‘I wanted to channel the anger’: Europe's fearless political playwrights

The Guardian World news: Islam - 12 February, 2018 - 07:00

They’ve stormed the Reichstag, turned terrorism into absurd comedy and asked their audiences for answers. Meet five theatre-makers grappling with crises across the continent.

By Daniel Boffey, Constanze Letsch, Philip Oltermann, Helena Smith and Kit Gillet

People laugh a lot – and at the end they cry

Art is not for cowards

I search for trauma in individuals – and in a country

Everyone wanted to understand what was going on

We haven’t dealt with the past in a normal way

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Ofsted head to be questioned over backing for hijab ban

The Guardian World news: Islam - 9 February, 2018 - 19:13

Amanda Spielman to appear before MPs after giving her ‘full support’ to primary school headteacher

MPs are to quiz Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of schools in England, about her controversial backing for a ban on girls wearing the hijab, following complaints from Muslim community leaders.

Parliament’s education select committee will question Spielman, the head of Ofsted, next month over her vocal support for a primary school in east London that barred girls under eight from wearing the headscarf – a move the school’s headteacher swiftly reversed after complaints from parents.

Related: Senior Ofsted official backs headteacher over hijab ban for under eights

Related: Schoolgirls wearing a hijab is a path to extremism? Now that’s a leap | Samira Shackle

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How to stop a mosque: the new playbook of the right

The Guardian World news: Islam - 8 February, 2018 - 06:00

A bitter legal row in an affluent New Jersey town shows the new face of Islamophobia in the age of Trump. By Andrew Rice

Forty years ago, Mohammad Ali Chaudry, a Pakistani-born economist, made his home outside New York City. He came for an executive job at the telecoms company AT&T, and ended up working there for decades. Like many immigrants to the US, Chaudry came to wholeheartedly believe – perhaps more fervently than his native-born neighbours – in the triumphal story that Americans tell about their nation: how it was always growing stronger through change, melding the many into one through the process of assimilation. Chaudry was a devout Muslim. But to him, it always seemed the things that made him different mattered less than the ways in which he had proved he was the same.

Chaudry and his wife, who is from Italy, raised three children on a street called Manor Drive, in the town of Basking Ridge, in the centre of the state of New Jersey. This is not the “Jersey” of popular imagination – the land of belching smokestacks immortalised in Bruce Springsteen’s working-class anthems. Basking Ridge is out in horse country, an area of rolling green hills and white-steepled churches, not far from Bedminster, where Donald Trump has his summer estate. In keeping with the values of his adopted community, Chaudry became an active member of the local Republican party and a conspicuous civic presence, running for various elected boards. In 2004, at the height of George W Bush’s war in Iraq, Chaudry became the first Pakistani-American to serve as mayor of a municipality in the US.

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Mashal Khan: death sentence for Pakistan blasphemy murder

The Guardian World news: Islam - 7 February, 2018 - 18:09

Student was beaten and shot by mob in attack that was posted online and widely condemned

A Pakistani court has sentenced one person to death and five others to life imprisonment for lynching a student accused of blasphemy, a crime which sent shockwaves through the conservative Muslim country.

Mashal Khan, 23, was stripped, beaten and shot by a gang made up mostly of students last April before being thrown from the second floor of his dormitory at Abdul Wali Khan university in the north-western city of Mardan.

Related: Student's lynching sparks rare uproar in Pakistan over blasphemy killings

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Mosque in east London to be demolished after high court ruling

The Guardian World news: Islam - 7 February, 2018 - 13:51

Islamic group Tablighi Jamaat sought permission to build larger building for 9,000 worshippers

A temporary east London mosque that has been refused planning permission faces demolition after a high court ruling.

The Islamic missionary movement Tablighi Jamaat had sought permission to build a permanent mosque on a 17-acre site near the Olympic Park in Stratford. Its plans to provide a place of worship for around 9,000 people were opposed by Newham council in 2012.

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Why Aditya Chakrabortty (may have) called himself Paul

Indigo Jo Blogs - 7 February, 2018 - 12:47

A 'Welcome to Haringey' sign outside a shop on a road in Wood GreenThis morning I saw a Twitter thread (starts here, ends here) from Haringey councillor Joe Goldberg, purporting to expose the middle-classness and inauthenticity of the pro-little-people and anti-establishment stance of the Guardian columnist Aditya Chakrabortty, who has been a strong critic of the Labour council’s “Haringey Development Vehicle” (HDV), which involves selling off whole tracts of public property, including housing and a library, to a private developer which is expected to demolish most of it. This has led to a local revolt with a number of pro-HDV councillors deselected from the forthcoming local election and the (female) council chair resigning, blaming bullying and intimidation. The thread claims that on a previous occasion, Mr Chakrabortty took a similar “David versus Goliath” position on a major redevelopment project, championing the opponents as “David” and conveniently ignoring an ‘elected’ chair of a local residents’ association (I have not investigated this myself so I do not know how representative this “residents’ association” was) which supported the project. The Twitter thread claimed that Chakrabortty claimed to have been brought up in Edmonton, a deprived part of neighbouring Enfield borough, but in fact was brought up in well-heeled Winchmore Hill and went to a grammar school there.

