31st August, 2007

Jews and Sikhs as a race

by Sunny at 4:18 pm    

On the earlier cartoons controversy thread someone said it was ok to insult Muslims and not Jews because the former were not a race. The point being that while you cannot change your race, you can change religion. And thus insulting a set of beliefs is fine.

Insulting a set of beliefs is fine – people should have the freedom of speech to do that. But the above argument is based on a false presumption. I pointed out that:

Judaism is a religion like Islam. It was people like Hitler who saw them as a “race” and wanted them wiped out. Of course, he wasn’t alone in seeing them as a race, as did many anti-semites in the UK and Europe.

The government designation of Jews as a race is predicated on that anti-semitism and is a technical measure more than anything. Otherwise the 1976 Race Relations Act made it illegal to disciminate against Blacks and Asians but not Jewish people. That doesn’t mean you can’t make fun of Judaism or Jews by the way – you still can.

Similarly Sikhs are designated as an ethnic group. This is not because they are, but to get around the legislative difficulties of allowing them concessions (like wearing a Turban at work). But you can still make fun of Sikhs and of Sikhism. As the case should be.

Katy agrees with that later:

Jews are a very loosely related people, or a nation – sort of like a very very loosely connected extended family. But they are not a race. I am not the same race as bananabrain, for example, although we’re both Jewish, and neither of us is the same race as Jews of African descent.

Bananabrain posts a comment somewhat agrees:

this is, of course, because previously european anti-jewish feeling was something that could be mitigated by converting to christianity. of course, when jews started doing that after the enlightenment, people had to find another reason not to like us, hence the “scientific” antisemitism of renan and others. we could change our religion, but we couldn’t change our “race”. nowadays this fine distinction is rarely understood. the thing also is that there are large numbers of jews who maintain that they are “secular” jews or “ethnic” jews without any vestige of the religious beliefs or practice (the aforementioned stephen fry for one) so is he still a jew, then?

I think the last point is particularly important and worth exploring. My view is that because Jews have been a religious minority throughout most of their history, they have developed a tradition of ‘a community’ that embraces their flock even if they are not practicing. That way the diaspora retains some semblance of togetherness. People are welcome to disagree or correct me if they think this is wrong.

Eventually the same will (or should) develop with Sikhs. British Sikh representation is still dominanted by religious fundamentalists who will push anyone not wearing a turban out of the conversation. According to them we don’t exist, even though their chums are busy claiming that Britain has nearly half a million Sikhs that need to be represented, with the aim of installing themselves in power. There aren’t any major issues that require British Sikh political representation anyway. That is the way it should be, given the faith (I use the word loosely) is extremely non-hierarchical.

But culturally, within the communities, the non-practicing are effectively shunned because they are not seen as proper Sikhs. My point is that though Sikhs are legislatively regarded as an ethnic group along with Jews, what actually needs to happen is that they need to see themselves culturally as an ethnic group, as the Jews do. That seems the only way to ensure all voices are heard.

Filed under: Religion

The unaccountable US army

by Sunny at 3:20 pm    

In an official document seen by this newspaper, the Ministry of Defence makes clear that all requests for US service personnel to give evidence at British inquests will be turned down. The new rules will cover the deaths of the three soldiers killed last week in Afghanistan.

Last night the families of the three soldiers killed by a US bomb dropped by an F15 aircraft last week in Afghanistan called on the Americans to release all available evidence on the latest friendly-fire incident for the inquest.

“We need to know if the pilot was feeling hyped up, if he was calm, what he had been told before the operation, what happened on the day. Why is it that our closest ally is refusing to provide the evidence that might explain what happened to Robert? I am sure that if an American was killed in a British attack then those involved would give evidence.”

From The Times. So much for that ‘special relationship’ hey?

Filed under: United States
30th August, 2007

What now for Pakistan?

by Sunny at 5:14 pm    

Kamran Nazeer sums it up for me: “It is difficult to see how a deal between Benazir Bhutto and Pervez Musharraf could be a positive development for the country.”

Nothing else to say really is there? Can’t see many Pakistanis jumping for joy with Sharif or Bhutto coming back.

