28th February, 2011

Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood go in different directions

by Sunny at 1:44 pm    

This is very encouraging:

A group of roughly 2000 young members of the Muslim Brotherhood say they are planning to stage a “revolt” against the group’s authoritative Guidance Bureau and Shura Council on 17 March to demand the dissolution of the two governing bodies.

Young members say there is no reason why the group should work in secrecy considering the “wave of freedom” witnessed by Egypt following the 25 January uprising, which led to the ouster of Egypt’s longstanding president Hosni Mubarak on 11 February.

Looks like the pro-democracy fervour in Egypt has deeply infected the Muslim Brotherhood there too.

On the other hand, Hamas are trying to stop a UN programme from teaching Palestinian children about the Holocaust. There is accompanying Holocaust denial too.

We cannot agree to a programme that is intended to poison the minds of our children,” said a statement from the ministry for refugee affairs.

“Holocaust studies in refugee camps is a contemptible plot and serves the Zionist entity with a goal of creating a reality and telling stories in order to justify acts of slaughter against the Palestinian people.”

Is there anyone still out there who believes Hamas aren’t anti-semitic?

Greater international pressure on Libya

by Rumbold at 1:43 pm    

There has been some welcome developments in the last few days, with Libya increasingly isolated on the international stage:

The UN’s top human rights official has called on the world to back the popular revolts shaking the Middle East. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said: “The international community bears the great responsibility of extending its support in words and deeds.”…

UN General Assembly President Joseph Deiss, about to decide on an unprecedented suspension of Libya from the Human Rights Council next week, encouraged all “human rights defenders who frequently act in great danger.”

As per Douglas’ request, please feel free to treat this as a general Middle East thread.

27th February, 2011

Fear and Hope report into faith, identity and race

by Rumbold at 2:17 pm    

The campaigning organisation Searchlight has released a new report examining English attitudes towards faith, identity and race. I am always very sceptical about polling. Samples can only ever be so representative, and different polls on the same issues will produce different results, as the questions are structured differently and asked to different people. Yes Prime Minister sums up my views of polling:

Anyway, the key points of the report are summarised below, which is more useful for examining broad trends rather than precise numbers:

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25th February, 2011

A sensible use of seized goods

by Rumbold at 12:03 pm    

Nice that a use was found for these:

More than four million cigarettes seized from a suspected smuggler at a British ferry port have been burned to fuel the National Grid, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said. The 4.6 million “Lambert and Butler” branded cigarettes were found by customs officers in a lorry at Newhaven, East Sussex, after arriving by ferry from Dieppe.

A Spanish lorry driver was charged with evading £714,000 in duty when the load was allegedly smuggled into the UK in March 2007. He was remanded in custody when he appeared at Southampton Magistrates’ Court yesterday until his next court appearance on 3 March, HMRC said.

Filed under: Current affairs
24th February, 2011

Latest Forced Marriage statistics and problems

by Rumbold at 9:19 am    

Tulip Mazumdar, who works for BBC’s Newsbeat, reports on last year’s forced marriage statistics:

According to new figures seen by Newsbeat, there were 1,735 incidents of potential or actual cases involving British nationals reported to the forced marriage unit (FMU) in 2010. More than half of the cases dealt with last year by the government’s forced marriage unit were related to Pakistan. Meanwhile, almost a third involved people under the age of 18.

There has been criticism of the government and state for not doing enough to combat forced marriages:

The victim went to a predominantly Asian school but says she was never made aware of any help available to people like her. Every school secondary in England and Wales is supposed to be sent statutory guidelines, which they should implement. A member of staff must be put in charge of raising awareness of the issue in schools and looking out for signs of potential forced marriage. But there are concerns that this isn’t happening. Jasvinder Sanghera, from the forced marriage charity Karma Nirvana, wants the issue put on the school curriculum.

For all the failings of the last government, they did make some important moves on forced marriage. An (under resourced) Forced Marriage Unit was set up, and legislation was brought in to make forced marriage a civil offence. The reason it was not criminalised was because the vast majority of victims interviewed would not have come forward for help if they believed that their parents were going to be prosecuted. Therefore the law was a compromise which allowed the authorities to use the force of law without putting victims off from coming forward. The law has also resulted in some notable successes.

