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  • 14th April, 2007

    The Weekend Open Thread

    by Clairwil at 2:54 pm    

    Hello,
    Relax, get yourselves a beer or six and make the most of this unexpected heatwave. I’ve got every window in the house open, the sun is streaming in and someone is outside playing the bagpipes. It’s as if someone has attempted to recreate Scotland in L.A, using short people turning from bright white to lobster red. There are no leggy models round my way.

    I’ve spent the morning walking round my bit of the world and enjoying the sunshine. I also saw my first butterflies of the year. The first was the usual cabbage butterfly but the second was a fancy looking boy with red and black markings.

    After that I dropped into the St Mungo Museum which is holding a photographic exhibition on the Afro Caribbean presence in Glasgow. That isn’t as dull and worthy as it sounds. The photography is brilliant. Well worth a look if you’re in the area.

    As for the rest of the day, I’ll finish posting this then sit at the open window, swigging beer and a spot of light reading.

    So let’s have your plans, jokes, funny stuff and bits of bobs of interest. Keep it light and NO BLOODY POLITICS!

    13th April, 2007

    Disparaging the white working-classes

    by Clairwil at 9:04 am    

    From Little Britain, to newspaper opinion columns. The message is clear: the white working classes are fat, lazy, thick morons and as such they can be spoken of in ways that would be unthinkable if applied to blacks or Asians.

    The white working classes are given no credit for doing work that is dirty, tiring , often demeaning and almost always poorly paid, yet are blamed for all society’s ills. To add insult to injury we are now told that immigrants do all that work better, unlike the ‘bumptious’ natives who fail to show gratitude for their minimum wage pittance.

    Continue Reading...
    Filed under: Race politics
    12th April, 2007

    True religion

    by Sunny at 11:43 am    

    The more I read about Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the more impressed I am with him. Really, I can’t think of a better advocate for humanist religion in his country. Anyway, I missed a profile on him in the Observer over the weekend. These paras caught my eye:

    But his style is hardly made for our simplistic, untruthful, soundbite culture. A good example is contained in his book, Christ on Trial. Rowan reflects on the silence of Christ, as recorded by Mark’s Gospel. Jesus simply refused to answer the questions put to him about who he was and Rowan writes: ‘What is said will take on the colour of the world’s insanity; it will be another bid for the world’s power, another identification with the unaccountable tyrannies that decide how things shall be. Jesus described in the words of this world, would be a competitor for space in it, part of its untruth.’

    Rowan will know, better than most of us, that anything he says will be part of the world’s untruth and the more he conforms to the expectations of a headline culture, the more untruth there will be in it.

    One of the threads running through his writing is the idea that true religion always leads one to question oneself, rather than make claims over others. Jesus is not a possession or a badge of superiority, but the one before whom you stand, in gentle self-questioning. So those who know the archbishop often remark on his humility and profound spirituality. It is this which will carry him through. (my emphasis).

    via Simon Barrow, who has more commentary on the article.

    Filed under: Religion
    11th April, 2007

    News roundup from the sub-continent

    by Sunny at 7:12 pm    

    India’s top female civil servants are being asked to provide information about their menstrual cycles as part of a new job appraisal process, according to reports today. The All-India Services Performance Appraisal Rules 2007, intended for senior government staff to fill out, contains a three-page health section asking women for a “detailed menstrual history” as well as other personal information, such as when they last took maternity leave.

    The form has caused outrage among some women employees. “The questions are too intrusive and have no bearing on our work,” Seema Vyas, joint secretary of the general administration department in Maharashtra state, which includes Mumbai, told the Hindustan Times newspaper. [Guardian]

    It is, as everyone says, a bloody outrage. Much more intelligent and productive are these Indian slum children who have decided to launch their own newspaper to provide better facilities for their community. Brilliant.

    Another positive piece of news: a group of annoyed middle-class graduates have launched a new political party against corruption called the Bharat Punarnirman Dal (India Reconstruction Party) [via capt bananabrain].

    In the three months since its formation, it has attracted 1,500 paying members, and 25,000 nonpaying online members through its website, www.bharatpunarnirman.org. “By the end of this year we’ll have a full-time staff of 50, and within ten years we’ll establish ourselves as a force to be reckoned with,” Mr Shukla said.

    Not good at all: the first ever report on child abuse in the country finds that unfortunately it is quite common. [via Jai].

    In other news I hope Bangladesh beat England today in cricket, though it is unlikely to happen. The Bengalis have played fantastically in this World Cup and deserve to go further.

