It’s a wonderful spring day, and I’m thinking of my friend the pianist Bryn Venus who died earlier this month. He loved this kind of music and could play it to a very high standard:
Bill Evans (piano), Scott La Faro (bass), Paul Motion (drums) Dec 1959
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Adam Deen, of the Deen Institute, has been coming in for a bit of flack from (some) Muslims over his ‘modernising’ approach to Islam. In particular he has spoken out against the marginalization of women in university ISOCs, the way they have been excluded from full participation. Now he is at the centre of another controversy, this time sparked by the Happy Muslims video, which you can see at the Pharrell – HAPPY BRITISH MUSLIMS! site here. Deen appears with other Muslims, including his wife Myriam Francois Cerrah, dancing and singing to the Pharrell Williams hit ‘Happy’.
Several different objections have been raised to this project. The most predictable focus on the supposed impropriety of the video:
“We’ve basically lost all meaning for what the word hijab means. I can’t even be bothered to explain this issue again, the fact that hijab is a state, not just a piece of cloth on the head. Anyway, whatever. This isn’t about the women anyway, this is about the mindset of *all* who support such things.”
Others complain that it is pandering to non-Muslim prejudices to put on a display of happiness and normalcy in order to counter stereotypes. A few just find it a bit cringey, and some feel happiness is rather misplaced when there is so much suffering in the world.
Here is an extract from one of the more aggressive responses, a post by Uthman Badar.
“What we have here is an attempt by Muslims to been seen as ‘normal’ by the mainstream non-Muslim white majority in response to overbearing stereotypes and allegations to the contrary. In the words of the producers,
‘We Brits have a bad rep for being a bit stiff, but this video proves otherwise. We are HAPPY. We are eclectic. We are cosmopolitan. Diverse. Creative. Fun. Outgoing. And everything you can think of.
This video is to show the world despite the negative press, stereotypes and discrimination we are burdened with we should respond with smiles and joy, not anger.’
There is so much wrong with this approach, I don’t know where to begin!
It has Muslims coming in to bat for ‘Brits’ and their bad rep. Reward for the excellent treatment received by Muslims in Britain and by Britain abroad? House-Muslim mentality?”
The quotation from the video’s publicity material, that Badar objects to above, in fact demonstrates that the participants are not complacent about anti-Muslim bigotry, yet still unequivocally identify as British, and want to reach out to non-Muslims with a positive message.
It’s a cheerful video – but I do wonder what it is for exactly. I don’t think EDL supporters will see the error of their ways after watching it – they’ll probably think the performers are practicing taqqiya. Those with more nuanced concerns may quite like the video – but wouldn’t have seen people like Julie Siddiqui as a problem in the first place.
I think Uthman Badar (and others like him) have got this all wrong. My hunch is that this video was never intended to influence non-Muslims, but rather to enable Deen and co. to position themselves in opposition to more conservative, or orthodox, Muslim voices. Participants such as Salma Yaqoob have sometimes seemed keener on differentiating themselves from Quilliam types than from Muslim ‘puritans’ (to use Deen’s term). It’s positive that the battle against real hardliners, usually waged by ultra-liberal Muslims and non-Muslims, is being joined by those who are only moderately moderate.
Events surrounding the so-called Trojan Horse allegations in Birmingham have taken a further, bizarre, twist with the appointment, yesterday, of Peter Clarke, former head of Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command, to investigate claims about the city’s schools.
Regular readers will remember our previous , very cautious, coverage of the Trojan Horse document, which purports to be a letter from a Birmingham-based Islamic fundamentalist to a contact in Bradford, describing tactics used to take over Birmingham schools and boasting of success in forcing out head teachers who resisted the islamification of their schools: the document talks about forcing out the leadership team where a school is “corrupting their children with sex education , teaching about homosexuals, making children pray Christian prayers and [carrying out] mixed swimming and sport.” We have already pointed out that the letter, which contains some accurate information not previously in the public domain, but also some inaccuracies, may be a hoax.
Last week the city council announced a freeze on the recruitment of school governors while it investigates the claims into at least 25 schools, including three run by the Park View Educational Trust. The council stated that it had received more than 200 reports in relation to its enquiry and has appointed former head teacher Ian Kershaw to head up the investigation. Council leader Albert Bore stated that “there are certainly issues in Bradford which have similarities with the issues being spoken about in Birmingham.” He also went on to express frustration with the council’s lack of influence over academies, stating “we do not have the relationship with academies as we do with community schools.”
