29th June, 2011

A short note about Brendan O’Neill and his past

by Sunny at 8:43 pm    

I don’t suspect many people will be taking lessons from Brendan O’Neill – editor at Spiked Online – on journalism ethics: he’s wading in over the Johann Hari controversy. Oh, of course Paul Staines is citing him, but even Staines’ old chum Iain Dale wouldn’t defend the former’s intentions on radio earlier tonight.

I want to clarify one point though. I said earlier that Brendan O’Neill was at Living Marxism magazine when it accused ITN of fabricating stuff and lost its legal battle and ran out of money. What I should clarify is I don’t know if he played a part in that scandal. I don’t want it to look like I’m insinuating he was part of that legal battle (he most likely wasn’t). I have little time for the RCP / Living Marxism / Spiked Online crew – but to accuse them of something they didn’t do would be wrong. And I don’t want it to look like I’m doing that.

Filed under: Media

No freedom of speech for Palestinians

by Sunny at 8:17 pm    

Sorry, was someone from the Libdems claiming that their coalition government cherished freedom of speech? Bollocks.

The home secretary, Theresa May, has ordered “a full investigation” after a leading Palestinian activist in Israel entered Britain despite a travel ban.

Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, was detained at 11pm on Tuesday and taken to Paddington Green police station in west London.

Sarah Colborne, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in London, said she was appalled by the decision to detain Salah. “This is a legitimate organisation which Israel has never moved to ban. Raed Salah regularly speaks at venues across Israel, where he has considerable support amongst the Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up a fifth of the population.” He had been elected mayor of his home town, Um al-Fahm, three times and never been convicted of anti-semitism in Israel.

It doesn’t really matter does it? This govt will allow in people like Geert Wilders, who regularly espouse racist garbage against Muslims, but those rights don’t extend to Muslims (I’m in favour of both sets of racists being allowed in).

He’s also a politician from Israel. So the govt will allow in Israel ministers like Avigdor “fascist” Lieberman, but not Muslim politicians from Israel. The usual suspects who screamed censorship when Geert Wilders was banned in 2009, will no doubt be celebrating this too.

Forced sex change operations in India

by Rumbold at 8:44 am    

Discrimination against girls in India is well known and documented. Campaigners have long highlighted the skewed sex ratio, the abortion of female foetuses and the murder of baby girls. Now let another method to reduce the number of girls has been revealed: forced sex change operations:

The row emerged after newspapers disclosed children from throughout India were being operated on by doctors in Indore, Madhya Pradesh.

Doctors confronted in the investigation claimed that girls with genital abnormalities were being sent to the city’s clinics to be “surgically corrected” and that only children born with both male and female sexual characteristics were eligible for the procedure. But campaigners said the parents and doctors were misindentifying the children’s conditions to turn girls into boys.

The surgery, known as genitoplasty, fashions a penis from female organs, with the child being injected with male hormones to create a boy. Dr V P Goswami, the president of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics in Indore, described the disclosures as shocking and warned parents that the procedure would leave their child impotent and infertile in adulthood.

No doubt this is just the tip of the iceberg either. It is unlikely that Indore is the only place where this happens. Nor is legislation likely to be effective to stop this. What is needed is proper enforcement of the laws and a change in a mentality that views girls as something shameful compared to boys.

Update: There has been some doubt cast on this story by an Indian newspaper, which is a rival of the newspaper where it was first published.

28th June, 2011

Everyone… let’s join the Twitter mob!

by Sunny at 11:26 pm    

If you spend long enough on Twitter, sooner or later you see, get involved in or are in the centre of a “Twitter storm”. If you’re not that well known, it might not even be a storm… but if you’re as well known as Johann Hari – it goes international.

I was involved in a minor one a few years ago, when I off-handedly tweeted that I welcomed that right-wing demagogue Rush Limbaugh ended up in hospital. Immediately, Conservative Home and Iain Dale were furiously trying to whip up outrage against me. No one outside their circle took the bait and the pitchfork mob never came. I survived.

But it usually works like this: (group 1) there are some sensible people who make valid criticism. In the case of Johann Hari, there were some journalists and professors who thought it was unethical. Fair enough. (I thought what he did was wrong but the “scandal” had gotten out of hand by noon… it was still going strong at 6pm).

