As I reported on Libcon earlier, the police raised or arrested several activists who were planning peaceful protests today for the Royal Wedding. These weren’t massive events either – maybe about 5 people big. The squats weren’t even planning anything.
But to summarise, some people who were planning not to tow the official line on the Royal wedding got pre-emptively arrested despite not even planning any crime.
Now compare that to the hands-off reception that Muslims Against Crusades get. When they planned a protest, they were refused by the police, but allowed to have the protest elsewhere. At the last minute, MAC cancelled all their stunts – but faced zero police harassment. Zero.
Now I’m not saying they should necessarily face harassment for planning a peaceful, protest. I’m just asking why the police consistently treat Anjem Chouhary and his boys with kid gloves while harassing and intimidating peaceful anti-capitalist or environmental protesters?
Today is Election Day here in Calcutta, and could be a historical one for the state of West Bengal. The CPI(M) – The Communist Party of India (Marxist), that has ruled the state with an iron sickle and hammer, for three and a half decades, is said to be on its way out! People of my generation, who have never known a Bengal under any other influence, can’t quite fathom what this change might bring.
But there is an uneasiness that’s discomforting. There’s police everywhere, and para-military — in full battle gear, armed to the teeth, patrolling the streets, and directing polling booths. I suppose till India learns that democracy means the free and calm exercise of choice, this is how we will continue to vote! Since the Lok Sabha election polls, two years ago, when the electorate first indicated that they were weary of the CPI(M) and desperate for change, even if it means choosing the Trinamool Congress party led by the chaotic and highly strung Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal has been in a state of a virtual blood-bath. There’s news of abductions and killings almost every other day. The CPI(M) has no intentions of leaving without an all-out fight! Nine of the eleven constituencies in Calcutta have been declared “sensitive” for the polling period – meaning prone to violence.
Wishing to avoid the poll warriors, I was at my designated booth by 6.30 a.m. There were about 50 other people there, already, in line who probably thought the same way. My poll booth is an old, ram shackled, government school-building. All schools remain closed today as they double as polling booths. The voter’s line ran parallel to the water line – that is the line of people with buckets and plastic drums waiting to fill water at the municipal tap, which for some reason is located 6 feet directly in front of the school’s entrance. A woman at the water line, with about 4 big buckets in tow, smiled at me and said, “Remember to give the water vote.” I smiled back and asked, “Now who would that be?” She thought about it, and shrugged her shoulder, “Probably no one. We’ve waited 40 years for water, voting for it every year.” I asked, “Aren’t you going to vote?” She laughed. “No, I think water is more important.” The municipal tap does not release water again till mid-afternoon, and if her family wants water for the day, for drinking, cooking and cleaning, she’s got to get it now.
Mamata Banerjee has been hailed as the down-to-earth, friend of the poor, and saviour of the down-trodden, who knows what it means to be deprived, as she amply demonstrates by wearing her rubber bathroom slippers to the Parliament meetings. Oddly, that was just the line—the Robin Hood avowal—that brought the CPI(M) to power and kept them there for almost four decades. That, and a network of goons. A few months ago, a policewoman who had stopped a busload of Ms. Banerjee’s party workers at a cross-light so an ambulance could pass, was beaten up and gang-molested by the party workers for daring to to make them wait. The woman in the water-line, waiting with four buckets knows what she’s waiting for. The question is what are the rest of us waiting for?
In 1986, Hallin introduced the idea that we can understand journalistic ideas in terms of three “spheres”, widely recognized, though rarely articulated. The “sphere of consensus” includes ideas that are so widely agreed upon that they are generally uncontroversial. As Brooke puts it, “Democracy is good, slavery is bad, all men are created equal. Here truths are self-evident and journalists don’t feel the need to be objective.” Then there’s the “sphere of legitimate controversy”, issues we are used to arguing over, like taxation policy, abortion, gun control and capitol punishment, where reasonable people can disagree, and where journalists generally focus their attention. Finally, there’s the “sphere of deviance”, where ideas are deemed unworthy of a hearing. Brooke offers the “pro-pedophilia” position as an example of the deviant sphere
That’s a good way of thinking how thoughts are organised. But then how to forced ideas to go from being ‘controversial’ to a ‘consensus’? That’s the big question.