Yet, as Jaswinder Sanghera points out, there still needs to be a more fundamental shift in attitudes towards tackling forced marriage, particularly in schools. Many of those at risk from a forced marriage will be at school, or will have recently attended one. Knowing about their rights and what to do if they or a friend is being forced into marriage will help vulnerable individuals. There is no reason why such a subject couldn’t be covered in school. It wouldn’t take more than a lesson or two, and the information could easily be displayed around school. This is where the government can be useful. They should force schools to teach this and display the information.

22nd February, 2011

My Grandmother’s Memories: Breaking The Silence

by guest at 4:51 pm    

This is a guest post by Rita Banerji.

My grandmother’s story is perhaps the story of thousands of Indian women even today. As a vivacious, young woman, she had attended college more than 73 years ago, at a time when most Indian women, even in the middle and upper classes were illiterate. She dreamed of becoming a lawyer someday, like her father. Even now she fondly recalls how in college she had played the role of Portia (who takes on the disguise of a male lawyer to save a friend’s life), in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. But my grandmother never got to be Portia in real life.

She was soon forced to marry a man that her family considered to be a good match for her — an engineer, who had just returned from England, and had his own flourishing firm. However he did not appeal to her and she made that clear from the start. But her wishes and desires were of little consequence, and she was pressurized into the marriage. It was not just a marriage that was the equivalent of rape, but for more than 50 years she also had to endure terrible emotional and physical violence.

The first time that my grandfather had slapped her, she had turned around and walked out of the house just as she was — barefoot and in her dressing gown. She walked that way right across town, back to her parents’ house, and refused to return to her husband. It is something that women in the middle and upper-classes in India simply did not do! And still don’t. For a society that places the highest premium on “a family’s reputation” — the pressure is that much more on women in the educated and elite sections to remain silent, and return to their marriages to keep up social appearances. In the end that is what my grandmother too had to do.

I look around, among the middle and upper educated classes in India, and see my grandmother’s story repeating over and over again, even today!! How do these women endure the betrayal of their own parents, snuffing out their dreams and forcing them into unions that are nothing more than rape? How and why do they endure the continuing violence — and a society that remains blind and indifferent to the injustice of their lives, while it continues to exalt marriage and traditions as it supreme altars? Why, when they are educated and working, do these women not break their silence; break the tradition of enduring torture in the name of family and honor? This was my reason for writing ‘My Grandmother’s Memories.’ Read the article ‘My Grandmother’s Memories’ here in The Wordworth Magazine (click on Columns).

This is a guest post by Rita Banerji.

More Middle East demonstrations in favour of religious freedom

by Rumbold at 10:45 am    

After this, and this, now Tunisia is seeing protests in favour of religious harmony between Christians, Jews and Muslims:

As many as 15,000 of the demonstrators on Saturday were protesting against Tunisia’s Islamist movement, calling for religious tolerance a day after the Interior Ministry announced a Polish priest had been assassinated by an extremist group and following verbal attacks on Jews.

“We need to live together and be tolerant of each other’s views,” said Ridha Ghozzi, 34, who was among the protesters carrying signs and chanting slogans including “Terrorism is not Tunisian,” “Religion is Personal” and “Muslims, Christians, and Jews – we’re all Tunisians.”

21st February, 2011

The War on Terror gravy train

by Sunny at 9:50 am    

The New York Times yesterday published this incredible article:

A onetime biomedical technician with a penchant for gambling, Mr. Montgomery is at the center of a tale that features terrorism scares, secret White House briefings, backing from prominent Republicans, backdoor deal-making and fantastic-sounding computer technology.

Interviews with more than two dozen current and former officials and business associates and a review of documents show that Mr. Montgomery and his associates received more than $20 million in government contracts by claiming that software he had developed could help stop Al Qaeda’s next attack on the United States. But the technology appears to have been a hoax, and a series of government agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the Air Force, repeatedly missed the warning signs, the records and interviews show.