(group 2) Then there are other prominent tweeters who just like to get on the bandwagon and offer their opinion on the issue. The bandwagon starts to roll apace. (Group 3) Then there are people who really hate the person in question. Hari has a legion of haters out there who think he’s too much of a softy liberal. Their politics isn’t necessarily leftist, they’re just nihilists. They rage at anyone and pretty much everyone. Twitter is there for them to rage at, and if they can join a mob to rage with, all the better. They love the opportunity to point out how principled they are.

(group 4) Then there are the right-wingers. They usually want the bandwagon to gather pace before dipping their toes, partly because they’ve complained about lefty Twitter mobs in the past. But they don’t like missing opportunities to lay into political enemies. So when Harry Cole, Iain Dale and Toby Young start to become sanctimonious about journalistic ethics – it’s an unstoppable bandwagon with every man and his dog on it. I’m surprised YouGov didn’t do an instant poll.

The whole Hari hate-fest became an unedifying spectacle of immense proportion that took up most of the day. Before anyone accuses me of being biased – I’ve objected in the past when some tweeters were raging against a writer at the Daily Mail complaining how difficult life was for the middle class. That became really unedifying too.

I was accused of leading a Twitter mob against Rod Liddle too, but that was just Catherine Bennett complaining that I’d blogged about his racist crap a few times on Libcon. (I stupidly used the line “I’m part of the mob and I’m proud of it” at the end of that article – not again).

We all make mistakes and sooner or later I’ll say something stupid on Twitter too. This will not doubt be used by people who hate me (I also have legions, possibly even more than Johann has because I’ve been blogging for six years) to whip up a Twitter storm. Today brought me a step closer to deleting my Twitter account. Some things are not worth the hassle.

All I’m saying is this. If you’re one of those people who gleefully participated with your pitchfork today – just hope it never happens to you.

Filed under: Media
27th June, 2011

Andrew Gilligan’s rubbish about the East London Mosque (again)

by Sunny at 4:37 pm    

Man, its a full-time job just fact-checking Andrew Gilligan and his smears.

He says today that East London Mosque has already broken its commitment to banning homophobic speakers from ELM.

This time, however, it has only taken just over a week for the mosque’s bad faith to emerge. The day after tomorrow, 29 June, it welcomes to its premises an organisation called Sex and Relationship Education Islamic (SRE Islamic), one of whose main purposes is to campaign for “the unacceptability of homosexuality which is often portrayed as a lifestyle choice.” That’s a quote from the first sentence of SRE Islamic’s statement of values.

SRE Islamic is run by members of Hizb ut Tahrir, a racist and extremist group which believes that Muslims should not mix with non-Muslims.

I have no love lost for HuT – but perhaps Gilligan should spend more time reading his own mates. The two people mentioned by Gilligan left HuT ages ago.

Second, while its true that SRE Islamic aren’t exactly fans of homosexuality – such is the position of Christian groups too. There is a difference between inviting a preacher who calls for the death of gays, and some intolerant people who say that most Islamic preachers say homosexuality is not acceptable within Islam (which is a fact).

The SRE Islamic event at ELM is jointly with the ‘Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child’ – a Christian group. I wonder why Andrew Gilligan did not include that fact? If Gilligan is going to be fair and balanced on this, I’d like him to campaign for Christian organisations who disapprove of homosexuality to be banned from Churches too.

And to be clear: I’m not a fan of SRE Islamic at all. Neither am I of religious bigotry. But here is an example of Gilligan selectively targeting Muslims while saying nothing of Christian groups on the matter. I oppose religiously inspired bigotry – but a belief in civil liberties and free speech requires accepting that sometimes people will say things you don’t like.

The caste system in Britain

by Rumbold at 9:44 am    

Nick Cohen reports on a disturbing new piece of research from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research into the caste system in Britain:

Faced with the prospect of confronting the prejudices of core supporters, the Labour government preferred holding on to seats to living by liberal principles and backed away from extending anti-discrimination law to cover caste. With Labour gone, campaigners for just treatment for tens of thousands of British Asians have a glimmer of hope.

They are trying to persuade the coalition to take seriously a study of bullying and harassment conducted by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. It is a dispiriting read – little more than a list of pointless cruelties. The Indian supervisor of an NHS worker discovers that he is from a lower caste and makes his life such a misery he becomes ill under the pressure and is suspended; a social services care worker refuses to help an elderly woman wash herself because the old lady is from a lower caste and so it goes on through dozens of examples.

Caste discrimination is something which isn’t discussed much in the media, yet even non-Hindus from India can be swayed by it. The report was predictably dismissed by the Hindu Council UK, which claimed that the report’s real aim was to persuade Hindus to convert to Christianity (Sunny has long been a critic of them). The lack of a discussion around caste highlights a staple of treatment of minorities; that discrimination within these groups are often ignored, instead treating them as monolithic blocks which should deal with their own problems.