    Although the political situation in the country has gotten worse, with more charges now filed against Sheikh Hasina.

    The death of an honest government

    by Douglas at 10:38 am    

    I don’t know why I was surprised really.

    A little background, first off. The Lancet published the findings of Johns Hopkins University in the USA that said that 650,000 more people had died in Iraq, than would have, if the invasion had not taken place. It was a gold standard statistical study, conducted on the ground by some very brave Iraqi medics. From a top US source, peer reviewed and in probably the top Medical Journal in the world.

    What happens next? We were treated to a spree of politicians from George Bush downwards coming away with remarks like: “I don’t consider it a credible report”, “Was not one that we believe to be any way accurate”, “extrapolated” and “a leap” etc.

    Continue Reading...
    10th April, 2007

    Muslim organisations must also ‘take responsibility’

    by Sunny at 6:32 pm    

    In the Telegraph yesterday, Zia Haider Rahman essentially wrote the other half to my article on Ruth Kelly’s announcement - the part that British Muslims also need to play in tackling religious extremism.

    While the study identifies the perceived public disparagement of Muslims as one cause, any Muslim reading the report should focus on the observations about the Muslim community’s own failure: “The appeal of radical groups reflects, in part, the failure of traditional religious institutions and organisations to connect with young people and address their questions and concerns.”

    This work can only be done if British Muslims take responsibility for what is going on in their midst rather than persisting in pointing the finger of blame at external causes. Radicalisation might well owe something to a perceived culture of criticism of Islam, but a Muslim culture of victimhood will obscure the need for Muslims to take responsibility for those things that they - and they alone - can actually change.

    Not before time, the self-appointed leaders of the Muslim community (the Muslim Council of Britain, to name one), have come under fire, but it will be necessary for Muslims to organize under a leadership that has a mandate and therefore authority not only to voice the concerns of the community but also to lead the community in the direction of integration and of making Britain home.

    This myopia and lack of leadership was made abundantly clear in my recent exchange with Inayat Bunglawala. The MCB is unpopular with Muslims not just because it’s been seen as a Labour lackey, but also because it contributes to this disconnect between the youth and ‘community elders’. And it’s funny that while organisations such as MPAC keep campaigning for Mosque leaders to open up and be more accountable, they never say a bad thing about the MCB (which represents them, is full of the same attitudes and is the only body that could currently push such change). Oh I forgot, Asghar Bukhari and Inayat Bunglawala have been mates for years.

    Also read academic Tufyal Choudhury’s paper on The role of Muslim identity politics in radicalisation which Zia references above.

    Ruth Kelly on terrorism

    by Sunny at 3:43 pm    

    The main problem with Ruth Kelly’s initiatives is that they’re narrowly focused on tackling violent extremism without taking into account that it is an issue of ineffective social cohesion. And to build cohesion she needs to involve all of British society, not just Muslims.

    What we need is joined-up thinking across government departments that formulate long-term policy not just a quick-fix solution for the coming two or three years. We need to build new institutions that engage with all our youth as part of the democratic process, not just fund some initiatives that die once the money dries up. In short, Ruth Kelly needs to take off the blinkers and think a bit harder. Such stop-gap announcements won’t really do much good.

    From my article today in Comment is Free.

    Filed under: Current affairs

    Pickled Politics short-listed for Blog Award!

    by Leon at 11:47 am    

    We’ve been put up for another award, it’s the Metro free newspaper Blog award:

    For the past month, you’ve been telling us the gems you’ve discovered on the web – and we can now announce the shortlists for the Ask.com / Metro Best of British Blog Awards 2007!

    We’ve sifted our way through over a thousand nominations, in 8 categories, to pick out five of the best in each category– the most interesting, original, or just plain fun blogs around.

    Now our panel of celebrity judges – including England cricketer Alastair Cook, TV presenter Jason Bradbury and rock mogul Alan McGee – will decide which blogs will emerge triumphant. [Via Metro.co.uk]

    We’re in the Politics section, but hang on what’s this? The award will be judged by Tory MP Ed Davey!? What’s the betting on Tory blogger Iain Dale (also nominated) winning?

    The judge for this category is Conservative MP Ed Vaizey. He was elected as the Member of Parliament for Wantage and Didcot in May 2005. He previously worked as chief speech writer for Michael Howard and has built up a career as a freelance political commentator, writing regularly for The Guardian and other newspapers, and making frequent appearances on radio and TV. To view his blog, go to edvaizey.mpblogs.com. [Via Metro.co.uk]

    So, Mr Davey, give us the win and PP will be eternally grateful, there may even be a free beer in it for you!