WTF? As examples, the article offers:

The software he patented — which he claimed, among other things, could find terrorist plots hidden in broadcasts of the Arab network Al Jazeera; identify terrorists from Predator drone videos; and detect noise from hostile submarines — prompted an international false alarm that led President George W. Bush to order airliners to turn around over the Atlantic Ocean in 2003.

The software led to dead ends in connection with a 2006 terrorism plot in Britain. And they were used by counterterrorism officials to respond to a bogus Somali terrorism plot on the day of President Obama’s inauguration, according to previously undisclosed documents.

Kind of tells you how insane the ‘War on Terror’ got and how officials were willing to believe almost anything.

It’s all very much like the useless ‘bomb detector’ story isn’t it? Wonder what else will be exposed in the WoT Gravy Train.

20th February, 2011

Why UKuncut doesn’t directly target the HMRC

by Sunny at 4:16 pm    

David Allen Green is a man with a fine lawyerly mind, but you wouldn’t want him to decide strategy for your campaign. He says UKuncut are choosing “the wrong targets”.

This ignores a basic campaign strategy if you’re trying to highlight an important issue: go for the most high profile target / example. That ensures the issue is much more discussed and debated, and therefore influences public opinion on the issue.

For years, campaigners for better workers rights in China didn’t focus on the Chinese govt or those who owned local factories – they focused on shaming Nike or Gap. And it worked.

And there is plenty of evidence to show that UKuncut’s focus on high street companies such as Vodafone, Topshop and now Barclays have forced tax avoidance on to public agenda agenda. It has also forced the HMRC to react in response.

So while this may be a logical piece of advice, but it is not the most astute or tactically useful piece of advice to any campaign.

This point is aside to whether you think tax avoidance is ok or not; it is purely about strategy. I’ve written a separate article with four reasons why tax avoidance harms our economy, including enabling terrorism.

Update: David further claims that UKuncut have had no impact other than “getting on telly”. This further misunderstands the campaign in several ways.

First, there has been a tangible impact on the HMRC. Secondly, part of their aim IS to raise tax avoidance as a widespread practice in the media. So, “getting on telly” is an entirely important part of that campaign, as it getting the Daily Mail on side to highlight corporate tax avoidance.

Third, as I keep pointing out, corporate tax avoidance is far more pernicious and widespread than personal tax avoidance.

Rumbold’s update: UKuncut’s claim that Barclays paid 1% tax has now been debunked.

Filed under: Economics
19th February, 2011

Report into tackling radical speakers at universities

by Rumbold at 11:48 am    

Universities UK, an umbrella body for British universities, has released a report (full PDF here) examining what can and should be done about extremist/radical speakers who are invited to speak by university societies. The report recommends a number of actions:

* Review current protocols/policies on speaker meetings. The report highlights examples of checklist-forms being used when dealing with speaker invitations.

* Identify an appropriate senior person to lead on issues of campus security.

* Ensure that all involved in making decisions in relation to campus security, academic freedom, free speech and equality rights are familiar with the legal requirements operating in this area.

* Work with the students’ union to provide clear information to students and student societies about the rights and responsibilities of the institution, the students’ union, student societies and students in relation to academic freedom, free speech and equality rights.

* Develop and maintain a mechanism for regular dialogue with relevant external organisations such as the police, local authorities and community groups.

The report has already drawn criticism from some quarters, who feel that it does not do enough to prevent societies from inviting hate speakers. In many ways, this is understandable. The checklist system seems simplistic (“have you ever compared Jews to cockroaches?” and so on), and given the sort of unpleasant individuals who have been invited to speak at universities in the past, it is clear why it is a good idea not to invite people like that in the future. Since universities fund societies and provide facilities fro them, it is right they should have a say in the matter. A Muslim campaigner who challenges extremist speakers argues that the report fails to address the difficulty in challenging such speakers:

“I totally agree that freedom of speech includes freedom of speech for awful people, but in Birmingham no institution exists to address these people. If the Islamic society hosts an extremist preacher, all the effort to make people understand what’s going on comes from outside the university. When there’s a radical speaker, usually the Jewish society flags it up if it happens to be anti-semitic.”