Other people have condemned the thread as stalkerish behaviour unfitting of a local councillor. One tweet stuck out for me, though, the one where Goldberg claims that Aditya was called Paul when at school, though this may be a case of mistaken identity (e.g. another Aditya Chakrabortty). Perhaps he wants us to think that his real first name is Paul and Aditya is some sort of affectation. I can think of a simpler explanation, namely that he wanted to stave off racism from white peers who would have wilfully mispronounced his first name or at least not bothered to pronounce it correctly.

At my first secondary school I had a half-Polish friend. His first name was James and his second Władysław. His dad was known as Bob, and I never found out his real name but it was longer than that and it wasn’t Robert (he had a business refitting old pianos, or “shitty pianos” as he called them). His surname was also one that has a direct English equivalent but the Polish version was always mispronounced. James and I and a third boy had a conversation once, in which the third boy told me James’s middle name was what sounded like “Wuddiswuff”. I repeated this to James later and the other boy said, “no, it’s Vwuddiswuff!”. I thought this was even more absurd and laughed out loud. It was only years later that I saw the name written down and it kind of made sense — a lot of Eastern European names begin with “Vlad” (we’d had a Vladimir in my junior school, who wasn’t Russian) or have “slav” in them (like Miroslav) and this was just the Polish rendering of it.

And I didn’t make fun of James’s middle name but others might have done. So, you can understand why Bob, James and Paul didn’t want to use their names from back home in front of white English peers who would have mocked or at least mangled them, and if Joe Goldberg knows a thing or two about life in the multicultural but deprived inner London borough whose council he sits on, he should know this.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons, released under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0 International licence.

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If you don’t like trucks, don’t buy stuff

Indigo Jo Blogs - 6 February, 2018 - 22:05

A picture of a main road through a village which is not wide enough for two cars to pass or to justify putting a line down the centre. A four-storey red-brick house is to the left of the road with a pharmacy on the ground level. A car is making its way up the road (on the left side) and other cars are parked on the pavements on each side.A member of Kent County Council has called for trucks to be banned from roads in Kent, claiming they cause “more damage than 10,000 cars” driving through his village. Seán Holden, council member for the rural ward of Cranbrook, called for Kent to follow Leicestershire’s example and restrict truck access to roads in Kent, claiming that 87% of the lorry traffic through Kent is not going to Kent:

“When you see a lorry going down the roads, like I do, between Cranbrook and Benenden knocking down the hedges on both sides with its wing mirrors, that’s doing the equivalent to, if you have half a dozen of those down there over a day, around a year’s worth of cars.

“Those roads are not built for that. The potholes, that are the bane of the lives of everybody, costs us millions of pounds.

“This is a direct consequence of heavy vehicles using those roads. I want to see a strategy come into place because people’s lives are being ruined.”

A few of these statements are factual errors that can easily be refuted. Potholes are not always caused by trucks using the roads but by a mixture of poor maintenance and bad weather conditions such as heavy rain or snow. There are already weight restrictions on local roads in Kent; I’ve seen them when travelling around areas like Pembury and Paddock Wood where trucks have to use the main roads unless they’re delivering to villages along the restricted minor roads. There are also signs warning truck drivers that the road through Goudhurst (see image), where the road is narrow there are overhanging buildings, is unsuitable and it is true that there are no weight limits near Cranbrook and Benenden but there could be good reasons for that — one may be that there is no real need, as the road through Benenden is not a major cut-through and even if you take the trucks off that road, they would have to go along other narrow roads through other villages.

The overwhelming majority of the traffic passing through Kent on the way to other places goes nowhere near these places, which are on the Sussex border; the traffic going to and from the Channel Tunnel and the three seaports (Dover, Ramsgate and Sheerness) use the M2 and M20 and a few connecting roads. Traffic passing through that area would mostly be going from London or Kent to the East Sussex coast, places like Rye, Hastings, Bexhill and Lewes. All the roads in that area are narrow and windy, including the A21 (the trunk road from London, bits of which have been upgraded but not most of it) and the A229 from Maidstone. The A259, which runs from Folkestone to Hastings and along the Sussex coast, is also a slow two-lane road, complete with a switchback outside Rye. There is no way of avoiding villages if you need to deliver things to anywhere in that part of the country and if they proposed to build dual carriageways to replace the current roads, it would provoke a flood of complaints, not only from environmentalists but from local NIMBYs as well.

And really, before anyone complains about the noise of trucks coming through their village, they might consider that everything they buy comes on the back of a truck, whether it’s manufactured goods or food. Kent is an agricultural area; the milk, meat and crops needs either a truck or a tractor to haul it away (and they would soon be complaining if they were being held up by tractors on main roads) and more trucks are needed to get them to the local shops. I as a city-dweller have to put up with trucks using roads near my house every day, so I don’t see why someone who lives in a leafy Kent village should have a better right to a quiet life than I do, and why do people choose to live in villages in Kent and commute by car to nearby large towns and cities, clogging all the villages up for several hours a day? Rules banning trucks from roads should be reserved for where they are too narrow or there is a risk of damage to buildings, or where they have been superseded by a by-pass. Otherwise, public roads are public and truck drivers are part of that same public as car drivers.

Image source: Ron Strutt, via Wikimedia. Released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 licence.

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Danish government proposes ban on full-face veils

The Guardian World news: Islam - 6 February, 2018 - 16:36

Justice minister says wearing of Islamic face coverings is incompatible with Danish values

The Danish government has proposed a ban on Islamic full-face coverings in public spaces.

“It is incompatible with the values in Danish society and disrespectful to the community to keep one’s face hidden when meeting each other in public spaces,” said the justice minister, Søren Pape Poulsen.

