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  • 24th March, 2009

    Varun Gandhi stoking communal hatred in India

    by Shariq at 4:00 pm    

    Varun Gandhi has been front-page news in India for stoking communal hatred against Muslims during his election rallies. Varun, who is running on the BJP ticket, is the son of Sanjay Gandhi and the grandson of Indira Gandhi. In a way this isn’t surprising as his father is widely considered to have been a villain, in particular for forced vasectomies and slum clearances during Indira Gandhi’s reign. Even his uncle Rajiv Gandhi, was in part responsible for instigating the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 for his comments following his mother’s death.

    This reiterates a point that I’ve made before, that although we should admire India’s successes since Independence its continued growth as a secular, functioning democracy isn’t guaranteed. For instance, Gujarat which is one of the states which has most benefited from globalisation, it has also continously elected the ‘Butcher of Gujarat’, Narendra Modi.

    At the end of the day it’s sad to see the lineage of Jawaharlal Nehru, who is undoubtedly one of history’s greatest leaders, acting in such a way. Hopefully this type of antics isn’t successful in the elections.

    Filed under: India

    Daud Abdullah and the Istanbul Declaration

    by Sid (Faisal) at 1:04 pm    

    On the eve of the unveiling of Contest 2, the updated counter-terrorism strategy, the government has suspended ties with the MCB.

    The government had previously downgraded its relationship with the MCB, formally everyone’s favourite Muslim quango, in the autumn of 2006. Back then the full extent of the knowdledge of the close ties it’s head honchos enjoy with the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islam were only partially apparent. This time round, the break looks permanent, with Hazel Blears demanding the MCB sack Daud Abdullah after he was found to have signed what is being referred to as the Istanbul Declaration.

    The council’s deputy secretary-general, Daud Abdullah, signed a declaration last month that the government and critics of the MCB have interpreted as calling for violence against Israel and condoning attacks on British troops.

    The declaration followed a meeting in Istanbul of clerics and other Muslim leaders from around the world to discuss strategy after Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

    Continue Reading...
    Filed under: Muslim

    Will the IPL thrive over time?

    by Rumbold at 12:47 pm    

    With the Indian Premier League (IPL) now relocating abroad (probably to South Africa) as a result of clashing with the Indian elections, one wonders whether it is viable in the long term. Not because there isn’t an appetite for cricket in India, nor a dislike of the Twenty Twenty format, but because something so artifical really needed more time to put down its roots in India. The whole tournament wasn’t the result of organic growth (local clubs playing one another), rather the imposition of clubs, and players, on particular cities. While the cricket is fast-paced, and plenty will watch it on TV, will the franchises (an ugly word to British sporting ears) ever win over local fans?

    Filed under: Sports

    This is what I meant earlier…

    by Sunny at 10:26 am    

    .. when I said the people brought in to deal with the financial crisis are part of the problem.

    Lord Myners, the minister charged with clamping down on tax avoidance, ran two more businesses that controlled substantial offshore funds, it emerged yesterday. The disclosures come a day after it was reported that the peer set up an offshore company in the tax haven of Bermuda of which he was part-time chairman. That company — Aspen Insurance — avoided more than £100 million a year in tax.

    Filed under: Economics,Economy

    Nick Cohen: blah blah blah… please buy my book!

    by Sunny at 2:39 am    

    Sunder may have called truce on our little spat with Nick Cohen but I’ve certainly not, yet. Cohen’s response to our letter in the Observer, following his downright hilarious claim that because “noted lefties such as The Queen” had been appeasing Islamists we were all very bad people, is: “please please read my older articles which have been turned into a book!” — You may want to read this review in Democratiya of Nick Cohen’s new book. Amusing, that the very bible of the “decent left” has abandoned him too.

    And yes, the political editor of the Daily Mail did sign the letter - I actually admire Peter Oborne and find him one of the few very principled and engaging writers on the right. Nick says in response: “….nominal lefties are behaving as the Daily Mail behaved in the Thirties” — oooh, a double jibe!