Filed under: Pakistan

‘Collateral damage’

by Sunny at 4:55 pm    

I realise that talking about Israel / Palestine here is like waving a red flag in front of a horde of bulls but this story is worth highlighting. Reuters AlertNet blogger Peter Apps writes about five-year old Palestinian girl Maria Amin.

Most of Maria’s family were wiped out when the car she was travelling in was caught in an Israeli missile attack on an Islamic Jihad leader in the Gaza Strip. Her grandmother, mother and older brother died. Not entirely unlike me, she broke her neck and damaged her spinal cord. Euphemistically speaking, they were all simply “collateral damage”.

Somehow, the Palestinians managed to keep Maria alive and on a ventilator long enough to get her to an Israeli hospital where they could look after her properly. However you look at it, that is an incredible achievement. She will be dependent on a ventilator for the rest of her life and will die if it is removed.

To their credit, the Israeli defence ministry covered her medical expenses – which must have been massive – and sponsored her father and surviving younger brother to live with her at the hospital. According to media reports, her father is undertaking most of her basic day-to-day care – which must be hard on him, but certainly saves money.

Apparently, Maria has now completed her rehabilitation programme – which is all that Israel says it will pay for. For her as for me, the brutal truth is that, barring a scientific breakthrough, she simply is not going to get better.

Unfortunately, the Defence Ministry wants to send her to a hospital on the West Bank. Her home on the Gaza Strip, now under control of the Islamist movement Hamas, is now under a virtual aid boycott from the outside world and is clearly no place for her. Maria’s father has appealed against the ministry order and Israel’s Supreme Court has said she cannot be transferred until a hearing is held next month.

Her current Israeli hospital says “she won’t be going anywhere” until her well-being is assured, effectively defying Israel’s government. They say the Palestinian rehabilitation centre of Abu Raya is simply unable to look after her if something goes wrong.

The defiance of the Israeli hospital is worth appreciating in sharp contrast to the military. But the main point here is about the lack of facilities in the developing world for disabled people that many of us take for granted. According to the WHO, “most people with spinal injuries in developing countries are dead in two years.”

Those who say Palestinians should be denied any aid until Hamas goes away would be well advised to think about the impact that has on local populations.

Environmentalists vs vegetarians

by Sunny at 3:09 pm    

The New York Times has an interesting article about the hypocrisy of environmentalists over vegetarians. It points out:

The biggest animal rights groups do not always overlap in their missions, but now they have coalesced around a message that eating meat is worse for the environment than driving. They and smaller groups have started advertising campaigns that try to equate vegetarianism with curbing greenhouse gases.

Some backlash against this position is inevitable, the groups acknowledge, but they do have scientific ammunition. In late November, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization issued a report stating that the livestock business generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transportation combined.

When that report came out, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other groups expected their environmental counterparts to immediately hop on the ‘Go Veggie!’ bandwagon, but that did not happen. “Environmentalists are still pointing their fingers at Hummers and S.U.V.’s when they should be pointing at the dinner plate,” said Matt A. Prescott, manager of vegan campaigns for PETA.

I think this applies more to the US than the UK since most environmentalists I know in the UK are also vegetarian, as they should be. But the hypocrisy of preaching vegetarians who don’t want to give up meat is well made. Being somewhat more biased towards animal-rights than the environment (I think) and being vegetarian, I know which side I’m on.

Filed under: Environmentalism
29th August, 2007

Another cartoon row?

by Sunny at 3:29 pm    

Iran has summoned a senior Swedish diplomat to protest against the publication in a local newspaper of a drawing of Muhammad showing his head on a dog’s body, calling it “an insult against the prophet”. The Swedish chargé d’affaires, Gunilla von Bahr, was summoned to the Iranian foreign ministry yesterday.

“A protest was given to her because of the publication in a newspaper of a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad,” a Swedish foreign ministry spokeswoman, Sofia Karlberg, said today. “She was told it was an insult against the prophet. We consider the matter closed.”

Mr Vilks’ drawing depicted Muhammad’s head on a dog’s body in a street with traffic around it. Nerikes Allehanda decided to publish the drawing following a row in the Nordic country this summer over Mr Vilks’ attempt to exhibit his series of drawings about Muhammad. At least two galleries declined to show the pictures, citing security fears.