Related: Europe's right hails EU court's workplace headscarf ban ruling

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Schoolgirls wearing a hijab is a path to extremism? Now that’s a leap | Samira Shackle

The Guardian World news: Islam - 6 February, 2018 - 14:34

The Ofsted chief is just the latest public official to distort and oversimplify the role of conservative Islam in schools

St Stephen’s primary school in Newham, east London hit the headlines last month, after headteacher Neena Lall banned the wearing of hijabs for girls under the age of eight. There was a backlash; 19,000 people signed a petition protesting against the decision and the school governors overturned the ban.

Then Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, made an unusual intervention, publicly supporting Lall. Speaking at a Church of England schools conference on Thursday, she said that headteachers should have the right to set rules on uniform. This was a fair comment – but from there on in, her comments deviated wildly from talking about the hijab for children.

Related: I didn’t want to wear my hijab, and don’t believe very young girls should wear them today | Iman Amrani

We see it repeatedly: any policy question that relates to Muslims is framed as an issue of terrorism, fundamentalism or a failure to integrate

Related: Ofsted head: ‘The last thing a chief inspector should be is a crusader’. Oh really?

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Turnbull backs Jim Molan in anti-Muslim video row: 'Not a racist bone in his body'

The Guardian World news: Islam - 6 February, 2018 - 05:22

PM says it is ‘deplorable’ and ‘disgusting’ that Bill Shorten would describe senator as racist

Malcolm Turnbull has strongly backed Jim Molan after the new Liberal senator reposted videos from the far-right group Britain First, telling parliament his colleague “doesn’t have a racist bone in his body”.

With the opposition and the Greens targeting Molan for refusing to apologise for the videos on his Facebook page, the prime minister said it was “deplorable” and “disgusting” that Bill Shorten would describe the former major general as a racist.

Related: Liberal senator Jim Molan shared anti-Muslim videos from far-right group

Related: Turnbull says Jim Molan 'doesn't have a racist bone in his body' – politics live

Very sad to see @MathiasCormann join @TurnbullMalcolm in refusing to condemn Senator Molan over his offensive Facebook posts. Hateful and divisive messages do nothing to protect us, they only divide us. They have no place in our society, and no place in our parliament. #senateqt

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Zac Goldsmith, an authority on FGM?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 5 February, 2018 - 22:39

Two girls with their faces painted white, both wearing blue caps and a skirt made of strings hanging from the waist over other clothing, take part in a dance.Earlier today, BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour featured a 6-minute segment on FGM, tomorrow apparently being “International Zero Tolerance on FGM Day” and who better to invite on than the co-chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on FGM, Jess Phillips (Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley) and Zac Goldsmith, the Tory MP for Richmond Park who was returned to Parliament last year after being unseated when he called a by-election over the expansion of Heathrow airport; many of us associate him with the Islamophobic smear campaign he ran while running for mayor against Sadiq Khan in collusion with the Australian race-baiter Lynton Crosby. You may notice a curious omission: all the three participants were white (the presenter being Jane Garvey) and therefore nobody is from a country where FGM is or has been commonplace. In fact, given that it was Woman’s Hour, you’d think they’d have found a survivor (they’re all women) or at least a woman who works with survivors. But no.

Woman’s Hour has a long history of sycophantic interviews with powerful people and especially powerful women; Madeleine Albright wasn’t asked about all the Iraqi children who had died as a result of sanctions, or about birth defects caused by depleted uranium and more recently Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, was not asked about the woman who killed herself after the man she accused of rape launched a private prosecution of her and Saunders’ department, despite the police not having charged her themselves, took it over. I suspect that its presenters (mostly if not all white) would rather spend a few minutes talking about something that affects only people of other cultures with two white, middle-class people she doesn’t have to worry about offending.

To give Goldsmith his due, he did mention the fact that, unlike other forms of abuse, children at risk of FGM are often at risk of no other abuse; this is an answer to those who claim that FGM is not being prosecuted because the police are afraid of being called racist or otherwise antagonising immigrant communities. The foster care placements that would be required when parents are locked up are already needed for children at risk of other forms of abuse or neglect. But neither of them challenged the myth that FGM is still widely practised in this country; despite the long history of settlement of people from Somalia, Sierra Leone and other FGM-endemic countries in the UK and despite endless series of statistics showing “new cases” of FGM that become known to the authorities, not one person has successfully been prosecuted. FGM is a killer and if the practice was going on on any significant scale in the UK, girls would be dying. The communities concerned would not be able to conceal it for very long.

Last week I saw someone tweet a letter he had received from Ivan Balhatchet of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) in response to two letters he had sent. The letter partly read:

May I apologise for the tardiness in my response, you can appreciate that as the National Policing Lead for this portfolio the need to prioritise resources to tackle all forms of Honour-Based Abuse, including Female Genital Mutilation. This includes working wtih both statutory and non-governmental organisations, in ways to prevent FGM and protect girls and women.

There are many nuances to this crime type, which even third-sector charitable organisations, do not claim to share a nexus with your rationale of concerns for the lack of successful prosecutions.