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17th February, 2011

Which will go next: Bahrain or Libya?

by Sunny at 9:10 am    

It’s all kicking off in ABhrain and Libya, and to a lesser extent Iran. The New York Times reports:

Protests convulsed half a dozen countries across the Middle East on Wednesday, with tens of thousands of people turning out in Bahrain to challenge the monarchy, a sixth day of running street battles in Yemen, continued strikes over long-suppressed grievances in Egypt and a demonstrator’s funeral in Iran turning into a brief tug of war between the government and its opponents.

Even in heavily policed Libya, pockets of dissent emerged in the main square of Benghazi, with people calling for an end to the 41-year rule of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Iraq, accustomed to sectarian conflict, got a dose of something new: a fiery protest in the eastern city of Kut over unemployment, sporadic electricity and government corruption.

In Manama, the capital of the Persian Gulf island nation of Bahrain, hundreds of police officers used tear gas and concussion grenades early Thursday morning to empty a central square of protesters. Witnesses at a hospital and news agency reports said at least two protesters had been killed.

There’s another story about protests in Bahrain, which point to some violent clashes and deaths.

Here’s a video of Gaddafi’s image being set on fire.

Meanwhile, there are plans to make today a ‘day of rage’ in Libya, while I expect Iran will be more alight tomorrow.

16th February, 2011

BBC Documentary Explores Anti-Gay Attitudes in Uganda

by guest at 3:34 pm    

This is a crosspost by Richard Bartholomew

On Monday evening BBC 3 broadcast The World’s Worst Place to Be Gay?, a documentary about Uganda presented by gay DJ Scott Mills. There are few surprises: gay people are forced to live in slums, rejected by their families and at risk of violence, while a sampling of random interviewees from the street shows a visceral hatred for homosexuals and a wish for their execution (“everything bad should be done to those people”, says one young woman).

Mills also spoke to some of the individuals who are actively promoting anti-gay feeling: Giles Muhame, managing editor of Rolling Stone newspaper; Pastor Solomon Male; and David Bahati MP, author of the notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill (a bill not unfairly dubbed by critics as the “Kill the Gays Bill”). Muhume is notorious for “outing” homosexuals in his newspaper (although a court injunction recently put a stop to this), and he explained that his paper had got information through having “infiltrated their circles” and by talking to “ex-homosexuals”. Muhame also claimed that stories of attacks on gay people were lies, and (rather unconvincingly) that if his own picture had appeared in the paper he wouldn’t be scared. He added:

We are not policing but we are assisting the police to do their work.

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Update on SBS appeal for survivors of acid attacks

by Rumbold at 8:36 am    

Southall Black Sisters is continuing its fund-raising efforts for two sisters blinded by horrific acid attacks. Their appeal is closing soon, so Rahila Gupta of SBS has one final message about the campaign.

***********************************
Dear friends,

We want to thank you for your generous donations which to date have amounted to £28,000 (including giftaid of almost £4000). This has enabled Samar and Juwariya, the two sisters who were blinded and burnt beyond recognition in an acid attack carried out by a vengeful, rejected suitor, to continue with their medical treatment. It has facilitated three visits to the Chennai hospital which specialises in ophthalmology. Unfortunately, their medical opinion is that Juwariya will not regain her sight but Samar is awaiting an operation to insert a lens in one of her eyes which will allow limited vision. Samar had to have cosmetic surgery to prevent her cheek under that eye from collapsing as it was pulling the eye down and the doctors felt that the lens would not work if the eye was drooping. The funds have also enabled regular monthly purchases of medication and dressings and the employment of a personal care assistant to look after the sisters.

On the legal front, the perpetrator has applied for bail 4 times which has been refused each time, which is good news. The case has reached the high court and they are currently awaiting an independent medical report on the sisters which has been requested by the defence lawyers. The bureaucratic manner in which the wheels of justice move in India have had an impact on the sisters’ ability to pursue their medical treatment as efficiently as they would have liked.

SBS is itself facing financial difficulties and in the process of launching its own appeal for funds. In order to avoid confusion, we intend to close this appeal by the end of February. We would urge all of you who have not donated so far to give as generously as you can in the next fortnight as we still have a long way to go to reach our original target of £250,000,

However, we met our immediate fundraising target of £21,000 for pending microsurgery and for that A BIG THANK YOU to all those who have already donated.