Filed under: Current affairs
23rd June, 2011

Did Geert Wilders deserve to be acquitted over ‘free speech’?

by Sunny at 5:46 pm    

Reuters reports:

Dutch populist politician Geert Wilders was acquitted of inciting hatred of Muslims in a court ruling on Thursday that may strengthen his political influence and exacerbate tensions over immigration policy.

The case was seen by some as a test of free speech in a country which has a long tradition of tolerance and blunt talk, but where opposition to immigration, particularly from Muslim or predominantly Muslim countries, is on the rise.

But its a fallacy that Geert Wilders is just a critic of Islam as a religious doctrine – he frequently makes a jump from criticising Islam to demanding discrimination against Muslims. The idea that Geert Wilders believes in free speech is also a fallacy.

Both myths keep getting perpetuated by a media that pays no attention to what Geert Wilders says nor make any attempt to pay proper attention to the issue.

In a completely under-reported speech by Geert Wilders a few years ago, he laid out a “ten point plan to save the west”. These were the ten points:

1. Stop cultural relativism. We need an article in our constitutions that lays down that we have a Jewish-Christian and humanism culture.
2. Stop pretending that Islam is a religion. Islam is a totalitarian ideology. In other words, the right to religious freedom should not apply to Islam.
3. Stop mass immigration by people from Muslim countries. We have to end Al-Hijra. 4. Encourage voluntary repatriation.
5. Expel criminal foreigners and criminals with dual nationality, after denationalization, and send them back to their Arab countries. Likewise, expel all those who incite to a ‘violent jihad’.
6. We need an European First Amendment to strengthen free speech.
7. Have every member of a non-Western minority sign a legally binding contract of assimilation.
8. We need a binding pledge of allegiance in all Western countries.
9. Stop the building of new mosques. As long as no churches or synagogues are allowed to be build in countries like Saudi-Arabia we will not allow one more new mosque in our western countries. Close all mosques where incitement to violence is taking place. Close all Islamic schools, for they are fascist institutions and young children should not be educated an ideology of hate and violence.
10. Get rid of the current weak leaders. We have the privilege of living in a democracy. Let’s use that privilege and exchange cowards for heroes. We need more Churchills and less Chamberlains.

Only a fool would call those demands the hallmark of an advocate of free speech.

Saying that, I think Muslim organisations in the Netherlands are making a mistake by making this about discrimination, when they should point to these speeches and make it an issue about free speech.

Filed under: Islamists,Media
22nd June, 2011

Crowing over Brian Haw’s death

by Sunny at 10:30 am    

You may have heard that peace campaigner Brian Haw died last week. Haw wasn’t a perfect man by any stretch of the imagination. But he had good ideals, he was campaigning for peace and he stuck by his mission. I deeply respect him for that. LBC radio regularly called me for a comment on why Haw should have the right to occupy that space and I resolutely defended his right every time.

Far from showing any sympathy however, Harry’s Place regular contributor “Libby T” is crowing over his death, calling him “insane to the end”, a “nut”, “lunatic”, “mad” and a “political quack”. I’m sure the fact that Haw opposed a war in Iraq that bloggers at Harry’s Place keep defending (like a bunch of inbred disease-ridden rats) has nothing to do with it.

Gimpy, who blogged about Brian Haw’s condition is right when he says:

Mr Haw’s cancer was almost certainly incurable, but rather than spending his final days being cared for by medical professionals in the UK, he was sent to Germany by conspiracy theorists, offered the false prospect of a cure, and was subjected to unnecessary and ineffective treatments.

There is certain to be a resurgence of debate about Mr Haw’s principles, politics and behaviour as a result of his death, but probably little on the circumstances surrounding it. Regardless of what you may think of Mr Haw, perhaps the greatest injustice he has undergone in the last decade is not the disruption, court actions and parliamentary discussion surrounding his protest, all of which have been debated and ruled on by a transparent democratic and legal system, but the falsities told to him by supporters of alternative medicine in denial of the facts.

Homoeopathy is dangerous when it gives people false hope. Maybe Haw believed that it could help him where conventional medicine couldn’t. Desperate people do desperate things.

But all this is irrelevant to bloggers at Harry’s Place. What matters there is the willingness to use the death of a person to advance the convoluted argument that people who opposed the war were “mad”.