The letter gives no suggestion of any doubt that FGM is really going on in this country. The conviction rate of zero and the prosecution rate of just three in 33 years (since FGM was made a specific offence in 1985; two cases are ongoing, one has already resulted in acquittal) reflect a lack of cases, as it is inconceivable that not a single victim (as opposed to a minority) would have come forward in all that time with a credible case and a known perpetrator. Most of the communities involved are not closed; they do have contacts with outsiders, both of their own religion and others. The idea that these people are implacably set on continuing one part of their culture while changing many others (such as their language and ways of dressing) and hugely clever in concealing it is simply preposterous as well as racist.

Ava Vidal, the Black British comedian and writer, commented when I told her about the Goldsmith/Phillips interview, “I’ve noticed how the only issue that affects predominantly WOC (women of colour) certain feminists like to latch onto is FGM”. FGM is an ideal issue for a certain type of white imperialist as there are always a new lot of statistics they can put a newsworthy and alarming spin on and the fact that it involves a community they really do not know much about and do not want to means that the lack of evidence of it actually happen does not matter. Of course it’s happening, and anyone who denies it is just “in denial”. It allows white feminists to form alliances with the political Right, it gives them an excuse to throw off the pretence of intersectionality, to rant against multiculturalism, to feel superior to someone. There are those who want an ‘interventionist’ form of feminism, as is dominant in France, where white people assume they know what is best for everyone, and white women are assumed to know what is best for other women. It also allows the government to extend the surveillance of minority communities.

The question remains: where is the evidence that FGM is going on here? Not the rumours, not the statistics of “new cases”. The infections, the injuries, the deaths. We would be seeing these things if girls were being cut, or even if they were being brought back shortly after being cut. Where are they?

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Book Review: The Language of God by Francis S. Collins

Inayat's Corner - 5 February, 2018 - 20:14


The year 2006 saw the publication of two very different books about the God hypothesis: the evolutionary zoologist and prominent atheist, Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and the physician-geneticist Francis Collins’ The Language of God.

Collins is best known for his leadership of the Human Genome Project which published a first draft of the entire human genome back in 2000. In The Language of God he recounts how he was not brought up in any particular faith by his parents and went on to regard himself as an atheist as he became an adult. In his late twenties, however, he came across the book Mere Christianity by the Oxford academic C.S. Lewis which made a deep impression on Collins and he thereafter became a committed Christian.

Collins was clearly impressed by the Moral Law argument advanced by C.S. Lewis and quotes a passage from Mere Christianity as follows:

“If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe – no more than the architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house. The only way in which we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way. And that is just what we do find inside ourselves. Surely this ought to arouse our suspicions?” (p29)

How does Collins seek to reconcile science with religion? In recent years a number of scientists and philosophers – perhaps influenced by evolution denial amongst some evangelical Christian groups along the violent fanaticism of some Muslim groups – have argued for the need to “outgrow” religious beliefs and they ascribe it to an earlier phase of humanity’s development which we need to move on from. This line of argument views religious beliefs as being our first attempt at understanding the world around us but that it has now been superceded by the outstanding success over the past four centuries of science and the scientific method.

As a scientist who has helped map the genetic blueprint of humanity, Collins accepts and welcomes the knowledge and understanding that science has given us, but argues that religion can help provide answers to key questions that all of us have and that science cannot possibly answer.

“Science is the only reliable way to understand the natural world, and its tools when properly utilised can generate profound insights into material existence. But science is powerless to answer questions such as “Why did the universe come into being?” “What is the meaning of human existence?” “What happens after we die?” One of the strongest motivations of humankind is to seek answers to profound questions, and we need to bring all the power of both the scientific and spiritual perspectives to bear on understanding what is both seen and unseen.” (p6)

But what about the passages in the Bible in the Book of Genesis about the creation of the world? A literal interpretation of those passages has led many – predominantly American Christians to believe that the earth was created just over six thousand years ago, as opposed to around 4.5 billion years ago as discovered by science. Collins urges Christians not to take a literal approach to those passages and strongly argues for an allegorical/poetic interpretation which lays greater stress on the larger picture i.e. that the universe had a beginning and was willed into being by a Creator. The consequences of the Big Bang theory – which also postulates that the universe came into being at the very start of time – are “electrifying” for believers according to Collins.

“I cannot see how nature could have created itself. Only a supernatural force that is outside of space and time could have done that.” (p67)

Dawkins would call this the Argument from Personal Incredulity or also a God of the Gaps approach – just because science cannot currently answer a specific question – in this case what brought about the Big Bang – it is tantamount to giving up to just say “Well, God did it.”

In the end it all seems to boil down to whether you think science can in principle discover what caused the Big Bang or whether you think it is – as it currently seems – beyond the limit of what science can discover about the universe?

Collins comes down firmly on the side of believing that there are limits to what science can discover about the universe and argues that faith in science and faith in God can be combined harmoniously to answer our deepest questions.

“The God hypothesis solves some deeply troubling questions about what came before the Big Bang, and why the universe seems to be so exquisitely tuned for us to be here.” (p81)

Interestingly, at the end of 2006, the year of the publication of Collins’ The Language of God and Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Time magazine set up a debate between the two writers and published a special edition entitled “God vs Science”. The debate between the two – which is well worth studying – can be read at this link.

I have not found much useful material in English by contemporary Muslims about science and the God hypothesis and I do wonder what that says about the current state of the Muslim world. Thankfully, there are some thoughtful Christian scientists who have shared their ideas with us and I think the world is a better place because of them.


