21st August, 2008

At least the MI5 makes sense

by Sunny at 9:33 am    

You’d be amazed at how good our damn intelligence services are. I am. Yesterday the Guardian published an internal MI5 classified report on terrorism and radicalisation.

The interesting thing about the report is that none of the usual suspects who love writing about Muslim terrorism mentioned it. I suspect its down to the fact that the MI5, not one to be influenced by idiot bloggers or frothing-at-the-mouth newspaper columnists (Melanie Phillips et al), actually challenges many of commonly made assertions around radicalisation.

Some of the findings included:

• The majority are British nationals and the remainder, with a few exceptions, are here legally.

• Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. MI5 says there is evidence that a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.

• British-based terrorists are as ethnically diverse as the UK Muslim population, with individuals from Pakistani, Middle Eastern and Caucasian backgrounds. MI5 says assumptions cannot be made about suspects based on skin colour, ethnic heritage or nationality.

• Far from being lone individuals with no ties, the majority of those over 30 have steady relationships, and most have children. MI5 says this challenges the idea that terrorists are young men driven by sexual frustration and lured to “martyrdom” by the promise of beautiful virgins waiting for them in paradise. It is wrong to assume that someone with a wife and children is less likely to commit acts of terrorism.

In one sense its good to see the MI5 focusing on intelligent counter-terrorism than buying into Mad Mel narratives. On the other hand, its obvious that the threat of terrorism hasn’t entirely gone away. As Yahya Birt is fond of pointing out, let’s be thankful at how amateur and badly organised these people are.

Filed under: Current affairs
20th August, 2008

MCB lets women down

by Ala at 7:54 pm    

Last Friday the Muslim Council of Britain disassociated itself from the new mariage contract drawn up by the Muslim Institute with the aim of addressing gender imbalances in current Shari’a marriage contracts after having initially backed it.

The new contract will do away with the need for exclusively male and Muslim witnesses at the marriage ceremony, male guardians who decide whom a woman can marry, and women’s inhibitions in initiating a divorce. The MCB has decided to distance itself because of the wording used by the Muslim Institute when they said they wanted to “re-invent” shari’a. Because of this, the MCB will now produce its own guidance on the issue.

Although the MCB by no means represents individual Muslims and their communities, and can’t change realities on the ground, it is the largest national Muslim umbrella organisation in Britain. The original backing of the MCB of a contract that gave women such unprecedented rights was a quantum leap in the fight for women’s equality. It had to be too good to be true.

Some would argue that there is no need for a new contract, that we already have British law that gives women rights equal to men. The same argument would come to the logical conclusion that people who don’t like Islamic law should, well, leave Islam. If only it were so simple. But even then, there will always be those who have absolute respect for religious edicts and clerical pronouncements, who need religious authority in their lives. Are they to be left to rot, or should we fight for religious reform so they can follow a more benign dictator?

The MCB’s reasons for withdrawing its support seem ridiculous in the face of the benefits that would result if such a contract was subsumed into Islamic orthodoxy. But I probably just touched upon the real reason for its withdrawal. Because of the MCB’s priority of remaining within the fold of orthodoxy, women were, once again, sacrificed on the altar.

Sunny adds: Ed Husain’s article on this is also worth reading.

‘Clarkson for PM’ petition response

by Leon at 2:43 pm    

This is great!

Hat tip: Rupa Huq

Filed under: Humour

I think John Kerry will be Obama’s VP

by Sunny at 2:08 am    

That’s my gut feeling. Firstly because John Kerry is a known name that Americans (Democrats) will be comfortable with, and Obama needs this because there’s chunk of Democrats still avoiding him because of racism.
Secondly, Obama needs a strong attack dog if he is to challenge the smears that McCain is putting out. Kerry’s the only person doing that right now – the rest of the VP candidates have been very quiet on this front. Kerry came within a whisker of beating Bush last time. If he can hold on to those Democrats, and combine that with the added number of new African-American and younger voters, they’ll cruise through. The announcement is expected tomorrow.