    Heh, I can see the headlines now: “Leading Liberal Blog Bribes Tory MP!”

    Filed under: Blog,Media

    Britishness lessons and racism

    by Sunny at 8:53 am    

    Plans to teach children ‘core British values’ will fuel racism, the leader of Britain’s largest teaching union warned yesterday. Baljeet Ghale, the first black president of the National Union of Teachers, accused the government of trying to force children to ‘conform to an imposed view of Britishness’ through lessons on UK identity, values and history.

    ‘I have no doubt for some, behind notions of what it means to be British, stands the shadow of racism,’ she told the NUT conference in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. Even the suggestion that such lessons should be taken are tainted with racism, she suggested. ‘The government says it plans to teach children about “British” values such as free speech, tolerance and respect for the rule of law but in what way are these values that are not held by the peoples of other countries?’ [The Observer]

    I thought this was rather poor. Sure, some people who push ‘Britishness’ may do so because they want to feel smug and pretend this country invented democracy, liberty and free speech etc, but to say teaching such lessons is essentially racist is rather silly. Regular readers will know that I’ve previously explained briefly why we need Britishness (although that needs updating) and like the idea if not exactly how it is expressed by some of its proponents.

    Writing in the Guardian today, Billy Bragg does a better job of rubbishing Ghale’s talk. So I’ll leave it to him to say what I wanted to.

    In this sense, when politicians speak of “British values” they mean those which we as a society aspire to rather than those that are ours alone. And contrary to Ghale’s misgivings, without such common principles to bind us, we will never be able to be a truly diverse society.

    While I am not one of those who claim that multiculturalism has “failed”, I do recognise it has created a vacuum at its centre. For while we celebrate our differences, we have given too little attention to those things that we have in common. As a result, trust and solidarity between communities are beginning to falter, and racist parties are exploiting this breakdown for their own evil ends.

    9th April, 2007

    Faith and freedom from govt interference

    by Sunny at 4:45 pm    

    I didn’t hear about the Blog Against Theocracy event until it was too late (via Ali) but found this video on Blue Gal’s blog. It’s a bit too rah rah Americaaa but the basic message about individuals having the freedom to take decisions without state interference is spot-on.

    My set of articles about theocracies and secularism are getting out of control everytime I return to the subject. At this rate I’ll be boring you lot with a book. For now you can just watch and discuss the video.

    5th April, 2007

    It’s the dumbest female alive’s emergency Easter open thread!

    by Katy at 3:49 pm    

    (That’s me, folks. “One of the dumbest females alive”, according to the Dude. Be careful what you say to me, I’m probably not capable of understanding it.)

    Yes, it IS an emergency, actually. It is an emergency because if an open thread doesn’t go up here soon people are going to start actually chopping each other up with axes in the Iran sailors thread. So come! Come to the warm loving open arms of the emergency Easter Thread, where weapons are prohibited and peace and love reign supreme.

    Okay, so you may not be celebrating Easter as such, in which case booooo, because Easter is lovely and chocolatey*. Nothing says “hurrah for the rising again of the Son of God” like a big hollow chocolate egg wrapped in tinfoil and accompanied by six chocolates and perhaps a free eggcup with “Cadburys” written on it. But even so, it’s spring! Springy springy spring. It’s green, it’s sunny, it’s blossomy, it’s bloomy, the air is full of pollen and it’s giving me a permanently itchy throat. So stop arguing about whether Russia is nicer than England or Iran is more mature than France, and pour your energy into finding stuff to make me laugh instead. The usual open thread rules apply: no politics, no whingeing, no squalling, no politics, no biting, no kicking, no punching, no politics, no offensive weapons, no politics, no foreign policy and no politics.

    And you’ve all got to be nice to each other or I’m taking the open thread away. I mean it.

    *Or so I hear. I don’t do Easter either. I am stuck with Passover, which celebrates the escape of early Jewish types from Egyptian tyranny. In fact, they were in such a hurry to leave that they couldn’t be bothered to wait for their bread to rise, which means that now, eight zillion years later, I can’t eat anything with flour, rice or pulses** in it for a whole week. Well, thank you very much, early Jewish people. No, really. Thanks a MILLION.

    **If I were a Sephardi Jew instead of an Ashkenazi Jew I’d be able to eat rice and pulses, but I’m not. Boooo.

    Sunny adds: For added Easter spirit, here is my article on this holiday.