With increasing polarisation, which is the environment we are in now, this job becomes harder because people have different spheres. Hardcore libertarians think taxation is like violence, while ultra-socialists may consider it as key to a civilised society. I think political discussion on the internet can exacerbates polarisation.
This means the clash of spheres is intense. This leads to even more conflict for two reasons. Firstly, because people end up congregating in areas where others agree with them. That confirmation bias is fed daily and it creates a sense of solidarity and community. People like that. But they start thinking most people in the country share those spheres of thinking.
So when they encounter someone of a different ideological bent, that frustrates and angers them.
Phenomena like confirmation bias (a tendency to overweight information that agrees with our preconceptions) and disconfirmation bias (the tendency to discount information we disagree with) contribute to a pattern of “motivated reasoning”, where our emotions distort and shape our “rational” thinking. Mooney suggests that there’s deep neurological reasons for this behavior – we literally have a hair-trigger “fight or flight” reaction to types of information that challenge our belief systems.
As a result, confronting a highly polarized argument with facts frequently backfires.
So not only is there a problem with polarisation, but people of different ideological bent are highly unlikely to be persuaded easily. Especially when approached with ‘facts’ or ‘logical argument’, which lefties are prone to try.
So there’s a point here about polarisation, another one about how that leads to even more conflict, and why it makes persuading people difficult. I’m just thinking out aloud here. But it does also offer a glimpse into the mindset of people who become intensely polarised.
One man was transferred to the facility simply because he was a mullah and could have had “special knowledge of the Taliban”. He was released after a year. Another was shipped there because he knew the areas of Khowst and Kabul since he was a taxi driver”.
An al-Jazeera journalist was held six years so he could be interrogated about the Arabic news network.
» US authorities listed the main Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI as a terrorist organisation alongside groups such as al-Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iranian intelligence [there is going to be a massive fallout from this]
» A number of British nationals and residents were held for years even though US authorities knew they were not Taliban or al-Qaida members. [goodbye Habeas Corpus!]
» Why Obama has found it difficult to close down Gitmo:
The range of those still held captive includes detainees who have been admittedly tortured so badly they can never be successfully tried, informers who must be protected from reprisals, and a group of Chinese Muslims from the Uighur minority who have nowhere to go.
A trial of these prisoners and an expose of their conditions, the US army and Pentagon no doubt pointed out, would severely damage the credibility of the US govt itself.
» How the leaks came about.
The NYT approached NPR and the Guardian with files leaked to them. But WikiLeaks was already working with the Telegraph, Washington Post, McClatchy newspapers, Le Monde, El Pais and Der Spiegel, according to HuffPo. The latter group have now been forced to bring forward publication date.
» While the Guardian has led with how badly the prisoners were treated, the Telegraph focuses on what al-Qaeda were planning.
* A senior Al-Qaeda commander claimed that the terrorist group has hidden a nuclear bomb in Europe which will be detonated if Bin-Laden is ever caught or assassinated. The US authorities uncovered numerous attempts by Al-Qaeda to obtain nuclear materials and fear that terrorists have already bought uranium. Sheikh Mohammed told interrogators that Al-Qaeda would unleash a “nuclear hellstorm”.
* The 20th 9/11 hijacker, who did not ultimately travel to America and take part in the atrocity, has revealed that Al-Qaeda was seeking to recruit ground-staff at Heathrow amid several plots targeting the world’s busiest airport. Terrorists also plotted major chemical and biological attacks against this country.
WikiLeaks is responsible for more newsworthy scoops over the last year than all media outlets combined: it’s not even a close call. And if Bradley Manning is the leaker, he has done more than any other human being in our lifetime to bring about transparency and shine a light on what military and government power is doing.
There has been a lot of debate about whether introducing the Alternative Vote (AV) would make it more likely that a BNP or similar candidate would be elected. Given that AV is not a proportional representation system, I think that this is unlikely, but, more importantly, it shouldn’t matter.