Filed under: United States
19th August, 2008

Mass demonstration against ‘honour’ killings in Iran

by Rumbold at 11:21 pm    

Over 2000 people demonstrated in Iran against ‘honour’ killings, after a man killed his daughter for seeking a divorce from a marriage which she had been forced into with her uncle.

More pictures here.

Internet gender selection ads attacked in India

by Rumbold at 8:29 pm    

Internet companies have come under pressure from India’s Supreme Court to justify carrying advertisements for gender selection products:

“India bans tests that allow people to know the gender of unborn children – a law designed to tackle widespread abortion of female foetuses. ‘These companies are making a lot of money by doing highly targeted and selective advertising of these products,’ said Sabu George, an activist leading the campaign…

‘The court has issued a notice to Google, Microsoft and Yahoo asking them to reply to our petition,’ said Sanjay Parikh, a lawyer who lodged the complaint. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says India loses 7,000 girls every day through abortion. Campaigners say the courts have intervened in the past to block newspaper advertisements of sex selection tests. Mr Parikh said the petition had been submitted along with letters from the government in which it agrees that the Internet advertisements are illegal.”

Gender selection is illegal in India under the 1994 ‘Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection)’ Act. Whilst I agree with the aims of the activists, and it is likely that the activists will succeed, to what extent should ISPs be held responsible for all their content? In India they usually are considered to be responsible.

Update: Galloise Blonde points out a good article on India’s gender bias.

One Dictator Down

by Sid (Faisal) at 1:23 pm    

Following the resignation of General Musharraf, Kamila Shamsie (author of Broken Verses) writes a worthwhile personal account of her reactions to affairs in Pakistan.

Musharraf’s final machiavellian act in his resignation speech was to paint a picture of his presidency as a period of prosperity, moderation and good governance – set against the dismal state of the nation today, which reflects the abuses of six months of civilian rule. Right now, only the truly deluded would accept that version of events, but the fragility of Pakistan’s democracy makes the months ahead particularly perilous. If things get worse, as they may well do, it will be easy to blame democracy itself. It’s worth bearing in mind a comment made at the South Bank Centre by the Booker-longlisted Mohammed Hanif: “I think we Pakistanis need to be a little more patient with our democrats, and a little less patient with our dictators.”

After years of reading what a fine man Musharraf is (possibly) and how personally incorruptible he is (fabrication), it is refreshing to find a Pakistani person, who is not Tariq Ali, make short shrift of this particular general who comes from a long line of Pak Military dictators. Given the weight of opinion, it would not be unfair to say that opinion amongst the Pakistani community outside of Pakistan is tolerant to the point of devotion.

With one dictator down, the road to full-fledged democracy in Pakistan is wide open. But what does the future hold for democacy now? Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari, leaders of the opposition, no longer have a despotic enemy in common to rail against which means now they oppose each other. And oppostion to a dictator will always make you look good. The question is, will these politicians now feel it necessary to prove their popular credentials and support democratic institutions that they have so far paid lipservice to?

Covering hair and other body parts

by Sunny at 3:03 am    

Naomi Alderman wrote a great response in the comments to the robust PP discussion on the Hijab and feminism, which deserves re-producing in full. This is what Naomi wrote earlier on PP

Many societies around the world and at different periods in history have had different ideas about which parts of the body ought to be concealed in public. I’m no anthropologist, but just watching documentaries and reading about other cultures makes it clear that, in some cultures it’s no big deal for women to walk around totally naked. That’s not seen as “sexually provocative”, it’s just that the custom of the place is to wear some beads, maybe sandals or jewelry and nothing else. Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” gives great examples of this. In the African culture he describes, it would be shameful for a woman to appear without her waist beads at a festival, but having bare breasts is entirely expected.

Modern Western culture has a different view. There are, of course, specific dress codes for specific places but in general Western culture says that a woman showing her bare breasts is a sexual display, while a man walking around with no top on when it’s hot is just a normal way to keep cool. [This is the case in London, where I live. If it is different in your region, I apologise for my London-centrism.]