Then yesterday, Michael Gove announced the appointment of Pater Clarke to head what is, in effect, a parallel investigation. Albert Bore, together with West Midlands Chief Constable Chris Sims and Ladywood MP Shabana Mahmood, immediately condemned the appointment, with Bore stating that Sims’ anti-terror background would “inevitably” lead people to “draw unwarranted conclusions.” The area’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Labour’s Bob Jones, added, “My main concern is that the Secretary of State is attempting to divert attention away from the governance and diversity issues that might be embarrassing to his policies and approach to school governance.”
Bore, Jones and the others are undoubtedly right about this “desperately unfortunate” appointment, and about the hypocrisy of Gove who promotes academies (and now free schools) outside the control of local authorities, whilst simultaneously decrying the influence of Islamic extremists over academies in Birmingham.
And it is important to note that whether or not the Trojan Horse document proves to be genuine, there is no doubt about the influence of Islamic fundamentalists over many Birmingham schools: teachers and other school staff members have already come forward with reports of segregation of boys and girls in classes and assemblies, bans on sex education and bullying of non-Muslim staff. Shiraz Socialist has spoken to several Birmingham teachers, including activists within the main teaching unions, who have confirmed that these claims are true and, in some cases, such things have been going on for years. The all-too predictable line taken by an article in today’s Guardian (“Despite reasonable evidence suggesting the plot letter is a hoax, it has spaked debate in the city, with far right groups looking to capitalise”) simply will not do: the concerns about Islamic fundamentalists undermining secular education are not the preserve of the far right, but are felt by teachers, Labour councillors and MPs and -not least - many Muslim parents who want their kids to have an inclusive, secular education.
Service users and supporters rallied in Cambridge on 5 April
By Matt Wells (via Workers Liberty)
Lifeworks is a Complex Cases Service drop in centre which currently supports over 70 people with complex mental health problems in the Cambridge district and has supported many, many more over several years.
Following a deeply flawed decision to close the Lifeworks centre, taken behind the backs of those using it, a group of service users decided to occupy it. That was six weeks ago and the occupation is still holding out. This short video interview from inside the occupation with one of the participants gives a flavour of the resolve being shown by those fighting to save the service.
Please visit their Facebook page and sign their petition: see here.
They are seeking donations to sustain their campaign. Cheques to Cambridge & District Trade Union Council, marked Lifeworks. Send to Ian Beeby, Treasurer, CDTUC, 55, Station Road, Whittlesford, Cambridge, CB22 4NL.
From the NUJ website, 13 April 2014
The National Union of Journalism voted against a motion to support a boycott of all Israeli goods and support the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
Delegates at Eastbourne were told by Michelle Stanistreet that journalists working in the Middle East, Palestine and occupied territories would be put in jeopardy if the motion was passed. She stressed that the boycott motion would be decided by the NUJ conference and not by outside bodies, but it was a decision which must reflect the interests and safety of our own members.
She pointed out that the NUJ’s colleagues in Palestine had not asked the union to introduce a boycott.
Simon Vaughan, representing BBC London said that his branch and the group representing Mothers and Fathers of Chapel of all BBC branches had been mandated to oppose the motion because they believe it will make the lives of their colleagues covering events in that part of the world very difficult.
Alan Gibson, of London Magazine branch, who proposed the motion, said he wanted to join Stephen Hawkins [sic -JD] and Noam Chomsky, as well as other unions and MPs who supported the BDS movement. He said the union needed to show that it was standing up against the biggest bully in the world, the Israeli state.
Conference did pass a motion condemning the Israeli authorities for preventing the movement of Palestine journalists between the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the refusal to accredit journalists with press cards, so they can do their job.
The motion committed the union to renew the campaign led by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) to convince the Israeli authorities to recognise its press cards in the occupied territories of Palestine. The NUJ agreed that it would continue to work with its sister union in Palestine.
Jim Boumelha, president of the IFJ, and Paul Holleran, NUJ Scottish organiser, are due to go Palestine as part of this campaign.
Jim Boumelha said:
“For the past 25 years, we have campaigned in solidarity with Palestine and their journalists who face day after day of humiliation from the Israeli authorities, even if they have the right papers. They face constant harassment and arrest and that is why the union must continue to campaign for the recognition of the press card.”
An appropriate song for today, from hep-cat Mel Torme (who always wanted to be a drummer):
…but if you want real, classy corn, here’s Al Jolson singing it, acted and lip-synched by Larry Parks (happily, not in black-face):
Above: pro-Russian protesters storm the regional administration building in Kharkov
By Martin Thomas (at the Workers Liberty website)
On the weekend of 5-6 April pro-Russian crowds staged demonstrations in some cities of eastern Ukraine, and seized public buildings.