Review: Silent Witness, “One Day”

Indigo Jo Blogs - 4 February, 2018 - 22:18

A stockily-built white man in a suit walking down a corridor in an institutional building carrying a red folder under his arm, followed by a white woman in a powered wheelchair wearing a grey overcoat and a pair of blue jeans.Silent Witness is a series based on the work of police pathologists: the “witness” refers to the body of a murder victim. It’s been running since 1996 and the stories are always in two parts on two consecutive nights (Monday and Tuesday, currently). It has always prominently featured female characters, notably the star Amanda Burton, who played pathologist Sam Ryan until she left in the 8th series. Early series were set in Cambridge, echoing other British crime dramas that were set in Oxford, but since series four it has been set in London after Ryan relocated to take up an academic position. Since 2013, it has featured the disabled actress (and comedian) Liz Carr as a lab assistant and has been regarded as a model drama in terms of using a disabled actor to play a disabled character without making it all about the disability. Last week, however, the story was about the murder of two women, one of them disabled, and the abuse of elderly and disabled people at two care homes, and her character (Clarissa Mullery) was at the centre of it. (You can watch the two parts here and here for the next five weeks at the time of writing; there is an interview with Liz Carr here.)

The story opens as a woman drives her car along a road through a park in south London. She is struggling to remain awake, swerving to avoid pedestrians and other vehicles and ultimately colliding with an oncoming truck, killing her. The pathology team find that she has a high dose of two drugs in her system and initially believe it was suicide; however, an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s disease has died and similar drugs are found in her system. The first woman had a son in a local care home — a very grand building, but obviously understaffed and the staff that are there are obstructive — and both homes use the services of a particular doctor. Suspicion falls on the woman’s son, named Kevin, who is autistic and displays challenging behaviour and at one point says he hates her. He also has a girlfriend, Serena, whose impairment is not made clear but it includes a speech impediment, but staff are doing everything they can to keep them apart. One member of staff in particular, Connor, is a bully and uses a stun gun (which is illegal) to subdue the young man when he “steps out of line”. During the first episode it is apparent that he has raped Serena.

An older detective develops a theory that the woman’s son is to blame for her murder and will not consider any other possibility. He tries to arrest Kevin, who lashes out and escapes, injuring the cop. He then escapes from the home, taking Serena (who had previously said she did not want to leave) with him. They go to Kew Gardens, a place Serena had always wanted to visit; when the security guard tells them it is time to leave, he refuses and threatens to shoot him. He and Serena leave and then go to a secluded bench under a tree, but are subsequently surrounded by police who tell him to come out with his hands up and “let Serena go”, it being assumed he has kidnapped her. He refuses, threatens them with a wooden stick which he brandishes as if it were a gun, and is promptly shot dead. The rape is discovered when Serena is examined afterwards, and the prejudiced cop tries to blame this on Kevin as well. He is unwilling to extend the investigation to cover apparent abuses at the care home or to consider the possibility that Kevin was not to blame for his mother’s death, despite evidence that he has suffered abuse (he has burns from the stun gun when examined after his death). Clarissa is convinced that the incidents, and the cop’s attitude, are connected by the victims’ disability and the sense that they are “less than”.

It transpires that Connor and the doctor, Albert Kahari, are killing patients (and their relatives) with overdoses for money; the woman with Alzheimer’s had been killed at the request of their three sons who were alarmed at their inheritance being swallowed up by care home fees while she was unable to do anything, they said, except shit. Clarissa was initially unable to enter the care home where Kevin had been living because she was afraid of going in and never coming out again, being aware that this is what had happened to many other disabled people even though she had had what she considered a lucky escape, but overcame her fear in order to “go undercover” in the home where the lady with Alzheimer’s had died. She discovered that similar methods of ‘control’ were in use (i.e. physical force) on residents with learning disabilities and that Connor was aggressive and had no respect for people’s privacy. He is suspicious of her for asking too many questions and she discovers him in her room; he seizes her phone from her, telling her it “disturbs other residents”. She then raids the dead woman’s room and finds drugs; Connor catches her with them, overpowers her and pushes her to a disused part of the building where he ejects her from the wheelchair onto the floor. He tells her that disabled people are worth nothing and cannot do anything; he attempts to feed her the drugs that had been used to kill the old lady. At this point, however, Clarissa’s colleagues burst in and arrest him.

I know people who know Liz Carr and I know a lot of parents in similar situations to Kevin’s mother’s, i.e. having relatives (particularly children) in care homes or hospitals, often involuntarily. One of them said that she was hurt by a remark made about the relatives by Connor; I didn’t catch it but he wasn’t meant to be sympathetic character and the sentiment was common among institution staff when long-term institutionalising of disabled people was common. I thought the scripting was fairly sensitive and for the most part believable. I did have a qualm about making the main villain of the piece a black African doctor, particularly given that there is a misconduct and manslaughter case against a black African doctor still under appeal (even if the cases are not that similar and the doctor in the real-life case is a woman). I very much doubt that a pathology lab assistant who is not a police officer would go undercover in a real investigation; the police would, if necessary, send a non-disabled person in with a microphone. Although there is violence, the sexual assault which takes place is implied rather than shown and an opportunity for a rape scene towards the end (a common trope in a lot of films and plays nowadays) was passed up (I am talking about where Connor overpowers Clarissa towards the end).

So, this was a well-scripted drama about things that go on in some care homes (and psychiatric units and other closed institutions) and attitudes that are very real. The story is fiction and doctors killing their patients for money isn’t something that goes on every day, but dreadful abuses of people with learning disabilities especially are well-known, neglect is a major problem, a number of people have died who should have been allowed to have a life. The attitudes displayed are prevalent enough even if usually displayed a bit less bluntly. It was a great drama about things that the general public need to be more aware of.