    Wait. Doesn’t Nick Cohen have a column in the Evening Standard? Which was, until recently, owned by Associated Newspapers… publishers of, ermm, The Daily Mail. You have to admire the fact that Nick Cohen is a principled man who stands by what he believes eh? Just like he kept changing his stance over the “brave” Anthony Browne? Or the fact that liberal-lefties were stupid for opposing Sarah Palin? I bet that column didn’t make it into his book. Never mind, apparently it’s us “nominal lefties” who are at fault for praising and offering power to Hitler wannabees. Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, BenSix has more examples of Nick Cohen talking rubbish.

    I expect this is getting tiring, repetitive and rather confusing for some. Perhaps. But there’s a bigger issue here: that the liberal-left is constantly attacked by people such as Nick Cohen who keep conjuring up strawmen arguments so that the entire debate gets poisoned with ad hominems and accusations of ‘If you don’t condemn this person and that practice and that organisation everytime you say something I’m just going to assume you’re a fascist!‘. It’s time to talk back in the language that Nick Cohen is comfortable with I guess. Just waiting on what his stance on Anthony Browne and Associated Newspapers is.

    Filed under: Islamists,Media
    23rd March, 2009

    New counter-terrorism strategy

    by Sunny at 10:11 am    

    On Tuesday, the government is publishing an updated version of its counter-terrorism strategy: Contest 2. Contest 1 had a four-pronged approach to counter-terrorism: protect, pursue, prepare and prevent. The Prevent [Violent Extremism] strategy involved spending between £70m and £90m in supporting local Muslim groups that could help de-radicalise extremists and pull them back from the brink of becoming terrorists.

    So far so good in theory, except that a series of blunders, highlighted and amplified by various journalists, bloggers and think-tanks have forced the government to redefine its rules of engagement. The new rules, leaked to the Guardian last month, stated people would be branded as ‘extremists’ if they believed in certain things such as Shariah law or that Islam banned homosexuality.

    So for the rest of the week you’re likely to see much discussion of counter-terrorism on here and across the media. For example, today, the Guardian has two pieces:
    60,000 train to deal with terror attacks
    Course to teach imams about cohesion

    I’ve been planning to write about the PVE agenda for a while, and the issues surrounding it, so this is a good week. But for a start you can discuss the two articles above. I’ll post something more on this tomorrow.

    Filed under: Islamists,Terrorism

    How it all happened, and why we’re still fucked

    by Sunny at 5:43 am    

    There’s an excellent essay in Rolling Stone magazine this month about the financial crisis, from the top till now. An excerpt:

    But in the late Nineties, a few years before Cassano took over AIGFP, all that changed. The Democrats, tired of getting slaughtered in the fundraising arena by Republicans, decided to throw off their old reliance on unions and interest groups and become more “business-friendly.” Wall Street responded by flooding Washington with money, buying allies in both parties. In the 10-year period beginning in 1998, financial companies spent $1.7 billion on federal campaign contributions and another $3.4 billion on lobbyists. They quickly got what they paid for. In 1999, Gramm co-sponsored a bill that repealed key aspects of the Glass-Steagall Act, smoothing the way for the creation of financial megafirms like Citigroup. The move did away with the built-in protections afforded by smaller banks. In the old days, a local banker knew the people whose loans were on his balance sheet: He wasn’t going to give a million-dollar mortgage to a homeless meth addict, since he would have to keep that loan on his books. But a giant merged bank might write that loan and then sell it off to some fool in China, and who cared?

    The very next year, Gramm compounded the problem by writing a sweeping new law called the Commodity Futures Modernization Act that made it impossible to regulate credit swaps as either gambling or securities. Commercial banks — which, thanks to Gramm, were now competing directly with investment banks for customers — were driven to buy credit swaps to loosen capital in search of higher yields. “By ruling that credit-default swaps were not gaming and not a security, the way was cleared for the growth of the market,” said Eric Dinallo, head of the New York State Insurance Department.

    I choose this bit to reinforce the point in my headline. And we’ll remain in that state for a while, as things stand.