In Donetsk the demonstrators echoed events in Crimea by saying that they were constituting a new regional government and would organise a referendum on transferring Donetsk to Russia.
Are these justified protests by Ukraine’s Russian minority, strongest in the east, against Ukrainian chauvinist policies from the new government in Kiev?
Or are they operations fomented by the Russian government, using Russians crossing the border to join the protests, and the east-Ukrainian Russian minority? Operations whose core aim and function is to serve Russian foreign policy, for example by setting up clashes which will give Russian troops an excuse to invade?
The balance of evidence suggests they are mostly the second. The demonstrations do not emerge from a background of growing protest against specific policies and actions by the Kiev government disadvantaging Russian people in eastern Ukraine. Instead, they start immediately by seizing public buildings.
Without question there is a large Russian minority in eastern Ukraine (over 30% in some districts), and many Russians look to Russia.
Without doubt many in that Russian minority dislike the new government in Kiev. In that sense, an element of the depiction of the demonstrations as protests by an aggrieved minority is correct.
However, the broad historical facts which we know for sure are that Ukraine has been an oppressed nation, and mostly oppressed by Russia (Tsarist or Stalinist) for centuries; that for centuries also, Russians have come to Ukraine as imperial colonisers, Russian has been the language of the better-off and culturally-advantaged in Ukraine, and Ukrainian has been disdained as the “peasant language”; and that Putin’s government, keen to sustain Russia as a great power, has been striving to regain some of the reach of Tsarist and Stalinist imperialism (Chechnya, Georgia).
As contemporary evidence we have a large opinion poll conducted across Ukraine and Crimea on 14-26 March, with its results published on 5 April. The fieldwork was conducted by a Kiev-based agency (the “Rating Group”) and funded by the US Agency for International Development, so some bias can be suspected. However, it’s the evidence we have.
In the poll, only 12% of people in Ukraine and Crimea said “yes” or “to some degree” when asked whether Russian-speaking citizens were under threat. Only 29% of people who considered themselves ethnic Russians reckoned that Russian-speaking citizens were under threat, and only 17% of the population in eastern Ukraine had that view.
17% is a big enough minority to provide a base for spectacular demonstrations when the demonstrators know they have support from a neighbouring great power. It is not a democratic mandate for deciding the future of the area.
Only 13% (in Ukraine and Crimea combined) supported the “decision of the Russian Federation to send its army to protest Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine”. Only 14%, and only 26% in the east, were for the federal set-up in Ukraine which Putin demands.
When asked what should the new Kiev government’s priorities be, the big majority in the east as in the west said it should be tackling economic corruption. Only much smaller percentages mentioned minority rights or decentralisation.
27% of people across Ukraine emphatically did not support the Independence Square protests in Kiev which brought down Yanukovych. However, that 27% was a lower disapproval rating than the 33% recorded in February 2014, before the fall of Yanukovych.
In other words, it is not that people supported the movement against Yanukovych, but have recoiled on seeing the new government. On the contrary, some of those who supported or semi-supported Yanukovych to the end have switched sides after seeing Yanukovych flee to Russia and hearing more revelations about his corruption.
The theory that the overthrow of Yanukovych was produced by a surge of the far-right in Ukraine looks doubtful. The far-right Ukrainian chauvinist party Svoboda scores only 5% in the poll, as against 10% in the last elections; the vicious “Right Sector” group scores 1%.
The poll shows low levels of confidence in the Kiev government everywhere in Ukraine, and especially in the east. 50% expressed disapproval of the job the Parliament is doing, and 73% in the east.
That percentage, however, should be compared with 80% across the whole of Ukraine and Crimea who expressed disapproval of the job that Parliament was doing under Yanukovych, in September 2013.
It was not that Ukraine was jogging along fine under Russian hegemony until a far-right pro-EU conspiracy spoiled things. Rather, that the majority of Ukrainians resent both Russian aspirations to dominate, and the rule of Ukrainian oligarchs whether pro-Russian or Ukrainian-nationalist, and rightly doubt that the fall of Yanukovych has changed much about the oligarchic corruption.
The three principles on which Solidarity bases our attitude about Ukraine are:
• Ukraine is a nation historically oppressed by Russia which has the right to national self-determination. Russians living in Ukraine should enjoy democratic minority rights, but their rights cannot cancel the right to self-determination of the whole Ukrainian nation.