“Alongside the picture, we published a comment piece saying that it was serious that there is self-censorship among exhibition [galleries],” said the Nerikes Allehanda editor-in-chief, Ulf Johansson.

From the Media Guardian today. Funny that, none of the European press wanted to make a big deal when the Spanish royal family censored a magazine for publishing a cartoon of themselves.

Filed under: Media

The Sri Lankan ‘war on terror’

by Sunny at 9:05 am    

Human Rights Watch has just published an extensive report on the worsening situation in Sri Lanka.

Human Rights Watch has long documented abuses by the LTTE, particularly the LTTE’s systematic recruitment and use of children as soldiers, the targeted killings of political opponents, and its abusive fundraising tactics abroad. We will continue to report on LTTE abuses and press the LTTE to change its practices.

This report, however, focuses primarily on abuses by the Sri Lankan government and allied armed groups, which have gotten decidedly worse over the past year. As the hostilities have increased, the government’s respect for international law has sharply declined, with it often appearing indifferent to the impact on civilians in the north and east.

The LTTE is the world’s most brutal and successful terrorist group (going by sucide attacks). But at the launch, the report’s author made an interesting point about the Sri Lankan government. She said it had started using the phrase “war on terror” as an excuse to cover up its own brutality, saying it was a necessary side-effect and knowing that western governments would be more sypathetic. She quoted a government official who stated that since the Americans were flouting international law when dealing with terrorists, so could they. And again, they knew other governments would be unwilling to point fingers.

And it has worked. While most western governments know the situation has gotten worse because SL authorities have become careless about antagonising or killing innocent Tamils, nothing much is being said by the US or UK to bring both sides to the negotiating table. Just what we bloody well need – more governments taking lead from American foreign policy.

28th August, 2007

Our skewed immigration policy

by Sunny at 10:32 pm    

The British right has, over the past decade or so, made such a stink about immigration in this country that any sense of fairness, humanity or competence seems to have been drained out of the system. I have friends who work with the Home Office and declare the place is falling apart. The extent to which any sense of “fair play”, which people claim is a strong British trait, has been chucked out of the window is demonstrated in the case of Pegah Emambakhsh.

This 40 year old woman is due to be deported back to Iran where she will almost certainly be prosecuted and executed for being a lesbian and engaging in “adultery” (a common practice in the Islamic Republic). Our government cannot legally deport people who are likely to be tortured when they arrive back in their country of origin, thankfully, but it seems deporting homosexuals despite the threat of execution is ok. Brett on Harry’s Place highlighted this case last week.

Now it seems even the Italians are willing to do more than our Home Secretary.

The case of Pegah Emambakhsh, 40, has become front-page news in Italy while going almost unreported in Britain. Today, a leading member of the rightwing opposition, led by Silvio Berlusconi, joined a government minister in proposing Ms Emambakhsh should be given asylum in Italy if Britain insisted that she had to leave.

Ms Emambakhsh fled Iran and applied for asylum in Britain two years ago. After her disappearance, her father had been seized and tortured to force him to disclose her whereabouts.

The spokesman for Everyone said that, under Iranian law, the punishment for lesbianism was 100 strokes of the cane, administered in public. But he said that Ms Emambakhsh, who had been declared “an enemy of public order” on websites close to the Iranian authorities, risked death by stoning or hanging.

What is the point of blogging?

by Sunny at 8:38 am    

First published on comment is free this morning.

Why do we blog? Does it serve any purpose? Is it “killing our culture” as some say, is it a “parasitic” medium as others do, or is it the promised land? It is the latter of course; allow me to explain why.

On his journalism blog, Andrew Grant-Adamson points to the eruption of an online row in America over this article in the LA Times. Michael Skube’s point in the LA Times can be summarised as: bloggers don’t do original reporting, so they’re rubbish. In response an American journalism professor Jay Rosen wrote this DailyKos post and a reply in the LA Times pointing to several examples where bloggers did original reporting or broke stories.

So far so good? Not really. I think this misses the beauty of blogging.

Continue Reading...
27th August, 2007

Yasmin Qureshi, first British Pakistani woman MP?

by Sunny at 5:43 pm    

The TMP blog points out that prospective parliamentary candidate (PPC) Yasmin Qureshi has been selected to represent Labour in Bolton South East at the next General Election. It is a safe seat with a Labour majority of 12,652 at the last election, and so she has a good chance of being the party’s first British Pakistani woman Member of Parliament. So far Yasmin and Rushanara Ali are running to be the first Asian / Muslim woman MP for the party.