    Continue Reading...
    Filed under: Economy,Media
    22nd March, 2009

    Daily Mail’s agenda highlighted

    by Rumbold at 11:17 pm    

    How magistrates punished us over council tax payments for being middle-class

    Sinister eh? Above is the headline of a Daily Mail article written by Jonathan Hartman, a (this bit is important) white, middle class debtor who appeared in court because he, and his wife, owed three months’ worth of council tax payments. Before them were other debtors of various hues and creeds:

    “On our day in court, the magistrates, both of whom had public-school accents, worked slowly and carefully through each case preceding ours and were punctiliously fair to all the defaulters, who were of many different nationalities [my emphasis].

    Interpreters were provided, all sorts of holy books [my emphasis] were made available for oath-taking and a lawyer was present to explain the finer points of the law.”

    Then the nightmare began:

    Continue Reading...
    Filed under: Media,Race politics

    English People Very Nice (a review)

    by guest at 8:40 pm    

    This is a guest post by Anwar Akhtar as part of Speaker’s Corner Sundays.

    The play English People Very Nice caused somewhat of a furore at the National Theatre recently. I think it’s good the National Theatre continues its welcome run of work about life in modern urban Britain and not only voices in tweed or period costume. The fact that I loathed large parts of this play is no reason to criticise the National Theatre for putting on work like this, but every reason to criticise the work. Theatre, like all art forms should take risks, even if it offends people.

    The narrative of the East End story regarding race and migration is a familiar one; the Huguenots, the Irish and the Jews all escaping persecution and conflict, followed by West Indians, Asians (especially Bangladeshis), and now the Somalis and the Polish.

    Continue Reading...

    Pickled Pension Advice

    by guest at 10:34 am    

    This is a guest post by Riz Din as part of Speaker’s Corner Sundays.

    Please pass this information on to anyone you know who has incomplete National Insurance (NI) payments over the past six years:

    - Under the current National Insurance (NI) regime you can make up for incomplete payments going back up to six years. It currently costs £421.20 to buy a missing year of NI contributions but the government has cottoned on that in terms of returns on investment this represents too good a deal, and from April 6 the yearly contribution will be increasing by almost 50% to £626.60.

    While around 15% of men fail to qualify for a full state pension due to insufficient NI contributions, this figures rises to a staggering 70% for women.

    Because each person’s circumstances are different please read this article in the Daily Telegraph and contact the Pensions Advisory Service for further advice.

    Filed under: Economics,Sex equality

    letter - Nick Cohen is wrong about the liberal-left

    by Sunny at 3:04 am    

    In the Observer letters page today:

    Cohen needs to find a new column to write. Yet again last Sunday, he declaimed that the liberal-left has failed to engage or support liberal Muslims, asserting that leading voices and institutions refuse to challenge Islamist extremism as well as opposing the BNP. But this is nonsense. It can be easily disproved by what we have all said and done.

    Many of us have been working consistently together to secure the liberal and democratic values we want our shared society to promote and uphold, against erosion from every direction and extremism from every source. Innovative projects to challenge extremism and promote a shared British citizenship led by a diverse range of democratic Muslim voices such as the Radical Middle Way, Muslims for Secular Democracy, City Circle, Progressive British Muslims and New Generation Network have had strong engagement from groups such as the Fabian Society, ippr, Demos and Liberal Conspiracy, openDemocracy and Democratic Audit.

    But too often, too many in the media prefer to give platforms to the most extreme, polarising and least representative voices and crowd out the mainstream conversation we believe most of our fellow citizens want to have. We make a comradely call on Nick Cohen to stop shouting, to rejoin the conversation, engage with the work going on across the liberal-left and to become part of the solution.