***********************************

Please click on the Justgiving link below and follow the instructions.

http://www.justgiving.com/SOUTHALL-BLACK-SISTERS-TRUST0

15th February, 2011

The benefits system and ‘fitness to work’

by Rumbold at 1:26 pm    

The benefits system can be pretty confusing. There are currently around thirty benefits/tax credits, ranging from Incapacity Benefit to Carer’s Allowance. Benefit entitlements to things such as Working Tax Credit change every year; others are income-related, others dependent on children. The complexity of the system means that there are frequent misunderstandings about what is involved, especially with regards the newish sickness benefit, ESA. What system there should be for those on sickness benefits is a much wider debate, and not the focus of the piece; rather, it is to do with how the system works (or doesn’t).

ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) was a benefit introduced under the last Labour government, which replaced Incapacity Benefit and Income Support (on grounds of incapacity) for all new claimants. The DWP is now retesting existing Incapacity Benefit and Income Support (on grounds of incapacity) recipients, in order to move them onto ESA. The ESA testing regime (the ‘Work Capability Assessment’) has been pretty controversial. It is administered by a private company, Atos Origin, which is paid in part on how many people it fails and so declares completely fit for work. It frequently ignores medical evidence, and claimants complain about inadequate testing and unsympathetic doctors. Those who have undertaken the assessment are placed into one of three categories: they are found fully fit to work (and moved onto jobseekers’ allowance), or placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), or the Support group.

The recent reassessment of Incapacity Benefit and Income Support (on grounds of incapacity) has led, according to newspaper reports, to two thirds of these claimants being found fit to work. Mr. Excell takes issue with this, saying that only 29.6% were removed from the benefit (so found fully fit to work), whilst 39% were placed in the WRAG. Given that a percentage of those removed from the benefit appealed successfully against this (at a tribunal), and were put in the WRAG Mr. Excell believes that the figure of benefit claimants fit for work could be as low as 25%.

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The rise of ‘new pan-Arabism’ and a rejection of Sharia

by Sunny at 10:40 am    

I think this article at al-Jazeera captures some pretty big issues in three paragraphs

The Egyptian revolution, itself influenced by the Tunisian uprising, has resurrected a new sense of pan-Arabism based on the struggle for social justice and freedom. The overwhelming support for the Egyptian revolutionaries across the Arab world reflects a sense of unity in the rejection of tyrannical, or at least authoritarian, leaders, corruption and the rule of a small financial and political elite.

Arab protests in solidarity with the Egyptian people also suggest that there is a strong yearning for the revival of Egypt as a pan-Arab unifier and leader. Photographs of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the former Egyptian president, have been raised in Cairo and across Arab capitals by people who were not even alive when Nasser died in 1970. The scenes are reminiscent of those that swept Arab streets in the 1950s and 1960s.

But this is not an exact replica of the pan-Arab nationalism of those days. Then, pan-Arabism was a direct response to Western domination and the 1948 establishment of the state of Israel. Today, it is a reaction to the absence of democratic freedoms and the inequitable distribution of wealth across the Arab world.

It cannot be ignored that the absence of democratic freedoms across the Middle East was usually a direct result of US intervention; with Israel helping (in the case of Egypt) to maintain that status quo.

It also cannot be ignored that the resulting feudal system, underpinned by capitalism without the welfare state, has fanned resentment against rich ruling elites.

But whats more interesting to me, and worth emphasising here, is that the new pan-Arabism is also a rejection of the Islamist parties that were feared as the only alternative.

It has long been pointed out that while surveys indicated relatively high levels of demands for more sharia law (not necessarily Saudi Arabia style), they also indicated even higher percentages of people demanding more democracy and human rights in their countries. (The two aren’t necessarily incompatible, depending on how you interpret Sharia).

The point I’m trying to make is that the argument by Islamists and Islamophobes – that Muslims across the Middle East only want sharia and a Caliphate – has been pretty convincingly destroyed.