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It’s not just the Far Right

Indigo Jo Blogs - 3 February, 2018 - 22:58

Picture of Makram Ali, a 51-year-old South Asian man with a bald head and a white beard, wearing a pale blue shirt.Yesterday (Friday), Darren Osborne, who drove a van into a crowd of Muslims after a night-time prayer (taraweeh) last Ramadan and killed a 51-year-old worshipper, Makram Ali (right), who had collapsed prior to the attack and injured several others, was given a life sentence with a ‘tariff’ or minimum time to be served of 43 years for murder and attempted murder. Osborne was a drifter with a drink problem who had not worked for ten years and had a long history of criminal convictions, including for violence, and developed a hatred of Muslims after watching the BBC drama-documentary Three Girls, about the Rochdale grooming case (in which small groups of mostly Asian Muslim men enticed young girls, mostly white, and then raped them and allowed other men to do the same), and subsequently reading material from the Far Right, including the former EDL leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon AKA Tommy Robinson, online. Politicians and the media have been laying a lot of emphasis on the role of the likes of Lennon in ‘radicalising’ Osborne and other violent racists, but are silent about their own role.

A trend I have noticed in the media in recent years is that the “Prevent strategy” which supposedly aims to prevent people (particularly the young) from being drawn into violent extremism genuinely focusses on extremism where white racism and Islamophobia is concerned, but focusses on normative Islamic practices and common attitudes where Muslims are concerned. With white racism it’s far-right propagandists such as “Tommy Robinson” and the EDL; with Muslims, “radicalisation” is associated with such things as hijaab or niqaab, separation of event audiences by gender and strong anti-Israel sentiment. For example, SOAS Spirit, the student paper at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, reported that the Charity Commission had been investigating the Palestine and Islamic Societies at that university, the cause being hosting “a speaker that was deemed to hold extremist and anti-Israel views” and “holding a gender-segregated event”, the latter in particular quite legal but the subject of a manufactured controversy last year. A friend who had worked with Prevent (but has resigned) told me that counter-terrorism officers had repeatedly harassed local members of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and that most of the people appointed as Prevent co-ordinators in the West Midlands had been former police officers. It was, in other words, an attempt to “give a civilian face to a security infrastructure”.

Headlines and front pages in the Daily Express, Daily Mail and The Sun are a major contributor to fostering bigotry, but they are not the only problem. The mainstream media have routinely given a platform for fringe figures in the Muslim community to attack the Muslim community in general and ‘inform’ the general public that Muslims have negative views of non-Muslims; in the wake of the grooming case in Oxford in 2013, Taj Hargey appeared on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show to tell the public that Muslims learned from their imams that white women were immodest and there for the taking; Vine suggested that there was a belief that “white women, and by extension the host society, are trash” and Hargey readily agreed with him. Vine told a guest from the NSPCC who disagreed with Hargey that the other guest was an imam, when in fact he is not; he is a fake leader without a flock who holds invalid “Friday prayers” as publicity stunts.

The media routinely sensationalise controversies involving Muslims and Islam, giving undue prominence to fringe elements, be they violent extremists or their sympathisers (e.g. al-Muhajiroun) or secularists (e.g. Sara Khan and others). The ‘segregation’ affair started when a group of men were miffed that they were rebuffed after invading the ladies’ section at an Islamic society event and ran to the press with it — nobody had previously complained. The media took the alleged demand of al-Muhajiroun in 2006 for “no-go areas” and ran with it, despite the fact that (i) al-Muhajiroun were tiny and (ii) they never demanded that anyway. Let’s not forget that the founding of the EDL happened after a tiny demonstration by al-Muhajiroun against the parade of the Royal Anglian Regiment in Luton in which about 20 or 30 members of that groupuscule held banners calling the soldiers “murderers” and the war in Iraq “illegal”. It was given huge coverage when it was just a provocation by a tiny faction which called other Muslim activists munafiqeen (hypocrites) and hijacked and disrupted their demonstrations. It was nothing the Muslims did that provoked the founding of the violent EDL; it was not even that demonstration, but the prominence it achieved in news outlets whose editors and owners knew the demo was tiny and made it front-page news anyway.

It’s not Lennon/Robinson, Nick Griffin or anyone else on the Far Right that is principally responsible for spreading the poison that leads to violent racism and Islamophobia. It’s not hate propaganda on social media. It never has been. The fascists and racists just pick up people who are already misinformed by the mainstream media, both the broadcast media and the Tory-associated commercial press, and play on their fears and anger. Neither the BNP nor the EDL would have almost any recruits if it were not for this flow of misinformation. If the authorities were serious about preventing right-wing radicalisation, it would tackle it at the source, which is not the EDL, Britain First or any other far-right micro-faction (including National Action which they made a great show of banning last year, and which I have seen Muslim ‘Preventwalas’ remind us of on Facebook recently) but the mainstream broadcast and print media.