Fellow blogger Neil D defends the blog-post in the comments below by asking: “Are we to remain silent while Penny and Benn wax lyrical about him?“. No, clearly you’re meant to react by dancing on his grave. Just wow.

21st June, 2011

EDL’s Guramit Singh on BBC West Midlands Radio

by Jai at 8:00 am    

The English Defence League’s “Sikh” spokesman Guramit “Singh”, who recently posted a message on Facebook publicly announcing his resignation, was interviewed by BBC West Midlands radio a few days ago. The issue of Guramit’s potential excommunication was one of the subjects mentioned during his radio interview; it was subsequently discussed in detail by a number of other programme participants, and Guramit received no support whatsoever from any of them. You can read a full transcript of the programme here.

I will highlight a number of relevant extracts below:

Guramit: “At the end of the day I’m not representing the Sikh culture – the religion…..I don’t represent Sikhs, I don’t represent Hindus, Christians, Catholics, Muslims – I don’t represent anybody apart from people who are sincere to our cause. The members of the English Defence League, we represent them and that’s all I’m here to do.”

False. Guramit deliberately uses the characteristically Sikh name “Singh” during his public activities in conjunction with the EDL, even though it’s not actually his real surname. In one of Guramit’s earlier public statements, he explicitly claimed that he considers himself a “servant of the Sikh Nation”; he also explicitly claimed that he considers the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh scriptures) to be his “Guru” and that Sikhism has “taught him a lot”.

Guramit has also now issued multiple public statements, in writing, repeatedly claiming that the EDL are the modern-day ideological counterparts of the 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh’s historical Khalsa, and repeatedly referencing (and grossly misrepresenting) Sikh theology & history in order to justify his own actions.

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20th June, 2011

Open Source Water Clarification Technology

by guest at 4:43 pm    

This is a guest post by Jeremy Fordham. Jeremy is an engineer and advocate of process optimization and renewable energy.

The developing world occupies an often- misunderstood and scary place in the grand scheme of global progress. It harbours connotations of rampant disease, economic stagnation, even death. If we strip this term of its comparative fabric and Western bias, however, we can see that “developing countries” aren’t that different from developed ones. For instance, in a developing country people have the same basic human needs as in a developed country, needs like access to clean water and a consistent supply of food. Despite the combined efforts of many organizations to promote education and technological development in these underrepresented places, progress has been slow. Millions of children still die every year from diarrhea induced by contaminated drinking water. To anyone who has ever had filtered tap water from their kitchen sink, this is—and should be—quite an absurd statistic.

Open source sustainability is a philosophy that relies on promoting organic growth in regions with insufficient resources. The idea here is that if a community is given a system that affordably increases its standard of living, support for that system will grow internally and ultimately spark widespread proliferation.. Many engineers across the world have taken this concept and given it new life, especially in the realm of water clarification. And while it isn’t mass scale, every major ideology germinates from proud and successful examples.

The Abundant Water project planted its roots back in 2007, when an Australian engineer named Sunny Forsyth realized the water clarity crisis while touring Laos. He eventually came up with the brilliant idea of working with local potters to create low-cost clay pot filters that eliminate up to 95 percent of pathogenic microorganisms from clean drinking water. By teaching local potters in Laos how to create these filters, the Abundant Water project simultaneously improves the region’s quality of life while also giving that region the ability to sustain the concept.

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Filed under: Science
19th June, 2011

Getting more disabled people into work

by Rumbold at 10:15 am    

Recently the Conservative MP Philip Davies argued that disabled people should be allowed to work for less than the minimum wage, as they face greater barriers to employment:

The people who are most disadvantaged by the national minimum wage are the most vulnerable in society. My concern about it is it prevents those people from being given the opportunity to get the first rung on the employment ladder.

Given that some of those people with a learning disability clearly, by definition, can’t be as productive in their work as somebody who hasn’t got a disability of that nature, then it was inevitable that given that the employer was going to have to pay them both the same, they were going to take on the person who was going to be more productive, less of a risk, and that was doing those people a huge disservice.”

Some of what he said was very insulting, especially the bit about people with a learning difficulty being inherently more inefficient then those without (given that many people with conditions such as dyslexia are highly productive), and he has been heavily and rightly criticised for it. He is also wrong to focus on the national minimum wage, and his plan would create a two tier system within a firm.