13th February, 2011

Same sex church marriages approved

by Rumbold at 9:58 am    

Couples may now be able to hold same sex ceremonies in religious buildings:

Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone is to propose lifting the ban on civil partnerships taking place in religious settings in England and Wales…

There are no plans to compel religious organisations to hold ceremonies and the Church of England has said it would not allow its churches to be used…

The Roman Catholic Church has long held that homosexuality is a “deviation” and is not expected to agree to same-sex ceremonies.

The legislation would also cover synagogues and mosques although homosexual relationships are forbidden under Islam and Orthodox Judaism.

This seems a good thing. People will be able to have same sex marriages in religious buildings, but those religious buildings will not be forced to hold same sex ceremonies. I would like to see this idea pushed further, so that any adult can have a civil partnership with one other person (between two elderly sisters for example), as Peter Tatchell has long advocated, which confers certain rights on each individual. Marriage would then be a purely private affair, conferring no legal rights.

Update: BBC post quote updated as the original source material changed.

11th February, 2011

Mubarak resigns

by Rumbold at 9:08 pm    

Good stuff:

Hosni Mubarak has stepped down as president of Egypt, after weeks of protest in Cairo and other cities

The news was greeted with a huge outburst of joy and celebration by thousands in Cairo’s Tahrir Square – the heart of the demonstrations.

Mr Mubarak ruled for 30 years, suppressing dissent and protest, and jailing opponents.

US President Barack Obama said that Egypt must now move to civilian and democratic rule.

Filed under: Current affairs

Votes for prisoners

by Rumbold at 10:04 am    

A backbench ‘revolt’ (encouraged by some ministers) has seen the Commons vote down plans to give prisoners the vote. This is in contrast to a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which argued that the ban was against the European Convention on Human Rights. The government now has until August to put forward proposals to enfranchise some, or all, prisoners, or face heavy fines.

Politicians who support votes for prisoners don’t tend to win widespread public acclaim for their stance. The majority of the public don’t think people who go to prison should be able to vote. In many ways, this is understandable. If an individual commits a crime serious enough to warrant a custodial sentence, then why should they continue to enjoy the right to influence the democratic process? Nor has the campaign hasn’t been helped by its unpleasant leader, John Hirst, a cold-blooded killer who recently branded one of his critics an ‘ugly Paki’ for disagreeing with him, noting that “unlike the foreign import Patel, I am a Brit born and bred.”

Yet there are also arguments for giving prisoners the vote too. Most European countries tend to do so, or else have a tiered system, where prisoners who have committed certain offences are able to vote. Just because someone goes to prison and is deprived of the liberty, it doesn’t mean we strip them of all their other rights (for example, the right not to be tortured). It has been argued as well that disenfranchising prisoners make it harder for them to reintegrate into society, as they have less connection with everyday life. Nor does having an odious spokesman doesn’t make a cause less just.

Fundamentally though, it is unclear how much practical impact such a change would have. If 80,000 prisoners were eligible to vote in 600 constituencies, and 50% of them exercised their right to vote, then each constituency would see between 60-70 votes from prisoners. This might be able to tip the balance in a very tight constituency, but politicians could hardly lobby prisoners for votes, as the backlash from other voters would be massive. Nor would all prisoners vote for one party. So the question then becomes a philosophical one: whether or not we as a society think it is right that people sent to prison should be able to vote?

10th February, 2011

Daily Star shamelessly promotes the English Defence League

by Sunny at 11:00 am    

The Daily Star is crowing about starting a “national debate” about the EDL.

We told yesterday how the EDL, the group behind Saturday’s Luton march, wants to be taken seriously, like the British National Party, by fielding candidates in local and general elections. Our coverage has sparked a huge nationwide debate, with critics rubbishing the EDL as racist thugs and supporters claiming they are raising legitimate concerns among British people.

We asked in yesterday’s voteline if you would back the EDL and 99% of you said you would.

Ain’t that nice. (via @moretheylie)

Another Daily Star article claims the EDL ‘wants to go political’. Tommy Robinson is already dreaming about a media and political career, claiming he should be allowed on to BBC Question Time and that he would bring 10,000 supporters to the streets if he was invited. They could only manage a third of that in their biggest demo to date, in Luton on Saturday.