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Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba, racism and the appeal to authority

Indigo Jo Blogs - 2 February, 2018 - 23:22

A picture of a Black woman wearing a long grey overcoat and a white headscarf walking along a street next to a Black man of similar age wearing an orange shirt with a beige jacket and trousers.Last week the High Court ruled that a doctor whose mistakes contributed to the death of a young boy in 2011 should be erased from the medical register for life. Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba had been convicted of manslaughter by gross negligence in December 2015 and given a two-year suspended prison sentence in connection with the death of Jack Adcock, a six-year-old boy with Down’s syndrome who died of sepsis in February 2011 at the Leicester Royal Infirmary. The judgement has provoked outrage in the medical community with very many doctors, especially junior doctors, feeling that the situation Dr Bawa-Garba was in could have happened to any of them and that she is being made an example of rather than her managers, quite possibly for racial reasons. I have also seen some parent-disability activists dismiss them as a bunch of overprivileged crybabies who are simply worried at the possibility of now being accountable after being untouchable. Repeatedly I see some of them tweet reminders that she was found guilty in a court of law and that both a medical tribunal and a high court found against her, while her defenders have only read one side of the story.

Yesterday The Secret Barrister published an article on his blog which discusses the case in regard to “our faith in the jury system” while Matthew Syed in the Times (paywalled, but you can read two free articles a week by registering) outlines how great the pressures on Dr Bawa-Garba that day were, among them the fact that she was covering for three other doctors, including a consultant, over six wards; that she was just back from 13 months’ maternity leave and had little experience of the type of ward she was working on (a child assessment unit), received no induction for “staffing reasons” and missed the morning handover because she was tending to a child in cardiac arrest. Syed also notes that her mistakes were fatal to Jack Adcock in combination with others’; concerns she raised with the on-call consultant at the afternoon handover were not acted upon, for example. The jury decided that all this was something a doctor with her level of experience should be able to cope with.

A lot of the response from the parent community to the doctors’ protests relies heavily on the authority of the courts: a reminder that she was found guilty by a jury and that she was struck off because the law said she should be, that judges and a jury had found against her and that opposing that indicates a contempt for the law. Do I really need to remind anyone that juries have made far worse mistakes than this, and courts of appeal have upheld them, on countless occasions, and that these include judges whose reputations mean that they would be used in ‘authority’-based arguments such as Lord Denning and Oliver Wendell-Holmes? Wrongful death penalties, wrongful long-term imprisonment, forced sterilisation, families wrongly split as well as wrongfully ruined careers.

The jury system in this country is opaque and unaccountable; jurors cannot be asked about what went on in the jury room, but it is known that some juries are influenced by bullies, that jurors are sometimes prejudiced, that they have been influenced by reactionary newspapers that tend to represent black people as wrongdoers if at all, and that some will reach any verdict because they want to go home. This is, I suspect, part of the reason why the system endures: because the jurors are meant to be “people like us” and can be appealed to on shared prejudice if the facts aren’t convenient, as anyone familiar with the arguments used by defenders in rape trials will be well aware. Why do dozens of doctors think they know better than a lay jury about a complex medical matter? Because they do, and they recognise the situation as one they have been in many times. Never mind Goveian impatience with experts; sometimes the few really do know better than the many, because they are some of the brightest minds in the country and they’ve spent five years (or more) studying the issue at hand and many more years, in some cases, working on it.

It’s also well-established that some courts have different standards of proof to others: a parent can be acquitted of harming their child in the criminal courts, for example, and then judged by a family court to have probably done so because the family court’s standard of proof is the balance of probabilities, not “beyond reasonable doubt”, and their goal is the best interests of the child, not justice for an accused person. So, if anyone is saying that a medical tribunal should not, in their very educated opinion, second-guess a lay jury, they are using a classic logical fallacy, i.e. the “argument from authority”, and the judge’s verdict last month relies on the same fallacy, or at least the same dogma: that everyone has to respect the jury’s verdict:

The Tribunal did not respect the verdict of the jury as it should have. In fact, it reached its own and less severe view of the degree of Dr Bawa-Garba’s personal culpability.

This fallacy is prevalent in our judicial system: Dr Dennis Eady of the Cardiff-based Innocence Network UK has said that when it comes to righting miscarriages of justice in this country, “the greatest problem is the court of appeal’s irrational belief in the infallibility of the jury and its demand for a few neat, precise, new and compelling appeal points rather than an appreciation of the holistic picture”. A conviction cannot be appealed on the basis that the jury were just wrong; there has to be new evidence, or evidence of misdirection or other defect in the process. And worse, a juror is not allowed to research the facts for him- or herself but must rely on the claims of two opposing sides in a courtroom; this is not always the best way to get to the truth of a situation.

Many disabled people see this case as a reflection of how little the lives of disabled people, and especially people with learning disabilities, matter to many people. But this case doesn’t have much in common with other such cases: the victim was a young boy, not an adult or teenager who had shown “challenging behaviour” or whose symptoms were misinterpreted or ignored because the disabled person’s behaviour was seen as “acting up” rather than a reflection of pain or distress; sometimes, as with Richard Handley whose inquest is ongoing, they are the result of official decisions made for reasons of ideology or cost-cutting. Many of their deaths were the result of a long series of bad decisions over months or years, not a series of mistakes made in a few hours by an overworked doctor without the necessary experience.

