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  • 9th December, 2010

    Has Sakineh Ashtiani been freed? Not yet

    by Sunny at 10:26 pm    

    Quite a few sources are reporting that Sakineh Ashtiani, the woman sentenced to death by stoning in Iran has been freed. I was at Al-Jazeera earlier today, waiting to go on TV to speak about online protest, and I met a lady from The International Committee against Stoning.

    She said their sources had told them that Ashtiani was going to be freed and this information had been leaked out. But it’s not been confirmed by the Iranian government yet and Iranian broadcasters are still reporting she is wanted for the murder of her husband (which is rubbish). Press TV has not yet reported anything on the matter either.

    So it’s too early to celebrate. Though ICS expect this to happen eventually, you never know with the Iranian regime. A statement by the UK govt welcoming such a move by the Iranian govt might not go amiss either.

    But it is worth saying that this has been an excellent example of grassroots worldwide anger (driven by the web) that has forced the Iranian government on the defensive. If Sakineh Ashtiani does get eventually freed it will be another victory for online protests ( led a massive petition to get her freed). The Guardian has a report here.
    [Update: cleaned up my hurried and garbled English from earlier]

    Update 2: This is the only news story out of Press TV so far: Ashtiani recounts murder on Press TV - not a good sign.

    Song against domestic violence and for SBS

    by Rumbold at 9:40 pm    

    Avina Shah has released a new single, Tere Bina, which focuses on domestic violence. It was inspired by the film ‘Provoked‘, which told the true story of a abused wife who killed her violent husband and was jailed for it. Southall Black Sisters were one of the most prominent supporters of her and therefore Avina Shah has decided to donate the earnings from this single to them, which is available to buy at itunes. Her website is here. As Ms. Shah put it:

    Tere Bina is a positive song all about girl power! It tells the story of a young girl who finally decides to walk away from a really violent and abusive relationship. The lyrics are in Hindi but the music has a very western feel, which I think will appeal to listeners that like to hear something a bit different but with a conscience. People think that domestic violence is a thing of the past, but it’s shocking to discover how common this problem actually is still today. We’ve put a lot of thought in trying to capture all of these emotions into the song itself as well as the music video.

    Pregnant woman’s assailant jailed after appeal

    by Rumbold at 1:48 pm    

    It was good to see that a man who repeatedly kicked his girlfriend in the head has been jailed for four years by the Court of Appeal, which overturned his original suspended sentence:

    [Matthias] Dawson was given a 12-month suspended sentence in August after admitting GBH with intent at Inner London Crown Court. The appeal against the sentence was brought by the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve QC - the first time he has taken such action since taking office in May.

    Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Minister, is right to be looking at reducing the number of people in prison. It is unclear how locking up large numbers of non-violent offenders (especially drug users) benefits society as a whole (though there are some non-violent crimes which deserve such sentences), especially given the high re-offending rates. For crimes such as violent assault though, prison should always be the outcome, as such people need to be locked up to protect others from them. It is unclear what the point of a suspended sentence is in this case. Nor was this an isolated incident. Three teenagers tortured an autistic boy for days and received only community orders and suspended sentences in October:

    The gang used a mobile phone to film themselves carrying out depraved assaults on their 17-year-old victim. During a sickening spree of violence the three thugs kicked and stamped on his head, repeatedly punched him in the chest, beat him with a tennis racket and then threw him down a steep embankment.

    The terrified teenager – who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism – was also pelted with dog mess, had his limbs scratched with sandpaper and was forced to drink vodka and gin until he passed out.

    Mobile phone footage showed the yobs laughing and joking as they made him endure other abuse and, in a final humiliating assault, they applied adhesive tape to his genital area before ripping the tape off.

    Obama is not triangulating, he’s being realistic

    by Sunny at 10:42 am    

    Obama’s made a deal on the whole ‘tax cuts’ issue and every leftie in the USA (and some here, who just echo their leftie cousins there) is screaming betrayal. Oh, and triangulation.

    But is it? Greg Sargent writes:

    The reason Obama’s attacks on the left smack of triangulation is that he persists on painting the left and the right with the same brush: He presents himself as the last reasonable man trapped between two sides blinded to reason by ideology. Hence his insistence yesterday that he won’t be held to any unreasonable “ideal.” But as irksom as this is, it isn’t really the same as positioning oneself ideologically by arguing that the left is wrong on policy substance, as Bill Clinton did.