    Sunder Katwala Fabian Society; Navid Akhtar; Fareena Alam, Fuad Nahdi Radical Middle Way; Yasmin Alibhai-Brown; Anthony Barnett Convention for Modern Liberty; Farmida Bi Progressive British Muslims; Yahya Birt, Usama Hasan, Asim Siddiqui City Circle; Rachel Briggs; Tony Curzon-Price openDemocracy; Sunny Hundal Liberal Conspiracy; Dilwar Hussain Policy Research Centre; James MacIntyre New Statesman; Dr Nasar Meer, Prof Tariq Modood Bristol University; Peter Oborne; Ed Owen; Chuka Umunna Labour ppc for Streatham; Stuart Weir Democratic Audit

    21st March, 2009

    ‘Holy war’ in Gaza

    by Sunny at 10:37 am    

    The New York Times reports today:

    An Israeli newspaper gave a fuller account on Friday of testimonies by soldiers alleging loose rules of engagement in Israel’s war in Gaza, which they said led to civilian deaths and wanton property destruction. One soldier asserted that extremist rabbis had told troops they were fighting a holy war. The soldier was quoted as saying that the rabbis had “brought in a lot of booklets and articles,” adding, “their message was very clear: We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle. God brought us back to this land, and now we need to fight to expel the non-Jews who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land.”

    Earlier excerpts included an account of the killing of an elderly woman by a sharpshooter and the killing of a woman and two children by another sniper. The testimonies published Friday also spoke of the ease with which some houses were damaged.

    Another soldier said: “We got an order one day — all of the equipment, all of the furniture, just clean out the whole house. We threw everything, everything out of the windows to make room. The entire contents of the house went flying out the windows.” The soldier also alleged that when entering buildings, “we were supposed to go up floor by floor, and any person we identified, we were supposed to shoot. I initially asked myself, where is the logic in this?”

    Well, there was no logic to going into Gaza in the first place - but once again Israel’s politicians shot themselves in the foot.

    I’m highlighting this for the simple reason that I’ve always stated: there is no moral clarity in the Israel/Palestine conflict, and anyone who pretends there is, is a fool. Or at worse, deliberately deceptive. I said this on the Guardian earlier: I have no sympathy for Hamas and none for the IDF either. If one is to support peace, then one cannot take the side of either organisations.

    20th March, 2009

    6th Anniversary of Iraq Invasion

    by Leon at 4:33 pm    

    You wouldn’t know it from the non coverage but today is the 6th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

    I’m not going to write a lengthy tirade, re-regurgitating past opinions about the rights or wrongs about the invasion, the lies we were told to sell us on the venture or the horrendous number of people killed as a result.

    Nor am I going to lay in to the former lefties who backed this war. I figure a thread for reflection and remembrance and perhaps a little hope of what may be possible for the future might suffice.

    Where were you on the night the bombing started? What were your thoughts? Do you see a better future for the country and it’s people?

    The Barclays memos

    by Sunny at 1:53 pm    

    … are on Wikileaks.

    This is why these documents are important.

    Image via Shiraz Socialist

    Filed under: Economics,Economy,Media

    Obama records video for Iranians

    by Sunny at 5:48 am    

    According to the Guardian, Obama has taped a message directly for the people of Iran.

    It’s a new era people! Get used to it. And before you ask, it will feature Farsi subtitles.

    19th March, 2009

    Nick Cohen back-pedals, rather furiously

    by Sunny at 6:49 pm    

    This whole saga is getting quite amusing. First Nick Cohen wrote an article in the Observer clearly implying the British liberal left had failed liberal Muslims, especially groups like the Fabian Society. Then Sunder pointed to lots of examples where this wasn’t the case. I joined in, Nick backtracks. Then Sunder replies, twice.

    1) Nick writes on LibCon that Jamaat-i-Islami had been appeased “by such noted lefties as the Lord Chief Justice, Prince Charles and Her Majesty the Queen.” — WTF?? Since when did the Queen become a noted leftie? Prince Charles may be pro-environment but a leftie? I mean honestly, is this the sort of argument I’m supposed to engage with?

    Continue Reading...