    Filed under: Current affairs

    Provoked by domestic violence

    by Sunny at 9:24 am    

    Feminist Julie Bindel’s written up a good feature for the Guardian today on Kiranjit Alhuwalia, the woman who killed her husband in 1989 by setting him on fire. That was after he subjected her to violence for 10 years.

    She was convicted as a murderer but after three years her verdict was reduced to manslaughter after a sustained campaign by Southall Black Sisters. Rahila Gupta from SBS explained this to me a little while back - Kiranjit’s case set legal history because the legal interpretation of what constitutes as ‘provocation’ (for murder) was changed for domestic violence cases. It was accepted for the first time that women may react against violence not necessarily immediately, because then it was accepted as acceptable grounds for provocation, but eventually let their anger build up and snap at a later time.

    In other words, a woman facing a sustained barrage of violence from her husband did not necessarily have to react immediately to be let off on grounds of provocation to self-defence. It’s a technicality but had huge impact since because it changed the way the legal system viewed victims of domestic violence. Unfortunately the article doesn’t go into this in detail but it’s worth explaining.

    Kiranjit’s case was written about in the book Circle of Light, co-authored by Rahila Gupta. Tomorrow a film based on the book comes out, starring Aishwarya Rai and Naveen Andrews (Lost). Admittedly I thought this was going to be crap because I’m not a fan of Rai’s acting nor of Mundhra’s directing. But surprisingly, the film is actually quite good (I think Miranda Richardson was fantastic), and worth seeing. Check it out.

    Filed under: Culture,Sex equality
    4th April, 2007

    Iran to free the sailors

    by Sunny at 4:47 pm    

    Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says 15 British naval personnel captured in the Gulf are free to leave. He repeated Iran’s view that the British sailors and marines “invaded” Iranian waters, but said they were being released as a “gift” to Britain.

    He said they would be taken to Tehran airport and flown home within hours. Downing Street welcomed news of the release, while Iranian state media said the British crew members “shouted for joy” on hearing the news. [BBC News]

    To be honest I haven’t blogged about this for various reasons. I found there to be lots of posturing on either sides, silly calls for war, laments that this was an example of British influence waning abroad, citing this as an example that Ahmadinejad wants to provoke war etc. There may be an element of truth in all of them.

    But demanding your country go to war just because other countries are not offering you sufficient ‘respect’ reminds me tactics that gangs use in crime-ridden streets. They want to give the impression that they are ‘hard’ even if they’re blatantly not and will react to any slur on their ‘honour’ with excessive force to keep up the pretense. This is not to say Iran’s actions were justified or right but any call for war was just idiotic posturing that the Foreign Office was never going to take seriously.

    There is an increasing tendency for commentators here to itch for silly confrontations just to prove they stand for the right ideals. Really, please, put your member away and stop waving it around. You know what they say, people in glass houses…

    Update: More amusing commentary from Juvenal and Beau Bo D’or

    Taking on racists in Brummieland

    by Sunny at 11:06 am    

    Councillor Bob Piper has written about a Hope not Hate event in Sandwell, Birmingham (via Penguin).

    Over 200 people out delivering copies of a special Searchlight ‘Hope not Hate’ edition. As Tom Watson said at the close… More than 200 people, 40,000 newspapers, three political parties, and one, very special Billy Bragg.

    Good on them. Apologies for being blunt but there’s no other way of saying this: all you brown people complaining about the BNP - get off your lazy arses and get involved in this campaign! There’s only two days left!

    In Nov 2005 I posted a short anecdote by someone also lamenting the fact more Asians don’t get involved in anti-racist campaigns.

    I began thinking. These people are doing Guru ji’s mission. Guruji taught us to stand up for the small communities, those oppressed, or bullied, from those who spread hate and bully. Yet, we never see Sikhs, or even Asians there. These people hound hatred groups like the BNP, to counter all their activities. They took time off work, and made the difference with their presence. Would we do that?

    I remember at universities, we used to get approached by these groups for us to join, but Asians generally are so full of apathy. A couple of times before I mentioned it to Singhs as well that we need to counter the BNP. But Singhs just always tell me to ‘Naam japp’ (pray), and not worry about it.

    They had so much literature about the growth of Islamopobia in UK, but no Muslims were present except the Muslim bibian (women) who were bystanders like me. One of organisers said to me that we stand up for Muslims, but they do not bother turning up.