    Obama’s argument with the left, at bottom, is more a dispute over what’s achievable, and less an argument over what is desirable to achieve. Obama opposes extending the high end tax cuts, just as the left does. His disagreement with the left is over whether there’s another way to achieve the goals Obama and the left agree on: Extending the middle class cuts and extending unemployment benefits.

    I suspect I’ll have to repeatedly point out to lefties in the UK for the next two years that Republicans control the lower house and can easily block legislation in the Senate. Well, not yet, from January they will, but the point still stands that Obama could not pass the ‘Bush tax cuts’ legislation without some Republican support.

    That is the reality. And there is no point pretending that as President he can just be in a stand-off with the Republicans all the time, because real people would be hurt by not getting unemployment benefits. The problem, it seems to me, is that Democrats just don’t have the discipline or backbone to hit back at Republicans. That isn’t just an Obama problem - it’s a problem with many Democrats.

    But what can you do? At this stage, all Obama can do is compromise, push bits through, get re-elected, and push more stuff through. Who said governing was easy? But he is not disagreeing with the left in order to triangulate - like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair did. That was triangulation; this is pragmatism.

    Regarded as stranded Pakistanis: Banarasi weavers

    by guest at 8:21 am    

    This is a guest post by Tithe Farhana. She has previously written for publications including The Daily Star (Bangladesh).

    Bihari Banarasi weavers are regarded as stranded Pakistanis, as they are the descendants of Muslims who lived in Bihar, the Hindu dominated states of India, who then migrated then newly East Pakistan during partition of India & Pakistan in 1947. Benarasi weavers of present Bangladesh are mostly living in the Mirpur area of the capital city of Bangladesh since 1947.

    In the 1930s Dhaka set up its own Banarasi Silk Industry centre. In the1940s a significant geo-political change in this subcontinent enforced to migrate of a large number of Muslim population from one region of India to another region of Pakistan who packed up their looms and came with high hopes to Dhaka to survive with dignity & start a new life in a new country; their second & third generations are still living in Mirpur area and fighting hard against manifold impediments.

    Continue Reading...
    Filed under: Bangladesh,Economy
    8th December, 2010

    British tourists’ approach vindicated

    by Rumbold at 10:06 am    

    For decades British tourists have been mocked for going abroad and refusing to learn or speak the language of the country which they visit, instead relying on speaking loudly, slowly and in a foreign accent whilst using hand gestures. Now this approach has been shown to be scientifically sound:

    Britons abroad really should imitate the person they are talking to if they are struggling to understand a very strong foreign accent, psychologists have found. Just by employing the same pronunciations will help them understand and be understood by the person they are speaking with, the researchers found.

    It certainly worked when I visited Scotland.

    Filed under: Humour
    7th December, 2010

    Event: Is religion heading for a clash with the Godless?

    by Sunny at 9:44 am    

    A group of us from the Progressive Generation Network are organising this discussion next week. All welcome (it’s free, though RSVP here please)

    Alom Shaha, a Bangladeshi-born science teacher and writer, will talk about the experiences that led him to reject religion and embrace atheism.

    Riaz Patel, Educationalist, Government advisor, ex-journalist will also discuss his personal journey from sceptic to a believer in the power of faith.

    Nabila Pathan is a writer and broadcaster. She blogs as Word Play, commenting on socio-political issues.

    Bob Churchill is Head of Membership at the British Humanist Association, the national charity supporting and representing people who seek to live good lives without religious or superstitious beliefs.

    Monday, 13 December 2010 at 18:30;
    The Cafe, Rich Mix Centre, London

    Filed under: Events

    Hilarious - FBI agent tries entrapment, gets reported

    by Sunny at 3:21 am    

    The news report is self explanatory. What’s funny is that he tried entrapment, clearly failed, and is now suing the FBI!

    6th December, 2010

    Locating Gandhi (part two)

    by guest at 7:54 pm    

    This is a guest post by KJB. Part one is located here.

    Yesterday I examined Gandhi’s motivations and character. Now I want to turn my attention to how he is viewed in the modern day and why. Rita asked

    What is this need in India to worship people? Why can’t we in India learn to examine people like people — like normal flesh and bones human beings??

    Rita also bemoaned the treatment of Gandhi as a ‘saint,’ saying

    I thought — how come these things are never discussed when we are given this pre-processed, recycled hash on Gandhi in our school text books.