Tommy Robinson is an astute character. When I spoke to him and interviewed in Luton, he said he was for immigration and for racial mixing. He was only against immigration from Muslim countries he said, but otherwise went out of his way to praise how immigrants have contributed to Britain.

He knows exactly what labels people want to pin on him, so he will do his best to avoid them and confuse interviewers. At Luton he said:

We would rather stand with one proud black patriot than a hundred scumbag racists

They expect him to be a bumbling racist, and yet he’s an articulate, working class man who makes them look like sneering middle-class journalists. This is an important point because the media either worships the EDL, as the Daily Star is doing here, or it clumsily caricatures them.

What’s needed, to tackle the English Defence League, is a different set of questions and information about the EDL that journalists can use when questioning them. Leave your thoughts / info on this below.

The EDL are planning a rally in Birmingham on March 19.

Filed under: Race politics
9th February, 2011

Different categories of left-wing activists

by Sunny at 8:25 pm    

There is a spectrum of groupings on the left and I think its worth trying at least to point them out as fairly distinct identities. These are my definitions and this is how I see people – others are under no obligation to adopt them.

There is not only overlap, but they also vary on the liberal-authoritarian spectrum. So its not an exact science.

Labour Right: The the most rightward end of the spectrum. Represented primarily by the Progress faction. Mostly social liberal and economically centrist, though contain some socially conservative people too, such as Tom Harris and Frank Field.

Soft Left: Slap-bang in the middle within Labour; represented primarily by the likes of Compass and Jon Cruddas. I’m somewhere here, though less statist than many of my peers.

Labour Left: Primarily represented by the Labour Representation Committe. Most hardcore socialists within Labour identify with this faction.

Non-aligned liberal left: People who would normally vote Labour but can’t bring themselves to, thanks to its unwillingess to tackle inequality properly, the Iraq war and rhetoric on issues such as immigration. Includes many who voted Libdem or are within the Green party. They are closest to the LRC or Compass within the Labour party.

Non-aligned hard left Your assortment of SWP, communist types. There’s little point in trying to split the difference here to be honest, and its beyond my pay grade to do that. I find some highly engaging and passionate and idealistic. In most cases however, I find them incredibly annoying and destructive to any campaign / movement.

Update: Alex points out that the SWP are a political grouping in themselves, so why do I refer to them as ‘non-aligned’? Good question. I suppose when I say aligned, I mean to the main political parties (in the Parliamentary sense) that includes the Greens. Though I can see some sense in separating out the SWP from other non-aligned hard left, there are far too many minor categories there for me to start dissecting. But I suppose his point stands.

update 2 To clarify, I’m not that big a fan of Labour Right positions or their own brand of sectarianism either

Filed under: Party politics

Didn’t realise putting people on a terrorist ‘watch-list’ was that easy

by Sunny at 10:01 am    

I missed this Daily Mirror story last week (via @taniabranigan):

An immigration officer put his own wife on a terrorist watch list – ­so she could not get home from a trip to Pakistan. The officer was so sick of his partner that when she was visiting family overseas he added her name to the register of people banned from flights into the UK.

When she went to the airport to get her return flight back, officials told her she could not board the plane and did not ­explain why. She called her husband, who ­promised to look into it – but left her stuck in Pakistan for THREE YEARS. He was sacked after bosses found out about his antics.

Forget the obvious jokes – it’s very worrying that it’s so damn easy to put anyone on a terrorist ‘watch-list’. The UK Border Agency took three years to find out that her name was wrongly on the list? And that too only because he went for a promotion and they found his wife was on the list.

Why isn’t / wasn’t there any oversight on the process on putting people on these lists? Why aren’t people told why they are being denied the right to come back into the country, at least so they can clear their name? Why isn’t anyone asking these questions?