• We do not endorse the trade deal which the EU has got Ukraine to sign, and we demand that the Western governments give Ukraine real aid by cancelling its crippling debt to Western banks. But the immediate threat to Ukrainian political self-determination comes from Russia, invading Crimea, massing troops on Ukraine’s border, fomenting small coups in east-Ukrainian cities, and demanding Ukraine fit its constitution to Russian wishes.
• The oligarchs offer Ukraine a bleak, unequal future even if Ukraine manages to conserve its independence. Socialists internationally should back the Ukrainian left and labour movement in its efforts to create a force which can win real victories for the social demands which fuelled the Independence Square protests.
Such a force would provide a solid basis for uniting all workers in Ukraine, Ukrainian-speaking and Russian-speaking, “ethnic”-Ukrainian and “ethnic”-Russian, west and east.
Len McCluskey writes….
Why Unite members should vote Labour on 22nd May
Some politicians these days seem to be falling over themselves to criticise Europe.
But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that the European Union is more than just a building in Brussels.
It gives us the laws and legislation that stop you being exploited by your boss and protect you on a daily basis. Amongst other things, the EU makes sure your hours at work aren’t exploited, you get protection at work and you get statutory holidays.
It’s ,responsible for 3.5 million jobs in the UK and brings an estimated £30bn to the UK economy. So Europe isn’t just good for Britain, its good for you.
Europe makes you, your family and Britain better off every day at work. That’s why the European Elections this year are so important for you to take part in.
On 22 May, Unite is asking you to make sure you vote Labour to make work safe, make work fair and make you better off. In these elections every vote really does count and your vote could well make the difference. So don’t miss out!
-Len McCluskey, General Secretary
What has Europe ever done for us?
Quite a lot as it happens…
Safety at work: Every day, thanks to Europe, your workplace is safer
Sickness/Holiday Rights: You don’t lose holiday rights accrued during periods of ill health
Equal Pay: Men and women must be paid for doing the same job or of equal value
Holidays: Thanks to Europe, Uk workers got the legal right to holidays for the first time in 1998
Time off work: Your boss can’t force you to work more than 48 hours a week and must give you regular breaks
Fairness at work: It doesn’t matter if you are full-time or part-time, temporary or permanent, in-house or agency, all workers get the same rights
Maternity rights: Statutory maternity leave of up to a year
Parental leave: New parents are entitled to time off work to look after their children
Discrimination: Protects you from discrimination against your age, gender, race, sexual orientation or if you are disabled
Healthcare on holiday: if you get ill when you are on holiday, you won’t have to pay for your healthcare
[you can download a pdf version of this leaflet here]
Peaches Geldof, who died on Monday, had become a serious and thoughtful person, and a very good writer. In her memory, we re-publish this powerful piece that she wrote for The Independent, published on 9 October 2012. Happily, Peaches lived to see this battle won, but her message of tolerance, love and decency is still worth reading, and stands as a fitting memorial:
In the summer of 2003 I was 14 years old, and my best friend was a gay boy named Daniel. He was smart, funny and totally unaware of how beautiful he was. Everyone seemed to be in love with him at some point, but he was in love with his school friend Ben.
Every day after classes ended, Daniel, Ben and I would hang out. For a little bit, they could both be funny, bitchy queens in the most unashamed and wonderful way, and all was right in the world. Time would glide. As the years progressed we three drifted our way through youth, our journeys disjointed but always seeming to connect at significant points along the way.
Daniel came out to his parents two years after he and Ben became serious. He was 16. I was there when he told them, I don’t know if he’d planned on me being there for support, he never told me. I sat hiding at the top of the stairs in his house, listening. His mother laughed, I’d always loved her laugh, it sounded musical, like bells ringing, and I remember that laugh was just full of love in that moment, and she said to him she’d always known and how happy she was that he had experienced love and it didn’t matter who with. His father echoed her sentiments entirely and I heard the intake of breath that always seems to precede a meaningful hug.
Back in his room, his face seemed different somehow. Where once his eyes had seemed to me to be restless and distant at times, now they just shone. His whole face shone, with this pure elation, and in that ephemeral moment I realised how these revelations people make to the ones who mean something to them, can make a person into something great or break them entirely.
Accept and respect
And Dan was made in that moment. He was whole. I remember vividly having this weird image in my head of the old Disney movie of Pinocchio, where the good fairy turns him into a real boy. And looking back I guess Daniel had been exactly that, just wooden, all that time before. I learned that day that all you really need to do to make someone happy is to accept who they really are, and respect who they are.