Mr. Davies was right in several ways however; that many employers are unwilling to take on people with visible/severe disabilities because of the perceived extra cost and hassle. And he is right too to argue that merely saying that it is illegal to discriminate doesn’t stop employers turning down applicants for this reason. After all, if there are thirty applicants for a job, nobody notices if an employer turns down the one with a disability.

Clearly attitudes need to change. But in the meantime, there is a way to make some disabled applicants more attractive to employers. Some people with disabilities do need their employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to their workplace, such as hearing loops. Since this is a requirement under the Disability Discrimination Act (1995), many employers aren’t willing to take them on because of the extra cost.

This is where Access to Work comes in. This is a little known, but very useful scheme which refunds employers for the purchase of disability related equipment. A recent DWP report estimated its spending return:

Medium term, greater investment is needed in Access to Work, as it reaps net benefits to the Exchequer – an estimated return to the Treasury of £1.48 for every £1 invested, with even higher returns to society overall (including improved health and well-being).

The benefits include keeping people in work who would otherwise be claiming out of work benefits. Yet because Access to Work is mostly unknown, employers aren’t able to take advantage of it. Educating employers about Access to Work would have a greater impact than worrying about lowing the minimum wage for disabled workers.

Filed under: Disability
17th June, 2011

Benefit fraud statistics contradict political rhetoric

by Rumbold at 10:11 am    

Attacking ‘scrounging’ and ‘fraudulent’ benefit claimants has become a favourite pastime of politicians recently, with both Labour and Conservative ones competing to bash them. On this basis, one would assume that there is a high level of benefit fraud, with many claimants getting money that they are not entitled to. Yesterday the DWP released its own estimates of benefit fraud. It found that around 0.8% of the money allocated is due to fraudulent benefit claims. So 99.2% of benefit claims are legitimate. More money is lost to error than fraud.

The 0.8% represents a high absolute figure (£1.2 billion), and should be tackled, but demonising the vast majority of claimants as fraudsters doesn’t just mean that benefit claimants are being unfairly criticised (it can happen to anyone), but also that it distracts attention from the real issues in the benefit system: the complexity of the system and making it more worthwhile for benefit claimants to work. Given the high levels of fraud amongst MPs, all those attacking benefit claimants would be better off looking to themselves, particularly as a number of those selfsame politicians claimed excessive expenses.

(Via: Richard Exell at Liberal Conspiracy)

Filed under: Current affairs
16th June, 2011

Nice work if you can get it

by Rumbold at 9:23 am    

Glad to see that neurosurgeons and researchers are being kept busy in Germany:

Academics have carried out a detailed analysis of the 700 head injuries suffered by characters in the Asterix comic books, in a paper published by a respected medical journal…

The researchers, led by Marcel Kamp at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, conclude: “The favourable outcome is astonishing, since outcome of traumatic brain injury in the ancient world is believed to have been worse than today and also since no diagnostic or therapeutic procedures were performed.”

Their paper, published in the official journal of the European Association of Neurosurgical Socities, known as Acta Neurochirurgica, sets out with no apparent irony their aim to “analyse the epidemiology and specific risk factors of traumatic brain injury in the Asterix illustrated comic books”.

Filed under: Humour,Science
14th June, 2011

Shock as Muslims and LGBT activists work together than fight

by Sunny at 2:42 pm    

A group of activists have today sent out a press release welcoming a promise by East London mosque that it will ban homophobic speakers. This is excellent news for two reasons.

First, it shows that a Mosque is willing to listen to the concerns of the wider community in the area that its in, rather than just of Muslims. Second, it shows that debate and negotiation on behalf of activists works better than just slagging them off.

—–
Press release
Gay, Feminist, Humanist and Muslim Activists Welcome Mosque Pledge to Ban Homophobic Speakers

Key Points:

* LGBT, Feminist, Humanist and Muslim activists express their support for the East London Mosque’s significant statement promising to prevent its premises from being used as a platform for homophobic speakers.
* The Mosque’s statement is an important step in building trust and goodwill in the local community.
* We urge the Mosque to publicise its commitment through the local, Asian and religious media.
* We celebrate diversity in the community and stand united with our neighbours against anti-Muslim bigotry and homophobia.

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Filed under: Muslim,Organisations

Top lawyer says women need take “responsibility” for how they dress

by Rumbold at 1:12 pm    

In an example of why Slutwalk was needed, a leading celebrity lawyer has argued that women need to take more responsibility for how they dress, to avoid “victimising men”:

Celebrity lawyer Nick Freeman sparked outrage from anti-rape campaigners today after claiming women ‘victimise’ men by dressing in a sexually provocative way. The 54-year old solicitor – named Mr Loophole – said females who dress in ‘racy’ red underwear, skimpy tops and fishnet tights conveyed a message they only had sex on their minds…

“In the real world a woman who behaves or dresses in a sexually provocative way conveys a certain message. A message that ironically can vicitimise men. ‘So ladies when you say you dress for yourselves and not for us males, I don’t believe you. It’s time to take responsibility for how you act and what you wear.”