This view is also reflected in, for example, the swimwear of male and female athletes at the Olympics. Men wear swimming shorts, women wear one-pieces which cover their breasts. Who knows if the women might perform better in just the shorts, or if both sexes might perform better totally nude? We’re not going to find out, because the athletes in these events must cover up the parts of the body which modern Western culture considers too overtly sexual to be displayed.

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18th August, 2008

Video: Jade Goody enters Indian Big Brother

by Sunny at 8:21 pm    

Its too bad Shilpa Shetty just faithfully translated what Jade Goody said.
Update: Amrit chips in with her thought here.

Filed under: Culture,Humour,Media

The financial scandal no one’s talking about

by Sunny at 6:53 pm    

Steve at Pub Philosopher is right, where is left-wing outrage when you need it? He points out that:

So, while Merrill Lynch is being sued by the US government for mis-selling toxic sub-prime debt, the same bank is taking advantage of the UK’s tax regime to offset all its losses against its tax liability. Yes, that’s all its losses, worldwide.

Merrill Lynch has transferred $29 billion worth of losses, mostly from its US operations, to its UK subsidiary in London. This means that, despite any profits it might make in the future, the UK arm of the firm will be able to show a loss for many years to come. The Financial Times estimates that even if Merill Lynch’s UK operation were to continue to generate profits at 2006 levels, a record year,  it would pay no UK corporation tax for the next sixty years.

This government’s pandering to financial companies, to make up for their decades of anti-business stances, means that as financial companies go into recession, they’ll be doing their best to take advantage of favourable tax laws to ensure they don’t have to pay tax. So much for corporate responsibility eh? And will New Labour ministers exhort them to pay their fare share, like it does to poor people? Let’s see shall we?
PS, Steve, Dave Osler did mention it actually.

Filed under: Economics

Musharraf to resign

by Rumbold at 10:09 am    

President Musharraf has announced that he is to step down, in order to avoid impeachment charges:

“The charges against the president include violation of the constitution and gross misconduct. Mr Musharraf said he was confident that the charges against him would not stand but that this was not the time for more confrontation in Pakistan…

Mr Musharraf decided to address the nation as ministers warned over the weekend that impeachment proceedings against him could begin as early as Tuesday of this week. The drive to impeach him has been led by Nawaz Sharif, the head of Pakistan’s second biggest political party, the PML-N. It was Mr Sharif who President Musharraf, then head of the army, deposed in a bloodless coup in 1999.”

Good.

On inter-racial marriages

by Sunny at 5:48 am    

I got this in an email from a reader:

I met my husband when I was 15 and he was 19 I am now 51. We had no problems going out as a couple to pubs and resturants from anyone. With it being the 70′s you think there would have been.We had the odd stares but to be honest it was more his family and friends that were not keen. Now people do not raise an eyebrow.

To cut a long story short, yes there have been problems with my husbands relations etc, but nothing I could not have handled. We have four children 2 boys and 2 girls aged 28, 25, 22 and 18. It is them that I now worry about they do not know where they belong. My older son has told me this. They are not white and they are not indian. they are half and half as they say.

What do other people think, do they agree with my children not knowing their identity and is it perfectly ok to feel like that.Or are people totally against white people marrying sikh. I know that there are culture clashes but it would be nice to know.
Dorinda

Filed under: Culture,Race politics

Not liking ‘people of colour’

by Sunny at 1:31 am    

Over at F Word, Helen G writes about the brutal murder of a trans-gendered woman Kellie Telesford. I agree with Helen when she says:

I wonder what the inclusion of the idea of “kinky sex” says about the attitudes of both the mass media and certain sections of wider society. As has been suggested elsewhere, this defence strategy could conceivably be applied to all similar cases, especially within the queer community. For example, the media depiction of lesbians inevitably seems to focus on sex aids and strap ons: the implication being that they are, somehow, indulging in “kinky sex”.