The problem with the BNP and other extremist groups is not that they might send a representative or two to a legislature (where they usually behave badly and often fail to get re-elected), but that support exists for them at all.
If the BNP/EDL have, say, 5% support nationally, then that is what needs to be addressed, not worrying which voting system will best keep them out of power. It is in day to day life that this matters the most; the BNP are a racist, anti-immigrant party, so it will be local non-whites and immigrants who bear the brunt of living in an area where people support the BNP.
Having no BNP representatives at any level doesn’t mean that support for them has disappeared. No one should be happy if a BNP representative is elected, but that is a symptom of the problem, not a cause.
Further to the recent Pickled Politics article highlighting the EDL’s “Sikh” spokesman Guramit Singh’s admission of hatred towards other South Asians, some further information about Guramit himself is continuing to come to light.
Doublespeak in action
A new Youtube video focusing specifically on Guramit is an excellent compilation and definitely worth watching in full. The repeated juxtaposition of Guramit’s disingenuous assertions about the EDL compared with the ugly reality demonstrates the point particularly effectively. You can watch the video via Youtube here.
“I consider the Guru Granth Sahib to be my Guru”
In response to the recent ultimatum, Gurmait subsequently released a public statement on the EDL’s main blog declaring that he refuses to leave the EDL irrespective of the ultimatum and threatening retaliation (including making a sinister threat to involve unspecified supporters from “outside the Sikh community”) if any attempts were made to excommunicate him.
The refusal of permission to demonstrate outside the abbey does not prevent them from protesting elsewhere, but Owens warned that any action to burn the union flag would be seen as an offence under the Public Order Act.
Go on Anjem – are you really going to listen to what the police says? Surely you’re going to ignore them and do whatever you want? Otherwise people might start calling you a wuss..
A United Nations panel investigating allegations of war crimes by Sri Lankan troops at the end of the bloody battle against Tamil rebels in May 2009 found that there was credible evidence that government soldiers had targeted civilians, shelled hospitals and attacked humanitarian workers, according to a leaked copy of the panel’s report.
The long-awaited report, the result of an extensive investigation by Marzuki Darusman, a former Indonesian attorney general, contradicted the government’s assertion that the war was a humanitarian effort aimed at liberating civilians trapped with the Tamil Tigers in an ever-shrinking corner of northern Sri Lanka.
“The government shelled on a large scale in three consecutive no fire zones, where it had encouraged the civilian population to concentrate, even after indicating that it would cease the use of heavy weapons,” the report said, according to a leaked copy that was published over the weekend in the Island, a Sri Lankan newspaper. “Most civilian casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by government shelling.”
The fact that its been published in a Sri Lankan newspaper means more internal strife and accusations. It also vindicates many of Tamils who congregated in Westminster last year saying that innocent civilians were being killed in Sri Lanka.
The UN is also criticised in the reporting for failing “to take actions that might have protected civilians.” The panel says casualty figures collected by the UN should have been made public at the time.
Releasing casualty figures isn’t enough. Why was the world happy to sit by and watch while this was going on, and ignore the pleas of Tamils everywhere to intervene?
Further to the joint statement by numerous major British Sikh & Hindu temples and organisations condemning the EDL and any Sikhs who join them, followed by the recent ultimatum issued to the EDL’s “Sikh” spokesman Guramit Singh, some more facts about Guramit himself are coming to light.
“I f****** hate the Pakis”
As can be heard in the Youtube clip below, a BBC Three documentary about the EDL included audio footage of Guramit Singh secretly referring to other South Asians as “Pakis” and describing his hatred of them. Perhaps it’s time Guramit actually looked in the mirror.
You won’t be surprised to hear that publicity hungry fanatic Anjem Choudhary, formerly of Al-Muhajiroun, Islam4UK and countless other nutjob groups, is trying to get some publicity over the Royal Wedding.