No. A woman does not have to dress ‘responsibly’. If she is sexually assulted it is not her fault. There are no mitigating circumstances.

Mr. Freeman then made matters worse by recounting his own experience “when he ended up in bed with a fellow undergraduate only for her to say no to sex when she revealed she had a boyfriend.”:

‘But mustering every fibre of willpower, I leapt of the bed, pulled on my clothes and made my exit. ‘Disappointed? Obviously. But more significantly I was disgusted to have been manipulated and, yes, victimised. However both my tender legal training and moral code had blazed inside me.

‘To have ignored her wishes would have been rape. End of career, end of future, end of everything.’

Perhaps it is an uncharitable interpretation, but by putting in the bit about considering the end of his career, it suggests that was a thought at the time, when it shouldn’t have been. She said no. End of story.

Filed under: Sex equality

Bahraini medical staff put on trial for treating wounded

by Rumbold at 12:35 pm    

Robert Fisk reports from Bahrain, where 48 surgeons, doctors, paramedics and nurses were put on trial for allegedly attempting to overthrow the monarchy. Their crime was to have treated anti-government protestors. Mr Fisk argues that the trial is going ahead at the behest of Saudi Arabia:

In truth, of course, the Khalifa family is not mad. Nor are the Sunni minority of Bahrain intrinsically bad or sectarian. The reality is clear for anyone to see in Bahrain. The Saudis are now running the country. They never received an invitation to send their own soldiers to support the Bahraini “security forces” from the Bahraini Crown Prince, who is a decent man. They simply invaded and received a post-dated invitation.

The subsequent destruction of ancient Shia mosques in Bahrain was a Saudi project, entirely in line with the kingdom’s Taliban-style hatred of all things Shia. Could the Bahraini prime minister be elected, I asked a member of the royal court last February? “The Saudis would not permit this,” he replied. Of course not. Because they now control Bahrain. Hence the Saudi-style doctors’ trial.

Disgraceful. This show trial should certainly be the last straw in any UK co-operation with the Bahrainis.

12th June, 2011

Slutwalk turns heads

by Rumbold at 9:58 pm    

Yesterday saw the London march of the now worldwide campaign known as Slutwalk. The movement began in Canada after a police officer speaking about rape told an audience that they should avoid dressing like ‘sluts’ if they didn’t want to get raped. The was a lot of talk about the march being about reclaiming the word ‘slut’, but the vast majority of people were there to simply reassert something that should be patently obvious: that rape is the fault of the rapist, not the victim, and that a woman (or man) should be able to wear what they want without being sexually assaulted.

Many women on the march were dressed in a revealing way to try and hammer home this point; that it is their choice, not anyone else’s. The protest saw a good number of men turn up too, with some dressed in bras and short skirts in solidarity with the female marchers. It was gratifying to see the media give the protest so much attention, though that was probably more to do with the photo and video opportunities afforded than anything else.

The Socialist Workers’ Party attempted to hijack the march by handing out placards with their name on it, but nobody seemed to be paying much attention to them. Given that they only recently formed part of a woman-hating coalition (with Respect), perhaps this was an attempt to make amends. Most surreal was the builders who stopped to watch the march, perhaps feeling unable to wolf whistle whilst they clutched their Starbucks frappuccinos.

The march finished with speeches in Trafalgar Square, the best one being (in my opinion), by a prostitute who spoke about the brutality of her work and the dangers of criminalising either prostitute or seller, as it would drive the practice underground.

Given the huge levels of domestic violence still prevalent in this country, and repeated incompetence in dealing with it, my thanks go to the organisers for helping ensure that this event took place.

9th June, 2011

In support of the bill on Sharia Law courts

by Sunny at 10:15 am    

The United States has recently seen a whole raft of bills aimed at ‘stopping shariah law’, introduced by lawmakers in individual states that have hardly any Muslims. Most of the inititiatives are led by tinfoil-hat-wearing kooks who shouldn’t even be allowed near a microphone let alone introducing bills.

The Guardian today reports on an initiative here too:

Islamic courts would be forced to acknowledge the primacy of English law under a bill being introduced in the House of Lords.

The Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill will introduce an offence carrying a five-year jail sentence for anyone falsely claiming or implying that sharia courts or councils have legal jurisdiction over family or criminal law. The bill, which will apply to all arbitration tribunals if passed, aims to tackle discrimination, which its supporters say is inherent in the courts, by banning the sharia practice of giving woman’s testimony only half the weight of men’s.

This makes sense to me. I would go as far as saying these Shariah law and Beth Din (Jewish) courts should not even be allowed in this country (a reversal from an earlier position, I accept) because there is a grave chance that some people’s rights are abused.

For example, we recently reported the case of a top Sharia judge saying that husbands raping wives isn’t really rape. I don’t think those sorts of orthodox and misogynist views are rare.

The Muslim Council of Britain’s Khurshid Drabu objects:

Yet again, it appears to be a total misunderstanding of the concept that underpins these arbitration councils. Sharia councils operate under consent. If there is a woman who suffers as a result of a decision by one of these councils a woman is free to go to the British courts.

She is indeed, but that doesn’t mean she will always be free to do so. She might face a lot of pressure from locals not to do so.

In fact the above bill makes Sharia courts more likely to become entrenched because it removes the key objection that the courts are seen as above English law. I would rather they did not become entrenched. Nevertheless, if they are to stay then this should be a minimum requirement.

7th June, 2011

Even the govt’s allies unsure about counter-terrorism review

by Sunny at 4:57 pm    

The counter-terrorism think tank Quilliam Foundation, who are broadly supportive of the government’s proposals on the matter, sent out this statement today:

The new strategy is a step in the right direction. It is good that the government has recognised that extremism lies at the root of terrorism and that extremism must be tackled as a result. It is also right that the government has acknowledged the problem of radicalisation at universities and that action is needed against campus hate-preachers.

At the same time, however, the strategy is plagued by muddled thinking that risks undermining its positive achievements. In particular its definition of Islamism is so broad that it fails to distinguish between Islamists and politically active Muslims inspired by Islam, this unnecessarily smears ordinary politically active Muslims and works to the favour of Islamists who benefit from hiding behind such blurred distinctions.

Ouch. That’s fairly harsh, coming even from an ally.

But that gets to the heart of why this review will be ultimately counter-productive.

Reducing demand for abortion

by Rumbold at 12:59 pm    

Yesterday, a meeting was held to oppose Nadine Dorries’ agenda, which includes female-only abstinence classes and further restrictions on abortion. Campaigners also wanted to further liberalise abortion services in Britain, particularly in Northern Ireland. A number of interesting points emerged from the debates (I didn’t attend), but what it is notable is that debate on abortion tends to focus almost exclusively on the supply side; at what point can a woman have an abortion, what she needs to go through to get it, and so forth. This is understandable, but it does polarise the debate, since on one side you have people who believe you are killing a human being and on the other people who feel you are interfering with a woman’s right to choose.

These positions are unlikely to change, but there is a way to please both sides, and that is reducing demand for abortion. To do this you first have to work out why women have abortions. Though there can be a number of reasons, two of the most common are not using contraception and women being pressured into sex. Therefore the way to deal with this, as Cath Elliot pointed out a while ago, is to increase contraceptive use amongst men and help women escape domestically violent situations. Thus you have less unwanted pregnancies and so less demand for abortions.

Who could object to this? Campaigners for liberalising access to abortion don’t actually enjoying the thought of abortions, so a reduction in demand wouldn’t be seen as a bad thing, as well as rescuing more women from abusive relationships. For those who genuinely think it murder, they should also support a plan that would see a reduction in the number of abortions. The only people who would object are the misogynists, who see abortion as a way to control women, and view sex education and promoting contraceptive use amongst men as immoral, but they wouldn’t be able to hide behind the excuse of protecting the unborn anymore.

Tackling “extremism” is never that simple

by guest at 9:51 am    

Prevention is better than a cure. A proverb that was probably the inspiration for government strategy intended to combat the spread of extremist Islamic views, Prevent.

As Theresa May calls for Universities to drop their complacency and be more aware of the ideologies being bred on their campuses, I ask, how do you even prevent terrorism?

Clearly, I’m not equipped to know what exactly motivates somebody towards extremist religious views. But as a theologian (well, a philosophy and theology graduate), and as a 23 year old British Indian, I have my own insight – be it correct or not.