    Which is all fair enough, but as I said to her - Perhaps you ought to have enquired into why that is. I would be interested as to what exactly she’s trying to combat here, as the piece gave me no idea. Who believes in this straw-Gandhi that she has created? For whose benefit is her piece? My family and most Sikh people I know absolutely hate the man, for reasons ironically similar to Rita’s but with even less awareness of him than she, and most non-Indians are so ignorant of him that they barely register him as an influence on MLK and Mandela, let alone as an untouchable saintly figure. In fact, I’ve noticed non-Indian (usually American) people use their complete ignorance about him as a basis for making stupid and unfunny jokes, which is hardly worshipful. I hated the man before I read his writing, and now I respect him, but still recognise that he was massively problematic and yes, hypocritical. It’s really worthwhile reading the entire section on Gandhi, gender and sexuality in Javed’s book as it incorporates the most current feminist critique of Gandhi but doesn’t stereotype the man. Ironically, Rita does what she is despairing of: propagating the image of Gandhi as a ‘saint’, because instead of bringing him back down to human reckoning by recognising his complexities, she simply takes the ignorant devotee’s caricature and replaces ‘good’ with ‘bad’.

    Continue Reading...
    Filed under: History,India

    Persecution of gays in Iraq

    by Rumbold at 8:41 am    

    Brian Whitaker has an excellent and detailed piece looking at the upsurge in persecution of gay men in the last few years in Iraq:

    The problem in post-Saddam Iraq, though, is that the official legal position counts for less than realities on the ground. The wave of “gay” killings was made possible by the breakdown of state control and the rise of local militias, some of them seeking to enforce their own interpretations of Islamic law. That resulted in people being killed for the most trivial of “sins” – among them barbers who gave customers “un-Islamic” haircuts.9 It reached a peak of absurdity when al-Qa‘eda elements in Iraq sought to impose “gender” segregation of vegetables. Claiming that tomatoes are feminine and cucumbers masculine, they argued that greengrocers should not place them next to each other, and that women should not buy or handle cucumbers.

    One of the biggest problems is that the plight of homosexuals is very low down the list of priorities for all groups. Current Western policy centres on ensuring that the Iraqi government remains relatively stable, whilst trying to minimise Iranian and Al Qaeda’s influence on the country. Meanwhile supporters of the Sadr army and other groups murdering homosexuals aren’t likely to be the most sympathetic towards the plight of these gay men.

    Brian Whitaker quotes Human Rights Watch’s description of the methods of torture and execution:

    Murders are committed with impunity, admonitory in intent, with corpses dumped in garbage or hung as warnings on the street. The killers invade the privacy of homes, abducting sons or brothers, leaving their mutilated bodies in the neighbourhood the next day.

    “They interrogate and brutalise men to extract names of other people suspected of homosexual conduct. They specialise in grotesque and appalling tortures: several doctors told Human Rights Watch about men executed by injecting glue up their anuses. Their bodies have appeared by the dozens in hospitals and morgues.

    5th December, 2010

    Locating Gandhi (part one)

    by guest at 9:02 pm    

    This is a guest post by KJB.

    There was an interesting post on PP recently by Rita Banerji, entitled How Gandhian Are Obama’s Politics?

    First of all, it would seem to be a fairly obvious yet fundamental rule that when working with a major public/historical figure, caution is necessary. The bigger the figure, the greater the caution that must be used, since that person will be relevant not just to the local history of their nation, but globally. When the person is, furthermore, dead and unable to defend themselves or clarify meanings, you have to try even harder to watch your step.

    This is the problem with Rita’s approach to Gandhi. She has taken personal bugbears of hers - child sexual abuse, the dismal position of Indian women, the tendency towards mindless, cultish elevation of individuals in Indian society - and decided that these things are Gandhi’s fault, because they should be.

    It’s a real shame, because Rita’s aims are utterly noble, and some of the points made in the piece and in comments, were very astute, the following points need debunking. Rita argued that

    To sum up Gandhi’s ideologies, they included the rejection of all of the following: war and weaponry, capitalism, large-scale industries, and science and technology.

    Well… the most fundamental core of Gandhi’s philosophy is non-violence. While this characterisation isn’t incorrect, it’s not particularly accurate either, since it doesn’t even mention the most important bit of his crackpot bundle of beliefs. Not unlike Rita herself in this article, Gandhi starts with a particular point (non-violence) and everything branches off of and returns to, that central point.

    Continue Reading...
    Filed under: History,India
    3rd December, 2010

    The impact of the WikiLeaks revelations

    by Sunny at 3:51 pm    

    This article by Richard Adams lists seven key lessons so far from ‘cable-gate’:

    1. Silvio Berlusconi ‘profited from secret deals’ with Vladimir Putin
    Yes, we may have known that these two men were close – but this is the first time allegations of financial ties have surfaced, with Putin allegedly giving Berlusconi a cut of energy contracts.