Him and his latest reincarnation, Muslims Against the Crusades, plan to demonstrate against the wedding. Not only that, he predicts a terrorist attack:
Firebrand cleric Anjem Choudary has warned that a terror attack is ‘highly likely’ at the Royal wedding. The hate preacher has told all Muslims to stay away from Westminster Abbey on April 29, describing it as ‘a prime target’.
Choudary has also been preaching to followers of the hate group, Muslims Against Crusades, and is backing its plan for a ‘forceful demonstration’ at the wedding. Choudary said: ‘All Muslims should stay away from the public gatherings like the Royal wedding and the Olympics because there is a very high likelihood of an attack.
I bet the chances of Choudhary making it to even a mile near the Royal Wedding are less than zero. And yet the right-wing tabloids still promote his publicity seeking stunts. The Daily Mail in particular loves him.
The stunt has now been criticised by other Muslim groups. The Green Lane Mosque in East London Birmingham, which is a pretty big mosque, has issued a press release criticising the stunt. Be interesting to see if other Muslim groups follow suit. They say:
Green Lane Masjid and Community Centre condemns the proposed demonstration organised by ‘Muslim Against Crusades’, a previously unknown group that has surfaced recently and has conveniently chosen the day of the royal wedding to hold its demonstration hoping to capitalise on the attention of the mass media.
We ask all responsible organisations to stand united against such acts that undermine community relations as the sole purpose of these groups is to drive a wedge between Muslim and Non-Muslim communities, wherever they may be. As a community we can no longer afford to stand back and tolerate such bigotry.
There’s an old maxim in journalism: ‘Dog Bites Man’ is not a story; it’s when a man bites the dog it becomes a story. I.e. you write about the unexpected not the stuff that will make people yawn.
I say this because the story: ‘Cameron thinks immigration should be limited’ is a Dog Bites Man story. It would be more surprising if the Pope declared that Christianity was the best religion ever.
So, I have three related points to make on this:
One: it once again demonstrates that the Prime Minister is able to drive the media agenda and national discussion in a way opposition parties simply cannot. This is why I keep telling people (who are used to hearing Labour everywhere) that Labourites are speaking out against the cuts, it’s just that the media isn’t listening.
Two: I initially thought that Vince Cable speaking out was a sign that discipline was breaking down in the Coalition. But Sarah Hayward is completely right – it’s all a set-up. A cynical ploy but one that is effective, keeps the story going, keeps members in both parties happy and completely tactical.
Hell, if you’re going to play the immigration card to deflect attention from the NHS, why not go the whole hog and pick a deliberate fight with your allies? Labour is far too clever to be provoked into a trap that Cameron is trying to set for them. So Cable was the natural choice.
Three: The predictable response is to point out the intellectual inconsistencies in what Cameron is saying. Mehdi Hasan was doing it last night on Twitter; the Guardian mention cuts to ESOL classes; Nishma has blogged about it.
These responses are a big waste of time because the Tories aren’t having a debate – they’re just saying things they’ve always said. I’m more interested in why the media is reporting on a ‘dog bites man’ story. There are no surprising policy announcements here.
Today is Vaisakhi. In Sikhism, it commemorates the anniversary of the founding of the Khalsa in 1699 by the 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh, depicted here.
Readers may wish to refer to last year’s Pickled Politics article about Vaisakhi for a summary of the historical, ideological and theological factors involved.
Along with fully militarising the Sikh population, Guru Gobind Singh was also responsible for compiling the final version of the Sikh scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib, which includes hundreds of sacred verses originally written by Muslims.
Instead of dealing with these misogynistic and deeply offensive comments, CiF allowed them to dominate the thread.
The editorial team must be aware of the power of their online platform, and their trusted name, and how damaging it is when set to promote an agenda which is discriminatory and founded upon misleading facts and lies. So, why is it doing it?
As a writer for CIF (but I criticise the Guardian enough so I’m not doing this merely because they occasionally pay me for articles) – I’ve also had similar comments being chucked my way. So I sympathise.
But ultimately I sympathise with the CIF crew, partly because I face similar complaints at Liberal Conspiracy.
I think there are a few ways to approach this.