    The Guardian’s own Melanie Phillips

    by Rumbold at 4:51 pm    

    On Pickled Politics we like to highlight the writings of people like Melanie Phillips and Peter Hitchens, for obvious reasons. But it is also important to remember that they have equals throughout the journalistic world, one of whom is The Guardian’s Seamus Milne. In his latest article, Mr Milne deplores the suicide bombings taking place in Iraq, and then goes onto praise the very people who ordered them. Furthermore, Mr. Milne revealed that far from trying to oppose sectarian violence, the US actually set out to cause it. He doesn’t really explain why, but I can only assume that he is angling for a job at the Daily Mail, and so wants to prove that he can write articles without any facts to complicate matters.

    18th March, 2009

    What planet is Nick Cohen on?

    by Sunny at 11:20 pm    

    Sunder Katawala has written a reply to Nick Cohen’s article in The Observer this weekend. In fact, a reply is not really a satisfactory word. Sunder tears apart Nick Cohen’s poorly written article with great force. He completely eviscerates it. If this was Menace 2 Society, which I watched yesterday, Sunder would have taken out an Uzi 9mm and destroyed the whole joint. You get my point.

    This has become Nick Cohen’s latest game: to attack the liberal-left by using ‘liberal Muslims’ as his proxy. It would be funny if this wasn’t a national newspaper column expressly aimed at influencing the govenment’s Preventing Violent Extremism strategy. So, let’s play that game.

    Continue Reading...

    Understanding Conservatives

    by Shariq at 5:55 pm    

    This Edge piece by Jonathan Haidt on ‘What Makes People Vote Republican’, is essential reading for anyone interested in winning political arguments. His main argument is that people vote for Conservatives not because of brainwashing or nefarious scare tactics, but because the ideas they put forward better represent their conception of morality.

    Haidt says that there are two universal aspects of morality which match up with liberal or libertarian ideals. Firstly, caring for the vulnerable and preventing violent harm (care/harm) and Secondly that, ‘people in all cultures are emotionally responsive to issues of fairness and reciprocity, which often expand into notions of rights and justice.’

    Unfortunately there also seem to be 3 other ‘psychological systems’ - Ingroup/Loyalty, Authority/Respect and Purity/Sanctity. Needless to say, these values don’t always fit in that well with liberalism. Haidt argues that as a result, messaging by liberal politicians doesn’t cross the whole spectrum of values and makes them sound less authentic than conservatives to swing voters.

    Interestingly, one of the things which made Haidt more responsive to the ‘other side’ of the culture war was living in India. He came to like the family that he lived with as people and as a result,

    rather than automatically rejecting the men as sexist oppressors and pitying the women, children, and servants as helpless victims, I was able to see a moral world in which families, not individuals, are the basic unit of society, and the members of each extended family (including its servants) are intensely interdependent. In this world, equality and personal autonomy were not sacred values. Honoring elders, gods, and guests, and fulfilling one’s role-based duties, were more important. Looking at America from this vantage point, what I saw now seemed overly individualistic and self-focused.

    This is a fascinating article and I recommend that everyone read it.

    Filed under: Current affairs

    Sex and the disabled

    by Rumbold at 11:08 am    

    Sarah over at Same Difference highlights the case of a twenty one year old who has Down Syndrome, and whose mother is pushing for him to lose his virginity (which could explain why he hasn’t lost it yet). She has even said that she would be happy if he visited a brothel in Amsterdam. While this may seem strange, Sarah pointed out that a 2008 survey found that 70% of people said that they would never have sex with disabled people. This is pretty shocking, as even if you judge people solely on physical appearance, the idea that you would never find any disabled person attractive is just idiotic and bigoted.

    Filed under: Disability

    The ‘fascist’ in Israel

    by Sunny at 5:55 am    

    The Times reported yesterday that Binyamin Netanyahu is the new Prime Minister of Israel. Guess who this hard-rightwinger is appointing as foreign minister?
    Avigdor Lieberman, who Andrew Sullivan rightly calls a ‘fascist’:

    Lieberman advocates “reducing the number of Arabs who are Israeli citizens” through giving the Palestinian Authority Arab-Israeli towns near the West Bank and having Arabs who remain Israeli citizens take loyalty tests and recognize Israel as a Jewish State. Those who refuse would be stripped of their citizenship, but could remain in Israel as permanent residents.