    2. The US pressured Spain over CIA rendition and Guantánamo
    The extraordinary tale of how the Bush administration threatened Spain to leave off its prosecutions over the US’s use of torture – and how senior Spanish legal officials connived with the US to help them.

    3. US diplomats spied on the UN’s leadership
    The shocking news that the US state department, acting on a wishlist drawn up by the CIA, asked its diplomats to obtain credit card accounts, email addresses, mobile phone numbers and even the DNA of UN officials, a possible breach of international law.

    4. The scale of Afghan corruption is overwhelming
    Even knowing that there was widespread corruption is no preparation for the magnitude of it, suggesting the US has a hopeless task in Afghanistan.

    5. Hillary Clinton queried Cristina Kirchner’s mental health
    A hugely damaging revelation in Argentina, straining relations with the US after the cables revealed an official request to find out if the country’s president was on “medication” and how she dealt with stress.

    6. The Bank of England governor played backroom politics
    Mervyn King faced calls for his resignation and a very uncomfortable position after he was revealed to be advising the Conservatives on fiscal policy while denigrating them in secret to US diplomats.

    7. The British government remains in thrall to the US
    Over Diego Garcia, over an international cluster munitions ban, over using British bases for rendition and spying flights, the British authorities were either ignored, manipulated or co-opted.

  • People going on about how ‘tedious’ or unsurprising these revelations are simply not even worth bothering with at this point. They just illustrate their own lack of knowledge on what’s come out so far. A German minister has now also resigned after admitting to acting as a mole for the US embassy during negotiations to form a government.

    Plus - Foreign contractors hired Afghan ‘dancing boys’, WikiLeaks cable reveals - completely irrelevant I’m sure you’ll agree.

  • The worrying developments in the way that Amazon and other companies are relenting to US pressure and dropping WikiLeaks hosting.
  • Earlier, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admitted that nobody has died because of WikiLeaks
  • Also - Index on Censorship is doing very well in leading the way on what this means for free speech.
  • Filed under: Civil liberties

    Daily Mail blames multiculturalism for England’s failed world cup bid

    by Rumbold at 10:57 am    

    There have been many theories surrounding the reason why England lost the bid to host the world cup, from Russian bribes to journalistic scrutiny. The Daily Mail however has taken a different line. it seems that a multi-cultural video presented by the bid team could have put delegates off. The article’s headline on the main page reads:

    So did this multicultural bid cost us the world cup?

    This article goes onto to snidely remark that the bid team was portraying England as “so multicultural, so diverse.” If the writer had limited his criticism to the lack of English scenes (as opposed to scenes from other countries) in the video, then the argument might have some validity. But the repeated references to multiculturalism, diversity and the “ethnically diverse figures” in the article mean that the focus is more on the supposed downside of highlighting diversity and multiculturalism. To judge from the highly rated comments it seems other people interpreted it that way too:

    The video is total rubbish, no doubt about it. Once again, an example of how we are too scared to celebrate our national identity for fear that the PC brigade will come along and moan that there are not enough different cultures and minorities represented. But I highly doubt the video cost us the bid, the entire process stinks of corruption.- 1031 likes

    Completely agree with this article. It makes me feel sick to the stomach when we have this ‘multicultural’ rubbish rubbed in our faces. We should stick to traditional values and celebrate our heritage.- 761 likes

    Filed under: EDL,Media,Sports
    2nd December, 2010

    Russian taxpayers rescue English ones

    by Rumbold at 3:54 pm    


    Filed under: Economy,Sports

    Women With Physical Disabilities And Mental Health Problems

    by guest at 9:36 am    

    This is a cross post by Sarah Ismail

    Earlier this year, PhD student Julia Smith published a study that raises a very interesting issue. She interviewed 12 women aged 18-65 with physical disabilities who also have mental health issues, in an attempt to find out whether mental health services in the UK currently meet the needs of users who also have physical disabilities.

    The results were summarised for the guest column of the most recent issue of Disability Now magazine.

    The issue is one I had not thought about before, but after reading this article I realise that it is an important one that deserves and needs more detailed study.

    Continue Reading...
    Filed under: Disability
    1st December, 2010

    Liberty: the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear

    by Sunny at 11:02 pm    

    Says Jamie K:

    If you think that someone should be killed for insulting the prophet Mohammed then you’re a dangerous extremist. If you think someone should be killed for causing mild inconvenience to the Secretary of State – peace be upon her – then you’re a presidential candidate.