I think it’s fair to say that while the efforts of Labour and Conservatives are not enough, but going some way in re-addressing the gross gender inequality, within the parties, the Liberal Democrats have done nothing. Nada. Zilch. It’s embarassing if it wasn’t for the fact their leadership itself is embarassing. James Graham wrote a good blog for LibDemvoice a few weeks ago to highlight this and it’s worth reading.

America to the rescue…?

by Sunny at 9:32 am    

Is this the funniest and spot-on commentary on American foreign policy… ever?

[Video removed as it was causing errors. Follow the link to see it.]

25th August, 2007

Weekend thread and some links

by Clairwil at 4:00 pm    

Hello all,
As Sunny has beaten me to it with the open thread This is the weekend thread. I leave you with links to a few things I’ve enjoyed this week to keep you occupied.

1. My esteemed chum -The Ill Man -do drop in he’s feeling a bit unloved.

2. Mail Art

3. A fine post by Katy Newton at The Devils Kitchen.

4. All you need to know about starting your own cult. (now fixed!)

5. How to harvest squid ink.

Enjoy and feel free to add your own suggestions below.

Sunny adds: As our lovely Clairwil has been posting M.I.A. videos all this week on her blog so I thought I’d post my favourite one here as part of the loooooong weekend thread. (I’ve incorporated the previous thread with this one)

Filed under: Uncategorized
24th August, 2007

They’re out to get you…

by Sunny at 4:07 pm    

So that paragon of newspaper journalism, the Daily Express, recently ran a story claiming that officials at the Lothian and Glasgow health boards had issued instructions that staff should not eat their lunch in offices during the month of Ramadan for fear of offending their Muslim colleagues. The story also claimed that instructions had been issued that vending machines selling food should be removed and that the lunch trolley “be wheeled out of bounds” during the same period.

Except that wasn’t the case and the health board released a statement denying this.

That wasn’t the end of the matter of course. Writing on the Social Affairs Unit blog, some twit called Theodore Dalrymple clearly finds a conspiracy and thinks the health board is just itching to form alliances with Muslim extremists. Quite. I suggested in the comments that he has far too much time on his hands in trying to find a conspiracy where there is none. They’ve not now published my comment.

After all, the Daily Express never publishes racist or outright rubbish in its stories of course. When supposedly serious “think-tanks” or writers start following a paranoid trail started by the Daily Express, you know they’re intellectually bankrupt. This is the cutting edge of thinking on the right in this country.

Filed under: Media

A media riddle

by Sunny at 11:15 am    

BSSC has a riddle for his readers:

I believe that Rupert Murdoch, an Australian with US citizenship, has far too much influence over politics in this country and that he uses his media outlets to push his political agenda at every opportunity.

Whenever I try to draw attention to this, there will always be someone who broadly shares Murdoch’s political views ready to tell me I’m a patronising git. “That’s so typical of a condescending bruschetta munching Guardianista. You assume that the great unwashed are stupid mindless drones being helplessly brainwashed by this bias…”

Here’s the riddle.

Murdoch’s newspapers, and others who would benefit from the removal of a reasonably neutral news service, constantly harp on about the damaging affects of the alleged bias of the BBC. So, can the media shape public opinion or not? And can I have my cake and eat it a the same time?

An interesting question, surely. Now who’s going to attempt to answer this one?

Filed under: Media

Behind the scenes

by Sunny at 9:18 am    

I recently received an invitation to an event (that I can’t go to) but thought it was interesting to use it as a way of highlighting a point.

Without revealing details of where and when it is (it’s invite only), here is an edited extract from the conference plan.

Continue Reading...
23rd August, 2007

Tories take money from arms manufacturer

by Sunny at 3:59 pm    

Dave Osler has uncovered an interesting nugget about donations to the Conservative Party:

How interesting to learn from the Electoral Commission website that an individual by the name Andreas Heeschen has donated £58,000 to the Conservative Party over the last year.

That’ll be the bloke who nows owns Heckler & Koch, manufacturer of the fine submachine guns and assault rifles that aficionados believe to be the finest in the world. Same old Tories, eh?