A conflict of rights
Big blogs have to weight up the right to free speech and a mix of views (which we believe in) within the boundaries of the rules. The rules are that misogyny, racism, homophobia, ad hominem abuse etc is deleted. But the line is not always clear-cut and I constantly get abused for being a ‘censorship nazi’ (which I relish). Most of my co-moderators are more afraid of deleting comments in case they get it wrong and are criticised over it heavily.
So it becomes a tricky balancing act to ensure that people are allowed to say things that others find uncomfortable or distasteful but are still within the boundaries of civil debate and not bigoted. I’m not saying this line is always navigated perfectly. But there will always be some comments that people find racist, homophobic or misogynist because the intention is inferred rather than written outright. In those cases we have to judge the intention of the commenter, and this is not always straightforward.
The numbers are large
CIF gets tons more comments than Libcon does, which makes it harder to police and harder to quickly judge whether a comment is out of order or not. I’m not always around to moderate comments – and even then its post-moderated. This means people don’t have to wait for comments to be approved before carrying on a debate.
This works on LC because most people are well-behaved (and I’ve rooted out trouble-makers) and on CIF it would be difficult otherwise as they have so much debate going on. But its near impossible to police debates so tightly that all debates go in the right direction. It frustrates me as it frustrates Natalie Hanman of CIF when debates get hijacked. But its difficult to justify deleting a comment that does not strictly adhere to the direction the editors want it to go into.
But it is neither about just feminist topics (any topic can get hijacked, and lots of debates turn into arguments), nor is it that we encourage such people. It is the nature of popular sites that they attract a range of readers.
It is also my view that left-wingers prefer ‘safe spaces’ more than right-wingers: and so they end up dominating on Twitter (which is why I add Twitter trackbacks to articles on LC to reflect that), while right-wingers spend more time commenting across blogs. Our posts on the economy for example turn up right-wingers who work in finance. We can’t ban them nor stop them from spouting right-wing economics. The job of lefties should be to argue back (in a civil manner of course).
There will never be a happy medium
Those hoping the situation can be resolved if enough pressure is put on the Guardian are wrong, I think. It won’t happen. However there are technical solutions I would say they should take up (a popular one is where comments flagged up as ‘offensive’ by enough fellow readers) automatically gets a negative ranking and is then ‘hidden’. It can be viewed by people who want to view ‘all comments’ but won’t appear by default. Slashdot.org had this version of commenting.
Gawker and others also implemented a version of this last year I believe, which gave long-time loyal commenters some extra power in being able to ‘hide’ offensive comments. There are several variations of this.
In the end I would say this. Neither CIF nor Liberal Conspiracy are, by the nature of their popularity, ‘safe spaces’ where one side can just talk amongst themselves with given assumptions (though LC rarely hosts articles by right-wingers as CIF does). I also think engaging with right-wingers sometimes makes them more sympathetic to leftie positions than if they were banished to right-wing websites.
The Home Office released this statement yesterday:
It is not for government to say what people can and cannot wear. Such a proscriptive approach would be out of keeping with our nation’s longstanding record of tolerance. Accordingly we do not support a ban on wearing the burka.
That’s a welcome statement. There’s also a demo today at the French embassy to protest against the French ban, which comes into effect today.
Monday 11 April, 6pm
Outside the French Embassy: 58 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7JT (nearest tube Knightsbridge)
Called by Unite Against Fascism and One Society Many Cultures
Sion Owens, a BNP candidate in Wales, has been arrested and charged under the Public Order Act and remains in custody. Another BNP candidate has been arrested but was bailed:
On Friday, police were given a video which appeared to show Mr Owens dousing a copy of the Koran with a highly flammable fluid, before setting it alight and watching it burn. Later that day he and another of the party’s candidates for the assembly election, Swansea East candidate Joanne Shannon, were arrested.
Mr Owens was charged on Saturday night. He is in custody in Swansea, and due to appear in court on Monday. Ms Shannon has been bailed pending further inquiries.