    Filed under: Current affairs

    Treatment of religious minorities

    by Sunny at 8:50 am    

    I wasn’t aware that, given President Musharraf recently dismissed chief justice of Pakistan (CJP), a Hindu lawyer had taken his place. Neither was I aware that a petition had been filed challenging Rana Bhagwandas’ appointment because “the CJP is in line for appointment as acting president (who the constitution says must be a Muslim).”

    Saliha Shah, who points this out, also takes the words out of my mouth:

    Ofcourse, we Americans will do well to take stock of our own reactions to religious minorities in the government (Virgil Good’s reaction to Keith Ellison’s election, anyone?). But, in America, these reactions can be silenced by the Constitution itself - “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States” (Article VI). Those Muslims who wield the Constitution to agitate for greater representation for Muslims in the United States would do well to require similar treatment for minorities in the Muslim world. Let Mr. Bhagwandas do his job if he’s capable. Who or what he worships should not be part of the equation.

    While some may point out that India does a better job by having a Sikh as Prime Minister and Muslim as President, the country still has a long way to go in actually being able to deliver justice, social conditions and economic opportunities equally to its own religious and ethnic minorities (Dalits, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians).

    Filed under: Pakistan,South Asia
    3rd April, 2007

    Mistaken for a terrorist

    by Sunny at 8:56 am    

    Zak Shaikh, a Los Angeles based screenwriter and filmmaker was recently caught “mistakenly” as a terrorist. He sends us an email to alert us to his article in LA Weekly over the experience.

    We found out that the man sentenced to death in Pakistan for abducting and helping to kill the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl had a scarily similar profile to me: We shared the same name (Ahmed) and similarly spelled last name (Shaikh). He had attended the London School of Economics, where I was an undergraduate. Even spookier, he had attended Forest School, a rival high school to my own alma mater, Chigwell Boys.

    It didn’t seem to matter that this guy had grown a beard, bought an AK-47 and joined the Kashmir Liberation Front, while I had gone to L.A. to purchase a Starbucks loyalty card and write movies. In the eyes of the U.S. authorities, it appeared, we might as well have been the same person.

    I don’t think I’ll be returning to Britain anytime soon. L.A. may occasionally be a soulless, empty place. But I’m not risking international travel for a while. In fact, I may join the 80 percent of Americans sans passports and never leave these shores again.

    Incompetent? The American government? Aren’t you on the side of freedom, liberty, justice, motherhood and apple pie, boy?

    2nd April, 2007

    Israel, AIPAC and Christian Zionism

    by Sunny at 11:51 am    

    Writing in the Times on Friday, Gerard Baker talks about America’s bias towards Israel and how they form a barrier to peace. Why, for example, he asks, did Barack Obama get so much flack for simply saying: “Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.”

    It is sadly true, as America’s critics contend, that US debate about the Middle East is constrained within an impossibly narrow field of discussion. In fact it is striking that it is much easier for an Israeli to say things critical of the Israeli Government than it is for an American to offer the same critique.

    But fixation on the Israel lobby is not only misplaced and, with its evocation of wealthy bankers and unscrupulous political consultants, just a tiny bit anti-Semitic. It also misses the real reasons that the US can’t seem to have a sensible discussion now about the Middle East.

    Some of these reasons are to do with internal political developments long in the making. The rise of evangelical Christianity as a political force, especially within the Republican Party, has something to do with it. The belief that the Jews must be returned to the Biblical lands of Judaea and Samaria before the world can end has driven up support for an aggressive Israeli approach to its neighbours in the Holy Land.

    Continue Reading...

    This is how we treat our own

    by Sunny at 8:39 am    

    A British resident held for nearly five years at Guantanamo Bay is to be set free aftera breakthrough in negotiations between the US and Britain. Bisher al-Rawi, 39, whose family escaped persecution in Iraq to live in London, was on a business trip when he was arrested in the Gambia after a tip-off by the Security Service, MI5.

    He said he thought the decision to help Mr Rawi was only taken because the Government did not want an embarrassing court case in which Britain’s involvement in his capture would have been made public.

    The High Court in London has already permitted the disclosure of classified documents linking MI5 to Mr Rawi’s arrest. Mr Katznelson said: “Mr Rawi helped MI5 as an interpreter and acted as a go-between with Abu Qatada [a terror suspect later arrested and detained by the British authorities]. All this would have… been very embarrassing for the government and… MI5.” [The Independent]

    Filed under: Current affairs
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