    Meanwhile, some blog is generally going on about how Wikileaks are such bastards for having the temerity to publish confidential information.

    I mean, god forbid that anyone even begin to challenge US “national security”. Can’t have that can we?

    Filed under: Media

    Airbrushing Christianity? Christianists think so

    by guest at 5:02 pm    

    A guest post by Hannah Mudge:

    Today Christian Concern launches its ‘Not Ashamed’ campaign. This new intiative hopes to provide an opportunity for Christians in the UK to spend December standing publicly for their faith, due to concerns that Christianity is being erased from the public domain.

    Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey has declared his support for Not Ashamed – on its website and in national newspapers - by speaking of the way Christianity is being ‘airbrushed’ from UK life, using examples of Christmas cards proclaiming ‘Season’s Greetings’ (forgive me if I’m wrong but cards like that have been around for decades, right?) and local councils using the word ‘winter’ instead of ‘Christmas’, which as we all know is part of our old favourite – the Winterval myth – the festival which, despite having only ever happened in one city in 1997 and 1998, continues to outrage tabloid readers every single year.

    Just recently I’ve become aware that Christian Concern is a sister organisation of The Christian Legal Centre, which is, to be honest, not a group I’d want to align myself with. CLC and its director, self-described fundamentalist Andrea Williams - have been on the radar for a while but in the past few years they’ve received much more attention with regard to the debate on abortion and also due to court cases involving Christians who feel they have been discriminated against because of their faith.

    The CLC and another group, The Christian Institute, have represented some of these people – such as Lillian Ladele, the Islington registrar who refused to officiate at civil partnerships due to her beliefs and lost her religious discrimination appeal. Other cases receiving media attention in recent months have been those of BA employee Nadia Eweida - who plans to take her case to the European Court of Human Rights – and nurse Caroline Petrie, who was suspended from her post after offering to pray for a patient who was worried that others might be uncomfortable with this. Mrs Petrie later returned to work.

    The inevitable focus on these cases – primarily covered by the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, have prompted a host of accusations that Christians are now being victimised by the law and by society, which is supposedly favouring minority groups at the expense of a faith group which has been a major part of British life for centuries. In October, a group of seven prominent clerics wrote to the Telegraph, warning that Christians’ freedom to express their faith is at risk. (more…)

    Anti domestic violence video from Turkey

    by Sunny at 3:41 pm    

    This was broadcast on mainstream Turkish television channels.

    “Ceyda has been accidentally hitting the door every day for the last 8 months. If you think she should see an eye doctor, then we don’t need your support”

    Filed under: Media,Sex equality

    Rise in hate crimes in Britain

    by Rumbold at 9:49 am    

    The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) has reported rise in hate crimes in Britain:

    Yesterday’s figures show that the levels of hate crime in Britain are worse than were previously thought. The 52,028 incidents recorded by police forces in England and Wales in 2009 is a 12 per cent increase on the 46,300 said to have occurred in 2008. In 2009 there were 43,426 race-related hate crimes recorded by police forces in England and Wales. This is a 10 per cent increase on the 39,300 estimated to have taken place in 2008. Crimes committed due to the victim’s sexuality increased by 12 per cent, from 4,300 to 4,805. The biggest rise was seen in crimes motivated by a person’s disability. They rose from an estimated 800 to 1,402 – a 75 per cent rise.

    Assessing the true level of such crimes is always difficult. This methodology has only been used since 2008, and this only records crimes which have been reported. Sometimes a rise can reflect a greater willingness of victims to come forward, or a greater awareness that such things should be reported as hate crimes. Despite all these caveats though, this report still paints a depressing picture. There have been some horrific hate crimes attacks in the last year highlighted by the press, but this report makes it clear that those stories were only the tip of the iceberg.

    The question often asked about hate crimes is why are seen as any worse then other crimes? A broken nose is a broken nose whether it has been broken because the victim is brown or because he spilled a drink on someone. The reason for recording hate crimes as such is to try and tackle the elements which leads to such attacks, whether it is racism, disabilism, sexism or another -ism. This may come in the form of trying to change attitudes, or improving protection for vulnerable groups (so more support for people with learning difficulties for example).

    Out of town

    by Sunny at 9:05 am    

    Hi all - sorry for the lack of blogging but I’m out of town all this week. Back on the weekend, will resume then. Istanbul is very, very nice, thanks for asking :)

    Filed under: Blog
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