The image is by Chris Paul, who has more and points out that Andreas Heeschen’s company plans to produce “almost a million XM8s [assault rifle] per annum” by 2012. Charming. Just the sort of people the Tories traditionally liked anyway, right?

Filed under: Party politics

Ken Livingstone, not fit for Mayor

by Rumbold at 12:49 pm    

In a follow up to the previous post on Boris Johnson, Rumbold explains why Ken Livingstone should not be supported by liberals either.

As Boris Johnson has been criticised for his comments in the past, let us look back at some of Red Ken’s anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, homophobic, racist and misogynistic moments.

Continue Reading...
Filed under: Party politics

A question of faith

by Sunny at 8:40 am    

Padraig Reidy from indexcomment.org sent me an email pointing to a story at the Irish Times:

The Irish Sikh Council has called for Sikhs to be allowed to wear turbans instead of caps when they join the Garda.

The call follows a case where a Sikh who volunteered to join the Garda Reserve was refused permission to wear his turban as part of his uniform. The Garda Síochána today rejected the call for any variation in the standard uniform.

According to Harpreet Singh, President of Irish Sikh Council, asking a Sikh community member to get rid of his turban “is like asking him to remove his head”.

“We strongly believe and accept that as an immigrant community we should respect and adopt cultural values of Irish community,” he said. “But we would like to stress that integration is a two-way process. Integration can never be brought about by asking the migrant communities to give up their basic beliefs.”

Continue Reading...
Filed under: Current affairs
22nd August, 2007

Support Amnesty International over Catholic Church

by Sunny at 2:27 am    

Cath Elliot wrote an important article for CIF yesterday, highlighting the Catholic Church’s condemnation of Amnesty International. She explains:

After over two years of discussion and debate, Amnesty International finally announced last week that it will be campaigning for women to have access to abortion in cases of rape, incest or violence, or where the pregnancy jeopardises a mother’s life or health. This is a huge step forward for women’s rights worldwide, especially in areas of conflict where rape is employed as a weapon of war or as a tool for ethnic cleansing.

Unsurprisingly, this decision has led to an outpouring of condemnation from religious bodies, most notably from the Roman Catholic church.

The decision by the Catholic Church to condemn AI is a serious one, and almost a call for a boycott.
The organisation’s position is that, “it would work to “support the decriminalisation of abortion, to ensure that women have access to heathcare when complications arise from abortion and to defend women’s access to abortion . . . when their health or human rights are in danger.”

That, is a principled position and one of letting women regulate their own lives.
Cath points out:

What the bishop and his church fail to understand is that forcing a woman to continue with a pregnancy against her will is a continuation of the violence against her.

For how much longer is the Catholic church going to regard the “human life in a woman’s womb” as being of more importance than the human life that possesses a womb?

Well said. But such attacks on abortion rights by the Catholic Church are increasing. Janine at Stroppyblog points out that the RMT union is submitting two resolutions to the Scottish TUC Women’s Conference deploring the views of Cardinal Keith O’Brien who spoke out against abortions.

Filed under: Sex equality
21st August, 2007

Boris Johnson, not fit for Mayor

by Sunny at 5:12 pm    

Compass, the left-wing pressure group has published a report today saying that London Mayor candidate Boris Johnson is not just a buffoon, but a hard-right ideologue with a long history of controversy. From the Guardian today:

The dossier’s charges range from his “enthusiastic” support for the Iraq war (where he once claimed there had been only 150 casualties) and George Bush, to his opposition to the Kyoto treaty on climate change, the minimum wage and the public smoking ban. Mr Johnson also supports fox and stag hunting, grammar schools and section 28 – Tory legislation outlawing the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools.

His risque jokes as a magazine and newspaper columnist are also in Compass’s sights. It cites instances when he referred to black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”; accused New Guinea of “orgies of cannibalism” and insulted both Portsmouth and Liverpool – the latter offence prompting Michael Howard to force an apology, even though, as editor of the Spectator, Mr Johnson had not personally penned the offending editorial.

And that doesn’t even include the paranoia-inciting piece of crap that was the ‘Eurabia‘ front cover for the Spectator. Why should such conspiracy theorising against Muslims “taking over” be acceptable when it isn’t for other minorities?