In other words, women who partake in a varied and experimental sex life are somehow threatening the established order and therefore inevitably leave themselves open to victim-blaming accusations, such as “What did she expect? She was asking for it wearing that miniskirt”, or as in this case, “If she hadn’t been indulging in ‘kinky sex’, she wouldn’t have died”.

Nothing to disagree with the post, except that Helen starts off by describing Kellie as “a 39 year old woman of colour”. I find that phrase uncomfortable, and rather out of date. As I pointed out in the comments, the phrase is a misnomer because it assumes white women don’t have colour. White women also have colour. They also have an ethnicity and culture. Its an obvious point to make, but this sort of language feeds into the view (in some leftwing circles, not F Word per se) that ethnic minorities should be fetishised because they have colour or culture.

It also sometimes feeds into the view that ‘people of colour’ think the same or can be generalised about. I just think its an old general term which should be ditched. If you wouldn’t use ‘white woman’ for a white woman who was murdered, why use ‘woman of colour’ in this case?
What do you folks think?

Filed under: Culture,Race politics
16th August, 2008

How true it was then, and now

by Sunny at 6:17 pm    

A free and open society is an ongoing conflict, interrupted periodically by compromises – which then become the start for the continuation of conflict, compromise, and on ad infinitum.

A society devoid of compromise is totalitarian. If I had to define a free and open society in one word, the word would be “compromise”.
Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals (1972)

This is spot on. This is why I’m unafraid of conflict. Its not only important, but necessary if we have to move forward in any direction as a society.

The state should not subsidise festivals

by Rumbold at 10:19 am    

(This was originally going to be a response to people on this thread, but then it got rather out of control.)

So far as I can tell, there are three main arguments in favour of state funding of festivals. None, to my mind, are convincing.

1. Festivals improve community cohesion:

Firstly, there is no evidence for this. Secondly, I don’t think that the evidence is out there. Many state-funded festivals have an ethnic/national or a religious basis. These festivals will tend to attract people of that race/nationality or religion. Those people who go to them but who don’t fit that makeup are likely to be people whose are already communally cohesive. Is the BNP-leaning mother who is worried about the effect of high levels of immigration on her child’s school the sort of person to go to a Diwali festival? Is the Asian youth angry at Western society likely to attend a St. Patrick’s Day parade? No, and these are the people that need to be won over to help community cohesion. Why not spend the money on useful things instead, such as hiring more English as a Foreign Language teachers for immigrant children?

2. If left up to the market, poor people wouldn’t be able to go to festivals:

This is slightly patronising as it assumes that poor people wouldn’t be willing to pay for cultural days out. More to the point, plenty of middle class and rich people go to festivals, while many poor people pay a variety of taxes: council tax, VAT, the BBC tax, and if they are earning working full time and earning the minimum wage, over half their income is taxed. Poor people are being taxed to subsidise festivals, and it should be up to them whether they go or not.

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Filed under: Current affairs
15th August, 2008

Hijab and anti-feminism

by Ala at 3:49 pm    

It was very refreshing reading Naomi Alderman’s piece in G2 yesterday on hijabi olympians. How long I’ve waited for a feminist voice to say,

What could be more anti-feminist than telling women that they don’t really know what they think?

It is amazing how something as simple as a piece of cloth on someone’s head can become a damning self-depracating statement the world over that will make people either pity you, hate you, or want to marry you.

Alderman alludes to the point that there is essentially no difference between a woman covering her hair under social pressure and covering her bare breasts. Yet only one action is condemned by people like AC Grayling for being a sign of complicity in one’s own oppression, regardless of the fact that some women cover their hair against their family’s wishes and purely for themselves. Such crass sweeping generalisations gloss over the multiple reasons people do the things they do: it is quite common for some women to cover their hair for totally non-religious reasons. Many, like me, just want to keep the peace, not stir controversy and attract attention to themselves in their communities, or simply keep their parents happy. How truly anti-feminist it is for anyone to feel they are in a moral position to criticise my choices.

