoulders with unless you were paid is one that I have heard before to justify all kinds of abuses. To give an example, when I was at Kesgrave Hall, a special boarding school (now closed) with a violent and destructive culture, in the early 1990s I heard of an incident in which a British soldier stationed in Northern Ireland had harassed a local man on a regular basis for several weeks, then ordered him to stop and when he ran away, shot him dead. I mentioned this to a teacher who was known for assaulting boys and dragging them around rooms and down corridors, and he made some excuse about how I’d never been in such a stressful job with bombs going off and where you don’t know who’s a terrorist/murderer or whatever and how I’d behave in that situation. On another occasion, where a care worker also known for his foul language and violent behaviour was sacked for drinking with a group of fifth-form (year 11) boys at the Black Tiles pub in Martlesham, he made the same excuse about how stressful the man’s job was. I have heard variations on this excuse made for mental health staff who over-restrain or humilitate or otherwise abuse the people forced to suffer their ‘care’. I once saw an interview with a former mental health worker who had witnessed a colleague whack a patient over the head with a bedpan, and gave the excuse that “if you live among shit, you become shit”. But it’s not an excuse; the man who did that had no compassion for the people he was meant to be caring for and one wonders if he had developed that attitude through interacting with other members of staff rather than through dealing with the patients or residents. And whether he had gone into the job because he loved people and enjoyed caring or because it was “a job”, ultimately he had power over another human being and chose to hurt them for his own gratification.
And that’s even before we get to the subject of people who seek out caring jobs where they have direct power over others because it gives them access to vulnerable people: those who physically cannot fight back or would be punished if they did, or who cannot tell or would not be believed if they did. Doubtless a few of these aid workers had heard from their friends of opportunities to “get laid” in exotic locations with women who are ‘willing’ (read desperate) much as institutional abusers seek out homes and hospitals with easy targets and lax vetting of personnel; others come with pre-existing prejudices against the people they will be looking after, especially if the institution is a prison (or is called some euphemism for prison). Was it really the ‘stress’ of being away from home and in basic living conditions and having to deal with desperate people or violence in the streets that turned them into sexual abusers or was it the fact that law and order had broken down somewhat, the police were loath to hold to account aid workers (or forbidden to) and they could get away with it?
The excuses reflect a certain type of low expectations some people have towards men: they believe some men “can’t help” but take advantage of any sex on offer and if they’re under any kind of stress, God help them. The truth is that men can and do restrain themselves all the time, whether they are in a stressful job or work situation or not. The same goes for using other forms of violence: those of us who weren’t at the top of the pile, or even the middle, got used to keeping our heads down, to keeping away from trouble and to turning our anger on ourselves and our property rather than people who were bigger than us (one very frequently hears of women using the first two of these behaviours to avoid or defuse interactions with aggressive men). I strongly suspect that many of those who commit abuses (and it is worth remembering that some of the abuses are against colleagues, especially women, as well as locals) in the countries they have been sent to help rebuild after disasters are dominant characters who have become used to being at the top of a hierarchy, who bullied and got away with it, who was never in the position of needing to learn self-restraint. Shaista Aziz, who has worked at Oxfam (one of the major charities implicated) has linked it to the “bro culture” of organisations dominated by white men from the top down and aid-worker teams which are also male-dominated in themselves; to “a culture where bullying was rife, women were frequently belittled and racism was casual” and where people who tried to draw attention to the problem were made into the problem. It’s ridiculous to defend these sorts of people as having succumbed to temptation while doing a job a lot of people would not touch; there are plenty of jobs many people would not want to do, but we would not excuse this from a bin man or toilet cleaner and we mustn’t when it’s white western aid workers who are getting paid, went out of their own accord2 and will go home again.
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Why should anyone wish to learn about religion? Religion is, in the phrase of the sociologist Linda Woodhead, “a toxic brand”. In the public imagination the word summons up images of violence, patriarchy and irrationalism. The facile confidence of the “New Atheist” movement in the early years of this century was pushing at an open door. Religious studies nevertheless remains a surprisingly popular A-level subject, although this may owe something to its reputation as an easy one. A recent YouGov poll found that the British public thinks that RE is a subject scarcely more important than Latin, which the public, wrongly, does not care about at all. The National Association of Teachers of Religious Education has just launched an appeal for more teachers.
The association is quite right: religious education matters a great deal. At the very least it can function as a kind of ethnography, teaching people about the customs and beliefs of different religious cultures – something that is obviously desirable in a multicultural society. To know that Muslims and Jews won’t eat pork, or that Hindus regard cows as sacred, is really just a part of civics. There is nothing specifically religious about such teaching, even if it is by convention part of religious education. It could just as well be taught under geography or history, subjects profoundly influenced by the beliefs and actions of religious people. The real task of RE is much more ambitious.Continue reading...
Muslim man claims ban on edging around father’s grave breaches right to freedom of religion
A Muslim man is mounting a legal challenge over a prohibition on edging, or borders, around individual graves in his local cemetery, saying that the ban breaches his right to freedom of religion.
Atta Ul-Haq has been granted permission for a judicial review of Walsall council’s policy on the basis that it is a matter of public interest.
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Every time there’s a mass shooting in the United States, the anti-gun-control lobby insist that the right way to stop such incidents is for there to be more guns rather than less; that the best defence against a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. If the massacre is at a school, as with yesterday’s atrocity in Florida, the same people will call for teachers to be armed. The fact that no other country in the world has such massacres on a regular basis, and most other developed countries have none at all (or at least one or so every decade or two) does not occur to them. We last had such a massacre here more than 20 years ago, at Dunblane in Scotland, and the result was that the government introduced legislation to ban the keeping of handguns and automatic weapons by private individuals; only single-shot rifles are allowed, and then only by vetted and authorised individuals who need them for a lawful purpose such as hunting. When the founding fathers of the USA passed the Second Amendment, the weapons that they had access to were much less powerful than some of these.
Growing up in the 1980s, a staple of children’s verse that we all read was the work of Roger McGough, a Liverpool poet best known right now for presenting the Radio 4 show Poetry Please. One of the most memorable is called The Lesson in which a teacher, angered by struggling yet again to make his voice heard above the din of the “nooligans”, uses a sword, a shotgun and his bare hands to slaughter the lot of them. Mid-way through, the headmaster put his head through the doorway and on seeing what was going on, “nodded understandingly, then tossed in a grenade”. Given that state school teachers are not the best-paid profession in most western countries and in some schools have to deal with threatening or abusive situations on a regular basis from children and adolescents that are bigger than them but with whom they are required absolutely never to transgress the limits of reasonable force, as well as having family crises, mental health problems (diagnosed or otherwise) or grudges and embitterments of their own, the chances of a teacher with an automatic weapon perpetrating a McGough-style “Lesson” are probably greater than one becoming the proverbial “good guy with a gun”. And that’s if teachers even want to carry guns into lessons.
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Neil Erikson found guilty of posting footage where he is seen wearing a Toll uniform while ambushing the former senator
Far-right activist Neil Erikson has been found guilty of contempt after posting online an inflammatory video in which former senator Sam Dastyari was called a “terrorist” and a “monkey”.
The convicted stalker and racial vilifier was on Thursday found in contempt for publishing the video footage and also posting photos on his Twitter page, defying previous court orders.Continue reading...