Weeks passed and Ben still hadn’t participated in the big coming out party. Where once our after-school hangouts had been easy, effortless fun, now they seemed tense. Instead of Ben and Daniel’s relationship becoming more open, it seemed all the more clandestine. They both confided in me in emotional, tearful phone calls and I began to feel like the go-between. I was falling into other interests and felt myself pulled in a different direction, away from these boys that were so much a part of me. I started loathing our meetings because I could see how terrified Ben was of revealing himself to his parents, and how Daniel was pushing him to the point where it seemed inevitable that he would just leave.
What he didn’t understand, having never met them due to Ben’s terror of being caught out, was that Ben’s parents were different to his. His mother was, and always had been, a housewife who had raised him, his two sisters and three brothers seemingly without any help as his father, a Protestant priest, had staunchly archaic views on where a woman’s place was. Weeks, months passed. We grew and changed, summers came and went. It was winter two years later when the ultimatum was issued, and by then too much was at stake, and Ben did come out to his parents. I sat there, on the same patch of grass in Cavendish Square, worn down from our school shoes, and my friend wept as the words left his mouth. I grieved for them, knowing I could never take the words back for him myself.
His mother was devastated, his father, in his words, “ruined”. They both told him he was sick and a failure. He left home. How, of course, could he have stayed. I think, after that, Ben hated Daniel a little bit, partly because he had pushed him to come out, partly because he was jealous. But in the end he loved him more, and Daniel’s parents allowed him to move in to their house and live there with him.
Years passed. We had kept in touch by email, but our lives had taken us in different directions and our friendship wasn’t the same any more. It was December, freezing, when I received the invitation to their wedding. They had been living in New York, where gay marriage had been legalised. I was elated. More than that. These boys, who had been such an intrinsic part of my teenage years, were finally getting what they deserved. It was a beautiful moment.
In New York, the snow had covered everything in a soft white blanket, making it new again. As everyone was gathering outside the city hall, I spotted Ben’s parents. They seemed nervous, but they were there. I assumed they had eventually come round to his sexuality, but he later told me they had turned up without telling him. He had sent them an invite, half out of defiance and half out of hope, but had never expected them to be there for him. In that moment I saw how powerful marriage can be.
A nation of dictating pigs
This man, who I loved so much, was marrying his best friend, his soul mate. Taking vows to stand by him until death. And why not? Why, if these two men wanted to be married in the country they were born in, would it only be regarded as a “civil partnership” – a title more insulting than anything else, a half measure. It’s not as if us saintly heteros take the institution of marriage so seriously, is it? A recent study shows same-sex civil partnerships lasting longer than straight marriages, and divorce at a record high.
I have had first-hand experience of how wonderful the introduction of gay marriage has been, and how negative and potentially damaging it is to not allow it, which just breeds more homophobia. For a country and culture that declares ourselves so progressive, our governments, citizens and, of course, our churches, can be small-minded bigots at the best of times. One day we’ll look back on the gay marriage ban as we look back on historical events like apartheid. Because in the end, that’s what it is, pointless, futile segregation. I long for the day when we break free of this Orwellian ridiculousness, a nation of dictating pigs, where “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”.
And even if Daniel and Ben’s marriage was a small squeak of opposition drowned out in the roar of prejudice, at least it happened. And it will continue to happen, til death do they part.
Thanks to the Guardian (and how often do we say that here?) for reminding us of this remarkable Mickey Rooney performance from 1935:
The Graun even manages to find a Karl Marx connection;
In 1935 the late Mickey Rooney played Puck in Max Reinhardt’s movie of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Critical opinion was mixed – as it was for the audacious casting of James Cagney as Bottom. But, in his indomitable way, Rooney captured the manic mischief of a character who has one of the Bard’s great lines – “Lord, what fools these mortals be” – and who should be taken more seriously than he sometimes is. Shakespeare’s is only the most famous incarnation of one of English folklore’s great creations, “the oldest Old Thing in England” as Kipling’s Puck describes himself. As Puck, the Hobgoblin or Robin Goodfellow, the laughing sprite is a great subversive, as Karl Marx recognised when he wrote about “our brave friend, Robin Goodfellow, the old mole that can work in the earth so fast, that worthy pioneer – the Revolution”. It’s not often you get Mickey Rooney and Karl Marx in the same sentence, but Puck makes all things possible.