Sion Owens, who has links to alleged Nazis, was arrested after an Observer investigation tracked down the perpetrators of a Qur’an-burning video and handed the evidence to the police:
The footage of the burning in Britain clearly identifies Owens, who is wearing a “Whitelaw No Surrender” T-shirt. The film starts with the Qur’an lying in a Quality Street tin before Owens begins dousing the holy book in flammable liquid and then setting fire to it. The camera zooms in as the Qur’an burns.
It is clear that Sion Owens is a racist yob, who belongs to a party with links to terrorists such as the Klu Klux Klan. Book burning is also abhorrent, and this was clearly an attempt to provoke an extreme reaction. Yet it is worrying that book burning can get someone arrested. In some scenarios it is understandable; for instance, if Mr. Owens did it in a crowded mosque, as this could potentially provoke a riot or stampede (the old ‘don’t shout fire in a crowded building’). But this wasn’t the case. The fact that this could cause violent demonstrations once it was exposed doesn’t justify arresting someone, any more than burning a copy of My Side by David Beckham would if there was an outrage.
Alchemy is Southbank Centre’s 11-day journey into the richness, contrasts and confluences of the relationship between the UK, India and South Asian culture. The festival returns for a second year, taking over the site with contemporary and traditional music and dance, debate, literature, film, craft and fashion.
Building on relationships between Southbank Centre and leading artists and cultural organisations in the UK and the Indian subcontinent, the festival looks at the region’s fast-changing economic and cultural landscape, exploring its relationship with and influence on the UK, the juxtapositions between classical and folk traditions and notions of urban and rural progress. Festival-goers can discover classical masters alongside emerging British Asian talent, folk traditions alongside contemporary experimentation, traditional dance, top writers and popular entertainment, probing debate and the latest fashion.
I’m heading for a few events (quite a lot are free!)…
I don’t normally write about brands (I don’t get paid for it dammit!) but the odd exception is good. I got invited to a little launch last week of this:
April sees the expansion of the pioneering ‘One’ brand into a new category – organic free range eggs. From April 4th you can help change lives simply by buying a pack of ‘One good eggs’ in Tesco.
One Good Egg, organic free range eggs will be launching nationwide in April – in Tesco, The Co-operative and Ocado.
You might say: WTF? Sunny is blogging about eggs?
There’s more to this. The company – One Difference – have a policy where they donate 100% of net profits to charity. More specifically, profits from specific products go to specific projects.
So, profits from the eggs go to egg farming projects in Africa. Profits from the bottled water goes to water projects, and so on. They also make toilet paper, that goes to fund clean latrines in developing countries. Awesome idea huh? They have a separate charity called One Foundation, which receives all profits from the company every financial year and distributes them.
Their idea is this: if you want to buy water, eggs or other products, and see the One brand, at least you know 100% of the profits from that are going to charity. I think its a good way to give to charity – their only problem seems to be lack of brand awareness. So here I am blogging about it.
The Council of Europe, which is running a campaign against discrimination across Europe, recently interviewed me over the phone for my thoughts on multi-culturalism. They thought I’d be quite defensive, but I came out a bit more nuanced than they expected. I expect there are some faults in this ‘doctrine’ if you can call it that, and criticise ‘state multiculturalism’.
Education minister Michael Gove does not usually do this kind of stuff explicitly, so this is very unusual… and dangerous.
There’s some controversy over a proposal to build a mosque in Sandhurst, which wound end up being quite close to the military academy. This is Michael Gove’s constituency. Riazat Butt at the Guardian wrote up a summary of the controversy earlier.
In an interview with BBC London yesterday, Michael Gove says:
because of the way in which it would overlook the royal military academy, (the mosque) would also not be appropriate for all sorts of other reasons.
LabourList have picked this up and have the audio discussion. Mark Ferguson rightly asks:
Either Michael Gove should state why he considers a mosque to be a security concern, or he should state his “other reasons” clearly and openly. To do anything else is iresponsible for a politician with such a high profile.
Exactly. Time to come clean Mr Gove and explain yourself, or this is just plain dog-whistling. hat-tip @jamesmills1984