The key for me is identity. A sense of belonging. When economic motivations found Indians and Pakistanis entering the UK en masse, I guess identity wasn’t exactly something the travellers considered. But, as a member of the transitional generation I’ve witnessed the difficulties young people have had in this respect. My parents both predominantly grew up in England so it is a problem that I, personally, have never faced.

Though many peers in my generation have found it difficult to marry a traditional Indian / Pakistani upbringing, usually founded in religion, with life growing up in a Western culture that has endured the 60s 70s and 80s.

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6th June, 2011

Combating and monitoring extremism

by Rumbold at 3:07 pm    

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has criticised universities for not doing enough to tackle extremism on campus. The comments come ahead of the release of the updated Prevent (terrorism) strategy:

“I think for too long there’s been complacency around universities,” she said. “I don’t think they have been sufficiently willing to recognise what can be happening on their campuses and the radicalisation that can take place. I think there is more that universities can do.” Mrs May said universities had to “send very clear messages” and “ask themselves some questions about what happens on their campuses”.

She also criticised the Federation of Student Islamic Societies for not challenging extremism sufficiently. “They need to be prepared to stand up and say that organisations that are extreme or support extremism or have extremist speakers should not be part of their grouping,” Mrs May said.

Universities should (and often do) make clear what is acceptable, and societies breaching these rules should have their funding withdrawn and barred from using campus facilities. But beyond this, there are limits to what they can do. There are dozens of societies on campus, and universities cannot be expected to vet all their speakers and events. Nor can they ban societies unless they get proof about what they are up to, which can be difficult. Universities should stop societies using campus facilities from hosting extremists if they are warned in advance (with proof provided), but they lack the resources to do much more.

Some of the Prevent proposals do seem more well thought out however; the government is going to withdraw funding from a number of groups, on the basis that although they do not support terrorism, they are not moderate. This is right, as it moves away from the narrow ideal that the world can be divided between those who support terrorism and those who don’t.

The greater focus on white far-right terrorism is welcome too, as there have been a number of far-right terrorists convicted. It also helps dispel the myth that Muslims are the only ones capable of supporting and carrying out terrorist attacks, which encourages people to ‘other’ Muslims by viewing them as uniquely dangerous.

Indian Sikh superstar Jagjit Singh signs joint statement condemning EDL

by Jai at 8:00 am    

There have recently been a series of further Sikh signatories to the joint statement condemning the English Defence League and any Sikhs who join them. Examples of notable individuals who have recently publicly voiced their support are several popular UK-based Sikh musicians along with Sikh councillors such as Hardial Singh Rai (Barking & Dagenham) and Pavitar Kaur Mann (Slough).

Jagjit Singh

However, the most high-profile Sikh signatory so far has been the acclaimed Indian ghazal singer Jagjit Singh, who was recently in the UK for a major concert tour. Jagjit is extremely famous among more than a billion South Asians worldwide, and continues to have a successful career which has spanned approximately 40 years. Although he is trained in Indian classical music and also occasionally records albums of religious music, he is most famous as a ghazal maestro. In fact, he is widely regarded as the world’s greatest modern-day Indian proponent of the genre. Jagjit regularly performs at international concerts to huge audiences.

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5th June, 2011

Cameron admits Hizb ut-Tahrir can’t be banned

by Sunny at 10:32 am    

Today’s Observer has this nugget:

The Conservative manifesto named Hizb ut-Tahrir as a group it wanted to proscribe; in 2009 the then shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, promised to “immediately ban” the group if the Tories were elected.

But they won’t. The new Prevent review – on how the government deals with counter-terrorism – will avoid anything on Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Its hardly surprising though. I’ve been pointing out for ages that banning HuT is like banning the BNP – idiotic and an attack on free speech. But while banning the latter would have raised hackles amongst Conservatives, attempts to ban HuT have been met with embarrassed silence by Conservatives who claimed to be for defending free speech.

The main observation in the article is that:

Home Office sources say that Cameron has quashed Nick Clegg’s argument for a more tolerant attitude to Muslim groups by insisting on a strategy centred upon the notion that violent extremism is incubated within the ideology of non-violent extremism.

The shift in approach will be outlined when the government’s counter-terrorism strategy is unveiled by the home secretary, Theresa May, on Tuesday. Central to the Prevent strategy is a broader definition of extremism that will be extended beyond groups condoning violence to those considered non-violent but whose views, such as the advocacy of sharia law, fail to “reflect British mainstream values”.

I suppose I’ll have to dust off my arguments on why this is a bad idea and makes us all the more unsafe.

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