Doctors are entitled to ask why this case of a patient dying or suffering serious injury because of medical mistakes was the subject of a criminal prosecution and ultimately a strike-off and not another. Generally speaking professionals are given the benefit of the doubt over mistakes that lead to harm; it is quite rare for them to lose their jobs where there is no evidence of outright malice, showing off or unaccountable departure from normal practice (e.g. performing unnecessary surgeries on multiple patients) and to a greater extent than people in less intellectual professions. If I fail to strap a load on a truck I am driving and it spills onto the carriageway causing a fatal accident, I go to jail and certainly lose my licence; gas fitters and chimney sweeps have been prosecuted for mistakes that caused loss of life. Hadiza Bawa-Garba got a suspended sentence and was struck off, which was less than I’d have got for an omission or minor error that had fatal consequences, but (crucially) much more than many other doctors have got for mistakes just as egregious. Why?

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the reason has to do with race; the doctor is obviously foreign and the victim a cute little white boy. When less photogenic patients (Kane Gorny and Stephanie Bincliffe spring to mind) die as a result of medical mistakes and the doctors involved are part of the “old-boys’ club”, they escape sanction; it is a battle to make sure that an inquest even considers the possibility of negligence or wrongdoing. The establishment wanted to prove that they could sometimes hold people accountable for failings in the NHS and that they weren’t all some big cabal who would defend each other no matter what and found two foreign members of staff (the other being a nurse, Isabel Amaro) who could be held up as examples. I’m sure many doctors genuinely believe that this could have been them, but it is the Black, Asian and overseas doctors who know they are in the greatest danger and it is to the credit of their more privileged colleagues that they stand together with them.

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Oxford professor of Islamic studies charged with raping two women

The Guardian World news: Islam - 2 February, 2018 - 23:13

Tariq Ramadan, adviser to the UK government, held in custody over French hotel attack claims

The prominent Swiss academic Tariq Ramadan, a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at the University of Oxford, has been charged with rape and ordered to remain in custody in France.

Ramadan, 55, is being held on charges of rape and rape of a vulnerable person after two women accused him of violently assaulting them in hotel rooms in Lyon and Paris in 2009 and 2012 after conferences.

Related: Oxford professor Tariq Ramadan taken into custody by French police

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I didn’t want to wear my hijab, and don’t believe very young girls should wear them today | Iman Amrani

The Guardian World news: Islam - 2 February, 2018 - 17:58
Ofsted’s chief is right about headscarves in primary schools, but her talk of ‘British values’ is divisive

Just when I was thinking I hadn’t seen much hysteria around Muslims in the media recently, the argument around the hijab flared up again. Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman came out in support of a headteacher who banned young Muslim girls from wearing the hijab at school. Minority communities feel alternately ignored and targeted by Ofsted. Fear and distrust is pervasive and well founded – only this week police confirmed that there were 1,487 crimes with a hate element at or near schools and colleges in the past two years.

Spielman’s use of the term “British values” in her speech to a Church of England schools conference is likely to put people’s backs up further. This isn’t a term that I would associate with someone who cares about cohesion. Her comments about Muslims using “education institutions, legal and illegal, to narrow young people’s horizons, to isolate and segregate, and in the worst cases to indoctrinate impressionable minds with extremist ideology” seem more likely to divide people than bring them together. But it would be dangerous to respond to Spielman’s provocation by defending the idea that children should be allowed to wear headscarves. I feel uncomfortable every time I see well-meaning people defending parents’ right to send young girls to school wearing the hijab.

My school had a mix of faiths, including Plymouth Brethren. The girls wore long dresses and couldn't cut their hair

Related: The hijab ruling is a ban on Muslim women | Iman Amrani

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The Guardian view on sharia councils: shedding some light | Editorial

The Guardian World news: Islam - 2 February, 2018 - 17:14
Strikingly little is known about these bodies. Awareness is the key to ensuring that they do not violate the legal rights of women who use them

The use of Islamic principles in settling marital and family affairs in Britain is in some communities a deeply entrenched social phenomenon, giving rise to so-called sharia councils. Tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of Muslims attempt to live in conformity with sharia rules. They are free to do so provided this does not lead them into breaches of English law.

However, there are worrying instances where councils and advisory tribunals have been suspected of limiting the rights of women who come before them, with questions of family law resolved in favour of the more literal and austere interpretations of Muslim traditions. These instances are also viewed on the far right as Trojan horses which will lead to an eventual Islamic takeover of western Europe, and this ludicrous paranoid fantasy has some political power. A subject at once so explosive and so widely ignored needs sober and scrupulous handling.

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Darren Osborne jailed for life for Finsbury Park terrorist attack

The Guardian World news: Islam - 2 February, 2018 - 15:13

Van attack on north London mosque left one man dead and 12 injured

The Finsbury Park terrorist, Darren Osborne, will spend at least 43 years behind bars after being jailed for life for his murderous attack on Muslims in London last June.

Osborne was sentenced on Friday to concurrent whole life terms for the murder of Makram Ali and the attempted murders of other people, with the minimum term of more than four decades to be served, having being found guilty at Woolwich crown court the day before.

Related: How London mosque attacker became a terrorist in three weeks

Related: After the Darren Osborne case, social media must eradicate hate material | Fiyaz Mughal

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Trinidad's jihadis: how tiny nation became Isis recruiting ground

The Guardian World news: Islam - 2 February, 2018 - 12:22

The Caribbean nation has one of the world’s highest Isis volunteer rates – and most don’t come back

Five years ago, Tariq Abdul Haqq was one of a Trinidad and Tobago’s most promising young boxers, a Commonwealth Games medallist with Olympic dreams.

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[A gang] promises access to what many young men might think they want​​: money, power, women, respect

Related: Mosul six months after Isis was ousted – then and now

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