Its not all about ‘exotic wimmin’

by Sunny at 3:23 am    

There’s a cheeky article on BBC Magazine that I thought you might find amusing.

It is the stuff of escapist fantasy. A tall, dark and handsome type sweeps a cream-and-roses Home Counties heroine off her feet. In its 100 years of publishing, the exotic alpha male has been a staple of the Mills and Boon romance. The tale of the passionate desert sheikh who sweeps secretary Janna Smith off her feet in Violet Winspear’s 1970 romance Tawny Sands is perhaps the quintessential Mills and Boon story.

The fascination still exists today with the best-selling title of the June 2008 Modern Romance series being Desert King, Pregnant Mistress by Susan Stephens. “Exotic locations gave great scope to authors to be a bit racier. It is usually an English person going into the tropics to experience this different culture,” Dr McAleer says.

I could be a bit politically correct here and say oh isn’t it terrible they’re exoticising men – I thought it was just the women they did that to. But to be honest I can’t help feel that sometimes the whole Orientalism stuff is blown out of proportion. People like forbidden fruit, especially when it comes to attraction and sex. Its hardly a revelation is it?
And it goes both ways. I remember years ago I was visiting Chennai (Madras) and was told that the hottest concert ticket in town was by a British star – Samantha Fox. Heh.

Guess who’s the latest piece of exotica to head to India? Erm, Jade Goody. Happy Friday!

Filed under: Culture,Humour,Media
14th August, 2008

Racism at the Olympics

by Sunny at 12:26 am    

Two incidents, both despicable:

In a photo that was taken in a pre-Olympics advertisement for a courier company that sponsors the Spanish federation, Pau Gasol and friends, winners of the 2006 FIBA World Championship and a strong medal favorite, posed with their index fingers pulling back the skin by the corner of their eyes.

“It seemed to us to be something appropriate and that it would always be interpreted as an affectionate gesture,” José Calderon, the point guard who plays professionally in the N.B.A. for Toronto, wrote on an Internet site. “I want to express that we have great respect for the Orient and its people.”

In a far worse demonstration of contempt, an Iranian swimmer called in sick to his swimming heat to avoid getting into the pool with an Israeli. That was a truly revolting development — a flagrant foul that went unpunished.

Filed under: Race politics,Sports
13th August, 2008

My latest article: on the Aisha controversy

by Sunny at 5:40 pm    

An extract from the article:

And yet it’s unarguable that a prickly feeling of censorship still hangs over us, not just with Muslims but other religious minorities too. Remember Bezhti? How about MF Husain? If you think only Muslims get angry over perceived religious offence, then think again.

To some extent, we do need some controversies to play out and the clash over free expression to happen so that people understand the boundaries. We can’t expect Muslims, or any religious minority, to like what is being said, but we can expect them to protest peacefully. And largely we’re getting to that stage, until we reach a point where those shrieking about a clash of civilisations become irrelevant, people start becoming less jumpy, normal self-censorship comes back into play, and the Daily Mail finds another minority group to pick on. Then we’ll come full circle.

But until then, this necessary clash over free speech has been delayed for another time. But it is inevitable and it is necessary and we’ll all be fine after it. Let’s just get it over with.

Speaking at the party conferences

by Sunny at 1:43 pm    

I’ve been invited to speak at events at the Labour, Libdem and Green party conferences. Should make for a busy September!
At the Libdem and Green party conferences, I’ve been invited to speak at their blogger events/discussions (am also a judge for the best Libdem blog). I’m also trying to organise a bloggers fringe at the Labour Party conference. If you’re going, get in touch.

For the Labour party conference I’ve been invited to speak at the main Fabian Society fringe event titled: ‘Can We Give The White Working Class What They Want?‘, on Saturday, 21st September at 12:45pm in Manchester Town Hall. I’ll be speaking alongside Hazel Blears MP, Secretary of State; Jon Cruddas MP; John Denham MP; and others.
So – since I’ve only got two minutes two make my opening remarks – what would you say in those two minutes? Or preferably, in 2 lines?