Filed under: Terrorism
8th February, 2011

Recent anti-Semitic and Islamophobic attacks

by Rumbold at 9:37 am    

The Community Security Trust, a group which monitors anti-Semitic attacks on Jews in Britain, has reported a 31% drop in attacks in 2010, compared to 2009. Nevertheless, this good news is tempered by the fact that the number of attacks, 639, is still the second highest number since the Community Security Trust (CST) began reporting (and the 2009 figure was distorted by the war in Gaza). Part of the rise in the last two years (compared to historical averages), is no doubt in part down to a widening of the reporting net, with the CST now monitoring the internet as well. Even so, there was still plenty of physical assaults and verbal abuse too. The CST’s remit is quite narrow, as they deliberately exclude anti-Israeli attacks, and focus on incidents where it can be shown that an individual’s religion was the cause of the incident. This avoids the disingenuous argument that these attacks mostly occur because people dislike Israel’s policies, with the implication that if Israel behaved Jews would be safe.

Peter Oborne, in the wake of Baroness Warsi’s speech on Islamophobia, asked where the Muslim equivalent of the CST is. He then went on to list a number of recent attacks on Muslims he managed to find in just a few hours, including:

Police arrest four more men following attack on Mosque: Police have arrested four more man following last month’s attack on Kingston Mosque. The men were arrested yesterday on suspicion of involvement in the disorder and damage at the mosque in Park Road on Sunday, November 21. Elderly worshippers were terrified when a group of men tried to smash windows and threw beer and bacon at the building. (Kingston Guardian, 8 December 2010.)

Why have I written on both anti-Semitic and Islamophobic attacks? It is not to downplay the importance of either, or create a ‘league table’ of attacks. Rather it is because these attacks highlight the similarities of the abuse that ordinary Muslim and Jewish victims suffer: the broken windows of a religious house; the crude religious component to attacks; the hateful language; and the self-righteous justification of a number of attackers.

7th February, 2011

Sikh counter-EDL protests

by Rumbold at 8:17 am    

At the recent EDL march (ably covered by Rowenna Davis and Matthew Taylor), a Sikh anti-EDL contingent was out in force, building on the recent joint statement from a number of Hindu and Sikh organisations condemning the EDL’s anti-Muslim bigotry. Rowenna Davis and Matthew Taylor, reporting at the march, noted that:

The EDL and police had predicted a turnout of between 5,000 and 7,000, but as the marchers arrived in St George’s Square in the town centre just after 1pm, it appeared that no more than 3,000 had turned out. Despite the smaller numbers there were minor scuffles at the train station as anti-racist protesters tried to prevent EDL supporters getting off trains.

More than 2,000 police officers from forces across the south of England escorted the EDL march from the station into the centre of Luton. Some fireworks and bottles were thrown, shops and businesses in the town were closed and petrol stations had been boarded up in what one resident compared to a “war zone”.

The Sikh contingent was part of a large group organised by UAF:

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Filed under: Current affairs,EDL,Sikh
6th February, 2011

International Day Against Female Genital Mutilation

by Rumbold at 8:29 pm    

Today is the International Day Against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a cultural practice which sees (usually) young girls being sexually mutilated in order to comply with tradition. FGM is a worldwide practice, albeit one largely concentrated in the Middle East and Africa. It spans religions, with both Christians and Muslim girls suffering as a result of it, and has been widely condemned by leading religious scholars, though other influential ones (including a cleric feted by the then mayor of London Ken Livingstone), continue to endorse it.

FGM even occurs in Britain: investigations by the Daily Mail and Observer (amongst others) revealed that tens of thousands of girls living in this country have either undergone the procedure or at risk from it, mostly those from African/Middle Eastern backgrounds. There is legislation to deal with it in this country, but, given the difficulties of securing a conviction, it has so far proved ineffective, wih no prosecutions taking place. In other areas of the world the signs are more encouraging though:

There is a programme now running in 12 out of 17 priority African countries and it has seen real results. We have seen prevalence rates fall from 80% to 74% in Ethiopia, in Kenya from 32% to 27% and in Egypt from 97% to 91%. But there is still a long way to go.

The success behind the recent figures lies in the collective abandonment of FGM/C. There is now a culturally sensitive approach, based on dialogue and social networking, which leads to abandonment within one generation. Because the programme is anchored in human rights, it allows participants to understand better the choices they are making.

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