Stereotyped women

by Sunny at 11:14 am    

I’m not a regular reader of Personnel Today magazine, it must be admitted, but I was sent this myth-busting article which is worth highlighting.

MYTH: “I know that many Muslim women are not allowed to work in certain professions, or are not allowed to work at all, for cultural or religious reasons. That’s why we don’t get many working here.”
FACT: Almost 90% of 16-year-old Bangladeshi and Pakistani girls in the UK said their parents supported their choice to find paid work.

MYTH: “We are an equal opportunities employer. We treat everyone the same.”
FACT: One in three black Caribbean working women under 35 and one in five Bangladeshi and Pakistani women have experienced racist comments at work.

The whole article is worth reading on how some companies have taken action in making sure they are becoming more inclusive and getting to grips with employees of a different religious / racial background. But that is not to say I’m a fan of ‘diversity training’. Things are surely improving with time.

The BNP and free speech

by Sunny at 5:13 am    

I should have said this earlier while the issue was hot but I think it’s worth re-visting anyway. When I first heard that companies had withdrawn advertising from Facebook because of the BNP’s presence, I mis-read that Facebook was allowing the BNP to advertise on it [insert old man jokes here]. But after Katy Newton pointed that out the obvious, I dropped my hurriedly put-together petition and deleted the thread on PP.

And I didn’t start a petition against allowing the BNP on Facebook. I think there is a crucial difference here. Organisations should not give the racist/fascist party any prominence, but that does not mean it should not be allowed to exist on any platform (such as the web or Facebook). I support freedom of speech and expression, except when it is used to propagate hateful lies or incite hatred. So, yes to getting rid of the BNP imagery and general hate-mongering against Muslims. But if the idiots want to sit around discussing the death of “white culture”, then they should be allowed.

On Shiraz Socialist, Voltaire’s Priest explains why he won’t be signing the UAF petition and I agree. He does the explanation bit more elaborately than me.

Ethnic minorities have this habit of seeing red when the BNP is mentioned. This is understandable, but when we set precedents on not allowing freedom of speech, the government usually uses them to silence dissenting opinion of powerless and marginalised groups. We need more freedom of speech and expression, not less! Unite Against Fascism should drop the silly petition and the Guardian should stop giving them publicity.

20th August, 2007

All hail U.S. ‘Homeland Security’!

by Sunny at 4:38 pm    

“For seven-year-old Javaid Iqbal, the holiday to Florida was a dream trip to reward him for doing well at school. But he was left in tears after he was stopped repeatedly at airports on suspicion of being a terrorist.” – From the Daily Mail today.
And think it’s just a one-off?

Filed under: Civil liberties

In support of Climate Camp

by Sunny at 3:46 pm    

Continue Reading...
Filed under: Environmentalism

Help save their lives

by Sunny at 4:30 am    

You will have noticed the right-hand banner on the blog-based campaign to put pressure on the government to grant asylum to Iraqi employees of the armed forces. It is a slightly changed version of several that Unity has made – please support the campaign and put them on your blog. I’ve supported this campaign from day one for various reasons and I think they are worth re-stating.

I have always been against going into war in Iraq. In addition to the reasons US vice-president Dick Cheney himself outlined in 1994, I never believed the United States military went in for altruistic reasons. Anyway, I’ll come back to my anti-war stance in another post later. The point is, I didn’t want Iraqis to die at the hands of the US military’s “shock and awe” instead of Saddam Hussain’s military. It happened anyway and 4 years later we are still there.

The Iraqi Employees campaign makes sense because it places a moral obligation on the government to at least provide asylum and help those who helped the British forces negotiate their way through the country. It does not negate the need to find the most humane path of action in the country, neither does it absolve the American or British governments of their lies and incompetence in this whole episode.

But it saves lives and gives some Iraqis the opportunity of a better life here while we try and re-build that country after the American military destroyed it. In itself, I think that is a good thing and this a worthwhile goal. So, I request that people:
1) Blog about the issue and carry the banners;
2) Look up your MP.
3) Write to them. (draft letter)
4) Tell us about your MP’s response.
There will be more updates to this campaign as we plan to make it bigger. This is not over yet.

Filed under: Middle East
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