Policy Exchange endorses command and control economy

by Rumbold at 10:43 am    

Boris Johnson’s favourite think tank (and the place where he gets most of his staff from) Policy Exchange have just released a report saying that residents of Northern Cities such as Sunderland should be encouraged to move to the more prosperous South East, and that this should go hand in hand with a massive programme of house building in these areas. Never mind that much of the South East is too crowded already, or that a massive house building programme would blight the landscape, or that it is none of the government’s business where people live. None of this really matters in a command and control economy:

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12th August, 2008

Israeli politician admits peace works shock!

by Sunny at 4:27 pm    

Israel’s defence minster has acknowledged a military invasion of Gaza would not stop cross-border rocket attacks by Palestinian militants. But Ehud Barak said a seven-week-old truce mediated by Egypt had halted the barrages for the first time in years.

Mr Barak said if Israeli forces invaded Gaza and stayed there two years “destroying the Hamas regime down to the last office and the last activist… you control another people against their will”. He said that such circumstances would strengthen Palestinians’ support in Gaza for Hamas rather the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party.

No shit sherlock. Such common sense really is thin on the ground these days. The article also goes on to say: “About 500 people, nearly all of them Palestinians killed in Israeli raids and more than half of those armed militants, have died in violence since the troubled Israeli-Palestinian peace process was revived in November 2007.”

Who says they were militants? They’re relying on the IDF for that figure. And why doesn’t the BBC article say instead that it nearly 500 civilians died during that time instead? Anti-Israeli bias my arse.

Why terrorists make bad politicians…

by Sunny at 11:33 am    

…. because they never had a sense of proportion in the first place.

Besides the terrible killings inflicted by the fanatics on those who refuse to pledge allegiance to them, Al-Qa’eda has lost credibility for enforcing a series of rules imposing their way of thought on the most mundane aspects of everyday life.

They include a ban on women buying suggestively-shaped vegetables, according to one tribal leader in the western province of Anbar.

Sheikh Hameed al-Hayyes, a Sunni elder, told Reuters: “They even killed female goats because their private parts were not covered and their tails were pointed upward, which they said was haram.

via TalkIslam. LMAO?

Filed under: Current affairs
11th August, 2008

Boris plans to destroy London’s cultural life

by Sunny at 8:04 pm    

Here are a list of popular festivals in London that currently receive financial support from the Mayor’s office or the London Development Agency.: Chinese New Year; St Patricks Day; St George’s Day; Vaisakhi; Africa Day; Baishakhi Mela; Pride and Soho Pride; Rise; Carnival del Pueblo; London Mela; Notting Hill Carnival; Liberty – disability arts festival; Thames Festival; Trafalgar Square summer festival; the Jewish Simcha on the Square; Chanukkah; Black History Month events; Diwali; Eid; Celebrating Sanctuary (refugee festival); Capital Age; Festival of Youth Arts.

Unsurprisingly, now Boris wants to cut funding from them all so they can rely on the businesses to support them. The guy is adamant on making London lifeless again. Meanwhile his office will spend over a quarter of a million on head-hunting alone.
This is just a start.

Evo Morales wins again!

by Sunny at 4:02 pm    

A bit of foreign news folks, for those inclined – the socialist president Evo Morales wins in Bolivia again. Good stuff! via Jim Jay. Good news for Latin Americans and Bolivians in particular. As the New Statesman points out:

Waldo, a driver who gives tours through the altiplano and Bolivia’s famous salt plains, pointed out the benefits of Morales’ redistribution policies when recognising small villages.

Many once only had three or four hours of electricity. But, thanks to Morales’ initiatives, now have up to eight hours of light due to solar panelling. Morales’ future plans are to introduce 24 hours of energy a day in these once forgotten places, and also to pave their mountainous roads with concrete.

More on the BBC site. For some reason I’ve had this interest in how Eva Morales is doing, and wrote about his win when he was first elected. Its about time Latin Americans had someone who looked after their interests than those of the rich minority.

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