    I’m sure he’ll do wonders for the peace process. Who shall we blame for this? I know, Hamas!

    Continue Reading...
    17th March, 2009

    The first duty of the state

    by Rumbold at 2:14 pm    

    Peter ‘you can’t call gays homos anymore’ Hitchens is in trouble once again after suggesting that any woman who had a drink or two and went home with a man is foolish:

    “It does mean that a rape victim who was drunk deserves less sympathy. You can hate rape and want it punished, while still recognising that a woman who, say, goes back to a man’s home after several Bacardi Breezers was being a bit dim.”

    Not really. Women have a right to expect that they can spend an evening with someone of their choosing without being raped. If Mr. Hitchens’ point was simply that drunken women are more vulnerable to sexual assault because of reduced awareness, that would be one thing. But that is not what he said (he even managed to take a swipe at Muslims later on, for no apparent reason).

    Continue Reading...

    Highly respected economist calls for Shari’a law

    by guest at 9:48 am    

    Guest post by Riz Din.

    In a typically extensive post on his FT Maverecon blog, economist Willem Buiter looks at the derivatives market and asks the interesting question of whether the western financial system should be thinking about applying the shari’a principle of not being able to sell that which you do not own.

    At it’s peak in mid-2007, the size of the credit-default swaps (CDS) derivative market was around $60 trillion and while recent estimates put the level of outstanding contracts at half this amount, that is still $30,000,000,000,000. If you are having trouble imagining it, picture a stack of dollar bills towering a over quarter the way to the moon. That’s a trillion. Multiply it by thirty. The problem, however, is not the absolute size of the market but that it is probably only be supported by a small base of underlying bonds.

    Continue Reading...
    16th March, 2009

    Immigrant pigeon ate our stories!

    by Sunny at 11:35 pm    

    Adam Bienkov on Twitter is right, the Daily Mail has run out of stories:

    Life can be cruel sometimes - as this pigeon would undoubtedly agree. One minute it could not believe its luck when it came across a whole bagel discarded in Brixton, South London. The next, it had delivered a mighty peck which threw the tasty morsel up in the air - only to land around the bird’s neck and agonisingly out of reach of its beak.

    Thankfully the bagel did not hamper the pigeon’s ability to fly and he was able to launch himself off his perch above a bar in Brixton, London, with no trouble at all.

    I pity the reporter who has to go home and tell their hubby/parents they wrote a story about a pigeon getting a bagel stuck around its neck. Lucky it wasn’t a foreign pigeon - the Daily Mail might have made it a front page story!

    Filed under: Humour,Media

    MPs shut down anti-semitic site

    by Sunny at 3:25 pm    


    BT has banned a religious website critical of extremist Jews that it has hosted for four years following a campaign from a group of MPs claimed it was anti-Semitic. It is understood to be the first time that a website in Britain has been shut down under such circumstances. The website,, takes an inflammatory stance over extreme sections of Judaism that reject non-Jewish races.

    How is that anti-semitic? And who gave MPs to use this power? I can only imagine the outrage if a group of MPs shut down a website critical of Islamic extremism.

    And it looks like the BBC is now actively engaging in self-censorship: BBC rejects play on Israel’s history for impartiality reasons. Translated to: BBC afraid of accusations of stoking anti-semitism by broadcasting a play Melanie Phillips doesn’t like. In which case it should ban all documentaries critical of the Middle East, South Asia, Christianity or anything else because of “impartiality” reasons too.

    And I doubt there will be an outcry by people who usually claim to be defending free speech. The claim that free speech in the UK is only being threatened by Muslims just makes it easy now for authoritarians generally to ban whatever they want without the media hysteria they know would come if it related to Muslims. It gives them cover. There still are no equal standards on free speech. I want to see equal standards: you either ban everything provocative, or nothing.

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